Guest written by Laura Taylor from the The Oh Nine.
SAFE, BUT NOT COMFORTABLE PART 2: EXTRAVAGANTLY LOVING
“The gospel doesn't need a coalition devoted to keeping the wrong people out. It needs a family of sinners, saved by grace, committed to tearing down the walls, throwing open the doors and shouting - welcome! There's bread and wine come eat with us and talk. This isn’t a kingdom for the worthy, it’s a kingdom for the hungry.”
- Rachel Held Evans
If you’re just jumping in here, this has been a wee thread of reflections around the theme of diverse, uncomfortable, table of our community. We have discussed the somewhat aspirational vision of a space with no social constructs or divisions, the reality and painful experience of the barriers and pitfalls, the desire to be a space of safety but perhaps not comfort, and for this final post I want to look at something slightly different, being a reckless loving community.
We recently had some members from Celebrate Recovery (our 12-step recovery programme) get up and share some of their journey with us. And I sat there bawling my eyes out (surprising both myself and the people beside me). In front of me was such a raw, real manifestation of what it looked like to feel totally safe, in a recklessly loving community. Where there was no fear (ok maybe a tiny bit) of failing, no stature to lose or rungs to fall from, but absolutely everything to gain. Here were six people, choosing to open up to their community that they had been broken in some way by addiction, and are bent on using it to help anyone else brave enough to hope for recovery. Because who better to offer solace in the journey, than those who know the joy of recovery? Teju Cole, an incredible journalist, writes “hope has nothing to do with mood or objective facts, but is rather a form of hospitality offered by those who are tired to those who are exhausted”.
I remember before I came to Central Vineyard, I had heard it tossed around it was a place being gravitated to by people who were ‘burnt-out’. We are a community full of tired people, who have been exhausted. Exhausted by religiosity, bureaucracy, legalism, sexism, racism. And as a once exhausted people, we have now found ourselves sitting around the table, and being asked to open it on up. Better yet - to burst through the doors and sing welcome! Oh you too have been exhausted by these things? You too have been heartbroken? You too have been crushed? Come and sit, you have a place here. We are called to be recklessly loving, recklessly hospitable and to do that we need to be a community totally unafraid of filling our room with the wrong people.
Because the thing is, exhausted people, broken people, people whose shiny exterior has been ruthlessly diminished see things that the whole ones can’t see. It’s when we are crushed, uprooted and thrown into liminal, trying spaces that we shift our value to, as Nouwen says, “the gift of life that has revealed itself in the midst of all the losses”. The bible is full of it, blessed are those who flat-on-their-face mourn. I have been reading an incredible journal, The Theology of the Disabled, which shares a myriad of lived experiences from the disabled community and what the concept of healing looks like within a christian framework - and this quote stayed with me “through grace, weakness becomes strength, as a gift to a community. The christological paradox of strength being revealed in weakness to deliver a wholeness which otherwise would not be, challenges and transcends human notions of weakness and wholeness as God works all things together for good.”
I recently wrote this piece, in it sharing some of my own learnings from a time of loss; “Sometimes during those two years in hospital when I needed a break, I’d go to the big floor-to-ceiling windows on Level Eight and watch the traffic below on Park Road. The cars would build up around 7pm, and I would watch people sitting bumper to bumper, little gold and red lights nudging each other. It would ground me to think the world was still flickering out there, people on their way home, planning things for their weekend, for Easter, heck, being able to have plans in general. But the strange thing was, I both envied and empathised with them. I longed for the normalcy of their lives, but felt they were also somehow missing out on the intangible rawness that seemed to present only in the face of heart-wrenching pain. Now I know, as C.S. Lewis superbly describes, ‘it is often in places of discomfort our little happinesses start to resemble broken toys’, that the veil is lifted. Getting uprooted popped my head above the water, and I knew that something had cracked in me. That I wouldn’t be able to just float anymore.”
I could no longer float because I had been broken. I peered behind the curtain. Or to be honest, the curtain had been ripped from its railing and lay in bitter shreds on the floor. And while I would not revisit that suffocatingly bleak period in a hurry, through it and through the overwhelming love made apparent to me in that time - I was gifted sight. And I want to be part of a community of people who see. Who have seen. Who are not defined by or dwell in their broken, sinful, painful moments but are willing to be loved and used in spite of them. Because of them. We all win when, as Nouwen says, hostility is converted into hospitality “for then fearful strangers can become guests revealing to their hosts the promise they are carrying with them”.
I didn’t know it when I moved in, but my flat falls in the centre of an area focused on by an intentional community - and I freaking love it. They operate by generously loving their neighbours and meeting needs, physical, emotional and spiritual. One of my good friends is an active member of the community - and I asked her what it looks like, practically, to live in this recklessly loving way; “The thing is, safety isn't created by laws and rules (like a lot of us christians love to impose on each other). It is created by listening and time and generosity. It is loving, but in new ways. Not being nice - but truly loving. I think learning how to have conversations about things in a loving manner, with no agenda but to hear each other and just listen is super important. Conversations are possibly the most important part of doing church. Through them, you start to understand that you are loved beyond difference, and in fact that your differences are SUPER important and valuable and beautiful”.
Let us be a place to have the conversations. To go out on a limb, as we are compelled to in 1 Corinthians, and extravagantly love. I mentioned above the journal I had been reading, and this quote in particular is from a reflection on God’s use of the disabled to usher in his kingdom and it absolutely gives me the shivers so I think it’s a good place to land this baby. “God does not heal people in order to bring them into His service, God does not try to overcome diversity by homogenizing human beings, the people whom God calls are blessed and used precisely as they are”.