Wednesday, February 12, 2014

From Brokenness to Community…

The summer between my junior and senior years of college, I worked for a Presbyterian church in San Antonio. It was my first “official” foray into the wonderful world of professional ministry. The church hired me as a summer intern for their high school ministry program. So my days were spent hanging out with youth group members, teaching bible studies, and pursuing activities glorious and goofy. And at certain times during the season, we took our young people on fun, enriching, Jesus-themed adventures. There was a trip to the Texas coast, to retreat with other high school groups. We splashed at a nearby waterpark. We served several communities in need. But the most significant trip was the week we traveled to a camp outside of Philadelphia.

You may be thinking, “Well, of course, camp, that’s obvious for summer youth group activities.” Except, this time, our students weren’t the camp participants; they were workers. You see, the camp was run by a local organization that focused on people with disabilities, and they set no “limit” on the severity of someone’s disability for inclusion in their community. So they’d send buses to local group homes or wherever these disabled folk lived, transport them to a facility in nearby hills, and run programming throughout the week. Some of the campers were high-functioning adults or youth, who could move and speak with decent levels of success. Other campers were wheelchair confined, unable to talk, needing helpers to eat, sleep and use the restroom. Our youth group didn’t directly take care of the campers; the organization ensured trained assistants for those essential functions. Rather, we helped run games and play in the pool, or provided labor for camp rebuilding projects. It was one part construction project, one part relationship building, another gigantic heaping of education about the needs of disabled people, and every part full of grace.

I can’t describe how profoundly this week moved me, as I both met the campers and guided my youth. I’d never interacted over an extended period with people enduring such hardships, such need. So to prepare me for the, well, shock, my boss that summer gave me a book. It was small, about 50 pages, basically a publication of two lectures given several years ago to students at Harvard Divinity School by a man named Jean Vanier. Turns out, Rev. Dr. Vanier is a modern spiritual guru, renowned throughout the world, particularly for his uniquely powerful ministry with and spiritual teaching about people living with disability. I knew none of that when I read his book; it was simply a work requirement. Yet in its pages, and through his simple, accessible words, I discovered a vision of Christian faith and Christian community that challenged me, even changed me.

Essentially, his point was this- We all suffer brokenness, of various kinds. For some, that spiritual, psychological or physical struggle is obvious for all to see. For others, it’s hard to define and hidden, often even from ourselves. Yet it’s there, and it makes a difference, contributes to isolation, loneliness and suffering. The goal of Gospel, however, is to lead us beyond our brokenness to community with others and God. Perhaps that sounds obvious, but it struck me like a hammer, because the way Vanier suggested that worked was different than I normally expect. He said grace uses our brokenness, embraces it, builds upon it, rather than denies it, avoids it or presumes it can all be healed.

Thus, the title of his book is From Brokenness to Community, and it’s remained atop my spiritual favorites since. And as I pondered recently what Plymouth Creek should do during Lent 2014, this seemed a worthy theme. So it’ll guide worship and sermons, and as has become typical, every Wednesday during Lent, I’ll lead a book discussion at church. Staring March 12, from 6-7 PM (and there’ll be food…), we’ll engage this man’s profound spirituality. Expect to learn about the needs of disabled people, Vanier’s unique journey in faith, and- hopefully- your own needs and hurts and God’s amazing ability to bring us together.

Grace and Peace,

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