I recently restarted this group, the Occasional Congregation or “the OC.” I am still trying to figure out how we are going to proceed and to be honest, I am asking myself the question, “why?” But then my friend Shirley recently commented as to how she has been drawn to the “congregation” aspect of the OC. Now, like my friend, I too am drawn to the gift of fellowship. I have been part of a number of congregations over the years, but when I began thinking about this group, roughly five years ago, I was immediately drawn to the shadow side of the OC, the “occasional” side.
The “occasional” part of the Occasional Congregation is personally appealing to me for a number of reasons. I suppose it has something to do with the freedom of not having to “regularly” attend. I mean, after all, who wants to be a part of the MC, the “Mandatory Congregation”? Now, the more I thought about this strange duality of belonging and freedom, I was reminded of a discussion I was involved in on Facebook. I am persuaded that this topic is not only relevant to the national discourse, but to the this budding community.
“The reaction to this pandemic has created a divide in this country along the lines of two competing principles. If I can put it this way: on the one hand, you have those who put a premium on the principle of safety and security, “Without safety (health) what good is your liberty?” And on the other hand, you have those who place a premium on the principle of freedom and autonomy, “We refuse to trade in our liberty for the government’s assurance of safety.”
“Not surprisingly, the principles of life and liberty account for two-thirds of this nation’s sacred creed, “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Unfortunately, in our current, upside-down world, these profound principles are, at least for the moment, currently at odds with one another. Obviously, you can’t have “liberty” when you are on government lockdown, and you can’t have “life” when your dying of an infectious disease. This would explain why finding the right balance between these two poles is, to put it mildly, extremely challenging.”
Now if I am honest, if given the choice between team “love of life” or team “love of freedom”, I am going with “team freedom.” I will admit that my bias has a lot to do with my life experience and development. I have simply known too much oppression and restrictions in my life, and so I am always looking to “breathe the free air.” Also, I am deeply mistrusting of the word, “love.” So, how am I any different from all the people who appear to be dividing along these ideological lines and competiing factions?
The fact of the matter is, I am not any different from the other people who have sided with their prefered faction, over and against the other “bad faction.” But then I got to thinking, I may not be any different, but that doesn’t mean that I’m not going to go ahead and rip this whole debate right out of the filthy mouth of our modern political discourse! I may not be any different, but that doesn’t mean that I am not going to try and reframe the conversation.
So back to my original question. Why the OC? Given the fact that this little group consists of people of different backgrounds and biases how will we avoid the fate of the world? The OC is not the place to hide or to pretend (pretend that we all think and feel the same) but that doesn’t mean that it cannot be the place where we gather to acknowledge our shared hope, “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Co. 1:27). In fact, as long as I have anything to do with it, the OC will live and die on the basis of this fool’s hope, the hope that the living Christ is truly in our midst, offering us a new discourse, and a new way of relating, beyond the factions, beyond the binary, and the mistrust.
What I am calling a “fools hope” is the reason that I have spent these last six weeks talking about repentance and why we need a Christological lens. Also, our new house is in need of a foundation, and so we have been carefully looking for a suitable one, one that is eternal and uncreated, “For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ” (I Co 3:11). Why the OC? In short, the OC exists to answer and to live into the question, “Who is Christ for Us Today?”
I said I wanted to rip the current discussion about the love of life and love of freedom from the filthy mouth of politics and media. But what if we introduce these factions to our Christological question? What happens when we bring our two rival factions, “Team Love (Life)” and “Team Freedom” into dialogue with our governing question, “Who is Christ for Us Today?” Personally speaking, what I find in Jesus to be utterly unique is the way He weds freedom to love, and love to freedom! In Christ, love and liberty are two sides of the same coin that do not fall apart! I believe this is what we call unconditional or liberating love!
“For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another” (Gal. 5:13-15).
In Christ, there is no conflict between love and freedom. In Christ we can enjoy the natural ebb and flow between “occasionally gathering” and “occasionally abstaining.” It is Christ, and not our meetings that form and inform the life we share! So, in answering the question, why the OC?, let’s consider and take some time processing the following questions. What if the OC was a safe and intentional space to acknowledge our biases and our fears? What if the OC was a place where we practiced Christ’s call to “think again” about who He really is to us in the midst of our pandemic ridden world and hearts? What if the OC was a place where we moved beyond mere ideas into the place where Christ is for us today? What do you think?