How many of you are native Washingtonians? Native Seattleites? How would someone know that you are from Seattle? What would you tell them? In the nine plus years that my husband, Henry, and I have been here, we have made our own observations, but I also looked at some lists that were compiled and have some of those results here. Perhaps you can help me with them. Here we go: You know you’re from Western Washington when…
- You know how to pronounce Sequim, Puyallup, Enumclaw, Issaquah, and Skagit, and you yell at the TV if they pronounce the name of a city wrong or make an inaccurate Seattle reference on a TV series or movie. 2. You live on the west side of Washington (in Everett, Tacoma, or one of the other towns here) and when asked by a stranger you simply tell them you’re “from Seattle.” (I find this one to be true myself growing up in Spokane and believing everything to the West was “Seattle” and that Olympia was a small fort over there in a vague somewhere.)
- You only visit the Space Needle if you need someplace to take out of town guests.
- You see a person carrying an umbrella and know they must be a tourist. 5. You’ve seen or know someone who has seen Bigfoot.
- Your lawn is mostly moss and you don’t really care.
- Your daily commute to work involves riding a ferry.
- You know the difference between “showers followed by rain” and “rain followed by showers”.
- The sight of Mt. Rainier is still awe-inspiring.
- You’re extremely picky about your coffee.
- You go to Eastern Washington to get some sun.
- You can drive from your home to a lake, a river or the Puget Sound in 20 minutes or less.
- You remember where you were on May 18th, 1980.
- You get a terrible sunburn on the first really nice day of summer. 15. You or someone you know works at Boeing, Microsoft, Amazon, and/or Google.
- You feel guilty throwing something away that could be recycled.
(From https://www.theodysseyonline.com/14-things-seattleites-know and http://www.olywa.net/radu/valerie/washington.html)
There are many more of these online. I think they make an interesting point and beg the question: How do we define ourselves as part of a community? As we heard from my brief list of what it means to be from the Seattle area, different things bind us together. Climate has a lot to do with it here. So does language, behavior, and different rituals we have for being Seattleite. It’s how we survive and how we recognize ourselves when we are in the greater world.
So I wonder, how do you define ourselves as a Christian community here on the border of Lynnwood and Edmonds and specifically in this neighborhood? What is your top 10 list of “You know you’re a member of our faith community when…”?
To give us more in-depth ideas of what it means to be community, let’s look at our examples in Scripture today.
Now, the early Christians certainly didn’t all like each other or get along smoothly all the time, but community was more than the individual. The individual received their identity from the community they came from. Being in community is an act of love—not romantic, mushy love, but love that is an act of will in hope that genuine affection for the other will follow. This is what Paul speaks about in his letter to the Romans. Being in a Christian community requires more from us than just feeling good. It requires what he inherited from our Jewish ancestry: bearing together the pain and the hope that it means to belong to God and be human in this world. Being in community is an outward and visible sign of our inward and spiritual grace.
Living in community is easier said than done, as Jesus reveals to us in Matthew’s gospel story today. It really is a prescription on how to live effectively in community and it makes a lot of sense. Instead of going off on someone in public from the comfort of Facebook or Twitter or other social media accounts where you don’t have to sit down and look a person in the eye and say what you want to say, Jesus suggests a different prescription. In order not to embarrass the offender publicly, the offended party talks to them privately because they may not have even known they hurt the other person. If that doesn’t work, then in order to protect both parties from gossip and “he said…she said…they said” sorts of statements, Jesus says to bring one or two other people with you to talk about things. Finally, if the person still doesn’t want to be reconciled, you bring the grievance before the congregation in
hopes that the person will be returned back to the community or, if they really are hurting others, they will be turned out of the community. In Jesus’ time, that was the worst thing that could happen because your community was where you received your identity.
Notice that the steps of action are full of protection—protecting the other person from embarrassment, protecting others from gossip, and ultimately, protecting the community from toxic behavior. This formula is not only helpful in the smaller bodies of Christ that are our individual congregations, but also the wider body of Christ where we have wronged each other knowingly or unknowingly. And it is especially countercultural in our American cancel culture and social media lambasting.
Being in community is not about being “nice,” it is about being called together to live into something greater than ourselves. There’s a definition of Christianity that many Americans have bought into that Kenda Creasy Dean defines in her book Almost Christian as ‘Moralistic Therapeutic Deism’ which is “the importance of being nice, feeling good about yourself, and saving God for emergencies” (10). If we are honest, how many of us have bought into that idea?
Dean’s book takes a hard look at the statistics of why the majority of teenagers surveyed don’t have consequential faith. The answer lies in the church communities they belong to who have bought into this type of “benign whateverism” that American culture has given them and especially, and most importantly, their parents, who aren’t modeling a consequential faith themselves. But some teenagers had consequential faith and were able to articulate it. Think about the Mormons, for example, or certain Evangelical denominations. You could all probably see that coming. But they are doing something very right, folx.
Dean says there are four characteristics of consequential faith: First, teens with consequential faith tend to have “a creed to believe” and were able to articulate their beliefs about a God who was both personal and powerful (71). Second, teens with consequential faith tend to have a “community to belong to”—they find identity within their congregations and have a significant number of adults with whom they can speak about issues of faith and life (73). Third, teenagers whose faith makes a difference in their lives evidence a “call to live out”—they understand their lives as being oriented by a divine vocation on behalf of others rather than being oriented to pursuit of self (75). Fourth, consequential faith seems to come attached with a “hope to
hold onto”—a belief that their lives are caught up in a larger story that’s “going somewhere” because it is guided by God (77).
Isn’t that what we all come here to have—not just teenagers, but every single one of us at every age? We can’t have this type of faith by ourselves. It must be found in our community. Who we are as Christians is important. Who we are a Christians expressing our faith as the Episcopal Church is part of our communal identity and is vital for us to understand. Faith is not just thought about, it’s embodied. We drink the wine and eat the bread as a symbol of a deeper love that binds us and sends us out in action.
There is a book by Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk called The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma and in it he talks about how even though we want to forget with our minds the trauma that we have experienced or created, our bodies never forget. It’s the same with the body of Christ. We feel the strain of traumas through history and in the present day that we as an entire Christian community have experienced and created and until we make a concentrated effort of reconciliation – of re-membering within ourselves and with our neighbors—we will continue to feel dis-ease in our Christian culture. As Paul reminds us in the Epistle today, “The commandments…and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” Simple words and yet also the most challenging.
As we go forth into the work of living into community together—the church and the wider world, I want you to think about this phrase and let me know how you would finish it, “Others will know you’re a member of St. Hilda St. Patrick when…” I can’t wait to hear how and where God calls you to finish this phrase in the future. AMEN.