Crash

I have a friend who is going to jail. Actually he’s likely going to prison but he’s in jail right now. I took him there last Thursday afternoon. It’s an awkward thing to drop someone off at the jailhouse so they can be locked away behind layers and layers of bars and doors. Especially because dropping someone off at the jail means one has to drive away and go back to living life. Self-conscious and sweating we drove around the county trying to find our sordid destination. We were lost because it seems directions to the jail are not something they worry about getting right on their unbelievably obtuse jail website. Were it a party or a retail establishment we would have surely given up and driven my old Nissan Maxima, whose air conditioning long since crapped out, to a McDonalds for some cheese flavored fat and a post dinner smoke. But not on this day. This day we were stuck driving down dirt roads in rural Kansas until we finally found the place and my friend turned himself in.

My friend, who is incidentally a really good guy, got in a lot of trouble and it seems as though this is one of those dreadful situations through which several whole lives are dragged through the muck and mire. As the dust begins to settle on this very human and dark circumstance, I find myself struggling to make sense of the way we live our lives. What my friend did, which is awful enough, isn’t the point of what I’m writing here today. What’s going to happen to him, equally awful, isn’t either. But I think there’s something about watching the carnage on the side of the road after somebody totally wrecks their own life which forces us to reach down and check to see that our seatbelt is on tight. Nobody can resist a good crash. I’m no exception.

Anytime something such as this happens to a person such as my friend, especially a religious person, others will say things like “we’re all broken people,” or “there but by the grace of God go I.” I guess those things are true enough, but something about them just pisses me off. What is it that causes one to flirt with the fringes of social behavior and delve into the depths of human depravity? What allows one to live a normal life on the surface and a completely dark and twisted private one where nobody can see? What is the volatile mixture of fuel and oxygen which allows a tiny spark to ignite a firestorm which consumes whole lives, relationships and families? I want to know what it is so I can stay away from it. I want to know what it is so that I can teach my children how to stay away from it.

I haven’t made complete sense of it all yet, but it occurs to me that there are a couple of different realities at work in our culture, which when combined in a careless fashion can create quite a lot of destructive horse power. The first is hard to nail down, because it seems a mixture of several things, but for the most part I’d term it the big lie. This is, in large part, an American lie which is told to us when we are very young. We are taught to believe it and soon enough we’re teaching our children and grandchildren the same untruth. This lie is the ontological landmine which plagues most if not all Americans who unknowingly buy-into the idea that essentially, we are what we can produce and consume. We teach our young what it means to be a “productive member of society.” Sadly but routinely, we measure the worth of individuals according to how much income they can generate and how conspicuously they can spend it.

This tremendous pressure in our culture to succeed, advance, become upwardly mobile, to live a certain kind of life which promises some sort of meaning for us bears down on us like gravity. It plays out in our relationships, families, careers, body image, faith, self-esteem, art, music and virtually every area of our lives. This heaviness elicits an unusual amount of social anxiety. Social pressures form in us an idea of what a successful life might look like. We adopt that idea or ideal, sometimes with little or no questions, and then begin to try to conform to it. We try to be whatever it is we’ve been told to be by the big lie. Living up to that ideal carries with it a natural amount of anxiety – this is an inescapable thing if you’ve bought into the big lie.

The second reality is something like isolation – I like the term “margins.” Margins are the buffers we put in place between our core-self (our innermost being – the self only known to self and maybe one or two intimate friends), and those we encounter in social space. Margins are how we often deal with the social anxiety we all experience as we continue to struggle to move our little quarterly report arrow up and to the right. We can’t do it so we escape into the margins. Some margins are good, but the big lie carries so much pressure that we often resort to forming larger and larger margins in our lives. We hide in them. We grow them like a garden in which we can conceal our nakedness.

