Monday, January 9, 2012
How to teach a sense of community...
Let me give an example. I cannot believe that anyone in their right mind is attracted to Mormonism because of the doctrine. It is a kooky story of an illiterate man who finds golden tablets which an angel comes down to translate and then angel and tablets disappear with only the written text to prove anything. It is a crazy faith of religious underwear, alien origins, Native Americans who are a lost tribe of Israel, etc. Only a crazy person would choose this recent so-called revelation over the history and historicity of catholic Christianity. Yet the Mormons grow. They send forth their youth on 1-2 year missionary journeys designed as much to solidify them in their faith as to spread it. And the parents foot the bill. Why?
I have to hand it to them with respect to community and caring. Mormons are weak on truth but they certainly excel on community in which truly you are your brother's keeper and it is your duty to inconvenience yourself for the sake of your neighbor. They are strong on family connections and drawing people in by way of those family ties and community bonds. They manifest a caring relationship that is so often absent among other churches. It is my opinion that this is what makes them so attractive. At the same time, this is the Achilles' heel of most suburban and urban congregations (yes, Lutheran, too). We have tended to see the care of the poor and needy as either the government's responsibility or the responsibility of somebody who is not me. Of course there are exceptions but I see our greater weakness as this sense of community and the deep, deliberate connections that bind us together.
I wonder if this is also part of the reason why mercy is one of the three emphases in our Synod's three-fold expression of values (witness, mercy, and life together). Though it may not be entirely a fair characterization, the LCMS is not exactly known for its compassionate care. Our life together has been strained by rudeness and smugness as much as conflict and theological distance. We do not follow Luther's admonition to put the best construction on everything and we tend to be just the opposite of Nathanael (in whom the Lord saw no guile). It may be that the same trouble expressing how to encourage and move a church body in this direction is why we have not heard as much about mercy as we have witness and life together. I am not consoled by the fact that my own parish may fairly reflect the weaknesses of my church body in this area.
What I am interested in is not an intellectual discussion about the rightness or wrongheadedness of my observations. What I am looking for are ways to make a positive improvement in my own congregation's sense of community, means to strengthening the bonds between us as members and family in the faith, and encouraging ways in which we can take responsibility for one another. If you have some advice and help, please share it with me. If you have a program or tool or simply an experience to share about how your congregation was encouraged to manifest a more caring attitude and a deeper responsibility toward each other, I would be happy to hear about it.... so, I guess I will wait to hear from you?!