Walking Together: Mutuality
8 January 2023
When Pauline shared the focus theme for this year – “Walking each other as community towards growth and wholeness in Christ” – there was an image she used – walking each other home.
I want to start off asking all of you –
why “walking each other” instead of just walking towards growth and wholeness in Christ?
Many of us come to church seeking growth and wholeness. Many of us would place spiritual growth and building a relationship with God as top reasons that we come to church.
So what is this “walking each other” business? Isn’t the shepherds – the leaders of the church – the ones called to walk the flock towards growth and wholeness in Christ? Why walking each other then?
Debbie Thomas writes:
If we do align ourselves with a larger Christian community, we generally do so with a consumer mindset, trusting that we’re free to join up and free to quit as personal preference dictates… We struggle not to view dependence as moral weakness. We cherish our personal space, and feel claustrophobic when other people press too close. We believe, of course, in loving our neighbors, but we feel most comfortable loving them from a distance, or at least with one eye trained on the nearest exit.
Does it sound like your situation with church?
But that isn’t the way to grow. “Walking each other as community towards growth and wholeness in Christ” requires the opposite of a consumer mindset. It requires an orientation of love and mutuality.
Free in Free Community Church means “First Realise Everyone’s Equal.” That means we believe everyone is equal and have a responsibility to support and care for one another.
This can involve things like stepping up to serve, offering help and support to those in need, being part of our different ministries. It is based on the idea of putting the needs of the community above one’s own needs, and working together to create a sense of unity and belonging.
Yet, we also do things differently here at FCC.
Because all too often – especially in the secular world – we are measured by how much we can contribute, how much we do. This relationship becomes transactional. It is an exchange – we put in time, energy and resources because we want something in return. But that doesn’t help us grow spiritually or move us towards wholeness.
When we operate transactionally – like volunteer to do things or serve because we want to be seen, we want to be recognised, we want to be worth something, then we are still seeing ourselves and each other as the world sees. God doesn’t see us that way. We are worthy of love before we have done anything.
It is from that space of recognising our belovedness that we invite folks to step up to serve and contribute. Instead of being transactional, we recognise that we have a shared commitment to the well-being and flourishing of the community as a whole.
When we act out of a sense of mutuality, we do so not to gain something in return, but because we believe it is the right thing to do and will benefit the community – this is our way of following Jesus’ commandment to love each other as he has loved us.
In the past, when we were starting out, we didn’t realise this. Whenever we find out about someone’s skills or talents, we will quickly take the opportunity to ask that person to serve. We didn’t realise we were not seeing that person as a person, but seeing them only for their skills and talents.
I remember us asking people to serve on the worship team when we found out they played some musical instrument. Some of them stepped up to serve, but it came more from a sense of obligation rather mutuality.
Then there are people who jumped very quickly to serve, hoping to be of value to the community. But if we see our value or worth based on what we do, what happens when we make mistakes or receive criticism about our work?
We take it personally.
I remember conflicts that arose from such situations – and thinking about them now, I saw why a comment escalated to a larger conflict – because we sought healing through finding our self-worth in what we can contribute to the community. And when what we do is criticised, it is not just the work that is criticised, but our very worth.
That is why Pauline and I have encouraged people to take their time to find their place in community. Then once you have found that we love you just as you are, not just for what you can do for the church – then you find where you can step up.
Then what does “we’re all just walking each other home” mean to you?
Pauline shared last week “walking each other” as a mutual, equal watching over – “We’re all just walking each other home.” -Ram Dass
“We’re all just walking each other home….”
I want to pause here for a moment, to dwell on this thought. “We’re all just walking each other home….”
Have you walked someone home, or been walked home before? What was it like?
I have. I have sent friends all the way to their doorstep, making sure they safely home. Other times, when I drove my friends home, I would tell them to call me when they got home.
I have also walked friends home – Rose, Nick, Eu Meng – as their illness progressed, we knew there wasn’t much time left, I walked them home too.
For some of us, this community is one where we walk together for a period of time. We have been bidding farewell to folks who are moving overseas. We are also welcome new people who moved here. And we walk together in this season, learning to grow towards wholeness in Christ.
