I’ve been on a journey the last few months that really started for me at an event called Men at the Cross (crossmg.org/matc.php) It’s been a predominant theme in a lot of my thoughts and interactions with people since then, and today a friend of mine posted a TED talk on facebook that just reinforces it all.
I’ve always been taught that true community only comes when people are open with one another. Light-hearted expressions like “nudity builds community” have been tossed out and hopes of “authentic community” have been expressed by participants of various groups in which I’ve been a part. But it wasn’t until the weekend at Men at the Cross where I really experienced how quickly and easily true community can be created when people are given a safe place where they can have the courage to be vulnerable.
Brown doesn’t go into a lot about where this shame and fear come from or why everyone experiences it. How sad that the scientific community is no longer allowed to use ideas like ‘sin’ because it, more than any other theory, completely explains the feeling of not “measuring up” that is universal to humankind.
The answer to this issue that Brown comes up with is for people to “believe” that they are worthy of love and connection. But she doesn’t really give any concrete evidence about why we should believe that. Naturalism doesn’t give any evidence for it, in fact it gives just the opposite: that eventually those people who fail to have this mentality actually aren’t worthy of it and will just get bred out of existence. But religion does give evidence for why we humans are worthy of love, and I believe Jesus gave the most succinct evidence when he said, For God so loved the world that He gave is only son. We are worthy of love because God loves us.
In fact, no other worldview fits the reality that we see around us as well as does the one that says we are all broken individuals who cannot experiencing the abundant life we were meant for until we recognize that we are worthy of it simply because God loves us.
Roles play a huge part in the way that I interact with other people. I see every relationship I have in terms of the respective role that I play in that relationship. With my manager, I am the employee interacting with the boss. With my sister, I am the big brother. With my parents, I am the son and the eldest child.
And with each role, there is an nebulous set of rules that guide how I act in each of those relationships. As an employee, I do my best to do everything that my boss asks me to do, taking orders with a smile and providing feedback when asked for it. As a big brother I am supposed to be supportive and protective of my sister. I’m not at all theatrical unless I’m in the role of an actor.
It is what allows me to be totally mellow and go-with-the flow when I’m not in charge, and completely focused and driven when put into a leadership role. I am equally at ease being the center of attention on a theater stage and completely anonymous at a party. But all of these norms that allow me to thrive in a variety of situations is a double edged sword.
A Toll is a Toll…
These roles are how I have learned to function socially and any time those roles are mixed or confused, I don’t know how to respond. I’m out of the house now and all of a sudden my parents are also people who want me as a friend. There is the possibility that girls who I have been friends with for a while could become romantic interests. I feel like these things are a normal part of human experience, but for me, the lines don’t blur easily and the “rules of engagement” that development in my interactions hold me back from behaviors that don’t fit the roles I play in my relationships.
If it Don’t Take no Toll, Then I Don’t Have no Role…
I usually don’t make a post like this unless I have some idea-ribbon to tie it all together and make a neat little package, but this is something I’ve grown up with and some insightful comment isn’t going to suddenly change my perspective. And while it can cause me to feel trapped or alone at times, it is the only framework I have for interacting with people. But I guess knowing is half the battle and by recognizing occasions when my behavior norms are holding me back from something I can take chances to step out of those norms.
There’s a power in poverty that breaks principalities;
that brings the authorities down to their knees.
There’s a brewing frustration and ageless temptation
to fight for control by some manipulation.
But the God of the Kingdoms and God of the Nations,
the God of Creation sends this revelation
to the homeless and penniless: Jesus, the Son!
The Poor will inherit the Kingdom to Come!
Where will we turn when our world falls apart
and all of the treasures we’ve stored in our barns
can’t buy the Kingdom of God?
And who will we praise when we’ve praised all our lives
men who build kingdoms and men who build fame
when Heaven does not know their names?
And what will we fear when all that remains
is God on the throne with a child in His arms
And love in His eyes,
and the sound of His heartcries?
I’ve been re-re-reading Crazy Love and Chan mentions a question that one of his professors in college would ask: “What are you doing today that requires faith?” That question resonated with me because honestly, there isn’t anything going on in my life right now that requires me to have faith. I have a steady income, good health insurance, a grocery store down the street, and the biggest anxiety I face is if it’s going to be good hiking weather this weekend.
I live in a bubble where there isn’t room for faith. Faith is risky and it’s so much easier to settle into security, comfort, and status quo. We congratulate ourselves for not being like those silly Israelites who went around worshipping wood and gold statues immediately after witnessing God’s work in their midst, but how quickly do we lay our offerings at the feet of Retirement Plan and worship Flat Panel Screen?
What would it look like for an American Christian to truly live in a way that required faith? My mind goes first to money because we are filthy, stinking rich, but there are certainly other things that require faith of us. It takes faith to step into situations where you could be in trouble if God doesn’t come through. That could mean standing for justice at my job or speaking truth that might cause me to lose relationships. But mostly it’s about money, because that is what we have faith in in this country.
In college, the a cappella group that I was in often had a booth on our quad to publicize various auditions and concert events and I spent a lot of time manning that booth. This usually meant sitting for an hour or two at the table waiting for the occasional passerby to take notice and come up to ask a question or get a ticket. That is, unless we happened to be placed in a booth next to the one that the Mormons were using.
I dreaded sitting on those days, because I knew they would want to talk to me. I dreaded it because in everything they said, I felt like they were positioning themselves to share their beliefs with me, even if it was the most innocuous “Hi, how are you.” This always put me on the defensive because I didn’t want to hear their beliefs. I didn’t want them trying to convert me, and yet here I was publicizing a singing group whose sole agenda was to share the love of Christ to the campus.
I don’t bring up spiritual things with people because I am afraid of being like those Mormons. I’m afraid that people will react to me the same way that I react to people of other faiths who try to share their beliefs with me: by clamming up and going on the defensive. I don’t want to share my faith because I don’t like other people sharing their faith’s with me.
It’s not that I’m afraid that they may be able to ‘convert’ me or ‘defeat’ me in some way. I’m very confident in what I believe. The trouble is, I have a sense that other people are just as secure in their beliefs, so trying to talk about them in a persuasive manner is an exercise in futility. Why should I bring up a topic like faith with someone who is as set in their own ways as I am in mine?
Perhaps the issue is how much emphasis I place on persuasive speech. If my faith were as much a part of me as, say, my love of snowboarding, why should talking about my beliefs with other people be any different than talking about the gnarly slopes I hit last weekend? Any time faith or beliefs comes up in conversation, my mind immediately jumps into ‘debate mode’ (which is sad, because I’m kind of terrible at debate and I know it so ‘debate mode’ really turns into, ‘say nothing of significance so I don’t mess up other people’s witness in the future mode’). Perhaps I need to train myself to not jump into that thinking and instead just talk about my experience of faith. I could take a lesson from Paul about staying away from subtle argument and persuasive speech and leaving room for the Holy Spirit to work, because He’ll do a much better job of it than I ever could.