Spirituality

More Catfishing

I just posted a mini on Facebook about Hebrews 12, and the countless mentions in the first several verses of us, our and we. Well, it’s not countless, it’s 9, but you get the picture. 10 if you count the reference to the huge cloud of witnesses. The point was that we’re called into relationship, into running together, into connection, but nobody has to tell any of us that, no matter how much we pretend that we are islands.

Today is Catfish reruns all day on MTV, until the new episode on tonight at 8. The one on right now is about a woman having an online romance with a super-hot model with a broken phone (always a super-hot model and ALWAYS a broken phone which makes a video chat impossible) to whom she has been sending mountains of money. If you were watching, you’d be thinking the same thing I am: What is wrong with this woman?!!?

But we already know. These thoughts tie together neatly. We are called into relationship and will do most anything to have it. These people just acknowledge this fact and are actually doing anything to have it, including trying to buy it.

The stories of our lives are defined by the people in them (or the lack of people in them.) I say it all the time, you can surely finish this sentence for me, one of the biggest wounds COVID inflicted was/is the isolation. In addition to the depression and every other kind of mental unhealth, the lie that we don’t need each other desperately is the worst and most damaging.

The other thing about Catfish is when the scales from this woman’s eyes and she sees she’s been manipulated, when her heart is breaking out loud, she turns into Nev (the tender-hearted host of the show) and they wrap their arms around each other. She’ll cry and he’ll comfort her. He’ll tell her she’s beautiful and convince her there’s nothing wrong with her. She loved, and trusted the object of that love. The show always ends with hope, that’s why it’s so great.

The story of Elijah in the Bible takes us to a cave where the prophet is crying out. He’s isolated. He’s broken. He’s alone. He’s asking all of the questions. When God answers, He doesn’t answer the questions, He says, “there are 7,000 others…”

Catfish reminds me of Elijah. This woman will feel totally alone, will cry until there she doesn’t have any tears left, will not get any answers that make this heartbreak any better, but she will get a person to hold her up.

And that is enough.

A Consistent Relationship

I signed up for a list to get emails from a woman named Kristin Hanggi. She’s an artist and a creativity ‘coach,’ offering workshops, advice, and general positive vibes. A few weeks ago she addressed something we talk about often, whether she knows she is talking about faith communities and discipleship is questionable. It doesn’t matter too much, though, does it?

She writes, “The most important part of birthing a new idea is creating a consistent relationship with it. We show up day-after-day-after-day, and being a part of a supportive community can give us the encouragement and tenacity to go the distance. Something happens in our consistency and showing up. We start to learn that we are trustable. We start to believe in ourselves. We start to develop a relationship with our powerful inner voice.”

Probably the most important part of anything worthwhile (whether it is a new idea, marriage, work of art, deadlift, whatever) is creating a consistent relationship with it. How can we expect to grow or connect or explore something without showing up? I remember speaking with a good friend 15ish years ago and he said our church at the time was clique-y, that it was very hard to “break into” (his words). I disagreed, figuring it’s actually quite easy, but significantly more difficult when you only show up every couple of months. That’s only become more evident with time and experience.

Obviously the prototype for a supportive community is a church.

The BIG thing that happens in consistency and showing up is intimacy. We know and are known. If either of those are missing, so is the intimacy. That’s why we talk so much about the destructive nature of hiding, of hypocrisy, of pretending. Actual relationship is impossible without authenticity or without presence. It’s impossible to build trust when we’re not physically, emotionally, spiritually there. It’s also impossible to build trust when we’re there, but in disguise.

She mentions trusting ourselves, believing in ourselves and developing relationship with our inner voice. The command is to love others as we love ourselves, but we very rarely love ourselves well, so what does that say about our ability to love another?

Then, in the email today from Ms. Hanggi, she speaks of 5 things every human being needs (an idea from author David Richo), and 1 in particular: Allowing. “How can I freely allow the idea to be what it is, as opposed to my idea of what it needs to be?” I think I’d paraphrase that as “How can I freely allow myself to be who I am, as opposed to my idea of who I need to be (should) be?” No kidding! The mountain of should’s that crush us daily keeps us from loving us, loving each other, telling the truth, and showing up to the sort of community that picks us up, sustains us, and moves us forward.

