What We Crave

By Katie Harmon-McLaughlin

(Reflections from Barberton Community of Christ’s 5th Wednesday Swiss Steak Community Dinner)

Last night I went to church and engaged the tasks of meal making and hospitality preparing with a group of disciples who welcomed me as family though some I had never met.

As we waited for the community to arrive, we traded stories while mashing potatoes and cutting pies.

I talked poetry and theology in the dinner line, watching neighbors take heaping helpings of a home cooked meal-

Green beans
Mashed potatoes
Swiss steak
Salad
Coleslaw (you will want to ask Kay for the recipe)

Pies and brownies around the corner

Bread and butter on the tables

We were sent home with a potato masher, 3 containers of leftovers, and half a strawberry rhubarb pie…

And embraces so tender and genuine that I left the building with a teary warmth I’ve yearned for, the kind of whole-hearted community nurturing my heart seeks.

I can see the comfort this type of gathering brings, why the poor and the elderly show up to be tended in body and spirit.

Something here is the church as it’s meant to be- a grace offering with no agenda, love unrestricted.

And still, I couldn’t help feeling a pang of grief for these trying-to-be-faithful people as they struggle against the same trends of decline that have been afflicting and reforming the church all over. 25 members strong on a Sunday morning, they wonder what God wants to make of them, wonder why more young families don’t want to come. On a critical day, I could offer a whole list of reasons.

But as I bask in the lingering glow of being truly loved by the body of Christ, however small, a different thought emerges…

Perhaps quieter than all the other voices aimed at “fixing” the church.

It says things like:
These are my beloved, in whom I am well pleased
and
The kingdom has come near
and even this:
The salvation of the world is in loving community such as this.

For a moment, I hold in my heart’s gaze all the world’s suffering, including those responsible for inflicting it, and I imagine all of us in the dinner line together…

Ruthellen’s tender embrace welcoming each one, assuring us,

“there is plenty, take what you need.”

We sit at the table and stories are shared and souls are mended and the whole earth begins to heal.

This is what love can do. This is the secret treasure we hold that the world craves. This is what I long for deep in my bones. This is the hunger that keeps drawing us together.

This is how the living Christ shows up and breathes upon us-
Peace.

The “Real” World

By Katie Harmon-McLaughlin

The summer is winding down. The mosquito bites on my ankles have waned in their itching intensity. As family camps and youth camps have begun drawing toward closure, we are left with our reflections on this peculiar communal practice of going into the wilderness together to draw closer to our God and remember our belonging to one another.

It is not unusual to feel a strange dissonance in these early stages of entering back into normal daily rhythms. It may still be beyond articulation, but what one senses in the soul is a restlessness with the way things are compared to the glimpse of the way things were in a more relationally, spiritually grounded way of being. Many will have just experienced the holy relief of pure acceptance for the first time. The desire to hold on to those moments of God-presence and radical inclusion is surely an understandable feeling.

Every year, I notice something interesting as we dialogue with each other about the initial strangeness of re-entry. It has to do with what is really real. Comments will range from, “time to go back to the real world” to “camp is the real world and everything else is fake.” I find myself increasingly troubled by both ends of the “real world” spectrum and how we attempt to make meaning of these transformational moments in our lives. Isn’t all of it real?

Without integration, the experiences we’ve had lose their transformational potential in our lives and the world. The mystics throughout the centuries demonstrate that genuine spiritual experience is not meant to occur in isolation but always has real-life implications. To so quickly label one experience real and the other somehow less real is to diminish the potential for both experiences to impact each other. If this is all God’s world and God’s Spirit is incarnate everywhere within it, then all that is required of us is our attention in whatever place we are in to discover it!

Perhaps in places like youth camp and SPEC and Reunion (family camp), we find ourselves more diligently practicing attention to God’s Spirit through regular personal and communal spiritual practices like worship and prayer and shared meals and time for holy conversations. The time, which seems to be so scarce in other moments of our lives, is suddenly set-aside in abundance for this exact purpose. Does this make the other times any less real? No! Every moment, every minute is an invitation to dwell deeply in the reality of God no matter where we are or what is on our daily agenda.

In Heart of Flesh, Joan Chittister challenges us to see more clearly the link between our spirituality and the culture surrounding us. “The spiritual life, because it must be lived in the present to be real, is anything but esoteric and abstract. Culture and spirituality, in fact, are of a piece. Culture creates the framework within which the spiritual life comes to be and grow. Some people, of course, look to spirituality for refuge from the real world… But a life that takes us out of life is no life at all.”

