Archive for July, 2011
The summer is off to a great start! You’ve already gotten burned to a crisp by the sun, swam in nice clean pools and disgusting lakes or oceans and generally allowed yourself at least a few moments of relaxation. You’ve grilled meat, worn flip-flops and weeded the flower beds. Yes, everything is going great…until you make a grave mistake.
You see, summertime is that time of year when people actually venture outside – you know, into that green carpet-looking stuff around your house. And, inevitably, one day you’ll be out in your green stuff and your neighbor will also be out in his/her green stuff and you’ll make eye contact. Now, the sensible thing to do would be to close your eyes, run inside, pull all the shades and pretend you’re not home. But you’re not a sensible sort of person, so you acknowledge the guy who lives 10 feet from you and ease your way into a conversation.
You know the kind of conversation I’m talking about: “Hey.” “Hey.” “Hot out!” “Yeah.” If you’re lucky, the interaction doesn’t stray far beyond the known facts of temperature and season, but for those less fortunate, you might find yourself with a “talker” on your hands. The problem with the talker is that they tend to draw stuff out of you that you would never share voluntarily. You find yourself talking about your kids, your spouse, your 3rd job out of high school. And then, out of sheer desperation (perhaps to make them go away or to find some excuse for jumping in your car and speeding off) you mention “your church.”
Your church. Not “a church” or “the church down the street,” but your church – a phrase that indicates that you go there on a regular basis. You’ve let the cat out of the bag. This person who, despite your geographical nearness, knows almost nothing about you suddenly knows that you go to church! Now, everything has changed. Suddenly, you think back to that nasty letter you wrote to the home owner’s association about your property line. You think about the trash that sticks out of your trash can and what it says about the activities of your weekend. You think about some of the things you’ve yelled out the back door to get your dog stop eating his own poop.
Yes, all of those somewhat trivial matters come flooding into your brain now that you have identified yourself as one of “those church people.” So, what are you to do? You’ve told your neighbor you go to church…now what?
Well, for those of us who believe that you don’t have to be perfect in order for God to love you, the answer is simple. You be yourself. You see, though we need to hold ourselves to a high moral standard, when we lose the artificial expectations of what “church people” are supposed to be, we allow ourselves considerable freedom to be what followers of Jesus are supposed to be. Suddenly, we can open up our lives in ways that we may not have ever done before. Our love of people and our authenticity begin to shine through. In short, we become “real.”
In doing so, we find that our neighbor has an annoying, poop-eating dog, too. We also find out that he has an affinity for craft beers, can’t stand the home owners association and, by the way, always thought church was full of goodie-goodie, finger waggers. “Nah, if my church will take me, they’ll take anybody,” you find yourself saying, followed by nervous laughter. And maybe the conversation ends there. Maybe you never talk to that neighbor again, or maybe you become lifelong friends. Whatever the case, you’ve told him you go to church and he’s watching you – not for what you’re doing wrong (the other “believers” on your street will take care of that) but for what you’re doing that makes you and your family like him and his family.
He may even say to you one day, “You seem like a pretty normal guy, but you go to church, right?” Or, even better, “I don’t know too many church people like you.” Great! That is, if you’re here to rewrite the landscape of what it means to follow Jesus. You see, we’ve got centuries of erasing to do before we can get anywhere close to restoring the vision of Jesus for the Church. And so, if my neighbor thinks I seem different from his perception of other church people, we’re moving in the right direction. And, if I’m enough like him that he could see himself checking out my church one day, even better.