Now. That’s helpful, but none of it is exactly the point I’d like to make. Kristin Hanggi is a writer/director/podcaster/creative person in Los Angeles. I’m pretty sure she is a Jesus follower, but she is not what one would call a “Christian” artist. St. Augustine famously said, “All truth is God’s truth,” and it is not even a little surprising that Jesus would be found in a ‘secular’ mass email, or a blockbuster, or a pop song, or scientific theory, or in a Netflix documentary, or my neighbor down the street. If it’s true – and I’m not saying everything is truth, of course, some things are quite the opposite, but if it is true… – it is from God, because all truth is His.

Instead of making our world smaller and smaller, only acknowledging certain labels and genres, placing boundaries where none exist, maybe we could hold hands with the Spirit as She trains our eyes to spot Jesus, opening our eyes and minds to the overwhelming, limitless beauty of Love, the Gospel, and the One who made it all.

Color-Fullness

Last week, there was a memorial service for a sweet lady who had lost her fight with Alzheimer’s after far too long (though any length of time is far too long to witness the horrors of this heartless disease.) I helped to carry her casket in & out of the church, spoke at this service, and stayed afterwards to share a meal with the family. I really did love her and would be happy to tell you why, but this post isn’t going to be too much about her at all. Instead, it’ll be several observations and a final thought or 2.

We almost got into an accident less than a mile from the church. My son has been driving on his own less than a month – he’s a good driver who made a mistake and it is nothing short of a miracle that we didn’t collide with the other. I cringed as the metal should have loudly twisted but didn’t. I saw every second and still can’t begin to explain how it is possible that we avoided this angry mess, so I won’t try. We’ll just leave this here. 

She was Puerto Rican, and I am not. She speaks Spanish exclusively, and as much as I like to brag that I speak fluent Spanish, it’s simply not true. I had 1 year in high school almost 30 years ago and only remember autobus, caca, hola and senorita. So, she would see me and light up, grab my face and kiss my cheeks, then she’d talk to me like we were old friends. I’d nod and smile. It didn’t really matter, we understood each other even as we didn’t understand the words the other spoke. The Spirit speaks, and that is very often enough.

We first passed by the church, called New Birth, because we couldn’t read the sign. Then when we arrived, most of the people there were family, Puerto Rican and exclusively Spanish-speaking, so I required a translator. This was my first experience with translation and my translator was a very short, lovely woman named Miranda. The passion I have for everything comes pouring out of my mouth quickly, like water. As you may or may not know, a fast talker and translation (even with as gifted a translator as Miranda) do not always make the happiest combination. It wasn’t easy for me or for her, we stepped on each other, fumbled for words through awkward pauses, but it absolutely worked out, tears and celebration and wide open hearts are universal. 

The service was 4 hours long, with singing, sermons, shouting, laughing, sobbing, and everything in between. In the culture I am familiar with, we search for excuses not to attend funerals but when we have to, we are quiet, reserved, and try to fake whatever emotions we deem “appropriate.” This was not the culture I am familiar with. 

The food was Spanish and amazing, especially this coconut rice that I’m still thinking about. 

Anyway, the reason racism is so dumb is that coconut rice. It’s not what I’m used to, it’s not apple pie and cheeseburgers. The funeral wasn’t what I’m used to, it’s not quiet, dark, and too often inauthentic. The language wasn’t what I’m used to, isn’t what I even understand, it’s not American English. They’re also a big part of the reason tolerance is pretty ridiculous, too. Here is the definition of tolerance: the capacity to endure continued subjection to something, especially a drug, transplant, antigen, or environmental conditions, without adverse reaction.

The capacity to endure something without adverse reaction? Like a cobweb or vegetables? So, the bar we’re setting is that I can endure a different sex, color, faith, culture without getting hives or committing a violent crime? Endure your language? Endure your food? Endure you?

Is it the best we can do that I simply endure another human being without adverse reaction? What are we doing when that is the expectation or, worse, the hope?

