19 moves, 13 apartments, 8 cities, 2 countries. I have become emotionally attached to my boxes.
And I have to say, boxes make for rotten community. They're kind of superficial. Usually, when you get through their cardboard exteriors, there's nothing in them. And when I do find something there, it's usually something I've put there, so that's not particularly challenging, either.
So, I search for better community. In college, it was easy. I counted on running into friends on campus practically every day. I got spoiled, and was then released into the wild. Since then, I've come to believe that the world-at-large doesnÕt put a great deal of value on getting individuals into supportive structures. We are largely left to our own devices, and, so, out in The Real World, I have struggled against isolation. Stays in Florida, Chicago, and San Diego did not help me feel more connected to my neighbors, but feeling pretty frustrated and lonely, instead.
But an amazing thing has happened. Quite by accident, if you believe in accidents, I stumbled across a group of Quakers in the West Hills of Portland. Among them are people from all kinds of upbringings, with a jaw-dropping range of beliefs. Now, I have not been fooled. I know this is not Shangri-la, although the coffee is excellent. There are differences of opinion on all kinds of important issues, and I donÕt think we're all toeing a party line.
Nevertheless, I find here all kinds of role models for community and working together. I find a group practicing a spirituality that does not threaten, that emphasizes love, that emphasizes reaching out, that emphasizes each person's unique role in his own discovery. We believe here what we believe, and not what anyone tells us to believe. It's so exquisitely simple, yet so unbelievably rare. It is refreshing to me. It is life-giving for me.
And it is challenging for me. I grew up in a Western Michigan rife with Calvinist orthodoxy. It was very clear to me that religion can be used to beat people down. Studying medieval history in college revealed a similar lesson. In many ways, religion, and by extension the Bible, and even the idea of God, had an agenda. I learned to bash back at all things Christian.
Here, though, in the absence of any agenda other than healing, I find myself having to re-examine my old assumptions. In this community of love and patience, I have begun to see how God might work in my life, how the Bible could be a useful tool for me, and how prayer can really make a difference. I see that God is not a means of coercion, but rather a means of connection.
In my life, I have had so little encouragement in observing God that I'm sure I don't usually know Her when I see Him. But this congregation has an uncanny ability to enfold and to nurture, both as a body and as individuals. For example: During a recent moving experience (not mine), I was able to find the keys to a fully-loaded moving truck. Packed inside the fully-loaded moving truck. God or Memorex? My hosts said 'God.' Hmm. It hadn't occurred to me. But IÕm inclined to believe it. In many ways, my idea of God and my idea of community are the same thing. I'm beginning to recognize God because you all have showed me how.