Monday, August 13, 2012

On Community & Compost

Recently, I watched a 20/20 feature on the Bates family, the family with 19 biological children who aren’t the Duggars. They did not believe in birth control, but rather that God was going to give them as many children as he wanted. However, when the wife in late age began experiencing miscarriages, she began taking hormone treatments to help increase her chances of pregnancy. As she saw it, the embryo was a life, and she should do everything in her power to preserve that life.

If there are signs of life, even the faintest, God certainly can’t be asking us to let go.

As a culture in general, we have a hard time with end of life care. We want to do everything possible to prolong life, long after it is viable. We have not been taught how to let go, how to grieve well, how to honor the process of dying.

If there are signs of life, even the faintest, God certainly can’t be asking us to let go.

Yesterday, the community I co-pastor, Eikon Church, had a difficult conversation. We came to the honest conclusion that our community was just not sustainable at this time. It happens with smaller, community-led communities - even a few life changes can make it difficult to keep up with the responsibilities you have taken on. We recognized that as part of a natural life cycle and, though it is difficult, made the decision to allow the community to close rather than force it to keep going.

I value unity and community highly. I read a lot about it. I write a lot about. I talk a lot about it.

It seems wrong, somehow, that letting go of community would be a healthy thing.

Death shouldn’t lead to life.

But isn’t that exactly what Christians believe?

There are a lot of Biblical metaphors on gardening: seeds, and fertile soil, and vines and whatnot. We like to see ourselves as gardeners and maybe even seeds, but we don’t often associate ourselves with the soil itself. I don’t know a whole lot about gardening. When I lived in community, my roommates did most (oh, ok… ALL) of the tending to plants and plots. I learned some this year as I helped with the planting and nurturing of the Eikon Church garden. We did all that we could for the harvest, but in the end the drought got the best of us. From observation, I’ve learned a little about composting. The short of it is, you make life-giving material out of decomposed once-living things. It’s a form of recycling, a resurrection, if you will – life, allowed to die, is spread around to bring newer, richer life.

Death gives way to life.

Not an anxiousness, but a freedom.

A freedom to walk the road with strangers, listening to their questions, breaking bread at their table.

A freedom to ask important questions, like “Do you have anything here to eat?

A freedom to offer invitations, like “Come, have breakfast.

Death gives way to resurrection, to grace.

Chris Smith & John Pattison are writing a book on Slow Church. Part of slowness is honoring the seasons, the times of planting, the times of waiting, the times of growth, the times of pruning, and, yes, even the times of dying.

As hard as this process is - as hard as letting something go, letting it die so that something new can emerge (even if it's scattered seeds), it feels so much more natural, so much more honest, so much more real to honor the cycle of life than to keep breathing life into a body through artificial means. I’ve been a part of (and observed) congregations where, when things appeared not to be going the direction the people in authority wanted them to go, manipulation, coerciveness, guilt and pressure were used to make things happen, even if it felt like perhaps God was leading another direction.

I am so honored to have been a part of the journey of Eikon Church. And I am inspired by the humility and vulnerability it took to come to the place of letting go. My friend Ragan Sutterfield has taught about how humility and humanity are rooted in the word humus – the soil.

We often prefer holding tight to our illusion of control, then opening our hands to the unknown.

There are a lot of unknowns in Eikon’s transition. And it's a good thing that we were able to say upfront that we're not closing immediately, that we're going to spend time transitioning together and talking about what that's going to look like and how we carry our relationships & what we've learned together with us.

Maybe that is part of what honest congregations have to teach - not only how to live, but also how to die well. And how to live resurrection, live life after death, even when we're scattered, even when seasons change, even when we change.

Earlier in this season of discernment, we reworked our mission statement. I think this is what we carry with us into the unknown:

Practicing the way of Jesus.

Welcoming all people into community.

Participating in the story of redemption.