many of you know that when i describe the refuge i use words like “messy, chaotic, honest, uncomfortable, unpredictable.” it is so funny to me, looking back on the past 3 ½ years how the world that i came from was completely different. on mega-church staff we used words like “focused, distraction-free, inspiring, dark-so-you-don’t-have-to-see-the-person-next-to-you, comfortable.” this past weekend at the refuge we had all of our kiddos with us upstairs; my friends facilitated the gathering in the same basic format as the downstairs kids gathering. there were bright lights, running around, coloring, games, snacks, and an incredible amount of chaos and creativity. i kept chuckling thinking about the words “distraction-free-environment”and how in some of my old experiences if a parent brought their kid into service and they made any noise an usher would come in and politely escort them out to the children’s program. i am not saying i want to have every week look like this past saturday; too much distraction and chaos will not allow us to engage with God and each other in a meaningful way and that is one of the reasons why we gather each week. but i think we have a lot to learn from messy, chaotic, honest, uncomfortable, unpredictable community that we might not be taught in our current culture, not just in church but also the world.
subtly & directly many have become “addicted to inspiration.” i know i used to be. i remember leaving many a church service energized & filled up and thinking how amazing it was (and now i am pretty sure none of those inspirational moments translated into change in my real life). i have noticed that the new rage seems to be podcasts & a message everyone needs to somehow listen to. i am not saying this is all bad; we all need fuel for our journey. but i do think that often-times our addiction to inspiration shows up far beyond just a weekly church service. we sort of expect that the relationships we’re in, the groups we go to, the people & places we spend our time in will all somehow make us feel good, better, inspired, happy, encouraged. and when they don’t—when we somehow don’t get the high or hope we are looking for—we move on to try and find it somewhere else.
when i read the gospels, i see a lot of dissonance, tension, and confusion. people leaving certain interactions with Jesus scratching their heads. others feeling outraged. and yet others feeling tended to and valued. but one thing feels fairly clear to me—his message, his delivery, the end result of his time here on earth wasn’t very inspiring or feel-good. rather, he over and over pointed toward the upside down & counter-cultural ways of the kingdom of God where safe, comfortable, predictable, easy, and clear were not the right adjectives.
i think one of Jesus’ bottom lines was that the ways of love & sacrifice & justice & mercy will not come cheap or easy. relationships are usually not inspirational. they usually don’t leave us feeling super-de-dooper inspired & infused with cool, exciting energy like a powerful sermon and worship service seem to. sometimes they leave us feeling inadequate, angry, frustrated, confused, a little empty and tired. my guess is that Jesus understood this and that’s why what he was calling us to—love—was so much more difficult than any abiding-the-law-and-check-in-the-boxes-feeding-our-religiosity would ever be.
i am learning more than ever that real love hurts. receiving, giving love among broken, real people is brutally hard. relationships will be the hardest and in my opinion potentially one of the most spiritually transforming things we will ever participate in, but they require a cost that when we’re really honest we may not want to actually pay. let’s face it, deep down most of us are pain avoiders. i also believe “church” hasn’t on the whole done a great job of teaching & modeling this kind of intimate connection primarily because most church leaders aren’t usually measured on their healthy relationship skills but rather on their ability to inspire, build, strategize, and implement. i believe all of those A-list-church-planting-skills are possible without ever really having to be in deep, close, intimate, challenging, not-just-giving-but-also-receiving-love relationships. and as leaders, it’s pretty hard to take others where we are not willing to go.
