Once we got that done — with some kibitzing from church staff members in the parking lot below us — we worked to secure a second banner from the building’s bell tower. Oh, my. This required a big ladder, ingenuity, yards more rope and a willingness to listen to everyone’s ideas.
As Jim (a late crew addition) and I were standing below the bell tower helping to direct folks in the tower to get the banner hanging right, it occurred to me that we were having an experience of God. Not only were we doing work we imagined God wanted us doing, but we were sensing the reality of the community that God is in God’s own self.
Call it a Trinitarian moment, if you will. But what was so clear to me then was that we human beings are built for relationship, and when it is at its most healthy, that relationship is at least a faint reminder of the community of God. Which is to say, in traditional language, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
It is precisely this kind of relationship for which we all yearn. As someone more insightful than I am once put it, we long to be in the kind of relationship we first find in Genesis, when Adam and Eve were naked and unashamed. We yearn for that with each other and with God.
Late last year our pastor asked members of our congregation to talk to our neighbors, coworkers and friends and ask them what big issues they thought were most important right now and to name personal issues with which they were trying to cope. It was no surprise then that in the surveys the economy came in first among societal issues, but after that, as our pastor later told us in a sermon (click on Nov. 27 sermon), “the most troubling issue that people were dealing with…was the feeling of loneliness.”
This shouldn’t surprise us. It has been the subject of countless books and movies. The late Kurt Vonnegut Jr., in one of his novels, even suggested this slogan as the world’s goal for everyone: “Lonely No More.”
This is a need the church can do a great deal to meet, if only we’d quit fighting about other things and pay attention to the people in our pews (and the many who never come in our doors). We would learn about their yearning to be lonely no more, their desire to be in healthy relationships, their longing to be naked and unashamed before God.
This is what the elderly want, what middle-aged people, young adults, children — even babies — want. And it’s what they need because God built us for relationship. If we don’t learn that in Genesis we miss much of the chapter’s point.
I don’t know what your congregation is doing about this, but mine is trying anew to take this task seriously.
BILL TAMMEUS is an elder at Second Church in Kansas City, Mo., and former Faith columnist for The Kansas City Star. Visit his “Faith Matters” blog. Read about his latest book. E-mail him at [email protected]“