Christian Living

You can’t do communion alone

When I was in middle and high school I spent a lot of time home alone. My mom worked crazy hours and my older brother joined the Air Force when I was in 8th grade. A million nights home alone will lead you past boredom. While I always kept the TV on so I didn’t feel alone I rarely watched it. (A habit I often fall back on today, to the annoyance of Kristen.) And there’s only so many nights in a row you can play video games before the loneliness of solo gameplay sets in.

In fact, there comes a point where boredom leads to creativity. Creative with things you can do alone. 

In those years I would take as long as I possibly could to eat meals. I’d take forever to cook it. Or I’d cook it out of order or one thing at a time. Anything to make it last longer and give me something to do.

One little food oriented fascination I had was with communion. I don’t know why but I’d play around with communion elements. I’d tear bread, or a tortilla, or a tortilla chip… and mimic the motions of communion that we’d do in church. I’d recite the verses, dip the bread, the whole nine yards.

I wasn’t mocking it and it wasn’t quite the real thing. Actually, I used to worry that it was sacrilegious. And I would never have told a soul about this back then. In fact, I’m a little nervous about writing about it today.

Here’s the thing: It wasn’t really communion. Sure, it was the motions of communion. I got a certain feeling during communion at church, one worth trying to replicate.

But you can’t do communion alone. Even if you nail the elements and the words and everything. Because you can’t do communion alone. 

The very word communion has the same root word as community, with a different suffix. Just like you can’t be in a community alone you can’t experience communion alone.

This is something for those of us in evangelicalism to wrestle with. We have a personal pronoun issue. Our relationship with Jesus is about communion, not ourselves. Communion with the Father, communion with the Son & Holy Spirit, and communion with one another. It isn’t about you it’s about we.

I’ve often found the way we evangelicals do communion to be a lonely shadow of the experience found in other types of churches. We have reshaped communion into being about me and my relationship with Jesus, uncomfortably giving space to create a private moment, instead of allowing communion to be about a communal thing, our collective relationship with Jesus.

Satan wants nothing more than us to look out for our own best interests. Never forget the table. The table drives us to communion. 

Photo by Pierre Porte via Flickr (Creative Commons)

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Left alone, you are weird

Our society celebrates the lone wolf. We have a unique ability to pin the success or failure of a group effort on an individual.

  • Drew Brees led his team to a win.
  • All Stephen Spielberg films are brilliant.
  • Thomas Edison invented thousands of things.
  • Barak Obama is the most powerful leader in the world.
  • Bill Hybels leads Willow Creek Community Church.
  • Katy Perry is an amazing performer.

In all of those cases we celebrate an individual who has become the figurehead of a much larger effort.

Deep in each of those statements is a cultural lie. As we idolize those individuals and aspire to become them we look past the reality that none of them is a lone wolf, but we see that in order to get to those positions of “respect” we need to act alone.

Video games and smart phones

The posture of the individual

We’ve grown up celebrating the first person perspective. When Duke Nukem came on the market in the mid-1990s it revolutionized the video game experience because you, the player, became Rambo. Instead of looking at a strategy game from a 3rd person perspective they put you in the 3D world of first person.

Thousands of hours of acting as the lone wolf behind first-person shooters sends a powerful psychological lie to your brain, retraining it to believe that you can best control your destiny alone.

If there’s anything disturbing about today’s smart phone craze, it’s the new posture we take in public settings. While it was once considered anti-social behavior to seek isolation in a crowd, we are now a crowd of isolated humans staring at our phones. The flickering pixels in our pockets are more alluring than the real world around us.

These devices aren’t just statements of convenience or entertainment, they reflect a great cultural reference to the first-person perspective.

A call from individualism to communion

We don't celebrate individualism, we celebrate communion

As a Christian I know that individualism is the enemy of communion.

Communion is a powerful technology that changes everything.

While our culture celebrates and romantacizes the lone wolf, Jesus calls us into something greater. It’s reflected back to the Garden of Eden. God looked at his creation and one by one said, “It’s good.” But when he looked at the man, who was alone, he said “It’s not good for man to be alone.” So he made woman. We are so hardwired to think about the sex part of that statement or even the idea that God made a helper (completer) for Adam that we miss the first part… it’s not good for man to be alone.

Satan wants you alone. He wants to convince you that you are better off acting as a lone wolf. He whispers in your ear– “You don’t need them. You want to change the world, do it your way.

Satan’s technology is getting you alone where you are vulnerable. God’s technology is communion, where you are never alone.

