The beautiful Christian faith community that I’ve been a part of for over a decade had its very last service of worship last night. There was a sense that the community itself contained something good and rare and precious, but somehow the form in which we met was inhibiting those things. So we’re taking a break. And in a few weeks we’ll re-gather, but this time to share a meal. We’ve been uncertain about a lot of things, but one thing we still believe is that God will meet us when we meet together to eat.
My worshipping community brought together a delightful assortment of people. It was one of the things that kept us coming, but also one of the things that sometimes kept us away! All of us had our struggles; all of us were very needy. Perhaps some brought their needs to bear on the community more than others.
We all have our needs. My question, which I’ve been asking everybody about lately (in one permutation or another) is this: “How do we mutually support one another, in all our needs?” I’ve been wanting to know how we can resist our communities being made up of some people who are the rescuers, and others who are the rescued. I've blogged about this kind of thing before, but I still haven't got there.
I was pondering this question when I went out to Yarraville to have afternoon tea with my friend Gregory. Gregory is also a member of my worshipping community, and we met the day before the final service.
Gregory is a wonderfully blasphemous person who heckles people up the front in church. I sipped my tea and he drank his vanilla milkshake, and I asked him a variation on my question about mutuality.
Gregory said, “Do you want to meet my Muslim friends at the fish ‘n’ chip shop?”
We wandered down. Gregory’s Muslim friend was lowering bits of potato into the deep fryer. “Tom, this is my Jesus friend, Andreana,” he said.
Gregory and Tom joked around for a while, and we ordered deep fried dim sims. After a bit we sat down in the plastic seats facing the counter, and Gregory showed me a poster that was sticky taped to the side of the Coke fridge. On it were some photos of an older, slightly overweight woman who gave the impression of having had an interesting life. In each of the photos she had her arm around someone. Some handwritten words on the poster said something like, “We miss you so much."
“That’s Michelle,” said Gregory. “She used to go around the streets talking to everyone, and often she would be mouthing off and hurling abuse. But everybody loved her. She had a really warm, fun personality. Sometimes I used to sit with her at a café, having drinks together. She was a really funny person to be around, but she died of a heart attack recently.”
“Here you go,” said Tom, handing a white package over the counter.
“My shout this time,” I said to Gregory, because he had got our drinks before.
“No, take it, just take it,” said Tom, and shooed us out of the shop.
Because I’m a bit slow, and “edu-ma-cated” as Gregory put it, I needed him to be explicit about how he does these mutually life-giving relationships. “I just go half-way,” he said.
Just go half-way. I think part of what Gregory means is that he doesn’t try to rescue people. He just meets them, human-to-human, at a point on the road where neither is giving or taking any more than the other. He seems to be able to just appreciate people, without trying, for example, to convert them, or to reform them. He just likes them.
By only going half way, you give the other the opportunity to come and meet you. You have a deeply mutual, humanising experience.
For now, this will be my starting point. Just go half-way. The issue with going further is that you risk de-humanising the other person by turning them into a problem. And you risk de-humanising yourself by turning yourself into a saviour.
And yet sometimes, we are not able to travel very far to meet others. In those moments, our needs outweigh what we can give. Some of us spend a lot of time in that space, usually because the world has treated us unjustly. We are wounded, and have little to give.
For those of us who need to be carried, there is the community of Christ. The church cares for those of us who are struggling because it is called to be a place of healing. It’s a matter of justice, in what is an unjust world.
The key is that we do it together. We spread the load of our needs amongst us.
Some of us are called to journey more closely with those who have little to give. But when we are called to give in this way, we must resist the urge to de-humanise: to paint one as the rescuer and the other as the rescued. In the end, we are all in need of rescue, and God is the saviour, not us.
Even when, in that particularly moment and context, we cannot meet another half-way and decide to give more than we will receive, we must always, always be open to the gift they may give. That is the essence of a shared humanity.
So as we go our own ways, and come together in a few weeks to share a meal, that’s how I hope our Christian faith community will relate to one-another. To expect to meet each other half-way on the road, and walk side-by-side. To spread our needs amongst us, for the sharing of the load. To discern carefully as to whether to we are called, in this particular relationship, to give more than we can receive. And to always, always be open to the gift another might have to give.
To do this is to be fully human, and to be fully human is to experience something of the essence of Christ.