I didn’t endure this service, and they certainly didn’t endure me. We loved each other, we loved each other’s skin tones, practices, & accents. We hugged each other and cried in our multicultural shoulders, then we laughed in our diverse ethnicities.

Why would we want to be the same? And why in the world would we want to pretend we aren’t different? It’s the different flavors that make everything taste so good, the various textures that make living feel so good. Nothing was endured without adverse reaction, no one was discriminated against. The call isn’t colorblindness, it’s brilliant, vivid color-fullness. We are different and we are wonderful. We loved this woman, each other, each other’s everything, and the same God that created all of it.

As Ourselves

Today I am catching up on a few emails that have sat unread in my inbox. (Probably the proper plural form is ‘email,’ not ‘emails,’ but even if it is proper, it sounds ridiculous to me and I won’t use it, today or ever.) In one of them, I read this from a fitness/nutrition coach named Aadam Ali: “Most people only love the idea of change. But they don’t really want to change and do what needs to be done to become the person they want. I can give you all the tools you need to succeed and offer advice. But all the guidance in the world means nothing if you aren’t willing to commit and do the work that needs to be done.”

In another one, this time on motivation from Mark Manson, “When I’m feeling unmotivated or just outright lazy, I use what I like to call “The ‘Do Something’ Principle.” It’s based on the observation that action is not just the effect of motivation, it’s also the cause of it. That is, not only do we take action when we feel motivated to do so, but taking action creates motivation to take even more action. And so if we can just manage to do something—anything really—this almost always sets off a chain reaction where action begets motivation which begets more action which begets more motivation… and so on.”

First, I agree wholeheartedly with both of these perspectives. And second, you’d think this fits nicely with the New Year and the train of thought in the talks I’ve given over the last few weeks (new bowls, possibility, etc). Right now, though, it makes me a little uncomfortable.

You see, there is a general restlessness communicated in these messages. It’s unstated and subtle (and at least in my case, unintentional), but the implication is that who we are right now isn’t good enough, that what we’re doing right now isn’t enough.

Maybe we do need to change, maybe we do need to do ‘something,’ but the question is why. What drives us to desire this change, this transformation? Is it from a positive platform, a yes that invites us to step into a new way of living? Or is does it stem from a negativity that whispers discontent and disappointment into our ears, an ultimate no?

It’s very different to say, “I am going to (eat healthy or read my Bible or meditate or exercise or organize my closet or whatever) because this is all a gift, because I am loved and worth this attention, because I want to become more of who I have been made to be,” instead of, “I’m going to (eat healthy or read my Bible or meditate…) because I’m pathetic, I’ve ruined it, I have to flee from this that I am now.”

I think that the reason so many resolutions or diets or new leaves fail is because they’re taken from that second space, and where we might start fast, the thread that convinces us we are not good enough remains the foundation and is only a matter of time until it whispers again, but this time that we are not good enough to continue on this new path because we ‘always quit,’ or we are unworthy or whatever our particular negative narrative is.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that contentment is not the same a complacency, and rest is not the same as laziness. Maybe our entire perspective has to shift. Instead of hating ourselves into a new reality that may look different but feels eerily similar to the old one, perhaps love is a much better motivator. Instead of running from, we might try moving to. The verse is loving our neighbor as ourselves (we often forget that second part, right?) And I’m just not sure our impatient dissatisfaction with this messy, sweet, broken, wonderful, deeply flawed yet even more deeply beautiful person we are right now is very loving at all.

The End Of The Year

This will be my last post of the year. Tomorrow is a half day at school and that means this house will be, more or less, full and I’d like to be totally present for every second of it.

If you’ll miss this space, and these posts and my thoughts on the new Spider-Man film, you can read what I wrote throughout the year on my other site, lovewithacapitall.com. And I did write a book 2 years ago about the Bible, the Bridge and me. The truth is, I talk and write a lot, so if you miss me for the next 2 weeks, there is a humongous pile of work you can find. Or you can call, text, or email anytime.

