our little community experiment

img_7309This was Rev. Laura Foley’s homily at our Community Engagement Center’s Wednesday Community Prayer Service today, Sept. 7, 2016. 

So, truth be told, I should probably let you in on a little secret. And maybe you already know this – but what we’re doing here at the Love Wins Community Engagement Center – this bizarre little community experiment we seem to be doing between 9-5 Monday-Thursday (and on Friday’s come October 14) is not actually anything new. Like not new at all.

In ancient Israel, at the time of animal sacrifices and desert wandering, it (this little community experiment) looked sort of like this: everyone lived in tents, not just some, and there were often issues around food and who was in charge. A wise one gifted the community with 10 rules to help cut down on some of the madness.  (But to be fair 10 rules eventually became 613, because rule setting as we all know is a slippery slope.)

Rule 1 was no getting distracted by another higher power – not Ba’al, not the neighboring tribe’s gods, not money.

Rule 2 was not to create another higher power – not some really pretty golden statue – not nothing.

Rule 3 – do not blame things on God or pretend God told you something when God did not. Only be truthful when talking about God.

Rule 4 – take the day off! My goodness. Every six days just stop trying to accomplish something and rest. If this were just a suggestion and not a rule it would never happen – something would always come up and you’d never just rest. So in order to insure it happens there’s a rule about it – you have to take a day off every week and rest!

Rule 5 – honor your parents. Nobody said you have to like them or even talk to them all the time but at least hold them in high esteem. When you do speak about them – speak respectfully.

Rule 6 – no killing another person.

Rule 7 – no sleeping with anybody who’s married and if you get married no sleeping with any other person other than your spouse. That shit gets messy quick. (Side note – in most familial or tight knit communities – most crimes are crimes of passion – not premeditated psycho stuff but someone gets mistreated and they get enraged. So yeah.)

Rule 8 – no stealing. If this group thing, this community experiment, is going to work people must not take other people’s stuff.

Rule 9 – don’t lie. Lying is nothing but bad, bad energy and we all need to be able to trust each other.

Rule 10 – no yearning for what others have. Be grateful for what YOU have, work hard, earn more, be content. Otherwise happiness will scarcely come to you.

Moving along a few thousand years, at the time Jesus was walking around and shortly after he wasn’t anymore it, this “not new community experiment thing,” looked like tent dwellers again except – there were no tents, just the original instructions to travel around and stay at people’s houses. And if at all possible avoid buying anything with money and avoid receiving money for anything. Don’t even bother taking a bag or extra stuff just let the people you encounter share with you and you share with them the exciting news that everything’s about to get a lot better.

For those whom life is hard, life will soon be good.

For those who are deeply sad, they will soon find comfort.

For those who are sweet and gentle, they will soon no longer be walked all over but will eventually be the ones in charge.

For those who desperately want to see justice and the right thing happen, they will soon see it.

For those who are willing to forgive even when it’s not deserved, they’ll soon be set free also.

For those who do the right thing when no one’s looking and truly want the best for everyone, they will soon see God.

For those who try to keep the peace they will soon be honored for who they are.

For those who are punished, whether sent to jail or thrown out of something or somewhere for merely doing the right thing – they will soon have their day.

Today’s text, which from scholars best bet, is from some community maybe 20-30 years after Jesus’ little community, and they’re just basically trying do the same sort of community experiment thing. Their description sounds pretty lovely: Remembering some of the words I read earlier:

Hebrews 13:1-16

Let mutual love continue. 2Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. 3Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured. 4Let marriage be held in honor by all, and let the marriage bed be kept undefiled; for God will judge fornicators and adulterers. 5Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” 6So we can say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?” 7Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you; consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. 8Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. 9Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings; for it is well for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by regulations about food, which have not benefited those who observe them. 10We have an altar from which those who officiate in the tent have no right to eat. 11For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. 12Therefore Jesus also suffered outside the city gate in order to sanctify the people by his own blood. 13Let us then go to him outside the camp and bear the abuse he endured. 14For here we have no lasting city, but we are looking for the city that is to come. 15Through him, then, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name. 16Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.

Then fast forward another couple (give or take) thousand years and it (this little community experiment) looked like a house (sometimes a farm) started by these two Catholics Peter Maurin and Dorothy Day. It was 1933 – in between these two huge World Wars. Their 6 beliefs were:

  1. gentle personalism of traditional Catholicism. (I think you can probably have a cup of coffee with Mike later if you want to know what that means.)
  2. personal obligation of looking after the needs of our brother
  3. daily practice of the Works of Mercy (feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, bury the dead, shelter the traveler, comfort the sick, and free the imprisoned).
  4. Houses of Hospitality for the immediate relief of those who are in need. (These were houses that provide hospitality without charge, and without requiring religious practice or attendance at services.)
  5. establishment of Farming Communes where each one works according to his ability and receives according to his need.
  6. creating a new society within the shell of the old with the philosophy of the new.

And now, today, at the Community Engagement Center we’re trying to do the same thing. Secret’s out. What we’re trying to do is not new. Many of you may not know it but there are 7 principles/values that Hugh jotted down when we were officially starting up 5 years ago or so: They are this:

Hospitality

We invite people to come into our lives and our spaces, not to convert them to our side or to change them, but to create free space where we can become friends with each other based on who we each are – not who we wish they were. Hospitality means creating spaces for people to be themselves.

Relationship

Life is, at its core, about relationships. It is the people who give our lives shape and meaning, and nobody has their best day alone. The relationships we strive to achieve must be real, based on the realities of who people are, and not agenda driven, or based upon who we wish they were.

Downward Bias

History has taught us that when there are two groups of people, policies and decisions tend to bias upward, benefiting the group in power. The people in our community have often been on the wrong end of this power dynamic, so we seek to bias downward whenever possible. Asking ourselves, “Does this benefit the people in our community, or just the people in power?” is a useful decision-making filter.

Grace

Grace is the decision to forgive people in advance of their being proved worthy of it. Forgiving them in advance of their being proved worthy of the forgiveness creates space for people to live into being their best selves. Grace is also aspirational – we extend grace because we wish to be recipients of it.

Bearing Witness

No one is voiceless, but there are voices that cannot be heard because the rest of us will not be quiet. Therefore, we will use our privilege and platform to bear witness to the goodness we see, the hope we encounter and the pain we share, and amplify the voices of those who cannot be heard. By doing this work in public, we seek to stoke the imagination of the watching world about the sort of goodness that is possible.

Agency

Agency is the right of people to exert power in their own lives. It is a fundamental human right, and to the extent we take away that right, we dehumanize them. People get to make their own decisions, they have the power to choose. Honoring their agency means honoring their choices, even when that is not the decision we would have made for them.

Mutuality

Most outreach work is predicated on the idea that “we” can meet “their” needs. We believe that we can meet each other’s needs, if we are willing to enter into a relationship based on the belief that we all have inherent value and worth. Mutuality involves seeing people as your peers and not as students to be taught or children to be monitored.

I will agree this is not a typical homily. Most of the sermons/homilies I’ve written in my life are fancy and have pretty stories in them. But honestly what we’re trying to do here – day in and day out – in our day center is the most important thing I know to talk about and I think it IS the gospel, the good news, the word of the Lord, the teachings of Jesus, and the kingdom of God come close. As we pray, Our Father, who are in heaven…

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Michael Raburn

Michael Raburn

Michael Raburn is the Director of Communications for the Love Wins Community Engagement Center. Mike enjoys spending time with Amy, their five kids, and more creatures than you can imagine. You can contact Mike: mike@lovewinscommunitycenter.org.
Michael Raburn

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