For some of us, this community is home for life. Have you considered FCC in this way? That no matter what, the relationships here, the relationships with this community, we commit to, for life?
This means that we do our best to work through our differences, our conflicts, because we want to walk together. And it is through this difficult work that we grow. We understand each other better, but more importantly, understand ourselves better. We see why we react in certain ways. This is one way God will heal us.
If we keep switching communities when we encounter differences, issues or conflicts, then are we allowing ourselves to be changed?
I know that many of us hesitate to connect – because connecting means being vulnerable, and being vulnerable means we may get hurt. All of us have been hurt one way or another, some more deeply than others. And if we could, we would avoid opening ourselves up to be hurt again.
But without opening ourselves up, our connecting with others would be superficial. Instead of walking each other home, we would just be fellow commuters on the MRT train, strangers to each other.
Healing, growth and wholeness requires taking that risk. Only then will God, through the people around us, heal the wounds we have, and lead us to wholeness.
I would emphasise – that growth isn’t a painless process, and we are not a perfect community. We are still on the journey of learning and figuring out how to love, and how best to love.
Mutuality when we walk together also requires accountability. This is done not in a shaming way – but in a loving way. Many of us have experienced being shamed in how we practice our faith – “you didn’t say grace before your meal, how un-Christian.” Rather, hold each other accountable means we speak lovingly, but firmly. It is not easy – even I make mistakes. I think that when I joke “haven’t seen you in a long while here,” it is in a way, shaming. I have come to different space now. Someone recently apologised to me for not coming regularly and my reply was – why are you apologising? I assume that you made that decision with clarity, balancing the different circumstances and things in your life, and you are at peace with not coming. It is not my place to judge. It is my place to understand.
I hope that this is also how you walk with each other. Not judgemental, but understanding. Not shaming, but holding accountable.
And I believe that it is through walking together, caring for each other, and loving each other, that we learn to love God. I think that’s why when asked which is the greatest commandment, Jesus replied not just with one commandment, but with two –
“love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37), and that the second greatest commandment is to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39).
This is core to who we are.
After 2 years of the pandemic, and a break in our routines, there are many points of disconnection. We now have hybrid services, which allowed us to grow significantly in numbers given the physical restrictions we face.
This is all new to me. How do we do community as a hybrid community? How do we have mutuality if folks are joining us online?
We are still figuring that out. The number of people I actually know joining us online is just a fraction of the total number. There are many obstacles trying to connect with all of you out there.
We cannot do “Walking each other as community towards growth and wholeness in Christ” in isolation. Walking each other requires us to be interacting, and in relationship with each other.
Can we walk with each other if we cannot physically be together?
I used to be quite conservative in my thinking about church community. I used to think that we have to be physically together to be community. When people move overseas – I hope they find another community who can support them. At least, that’s what I have been taught about church.
Yet, people who have moved overseas continue to remain connected to us. They taught me something in the past year.
FCC is special. FCC is unique.
They want to remain connected to us because they cannot find another community like us.
When I was in London last year, i met with some FCC-ers who moved there for dinner. I told them that there was a limit to how I can serve them, being physically so far away. Yet, through our online service and our online prayer meeting, we remain connected. I see some of them more often than folks who are based in Singapore.
I was very moved when i was told not to worry. (How can i not? I feel responsible for caring for them) They had been meeting up regularly and they are, in their own way, walking each other too.
For those of you who are based in Singapore, how are you walking each other?
I ask because I hope that you find ways to connect –
Nadia Bolz Weber says :
Christianity is a lousy religion for the “I’ll do it myself” set. We are meant to be tangled up together. We are meant to live lives of profound interdependence, growing into, around, and out of each other. We cause pain and loss when we hold ourselves apart, because the fate of each individual branch affects the vine as a whole. In this metaphor, dependence is not a matter of personal morality or preference; it’s a matter of life and death — branches that refuse to cling to the vine die.
Join me next week as i will explore how this clinging to the vine looks like.
For now, let us pray.
God, as we walk with each other,
Help us learn to be tangled up,
In all our messiness,
In all our brokenness,
So that as we learn to love each other through all this
Without shame, without fear,
And grow deeper in our connections with each other
And with you
And find healing and wholeness