Many of us just want to fix it.
We see brokenness, pain, and injustice in the world around us, and we want to solve it.
But it doesn't take long to realize that most of the time, we can't.
At UM Church for All People
(C4AP), our relationships with one another is our greatest asset. It's what grows the church. It's what build trust as we provide services. It's what we're able to offer forward to our partners as they disseminate their own resources into our community.
If we were just about "fixing" people, we'd never move past a transaction of assistance into deeper relationship. And it's the deeper relationship that God would have for each of us.
Authentic relationships are based on mutuality and accompaniment. They're not based on one person's ability to "fix" the other. There is a certain hubris to thinking we can fix anything anyway. It is easy for those with power and privileged to think
that they are in control. It can feel like we have the resources and influence to save the day
. But its ultimately all in God's hands, not ours.
Those on the marginalize know they can't fix it. They are often confronted with stark realities of structures and systems that stack the odds against them. They know that the outcome of their hard work is not in their control. And they know how to rely on God.
They also know how to accompany. They know they can't throw money at their friends' problems, so they offer what they can: accompaniment. Not a false promise of a solution, but the abiding relationship that walks through the situation together.
How many times have I prayed the Lord's Prayer
? "Give us this day our daily bread." But I don't believe that prayer. I think
I do. But I don't. I know I work hard. I earn a paycheck. I pay for my groceries. I
give me my daily bread. But on some level, we know that's foolish. It's in sitting next to siblings in Christ that pray that prayer each day without knowing where they will get their next meal that has taught me how to trust God.
Which brings us to the second aspect of authentic relationship: mutuality. Mutuality is when both parties are enriched by the relationship. It's notion that everyone has something valuable to offer to others. That the Body of Christ doesn't function simply as a one way flow of service.
You may have served at a soup kitchen, but have you sat at table there as well? You may pray for the poor, but have asked them to pray for you? It is good to want to help others. Our instincts of compassion and service are at the root of so much of what is good in Christianity. But without mutuality of relationship, it can be draining and people will burn out.
We often get well meaning volunteers that want to serve the community. They will do good work, dedicating their time, money, and energy to the various ministries. But after a while, some lose their fever a drift away. This is not to devalue their contribution; everything has a season. But we've found that the volunteers that come and stay, do so because they realize that they get as much out of it as they put in, if not more. They realize are being fed, even as they feed others. They learn the beauty and richness of mutuality.
During worship services at C4AP, there is a time for sharing of joys and concerns. On any given morning, someone may stand up and say "My gas got cut off, and winter's coming, and I'm scared. I know you can't fix it, but will you pray with me about it?" And the very next person might get up and say "Our last kid just went off to college. We're excited for her, but now we're empty nesters and we're sad she's gone. We know you can't fix it, but will you pray with us about it?"
It matter that these prayer get lifted up equally before God. If we aren't vulnerable with one another, we maintain the charade that we have it all together. We deny ourselves the opportunity to trust in God and to trust in one another.
Indeed, if we don't solicit the mutuality of prayers from those we think we are serving, then we reveal our own bias of believing God hears our own prayers better. Is not each person a child of God? If anything, the persecuted and downtrodden may be more in tune to God's voice. We worship a God of the Oppressed
, and scripture is often written from and to those on the margins.
Ultimately, we will have a better understanding of who God is when we are in relationship with the folks that Jesus hung out with while he was on earth. When we read the Sermon on the Mount with those that do indeed hunger and thirst. When we celebrate Christmas with those who have wrestled unexpected teen pregnancy. When we learn about the Samaritan woman at Jacob's Well with those who have been shamed and ostracized from society. When we experience Holy Week with with those that have felt what it's like to be imprisoned and to stare death in the face. And when we experience resurrection with those that have a deep understanding of what it means to have victory over death.
These relationships mutuality and accompaniment are at the heart of everything we do at C4AP. Through the Free Store, we open our doors to the community and invite the sort of daily interactions necessary to build commonality. By listening to our neighbors in this setting, we launched our community development work, like our affordable housing initiative and the Healthy Eating and Living program. Indeed, every step we have taken toward an opportunity rich community has had its roots in the relationships we build with the many that enter our doors each day.
We live into the duality of respecting each individual’s autonomy, while offering opportunity to those that want to grow. We understand that not everyone wants to climb the economic ladders of a broken system, and also recognize that life can be better for those who are interested in creating change in their own lives.
We hold in tension the idea that “God loves us just the way we are, and God is not finished with us yet.” It might sound like a contradiction, but it reflects the notion that God accompanies each one of us, offering us all the opportunity of mutuality to live into everything that we can be.