The games some people are caught in are pretty dark and fearful. What if we play a different game?
People were carrying a lot when they came to gathering. And most of it wasn’t really theirs. Again and again it went back to other people’s fears.
There was worry about the fear that’s driving our politics and what that could do to our country. In that game, we focus on the proverbial blood and guts; we hang on the train wrecks that are happening and those we see coming. But, the problem with times like these is that, to a certain degree our intuition is right. What’s happening on the national and international stage is not something most of us (or perhaps any of us) can do something about. But, what we can do is focus on whats around us: the people in our lives, the place we live in and our portion of creation. We can focus on where we are needed.
I began to talk about a misconception that we have: that faith is something we do alone. I choose to have faith, I choose to have a relationship with the divine, I… I… I. When we walk alone, it’s easy to make it about ourselves. But, again and again and again, I’ve learned it isn’t an I thing. A lot of the spiritual life is premised on us. Jesus promised that whenever two or more are gathered in his name, he would be there. In one of peter’s letters he talks about how we are bricks in the temple of god. Unintentionally, I had spoken in tongues. The answer came shortly afterwards. One member of our group (I’ll call John) started talking about feeling spiritually isolated and disconnected. As he talked and pondered what had already been said, he realized that the problem was, at least in part, that he was seeing this as something he had to fight on his own.
And, if there’s a common element to what’s askew in the world it’s that we make things about ourselves and our egos. That selfishness is the source of some of what is so askew about the world. That flows out and impacts the rest of us. It’s what someone else in the group (I’ll call Betty) brought. A co-worker had been feeding rumors and bad advise to Betty. Oh, they’re thinking of shutting down the branch. Oh, the boss isn’t that happy. You need to watch your back. Betty was worried her job was going away. As Betty talked about it more, it came out that this co-worker had wanted the promotion that Betty was given. The natural reaction is to report the get back at the co-worker. The problem, at it’s core, seemed to be co-worker and her pride or insecurity. At it’s core, the problem had nothing to do with Betty. But Betty could have made it about herself, her ego, her selfishness and responded in kind. It’s an eye of an eye (or is that two eyes for an eye) approach. And, it turns the problem one person started into a cycle, the same cycle of revenge that can continue for weeks or years or, in some parts of the world, centuries.
Part of why we gather is to co-disciple. Discipleship is about learning to live out our faith in the real world. When all the standard solutions to Betty’s problem have the danger of feeding the cycle of revenge, what do you do? You choose not to play the game that her co-worker had set up. You don’t make it about yourself and your ego. If this wasn’t about Betty, it might have been about many things. The thing it was mostly clearly about was the co-worker who was feeding rumors to Betty. Multiple suggestions came back. The most brilliant was from John, to pray for her co-worker.
It was a solution that fed back to a story I had shared about a church in LA that is literally a garden. They meet on a piece of property in inner-city LA. in the midst of the garden they all help tend. When motorcycles go by, the have to pause service. When a fight starts out on the sidewalk, the pastor may to help break it up. They share the neighborhood with some pretty stark divides including between those who have shelter and those who don’t. So, they’ve intentionally set out to see god in everyone who comes through the door.
Betty’s co-worker was both a person who had flaws and pains and hurts and an opportunity to see god. If you were looking for an example of what’s wrong with the world, there she was. And, at least as importantly, if you were looking for an opportunity to see god, there she was. Betty was face to face with someone who was lonely, worried about the fear driving our nation, fearful about the rumors she was hearing about the company’s future and scared she’s going to get fired because of something someone else has done.
It’s a striking vision that both the divine and the damaged co-exist in every person we meet. It’s a hurting we can pray be healed, it’s a divine spark that we can pray will be fanned into a roaring flame.
“Two or more are gathered” is from Matthew 18:20. For “we are bricks in the temple of god” see 1 Peter 2:5. On the idea of spirituality note being a solitary exercise, see also John 17:21, Matthew 18:19-20.
Seeing god in someone else: Matthew 25:31-46