Sunday, July 24, 2016

Community: "To Boldly Go ..."

I'm more of a Star Wars guy myself.  That means something if you are a fan of science fiction.  That's all you need to say to some people for them to get you.  For there is a difference, you know, between Star Wars and Star Trek.  It's hard to pin down exactly what the difference is.  Maybe Star Trek is a bit more for the technically inclined.  Maybe Star Wars is more for those deep into Jungian psychology.  Ask my wife, and she says there pretty much the same thing.  She's probably right, but - please, oh please - don't try to tell that to a Trekkie or a guy wearing a Storm Troopers costume at Gen Con.

Anyhow, Star Wars guy that I am, I still couldn't resist seeing the new Star Trek movie that just came out:  Star Trek Beyond.  I read a few glowing reviews, and those endorsements combined with near record heat temperatures made the cool movie theater seem like a perfect place to spend a Sunday afternoon.  Turns out it was a great choice.  It turned into one of those moments that mirrored and clarified my life in the way that sometimes only fiction can. 

Without giving away too much of the plot, the story begins in a rather unexpected place for James T. Kirk and his crew:  boredom.  Well, not just boredom.  There's also a bit of relational strain among the captain and his crew.  The life of space adventurers is supposed to be glamorous, adventurous, difficult, sexy, challenging, and rewarding.  Sure enough, when we first meet James earlier in the series, he's a young, hot shot.  He's Tom Cruise in Top Gun:  brash, daring, and ambitious.  But, the James we meet in this film has been at the helm of the ship for awhile.  He's been into the depths of the universe.  He's faced his fair share of challenges, and - for better and for worse - things have become ... well, routine.  Or if not routine, than ... well, complex.  Difficult.

The same is true for the rest of the crew.  The thrill of venturing into unexplored territories and uncovering new mysteries is also, so we learn, coupled with the realities of relational difficulties.  Sure, the crew of the USS Enterprise is boldly going where no one has ever gone before, but they're also having to live in close quarters.  There's the rub.  For communities are made up of individuals, and individuals are prone to testing each others nerves from time to time.  Couples have their spats on board the Enterprise.  Some wonder if it might be time to jump ship for another adventure.  Some even find themselves wondering if what they are doing really is all that important.  It does, after all, feel like things are becoming a bit "episodic" as James puts it early in the movie.  Everyone seems after awhile to playing the role of their typecast.

Of course, the movie is tapping into something all of us have felt at one time or another.  Stay anywhere long enough, and you'll come up against this.  Doesn't matter if it's a job or a marriage or a church or even in a family.  At some point, if you commit to the work of community and unity, no matter what it is, you will face these challenges.  Is it worth it?  Maybe there are other adventures out there for me?  Perhaps I need a change of scenery for my life?

It is precisely here that I need to keep remembering that this place called struggle and that town called boredom is not a trap.  It is not something to escape.  It is the place we learn to die to our obsessive need for the "new" and "promising."  And it is the place where we begin to invest ourselves into something that goes beyond us.  It's where we have the choice to really be invested in our real community, not just some false or self-fabricated notion of what we want our marriage or church or school system to look like.  Here we come to what Walter Wangerin Jr. refers to in his great book on marriage as our reality, the person or place or community we are actually called to love and not just some wistful notion of what we wanted to love.  

I know I'm not alone in my experience of this step in "growing up into Christ."  Like many of my friends who are truly trying to root ourselves here in Greencastle and truly seeking to make this place a better place, I know that the so called easy option of moving onto another church or community is a short-cut that doesn't really go anywhere.  It's a "chute" that can actually lead us to regress.   

Personally, I'm facing it as a pastor.  Eight years into providing ministry to this place, I've been here long enough to see incredibly moving moments of grace, of healing, and of new life.  For all the bad press ministry gets about over-work and little pay, nothing in my mind can ever compare to the unbelievably gift it is to hold a four-month old child in my arms and proclaim the absolute depth of our faith:  God has uniquely made and knows this child, and God lovingly has already prepared everything needed for this child's life and salvation.  Nothing can surpass the joy of being so close to both God's glorious love and the precious, tender, vulnerable reality of being human.

But, of course, eight years also can make you realize that you're no longer the savior and that despite how present God is in this community, that doesn't mean that miracles are happening at every turn.  No, some challenges - like the perpetual weeds in parking lot - seem to always linger and refuse proper treatment.   Relational strains occur.  The easy work has already been done.  It becomes challenging not to typecast people. 

Now, what is left is the hard, important and daily work of community.  Or, as Henry Ford says it, "Coming together is a beginning.  Keeping together is progress.  Working together is success."  So it is that truly good pastoring, I'm discovering, is just like any other work of community.  Perseverance and grit and steadfast love are a lot more important than passion or feelings or thrills. 

Here, too, is the genius of Star Trek Beyond.  When we are faced with these moments of boredom and strain, we have a choice.  We can flee the boredom for something more attractive.  We can pine for a new job.  We can subtly start looking beyond our marriage for something to satisfy us.  We can begin to think that our better life lies in some community behind or before us.  OR we can make a re-commitment and double down on being a part of this marriage, this community, this job. 

Of course, the beauty of movies and parables is that they give us images to locate these types of moral decisions, and Captain Kirk's decision is clear enough.  Is he going to be a member of this ship?  Is he going to remain committed to his crew?  Will he go down with this ship even if it means giving up his own freedom and future opportunities?  Will he continue to boldly go into that place that is even more unknown, challenging, and at times significantly more frightening than the depths of outer space:  deeper into community?

The deep satisfaction at the end of this movie is the firm reminder that the investments we make in each other and towards something bigger than ourselves are of extreme worth.  They do matter!  The ship must be staffed.  The crew needs to continue to do its job, no matter how mundane the job.  The crew must persist in its bold hope and belief in its mission - especially when the threats of evil and crushing nihilism seem just too near and overwhelming.

Community matters.

Unity matters.

Being an invested member of life and living for others matters!  It is how we truly mature in Christ Jesus.

It takes great courage.  Tremendous courage.  Heroic courage, even.  The type of courage that is big enough for the big screens, even if most of us do it in homes and churches and jobs that aren't going to make the big screens.

Kudos to all of my friends out there with me who are making those courageous decisions to double down on being invested in this particular place of Greencastle.  I see you in the struggle.  We're all in it in some way.  And I just want to say it's worth it.  It's definitely worth it.