Do you need to read this blog post because I am going to offer you some bit of info that makes your life better? Maybe. You’ll be better off if you read it for love.
I want to read your blog post for love. I’d rather you read mine because you love me — or at least you would like to. I would rather read your post because I want to know you, or at least know of you: your gifts, your wisdom, your part in the community we share, whether face to face or just as members of humanity. I don’t think you are an info machine regurgitating data you have effectively evaluated and reconstituted and I am surely not that.
Two things happened last week that made me think many of my friends are overly influenced by two mutually detrimental experiences: their social science teachers and their evangelical preachers. It makes them treat people as if they are data and data sources. Before I tell you about that, I can probably sum up my reaction to my experiences with the Brian Wilson song that came to my mind as I pondered my discomfort. What we need is love and mercy, not another teaching that tells us we’ve got it all wrong or another preaching that tells us we can never get it right.
I loved seeing Brian Wilson sing this at the Tower Theater!
Do we really have it all wrong?
We took a survey of the people who came to our church planting summit last week. They had a LOT of wise things to say off the top of their heads that I will be pondering (and helping us to incorporate) for a long time.
But there was an interesting streak that a few responders added to the mix. It bothered me. They apparently looked around the room and quickly sized us up according to the ideal church/social group they thought we ought to be. They asked things like, “Why are we so much this and not enough that?” and “Where is the data that proves what you are saying?” Even though we have a proverb that enjoins people to resist “bean counting” they applied a mentality that is very common these days. Aren’t most things reduced to, “What does it cost?” or “What don’t we have enough of?” Apply that mentality to a social group, like the church, and it is “Who is underrepresented” or “What is missing?” I often say the mentality leads us to eating the holes in the Swiss cheese.
I’m not saying facing facts is irrelevant. I think Jesus-followers should be the people most able to face the harsh truth about themselves and their group. So bring on any truth that statistics and spreadsheets can tell! But let’s also admit that figures lie and liars figure. And even when they tell the truth, their truth is never deep enough. The great truth we know as Jesus followers is that the facts which prove how worthy we are of condemnation are not the facts we live by. Jesus looks at us like a mother getting the first glimpse of her newborn, or a father looking down the road and seeing a figure who looks like his son coming home. We could not possibly have it all wrong, being so loved. Even if nothing is working out, love and mercy are working out.
Are we really never going to get it right?
The next night I sat under the teaching of the spectacularly-talented Gungor family. I appreciated the depth and variety of their music. I was also very interested in their fan base, who seemed happy to get a chance to ask them personal questions.
From what I can tell, they are refugees from Evangelicalism, but they haven’t completely lost touch with their homeland. As a person who never quite got into the Evangelical fold, it is usually hard for me to describe what I think about it until I run into it again, like I did with Gungor. Their music was all about light and connecting with God, but at the same time it was deeply intellectual and bent on making a point. When they started talking, it became even clearer that their view of us was as unrealized projects who need to conform to ways we have yet to perfect. We haven’t got it right yet and we never will.
Like Michael and Lisa, God’s leadership motivates me to grow and change. We are travelling onward. So bring on your expanded vistas and the hope of eternity! I think they were trying to bring that. But there was also this other streak. Like when Lisa said her new revelation of late was “If we’re not all free, none of us are free.” That is a great word to the powers that be as they insist that Americans are free because of the society’s goodness and power, when they are not. But the impossible dream of waiting for Christians to take over the world and make democracy and capitalism (or anything) work is the kind of thing Evangelicals hope for that make everyone in the meeting get the idea that there is endless toil to complete.
In a similar vein, when a young man asked about how to make an album, Michael told him, among other things, to “Follow what is in you.” Given more time, he might have told him to “Follow Jesus, who is in you.” But, as it is, the young man got the word to assess what is in himself and follow it to success, or to not care about success and be content with whatever is in him – be yourself. That’s a good word to a young man who sees Gungor and can’t feel good until he is Gungor, but it is also and invitation to “Be that perfect you and you’ll be happy.”
When the New Testament writers tell us our hearts are deceitful and assure us God is greater than our hearts, I don’t think they are merely calling me to change everyone’s heart or follow my heart, in the sense that life is an endless project I need to get right. The “burnt out evangelicals” I promise to never disparage again (since most of the people at the summit said they could wear that description!) have been pushing such a rock up the hill long enough. The work makes them feel like crap and the only solution they are given is work harder and like it! Our good works do not make us good people. We can get it right because Jesus got it right for us. It is not going to get any better than that because we somehow out-save Jesus. It is already done. Love and mercy is where we live.
We’re already more than the moral to the story
I don’t know every bean-counter and evangelical on the planet, so whatever stereotype I concoct is just that: a concoction. I’d rather love people than relate to them as a concoction I should assess or exhort. So I am pondering how to end this post. These days little stories, like I have just told, are commodities people consume and store in data bases, if they “like” them. If they are Evangelicals their story is a new way to preach and every story has a moral. In both cases, bean counter or evangelical, the story is rarely about us as we are, it is always about who we should be or who we aren’t yet.
I can face who I should be and who I am not — I live in love and mercy, after all! But I surely need to be careful or I will become an aspiration, never to be realized, rather than a person in Christ who has aspirations. I am not sure it is even safe to look into eternity if you are not securely by the Lord’s side while you are doing it!
So see if this works for you. When Jesus says “Before Abraham was born, I am!” in John 8, I don’t think he was assessing himself honestly or making a point, or even telling a story. I think he was being vulnerable, being himself. In a similar way, I think we can say, “We are who we are” and rest in that, even though we know there is more to do and a long road ahead. Even the most ambitious man in the Bible, the Apostle Paul, says, “I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself” – basically, “I am who I am.“
We live in the love and mercy of God. That’s who we are and that’s the essence of what we bring to the meeting or the concert. We are not the facts, or the work, or the moral to the story. Facts, work and morals are all great. But who can live under the weight of them? Who wants to be judged by them? Even now, when you are at the end of what I have said, can I live under your assessment or can you live under whatever judgment you have strained out of what I have written? Probably not. So listen to Brian again and end up in love and mercy, instead. Be in the church too and let it be: we are who we are, and whatever we become will be a gift of love and mercy.
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