Monday, June 23, 2008

Community That We Are In

Yesterday morning, we were learning about ‘community’ in our Bible Study session. We went to The Cathay building to have that session rather than in the church because we don’t have enough room.

The place was not very conducive but still better than others that we've tried.

There were 8 of us, including Dominic Yeo (our co-leader) and myself. First we talked about our notion of ‘community’. I asked all of us to describe one community that we take part in.

After going one around with everyone sharing about the communities that they are participating, I asked them how does a church community should be like, and what do each of us expect from this community?

We shared that we expect ‘spiritual growth’ (when I heard this term mentioned by Johanna, I thought to myself, “…mmm… loaded term…”), help and care from one another, and sharing the same identity, among many others.

Then we looked at the listed 4 characteristics of a community in our Bible Study material: (1) Unity, (2) Witness, (3) Selflessness, and (4) Generosity.

I threw these 4 questions on the table in 4 rounds. Each round for one term. And everyone is encouraged to provide his/her own understanding of this term in a Christian-community context.

All of them provided good understanding of the term but I’ll just note some of those here.

Cheryl pointed out that ‘Unity’ doesn’t mean that everyone should be closely bonded together. I was glad to agree with her and acknowledged the importance of her point. Many of us have the wrong notion that in a Christian community, we should be open to everyone.

Each one of us is created differently and relate differently with different people. Hence within the Ecclesia, we shouldn’t expect ourselves to be open to all, but only to those whom we are comfortable with. Then I brought Cheryl’s point further to say that, in view of this, we as a church are being bind together not by our ‘openness to everyone within the community’, but by our individual contribution to the community’s shared vision and aspiration.

On ‘Witness’, Johanna said that in a Christian community, we have to be a testimony within the group. She is right. That said, I suggested to the group that we have to be aware of the temptation of ‘holier than you’ attitude. Being a ‘witness’ doesn’t mean that we can condemn or put our standard on those who we think have gone astray. Instead we should “bring healing and wholeness by being alongside them” (Rowan Williams). We should not approach them as an outsider who is studying a case but as someone who actually walk side by side with the person, bringing hope in the midst of hopelessness.

On ‘Selflessness’, Benedict and Meiryl, who are currently serving in the youth committee told us about some of the things that they do. They and the rest who are serving the community are encouraged for all the “sai kang” (in Hokkien, it literally means ‘shit jobs’. To them, it means all kind of ‘behind-the-scene’ preparation) that they are doing. I affirmed their selfless services and point out that all their work in all subtleties are reflection of selfless contribution to the community.

After that the discussing the 4 terms, we tackled the question on their opinion of our youth community in the church. From our discussion, one point which most of us share is that the younger youths are not really passionate about this community.

I asked them why. Some suggested that that is because they are 2nd generation Christians. Some actually confessed that they are not active in guiding the younger youths. They realized that they didn’t do the same to the younger ones as how the older youths had been helping them.

It’s quite surprising to me that they brought this up and see their implication with the youth congregation.

So, taking their opinion seriously, I told them that here is where the ‘Unity’ of the community comes to play. We talked about being united in our individual selfless contribution to the community of a shared vision, and this is one place where it is necessary to remind ourselves of what is it to be united in the Ecclesia.

Not only that, I reminded them that their individual contribution is not only to help the younger youths but also the older youths as well. As in a Christian community, the top and the bottom are supposed to be encouraging one another. The top needs the bottom just as the bottom needs the top.

Then we went on to explore why the younger ones are not as passionate? I also asked them a related question, “Why do you come to church this morning where there are so many other places to go?”

To explore these questions, I had to ask them another question, “Whose image are we made from?”

As I expected, they gave me the ‘duh’ look before answering, “image of God”.

Then I asked them further, while acknowledging that that is a ‘duh’ question, what is the image of God? There they went silent.

“From the fact that a human being is a member of the Church, he becomes an “image of God”, he exists as God Himself exists, he takes on God’s “way of being.” This way of being… is a way of relationship with the world, with other people and with God, an event of communion, and that is why it cannot be realized as the achievement of an individual, but only as an ecclesial fact.” (John Zizioulas, Being as Communnion)

Of course, I didn’t read them that! I paraphrased it in simpler terms. I told them that whenever they go to church, taking part in the Christian community, they are becoming an image of God, reflecting the character of God.

They responded, “Huh?”

If God exist as three persons, sharing the same vision and aspiration, then that is a community. And that suggests that part of God’s image is existence in a community. And when Christians take part in a Christian community, we are reflecting God and becoming an image of God.

I think that was the climax of yesterday’s Bible Study. Before the session, I’ve planned to guide the group to exactly that point, realizing that participating in the Ecclesia is in the becoming an image of God. And by providence, we managed to get to that point.

Besides that, Kim brought up that Christians should read and understand the Bible as a community. I could not agree less. If an individual ignores others to understand the Bible, then his understanding will eventually turned into misunderstanding. Thus we not only need our present community to read to Bible together, but also the past communities and their reading of the Bible to help us to understand God’s word better.

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