One of the most amazing things about American suburban culture is this relentless drive to widen these margins. Something about a two-lane highway just makes a guy from the suburbs nervous. We prefer six to eight lane autobahns. We build our houses just a little farther apart. We commute in cars by ourselves. We have self-contained neighborhoods within our own homes. Internet communities, online shopping, hundreds of channels of digital cable with HD pay-per-view movies, concerts and sporting events make it possible to amuse ourselves and have pseudo-social connections at a reasonable distance. We can create identity within these margins and it doesn’t even have to be real. We can conjure up the sensation that we are living the American ideal without ever really living it.

Margins are like jails. We are driven there not in our Nissan Maximas but the big lie takes us and kicks us to the curb at the front door. We think we are creating space in which we can have our own lives, or be who we really think ourselves to be. But, in the end, margins keep us from the kind of transparent, intimate relationships which serve to keep us on a path of continual growth and health. Margins render us incapable of true intimacy and community. If you combine the tremendous social pressures involved in the big lie with an almost infinite ability to create margins, someone’s going to get in trouble.

My dad taught me how to shoot a shot-gun while I was just a grade school boy. I remember being frightened of the report, but even more so by the kick of the little twenty-gauge break action single shot Smith & Wesson. The kick is the force of the re-coil brought to bear on the shoulder when the ammunition is released. Even on a little gun the kick can be surprisingly strong. My dad taught me that you won’t really feel the kick if you press the stock tightly against your shoulder. There it feels like a push, but hold it out even an inch or so and your shoulder is going to be turning black and blue.

Make a fist and hold it twelve inches away from your thigh and then punch your thigh as hard as you can. It hurts. Now make a fist and hold your knuckles right up against your thigh and try to punch. It doesn’t hurt, it doesn’t even work. If you really want a lesson in the difference try this exercise with concrete or hardwood. You can’t punch something without a margin between the fist and the target. The danger is in the margins.

One of my favorite passages of prose in the entire world was written by Deitrich Bonhoeffer in his book “Life Together.” He wrote:

“He who is alone with his sin is utterly alone. It may be that Christians, notwithstanding corporate worship, common prayer and all their fellowship in service may still be left to their aloneness. The final breakthrough to fellowship does not occur because, although they have fellowship with one another as believers and as devout people, they do not have fellowship as the undevout, as sinners. The pious fellowship permits no one to be a sinner. So everyone must conceal his sin from himself and from the community. We dare not be sinners. Many Christians are unthinkably horrified when a real sinner is suddenly discovered among the righteous. So we remain alone with our sin, living in lies and hypocrisy. The fact is that we are all sinners!”

I cannot help but think it was easier for Abraham and his buddies, hanging out beneath the stars, dreaming up a future for the people of God by the warmth of their fire. There was just no hiding when the tents were made of animal hides and the neighbor could hear every word said in anger. Human brokenness was all to manifest in the everyday and there was neither the ability nor the intense pressure to hide it.

I’m looking for a fellowship of the undevout. I’m looking for a smaller margin. While I do not know if God is ultimately concerned if we have a personal relationship with God’s self, I’m certain that relationships with other people are inescapably part of the plan. Perhaps in drawing near to each other we will find ourselves drawing near to God. Like it or not, we do not suffer from the human condition, we are the human condition. We are to one another both the wound and the elixir; we live it we breathe it and we will one day die with it and it’s scent will remain in our noses. It is what is making us crash into each other. The big lie is a flawed narrative. It cannot tell us who we are. But it can hold incredible power over us when coupled with our new found ability to create margins around our lives.

I’m thinking of my friend tonight. I’m thinking of the wide margin between him and anything normal right now. I feel scared for him. I feel scared for me, for all of us. God help us to reject the big lie and to pull up close to each other along the road. God help us to erase the margins we create to make ourselves feel normal. Let us make a connection based on the truth about the way we are, not a carefully crafted illusion. God let us begin to relate to one another in oneness as it is with you, Father, Son and Spirit, and keep us safe from the crashing sounds.

