It has been sometime since I have thought about 'lost themes of mission' but today's daily dose of Nouwen got me thinking about what constitutes developing 'true community'.
"There are many forms of poverty: economic poverty, physical poverty, emotional poverty, mental poverty, and spiritual poverty. As long as we relate primarily to each other's wealth, health, stability, intelligence, and soul strength, we cannot develop true community. Community is not a talent show in which we dazzle the world with our combined gifts. Community is the place where our poverty is acknowledged and accepted, not as something we have to learn to cope with as best as we can but as a true source of new life.
Living community in whatever form - family, parish, twelve-step program, or intentional community - challenges us to come together at the place of our poverty, believing that there we can reveal our richness."
Nouwen's words made me think how easy it is for us as church to engage with our communities from a position of smug superiority. Where the attribute of 'true community' is fragmented by a need to dazzle each other with exactly how missional we are, sharing our 'expertise and experience' in a way that we legitimise by calling it sharing good news, or if we were Tesco's managers, knowledge management. In other words perhaps spin driven by the kind of positioning that Nouwen describes as 'wealth, health, stability, intelligence, and soul strength'.
It would seem to me that learning to truely engage with our communities would need a shift in alignment from 'having all the answers and aren't you lucky to have us in the neighbourhood' to understanding mission from a christological position of vulnerability and poverty. I'm not sure what this means, but I do know that such a position leaves no room for 'dazzling talent shows', I do know that it positions a church in a way that authenticity and openness of intent is clear to see and I do know that that vulnerability leads us to places where glib answers and cliches are better replaced with a simple 'I don't know, but let's learn together'.
I could be wrong but I reckon Nouwen's thoughts about developing true community stand as a challenge to how we relate not only to each other but equally as churches to our neighbourhoods. So I add community to my list of lost themes.