Being ‘Knit’ Together ‘in Christ’: Communion Reflections for the Seventh Sunday of Pentecost

Yesterday, Sunday July 15th, my family and I had the privilege to lead our church community, Crosspoint Fellowship, in the celebration of the Eucharist or Communion – something we do weekly as a community.

First, I read the Epistles text for the seventh Sunday of Pentecost – Ephesians 1:3-14 (CEB),

Bless the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! He has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing that comes from heaven. God chose us in Christ to be holy and blameless in God’s presence before the creation of the world. God destined us to be his adopted children through Jesus Christ because of his love. This was according to his goodwill and plan and to honor his glorious grace that he has given to us freely through the Son whom he loves. We have been ransomed through his Son’s blood, and we have forgiveness for our failures based on his overflowing grace, which he poured over us with wisdom and understanding. God revealed his hidden design to us, which is according to his goodwill and the plan that he intended to accomplish through his Son10 This is what God planned for the climax of all times: to bring all things together in Christ, the things in heaven along with the things on earth. 11 We have also received an inheritance in Christ. We were destined by the plan of God, who accomplishes everything according to his design.12 We are called to be an honor to God’s glory because we were the first to hope in Christ.13 You too heard the word of truth in Christ, which is the good news of your salvation. You were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit because you believed in Christ14 The Holy Spirit is the down payment on our inheritance, which is applied toward our redemption as God’s own people, resulting in the honor of God’s glory.

And then Christie (C.C.) read this brief reflection (in which we tried to tie together the text and Communion with the theme of knitting – since Christie knits … A LOT!),

You may not know it, but the God and Father of our liberating King Jesus is a knitter. We find in Ephesians 1 that we are adopted ‘through the son’…that we have received grace ‘through Jesus Christ’. And seven times the phrase ‘in Christ’ is used: for example we are blessed ‘in Christ’; chosen ‘in Christ’; our hope is ‘in Christ’; and we find that ultimately all things in heaven and on earth are brought, or knit, together ‘in Christ’. The table of our Lord is set with the broken body and shed blood of our Lord which sustains us. It is Christ himself who has invited us to his table. At this table, as we serve the bread and juice to one another in mutual submission, we are knit together in community. At this table we are knit into the story of our liberating King as a cruciform, cross shaped people. As we submit ourselves together to the table of our Lord, we are constituted; we are knit together, as the body of Christ for the sake of Abilene and the world.

Then Damaris read this introduction to how we practice Communion (we tried to get her to do the prayer too, but she was a bit gun shy on the speaking in public thing),

At Crosspoint we serve the Eucharist, or Communion, every week to each other by intinction. This means when it is your turn to partake of the bread and juice your neighbor will hold the plate while you take a piece of the bread and dip it in the cup. And then you, in turn, hold the plate for the next person as they partake of the bread and juice.

And Christie then finished off with this Communion Prayer:

Loving God,

through your goodness

we have this bread and fruit of the vine to offer,

which has come forth from the earth

and human hands have made.

May we know your presence

in the sharing,

so that we know your touch

and presence of all things.

We celebrate the life that Jesus has shared

among his community through the centuries,

and shares with us now.

Made one in Christ

and one with each other,

we offer these gifts and with them ourselves,

a single, living act of praise.

We pray this in the name of our liberating King Jesus, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, forever and ever. Amen.

I can’t adequately express how excited I was to be able to lead our community in Communion along with my family in this manner. Firstly, I absolutely loved that the voice of my wife and daughter were heard. Not only am I a supporter of the full inclusion and ordaining of women in ministry as a whole, but I am most fully a supporter of one ordained woman in particular – my wife. And my hope is that as Damaris grows up she will find her own voice as well. We are blessed to be a part of a community that values the hearing and leadership of female voices as well as male voices – and most importantly I think, the hearing of male and female voices alongside each other.

But this was also something I needed, a counter liturgy to what I did all day at work on Friday. If I’m honest, I have to admit the difficulty of working in Christian retail and trying to be authentically kingdom centered and missional. This is because Christian retail represents the commodification of the kingdom and the subversion of anything missional to the liturgies of consumerism. Some of this (but not a lot) is ameliorated working in the books section. Sometimes I have a good and productive chat with people about Bible translations … sometimes. And sometimes I get to talk to someone who has good things to say about N.T. Wright (for example) … sometimes. I feel these consumer liturgies even more when I have to cashier … a liturgy which I had to repeat all day on Friday (I must confess that, as a result, I came home Friday evening in a very bad mood and feeling very defeated and displaced, wanting very much for this current season to be over with).

