I’ve been asking a lot of questions lately and listening for patterns. I am finalizing my investigation of where God would lead us to begin a new church and trying to process the past three months of research, prayer, and conversation. With all this work, though I feel like I’m still at the beginning of understanding. As I’ve written in newsletters and said in various presentations Worcester, MA is at the top of our list for the place to begin. Though I have a growing feel for this place and its people it is just the outline. I want to color it in with rich deep hues. Part of this is me. I like to understand, to grasp, to unwind the riddle of who people are and what identifies one place versus another. I know that there is no single answer for any place but there are substantial pieces that connection geography, people, and culture.
Behind my desire to understand is God’s description of humanity as similar but unique. There are commonalities we share and can’t escape, but every person and place is in some manner its own. When I read the bible there is a God who interacts with these unique people and places in ways that reflect and transcend their world. It astounds me that one of the overarching themes of the bible (covenant) is related to types of treaties and agreements common in the Ancient Near East. When God shows up and explains himself he uses language and forms from the times. In all sorts of ways God acknowledges the uniqueness of people, places, and times. At this point some jump off and see that God is bound by such forms or tied to cultures and times but I think such a perspective doesn’t take into account the way God reshapes these cultural artifacts. When God makes a covenant with Abraham he turns the treaty system on its head by committing to bear the penalties of infidelity without such a commitment from Abraham (see Genesis 15).
The culmination of God entering and yet reshaping our a place is seen in Jesus who is God in the flesh – in a particular time and place. God comes as a first century Palestinian Jew with a lineage that can be traced and a life rooted to a place and a people. Yet it is God who comes – not some especially spiritual person, but the God who is beyond us. How wild is this? So when I think about Worcester, I think about God himself, coming to this place in this time, I want to understand what that would mean. Here are some initial thoughts:
–Encountering incredible diversity: We acknowledge the good and bad that we all bring from our different backgrounds and find unity in Christ who undoes our prejudice through his love.
–Dealing with the chip and the pride: I’ve been told that people in Worcester carry a chip on their shoulder that Worcester isn’t Boston and are also proud that Worcester isn’t Boston. This is an interesting combination and part of the solution is resting in an identity that God gives. This frees us from envy of others and the need to justify our existence.
–Loneliness and the pained soul: Though few will admit there is an isolation that is especially acute in the winter. There is a privacy and tendency towards being reserved that characterizes all of New England. There is incredible power to a faith that is both individual and communal. God gives wholeness to the individual through the presence of Christ, but also unites us to each other at the same time. There is both personal and social healing.
Two books I’m working through: one for a book club and the other for fun, but both to understand. I’m almost done with both and will share my thoughts…