February 20, 2010 in Features

More than hope, faith involves action

Paul Graves
 

As the clock moved steadily toward 10 a.m. two Saturdays ago, I had a difficult decision to make.

Two community events I wanted to attend in Sandpoint were both happening at that time. I couldn’t be both places at once.

There was the dedication of the local Habitat for Humanity’s 12th new home. Sue and I are supporters of Habitat, and we know the family who worked so hard to own the home.

But at City Beach, there was a hastily planned “Get-Well Card” photo shoot for one of our beloved community members. He was recovering from a complicated cancer surgery in Portland. We wanted to lend our support to him and his family, too.

What were we going to do?

Frankly, it’s great to live in a community where people so readily support those in need. That’s one large reason why we made a decision 15 years ago to step aside from my itinerant parish ministry and create new ministry opportunities in Sandpoint.

But community doesn’t just happen. Like any important relationship, it takes intention, sometimes very hard work and a great deal of hope.

This hope isn’t the passive kind, where we simply wish for something to happen. Hope that results in vital community is an active, dynamic and patient experience.

Sojourners magazine’s Jim Wallis talks of “hope” as “believing in spite of the evidence and then watching the evidence change.” That’s a great description.

But I prefer my own more active paraphrase: Hope is “believing in spite of the evidence and then working to make the evidence change.”

I believe that is what happened in the Old Testament experience of how community developed between God and the Israelites.

God initiated the covenant relationship. Israel had to daily commit to making it work. When they didn’t work faithfully enough, the prophets demanded a mid-course correction.

Jesus’ most consistent critique of the Jewish religious leaders happened when they “broke community” by shutting out the “common people” from a natural relationship with God.

In the Gospels, community was nourished as people followed the model begun by Jesus and his disciples. In Paul’s letters to the early church, community happened to the degree that people looked out for one another.

For many years, American society has moved toward making genuine community the exception to the rule. Ironically, our instant social communication capabilities like cell phones, Twitter, Facebook, etc. have created a type of person-to-person communication without the deeper dynamics of community.

At times, we seem so fixated on being individuals that we have forgotten that being individuals is only one part of who we really are.

We are created to be in relationship, in community, with other people. Together, we learn to depend on each other, even as we need to nourish our individuality.

The Lebanese poet Kahlil Gibran wrote of marriage in “The Prophet.” His imagery also reminds me of the dance a person must dance as an individual and as part of a community.

He affirms that “the strings of a lute stand alone though they quiver with the same music.” He also sees that “the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.”

These beautiful images can spark our imaginations as we seek a balance in communal relationships as individuals.

So we are back to 10 a.m. on Saturday. Two simultaneous community events which are important to us. What to do?

First, be grateful we have two places that call us to nurture and be nurtured. I hope that you are faced with such a choice.

The Rev. Paul Graves, a Sandpoint resident and retired United Methodist minister, is founder of Elder Advocates, an elder care consulting ministry. He can be contacted via e-mail at welhouse@nctv.com.


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