Friday, August 31, 2007

Uncommon love.

Hello, Portland!

Been thinking about love. Greeks had several words for it, just as they had several words for life. There are different kinds. In English, we are stuck with single nouns for things that often have multiple faces. In Lutheran elementary school back in Nebraska we used to sing "...and they'll know we are Christians by our love, by our love; yes they'll know that we are Christians by our love." Few words could better describe the little community of Christ followers that sprang to life against great odds in Jerusalem after the death and resurrection of Jesus. These folks, some of whom had previously been on opposite ends of the socio-political spectrum, not only took care of the poor, the widows and the orphans among their own. They developed a reputation for taking care of the needy among Jews, Gentiles and even the Roman occupiers in their city.

Quaint bit of nostalgia? Revisionist history? Vision for the future? Judge for yourself, but here's the question. If children can sincerely sing that little song I quoted above, why does it seem so hard for adults to sing it--and live it? Could it be a love thing? When the world out there plays the game of Password with the term Christian, would the first thing they think of be love?

What's love got to do with it, and what's it mean to love? God's people, all of us, were built to love--although we have the capacity to do quite the opposite. We are to love our neighbors as ourselves. No word in Hebrew and Christian scripture (both testaments, or covenants) is so consistent and so clear. It first pops up at Leviticus 19:18, to be repeated again and again. Jesus holds up this standard at Matthew 22:37-40 and places it right alongside the bedrock Shema of Deuteronomy 6:4. Everything hangs on the parallel standards of loving God and loving our neighbors. One can't happen without the other, just as there cannot be a one-sided coin. Physical impossibility. Everything, Jesus said, hangs on this. That's more than a whole bunch. It's, well...everything! Apostle Paul, that fireball out of Tarsus, refers again and again to both Jesus and the Hebrew scriptures in his letters and epistles. We can bet he did the same in person.

Love. What's it mean to love????? First thing that comes to mind is that love cannot be commanded. Yet, God does so! Repeatedly. But love doesn't just happen. Pop songs, TV and video notwithstanding, people don't "fall in love". No, they don't! People may develop attraction for each other that can be quite powerful, to be sure. (Hey, I was young once! Really, I was!) Properly directed and cared for, attraction can lead to friendship, relationship and more, whether that be marriage, parenting or working side-by-side on a cause.

But love doesn't just happen any more than houses or bridges do. Love gets built. It takes time. It takes work. It takes investment. There can be no payback unless there first has been an investment. But none of that is something that can be commanded to happen out of the blue.

Then what's God getting at by commanding that which cannot be commanded? Relationship. Getting to know. Getting deeply involved. Overcoming strangeness by no longer being strangers to one another. That's what's implied when we are commanded to love. Love is the end of the process, not its beginning.

Think about it. We are not commanded to love everyone. That's an impossibility. But we are commanded by Jesus himself to love two seemingly disparate groups of people: our neighbors and our enemies. Here's the intriguing part. So long as that other person, (neighbor, enemy or self) remains entirely "other", he or she is not real to me. I cannot love in theory. I cannot love a stranger or an enemy or a self whom I do not know. I can harbor hatred, but I cannot engender love. In order to love, I have to get to know. I must develop a relationship. Another person's life and story have to become a part of mine. My life and story have to become a part of theirs. 'Cause love doesn't just happen. Love gets built. Among neighbors. Between enemies. Even within oneself.

Several years ago, Yes! Magazine titled an entire issue "Can Love Save the World?" else ya gonna do it? What else could? Laws? WMD? Surveillance cameras? AK-47's? Commands? Not a prayer! It takes love, and that's why it is at the core of God's message and Jesus' life, death and resurrection. Love is what God has always been about and always will be about. Jesus said so. I believe him. He's already made the investment.

Is love the core of what Christians are about? Does anyone know this about us? How on earth would they? Ready for a little Password, anyone?

Next time: How is love different from liking, tolerating and accepting?


Pastor Roger

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Last Name

Hello, Portland--and anyone else in the world!

From the first post you know a first name, Koine, meaning common or ordinary. Why the last name, Community?