About Tim Suttle

Tim Suttle is a pastor, writer, and musician. He is the author of several books: Shrink: Faithful Ministry in a Church Growth Culture (Zondervan 2014), Public Jesus (The House Studio, 2012), and An Evangelical Social Gospel? (Cascade Books, 2011). Tim's work has been featured at The Huffington Post, The Washington Post, Sojourners, and other magazines and journals. Tim is also the founder and front-man of the popular Christian band Satellite Soul, with whom he toured for nearly a decade. He has planted three successful churches over the past 13 years and is the Senior Pastor of Redemption Church in Olathe, Kan. Tim's blog, Paperback Theology, is hosted at Patheos.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13128303391144284885 casey elizabeth

    Tim, this is just so eloquent and such a breath of fresh air for me. I fear that the vast majority of my brothers and sisters in Christ are so crippled and so blinded by this big lie. I fear that I am accepting and buying into this lifestyle more and more everyday, with every “Oh, how am I? Great! Awesome!” that I flippantly toss out. I am fueling this lie in my life and the life of those around me with this dishonest behavior. Truth is both beautiful and ugly. Truth can be vulgar. Why do we work so hard at concealing it? Who in our midst will be the first brave enough to say, “I’m struggling. I’m falling and fallen. I don’t have it altogether”?

    I have been enjoying the company of Dorothy Sayers, Annie Dillard, and Joseph Pieper lately. All three discuss the dangers of reinforcing a culture which values income over the work we do in and of itself. It is that pressure to make more than enough and have more than enough which prevents us from having a complete life…umm and by that I mean a life in which we don’t work in order to make enough to have time to live, rather work is life, it is joy, it is what we were made to do. Another side effect of the “work 8 hours in order to live later” mentality comes our inclination to put on our smiley faces and best behavior for God on Sundays, and save our sadness and brokenness for a journal or the darkest places of our heart and mind when we are alone later. We all live these partial lives with no consistency. But, we find that we can’t keep up with the roles we play at this place and that. We slip. We crash and that accident starts this ripple effect that hits every single part of our compartmentalized life, whether we like it or not.

    Then we see we aren’t nor ever were we in control. Then we see how far we’ve gone down the wrong path. Then we hear the quiet emptiness of a soul tired from striving, when all along it is/was Christ who wanted/wants to work in us and through us with His power and His plan.

    wow. scattered thoughts for you. thanks for the inspiration Tim.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10974397437648079481 Tim Suttle

    Hey Casey,

    Thanks for the comment. I’m intrigued by your forays into Dillard, Sayers & Pieper. In fact, I’m working on a talk on materialism/consumerism which I have to give in about a month and it would be really great to have some of their thoughts. So, give me the scoop. What stuff are you reading exactly? Give me some details. Maybe you could take some time and post some extended paragraphs & let me know what they are saying & where I can read more. BTW, not that it matters, but in my humble opinion you are picking some great folks to read right now!

    Peace…

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00225021464704425050 !jon

    First thing: Wow.

    Second thing: When you first mentioned The Big Lie, I almost stopped reading. I honestly was afraid of what you might say next. Then I thought I was probably safe–you probably weren’t going to talk about capitalism & identity. But dammit you did talk about it!

    This is something I’ve REALLY been wrestling through lately. I love my business. We’re still figuring out how to make more than $4.50 per project, but every day I’m dreaming, planning, scheming on how to build that darn business. It’s my life right now. And I’m happy about that. And I think I can succeed. But to what end? There’s a big part of me that wants to succeed; that wants the cash and reputation that go with that success. But, again, to what end? And aren’t I seen as a loser if I don’t do anything big and grand with my career?

    But for all that questioning, there is really a bottom line. Basically, what I can see in myself right now is this: If I’ve been told A Big Lie, really I’d just rather go on believing it.

    How’s that for margin, {expletive}?!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10974397437648079481 Tim Suttle

    I feel your angst, Jon. I’ve been thinking about this even more and so I’m just going to share some of my thoughts. I think your question “to what end?” is the key to the whole conversation.

