Tag Archives: love feast

Love under the umbrella: Helping leaders keep us dry

I like sharing an umbrella with someone. It gives me an excuse to get close to them in our special safe place, cared for and caring. Maybe I need to like it, since I often forget to carry an umbrella! (It is hard being a native of California).

I also don’t like walking in the rain next to someone who I don’t think wants to share their umbrella, them dry, me not. And I don’t much care for sharing a tiny umbrella that deposits run off down my collar. (You can tell I have experience with all this).

A leader’s “umbrella”

I am thinking of umbrella’s and rainstorms because the metaphor of existing under the umbrella of someone is a relatively common way to describe how people function in a group. They are often protected by someone else’s greater power; they are “under their umbrella,” so to speak. Some people think of this picture as being about authority, I think of it as being cared for and caring.

To think about being under a leader’s umbrella, let’s start with the Apostle John, the master teacher on community in the early church. His time period was so tumultuous and threatening, he might relate to Jon Snow.

Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour.  They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.   But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth. (1 John 2:18-20) As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love. (2 John 1:6)

John’s three letters provide a lot of guidance for sorting out the intricacies of relationships in the body of Christ, especially relationships with leaders. The leaders have a limited but crucial function in keeping the church together and moving ahead while it faces all the opposition it always faces. As a leader, John seems to be having a tough time with people who push the boundaries – they say they don’t sin, they leave the fellowship to start communities based on the perverse understandings they call the truth, they don’t walk in love, and more. It looks like things have not changed that much, have they? We are still having trouble dealing with people who brazenly sin. We are never sure what to do with beloved friends who decide to set up shop just outside the boundaries of our church. We are not always sure whether they or us are not walking in love – or even if we like thinking about they or us. We are always sorting things out.

under one umbrellaAn image that helps do some sorting is about being “under the umbrella” of someone. In John’s terms, being under his umbrella, would be under the “anointing from the Holy One,” and showing that an individual “belonged to us.” He is writing to “dear children” so he undoubtedly thinks of them as under the protection of his parent-like love. When you have someone sharing your spiritual umbrella they have a special, intimate place you provide for them. Some of John’s friends used to be under his umbrella as he is under Christ’s umbrella. He is in pain as he writes his letters, since they are now out in the rain. It is even more painful that they call the rain sunshine! The whole point of his umbrella was to keep people spiritually dry and they are all wet.

When under a leader’s umbrella seems too special

One time we had an intense discussion among some leaders about how certain people seemed to function “under the umbrella” of a leader (particularly people who seemed to be buddies with a pastor). We were sorting that idea out. Some people seem to get special treatment. When they sin (sometimes repeatedly), the patience shown them looks like it is too patient. It is like they get a “bye,” when other people get opposed. Some people even get elevated into leadership through less-than-typical ways because another leader facilitates that. It can make a person wonder how that happened when others go through a lot of scrutiny and function with a lot more accountability.

It was an important discussion. I had a couple of immediate reactions:

1) When the church is not having a vibrant mission — that means it is not including new people who need to be fed with truth and love, people turn to the niceties of their structure and start wondering about injustices. When the “umbrella” is not expanding, people begin to squabble about getting wet.

2) Pastors and other leaders in the church are allowed personal choices and preferences about who shares their limited umbrella space. Intimacy is not unlimited and is usually subjective. It is not necessarily something one can demand. A leader might have a special interest in someone, have a history with them, or have a deeper knowledge of them than they have of others. They should not show favoritism, but certain people might be under their “protection” in a deeper way than others — that’s OK until it’s not. It is a blessing that we all care for one another — and we have many leaders, not just one pastor. So having a special place with the pastor is not the main marker of one’s value.

Image result for under umbrella

Umbrellas take some discernment

As I thought about the conversation some more, I felt a lot of sympathy for people who feel “out in the rain” and for leaders with an umbrella strapped to them:

1) I feel for people who innocently enter the church with hope and trepidation and become subject to the whims of inconsistent leaders. Leaders can often be so blind and we can so often be oppressed by their blindness. They forget that what they do usually teaches more than what they say or write. When their friends get special, even undeserved treatment, the rest of the people they oversee don’t feel much like friends. If they don’t even know that they turn a blind eye to an influential friend’s weaknesses, the whole church can feel dangerous.