Our world has changed considerably in the past 50 years. I grew up on a farm in Nebraska. The barn on that farm (now gone, sadly) was built in the 1930's of timbers sawn from ash trees that had grown along the Bell Creek just a half mile from the house. Nearly all of the meat, milk and eggs as well as many of the fruits and vegetables my family ate were produced within a few yards of the house. And in my parents' time even furniture, clothing and some of the farm machinery were produced locally in nearby towns. We had neighboring farm families a mile or two away with whom we would exchange help when it came to bigger jobs like putting up hay or shelling corn. I earned my first paycheck ($7.50) for raking a neighbor's mown prairie grass when it was dry enough to bale. I had trusted adults other than my parents whom I could talk to and work alongside. Sure, if I had gotten into trouble they might talk about me a little. But I also knew that they would be at church on Sunday praying for rain along with my family. And these neighbors would be there at my graduations with a gift, there to pray for me as I left for summer study in Europe or to enter the U.S. Air Force. I grew up with community. I grew up in community.

It's a different world today. Most of what we eat, wear, use and own comes from far away, perhaps not even from this continent or hemisphere of earth. When I was a youngster, a majority of Americans lived and worked on farms. Today it's a small fraction. Though physically much closer to neighbors next door or down the street than I was to my neighbors on the farm, we often know much less about each other. We live close but not cloesly, and we no longer see how our lives fit together and support one another. We care more about Princess Di and the death of Anna Nicole Smith than the terminal illness or the abandoned child losing life right next door. Our work is diverse, often intagible in the daily world we know. In short, our "communities" often lack community.

The old German proverb "Ein Mensch ist kein Mensch" says it well. A solitary person is no person. We need times of solitude and rest, for sure. Jesus regularly (perhaps irregularly?!?) sought out these respite times for prayer and reflection. But his life was lived among people, with people and for people, very ordinary people. People in solitary confinement can go more than "stir-crazy". None of us as individuals defines or embodies humanity, for humanity was created to have relationships with one another, with their world and with God their creator. We challenge and stimulate each other to creativity, to exploration of our world, to the embodiment of God's vision for life, to the expression of love.

"Grace alone, faith alone, Scripture alone" are well-known tenets of being a Lutheran Christ-follower. But "faith alone" does not mean that one can have a healthy faith when one is alone. Faith requires community. A solitary person could develop a language, but in order for that language to accomplish communication a community is required. Faith is about much more than what happens between me and God.

Today in America we find ourselves polarized, often seeking affinity as a substitue for community. The hope and vision of Koine Community is to buck the trend. We are inspired by Jesus' proclamation of the kingdom of God. Koine Community: Common folk. Common ground. Uncommon love.

Share this blogspot with friends and seekers, dear readers. Add your comments and questions. They are always invited. Soon I'll add some personal profile info, and then we'll tackle that troublesome word "Christian".


Pastor Roger

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Welcome to the world!

Hello, Portland!

It's Wednesday, August 15, 2007. I'm the blog of Koine Community in Portland, and I've just been born. I'll have more to say in the very near future, but first I'll explain the name of a community that doesn't exist yet: Koine Community. We'll get to the community part in a later post, but for now what about my unusual first name, koine? It's a two-syllable word pronounced like the English word "coin" followed by the English name for the first letter of the alphabet. "Coin-A". Koine is a Greek word meaning common or ordinary. Specifically, it's also the name of the Greek dialect developed in the time of Alexander the Great ca. 300 BCE. Koine Greek was simplified from classical Greek so that Alexander's officers and soldiers from diverse areas could communicate. Koine Greek soon became the written and spoken language of politics and commerce throughout the Mediterranean world, and it prevailed for about 600 years. The entire New Testament of our Bible was written in koine Greek. It was the language of Apostle Paul, Luke the physician, John of Patmos, the Early Church and the Nicene Creed. Language that is common, koine.

Common is good place to begin, a good place to be. So, dear blog readers, that's my first name; and I'll say more about my last name and why they go together when we meet next. 'Til then, blessings on your day; and I'd love to hear from you to begin our conversation!

Pastor Roger