Hi friends, before we jump into Chapter 9 of Liturgy of the Ordinary, I wanted to let you know that in December we have several treats in store! We will be discussing two wonderful short stories. One by Truman Capote—A Christmas Memory and the other by John Kendrick Bangs—The House of The Seven Santas (to read online go here, for free on Kindle go here). We are in for a treat as Rachel Kahindi leads the discussion.
Now, on to today’s chapter. Even though I tell myself not to say it, I can’t help it, this chapter is so good, so hard, so convicting, and so hope-filled. Calling a Friend: Congregation and Community.
This chapter touches on sensitive spots for us, doesn’t it? Friendship and Congregation.
After many years on the field, I have many dear friends (in part because often our paths only overlapped for a few years, but that time was deep and meaningful). But I have few dear friends who actually live in the city I live in. I don’t think this is going to radically change as it is unlikely that my friends are going to move to the city I live in.
And church. Do not even get me going. If I had known how much living overseas was going to ruin me for “normal church,” I’m not sure I would have gone. Kidding.
After a bit of a rough first year of “church” being only three of us every Sunday and the music being a “joyful sound unto the Lord” and a “pathetic sound” unto me, we learned of other believers. Slowly our group grew and became a time that turned out to be far richer than I ever anticipated.
When I first moved to Beijing, it took more than an hour one-way by bus to get to church. The whole process of going to church took so much time and was rich and exhausting. I loved being part of such a large international community, but had never had church require so much of me on top of all energy I spent the rest of the week just living.
I will spare you the blow-by-blow of how my church experience morphed over the years (and included a mentally ill man that was compelled to touch me and over the weeks it grew in creepiness). Suffice it to say, though “cross-cultural worker normal,” my years make participating in a congregation different than if I had never left my country. Different on the field. Different in my home country. Different in my soul.
I believe in the local body. I want to love the local body. But I don’t always like or feel like I fit in the local body. As Warren said, “Yet where else could I go? The church was where I heard the gospel in community, where I received nourishment in Word and sacrament, where I touched the body of Christ, where I was shaped and formed as one beloved by God.”
Reading this chapter brought back a memory. When I moved back to the US, church was the hardest part of the transition for me. Agony. I found ways that first year to make it work for me, which is an indirect way of saying that I didn’t exactly go to the same church every week. I met faithfully with my small group, so there was stability, but other than that, I was more of a church free agent.
And then my church got a new pastor. He asked me to lunch and we hit it off immediately. He read the books I liked to read, he had similar views on ministry as I do, he had good social skills and wasn’t weird (and was excited for me to meet his wife and kids). He actively looked for ways to orient the church around giftings and not gender. At the end of the lunch he told me that he needed me to be more regularly involved, would I come back?
It was agony to say yes.
But I sensed God saying, “Amy, it’s time.”
So I did. In classic Amy fashion, I jumped in with both feet. The pastor, youth pastor, and I were a dynamic team, reminding me of the dynamic teams I had had in China. I became friends with the pastor’s wife and would regularly babysit for them because they were new to the area and didn’t have much money. If I babysit for you, that is a sign of true love. I’m not the “babysit becasue I love kids!” kind of gal. But hey, it’s how I would have loved my teammates on the field, so that’s how I approach life.
And then guess what.
Turns out he was a full-blown sociopath and sexual predator.
Didn’t see that coming, did you? Neither did I. He and the youth pastor left the church at the same time and I felt like the sucker left holding the bag. Where was this “awesome ministry team?” I felt tricked back into the church, but I also felt great compassion for the people around me because we were all tricked. As a sociopath, he was incredibly charming and knew how to read each of us and say what we wanted to hear.
So, when I read this chapter and thought about how God used a sociopath to get me back to church, I figured you have your own story with friends and church and the field.
I’ll leave us with one more quote: “In the Christian faith it’s almost a philosophical principle that the universal is known through the particular and the abstract through the concrete. We love people universally by loving the particular people we know and can name. We love the world by loving a particular place in.” Amen.
See you in the comments,
Here’s the reading schedule for Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life:
November 6: Chapters 7-8, November 13: Chapter 9, November 20: Chapter 10, November 27: Chapter 11
December we will