This last year was so full, right? Our hearts were stretched, damaged, broken & bruised, healed, always deeply moved. We were disappointed, discouraged, overwhelmingly sad AND fulfilled, elated, overwhelmingly joyful. Would you say it was a good year?

I get the giant honor of performing marriage ceremonies, and there was this one. Many in the immediate families weren’t coming because there was fractured relationships and misused religion. (Until 1, a dad, did.) And in the middle of these 2 lives with very scary, winding paths, obstacles, challenges, dark nights…And also in the middle of a field right next to the Susquehanna river at dusk on the most beautiful night of the year, we got married. Would you say that was a good day?

This other one. I happened to be there because of a not so happy pastoral decision – but one’s not so happy is my wonderful gift. There was a huge family and one largely absent, and next to a pond on another lovely day, we got married. During the ceremony, all of the guests gathered around us, holding hands and each other and prayed. How about that one?

And one other. This one had very few of us under a tent in the rain on the side of a mountain in Harrisburg. Again, winding paths, not even close to the way we dreamed when we were kids, obstacles, challenges, tears, but right there in the rain, we got married. Was that day good?

Ok, 1 more. This one was at the neighbor’s house with lots of questions and stress and second-guessing and fear over if they were or were not ready, whatever that means. Are any of us? There was also love and respect and potential and hope. High school sweethearts and me, there in the hot sun, we got married.

I’ve been asking if these weddings were good, because these weddings are pretty perfect metaphors for 2021. Which of us would’ve chosen last year, chosen illness, chosen loss, fear, (oh man, the fear, the FEAR), sadness, chosen broken relationships, busted marriages, chosen division, anger, hate, disrespect, chosen extra police presence in our schools, chosen isolation, loneliness, hopes dashed on rocks, chosen to hurt? Do I need to go on?

But you know what? What else about 2021? New hopes, new creation, new jobs, careers, relationships, marriages, amazing discoveries, fresh words, renewed commitments, communities, the Dallas Cowboys, Shang-Chi & Spider-Man, presence, rhythm, blessing, the gift of you & me here now, peace. I could go on here, too, right? We got to love each other.

Each of these weddings I mentioned (Jesse & Heidi, Brad & Becca, Sonia & Jeff, Mark & Muriah) happened in the same month and (where I only knew Mark & Muriah last year) they are now my friends. Can you imagine how awesome that is to say? We are friends. FRIENDS.

In front of God and all of us, they gave themselves to each other in the wild risk of loving another person. Their paths might not have been perfect, but those messed up paths brought them here, before God, to each other, to us. We can watch them navigate the choppy (sometimes calm, serene, sometimes dark, treacherous) waters of marriage with grace, forgiveness, celebration, and gratitude that we get to watch from up close while we walk alongside of them.

2021. Maybe things are judged as great in their depth and significance. Everything happened this year and we were here, feeling all of it, wide awake, with authenticity, honesty and the courage to continue to show up with faith, hope and love. And as we know Paul says, the greatest of these is love.

So, now. Was it a great year?

It was the greatest.

A Great Persecution Broke Out

I have always been fascinated by our propensity to remain in spaces that, if not exactly destructive (though they are often that), they are at the very least not working for us. I usually ask it like this: “I wonder why he/she stays there/continues to do that when they KNOW it’s wrong for them,” and I say it less with wonder than annoyance. The good news is that the “he/she” part is immediately replaced with “we,” because it doesn’t take long for me to remember.

I stayed at a job years after I knew it was time to go. I had relationships for far longer than either of us would’ve categorized as healthy. In almost every area of my life, I can point to patterns that existed past their obvious expiration date. You probably can, too. Not because you and I are particularly unique, but the opposite. This is a human problem that has been a thorn forever.

There’s an interesting passage in the Bible that illustrates this better than our unfulfilling jobs or broken relationships or pointless routines ever could.

That last words Jesus says, in Acts 1:7, are “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Essentially, GO and tell everybody everywhere about me and this divine love. And then, in chapter 7, they are STILL in Jerusalem! Now, this was good because the number of disciples in Jerusalem was increasing daily, but this was not good because it was a violation of the specific command of Jesus. Chapter 7 details the murder of Stephen and then chapter 8 starts with this easily overlooked phrase: “on that day a great persecution broke out.” They wouldn’t go, so they were forced to go and then the story of the Church, of us, really begins. Without that great persecution, without those disciples telling everybody everywhere, who knows?

