“To be human is to accept ourselves just as we are, with our own history, and to accept others as they are. To be human means to accept history as it is and to work, without fear, towards greater openness, greater understanding, and a greater love of others. To be human is not to be crushed by reality, or to be angry about it or to try to hammer it into what we think it is or should be, but to commit ourselves as individuals, and as a species, to an evolution that will be for the good of all.” Jean Vanier, Becoming Human pg. 15.
Community is about celebrating one another. We enjoy the uniqueness and differences of each member. Gretchen creates these wonderful baked goods that capture that diversity. It is so fun seeing what she’ll come up with next.
I’ve noticed that gift cards are the “in” present this year. It’s not new, I know. They’ve been gaining popularity for some time. But the gift card is now the ideal present. I actually heard someone interviewed on TV saying, “Who knows what I like better than me? The gift card is the perfect gift.”
Often, the big complaint about giving gifts is that it’s too hard to know what to give. A close second, however, is the embarrassment of choosing a gift that is not liked, wasting money on something that no one wants, and revealing your poor taste to your gift’s intended target.
Businesses think the gift card is a godsend as well. In fact, they count on them. Some of our members, who clean windows for a living, overheard a morning staff meeting at a local eating establishment where they vigorously exhorted the employees to push gift cards on the customers. It was the only thing that got them through the winter last year, they said.
I think a gift card is a poor gift. The whole point of a gift is to express to someone your love and affection. Part of that is thinking about them and selecting something that you think will bless them, and at the same time, reveal a little about you. I enjoy getting gifts that surprise me and reveal how much the person had to think about me. It makes me feel cherished and gives me a glimpse into their life, which has the effect of building our relationship and drawing us closer. Isn’t this what giving gifts are for?
I was talking to a vendor the other day and she told me that this Christmas her family wasn’t going to be able to exchange that many gifts because of an illness. They had decided to just spend time together and make that their Christmas. I commented that was the purpose of gifts anyway, wasn’t it? She answered, “Um, I guess so.” She, like many in our society, focus on the gifts and not the relationships. This is what makes the Gospel alien to our culture.
Our community celebrates Christmas by exchanging gifts each year. In the summer we pick names out of a hat and then spend the next several months thinking about each other and scheming about how to bless with a gift that will delight and endear. And rarely will you see a gift card given.
“Living Out the Gospel of the Kingdom” is one of the phrases our Fellowship coined to express our mission. No one told us what our mission was. We only discovered it after several years of trying to live a total commitment to Christ, His people and His work in a common purse, intentional community. One evening, after weeks of trying to articulate what our mission is, we made a list of phrases that would capture the feeling and essence of what we were experiencing. This phrase was rated near the top.
But what does it mean? It’s living out the values of God’s kingdom expressed by Jesus in His Sermon on the Mount. Simply, it is loving one another and taking liability for each other. It is committing our whole lives and resources to each other under the lordship of Christ.
I’m sure living out the Gospel means even more than this. But this has been a good starting point for us. Recently, I’ve been reading the book, Schools for Conversion: 12 Marks of a New Monasticism. I thought this quote by Ivan Kauffman caught the spirit of what we’ve felt:
“We are not merely marbles in a bucket – autonomous beings who happen to be in the same place at the same time, each of whom are capable of living whole and healthy lives by themselves. We are cells in a body, each giving something to the body which it needs and each receiving from the other cells in that body what we need to sustain our lives.” pg. 72
It seems we face in our culture a fundamental zealous commitment to individualism. In some ways this is what has made the U.S. a successful nation. But I suspect it has broken a lot of things in other ways. It certainly doesn’t empitomize the values of God’s kingdom.
Living out the Gospel of the Kingdom is trying to put into practice the good news of what will eventually take over the entire universe.