“Every time God forgives us, God is saying that God’s own rules do not matter as much as the relationship that God wants to create with us.” Richard Rohr
We were only at the first house, but I was already on my third glass of Coca Cola, and I could feel the sugar congealing on my teeth. Its coldness was the only redeeming factor in such a non-stop sugar consumption — the mid-day sun’s intensity created a certain thickness that dulled our brains and lulled us toward sleepiness.
The four of us from the leadership of Little Darda Church had been invited to a special dinner in honor of a family’s son who had returned for a short visit from England—the first time he had been back to Croatia in five years. But first, we decided to make a few house visits.
Not infrequently, individuals decide to stop coming to church because they are annoyed or in a fight with someone else. We decided to visit one man who had stopped coming because he was angry with another man. It turns out he was angry about how he was acting in front of some international guests at our church—he felt the man’s comments were disrespectful and that made him ashamed in front of the guests. His mother echoed his frustration about the gossip that happened every week during coffee time.
“We should just go to church and go back to our houses; there should be no hanging out together after church,” she said.
At another house, we listened to a woman’s concern that she was unable to pray out loud during church—the words wouldn’t leave her mouth. She was afraid that she was under some kind of curse.
Every one of our members has specific questions, problems, and needs—and there is no “one-size-fits-all” model for discipleship. Even our modern understandings of the very word “discipleship” seems to imply some kind of program that you insert into a group or community. But this is about organic relationship that happens in the small homes over (unfortunately) coca-cola and juice.
We listen to the men struggling to find any means of earning income—especially now that Croatia has changed the laws regarding the buying and selling of iron, which has been a staple method of earning money for many in this part of the world.
We listen to those hoping to go find some work in Germany or immigrate to Canada in search of an easier life.
We listen to the many who are sick talk about their recent trips to the hospital and all their health problems.
We rejoice with the young woman who secured a position as a classroom helper in a recent European Union project.
We ache for the young girl who is intelligent and resourceful and desperately wants to take a different path from her parents—but who has so many cards stacked against her.
We listen to the complaints and frustrations against other people for seemingly petty things.
We feel bad when we find out a young kid has dropped out of school or failed a grade.
All these things, whether small and big, all these individual stories have now been woven into a larger narrative—this small community is now a vital part of the global church. But they cannot be reduced to merely a short conversion story. We cannot merely focus on getting people to come to church or being baptized. Each element of their stories is important to God. The human condition is paradoxical—while each human life is unique and valuable, there are universals that bind us together—desire for love, significance, meaning, well-being. But these may look uniquely different in various situations.
It can be hard to accept this—perhaps more so for Americans as we are shaped to think in terms of programs and adore the happy-ending story. But these winding narratives echo the dynamic narratives in Scripture—people living their lives, making good and bad choices, all under the hovering presence of a living, gracious God who is determined to reveal himself.
As Richard Rohr said it: “…we invariably prefer the universal synthesis, the answer that settles all the dust and resolves every question—even when it is not entirely true—over the mercy and grace of God. Jesus did not seem to teach that one size fits all, but instead that his God adjusts to the vagaries and failures of the moment.”