    Part of what I’m trying to help us all to wrestle with is that some of what we uncritically accept as true about our lives via the enlightenment is just not the only way to view reality. We’ve sort of blindly accepted this classic liberalism; not the America “liberal” political wing, but classic liberalism. This philosophy is the “narrative” of modernity and it is now being rejected or at least held is suspicion by most of our society. I don’t think it’s such a bad thing.

    Classic liberalism would place priority on the individual as sovereign. Each person is an autonomous agent – lord of his/her domain and thus can resist external control. So the hallmark of liberalism is personal freedom. Free agents should not be controlled by a king/government, religion, or any institution. Religion is always very suspect because it tries to control what people do or think. The central idea of liberalism is the enlightenment ideal that man [sic] is the measure of all things. The goal of the enlightenment was the liberation of the individual from the tyranny of institutional control. Freedom and autonomy are their slogans. This is why Kant and Marx are such thoroughly enlightenment thinkers.

    But the French post-modern philosophers totally punched holes in this idea. They help us see that rational truth is not the only truth but there is truth which is found in narrative. They help us to see that all “knowing” comes to us in a certain context. In other words, even the enlightenment supremacy of “rational thinking” is mediated via a certain set of assumptions. Even the liberal supremacy of the modern self comes out of certain assumptions which are subjective in nature. What Derrida, Foucalt & Lyotard helped us see (Sorry I’m bringing these guys back in almost fully one year later) is that there is no such thing as fully objective knowing. All knowledge is subjective because it depends on a person who is a “knower” who lives in a certain time and place and context. What they think is true is very dependent upon context – it depends on a narrative that tells them about what truth is and how to identify and verify it. But modernity/liberalism refuses to acknowledge its own narrative. It makes claims about objectivity and then requires all other narratives (including Christianity) to submit to its criteria.

    Many of us unwittingly submit to a capitalistic/consumeristic narrative & in so doing – the narrative of classic liberalism. These post-modern thinkers help us to see that the result of the enlightenment project was really a tyranny of a different kind. They help us see that full on global consumer capitalism applies so much economic pressure to increase consumption, whether such consumption is needed or not, in order to sustain growth and profitability. When we are submitted to this system, we perpetuate it (I say we because I’m unable to escape this either). Each of us feels the push to consume and we depend on jobs which in turn depend on this culture of consumption. At some point it fully controls our identity. What begins to identify people is their function. “I’m a Lawyer” or “I’m a web designer” instead of one’s character or human qualities or even their close community.

    As a result, we buy into the myth that new stuff is better stuff. We buy into the myth that efficiency is more desirable than workable or doable. We buy into the myth that there is a technique or a science to solve every problem. We buy into the myth that we can exist apart from our intimate social connections when it is those things which define what it means to be human. The narrative of scripture tells us that freedom is a good thing, but not autonomy – at least not the autonomy of classic liberalism. And freedom, according to the teachings of Jesus, only comes by God’s grace and through mutual submission, dying to oneself in order to lay down our lives for our community of friends. Our call is to be subject to one another and to God, not to chase the dreams of a free and autonomous self, but the dreams of a sovereign savior who came for us and rescues us and calls us to be a “people,” not a group of persons.

    So we’ve come full circle to your question of “to what end?” Judge the system by the end which it has in mind. It’s not just consumerism which is hurting us, though I think it reduces people to economic animals whose end in mind is more and more production and consumption. Some systems reduce us to sexual animals, bent on instinctual satisfaction. Some systems try to mold us into violent creatures bent on destruction. What is wrong with all of those systems according to the scripture is that they are forming human beings into something God did not intend for us. God intends for us to become fully human – to be God’s image bearers. I’m hopeful that a rejection of classic liberalism and a more post-liberal epistemologies will actually open the door to a more robust conversation about the narrative of scripture and the people of God.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13128303391144284885 casey elizabeth

    Tim, you should get your hands on a copy of Sayers essay, “Why Work?” I will try and give you some key passages for now:

    “I have already, on a previous occasion, spoken at some length on the subject of Work and Vocation. What I urged then was a thoroughgoing revolution in our whole attitude to work. I asked that it should be looked upon-not as a necessary drudgery to be undergone for the purpose of making money, but as a way of life in which the nature of man should find its proper exercise and delight and so fulfill itself to the glory of God. That it should, in fact, be thought of as a creative activity undertaken for the love of the work itself; and that man, made in God’s image, should make thins, as God makes them, for the sake of doing well a thing that is well worth doing.”