i am not blaming this all on “leaders.” that is so unfair. i just think it’s a human condition we all have to fight against—an avoiding of closeness. i am as guilty of it as the next person. i’d much rather “do” than “be.” i’d much rather be with easy people who don’t require anything of me and constantly tell me i can do no wrong. but in reality, the place i have always learned the most, grown the most, been challenged the most has been in the dissonance of relationship. my life rubbed up against my friends and companions on the journey in all kinds of crazy ways. it is there that i am forced to reckon with why i am a judgmental, self-protective person. it is there that i notice my tendency to people-please and do anything i can to keep the world spinning ‘round. it is there i notice how difficult it is for me to receive mercy & grace & truth even though i’m great at dishing it out. it is there that i notice how i really hate it when people see my dark side up close and personal (i don’t mind talking about it, but letting people actually see it in action, now that’s another thing all together.)
and as much as i am thankful for it, part of me hates learning about love. and now, i realize, i’m in too deep. i am no longer addicted to inspiration. i’ve completely lost my taste for it & just can’t stomach it anymore. but i readily admit that even when i rag on people still seeking the high, i also am a little jealous. damn, it’s easier. go get a little fix, a temporary high, a God-infusion, and then go home. sometimes it really sounds tempting. but here i am in the midst of all this relationship—everywhere i look! it is beautiful beyond belief but far harder than i ever expected. sacrificial love—a giving of myself—requires more of me than sometimes i want to give. i wonder if that’s a small piece of what Jesus was saying about love—there’s no greater love than he would lay down his life for his friends (john 15). when i give a piece of my heart, my life, to another person i am sacrificing myself. this kind of sacrifice is foreign & goes against all the things the world tells us about independence & self reliance & taking care of ourselves & doing-whatever-it-takes-to-feel-good.
these kinds of incarnational sacrificial relationships will tax us, stretch us, move us, transform us, and through them i think we will:
have to give as much as we get. sitting passively, getting inspired, we get without having to ever give (other than maybe writing a check). in relationship that just won’t work. other people have always been jealous of certain groups & relationships i have been part of, and i get a little defensive in response “do you know how much we have all invested to nurture this? how much blood & guts & time is on the floor? this didn’t just magically happen by sitting on my butt waiting for it to come to me!”
be faced with our tendency to bolt & make excuses. most of us suck at the long haul. and we’re even worse at conflict. we are just as bad at living in the tension of not getting all of our needs met all the time (think how many leave churches, groups, because they don’t have the right kinds of programs, speaker, time of the night, you name it). i admit, sometimes i dream of getting in my imaginary red convertible and driving away, never to return. but then i wake up and remember “oh, that’s right, wherever i go, there i am.” yeah, we’ll just bring all of our “stuff” to the next place we go.
have to “need”. maybe this is the hardest part. with all this talk of missional, i think there are so many who are excited to serve, give, “be needed,” but the other side of the coin—“to need”—sometimes gets overlooked. parts of the body need each other. i hate needing. i love being needed. in real relationship, both must exist.
strain to notice God’s work in the midst. what’s God saying, doing? what keeps getting stirred up? what part of our character is being challenged? what are we learning about God, ourselves, other people through these relationships? i think this is the biggest blessing of real relationship; seeing God at work in us and through us.
i am trying to learn some of these things in different ways, to different degrees. i consider real community a little like “Jesus school”, the place i can learn to love and be loved. and like most schools, it’s not always fun and games but a lot of hard work & challenge. anyone read the beatitudes lately? not a piece-of-cake assignment! there are definitely times i want to drop out, but i know down deep the things i’m learning here go far beyond the confines of the refuge. it is teaching me, strengthening me, growing me in my relationship with God, myself, others in ways i sometimes can’t even put my finger on. and yes, there’s no doubt, Jesus school isn’t the most inspiring school in town. in this school they work our tails off and don’t let us just sit and listen. we actually have to participate and give our hearts, our selves, to other grownups and kids in a very intentional way. we may not get a fix or a high, but we do get to be part of the beauty & hope of real people learning the ways of Love. and even though i know i’ll be bugged, irritated, and frustrated with the work, i know this upcoming school year will be filled with new friends, old friends, and a helluva lot of incredible learning.
- what are you learning these days in “Jesus school”, whatever that looks like for you?