I See God in That began as an experiment.
After my departure from my Catholic community was final (I chickened out a couple of times, if you must know), the dust had settled, life had quieted down and I had room to breathe.
I made a firm decision that my life in ministry—as a member of a community—was over for good. So I got a new job. Amy and I moved to the other side of our city. We began learning the ropes of newlywed life far from our “Christian” sphere. For the first time in a long time, I felt free. The world felt so big, like a vast frontier that was mine for the taking. I felt so small, so un-special, so ignorant. It was great.
I began to explore. I needed to know what I truly believed. First on the list… Would you believe I had never really tried alcohol before 2010? It’s true. No alcohol was a rule for service in ministry that I wholeheartedly embraced (and do not regret, by the way). So I hesitantly began ordering drinks when we’d go out. I was a total newbie. I’d spend ages reading the menu. I still am a noob.
I remember when I admitted to Amy that I was starting to enjoy beer. We were in the car and I said sheepishly, “Um…I have to admit something to you, babe…” “What?” She said. “I think…Um…I think I actually…Um…What’s the word…I think I like…Um…beer. I like beer. Is that OK?” She rubbed my back and said it was absolutely fine. But I think she was trying to suppress a snicker. Noob.
Exploring made me feel like a child again. I would spend ages just thinking, wondering what God thought about this or that and if I agreed with Him or not, or if I simply didn’t know my own opinion. Or if I even believed He existed. I’d go for days without praying and not feel guilty. I’d forget to read my Bible and there were no apparent consequences. I always feared God would make me feel distant if I stepped out of the established conventions.
But for some strange reason, I always felt that God was near. The way I spy on my little girl as she learns to shriek, alone in her crib thinking nobody is there. The way I will spy on her as she learns to crawl.
God was there. A loving Father was watching his child figure out the world. And with all my questions, doubts, misgivings and even sins, I never felt more understood by Him.
One day, out of the blue, a dear priest friend asked me to serve with him on a foreign mission trip. I hadn’t preached in over a year. I hadn’t sung a worship song in months. But for some reason I said yes. We spent a week abroad, and I took to the task like a duck to water. We met amazing people and ministry work was second nature to me. After all my exploring and deciding what I really believed and liked, there I was in a foreign country discovering that I liked ministry after all. I liked community life.
When we got back to Manila, Amy and I wanted to keep experiencing God with others. So we did just that: we went out with friends more, had dinner with family more, went to parties, took road trips, went surfing, just enjoyed life and shared it with people we loved. Community.
I tried to be more intentional about devotion. I listened more intently at Mass, I sung louder, tried not to be cheap with offerings. I began accepting invitations to be a guest worship leader, singer or speaker. Just basically did as much stuff with God and other folks as possible. Community. It was a start.
Some people might get the wrong idea that I am advocating leaving institutions and doing your own thing. That is not my intention. If you are happy, alive and of service in a religious institution, stay there. Love the people in that institution, include others and serve them with a whole heart.
But if you have a different path, there is community outside the lines as much as it is inside. Never feel excluded. God can be found wherever you go; He cannot be escaped.
I said earlier that I See God in That started as an experiment. Amy and I wanted to experience God and share it with others and let them share their experiences with with us. It turns out that’s a pretty good description for community.
The overwhelming activity around our recent posts has taught me that community can happen where you least expect it, and with unlikely people. It breaks down walls and peels off labels. If love is happening, and we’re trying to figure out life together, trying to engage God together, trying to find truth in spite of differences, then community is happening. It’s bigger than my thing or your thing, my denomination or yours, my country or yours, even my religion or yours.
God can handle the diversity—it’s me with the issues.
Nature shows us that community is essential to life on earth. The Bible affirms it as an essential part of God’s Kingdom. I haven’t arrived at some great, authoritative definition of community, really. I just have a hunch that when we journey through life together with love, God likes it.
What is community to you?