Our most basic life process is one of receiving and giving. Taking in, and putting out.
We take in oxygen. We put out carbon dioxide.
You can’t do just one. Try it. Either only inhale, or only exhale, but not the other. I’ll wait.
As a member of a religious community, we too must both take in and give out. Which came first, a friend recently asked, the chicken or the egg?
First? I don’t know. I imagine it depends on the person. But who can remember back that far? Because if you’re doing church right, this isn’t linear, it’s circular. Round and round, giving, receiving. And we find that many times, when we give, we feel we are the ones receiving the greater gift.
Those in the missional church often talk about being gathered and sent. Sometimes, they reverse that – sent and gathered.
We are gathered to strengthen our souls, we are sent out to strengthen the world. That works, reversed, too. And one flows into the other.
Both parts are necessary. We can’t only inhale. We can’t only exhale.
Unitarian Universalism is a deeply missional faith. In Orthodoxy: Its Truths and Errors, Unitarian minister James Freeman Clarke wrote:
“We think it possible to have a Church, and even a denomination, organized, not on a creed, but on a purpose of working together. Suppose that the condition of membership was the desire and intention of getting good and doing good. The members of a church are not those who unite in order to partake the Lord’s Supper, but to do the Lord’s work. The Lord’s Supper is their refreshment after working. They come together sometimes to remember his love, and to get strength from him. Let them sit together, express their desires, confess their faults, say what they have been trying to do, where they have failed, where succeeded, and so encourage each other to run with diligence the race set before them.” (419)
Being missional is not just about our ecclesiology. It’s about theology. As Alan Hirsch says, it’s about the very nature of God. God is a sending God.
You don’t have to be a theist for that to work. Sub in your term of choice for that which compels us to do for others. What is larger than ourselves.
Our churches may no longer take the Lord’s Supper in a ritual of bread and wine, but who can deny that we gather together for communion? We receive inspiration, relationship, love. We are strengthened. Our souls are strengthened.
Why? Is it just to have strong souls? I don’t believe so, and I don’t believe that our souls can fully be strengthened just by being happy recipients. It is through exercise that both souls and muscles become stronger. We go out and use these souls; they become more flexible, stronger. We come back together as a church for worship, and we use those strong souls in ministering to each other. So it is not always clear, when we are inhaling, when we are exhaling. Out in the neighborhood, we share juice and bread – is this worship? Inside the church building, we sit with each other during grief – is this service?
We breathe out. We breathe in. Both necessary to be alive.
— Joanna Fontaine Crawford