[written by Greg Paul, posted by Lyf Stolte]
We gather because we belong to each other.
It doesn’t always feel that way. I’ve been at some family get-togethers at which I felt like the odd man out, and others when somebody else was in a huff. The worst is when there’s an elephant in the room – everybody knows there’s something wrong, but nobody is talking about it. Despite our struggles, and although at times we don’t even want it to be true, we continue to gather, at birthdays and holiday times, or just to share a meal, because ultimately we know we still belong to each other.
As I began writing this, there was a massive banging on Sanctuary’s front door, and the sound of somebody outside ranting loudly. When I went to check, I found an old friend in rough shape. No shoes or socks, in February, racing mentally, possibly high, spouting anger and disgust at the world. Sometimes he made sense, and sometimes he didn’t. While Lorraine went looking for footwear, I sat with him for a few minutes. He had his hood pulled up and his face bent low over his knees as he squatted on the front steps. His diatribe ran on unchecked; I put my hand on his back and said nothing.
The pace of his rant slowed a little and changed course: he began to explain the ways God had betrayed him – “He makes me suffer so I’ll know he loves me?” he asked incredulously at one point – and why he just couldn’t believe anymore. There was nothing for me to say to this, and no space to slip a word in anyway, so I just kept rubbing his back.
We look very different, my friend and I. I came from and continue to live in great privilege and security; my physical and mental health is good; the traumas in my life have been of the common, inescapable kind that it’s impossible to avoid in more than fifty years of living. My friend, not so much. There’s no way I can really enter into a true understanding of his particular suffering. His anger often focuses on the injustices, real or perceived, that he experiences within the Sanctuary community – and so, not infrequently, I’m the recipient of his expression of that anger. It’s not a comfortable relationship.
And yet, we belong to each other. The very experiences and conditions of life that ought to separate us are a part of what draws us together. The material stability which I enjoy comes with a responsibility to share out of my excess – money, energy, opportunity, imagination – with others who struggle. When such basic compassion creates a connection, we discover over time that we actually begin to care about each other. We begin to belong to each other.
It’s far from a one-way proposition, however. The social dynamics of our world would place me as the important one, the powerful one in such a relationship; in those terms, it’s true. But the principles of the kingdom of God are very different. Jesus taught us that it’s the one who is poor in spirit that will inherit the kingdom. “Poor in spirit”: one who, like my friend, has spent all his spirit ever had; he’s the one who is at the centre of God’s economy, not me. When the truth of this begins to sink in, I find that my perspective on almost everything changes. I need my friend at least as much as he needs me. He reminds me that, finally, we are kin; that we belong to each other because we belong to the One who called us into being.Sometimes my friend’s voice, or the voices of others who are in similar condition, are “prophetic” – they announce out loud those things which have been forgotten or ignored. I have no answer to his questions about his afflictions, because his questions are my own.
This is all much, much bigger than a better here-and-now for underprivileged folks. There is, I believe, a transcendent reality in play – that, in a hereafter, God’s justice will triumph completely, and sin and death in every form will be destroyed: the ultimate fulfillment of the kingdom of heaven. We seek justice now, not so much because we believe we can triumph ourselves in significant ways, but because, in faith, we are living toward that greater reality.
My friend’s situation and condition is hardly unique in our community. The story I’ve related could have been about any number of our people. He may be at one end of the socio-economic continuum, and I near the other, but around here there are hundreds at various stages along it. All in one community.
Throughout the balance of this week, this disparate, dysfunctional band will gather. For lunch, for supper, to make art, play games, celebrate with music and dancing, and to worship and pray. Why? Because we belong to each other.