    Sayers then goes into an at length discussion of the simplistic attitudes on consumerism at the time of producing this essay, one that no longer supports the purchasing of cheap stockings that we “threw away to save the trouble of mending” and so forth. She asks readers if, after the war, England or Western society for that matter, could possibly resist reverting back to the motto of consumerism over conservation. She puts it far better than I can.

    This she calls the “wartime habit of valuing work instead of money.”

    More straight from Sayers:

    “…work is not, primarily, a thing which one does to live, but the thing one lives to do. It is, or it should be, the full expression of the worker’s faculties, the thing in which he finds spiritual, mental, and bodily satisfaction, and the medium in which he offers himself to God.”

    “It is only when work has to be looked on as a means to gain that it becomes hateful; for then, instead of a friend, it becomes an enemy from tolls and contributions have to be extracted.”

    “The greatest insult which a commercial age has offered to the worker has been to rob him of all interest in the end product of the work and to force him to dedicate his life to making badly things which were not worth making.”

    Also…

    “Christian people, and particularly perhaps the Christian clergy, must get it firmly into their heads that when a man or woman is called to a particular job of secular work, that is as true vocation as though he or she were called to specifically religious work…he must be able to serve God in his work.”

    I hope that inspires/provokes in some way. It’s not so much about materialism.consumerism as it is on the topic of “work.” It could fit though…When are you giving this talk? I am going to have to hear this one!

    Also, one last recommendation for you to read at some point would be “On the Unseriousness of Human Affairs” by James V. Shall. Reading it last fall made me fall in love with essays and philosophy for the first time. Lots of golden nuggets to be enjoyed in its pages.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15065500839727028064 NJ

    Tim, incredible post, and seemingly timely for several people, including myself. I hear what you’re saying about the margins, but it almost seems easier to look at these items as buffers, because we use them as self-protective measures, even though they ultimately destroy. Or even little white lies that perpetuate the big lie. Whatever they are, they suck.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10974397437648079481 Tim Suttle

    Hey Nate,

    Yeah, buffers is a good word. I think you are exactly right that they are defense mechanisms in the modern parlance. However, we are not meant for hiding. It’s always interesting to me that in the creation/fall narrative the first reaction after the lapse was to sew some clothes together to hide the nakedness and then hide from God in the bushes.

    We hide from each other so much. It’s really a problem for Western Culture. It takes a lot of intentionality to come out of hiding. It’s why I just love the church so much. That is the role of the church, to pull everyone out of hiding and forge a life together that includes our brokenness and our goodness – the sacred and profane of human existence.

    Casey said it really well…”the truth can be vulgar.” I’ve been really chewing on that phrase lately because I’ve seen so much vulgar that I didn’t see coming. I’m OK with it, though. I’m not surprised by it. I guess I’m just surprised that people can stand to live with all that stuff hidden away, tucked behind their reasonable distance. I’m through with that idea. At least I’m trying to be through with it. God help me to be.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02289110643212600386 Scott Stone

    Tim, it seems if there are a few issues at hand in your post, separate yet related. The first dealing with the unfortunate situation that you find your friend in. My heart goes out to him and all the people in his life. I truly know what it is like to have someone close to you that just seems to find the fringe of life. I too ask the question, what is it that causes someone to intentionally drive themselves into a ditch. The answer of we are all broken people is way too obvious. It doesn’t advance the discussion at all. The unfortunate thing is that sometimes you can’t teach people to stay away from it. The fire is just to enticing to some. I have a son who will turn eighteen in 6 days. He’s been attracted to the fire all his life. He grew up in the church, has had great role models around him, yet the ditch unfortunately is just around the corner.