James K.A. Smith remarks on these sort of consumer liturgies (HT: – of Paper, Pints, and Tweed),

Marketing understands that we are liturgical animals, that we are lovers, that we are longers, that we are shaped and primed by stories that capture our imagination. But we should know that, the church should be the centre that understands and appreciates that. So, if something like this model or argument is right, it will actually become a way to account for Christian assimilation to cultural forces. It actually helps you to understand Christian assimilation to consumerism, nationalism and all kinds of egoisms, because these –isms have had all the best stories. The devil has had all the best liturgies.

The proper response to that situation is to change our practice. It’s not just knowledge, right? I mean, I do think intellectual reflection on these matters is important; that’s kind of what we’re doing tonight. But what the impetus for that intellectual reflection should do then is prompt us to immerse ourselves in practices that will form us otherwise, to reactivate and renew those liturgies and rituals and disciplines that intentionally embody the story of the gospel and enact a vision of the coming kingdom of God in such a way that they’ll seep into our bones and become part of the background of our perceptions, the very baseline for our dispositions.

Quote from Smith’s interview with Encounter, where he talks about the power of storied formation, liturgy, and marketing.

The weekly observance of the Eucharist or Communion is a vital practice that I believe has the ability to ‘form us otherwise’, ‘embody the story of the gospel’, and ‘enact a vision of the coming kingdom of God’. It is at the Lord’s Table that we are drawn into the story of Christ and the triune theo-drama of Father, Son, and Spirit. It is at the Lord’s Table that we are drawn into community with Christians from the whole sweep of Christian history (yes, even the ones we don’t like) and sustained. But Eucharist and Communion is not only about the feeling of community. It is also about being formed into a specific type of community – a cruciform, incarnational, and missional people. In fact, as the reflection above states, I believe that it is at the Table of the Lord’s broken body and spilled blood that we are constituted as Christ’s ecclesia – his cruciform, missional body for the sake of our local contexts and the world alike. Yes, I think Communion is really that important. And to be honest, in leading our community in this sort of counter liturgy is where I felt at home and at peace.

May we seek liturgies that form us otherwise as a kingdom, cruciform people of the liberating King.

Prayer for the Week:

O Lord, mercifully receive the prayers of your people who call upon you, and grant that they may know and understand what things they ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to accomplish them; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

A Tribute to My (Courageous) Wife on Mother’s Day (2012)

A Note on Skipping Church on Mother’s Day

To start things off, a confession: As the heading confirms, yes, we are skipping church on Mother’s Day.

I will just be bluntly honest, Mother’s Day is difficult. From talking with others about their experience I know that we aren’t the only ones who experience Mother’s Day (and other special days) this way. It has been from the beginning … from the very first Mother’s Day after our first miscarriage when we lost Jordan Taylor in September 1998. I remember Christie asking if we really had to go to church that first Mother’s Day after losing Jordan. Since then we have lost two more babies (Micah Jayden in January 2001 and Noah Avery in January 2004) and had some failed adoptions (the by far most devastating being our little Kerioth Cherie who left our home in March 2003 – the details of this particular story are still almost impossible for me/us to talk about with others).

So, yes, Mother’s Day is hard … terribly hard, especially for Christie … and there is nothing wrong it being hard. I feel like I shouldn’t have to say this, but not everyone seems to understand. Many well meaning folks express concern that we haven’t grieved in a healthy manner and ‘gotten over’ the loss of our babies. They bring up the so called ‘stages of grief’ as evidence of our need to ‘move on’. But while the stages of grief look good in a textbook they rarely mesh well with the actual human experience of loss and suffering. Still others are concerned that somehow Christie and I have a ‘codependent’ relationship. Besides questioning popular understandings of codependency … I would prefer the more biblical/theological ‘one flesh’ description of our marriage. A ‘one fleshness’ cultivated and fostered as much through the intimacy of shared suffering and grief as all the other forms of intimacy we share. Others are concerned that Damaris, who we refer to as our miracle child, will get the impression that she is somehow less important than Jordan, Micah, Noah, or Kerioth … or that somehow she will feel less loved simply because Mother’s Day is difficult. The simple fact here is that honoring the grief we feel and being honest about our lament in no way mitigates against our love for Damaris. One does not cancel out the other.

