One of the strange delights of my time serving in Valhalla Parish was the invitation from the local community newspaper to contribute my reflections on a variety of topics. After a number of conversations with people around town who had had little contact with Christians or the Christian faith, but who expressed interest in understanding what it was all about, I used my column one month to share these thoughts.
While this particular blog post doesn't get to everything, it was my beginning attempt to talk publicly about the Christian faith with people who had no insider language, no vestigial memory of what Christian faith or church were all about.
So. How'd I do? I'd love to hear how this take resonates with you, and what you might add.
Love. Hope. Belonging. Enough.
If I were to summarize the invitation and gift of the Christian faith in only four words, these are the words I would choose.
Love is where the Christian story starts and where it finds its end. From the very beginning—or so the story goes—God looks at the world and says “it is good.” God looks at humanity, at people like you and me, and says “you are beloved, you are good.” When Jesus comes on the scene, he reminds us–in his life, death, and impossible resurrection–that the way we respond in love to God is to embody that same abundant, boundless, generous, self-giving love for others.
Although we often get confused about this, hope is not some naïve optimism. Hope is not the damaging spiritual bypassing that claims “everything happens for a reason,” or says to a grieving parent, “I guess God needed another angel.” To gloss over pain and suffering does not allow us to walk the necessary path through lament and grief. Hope is to be found when I remember I don’t have to carry my burdens alone. In a community’s giving and receiving of love, care, and compassion, the hard-won hope of Christian faith is found.
Sharing each others’ joys and struggles, Christian community collapses hierarchies by valuing all people for their intrinsic worth across wide diversity. In a community infused with God’s love, and buoyed by hope, belonging is about more than attendance or presence. It is not achieved through conformity or hiding our true selves. True belonging can only exist in communities where members commit to honouring the people in front of them as inherently worthy of love, and where we practice these skills every day. When we inevitably fall short, we acknowledge our failure, seek to repair relationships so belonging might continue in a new way.
When I imagine the fulfilment of God’s dream for the universe, I imagine people who outwardly appear to have no business eating together joyfully sharing food at the same table. This is an image of belonging and abundance where all people (not just the insiders!) have enough. Looking around the table to find that some have more than they need, while others have far less, is a reminder that we still have work to do. Like the best experience of a shared meal, God’s dream is a beautiful table of transformation, challenging us to work and pray for a world in which all have enough and know that they are enough.