The Grace of Mowing Grass

Sanctuary.

“A safe place. A shrine. A setting for worship.”

To a refugee or a person fleeing violence or oppression, the word “sanctuary” captures a sense of hoped-for safety and provision.

To a birder, it’s a specially set-aside area on which a long-sought-after species just might be seen, even if at a distance.

To a person in a religious community, the word conjures up images of stained glass, icons, men and women in robes and vestments, sacred texts and hymn books in the backs of uncomfortable wooden seats.

But the seat of a John Deere lawn tractor? Can that be a sanctuary?

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Entering the Trinity

Editor’s Note: An issue of Conversations on community would not be complete without a look at what John Ortberg calls “the ultimate small group”—the life of the Trinity. To be truly grounded in God, all our discussion, thought, and practice of community needs to spring out of our experience and understanding of what God-in-community is like.

There has been much written on the systematic theology of the Trinity, a philosophical and biblical understanding of the truth that God exists as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Less writing exists on what an experience of the Trinity can be for the community of believers, even though God has eternally existed as community and call us into full-fledged community both with himself and with one another.

What does it mean to live in trinitarian ways as a people of God? What does participating in God’s community mean for us? What does it mean for the shape and form of our communities? To begin to answer these questions, we turned to the author of Experiencing the Trinity, Darrell Johnson.

* * *

Here is the good news: The living God is not a solitary God. The living God is not a lonely God. The living God is the Trinitarian God. From all eternity the living God has existed in community as Community; in fellowship as Fellowship; in relationship as Relationship. From all eternity the living God has existed as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. From all eternity the living God has been able to speak of himself as “we,” “us,” and “our.”

And here is the incredibly good, good news. We human beings were brought into being to participate with God in that us-ness. It is almost too good to be true! I was brought into being by the Trinity—and you were brought into being by the Trinity—to participate in the inner life of the Trinity. I was bought by the blood of Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Trinity—you were bought by the blood of the Second Person of the Trinity—to participate with him in his communion with the First and Third Persons of the Trinity. Because of the work of the Son on the cross, and because of the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts, you and I who say yes to Jesus as Savior and Lord are adopted by the Father into the Trinitarian Family. We become real sons and daughters in relationship with the only begotten Son. We enter into the Only Begotten’s relationship with the Father and the Holy Spirit. When we say yes, we come home.

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Community As Theological Necessity

In October 2002, I planted Providence Community Church (providencecommunity.com) in a suburb of Dallas, Texas. From the outset I knew that I wanted this church to be different from much of what I had seen and experienced. I wanted it to reflect the type of community that I read about in the book of Acts, but had rarely experienced in the church. Mindful of the fact that I live in a very different time and culture than the one present in the book of Acts, I set out to shape a culture that would be driven by theological convictions on community rather than pragmatic approaches.

It took a lot of time and energy to accomplish this, but by God’s grace our church began to reflect the sort of churches that we were reading about in the New Testament. It was a slow and painful process that required us to rethink success. We gave up worrying about how many people attended on Sundays and became far more interested in the number of people sharing their lives, their food, and their homes with one another.

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The “Strange Practices” Of The Practice

An Interview with Aaron Niequist

Conversations Journal: Aaron, we wanted to interview you for many reasons—your depth of character, your integrative musical talents, your delight in the work of spiritual formation. But for the purposes of this article, we want to focus on the ways you have been integrating the formation of community and the practice of the spiritual disciplines, or, as this section is called, the classical spiritual exercises. Could you tell our readers a little bit about how you’ve been integrating those things? I’m thinking specifically of the launching of The Practice at Willow Creek Community Church. What is it, how did it come about, how is it going? (I like to jam as many questions into my first question as I can.)

Aaron Niequist: Wow, first of all, thanks so much for those incredibly kind words. I’m honored to be a part of this conversation.