Now, I will admit to feeling a great deal of frustration about this and I try to balance it with the understanding that most folks are trying to express their concern for us as individuals, as a couple, and as a family. But on the flip side it genuinely feels like a good many, perhaps uncomfortable with our experience or perhaps trying to find something to ‘say’, try to play amateur psychologist, analyzing our grieving patterns instead of seeking to enter into our experience and journey with us. I recognize that it will be difficult for many to ‘get’ what we are doing here. A friend even told me once that it seemed un-American to skip church on Mother’s Day. As a way to foster further understanding, at least to a degree, what I would like to do is to invite the reader into our story and into our experience (and in particular the experience of Christie).

So what’s this all about? Consider for a moment three different calendars that can mark our time. The first one is the consumer calendar operative in American retail (secular or Christian) complete with its own holy days. Some of these holy days have been co-opted (ie, Christmas) and others are often popularly called ‘Hallmark Holidays.’ Mother’s Day is probably the most popular of Hallmark Holidays. I am not suggesting people shouldn’t honor their moms, wives, etc on Mother’s Day (note: Damaris and I were sure to get Christie a gift) but I do think its important to realize the place of Mother’s Day in the calendar and liturgy of American consumerism. This is the story in which it is embedded. The second is the liturgical Christian calendar which also has its holy days and seasons (Advent, Christmas, and so forth). By observing the seasons one is able to live into the story of Christ. The third calendar for us is one formed from the anniversary dates for losing our babies, along with their would be due dates, and along with the dates when Kerioth came to our home and then left. These dates embed themselves into our story forming a rhythm of grief and a constituting a liturgy of lament. What I want people to know here is that what we need is not to somehow ‘get over’ our grief but to contextualize our grief and experience in a bigger story – not the ill suited aforementioned consumer story – but the story of Christ. So, in our experience the liturgical Christian calendar and the rhythm of grief and lament go together.

The decision to ‘skip church’ on Mother’s Day is about more than it being difficult to be in a place where one’s grief or loss is forgotten, barely mentioned, or tagged on as an afterthought. For many who have lost children this is what Mother’s Day is like and what it will be like this morning in a great many churches. And today is not about hiding from the world, from church, or anything else for that matter. This may be surprising to some but ‘skipping church’ like this is a way for us it is way to both celebrate and lament. We do celebrate (we really do!) the gift and miracle that Damaris is to us. We lament that we are without our babies and that Damaris is without her brothers and sisters. We celebrate that the resurrection is true … and that because of this we will see our babies one day (true resurrection hope – this is why the consumer story won’t do, why we need the story of Jesus!). The anniversary dates come with their expected regularity and the world doesn’t stop nor does life cease moving because of them. It became clear then to us that we needed a day set apart for us to stop, to remember the loss, to share in lament, to celebrate our hope, and to honor the grief, to do the hard thing of celebrating and mourning at the same time. … as a family. Mother’s Day has become that day for us. We ask for your prayers on this day, and after this day we ask for the greatest gift we can think of – that those reading would continue to simply enter into our experience and journey with us.

She’s the Courageous One!

The picture here is the Mother’s Day gift Damaris and I got for Christie. (She has a running joke anytime a gift getting occasion come around about what Willow Tree figurine I am going to get her this time. Yes, I may suffer from a lack of creativity and I know Willow Trees are easier. In my defense, they are easier because she likes them and she doesn’t complain.) When I saw this one I knew that I had to get it for her. Its called ‘Courage.’ Since Christie is easily the most courageous person I know, I felt we couldn’t pass it up.

