Sunday, February 26, 2006

FOUR PRACTICES THAT MAKE OR BREAK COMMUNITY

The focus of our learning conference at Asbury was pulling together and applying the four practices that we have explored and discussed as a group of ministry practitioners over the past three years. Dr. Christine Pohl, author of the breakthrough book, Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition, initially identified the four practices that make or break community and has a book forthcoming on them; these four practices were explored and worked out as distinctives in our semi-annual gatherings.

TRUTH-TELLING. The first practice that makes or breaks community is truth-telling. This is a matter of being honest and authentic with one another, but it is also a matter of dealing with the tendency of its de-formation: deception. Both truth and deception are often at work in a community of faith. If deception is ignored or unaddressed, community will be stifled or lost. Learning ways to "speak the truth in love" are at the heart of this practice.

PROMISE-KEEPING. The second practice that makes or breaks community is promise-keeping. Will I keep the promises I make to those with whom I enter into the covenant of community? Or will I betray my promises with self-aggrandizing choices, careless behavior, or backing out when the going gets tough? One of the things ripping apart communities of faith today are broken promises. One of the important aspects of promise-keeping is clarifying the spoken and inferred terms and commitments people who would live in authentic community enter mutually into.

HOSPITALITY. The opposite of hospitality is, according to Henri Nouwen, hostility. Our group agreed. Moving from hostility to hospitality includes an honest assessment of our sins, prejudices, preferences, and tendencies to exclude others for one reason or another. Hospitality will only be authentic and creative if we are honestly dealing with our often hidden hostilities. Hospitality, like the other practices, is not easy and is to be practiced as a discipline. Sometimes hospitality seems to come easily; other times, when feelings of warmth and freshness have temporarily dried up, we offer it as a spiritual discipline to our stranger-guests.

GRATITUDE. The fourth practice that makes or breaks community is gratitude. Its de-formations are grumbling and criticism. Gratitude is the practice of receiving life and the graces as a gift. The spirit of gratitude is confirmed and spread as grace through the practice of expressing it. I note that two robbers of gratitude are comparing and competition. If we are always comparing the present with the past, we may never see the small but profound wonder of the present moment. If we are competing for limited resources or positions or to try to secure a future, we will likely bypass the moments, people, and graces that are sent our way. The future will tend to be a sad repeat of the past instead an arena of possibilities opened up because we were able to see the gifts gratitude offers us.

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