Ephesians 4:1-3 As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.
As I write this, Hurricane Harvey is blowing and raining. It seems to reflect the spiritual storm that has been blowing and raining discord in our country recently. Since many of you, like me, have nowhere to go for the next few days as we ride out the storm, let me share some memories with you.
Even though the Mexico City of my childhood held more than 15,000,000 inhabitants, it felt in some ways like a small town. One reason for this sense had to do with the "vecindarios," the thousands of local neighborhoods where neighbors sent their kids to school together, went to church together, partied together at Christmastime, and saw each other daily in the "tiendita," the corner convenience store. I grew up in a very well-defined and very unique "vecindario," the Theological Community of Mexico.
Some time in the late '60s a commission of the World Council of Churches decided that it would be a worthwhile project to bring together the Protestant seminaries in Mexico City to a single location where instruction and resources could be shared. This was a time when Liberation Theology and the church's identification with the poor were all the rage, so of course they bought a property on the edge of the wealthiest neighborhood in the City (we lived four doors away from the widow of a former president, who later sold her home to the People's Republic of China for their embassy). The deal they offered each of the Protestant Seminaries was to give them the land for their buildings and the use of common classrooms, library and cafeteria if each seminary would relocate there. Our seminary (itself a joint venture between Methodists, Congregationalists and Disciples), the Episcopalians, the Lutherans, and the American Baptists ultimately accepted the offer and came out to the San Jeronimo street location. When my family and I returned to Mexico City from furlough in the Fall of 1971, we came to the Union Evangelical Seminary at the Theological Community.
As an experiment in cooperative theological education, the Theological Community has only really been successful in recent years. Still, in the midst of the difficulties the Community had in the years that we lived there, I had a very happy childhood, growing up in what amounted to an interdenominational Christian small town. I was eight years old when we arrived, and from the very beginning my parents gave us permission to roam at will within the confines of the four seminaries and common areas without having to let them know where we were. The rule was that we had to be in by dark, and even that rule could be bent if we were within shouting distance of the apartment. Very quickly I made friends with both the children of other North American Missionaries and the children of Mexican faculty and staff, the only distinction between the two groups being the primary language used at play. Over the years we tried out almost every sport and game known to man in the happy hours between the end of school and the coming of darkness: hide and seek, soccer, American Football (touch and tackle), baseball (several broken windows), roller skate tag (I broke my arm at that), roller hockey, tennis, laser tag without the lasers (bang! you're dead!), golf, ultimate frisbee, handball, basketball, capture the flag, treehouse building, rock climbing (walls faced with lava rock work well for this), rocket building, volcano simulation, and on and on.
In addition to the sports and games, we had all kinds of adventures, some of them rather dangerous and exciting. We all ran like roaches the day that a stray ball knocked a gas line loose from an LP tank. My mother turned a corner just in time to see the rope of a 25 foot tire swing we jerry-rigged snap with me at the far end of the arc. What hurt was the embarrassment, not the landing. We blew up cans with firecrackers, made smoke bombs, practiced at archery, gathered all together to whack at a 40 foot tall dead tree with a rusty axe, and so on. One of the most convincing proofs of God's existence that I know of, is that not a one of the 40 or so kids that grew up with me ever got killed.
And yet we all grew up in an absolutely safe and sheltered environment. What made it safe was certainly not our play, but the trust that the Adults had in each other. I know that there were tensions and conflicts from time to time between the institutions and people that made up the Theological Community, but we kids were never made to feel unwelcome (though I bet we were at times) anywhere on the grounds. If any of the adults found you doing something you weren't supposed to be doing, they let you know and there wasn't usually any need to get your parents involved. It seemed like each of the adults took their turn in participating or initiating some game or another, and in the relationship that developed they earned the right to speak to you if you needed it.
I long for my children to experience something of the safe community that I experienced growing up. As our society becomes more diverse, it also becomes more fragmented. From a certain perspective the Theological Community was both diverse and fragmented--there was a nasty theological debate ongoing over a number of years that almost tore the place apart. But where it counted for the children, in a common allegiance to principles of decency, there was indeed a bond of trust in the community. Does anyone else in the United States today want this for their own children and grandchildren?
It seems to me that Christians should be about the business of community building, because we pray "Thy Kingdom Come." God grant us the skills and the grace to earn and share trust, to seek out a foundation of common principles and values (not to impose them by force), to play together that we may become friends.