A quick story: Having recently seen the movie Courageous, a coworker of mine was praising me recently about how ‘courageous’ I am in taking care of Christie. Her take away from the movie it seems was that (in her words), “Men are naturally braver than women and are supposed to be courageous FOR their wives. Its not the wife’s job to be courageous, that’s the man’s job. That’s a part of his leadership and I see that you do that for your wife.” Needless to say, Christie and I intentionally practice mutual submission in our marriage so I have some qualms about what my co-worker said to me (as well as the movie itself). But rather than go into all that with my co-worker, I simply said this,

“Throughout our shared journey of grief and suffering, Christie has consistently amazed me. I can say without exaggeration that my wife is the most faith filled person I know. I learn more from her about what it means to follow our liberating King Jesus in the cross shaped way of suffering than from any other person or book. Thank you but I’m not the really courageous one. She is. She’s most courageous person I know.”

When we lost Jordan and she looked around for grief support surrounding miscarriage and found little to nothing, she courageously started her own online miscarriage support group ministry. From her experience of loss and grief she reached out to minister to others. That’s courage!

When she felt called to take her place as a woman in ministry and as a chaplain and when she and I were being ordained together by our church she handled opposition and disagreement from others in what can be a veritable minefield with poise and grace (I was honestly not so poised or graceful). Again, courage!

Many will know that in addition to grief and loss surrounding our babies she also has Fibromyalgia. Unlike you and I, there is not a day that she is pain free and some days it is completely debilitating (especially since we are without health insurance currently). Her experience here with grief, loss, and chronic illness has put her deeply in touch with her own frailty, fragility, and finitude – that is, with her own humanness. (This perhaps explains why she was/is such a good chaplain. It seems to me we need more pastors/ministers in touch with themselves in this way.) This takes courage!

Despite her own pain and suffering she can often be found rushing headlong into her concern for the other. I was amazed in her first year of CPE/chaplaincy at some of the cases that she recounted to me, especially the tragic ones involving children. Her dependence on God amazes me. This is courageous!

And the reality is that our experience can be kind of ‘heavy’ (this is what another chaplain I worked with told me one day). I have come to see how the invitation into our experience might be intimidating to others. My chaplain friend is right, our story is kind of heavy. We can’t help it, we can’t change our story. The reality of this causes me to sometimes hold back. I’m afraid of the reaction if I invite another into my story. Christie though, while not perfect, seems to do this more naturally than me. She takes the risk of inviting others into her experience and demonstrates an openness to the other that inspires me. I think this is why she is so good a spiritual care. Courageousness in action!

She demonstrates her courage through her engagement of the medical system (and now the disability process). Its an act of courage to even step into the ‘system’ and the inherent way that it acts to depersonalize and even dehumanize. And just recently she listened as a doctor at a local clinic told her that her Fibromyalgia was simply in her head and that the best prescription was a positive mental outlook. Despite her tears from, again, another doctor that seemed to skip the class on bedside manner and listening she stayed engaged and did not back down. This takes heavy doses of courage!

And she is always trying to move outward toward others as best she can to find places of community and incarnational space wherever she can. Since we moved back to Abilene she has found a place at a local yarn store (which of course involves knitting). She is an extension of Crosspoint and the story of Christ in this place – incarnation. But she also knows that the more of this she does the more ‘consequences’ there will be later when her body needs to recover. You might say that currently for everything she does there is an equal and opposite negative reaction in which she has to recuperate. This means she (and we as a family) must budget time and energy. Yet she presses on. I have rarely seen anyone as tenacious for community as my wife. Not only does this take vulnerability but courage as well.

Finally, she’s willing to admit she is afraid sometimes and that she needs the strength of another – particularly the strength of our suffering, liberating King Jesus. Oh that more of us were really courageous enough to genuinely do this and not pretend (I’ve been a hospital chaplain too so I know pretending when I see it). It’s perhaps a strange paradox that its takes a great deal of courage to admit that one needs help and that one feels afraid. But its this vulnerability and courage to come face to face with her own frailty, fragileness, and finitude that makes my wife one of the most genuinely human people I know. In my opinion we need more people in this world with this kind of courage.

So, as we take our day as a family to remember, to grieve, to celebrate – I simply want everyone to know that my wife is the most courageous person I know. And through her courageous faithfulness she teaches me more and more every day about what it means to be a follower of Jesus.

[Edit: Be sure to read Damaris’ tribute to her momma here.]

May you all have a blessed Mother’s Day.