I don’t like to leave until there is a great persecution, either. Aadam Ali (on Physiqonomics) says often, in the context of health and fitness, that nobody changes until the pain of staying the same outgrows the pain of change. This is absolutely true, right?

How many of us are bored, tired, rudderless, aimless, just trying to get through another day with no challenge or big ask of us? Well, there is one challenge; get through another day and not let our soul wilt any more. Sometimes, as in my case, I used to drive to work miserable with a dream in my heart that I couldn’t/wouldn’t pursue. And why? Comfortability, stability, I had been there so long, knew the job inside out, complacency… The driving force behind all of it is fear. What if I can’t get another job? What if I don’t get another girlfriend? What if I’m alone for the rest of my life, living in a car under a bridge by a filthy river thinking about this moment when I threw it all away?

Of course, there is selfless responsibility and seasons in our lives where we are in valuable places, learning and growing. But my guess is that we mostly know the difference.

You may have heard some variation on this a hundred times from me, but today, this week, all of this is simply a way to celebrate my mom.

Now, my mom is the greatest. She strong, courageous, loyal and the most generous person I have ever known. If you know her, you know this, but what you don’t know is that she gave her 2 weeks notice at her job earlier this week. In our conversation where I told her how proud of her I am, she confessed that she was terrified and was full of second guesses. Faith is like this. It’s why the disciples didn’t leave until chapter 8.

Am I doing the right thing???? What if? What if? WHAT IF?????

In this same conversation, we spoke about her selling that house (the one I grew up in, that she has lived in for 35 years) and moving, too! Can you imagine the automatic negative thoughts in her head? Me, too. We don’t have to imagine, right?

And she did it anyway. Courage isn’t the absence of fear, it’s acting in spite of that monster. This is yet another example of how she’s inspired me in a list of a million. I’ve always wanted to be as beautiful as my mom when I grow up, and never more than right now.

When the disciples finally left, that proved to light the fire that still burns, still changing the world 2,000 years later. Every time I see an act of courage like this, taking steps in the darkness, I lean in and ask, wide-eyed and breathless, what amazing thing is God going to do here? And you know what? Almost every time it’s so much better than I could have ever imagined.

A Season Of With

I’ve been reading the book of Hebrews lately, and really loving every moment. There is a distinct possibility there is more in my Bible in my own handwriting than from the author of this letter, whoever that is. It doesn’t start like a letter, but it ends like one – there’s even a celebration that Timothy is now out of prison and greeting from the Christians in Italy.

Hebrews has everything anybody would ever want from a book in this vast beautiful library of books we call the Holy Bible; doctrine, instruction, history, even very personal touches. What I could do is pluck a verse from anywhere and talk about it for a few paragraphs here, but the one I am choosing is in chapter 10, verses 24 and 25, with Christmas on my mind.

This has been a long year of variants and political warfare, loss, disconnect, and division. Last year, we hoped the mood would pass with the year, full of hope that the new 2021 calendar would be new, fresh, peaceful. Now we know the only thing that changed was the calendar.

So now what? You know that is my favorite question, said with wide eyes and anticipation. I don’t throw my hands up and sigh, “now what?” I lean in and feel the energy crack and hum. The answer can and will set our course. The posture we take can and will decide our future. Do we think 2022 is, again, just a digit of difference, or is it a whole new world? Can it, can we, be transformed? Is January 1 just an extension of December 31, 2022 just 2021 part 2, 2020 part 3, or can it actually be the beginning of an original story?

Hebrews 10:24-25: “Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.”

Maybe instead of spending our time alone, thinking of ways to tear each other apart, we could give our time to coming together and brainstorming as many ideas as we can manage to encourage each other. And if we could fan the flames of culture and humanity with love & good works instead of paranoia & pain. Maybe our flags could have less demeaning slogans and more of, literally, anything else. And instead of standing on the sidewalks shouting at each other, we could take our conflicting views to the yellow line in the middle of the street and engage in actual conversations. (I did not say our opinions have to be in the center. We can hold opposing perspectives, but only with the acknowledgement that, though our ideas may be far apart, we are not.)

