I had a couple of moments last week when I realized I was acting out of an assumption that was just not warranted. I presumed there was a mutually understood “we” my fellow believer and I lived in — but it just was not there. I am trying to talk more about my assumptions rather than just bump into the reality that they are not shared – and feeling bruised. If you are still alone in the crowd, I hope you will enlighten me.
I have always lived in the church. As a child I somehow got the impression that I ought to be “one of those people.” When I went to college I ended up quite consciously living in community with other believers — by the time I was a senior it was eight guys living in side-by-side apartments holding a Bible study for 70+ people every Monday. By the time I was 26, or so, I was living in an intentional community based on Acts 2 that included up to 20 people at a time for over eight years. As God focused my gifts toward forming and leading congregations, I continued to find my identity as part of a missional community animated by life in Jesus.
So sometimes I can be slow on the uptake or kind of flabbergasted when I meet up with Christians, especially people trying to lead me, who don’t run in the deep ruts of my instincts. For instance:
1) I can torment some of our Cell Leaders and the staff because they don’t really know much about building a team. I forget sometimes that a lot of people just wear themselves out doing jobs for Jesus because no matter how much it is said, they still don’t see themselves as part of a body — they are interchangeable parts of some abstract process. Especially if they can see the “big picture” of what the church is all about, a lot of leaders will feel that the whole job is theirs to complete, alone – so they get overwhelmed pretty fast and expect sympathy. They aren’t on God’s team (the One who does most of the work and has lots of sympathy); and they don’t presume that we’re all in this together — so they proceed to do it all by themselves. It is nice that they own the mission; it is just strange that they think the job belongs to them. They don’t work out of a team, and they don’t think to form one to get things done – they are struggling just to be a part of a “we” at all!
2) I can be a pain because I have a pain when the Brethren in Christ leaders are holding forth. The other day at our Regional Conference, our dear, new bishop got up to introduce the “business” section of the agenda and confused me again with an attitude that has been prevalent among my denominational leaders for quite a while, now. The first thing he started with was a funny/sarcastic/endearing remark, something like, “Now we are going to get to what we are all looking forward to” (wink). We were going to hear the reports about our mutual mission and make any decisions we had to make as the delegates from the churches who make up the conference – the “we” of the Atlantic Region of the BIC. As usual, I and several of the Circle of Hope crew, didn’t really understand why this was supposed to be so boring or distasteful, since inclusion in the process, making mutual decisions and being the “we” of the BIC was the only reason we drove two hours from Philadelphia. The leaders dispensed with the most interesting and dignifying thing we had to do as quickly as possible, and made it pretty plain that causing any dialogue about it was relatively out of order, since no one wanted to do it, anyway. Circle of Hope’s polity is so focused around dialogue, and lots of it, that I was hard-pressed to explain how we think our process is connected to the BIC at all.
3) I can get frustrated and be frustrating when people committed to being the total integers produced by U.S. political and educational philosophy try to relate to me. For instance, I’ve been doing a lot of personal pondering about why sexual morality is so irrelevant to quite a few of my believing friends these days. I think part of it is because their faith has no context. The “drank the kool-aid” of the propagandists who say that sexuality is just about what feels good to us in the moment; it is an impulse that doesn’t even need a relationship, much less is it anyone else’s business in the family or the church. Their faith is purely personal/private/theoretical – it can be aided by “church offerings,” but being the church is not crucial to having it. So all the parts of the New Testament in which leaders are trying to form a group identity and protect it are relegated to second-tier thoughts, if they are entertained at all. Some of my friends are so alone, they ease into a one-to-one “we” by hooking up with strangers while drunk, having a relationship with someone in another state, or relating virtually. Should they cohabit with an unbeliever in the same city, it might be considered progress; if there is love involved, that is deep. They have capabilities I am trying to figure out. I got married; I had children of my own eight years after I left my parents, I stayed married. So sometimes I have to ask people to translate and explain a lot about what they are doing and why.
I hope I am not just damning people because they aren’t like me – the original sin of postmodernity. But I am wondering if I am right enough about Jesus to justify the problems I have and be the problem I am.