Made for Community
Given by Rev. April S Blaine on September 13, 2015
Six years ago, I had the extraordinary privilege of spending nearly 3 weeks in South India, as a part of a cross-cultural learning experience with my seminary. I had done a fair amount of traveling in my days before that in plenty of countries where the culture and language exposed me to incredible new things.
But nothing fully prepared me for how different life was in South India.
Certainly the brightly colored loud and noisy crowded streets and cities were a part of it. And the food, the remarkably delicious, but spicy food that is served for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
But the biggest difference I found in India was people related to one another and understood their place and connection in the world in a way that was completely different than everything I had known.
After the third day there, I began to realize that everyone was calling me sister. Even though I would introduce myself as April, no one was calling me that. I thought that maybe they couldn’t remember my name, but then I would listen to them address each other. Aunt, Uncle, brother, mother, father, sister – no one used names for one another either.
I began to ask and inquire about this from Thomas Thandaraj, our beloved guide. And he said – oh yes, names are not as important here as they are in the US.
Your identity as an individual was certainly important, but who you were – first and foremost had to do with how you related to others. And you would be reminded of that in every interaction. You are not just April, you are my sister. You are not just an individual. You are connected to me and to all of us.
In the first chapter of Genesis, we hear this glorious story of the symphony of God – a symphony of words being spoken and all the creation comes into being. Let there be light. Let there be stars. Let there be trees producing fruit. Animals in the sea and sky. And Let us make humans in our own image. And all of it was good.
In the second chapter of Genesis, the story begins quite differently. God, it seems, is playing around in the mud. And God notices that there is no one to till the ground, to work alongside God in this creative work and so And while playing around in the mud, God fashions a human – and then God breathes into the human the ruha – the spirit of life – the breath – and the man became alive.
As creation continues, there are plants and animals – and this man, who has the spirit of God living in him is right there with God creating names and caring for what has been made. But then God seems to look at the creation and realizes that something just isn’t quite right. The created man has an intimate relationship with God, they are partners in the work. The created man has meaningful work to do – a purpose for existence – but God says – there is no suitable companion. And so God creates a woman – out of the rib of the man. For, God says – it is not good for the man to be alone. Bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh – these two equals – suitable companions form the first community – and they were naked and unashamed.
Last weekend, my cousin was released from prison after spending 18 months behind bars. He had managed to receive an early release because he had attended a 4 month boot camp, a military style intense disciplinary training period intended to test him physically, mentally, and emotionally. The day he was released, my uncle, his father, picked him up, and then they drove together for four and a half hours to our family reunion at my parents home in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. This is a gathering we’ve been having for nearly 20 years every Labor Day weekend – where my dad’s side of the family – the 4 brothers and all their children, grandchildren would gather at the lake for food, skiing, swimming, boating, a little bit of rowdiness, and some meaningful time of fellowship.
My cousin had been coming to this gathering every year since he was 8 years old. But for the past four years, he has been absent.
And I watched him over the weekend as he began to re-enter the family. As he was welcomed back into community. As he embraced the arms of his brothers and his grandparents. As he was reconnected to relationships that had been burned and hurt and broken both during the dark season that led to his arrest and the lonely season of his departure.
I watched as my two sons latched onto him – something bound to happen if you are willing to ride a tube and a waverunner with a 5 and 7 year old. And to proclaim each night, we want cousin Drew to read us a story!
I watched the healing begin – and a young man whose discipline and order had been restored – find his soul and heart and lifeblood again. Find that he mattered – that he had something to contribute – that he was beloved.
As we all could say – welcome, cousin, son, brother. Welcome home.
We are made for community. It’s hardwired in our DNA. From the first moments of our created being – our individual identities were bound together with our connection to each other. When we enter the world, we literally do so from the labor and body and physical womb of another human being. Bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh – we are connected to one another – dependent on one another. Made for community.
Genesis 2 speaks to that connectedness that we were made for but it also gives us this picture of what the community actually looks like. Adam and Eve, who really aren’t mentioned by name – but instead are appropriately referred to in this scripture as the human and the woman – and then later – the husband and the wife. At the end of the story – when these two are together – it says – that they are Naked and they are unashamed.
It wasn’t a sexual or sensual thing. This wasn’t an exhibitionist kind of naked and ashamed. The Hebrew word is also translated – they were bare – there wasn’t anything held back. Nothing but their raw, true selves.
To be vulnerable before one another – and to not be ashamed. This was what the first community was like.
Our story as humans begins with our connectedness to each other and our need for real community – the kind of community where our relationships that go to the core of who we are and what we are really dealing with. Where we are not holding anything back – but we are honest and bare before each other.
That’s the part where we start to get a little bit uncomfortable – Amen. Because we are willing to acknowledge that we need each other – that connection with others is good. That being isolated is not good. We want to be in the presence of others – in the company of others – but we aren’t so sure about this whole – being laid bare before one another – because the last thing we want is for others to see me cry, or fail, or falter. I don’t want you to see all of me – for if you did – I certainly would not feel Unashamed.
We aren’t so sure about this biblical sense of community that we were created for. We’d much rather create our own communities – on Facebook or Instagram where we can control and manufacture an image of ourselves that reveals none of our shortcomings or failures – that lets our “community” know that “I got this.”
With all of them incredible technology at our fingertips – too few of us have places and communities of real connection and relationship that we were created for. Where we can be naked and unashamed.
I have to admit that I am the proud daughter of a very independent mother – a woman who taught me that I could do anything I ever set my mind to – except pee standing up and I could probably practice enough to get that down as well. I am the queen of “I got this.” But I got to tell you – this Wednesday when I heard Bishop Palmer speak at our clergy renewal gathering – he asked us – “how’s that working out for you?”
The truth is – I need community. I need vulnerable spaces. I need reminders that the only way I am the best, whole, healthy April Suzanne Blaine when I remember that I am first a sister, a cousin, a mother, a daughter, a wife, a child of God… and when I can find true spaces to connect with others in relationship and to let down my guard, to lay it bare – to stop pretending that I have it together and allow myself to be vulnerable – And unashamed.
We often try to avoid them – but Whether we like it or not, the vulnerable spaces come – they came 14 years ago this week, when the twin towers fell and we wondered what the future held for our nation. They came just 3 months ago, when we saw the footage of our brothers and sisters in bible study and then shot in Charleston, SC because of the color of our skin.
Sometimes the vulnerable places come in seasons of challenge, transition, and newness in our life. The arrival of a new baby, the first semester of college, the job that we thought we were prepared for but is way harder than we imagined, a new romantic relationship, or the first experience of real failure, the grief and loss of a loved one, or an 18 month prison sentence. Something opens up in us and we realize – that we need one another.
that we aren’t just individuals in the world – somehow - we are community. We are brothers. We are sisters.
We don’t really prefer these spaces – most of us don’t allow ourselves to let our guard down until we absolutely have to. But when we can step into these vulnerable spaces – we are often more able to build real communities, honest relationships, and live with one another in the way that we were created for.
So, I wonder where you may need the reminder of your connectedness in the world – your status as brother, sister, cousin, aunt, or father.
And I wonder where God has been nudging you to let down your guard. To say and speak the thing you have been too afraid to say – to ask the question you haven’t been able to speak – or to be honest about the real struggle that is going on in your heart and spirit.
To be vulnerable with another human being in community and to be unashamed.
To admit that - “I don’t have this” – that I need my brothers and sisters - and I could use some help.
Where is the Spirit – who made us and breathed the breath of life for us – but also gave us suitable companions for the journey – inviting you to live into your created-ness?