Jesus’ life calls you and I into communion. We don’t merely take communion as a representation of our 1-1 relationship with God. We take communion as a representation of our 1 billion – 1 relationship with God. We actually don’t take communion… we ingest it as a rejection of Satan’s technology of the lone wolf and exchange it for God’s technology of communion.

When we stand, in communion, with a billion other believers we are an unbelievable force for change. We have the power to make a busted world right.

That’s why we share communion in community. You simply can’t do communion alone, it’s impossible.

Jesus isn’t calling you or I to merely take communion in remembrance of what He did. He is calling you and I to live communion together.

youth ministry

Desert Man Trip

I’ve been around a few types of “manly men” in my lifetime.

  1. Dude’s who hang out at country clubs, play sophisticated sports, and have sophisticated tastes.
  2. Dude’s who smoke big cigars, enjoy fine beverages, and gamble big bucks. (Either gambling or on business deals)
  3. Dude’s who shot guns, kill things, and could live for months self-sustained from things in their garage.
Not a good place to sit

I wouldn’t consider myself firmly in any of those camps. And I’d hardly consider myself a manly man. I’m more of a floater man who likes all of those things but never enough to go all in.

This past weekend I spent 3 days with group #3 while serving at the Encounter mens retreat. All told there were 57 young and fully grown men in the desert for 3 days of playing hard, eating good, and playing with fire. (Bonfires, flame-throwers, explosions, shooting range, paintball, and more explosions.)

As we were packing up I told Brian… “This is clearly the most red neck thing I’ve ever done.” I’m a city slicker whose idea of country boy is a bike rack on his car. I’m not really a big fan of guns– much less teaching young men how to shoot them. There was lots of irony in that I spent the last three years in an urban high school ministry trying to show young men that loving Jesus meant putting guns down (gangs) and now we were going to do just the opposite.

I had convinced myself to come into the weekend with an open mind. I have huge respect for Brian- a top 5 nominee for the brightest youth ministry veteran I’ve ever rubbed shoulders with. On top of that Encounter is a ministry to high school students in East County of San Diego. (For those not familiar with San Diego, anything east of La Mesa is referred to as “East County.” East County San Diego bears more reflection on ranching than it does big city. If we go 10 miles from our house you quickly get into horse, cactus, and big pick-up truck people.)

This kind of trip made me nervous from a city slicker perspective but was completely culturally relevant to the young men Encounter ministers to.

To the desert

Getting stuck on the way in

We drove out to Ocotillo and quickly got off paved roads and into the back country. (Map) Just getting back to the canyon was an adventure. We got there about 30 minutes before it got dark and quickly established camp. You can’t even call this area a campsite as it was completely undeveloped. (No electricity, no cell services, no water, no toilets… just a cool canyon in the desert.)

It’s all about the content

In reality, while this trip is über manly man it really is a youth group retreat about calling these young men to follow Christ. Our culture does it’s best to emasculate young men and treat them like boys. This was a wake up call for them that becoming a man is up to them. We are ready to look at them as men… maybe the first time they were told that?

The content for the weekend was wrapped up around this central thought: You are dangerous and you can use that danger for good or evil. Topically, we reenforced that with lessons (and sweet object lessons!) about danger, their mouth, sexual purity, their choices, and perspective. It was a great chance for them to wrestle with the reality of their personal decisions.

It’s all about being hands on

Where is Starbucks?
Where is Starbucks?

We live in a world where we are in community only when we choose to be in community. Moreover, we can walk away from anything that makes us uncomfortable. While that is safe and lawsuit conscious it is leading to the neurosis of a generation.

God never intended us to be lone wolves, the enemy did. (Look at Genesis 3, it’s always been a divide and conquer strategy) Satan builds strongholds as we delve further and further into isolation. We don’t think our actions have consequences. We want to talk about blowing things up but not the people who are harmed. We want to say nasty things to other people through a video game. We want to look at pornography and pretend that doesn’t hurt anyone. We want to focus on our friends and not our community. On and on, culture pushes us into being alone while God calls us to something more complete.

Isolation is the enemy of communion. Jesus’ call for communion was never a call for individuals to come to Jesus as individuals on their own terms. That’s a perversion of our individualistic culture. Faith that lasts is almost never “just Jesus and me.” Our culture lies about that, our church culture lies about that, and youth ministry (too often) preaches that.

Sharing communion in community under the hoppa

So 57 men of all ages went to the desert for an encounter with Jesus. To be communal, to live in commune, and to commune with their Creator.

My prayer is that as we shot, burned, and blew things up that those were symbols of the battle against the enemy. Three days per year of communion is not enough. I hope that for some of those young men they walk in communion with one another, in rejection of individualism, for the rest of their lives.