An authentic spiritual life allows the deep roots of experiences like camp to shape the way we see the whole real world around us on a daily basis. We are not called to reject this world as some half-truth giving it our half-heartedness while counting down the days until we can escape again. We are called to draw from the reservoir within us of stargazing around the campfire and prayers for healing and inspiring messages of justice and the dream of being one in Christ to influence every detail of our daily actions. We are called now to embrace everything and everyone as real and as revelation of God’s real presence… even what we don’t want to see or accept.

The dream of shalom that has grown as a foundation in the soul does not remove us from the real but prompts us toward deeper engagement as we encounter injustice and separation of many kinds and feel that dissonant nudge reminding us of another way that can be real if we have courage enough to live its truth. We can’t forget that hungry children are also real and so are warzones and long lines on city streets waiting for the homeless shelter to open. If our spirituality is not also for these real spaces and only takes place occasionally in seclusion, we may need to ask some hard questions of ourselves.

Yet, what is also real is the power of invitation to a common table, a holy conversation, to the church which can become that place in our lives that mends the wear and tear in our shalom dream from its weeklong living. What remains real is the radical acceptance you found (even when you feel rejected) and the belonging you felt (even when you feel alone) and the relationship with the Holy that came to you with an embrace you craved (even when it’s hard to feel at times). You can trust in the realness of these things too. You can live their realness everyday and strive to make them real also for those who have never sat around a campfire singing “Spirit of the living God fall afresh on me.”

I would like to suggest that this year we embrace all of it as real, all of it as space for holy encounter! The fact that these incredible experiences we’ve had are real means that they can happen and become real again anywhere and anytime we open our hearts to the reality of God’s presence wherever we are!

THE CAPACITY FOR LOVE IN DISAGREEMENT TIMES

Lenten Practice: Centering Prayer
Daily Act: God’s Spirit is a place of unity drawing us together in oneness. Today, intentionally extend love to someone with whom you disagree.
Weekly Prayer Phrase:

I DWELL IN YOU AS THE SOURCE OF ALL LIFE.

by Katie Harmon-McLaughlin

One of the blessings and challenges of community in Christ is that you are very likely to encounter someone else with whom you disagree. If everyone you know thinks like you, it might be wise to consider expanding wider the boundaries of your community. The body of Christ is made of many members.

The reality is this: we can hurt each other.

We can wound with words or lack of words, action or lack of action. It can be intentional or unintentional. Resentments build up within us overtime. Trust decays. Whole communities can be diminished because of a single marring moment never fully tended.

This is where our spiritual lives can develop a strength in us that is not hard or uncaring. We can choose to not be personally punctured by every potentially offensive remark (politically or otherwise). I have noticed that sometimes the people with the “thickest skin” also have the softest hearts- wide open to receive the other even when they are not received in return. What capacity for love! I marvel.

I have witnessed some of our own leaders in Community of Christ stand in love as they received a barrage of angry disagreement from a fellow member. I have witnessed the grace they extended, by choosing not to react to those words born of anger and instead to ask questions that would get both parties closer to the heart of the matter.

I believe these are people who have rich prayer lives. From where does the capacity to love so unconditionally come? It comes from the source of love itself, which can be found within each one of us, if we choose to access that deepest space within where God resides. It takes a kind of strength that comes from life in the Spirit to see past whatever disagreement one is in the midst of, to the presence of the divine in the one with whom they disagree.

I want to be clear that I am not talking about being passive or submissive. There are so many complexities to human conflict that I could write all day long and you would probably get tired of reading! I am talking about an honest love that refuses to give in to the sensationalism of the moment and seeks always a deeper understanding of one another where oneness in Christ becomes possible.

The spiritual life is for these times precisely. It is about developing those inner resources that can sustain and guide us in the moments that feel awkward, tense, strained, or where we are tempted to act as not our best selves. These are the moments when we rely on the One we claim to follow. This is the very point of being formed in the pattern of Christ. Who am I called to be when anger flares up within me, when it would be easier to cast aside the person before me as unworthy rather than put forth the effort to see Christ in them too?

There is a space within yourself where all the patience, forgiveness, and love you need for Christ-like relationship is waiting to be discovered. I pray you will dwell there and this is why: on the days when I am not my best self, I yearn for you to see past my angry, clumsy words to the Christ-life also within me.

I think the whole world is yearning for this seeing.

Lent is the season for reconciliation. Consider the wounding you’ve received, the wounding you’ve caused. What is God’s invitation to you in this time of repentance and forgiveness?