The problem for us church folk is we are finding easier and more self-indulgent ways to separate ourselves from each other. We are segregating into our factions of familiarity, personalizing our congregational life by preferences, and becoming our own islands of spiritual practice not just determined by theological differences but by who shares the same security blankets.
The young pups like Caleb denounce the old paths and old yards, mocking outwardly or inwardly the stubborn Dobermans who refuse to change. . .There is so much more out there they bark and yelp. . .and off they go exploring. Yet even the puppies can't stay in a pack--one thinks it's all about chasing cars, another is totally a digging-under-fences canine, and then there's the fetch crowd and the bury stuff in a hole puppies. I don't even have time to talk about the cat-haters and the just lay there and lick yourself types. . .
I agree with you Calebs. . .there is so much more out there. But it will turn to ashes in your mouth, a mist in the morning gone in a flash, empty calories that you thought made you full but left you hungry just a few hours later if you do not first learn the lessons of Buddy the Doberman. . .
You need to learn what faithfulness is. . .and it's not getting the same specialized latte at the same Starbucks every morning. It's those little old ladies who taught Sunday School at the church you now call dead or crappy or other more demeaning adjectives. The little old ladies that if you quizzed them on their theology (the theology you gained mostly from the one or two speakers you love at conferences and those blogs you frequent) you would find them lacking. And their teaching style? Gag me with boredom. But those little old ladies prayed for every little Charlie and Nancy they ever taught, every week, probably every day. They showed up early for their class, knowing the curriculum, providing snacks, and greeting each student by name with a hug and a smile. And they did it for forty years. . .and no one sent them one email ever on a Saturday to make sure they'd be there in the morning. . .
You need to know that not all fences are an affront to your freedom and individuality. Many fences are what allow you to truly grow up into the awesome dog you can be. When you randomly dig because all fences are dumb, and when you roam off all the paths because you think they're dry things leading to pointlessness- you miss so much beauty, including the untold blessings of having a farmer's patience and waiting for the right season for the harvest to come in . . .
You need to know how to truly listen to someone's story without coming up with a punchline or preparing your own one-up story you can come back with. You need to know how to drink a cup of tea and hold a conversation without any cellular device being in eyesight. You need to look at old family photos, learning some names that aren't your Facebook friends and see what depths have been explored before you. . .
You need to know how to deal with death and suffering with dignity and grace--right now all you know are over-the-top weddings and whirlwinds of baby photos. The Dobermans know how to put together a meal for an after-the-funeral gathering, everyone pitching in to give the raw grieving shock a place to manifest and a home for the process of comforting to begin in--and many times they don't know personally the one who died. . .
For once, smell the old folks couch and clothes in their actual living room instead of just buying their stuff from a thrift store and calling it "so cool". . .
Hold some hands that actually fought in wars rather than just typing out a rant about peace in 140 characters or less. . .
Look into eyes who have seen their neighborhoods and homes torn down and their traditions discarded. . .yet have seen their own grandkids born and bless them all the same. . .
Listen to a voice that knows how to gently give wisdom in a world of yelling and posturing. . .
Taste the poundcake that wasn't made from a box or picked up at the last second from the sale rack at the local grocery store. . .savor that cake made by trembling hands holding a yellowed index card with a cherished recipe written in cursive, a card memorized long ago but simply held for the nostalgia of legacy and connection. Put your fork into a slice of something baked an hour before the sun even thought of coming up. . .
The buzz will wear off young puppies, and mortgages and disappointments and not-quite-dream-jobs will weave themselves seamlessly into the fabric of your lives. Pounds will be gained and hairs will recede and the tides of life will come faster and leave quicker than you'd like. . .and the lessons you need for those realities can't be taught by fellow puppies with tongues lolling and saliva dripping. . .
But most of all, the grand lesson of love is this. . .
We only truly love when we love the "other". We must learn to embrace folks who are different, for it is in the differences where we truly learn to give of ourselves. It is the primary lesson in marriage, and the way God expressed His divine Good Samaritan love for us. . .and if I were a more astute theologian with more space I could make a case that the Trinity itself is the perfect example of love and unity amongst diversity. . .
It is where the good stuff is.
The familiar and unfamiliar will always be in tension and always be with us. . .
We must realize the familiar and unfamiliar need each other. . .
And the church community is where we decide to learn from each other in self-giving love or splinter into isolated factions of self-absorption. . .