Over the last ten-plus years, I’ve been on a bit of a journey—both as a Christian and as a worship leader. And I’m coming to find that much of modern Christianity is wonderful and true and beautiful, but a little too thin. It is a profoundly helpful invitation into relationship with God, but doesn’t always address the deeper, more complex questions of life, doubt, and faith. And it doesn’t always help us move beyond beliefs into the “abundant life” that Jesus offers.

And so both in my personal walk with Christ, and as a worship leader in two different evangelical churches (Mars Hill in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and Willow Creek in Chicago), some friends and I have been trying to learn from other Christian traditions and embrace a more formation-oriented, grounded, ecumenical, historical, robust way to follow Christ. Basically, instead of saying, “Our tradition has all we need,” we’ve been saying, “Our tradition is a wonderful part of the story, but we desperately need the wisdom and insight of our other brothers and sisters.”

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Breaking Into Community

I love a good redemption story. But I couldn’t have imagined that our house getting burglarized would end up being a good thing.

Well, it wasn’t, actually.

It was scary and violating, made me angry, and tapped into fears I didn’t even know I had. My husband, who is sometimes annoyingly able to find the silver lining in things, said that we should be grateful the burglars really didn’t take much. He even joked he wasn’t sure if we should be upset or offended our TV wasn’t among the items stolen. (We were the holdouts on one of a few remaining tube televisions. The thing probably weighed 150 pounds, and Jason was actually sad the thieves didn’t haul it off for us!) I think I remarked that it was “too soon”—and that we should go back to being upset.

The break-in occurred during the day, when most of our neighbors were at work. Not that we knew any of our neighbors. We’d just gotten married and bought our first home, a 1930s bungalow in a historic neighborhood near downtown Atlanta, a few months before. Our “plan” was to be in the house for maybe four or five years, then move to the ’burbs and start a family. Both sets of parents had warned us about “big city” living—and simply couldn’t understand why we’d want to live in town. The break-in would surely shorten the countdown to the suburbs.

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Christian Community: More Than A “Wish Dream”

Editor’s Note: Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906–1945), best known for his book The Cost of Discipleship and for his martyr’s death in a Nazi concentration camp, gave significant thought and time considering the meaning of Christian fellowship. Bonhoeffer earned two doctorate degrees. His dissertation for the first, written at age 21, was entitled Sanctorium Communion, or “Communion of Saints.” About eight years later, in 1935, Bonhoeffer started an underground seminary during the time of the Nazi occupation, which the Gestapo closed in 1937. In that short time, Bonhoeffer and his students and colleagues practiced intentional monastic-style, communal living based on the principles Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount. Life Together, the book from which this article is adapted, was written based on those experiences.

Dr. Bonhoeffer, would you please describe for us how Christian community is different from other types of community?

Christianity means community through Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ. No Christian community is more or less than this. Whether it be a brief, single encounter or the daily fellowship of years, Christian community is only this. We belong to one another only through and in Jesus Christ. (21)[1]

“Brethren in the Lord,” Paul calls his congregation (Phil. 1:14). One is a brother to another only through Jesus Christ. I am a brother to another person through what Jesus Christ did for me and to me; the other person has become a brother to me through what Jesus Christ did for him. This fact that we are brethren only through Jesus Christ is of immeasurable significance. Not only the other person who is earnest and devout, who comes to me seeking brotherhood, must I deal with in fellowship. My brother is rather the other person who has been redeemed by Christ, delivered from his sin, and called to faith and eternal life. Not what a man is in himself as a Christian, his spirituality and piety, constitutes the basis of our community. What determines our brotherhood is what that man is by reason of Christ. Our community with one another consists solely in what Christ has done to both of us. This is true not merely at the beginning, as though in the course of time something else were to be added to our community; it remains so for all the future and to all eternity. I have community with others and I shall continue to have it only through Jesus Christ. The more genuine and the deeper our community becomes, the more will everything else between us recede, the more clearly and purely will Jesus Christ and his work become the one and only thing that is vital between us. We have one another only through Christ, but through Christ we do have one another, wholly, and for all eternity.

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[1] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, trans. John W. Doberstein (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1954). Page numbers are set off in parentheses at the end of each quotation.

 

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