Monday, August 13, 2007

A Dream Unfolding

More than 10 years ago, when I attended Peace Mennonite Church for the first time, I read the following quote on the back of the bulletin.

A Dream

From the beginning in 1525 through the present, Mennonites have pursued a dream:

A dream that it is reasonable to follow Jesus Christ daily, radically, totally in life.

A dream that it is practical to obey the Sermon on the Mount, and the whole New Testament, literally, honestly, sacrificially.

A dream that it is thinkable to practice the way of reconciling love in human conflicts and warfare, nondefensively and nonresistantly.

A dream that it is possible to confess Jesus as Lord above all nationalism, racism, or materialism.

A dream that it is feasible to build a communal church of sisters and brothers who are voluntary, disciplined, and mutually committed to each other in Christ.

A dream that life can be lived simply, following the Jesus-way in lifestyle, in possessions, in service.

--David Augsburger

This quote, as much as anything else, kept me coming back Sunday after Sunday to PMC. This dream was MY dream, though many aspects I'd never given much thought before. This dream FIT what I read when I opened up the Bible and read the Gospels. Nothing about what color carpet for the sanctuary, nothing about the pastor's salary, nothing about the florist bouquets on the altar, out-of-season flowers grown in South America with chemicals banned here and virtual slave labor, nothing about Easter egg hunts. Where did all that come from? Here, at last, I'd found a church that followed the Gospels, not a bunch of non-biblical traditions, practical/fun/beautiful though they might be.

And in some ways, PMC seemed to be trying to live this dream, at least a little. I threw myself into that effort as enthusiastically as I tend to launch into any new project...and eventually realized, very gradually, that I'd left the rest of PMC in the dust. Partly, I'd gone a long way very quickly on my spiritual journey. Partly, PMC had taken off on a side path: the "Dream" quote hasn't appeared on the back of a bulletin for many years.

In my travels of the past several years, I've been enriched by experiencing a wide range of Christian and other spiritual communities: living in a Catholic-based boarding house in downtown Winnipeg, Manitoba; visiting with the Twelve Tribes folk in Winnipeg (; volunteering at Sorrento Centre in Britich Columbia and the Sisters of Loretto Motherhouse in Kentucky; spending timewith my Old Order River Brethren friends in northwest Missouri. I include working on an organic vegetable farm in BC as one of my spiritual community experiences, because farming is a deep spiritual practice to me. Each of these experiences brought me in some way closer to understanding what it means to live as part of a group of people dedicated to living out shared spiritual values.

Always in the back of my mind was a group of Christians I'd encountered several times over the years in Lawrence. They first caught my attention because they travel by bicycle (all over the country) and dress modestly (long sleeves and hems (loose skirts for women, pants for men) in all weather). As I spoke with them at Farmer's Market, I recalled David Augsburger's words. These wandering Christians seemed to really practice that dream--a dream I'd been working towards myself, however slowly and falteringly.

Over the years, I've visited with them numerous times at Farmer's Market and on the street, and invited them to the farm on several occasions for meals or to use the farm facilities for some specific need. While travelling and being the beneficiary of others' hospitality, I regretted that I would not be there to offer the travelling Christians my hospitality. Through my unexpected travels, I was blessed by a somewhat sporadic but dedicated correspondence with one of the women, presently in Tennessee.

So I was delighted recently to see several people on bicycles wearing the distinctive garb. This time, there are just a few of them in town, so I offered them to stay here at the farm. (AFTER several days of careful consideration with my housemate, who enthusiastically supported the idea once she meet them). They offered to help at the farm in exchange for staying here.

In just one day, today, as they settled in and pitched in, it is truly amazing the work that has been done. Most of the wreckage inside the derelict barn is now either in a burn pile, awaiting a match on a calm day when we can tend the fire, or in the back of my truck waiting for the metal recycler to open up in the morning. A task that I'd long dreaded, and couldn't figure out how to tackle on my my own, was accomplished in just a few hours, with not much ado and no particular planning on my part. In God's time, not mine...and by God's hands manifesting through his devoted followers.

Even better than the help is the fellowship of working with such people. No raised voices, no arguing, no competition to be the fastest or strongest, no bawdy joking, no snapping tempers. Just quiet, relentlessly effective cooperation, interspersed with interludes of resting under the trees or chatting with me about the destiny of various objects. Everything relaxed, respectful, calm. An overarching sense of serene, joyful, dedicated service to each other and to me as the various embodiments of Christ.

Otherwise arduous tasks made lighter for knowing that each little effort is a worthwhile step towards a lifetime goal: Following Jesus.

Interestingly, there has been just one other person whose work with me at the farm has felt so deeply grounded in spiritual fellowship...and I doubt that person would consider that she has much to do with Christian community. Which reminds me that God is something far beyond words, and all the words we use to talk about God are simply arbitrary human constructions to try to describe and share with others a phenomenon that is, in the words of Lao Tsu (Witter Bynner translation), "beyond the power of words to define."

This is what Augsburger's dream looks like in real life. And Lao Tsu's. Let me never lose sight of that dream!

No comments: