Monday, March 11, 2013

doing things together

Scene at the chalet this past weekend
Individual spirituality and theology are a pretty big part of our religious landscape in the 21st century.  Like most of my acquaintances, I have developed my own particular theological convictions over the years based in large part on readings I have done, teachings I have heard, and experiences I have had.  Though there have been rich conversations aplenty, I formulate my own ideas and I have the final say in what I accept or do not accept; my particular ideas are ones that I have come to on my own. Likewise, most of my dialogues with God and encounters with scripture are usually done in private as well.  To my knowledge, Christianity in the 21st century is based more in individualism than any previous age.  And because of this, we miss out on a lot of theological richness that can only be found in a communal context.

This past week was a case in point for me.  First, as part of a homework assignment for a course, seven of us got together and read through the entire book of John in one sitting.  It took about 2 hours, each of us reading three chapters aloud.  The effect was quite amazing.  For the first few chapters I let the poetic, mystical language resonate in my mind.  Then I began to hear connections between people, events, and different stories that I had never heard before.  As well, each person's reading seemed to have its own personality.  I remember the gentleman next to me flailing his arms in the air and slapping the seat of the couch as he vocalised the (used to be) blind man's frustration over the silly questions of the Pharisees (John 9).  I also noticed that Jesus was cheekier in his interactions with various people than I remembered.

One of the main observations I came away with was that there is a lot of death in this book.  Many times in the first 11 chapters we hear that it is not yet Jesus' time.  Then in John 12, everything changes.  Jesus announces that "the hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified."  And after this, he turns his face towards death.  Before this point, people tried to apprehend him but couldn't.  He seemed untouchable, on top of the world with a steady string of miracles, healings, and followers, and while there were a few pesky nay-sayers, they were easily handled.  But after his statement in John 12, Jesus immediately begins to talk about death, the death of a seed.  After this, the many deaths of Jesus begin to accumulate: the death of relationships as his disciples start to leave him, the death of his reputation as he gets arrested, the death of his influence as followers question his authenticity, the death of his successful teaching ministry, the slow death of his body as he is tortured and crucified, the death of close friendships with his mother and his beloved disciple, and finally, the death of his connection to God.

The way of death for Jesus was devastating and complete, and in this reading I saw that it was indicative of how he lived.  It is the way of the upside-down kingdom that he came to bring.  Here, the first are last and the last first, here servants have the greatest authority, here children know more than wise men, and here death brings life.  This picture of the many deaths of Jesus has begun to change how I view other things as well.  Last night I was watching Celebrity Apprentice and became quite annoyed when a man of integrity was fired and others with questionable practices were rewarded.  "Why, God?" I asked.  "Why do good guys lose and bad guys win?"  And then I realised that winning is not the point and that I had unwisely equated winning with prosperity, blessing, and success.  Ah, the narratives of a world entrenched in individuality (one person wins means another loses) so subtly attach themselves to our ways that we find ourselves adopting them for our own.  Instead, I need to align myself more fully with the upside-down ways of Jesus, and that only happens when we do things together.

The second example of doing theology through "doing things together"came the next day.  Our faith community went off to a retreat in the mountains this past weekend.  There were 19 of us squished into a 4-bedroom chalet.  We cooked together and at times, much laughter came from the kitchen as silly mishaps became occasions of hilarity.  We ate together and cleaned up together and slept in close proximity and played together and hiked together and prayed together and sat in silence together.  We made a point of reading prayers and psalms together in the morning and in the evening.  And in everything, we had to be accommodating.  One person's tastes or desires or agenda did not rule.  The quick had to wait for those who were slower, the ones who were more adept in the kitchen had to patiently work with those who had less experience.  We ate what others prepared for us and we cleaned up messes that others had made.  And none of the small inconveniences seemed to matter because we were doing this together.  Learning about grace only happens when our differences surface.  Learning to love only happens as we journey together with those not like us.  Learning to listen, to be a student, to serve, and to teach others with patience only happen when we have to do them over and over again.  Together.   

Matte from Montreal


  1. Amazing post Matte! Dennis Hollinger has a really interesting book called Individualism and Social Ethics: An Evangelical Syncretism. It gets at the problems that individualism has brought to our faith tradition (evangelical). It is a mixed blessing really, there are things we can and should treasure about individualism. But there are things we completely miss because individualism is so consuming. I love the communal reading of scripture, it is so amazing to see the gospels come alive in the minds of others (I'm convinced the gospels were meant to be read aloud and this is one of the big reasons why!). Very encouraging post. Just what I needed to read today.

  2. Thanks, Frank! I hope we do more "together" readings as well. It was a great experience.