Saturday, May 5, 2018

Church and Community

As we continue through the Easter season and also the cultural climate that is 2018 (and also as I continue to read The Holy Longing by Rolheiser and Madeline L'Engle's Walk on Water), I am realizing even more what I think I have already learned: that Church and Community can look different than our long accepted norms.

Through much of my 20s and some of my 30s, I have grappled with what community and Church are "supposed" to look like. I knew that I wanted to belong to both. Church, perhaps, came somewhat more easily as I accepted the faith that I had been born into. I studied it, explored it, visited it, and decided that it did fit me. Community, however, I had to keep trying on for size.

Looking back, I have always juggled many communities at once: athletic team friends, creative friends, smart friends, not-so-smart friends, choir friends, church friends, popular friends, not-so-popular friends. And I always fell somewhere amid all of them. Friends from in state, out of state, pen pals I had met, and those that I hadn't.

In Rolheiser's book, The Holy Longing, he creates this analogy about a woman name Betzy. He describes Betzy as one who doesn't really fit one particularly group or community, but rather, she has friends who are conservative, liberal, artistic, athletic, gay, straight, rich, poor, old, young, religious, non-religious, etc. And she invites them all to a party in her honor. Because she is there, they are all connected and they are able to co-exist for her sake. Without her presence there, however, the gathering might be much more hostile and segregated.

Rolheiser uses this analogy for Christ and our Church. He is "Betzy" or the connection between all of His gathered guests. Without Him as our center, though, the group can veer from its purpose and can become separate parts rather than a whole.

I could relate to Betzy in this analogy. Not to say that I can relate to being a Christ figure, but I can relate in the sense that I have a place in many different communities that may not make sense all in one room together. However, I'm sure this is the case for a lot of us, though. Why, then, do we make it make it seem like such a break from the norm to have these communities overlap, when many of us do exist in many of these different worlds? Why don't we bring these communities together to coexist more often?

I shared in my last post that L'engle's book about Faith and Art has made me see a lot of connection between the two worlds. The art world and the religious world have not always been such separate entities. They used to coexist for centuries. But as art changed and shifted and the Church remained the same in many ways, I think these two worlds or communities seem more different on the surface. However, as L'engle makes a case for, that at their cores, art and faith will always be linked.

I feel accepted and comfortable in the art community here in Richmond because I have found such welcoming, open minded people. Artists are open to mystery and the unknown and that which cannot be explained. Isn't this what the Church is also open to?

I am fortunate that I have been able to find a Church community as well. And sometimes, those two communities can overlap. I took part in an art show through my Church that an artist friend organized. I know that a local Catholic hospital is asking for art to decorate its hallways and many of my local artist friends are interested. However, I wish that these communities could overlap and coexist more. Maybe that is selfish. But I truly think that only when we come together, in spite of our differences, can we see what we have in common.

I also recently read a really beautiful article on Spirituality and Sexuality in which three queer persons of different religious backgrounds- Catholic, Muslim, and Jewish- expressed their ability to embrace both their faith and sexuality and allow those parts of themselves to coexist. Even as a straight woman, I have always felt accepted by the LGTBQ community. Probably because as a religious, single woman interested in all of the things that I am interested in, I don't fit the societal "norms" in some ways. I certainly have not had to struggle as those in the LGTBQ community, but I find more common ground and acceptance in this community, even as a straight, religious woman, than I do in some religious communities. And that's the tea.

In this liturgical season of Easter as we hear about the early Church community and hear of their struggles to establish the Church as Christ intended it, we also hear of their brokenness and their mistakes. Rolheiser also makes clear that it is in the brokenness that we really become Church because Christ was made broken in order to heal all.

And the early Church community was not a flawless, perfect family. They were a hodge podge, ragtag team put together in that common room (much like the Betzy analogy). They came together because of their love of Christ. So must we, too, come together because of love. Rolheiser says:

"Apostolic community is not had by joining others who share our fears and with them, barricading ourselves against what threatens us. It is had when, on the basis of something more powerful than our fears, we emerge from our locked rooms and begin to take down walls." - The Holy Longing

At Pentecost, the feast considered the birthday of the Church, this is what the apostles did. They went from hiding to breaking down walls for the sake of their faith. This is what artists do. They break down barriers and fears through creating new ways of viewing and thinking. This is what marginalized communities like the LGTBQ communities do. They emerge from locked rooms and begin to take down walls.

I am grateful that in 2018, we are slowly starting to see where lines cross and intersect which is literally everywhere, all the time. We just have to be open to the Holy Spirit to see it, rather than cowering in a corner clinging to confusion or old ways of thinking.

Here is just a small sampling of the people I consider community and family. They don't look like what society says that I should have at 37. They are not a husband with 2.5 kids and a dog. But they accept me and comfort me and challenge me and call me to learn more about love. And isn't that what family is?