The First Supper…

I was in Portland, OR (PDX) this past week for the face 2 face component of the online master’s degree program I am in at George Fox Evangelical Seminary. Each semester (at least in the fall and spring) the students return (like the swallows to Capistrano) to the campus in Tigard, a burb of Portland. Face 2 face is a joy of renewed, physical community with deeply loved friends. Cohort 10, the group of people I am on this journey with, is a collective of diverse opinions, gifts, experiences, and ages. However, our diversity has been one of the wondrous qualities of the educational experience. Almost from the beginning, during our first trip to PDX for orientation in August of 2010, you could feel that being part of this group of people was going to be something special. It wasn’t necessarily the talent or intellect of these people that made the group significant, although there are definitely both within the group. What was different, was the courage this group of people have to be personally vulnerable, and to allow the safety and confidentiality for others to be vulnerable. We are honest, but it is an honesty filled with grace, and devoid of competition. Relationships have blossomed within this environment. It feels like what I imagine first century, Christian community must have felt like.

These are my “alley friends”. Ok… I invented the term.

The house I where I stay when I am in Oregon, is actually in Salem, a 40 minute drive from school. I stay with Andy, one of my cohort buddies, at his aunt’s house. The neighborhood is a collection of bungaloes, much like many parts of Portland. I love these craftsman style dreams-from-the-previous-century. I also love that this particular neighborhood has alleys. Alleys are a fixture from a by-gone era in this country and I am always reminded of small town living when I see neighborhoods with alleys. They remind me of  a simpler life:

 when people raked their leaves into piles, and then burned them…

of the rattle/clang of the garbage truck as it trolled down the alley, and the clash of metal garbage cans being emptied and then set roughly against the back fence…

of dogs running free with0ut leash laws to save them from the ire of  Mrs. Kravitz over their incessant digging in her azalea bed…

of nights spent playing “kick the can” with the other kids on the block, and especially with Katy who lived two doors down…

of days when the mournful sound of “MOOoom…..!” was followed by the sound of  the lawn mower motor…

of the empty lot on the block, usually filled with kids playing baseball or football, depending on the season…

I walked through the neighborhood to a nearby coffeeshop a couple blocks away, and began to think of the difference between the front entrance to each residence, and the alley entrance, and the difference between which people used the front door, and which people used the back one. Typically, the front door was the more public space. The front facade was more manicured, and “ready for cumpny”. The front door was definitely where a young man would pick up a young lady for a date. (Generally with great trepidation.) And where the minister from the local church would approach in the ancient tradition of “calling” on the folks in his/her flock. The front door was a place of formality, and signified a certain politeness by both visitor and resident.

The view from the alley, however, was a piece of how life was REALLY lived by the family. There was honesty in that view, and it would have been considered impolite to just show up at someone’s back door without their permission. Alley friends have passed the test of the front door, and now occupy the place of friend. But not just any friend… a friend who is invited into life as it is REALLY lived. Alley friends just stand on the back porch and yell through the screen door. They have a standing invitation. There is intimacy with back door friends. Even when that intimacy can be kind of…awkward… like going in with your buddy on a Saturday afternoon, and finding his dad sitting on the couch in his underwear, drinking a beer, watching  football on TV.

 Some intimate sights make you want to gouge out the mind’s eye.

They require extra grace…

but alley friends give it, because you are family, without the genetic requirement.

The members of Cohort 10 are my alley friends. It is a community formed by circumstance, some might say, and by common interests; but more importantly by our shared vulnerability and love for each other, and God.

When we each arrive on campus, there is usually a collective yell and a rush to hug. We haven’t taken the gospel literally to greet each other with a holy kiss….. yet….. but the hugs are usually fully enveloping bear hugs. They’re great!

The BEST, however, is what I am going to start calling: “The First Supper”.

The first night we are all in town, we always go somewhere to eat together. This started with just a few of us originally, but now it is something all of us really look forward to. This time, it was pizza… ok… pizza and beer. We all paraded into this restaurent a few of us found last spring, and began to move tables together. One of us… usually Jamie, who we know always will…. gets the gaggle organized, so we can eventually actually eat. The order is decided, turned in, and then we g.e.t. b.u.s.y. catching up. We laugh, and sometimes even cry. We really do life. It must be like what Jesus and his group of friends must have shared. And it is contagious. Each semester, we have people from other cohorts, or for whatever reason, have made their way into one of our classes; and invariably they join us. One of my friends said this fall in reference to a new classmate: “She just fits in with us!”

Fits in…

with us…

Isn’t that just COOL!



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