Mary could tell stories. For more than fifty years she worked with youth. Sadness gripped her when she thought of those who made life choices that ended in pain. Joy welled up when she recalled many a young person who took up different practices fueled by a different truth about themselves against all odds .
(For the remainder of the Season of Advent I am going to offer some reflections on David Fitch’s new book, Faithful Presence: Seven Disciplines That Shape the Church for Mission. Christians continue to find great value in the celebration of God-With-Us. What could this mean for the Church-In-the-World as an expression of God-with-Us?)
How odd for someone in their 50’s to write that you once had a babysitter. Despite its truthfulness the sound seems so foreign. It has been so long.
Z grew up in that part of the City. Whatever part of your city that represents consider it where Z listened to the belief and accompanying practices of the adults around her. Like many children in that day, Z learned the old adage, “Children should be seen and not heard.” Whatever adults in her life wanted or did should not be interrupted by Z’s presence. The consequence was no one would hear from Z.
Mary and her family took Z in. The home and church family in which Z became a part took the opposite approach. Children were to seen AND heard. Over time Z found her voice. She not only learned a new truth about herself, Z also discovered a group that practiced the belief the greatest commandment turned on two realities, love God and love others. That belief fueled their practice to announce the Good News of Jesus, to love those forced to the margins of family and life and open up space for possibility where human beings should be seen AND heard.
Today few if any would know of the way Z grew up. Years of practicing a different belief reaped benefit to her future husband and step-children. The breadth of her commitment to others inside and outside the church bears witness to the people of God and makes of the church a sign and foretaste of what Jesus called the Kingdom of God.
Like Peas and Carrots
Peas. I do not like them. Not at all. Carrots are a different story. I could eat them straight out of the garden. David Fitch hits upon a vital relationship between beliefs and practice. They go together like Forrest and Jenny, like peas and carrots. It does not matter which you prefer, you cannot have one without the other.
Christians often develop an affinity for one or the other. Churches often take on the character of her chosen preferred sympathy. When beliefs receive the emphasis, teaching and affirming doctrinal positions take priority. The flip side works much the same. Emphasizing practices results in finding the ministry that fits your gifts or interests or both.
Fitch suggests the community that holds fast to the reign of Christ, Jesus is Lord, will take up practices that make space for the Kingdom of God to break into the human relationships we share. Salvation, that promise of Advent, becomes a reality in every area of human experience.
Don’t Throw Out the Baby
Every family develops traditions. Before either of my brothers married and had children out holidays with my side of the family centered on when we could bring the girls. When we lived out of state that meant the schedule for what we would do took account of when we would arrive. For nearly ten years this was our tradition.
Then, both of my brothers married and had children. Things changed. Each of them had their respective other families to which they would need to give time. We did not decide to stop celebrating Thanksgiving and Christmas. Instead, we took account of the tradition and kept the commitment to be together as family and adjusted our schedule.
We did not throw the baby, getting together as family, out with the bath water, dropping the old schedule.
Fitch returns to the history of the church and its practices. Recovering these practices as primal for Christian communities provides an avenue for the coming of Jesus into neighborhoods and communities. One key addition David makes to these practices is a matter of how they are practiced and in what circles. Rather than throw out tradition, the Great Tradition, Fitch finds value in working these practices into the fabric of our lives.
Consider what Fitch is doing something akin to concentric circles. Moving from a circle of people gathered around an understanding of reconciliation we take the practice of reconciliation with us to the other circles of life. While David does not use language of concentric circles, he opts for a different schema, the effect is the lived life under the reign of Christ opens up possibilities for the Kingdom to break through in all human relationships.
Jesus Keeps Coming
Z was not the only young person Mary and her family embraced. There have been others. Each time the practice of hospitality and grace opened up space for Jesus to come into the lives of these young people. Rather than become bogged down in eschatological debates, maybe it is time to hold out the value of Christ’s presence in the world through the church for the good of the world. In this way, Jesus keeps coming.
Recently I have heard a number of people wonder about the value of Advent. After all, they say, Jesus has come. How many times do you refuse to tell the valuable stories of your life? Every year Israel retold the key components of their story. They told them to one another. They shared them with their children. The strangers who journeyed with them became witnesses to both the history of these stories as told and the effect upon the people.
Why wouldn’t we keep telling the stories that shape our understanding of God revealed in Jesus? The telling of these stories help shape us into a people who may be faithfully present in the world bearing witness to the God’s faithful presence with us.