We have been looking all over the region and all over the country for the people God is nudging into the proactive peacemaking work of Shalom House. I’m not sure we are the best lookers, but we are manifestly not the most successful finders. The fact that we are not successful recruiters raises the question, “Can we do the work of Shalom House without the house? Do we need an intentional community to incarnate our hopes?”
We could probably do the work without the house. I, for one, will have to keep working even if we can’t sustain it. But the work would not be nearly as brilliant. Enough of us in the church would shine the light, but it would probably be a dimmer light. One of the great things about Shalom House is that it gathers the radicals in one place and calls them to live in peace, not just talk about it. They get practical about peacemaking every day, not just write blogs about it. They get up each morning and conflict stares them in the face in the dining room, not only because it is on their bulletin board but because it is on their to-do list and it is sometimes staring at them across the breakfast table! The church needs intentional communities at the heart of us to remind us that community is possible, much more, maybe, do we need a community devoted to peacemaking.
Finding the next people to join in with Shalom House is a specific case of our larger everyday search. We are scouring the region looking for the people God is nudging into Circle of Hope. Being “in” Circle of Hope is a relative concept, of course. A man who lives in Brooklyn most of the time was at the PM last night and considers himself a part of BW. People who aren’t part of a cell and who attend a PM randomly consider themselves part of “Circle.” Their slight attachment brings up the question, “Can we do the work of Jesus without all the trappings of church – all the meetings, common bank accounts and obligations?” Do we need an organization to be our organism?”
People certainly think they can do without the Church. On the one hand, it is good that they feel like they carry their faith in their heart on their own and don’t require a lot of handling or support. On the other hand, it is so common that people lose their faith by swimming alone in the sea of opposition that it is a wonder that jumping overboard is so popular. We Christians in the U.S. are kind of a strange species; our strongest swimmers are often the ones who jump ship. They are busy with a brilliant, individual life that is conceptually attached to the body of Christ, but practically, is not much of an incarnation. Sometimes they parachute into “missionary” places looking for more individuals, such as themselves, who will leave their community to live an individualistic Christian life and find themselves having a tough time being connected to their own neighborhood (unlike the people they meet), because they don’t connect — at least for very long.
I suppose it comes down to the big question, “Could someone do the work of Jesus without Jesus?” No one reading this is likely to answer, “Sure!” But I am not so sure a lot of us aren’t trying it. The great challenge of turning from our godless way of life to a God-filled way of life is following the living Lord in the day to day, being an incarnation of Jesus as a member of his incarnation, the body of Christ, the church. The past 100 years of Christianity, in particular, seems to have allowed the faith to be one among many religions, a personal decision about meaning, a private experience that can’t be transferred, a “spiritual” matter, not a practical, legal, political, genetic or sociological matter, a collage of concepts, not a relationship with God.
Advent is the season when we are reminded that we can’t do the work of God without God-with-us. I suppose the fact that the season of Advent seems kind of weird to many Christians reflects our desertion of the doctrine of the incarnation — so many of us are mainly concerned about right thinking or the heat of our personal feelings and less concerned with right living. But, as Paul says, “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” (Gal 5:6) and “Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision [or any other argument] means anything; what counts is a new creation.” (Gal. 6:15) Advent calls us to express our faith in God expressing his love — in a body, in time, in creation by birthing a new creation. We might prefer a more convenient “salvation,” one more personalized to our needs and desires. But we can’t do without the one we’ve been given.