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Omaha, Nebraska, United States
I am more and more convinced that most congregations die from a staggering lack of imagination. Let's change that. Let's imagine a creative future with God and each other together. Drop me a line on email or leave a comment if you have thoughts on God, Jesus, congregations, the church or whatever.... I look forward to our conversations.

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Divine Congregation (and yours)

This is an icon of the 3 strangers whom Abraham grants rest and refreshment at the Oaks of Mamre (Genesis 18). Painted in the 15th Century by Andrei Rublev, it is a classic, and one of the most important icons ever painted. For many people it is an icon of the Triune God. I first remember coming across this icon back in the late 1980s in Chicago, but it was in graduate school where the icon grabbed my attention. I was fascinated with the Orthodox understanding of the Trinity. As a Westerner, the Trinity (that is, how we understand the One God as three Persons) was a bit opaque to me. Rublev showed me another way...

What Rublev shows me in this icon is that God is OK, almost relaxed, with being three persons. Rational, linear thought, scriptural hints, historical defenses and apologies, and even a painting or two do not deny God's reality--whatever that may be. (God is a mystery, after all, and we are just playing in the sandbox.) So I wrote my book, The Ecclesiology of God: The Role of the Divine Congregation on the Human Congregation (UMI: 2001). For me, God is the Divine Congregation.

I spend a lot of time thinking about the Divine Congregation, but I spend all my time living in human ones. For me, congregation is a suitable metaphor for family, for work, and for play. Especially in our democratic society, congregating in groups, no matter how conceived or construed, seems an apt metaphor. Some communities may strain under the congregational metaphor (think of a prison, for example), but a lot of the communities we are a part of can be seen and understood under the metaphor "congregation." So what makes for a congregation? Well, if Rublev's icon can serve as a way to help us see how God lives as a congregation, maybe the icon can help us see how our human congregations can live together?

First, you have to have a table. Central to any congregation is a place to gather and share together that which gives you meaning for your day, hope for tomorrow, and a sense of peace. We are not Prairie "Table" without a reason...A table on the way during your journey is a place to congregate.

Secondly, you have to realize there are other persons in your congregation, and we all defer to each other. That is, no one person is more important than another. We are in this together, and you cannot have a congregation without all of us around the table. The tilting heads of the persons in Rublev show all you need to know as to how we should behave as persons of a congregation. We should be humble, show deference, and listen to our partners in this journey. We must learn to surrender our egos so that God's work amongst all of us (not just ME) can be accomplished in our congregation.

Lastly, we must be outside to be a congregation. What I mean by that is we should be in our world, neighborhood, context, whatever, and we should be available for anyone who wanders our way to become part of our congregation. Our table is in the middle of the busiest street in our town. That oak tree that Rublev put into his icon is very important to me. These people are not in a house, they are in a yard, maybe even a park, and they are congregating amdist all the busy-ness (is that business?) that often gets in the way of being a congregation. How much do we put business or busy-ness ahead of just being together with people? How often do we forget to listen, to really hear what someone is saying, because we have "business to attend to?"

There is probably plenty more that you could add to your communities and congregations by using Rublev's icon. What do you see there that could add meaning to your congregations? Your families? Your peers? Your co-workers? I invite you to take some time this week to reflect on this icon, and to wonder how God is part of the communities that make you, well, you?

May your tables be full, and your congregations be true.

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