Monday, April 21, 2008

Rami: Response to Mike's 4/21 Post, Part 1

Let me start with your notion that the Sabbath is an “opportunity to lay aside our normal preoccupations and assumptions and immerse ourselves in a radically different approach.” Who would I be if I laid aside my normal preoccupations and assumptions? I can only think of one answer: I don’t know.

I am my preoccupations and assumptions. I am the thoughts I think, and the things I do, and I tend to think the same thoughts and do the same things day after day. My thoughts and my actions are largely conditioned by past thoughts and actions. So to ask who I would be without these is to ask a question I cannot answer, for the “me” that would answer it is the very “me” that would be put aside.

And yet this is exactly what is necessary if God’s promise to “create a new heaven and a new earth; and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind” (Isaiah 65:17) is to be realized. The new is created when the old is forgotten and no longer comes to mind to be repeated.

Living without the former things, without conditioned thoughts and actions, means living without the learned biases that catalyze the fear, anger, greed, and violence that defines so much of human existence. I wouldn’t forget my name, but I would forget my labels. I wouldn’t forget how to feed, clothe, or house myself, but I would forget why it is OK that others go hungry, naked, and homeless. I wouldn’t forget the call for justice and compassion, but I would forget the excuses that allow for injustice and cruelty.

Jesus, rather than Mother Teresa, would be my role model here. Jesus challenged almost all the assumptions of his time. His table was open to all, something that is still unheard of. He dropped all labels and knew that “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30), and idea so terrifying that we imagine he meant that he and he alone was one with God.

Mother Teresa, on the other hand, as filled with compassion as she was, did not question assumptions and did not confront the system that made for the injustices she confronted daily. To cite only one example: in a country like India whose problems are so deeply rooted in over population, she could not challenge the assumptions of her Church and teach birth control.

As to your question what would a community steeped in Sabbath consciousness, and thus free from preoccupations and assumptions, look like? I suspect it would look a lot like the early Jesus movement among the Jews. It would be a loose knit community of people living lightly, lovingly, and seeing to the healing (on all levels) of everyone it encountered.

How do we transform our communities in this way? With twenty-five years of community leadership experience under my ever-expanding belt I can honestly say I have no idea. I think that is one reason I left congregational life. It may be that the very things needed to sustain a community are the very things that preclude the communal life I am suggesting.

It may be that what we are talking about can happen only among free individuals who gather for a moment to share a meal, a piece of wisdom, or a journey from one place to another without setting up any organization at all.

5 comments:

Jordan said...

Shalom Rav,

You wrote: "As to your question what would a community steeped in Sabbath consciousness, and thus free from preoccupations and assumptions, look like? I suspect it would look a lot like the early Jesus movement among the Jews. It would be a loose knit community of people living lightly, lovingly, and seeing to the healing (on all levels) of everyone it encountered."

This is exactly the guiding principle (based on Acts 2:42) upon which the vision statement of Willow Creek Community Church in suburban Chicago is based.

Mike Smith and Rami Shapiro said...

This is Rami. Your comment about Willow Creek is both interesting and troubling. While I am impressed with much of what Willow Creek has to offer, when I consider the decentralized and lightly organized Sabbath community the last thing that comes to mind is a mega-church.

I see the house church movement and the Jewish havurah (fellowship) movement as more in line with the informal Sabbath community I have in mind than anything like a standard church or synagogue, let alone Willow Creek.

Jordan said...

Shalom Rav and Rev,

I can understand your reaction. I've followed Willow
for more than 14 years. One of their organizing principles is that they are a church OF "small groups," (havurot) in contradistinction to a church WITH small groups. Thus they're able to maintain the intimacy of the Acts 2 early church (their inspiration), with all of the resource advantages (people: their time, talents and tithes) of the mega church they've become. More recently they've adopted a neighborhood strategy that expands their outreach, bringing community to others not already in their church family. Willow is truly remarkable and always strives to do better. Sadly,
I'm at loss to find its analog in the Jewish realm.

Biv'racha,
Jordan

Mike Smith and Rami Shapiro said...

This is Mike. Thank you for reminding us of Willow Creek's commitment to be a church of small groups rather than a church with small groups. It's an important distinction. Small groups, of course, can become as confining or dedicated to self-perservation as larger ones. I'm afraid all human groups are prone to institutionalism. All the same, I suspect Willow Creek's approach may help slow the tendency.

Jordan said...

Shalom Rev and Rav,

Rev Mike wrote, "Small groups, of course, can become as confining or dedicated to self-perservation as larger ones. I'm afraid all human groups are prone to institutionalism. All the same, I suspect Willow Creek's approach may help slow the tendency."

It all depends on the the clarity of the church's/small group's vision i.e., to become and Acts 2 church (whether a small group or a larger corporate body), and the passion with which its leaders teach and model it real time or as it says in
Deut. 6 (and I paraphrase) "love God when you sit at home, walk on the way, when you lie down and when you arise." And yes Willow is very good at both of these as over time their leadership has shown itself to be both credible and forward looking.

Biv'racha,
Jordan