In some small way, I think that the pandemic feels like a "diaspora" of a sort. We feel scattered, or at least disconnected, from the communal relationships that define us. Nowhere has this been more evident than in church.
One of the phrases heard frequently when traveling by train in Europe is “Mind the Gap.” It is a phrase that is repeated every time the train door is opened. “Mind the Gap,” in other words pay attention to what you are doing so that you do not fall or trip as you maneuver the steps to the landing outside the train. There is an open space, a gap, between the outside of the train and the sidewalk. “Mind the Gap.”
Maybe it is an illusion, perhaps a response to fatigue, but the number of questions that seem to demand answers is increasing geometrically. As the approach of fall brings a new school year, a new season of learning in the church, and a thousand other “new” things marinated in the odyssey known as the pandemic, every moment demands answers and spawns more questions. Speaking as one who is supposed to know stuff and provide answers, I am going to make a confession – and I don’t think I’m alone. I don’t know. I don’t know how to keep everyone safe, nor how to keep folks satisfied and connected to a congregation that is still mostly scattered. I don’t know when this will end, nor how the weeks and months ahead will unfold. I don’t know.
I have been thinking this week about the Lord’s Prayer. Besides praying it, I have been contemplating what it means to pray, “God’s will to be done on earth as in heaven." Many challenges are interrupting the peaceful loving world we all desire.
The big news story this week is Simone Biles, the twenty-four-year-old gymnast who bowed out of Olympic competition because she needed to take care of her own mental health. Because of her tremendous achievements in the sport, she is seen as the “greatest gymnast of all time.” That’s quite a yoke to place on the neck of a young woman.
I have a couple of shoe boxes on the top shelf of my closet that contain notes – love notes. They are from my wife and span the thirty plus years we’ve been together. We met in a distant past where people still wrote letters to each other. Those love notes, in letter and card, tell our love story. Once, in a moment of insanity, I took them down to throw them away figuring that I knew well enough the sentiments the boxes contained. This interrupted our marital bliss for a moment, until I came to my senses and placed them securely back on the shelf. My wife knows more about devotion than I do.
It is hard for congregations to become a manifestation of Christ’s Beloved Community. There are many reasons, but perhaps the biggest reason in our age is consumerism. Our culture, driven by economic values and personal satisfaction, turns everything into a commodity. We “shop” for churches. In the same way we decide not to go to a restaurant that gave us a bad burger, we decide to find another church because of a slight from another member, a sermon with which we disagree, or a song that we disliked.
The first step to being a part of The Beloved Community rooted in Christ is not to love others. Being able to share ourselves in a Christ-like way with another person must be preceded by being beloved. “Christ loves me.” That is the beginning. Sounds easy, right? But which “me” does Christ love? Is it the “me” that shows up at work every day? Or is it the “me” that carts my children to all those activities? Is it the loving spouse or the guy that gets road rage in traffic? Is it the “me” I try to be or the one that ends up falling short so often? Is it the “me” I let people see, or the one that is hidden so deep it never sees the light of day? In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Polonius counsels, “To thine ownself be true.” Who is my “ownself?” Is it the me I present to the world or the me that Christ knows, that God made?
Last week, I offered an introduction to the whole Church, and our congregation, as a Beloved Community constituted by The Beloved Community of the Holy Trinity. God’s love makes community, it draws people together, it glues disparate people and personalities together in community that shares love with the world. Every Christian congregation is a divinely constituted holy, messy, sacred, flawed community and each of us has been drawn by the Spirit to be here – in this place, at this time.
This coming Sunday the Church observes the Festival of the Holy Trinity – The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Grasping the meaning and essence of the Trinity is not an easy task. In fact, it is ultimately impossible for it is the attempt at trying to express the deepest mystery of a God who is as close as your breath and as distant as the farthest galaxy; as intimate as your most inner thought and as transcendent as time itself. When the Athanasian Creed teaches, “We worship one God in trinity and the Trinity in unity, neither confusing the persons nor dividing the divine being,” I find myself over my head and out of my depth.