2) I also feel for leaders who get monitored for any hint of injustice by people who never do the difficult things they are doing. Before one can criticize someone for protecting someone in a perverse way, they should probably have someone under their umbrella themselves! John called people “dear children”  — the people he had nurtured in faith are like family to him, so of course he is concerned for their protection. Such care is a beautiful thing; we wouldn’t want to turn it in to a commodity that should be equally available to all from the “pastor store.” We should all be producing that love ourselves, not just demanding it.

It is no wonder that people have deserted the capital-C-Church in droves during the last decade. In general, the leadership is likely to be inept, unconscious or experimenting with things John would call antichrist. It is no wonder that people who manage to stay connected often resort to being nice but a bit remote, lest they have to deal with the intricacies of love in a missional community. John knows it takes the anointing of the Holy Spirit to persevere and truly walk in love.

I hope we stick with it. The deep-level discussion among the leaders encouraged me. It’s not like it is typical for regular people to worry about how to help the person needing discipline while attending to the desires of people who need someone to be disciplined! We are so not antichrist! Though our relationships can get so sick, they are also the places God is making us so well. I hope we keep praying, with John, that the Holy Spirit enables us to walk in love and keep sharing our umbrellas.

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Some Perils and Proverbs of Parties

It is party season. Several of my friends are complaining that they have to go to them. Every time they complain, my heart aches a little for anyone who overhears them and compares:
“How many parties is this complainer going to?”  vs
“How many parties am I not invited to?”

It is an art to be a part

I’ve already been to a couple of parties at which I felt like a very bad guest. At one, I did not have the energy to break into various circles of introverts who make parties within parties so they feel safer. And I think I left a couple earlier than the host expected I would. I think I should be a good guest.

Throwing parties is something of an art form. They tend to reflect their host’s sense of self. They benefit from having a plan. Nevertheless, they are often just an invitation and an open door with food, so the guests make them up as they go along.

Attending also takes forethought and skill. It is an art to be a part.

All we do is party

church parties
Instagram from Frankford and Norris last night, I think.

As the church, we have weekly, public, open-the-door-and-y’all-come parties on Sunday, great for so-called extroverts. We also have weekly cell meetings that are smaller parties, much better for so-called introverts. [Sorry for the “so-called,” I’m pretty much dead-set against binary labels applied to people]. We try to be good hosts and good attenders. It is one of the main skill sets we need to work with God, the consummate host. Then there are all the many other parties people hold. A week can get full for some of us! And a week can seem very empty to others who think their schedule ought to be full.

I think Jesus was way into parties and he is still attending ours, regularly planned as the church or spontaneous. I invite him every week to the church’s parties and I think he is a great guest. After Jesus made his first disciples by walking around Capernaum and calling them into his traveling band of comrades, he was invited to one of Matthew’s notorious parties. The Bible doesn’t explicitly say that Matthew’s parties were notorious, drunken brawls, but I was just at the ruins of Capernaum and it is a small place. It is no surprise that Pharisee-types heard that Jesus went to one and disapproved.

Jesus parties at a wedding feast. Wedding Feast at Cana', Jan VermeyenWhile Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” — Matthew 9:10-13. (This is still one of the best things ever filmed about this party [link].)

I have always admired Jesus for how he worked with this opportunity. God certainly knows how to relate! But the poor man can’t even have dinner with new friends without someone criticizing him! I can’t really go to a party either without someone having something to say about it. I can’t not go either. And once I get there I am going to bump into tax collectors and sinners, on the one hand, and Pharisees on the other. This happens in the weekly church parties and it will likely happen at every holiday and birthday party I go to this month (or don’t go to with unpredictable results).

If there really is an extrovert/introvert spectrum. I am leaning extrovert, but not as much as people think I do. So I tend to like parties. When I am travelling with Gwen I often cause her a lot of anxiety, since I will instinctively veer into a crowd of people to see what is going on and she will instinctively find a new route around them. My problem is mostly that I like people too much and I don’t have an easy time going to a party to merely drink and chat. I tend to listen and care. So if I bump into a faithless “tax collector” or “sinner,” it is hard to not feel something about that.

In Jude, he goes off on the faithless who are “blemishes at your love feasts, eating with you without the slightest qualm – shepherds who feed only themselves. They are clouds without rain” Jude 12. That’s a big, biblical reaction to what’s going on at the parties! I feel his pain, a little. In the little village of Philadelphia it is easy to run into the faithless who are sure to eat all the emotional food at the party without the slightest qualm. They will again boldly ask me to absorb the trauma they cause, and to accept the oppression they perpetrate. And they probably won’t mind criticizing me for being a bad Christian when I have problems with them. In some ways they are like the sick Pharisees outside Matthew’s house, who Jesus tells to find a doctor.

