making the invisible visible
“i’ve decided. i’m going to the next level in God. i’m going to be empowered by an incredible, enthusiastic, visionary leader and take this city for Christ. i’m going to be a vibrant, passionate, charismatic believer who takes excellence seriously. i’m joining a vibrant, contemporary, growing church with a powerful message that impacts the world and has a vision statement that involves loving life, loving people and loving God. i’m getting connected to a small group that will move me into that next level and take me into the unknown, teaching me to drink that living water and walk by faith. i have a vision for this nation, i’m going to see revival sweep across this land.”
heather’s above parody post made me laugh out loud. the funniest part was just the day before i had read the website of a new “strategic” church plant i heard about that pretty much used every single one of these buzz words! i am glad it works for some people and i am sure it will fill a need, but i am just so not there anymore. anyway, the result of heather’s post has been a blog meme about the subject of “taking a city for God.” jeff at losing my religion shares some of my same thoughts about crazy church stuff and tagged me to participate. the question asked was “what would a city look like if it as really was taken for God?” there were lots of great ideas shared & you can follow some of the links at abmo’s site. i’m a little late into the conversation & am sometimes bad at following the rules so i focused on a different angle, “how could christians participate in truly transforming a city?”
first of all, i think the idea of “taking a city for Christ” is so presumptuous (hence, the parody)…like it’s really our city to take in the first place? there’s so much haughtiness in some of our language and actions. but moving past that to the big idea–that Christ’s spirit could be infiltrated in a city and it would be transformed, that humility, sacrifice, love, grace, honesty, hope could permeate every house, every neighborhood, every school, every place where people lived & gathered. well, that i can latch on to.
my response isn’t super complicated. i believe that christians could actually change the world, a city, their community if we humbly and actively participated in making the invisible visible. that is, if we were part of calling out the dignity and beauty and worth of every human being that lived in that city regardless of race, age, gender, socioeconomics, religion, brokenness, weird-life-circumstances-and-social-acceptedness.
i believe one of the biggest problems in every community–including most churches–is that more people than we’d like to believe actually feel invisible, worthless, purposeless. they are not sure they really matter to anyone. stuck in shame, hiding, self-contempt, they go through the motions of their day. some live on the streets. some live in apartments. some live in nice houses. some make $600 a month on social security disability income, others make $6,000 a month at their cool high tech company. some use their money to buy drugs. some use their money to buy stuff they don’t need to numb their pain. some go to church every sunday. others worship other gods in all kinds of different ways. some believe in nothing or are pretty sure if there was a God he has clearly forsaken them. the problem with invisibility has nothing to do with money or religion.
invisibility has to do with our disconnectedness to the heart and soul of another human being. it has to do with our lack of close relationship with each other, of really truly knowing how our neighbor is doing, what they need, what they dream about, and how we can participate in calling that out in them. it has to do with our weird prejudices that mean that certain people are acceptable and other people aren’t. it has to do with our busyness and self-centeredness and tendency to hoard, self-protect. it has to do with generations upon generations of invisibility in families with no breaking-the-cycle in sight. it has to do with our fear of truly engaging in the messiest of the messiest parts of other’s lives so we pretend we don’t see, we don’t know, we don’t have time. it has to do with our fear of being known and our tendency to want to somehow stay invisible, too. invisibility is pervasive, crippling.
Jesus didn’t take a city. rather, one at a time, he somehow made the invisible visible. he called out the image of God in people. all kinds of people. from all walks of life. the outcasts. the shamed. the lonely. the confused. the broken. the sick. he heard their cry. he stopped. he listened. he touched. he offered healing. we will never know the other ways he engaged with people, many of the incidents recorded in the gospels leave much to our imagination, but we do have this example blaring at us. jesus never talks about right beliefs and doctrinal statements and church services. he simply said ”be like me”. that means we are called to realize our need for God, restore dignity, sacrificially love, willingly share and notice the least likely.
the path toward making the invisible visible, to tangibly touching a city with Jesus’ love and hope, would mean we’d first have to get in touch with it. we can’t pass on what we don’t know ourselves. this means we have to continually reckon with our brokenness, our own shame, our own need for healing, our own invisibleness. i believe this comes through a crazy combination of letting God’s spirit move in us & true community. i don’t think it is a “once i get this, then i can pass it on”. i think it is a continual life-long spiritual transformation process. as we are transformed, we get new eyes to see, new hearts to feel, new ears to listen. we then begin to notice what we didn’t see before, next door to us, in the next cubicle to us, in the next chair to us, in the next neighborhood to us, across the city from us. we become compelled to care.
the next hardest part of making the invisible visible in a community means we would have to cooperate with who is already there deeply committed to the same thing but with different ways of going about it–community agencies, social services, other faith communities, schools, oh all kinds of people who don’t corporately label themselves “christians” the way we feel comfortable with. that might be the hardest part for some people, the idea that there are others out there who maybe already do it better than us and do not have a fish in their window. but i think if we learned to value each other and how much we really need each other, we could gain much greater ground in making the invisible visible in a city. i think we’d somehow recognize when a cup of cold water is offered, a coat is given, someone visits someone in jail, someone invisible is noticed, Jesus is getting passed on, period.
in africa, a typical hello often translates to “i see you.” what powerful words. what if we meant it? a city could be transformed if every man, woman, child had someone look them in the eyes, see them, and because of what they see, engage in their lives, their heart, their story in a tangible way. the invisible becoming visible, the now visible newly able to notice the next invisible person and do what they can to make them visible, too. so much glory to be uncovered, passed on.
i think it’s doable (it’s just a lot harder than going to church). people discovered. a city, a community, a neighborhood, a church transformed.
God help us see what you see, make the invisible visible.