I can love you. I can, with the help of the Holy Spirit (the SAME Spirit that raised Jesus from the grave), learn to start to try to start to try to love my enemies. I can listen, reach out, feel, hope.

I have always thought that the only way this great divide could happen is to stop sitting next to each other, causing us to forget that it’s NOT us vs. them, that it IS just us. When we don’t sit next to each other, our 3rd, 4th, 5th, 100th dimensions fade away, leaving cardboard cutouts, caricatures drawn on the boardwalk.

And the only way it can end is when we “not neglect our meeting together.”

This season, a season of love and presence, a season of “with,” is one that is crying out for us to heal these wounds. To build bridges across these imaginary divides. To sit side by side in worship of this Savior who came to show us what it meant to be human and gave us the Church to live it out.

A Book I Don’t Like

I was reading a book I don’t like until Tuesday, when I closed it for the very last time. I’ll drop it off at one of the used thrift shops in town this weekend. This was the 2nd time through. I didn’t like it the first time, but the author is one I very much enjoy, I own several books of his that I would happily recommend, so it sat on my shelf asking for a second chance.

It was even worse this time, but even in that, there is something important to learn. Reducing a whole to simply one of it’s parts is dangerous. Reducing a person to one of his quirks, one of his habits, one of his days, one of his mistakes, is wildly disrespectful to that person and the One who created him.

The best part of this book was a quote by another. C.S. Lewis wrote, “Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us.” This quote deserves it’s own post, series, year of sermons and small groups to unpack, but not today.

In 1 Corinthians 3: 21-23, Paul writes, “All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God.” I think what Paul is saying is that we sometimes spend our time arguing over what or who or where we can find God, when God is everywhere, if we just have eyes to see and ears to hear.

We can find beauty and truth in a child, a movie, the mall, a greeting card, a sunrise, or a book we don’t like. And wherever we find beauty and truth, we find Jesus, and it is our business to point it, to point Him, out. Later in the Scriptures, Paul quotes a poet from Crete to Titus. Cretan poets are not Christians, their poetry not “Christian” art, but Paul is wide awake and quick to claim truth wherever and whenever he sees it.

I think that quote illustrates this theme nicely. We are half-hearted, looking for God in churches and temples and the Christian section of the bookstore, when infinite wisdom and joy and truth and presence is offered us. Isn’t it the same story, we try over and over to compress the story of God into one that we can easily understand? This compression didn’t serve Moses, Jonah, Ezekiel, and on and on and on very well then and it doesn’t serve us well now.

I know I’ve said this before, but maybe spirituality is an art of subtraction. We get rid of the things that no longer serve us, we cast off the weight that holds us back, we break the blinders that keep us from seeing God as He is instead of as we are. It’s uncomfortable, sure, but growth always is. We grow by subtracting and find, strangely, that we’ve gained all things in the process.

A 3 Or 4

No post here or anywhere last week because I was quite ill. In fact, over the last 3 weeks, a virus (not THE virus) has swept through this house, affecting each of us to varying degrees. This happens. Spending time in close contact with others carries a certain risk, as people are walking, talking, hugging germ farms.

So we get sick from time to time.

Now that I think about it, spending time in close contact with others carries giant mounds of “certain risks,” so many, and so big, that it’s easy to wonder why we would ever spend time in close contact with others. If we are honest, some parts of the quarantine weren’t awful, right? We had a built-in excuse for anything and everything we didn’t really want to do. Nearly every one of our relationships and communities suffered from the distance. Screens are a substitute, but they just aren’t that great of a substitute. My dad had a saying, “6 in one, a half dozen in the other,” meaning the 2 choices were so similar, the choice was insignificant. Screens are not 6 or a half dozen, they’re more like a 3 or 4.

We are still hanging on to the excuse. It’s become the new “washing my hair,” the new “I don’t have time, I’m too busy.” We all know we have time. We maybe don’t have time for this, but we do have time. It’s hardly ever about dirty hair or jammed schedules.