Bring Jesus to the party, he does

I am glad to bring Jesus to the parties I attend. At least he’s good at it. And we need some help because we have a lot of holiday Swiss cheese before us during the next month. I didn’t even mention the family parties to which many of us will be invited! It will be very tempting to eat the holes, and call the rest cheesy, won’t it?

So here are my personal proverbs for parties in light of all this

  • Don’t let anyone steal your joy. Give it away.
  • Expect sin. We’re getting saved, here.
  • Let people be who they are, not who they are supposed to be.
  • Life is too short not to love someone. If you get invited to do it, that’s good.
  • You better have a good reason not to attend a party. At least ask Jesus if He wants to go. There are good reasons, but have one.

Under the Umbrella or Not

Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour.  They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.   But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth. (1 John 2:18-20) As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love.( 2 John 1:6)

John’s letters are great for sorting out the intricacies of relationships in the body of Christ. He seems to be having a tough time with people who push the boundaries – they say they don’t sin, they leave the fellowship to start communities based on the perverse understandings they call the truth, they don’t walk in love. Things have not changed that much, have they? We are still having trouble dealing with people who brazenly sin. We are never sure what to do with beloved friends who decide to set up shop just outside the boundaries of our church. We are not always sure whether they or us are not walking in love – or even if we like thinking about they or us. We are always sorting things out.

An image I have ben pondering is about being “under the umbrella” of someone. In John’s terms that would be under the “anointing from the Holy One,” of course, and showing that one “belonged to us.” He is writing to “dear children” so he undoubtedly thinks of them as under the protection of his authority and love. When you have someone sharing your umbrella they have a special, intimate place you provide for them.

 The other night we had an intense discussion (that is not code for “argument”) among some leaders about how certain people seemed to function “under the umbrella” of a leader (particularly people who seemed to be buds with a pastor). We were sorting that idea out. Some people seem to get special treatment — when they sin (sometimes repeatedly), the patience shown them looks like it is too patient. It is like they get a “bye,” when other people get opposed. Some people even get elevated into leadership through less-than-typical ways because another leader facilitates that and one has to wonder how that happened when others go through a lot of scrutiny and function with a lot more accountability.

It was an important discussion. I had a couple of immediate reactions:

1) When the church is not having a vibrant mission — including new people who need to be fed with truth and love, they turn to the niceties of their structure and start wondering about injustices. When the “umbrella” is not expanding, people begin to squabble about getting wet.

2) Pastors and other leaders in the church are allowed personal choices and preferences about who shares their limited umbrella space. Intimacy is not unlimited and is usually subjective. It is not necessarily something one can demand. A leader might have a special interest in someone, have a history with them, or have a deeper knowledge of them than they have of others. They should not show favoritism, but certain people might be under their “protection” in a deeper way than others. It is a blessing that we all care for one another, and we have many leaders, not just one pastor.

As I thought about the conversations some more, I felt more sympathy:

1) I really feel for people who feel subject to the whims of inconsistent leaders. Leaders can often be so blind and we can so often be oppressed by their blindness. They forget that what they do usually teaches more than what they say or write. When their friends get special, even undeserved treatment, the rest of the people they oversee don’t feel much like friends.

2) I also feel for leaders who get monitored for any hint of injustice by people who never do the difficult things they are doing. Before one can criticize someone for protecting someone in a perverse way, they should have someone under their umbrella. John called people “dear children”  — the people he has nurtured in faith are like family to him, so of course he is concerned for their protection. Such care is a beautiful thing; we wouldn’t want to turn it in to a commodity that should be equally available from the “pastor store.” We should all be producing that love ourselves, not just demanding it.

It is no wonder that people have deserted the capital-C-Church in droves in the last ten years. In general, the leadership is likely to be inept, unconscious or experimenting with things John would call antichrist. It is no wonder that people who manage to stay connected often resort to being nice but a bit remote, lest they have to deal with the intricacies of love in a missional community. John knows it take the anointing of the Holy Spirit to do that.

I hope we stick with it. The deep-level discussion among the leaders encouraged me. It’s not like it is typical for regular people to worry about how to help the person needing discipline while attending to the desires of people who need someone to be disciplined. Our quarterly Love Feast encouraged me even more. It was such a celebration of what John names belonging and remaining! It was so not antichrist. Though our relationships can get so sick, they are also the place we get so well. I hope we keep praying, with John, that the Holy Spirit enables us to walk in love.

Keeping the Covenant Real

Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. –Ephesians 5:21

Paul writes the sentence above to exhort the Ephesians to a new way of relating. He immediately proceeds to exhort husbands and wives, in particular, to relate in that new way as married people, to have sex like that, to form families suffused with mutual respect and fidelity, just like Jesus relates to the church and the church relates back. I think Paul presumes (wildly assuming the presence of the transforming Holy Spirit, as he is wont to do!) that most of the believers to whom he is writing know how Jesus and the church relate, so he can boldly exhort people to apply the example to their marriages and to other relationships in the body.

Such love is a struggle

We’ve been struggling to be that deep as we ponder living in mutual submission as a covenant people who call themselves Circle of Hope. It all came into focus when we talked about the Love Feast this past fall among our leadership team and then at our discerning retreat. Oddly enough, the Love Feast had become a very popular public meeting! People would invite their mother, their unbelieving friends, people would wander in off the street. We were not sure what to do with that.

In some ways it was kind of great. It is exciting to think that people are interested in looking at Christians making love at their covenant members celebration. But it was also kind of creepy to have people looking in, being invited into the intimacy of communion when they don’t even believe, even being called on during the event to accept people into a covenant they don’t intend to make. I suppose that since we put up all our intimate pictures on Facebook these days and invite strangers to look at them (that is, until we understand the privacy controls – which I don’t), we are kind of comfortable with public “intimacy.” And I suppose that since so many of us have sex with random people and spend a couple of years living with our spouse before we marry them, we don’t have a great deal of respect left for the boundaries of covenant.

group hug on the way to covenant

So what about the Love Feast?

So we did not know what to do about the Love Feast. On one hand, by being so public about it, we invited people to drink the blood and enter the covenant circle when they had no idea what they were doing. Paul says this could make a person spiritually ill, handling spiritual things one has no business handling! On the part of the covenant members, it might be something like leaving one’s door open and letting the toddlers watch you have sex, inviting a person into intimacies they have no way of processing.

What’s more, on the other hand, it was awkward to be asking those who have a common covenant to listen to a person’s story, to accept another person into their covenant when they knew that all sorts of people at the feast had not made the covenant themselves. That dilutes the idea, at best, and mocks it, at worst. In some ways, allowing that to happen, is caving in to the strange propensity we have these days to always be a show, like it would be OK to be making a covenant with the body like we were on reality TV with people watching, somehow virtually – but then it would be “like” doing it, rather than doing it. It is not a show, we are really doing something!

Trying to hold on to the depth of covenant

There are many ways we follow Jesus. Most of them are public but some are done in secret. Some are easy, others are difficult. Some bring honor, others reproach. Some are suitable to our natural inclinations and personal interests, others are contrary to both. In some ways we may please Christ and please ourselves, in other ways we cannot please Christ except by denying ourselves. In all ways, Christ is our way and gives us the strength to follow.

The covenant we make with the others in our face-to-face, heart to heart rendition of the church is more on the secret side, like closing our door and praying to our Father in secret. We have the relationship, we act on the relationship and then we express our character in public. The act of making a covenant and making covenant love is more likely to be difficult, not just another party. Crossing the boundary into a public allegiance to the body of Christ is more likely to bring reproach, and should not be diminished so it seems more “normal.” Committing to treat people like Jesus treats the church, becoming vulnerable to receive the love of Jesus like the church receives grace is probably contrary to the natural inclinations and personal interests of most of us, so it must be entered with reverence for Christ if it can be entered at all, Christ who is the one who gives us the strength to make such submission, who so completely demonstrates such submission.

So we are figuring this out. We think it is crucial for people to learn to make a covenant like Jesus makes with us, if they are going to be a long-term believer, if they are going to live in love and truth. I’m sure we will never feel free to be invulnerable and restrictive and so bar the door to people who shouldn’t be at the love feast – that is not our way, and not the Lord’s way. But we need to get better at not luring people into places we have not prepared them to be and to make sure we are maintaining our sense of being the people of God with an unalloyed allegiance to Jesus in an age where all the forces are working to erode that.