Posts Tagged ‘community’

Abraham– Week 4: Call

June 12, 2017

We continue our Abraham study with the chapter entitled “Call”, about the beginnings of Abraham’s call to follow God. Once again, there are notes from co-teacher Bill that can be accessed here. If you’re reading along or following this blog I encourage you to add your own comments, and if you haven’t started reading the book, Abraham: A Journey to the Heart of Three Faiths by Bruce Feiler it is well worth the read. It is available on Amazon and possibly through your local library as well!

This chapter addresses the question of what it means to be called by God, particularly as it pertains to Abraham and particularly as understood by Christians, Muslims and Jews. We can also glean form this discussion what it means to be called on a more personal level; for, as Abraham is called, so are we called as his descendants.

The call of Abraham teaches us, according to Mr. Feiler, that God hears the cries of all of God’s people. God heard the cry of Abraham, who at an advanced age had no heir; God responds with a promise of not only more descendants than there are stars in the sky, but also land that will be his and theirs. In order to receive this promise Abraham must leave his homeland and go… somewhere. God isn’t clear in the beginning where Abraham will go, only that he needs to go. And Abraham, trusting God, goes.

This is something new; Abraham is breaking tradition with his father who is a maker of idols. For Abraham, God offers no physical manifestation; neither does Abraham seem to need it. We might wonder how to put ourselves in Abraham’s shoes: is God the still, small voice in Abraham’s head? Is there an actual conversation? We have reported interchanges between God and Abraham, but is this a conversation as we humans understand conversation? And if not, what was it that convinced Abraham to go?

In Mr. Feiler’s book he describes the differences in emphasis between Christianity, Judaism and Islam regarding the understanding of Abraham’s call. For Jews, Abraham’s call began as a call to migration, a call that will lead him (and his descendants) to the promised land. Later the understanding becomes more spiritual in nature as the exile sends Jews on a different journey, a journey away from the land to a place where they are the other. Now the task, says Mr. Feiler, is to “go to yourself…find your roots.” For  Islam Abraham’s response to God, that he picked up and went to another land at God’s instruction, is the ultimate submission and obedience to God. For Christians the Abraham story represents a “hoping against hope” (as Paul puts it)– he didn’t disbelieve God’s promise even though he was of advanced age and “his body was as good as dead” (again, Paul). Feiler’s friend Father John says that “the lesson of Abraham is that you have to be willing to risk it all. You have to give up everything for God.”

As Christians we ask ourselves “what is God calling me to do?” We beleive that all of God’s people have gifts and abilities that we are to use to fulfill God’s work in the world. Frederick Buechner describes the place God God’s us to as that place in which a person’s deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet. It may be that we are called, as Abraham was, to pick up stakes and move to a new land. It may be that we are called to a a new ministry in which we are the other, the outsider who must form relationships before we can accomplish any change in the world.

 

 

 

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Library Lessons

January 21, 2015

I started a new job just after Christmas, a second job to supplement my job at Community of Faith, so I am now officially a tentmaker. The wisdom of church thinkers tells us that this is a new direction for churches to go in, to move away from full time clergy, especially in smaller or more rural churches. It can help a church’s bottom line to not be paying a pastor a full time salary; and it can be helpful to the pastor as well, because it forces him or her to keep very good boundaries between the church and the rest of life. And if you’ve ever worked as a part-time pastor you know there really isn’t such a thing, especially if you’re not good at keeping boundaries, and many pastors who are paid a part-time salary end up working around the clock anyway. However, juggling the hours I work at my “other job” with the duties I am entrusted with at the church is already proving to be tricky; but so far the COF leadership has been understanding, and I am hopeful that as time goes along things will settle into place.

My second job is at a local library in the community next door to Covington, a small town called Newport. Working at the library has always been a dream of mine, mainly because I love books and I love to read and I love libraries. I started going to the library as a young child and had my own library card as soon as I was old enough; and I loved the library in my home town because it was one of those big marble buildings with card catalogues running up the middle of it. To get to the juvenile section you had to take an elevator which opened on both sides– something I had never seen before– and it was part of the whole library experience for me. Even today when I imagine a library from a scene in a book, that is the library I imagine.

Libraries of today are something more than they were when I was a child, though. The libraries I’ve been involved with, both here and in Knoxville, are more like community centers than they used to be. The Newport Library (and all of the area libraries, as far as I know) is about more than just books, although we have plenty of those. The Newport Library also has craft classes, story time for children, a children’s area with toys and coloring pages and special reading nook, and a program for teens that includes a book club, after school time, and lock-ins; there are computers that anyone can come in and use, for free, all day long if they want to and we’re not that busy. All types of people come to the library, too, and we don’t turn anyone away (unless they give us a problem.) We welcome all people who come through our doors and do the best we can to treat each person with the same friendly manner. It’s a welcoming place, obviously a place where people want to come, a place where people fee welcome and at home.

I find this striking because of the contrast with most churches today. Most churches aren’t centers of the community anymore and we have to work very hard to find ways to be relevant in people’s lives. 50 or 60 years ago the thinking was “if you build it they will come,” and they did come, for many years. But that isn’t working for us any more, and while the reasons are complex the contrast with the library is telling.

So what can we learn from our library neighbors?

For one thing, the library is open more than one hour per week. The library has regular hours when it is open, when patrons can come and get books or use the computer or whatever they need to do there, and multiple staff people on hand to help patrons when they need help. Churches, on the other hand, are rarely open unless there is an event for the members of the church; occasionally it will be open for “outsiders” but often only to fundraise or “to get people interested in us” or for a scheduled event. Most churches, while they may be staffed during week days, keep their doors locked, afraid of danger to the building and staff if strangers were to wander in.

And what would churches have to offer people who might wander in? Libraries have books to check out, computers to use, craft classes, story time and youth activities. They have basic office equipment such as fax machines and copiers and charge a minimal fee for their services. They have clean, modern meeting spaces that are easily accessible and easy to reserve. Churches have… big open rooms designed for a special purpose (worship.) Maybe a room where children could play– if the building were open. Office equipment that is protected and usually outdated, Wi-Fi that isn’t reliable. Special furnishings that are uncomfortable to sit on and are also protected and revered.

The library feels like a place of abundance.  The library has funding of course, from taxes, but must fight for that funding each year as budgets are cut and funds are diverted to other projects; and yet, the library finds a way to make its programs happen. The church often feels like a place of scarcity, fearful of spending, fearful of trying anything new, fearful of failure. Is this how God wants us to present ourselves to the world?

Libraries are often bustling with activity because they’ve identified their purpose in the community and they are focused on following through on it. Churches can take a lesson from this by finding a purpose that opens them to the community and the abundant life that God intends for God’s people.