Maybe we just don’t want to take the risk, and would like to be safe instead.

The author Paulo Coelho wrote: “A boat is safe in the harbor. But this is not the purpose of a boat.” It is not the purpose of a human being, either.

Since my cold is still stubbornly hanging on, a standing Monday morning meeting was moved from in-person to Zoom. The person I meet is lovely, and is also lovely on Zoom. (Like I said, it’s a 3 or 4, not a zero – it doesn’t turn beautiful things into trash.) But both of us would be lying if we said it was the same. In her living room, we can easily spend an entire morning in deep, thoughtful conversation. Today it was barely 45 minutes until we both faced silence and the familiar, “well… I guess we’ll get going.”

This isn’t a surprise. BEFORE the fall in Genesis, 1 thing was “not good,” and that was for you & I to be alone. We are made for this kind of relationship, to celebrate, to laugh, to cry, to bear each other’s burdens. I have been made to share in your mess. My arms were made to wrap around you, and if that sometimes means we get sick, well then, I guess I’ll get sick.

Words Matter

Here’s something I read from an article written by Edward Klink III: “Let me state it plainly: it is impossible to have a faithful walk with Christ and Christian life—biblically or practically—without committed participation in a local church. To talk about Jesus and not his body, the church, is not to talk fully and rightly about Jesus at all! You cannot just have a spiritual relationship with Jesus without a real connection to his physical body. Even talk about a “personal relationship with Jesus” can be misleading if not properly defined. To say that a person has a personal relationship with Jesus is to speak about how a person becomes a Christian, not how a person lives as a Christian.”

I often read things pretty mindlessly, almost like skimming. I don’t know why I’m in such a rush that I can’t give a few minutes to engage wholeheartedly, I’m not that busy. Just today, my inbox had several weeks worth of email (that gmail helpfully categorizes as Promotions and files them away) needing to be addressed eventually. One was an expired invitation for a special virtual conference that I remember seeing and being interested in, but without immediate attention it became just another tap of the trash can icon.

Anyway. I keep them because of a well-intentioned desire to return & carefully read. Then on a day like today, I open and pretend to read them all before moving them to the garbage heap. But this article, this paragraph in particular, against all odds got stuck in my mind and brought the momentum to a screeching halt.

Is it really “impossible?” What does the subjective phrase “faithful walk” mean? Or “committed participation?” And “real connection?” What a fascinating few lines of text, right? All good writing asks something of us; to stop, to be here, to engage. To put aside the thoughts of meal prep or fantasy football lineups or the next item looming on the calendar. Even to put aside our own accepted positions that have not been re-evaluated in way too long, taken for granted as true (or if not necessarily true, they are our accepted positions, and should be defended as such.)

Do I think it’s impossible? Maybe. I used to think it was absolutely possible, even preferable, to be without a local church, which is full of hypocrites (like me) and other’s issues (like mine). I don’t so much anymore. Now I’m sure it’s not preferable, but impossible?

The answer to that depends on how we define “faithful walk,” “committed participation,” and “real connection,” I suppose. And as none of our definitions will be the same, it’s hard to use a word like impossible. If we use Klink’s definitions of “faithful” or “committed,” it’s impossible. Maybe not if we use mine. And my own definitions have changed over the years, even over the days or minutes, and will surely continue to transform.

I know, after a global pandemic caused a seismic shift in my concept of “connection,” I’m more convinced that a local church isn’t a luxury.

I also know that I’m very wary of using the word “impossible” in the context of a faith based on a God who became a man who died and was resurrected. It seems after all we’ve seen and heard, we should probably excise the word from our vocabulary.

So we could spend forever chewing on those words and how they play out in our own lives, but it’s that last sentence and the difference between “becoming” and “living” that is chewing on me. The point I’m trying to to make is that words matter. Becoming a follower of Jesus is different from living as one – becoming involves One Big Yes, living requires thousands of them. Can we do that – living – alone, without a community? I guess the answer is maybe, but the better question is, why on earth would we want to?