I had a learning moment on the weekend, right in the middle of a presentation I was making. Gotta be happy about that timing.
Over the last couple of years I’ve come to thinking of the critical questions when it comes to Christian Mission (and don’t stop reading if you’re not interested in Christianity…there’s more here than religion) are “what is God up to in our community?” and “how do we join in?”
I’ve suggested (ad nauseam it must be said) that there implication of these questions is that the first task of the Christian (or Christian community) is the task of discernment (or “figuring out”).
Last weekend I was visiting the UCA Presbytery of Central Queensland and right in the middle of telling a couple of stories from my time in Tassie that demonstrated this very point, I realised I was missing something.
Before there is opportunity to exercise discernment, to figure out what exactly is happening, what exactly are the potential responses or actions; before these things comes something more fundamental, more vital.
Noticing that something is happening (who knows what…that comes later…the task of discernment).
Noticing that our neighbour is in pain.
Noticing that our community is in need.
Noticing that we have some skills or resources or something to offer.
Maybe its obvious, but somehow it had slipped through to the keeper. When I thought about it though, I realised that all the stories I was telling fit perfectly. And I heard another that illustrates the point:
A local UC congregation is right across the road from the school. Someone from the church noticed that every afternoon kids were hanging out in front of the school at the bus stop waiting to be picked up – including some who had to wait quite a while before their bus arrived. They noticed there was no shelter, and they noticed kids coming across the road to fill water bottles from a tap in the church yard when it was hot.
These things they saw and took notice of.
And then demonstrated the discernment part of the equation – the figuring out: Is there an issue here? What can we do to help? What skills/gifts/resources do we have? What is God showing us? (that question is for the Christians!)
Some might have gone the anti-community route of closing the gate and trying to keep kids from entering the church yard (you know…in case they trampled the garden). But this congregation took a different approach, and threw open the doors of the hall, inviting the waiting-for-the-bus kids to come in, find shelter and share afternoon tea.
It started with a curious few, but now there are anything up to 25 or 30 coming in for afternoon tea, building community, sharing life.
It’s a simple (but great) story.
And it started with noticing.
Now I (confession time) generally get around with the blinkers on, not noticing much that’s going on around me (ask Sheri….she’ll confirm!) but this realisation has woken me up to wonder how I can be more mindful, how I can see more clearly, how I can notice.
My first clue came in a book I’m reading called “Fierce Conversations”. I’ll talk some more about this book some other time, but the first reminder from it is to be “fully present” in every conversation. Give myself fully to the person with whom I’m talking, and not in the kind of “plan what story I’m going to share when he/she draws breathe kind of way. Being fully present, fully engaged in what is going on around me might just help me to notice a little more.
And noticing is the first step.