    The second issue has to do with “The big lie”. While I completely agree with your analysis of the big lie, I think there is more to it. The true big lie is that there is LIFE to be had outside of God. We try and replace all that is missing between us and God with other stuff. It just doesn’t work. Our view of work, career, success is based on the false the premise that more is better. This entire thing is so temporary.

    The last issue you mentioned seems to do with relationship. While I appreciate your point about drawing closer to each other I’ve been looking at it in the reverse order. The closer I can draw to Gad, the more my heart is aligned with him, out of that I draw closer to others. I’ve spent way to much time trying to be a good father, good husband, et al in the hope that I would be more Christ-like in character. I think out of me will come Christ-like character if I first draw closer to God. Just some thoughts. Thanks for the continued conversation.

  • gr

    I really, really liked Scott’s reformulation of “the big lie”…although I think there is common ground with Tim’s previous post on classic liberalism. In our particular age, the big lie is a perversion of classic liberalism called “personal fulfillment,” or the notion that we can, and should, have everything that our heart desires…largely as defined by commercial culture, of course: more money, more food, more sex, more youth, more adventure. Of course, the great contradiction is that we become more unfulfilled in our pursuit of ever deeper levels of fulfillment: the quest for personal fulfillment seems to end in stifling conformity and compulsive behavior.

    So what should the church do? To some people, this suggests the need for more definite rules and restrictions: the logic seems to be that if we turn the clock back to a “simpler time” all will be well. So, throw out the computer, TV, and rock music, put the women back in the kitchen and the gays back in the closet, and post the Ten Commandments on every street corner. Sounds simple enough. But I don’t think we can turn the clock back and pretend to not know what we know. Worse, this reactionary response just threatens to create an even bigger gap—or “margin” or “buffer”–between what we’re now supposed to be (i.e. some kind of pre-modern innocent) and who we really are.

    It seems to me like the role of the church is to help us use our freedom well, not to eliminate freedom. And I like Scott’s notion that freedom begins with the realization that we are created in God’s image (and certainly not in the images that fly across our TV and computer screens).

    I really love this blog. And I, too, would like to know when/where you are going to give your talk on this Tim. I’d like to hear it.

    Peace,
    Gary

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10974397437648079481 Tim Suttle

    Hey Scott,

    Thanks for the post. I hope your son can avoid the ditch. It’s really scary to think about. You wrote that the big lie also included this idea that there is LIFE to be had outside God. That is a really great observation and I’m enjoying thinking about that right now. I couldn’t agree more. In fact, much of what I’m trying to figure out is how to we live as fully participating members in our culture but live in counter-cultural ways. I’ve been studying this week and learning a lot about how one might be able to live in redemptive ways without accommodating culture or simply dropping out.

    Ok, man, you know I love you but I’m going to push your thinking a little bit and you can just see what you think. Don’t take this like I’m picking a fight, I’m just going to see if there is another way to look at things, because your last paragraph has got me thinking.

    Here’s a question for you: “what’s more important, your relationship to Christ or your relationship to the church?”

    It seems like you are advocating for a relationship with Christ first, and then let the relationship to the church flow from there, is that right? It sounds really good, but I want to push back against it a little, just for fun.

    I’m all for advocating that seeking a secret life with God is a good thing. Things like solitude, prayer, meditation, scripture reading are profitable for solitary individuals to do. I do them all on a regular basis. I think those are really good things and important parts of our faith. I’m totally into spiritual disciplines. But I think that those things are not the most important thing. I really think I have them in the right order. We identify with the Body of Christ first – any individual types of Christian activities must serve the body, not merely the individual. I don’t think aligning the heart to God can be something that happens by yourself…you and your bible alone – just me and Jesus.

    Here’s the way I look at it. I don’t believe there is much, if any, difference between drawing closer to each other and drawing closer to God. I believe drawing closer to each other is the primary way Christ prescribed for us to grow closer to God. Things like “they will know you are my disciples by your love,” or the high priestly prayer in John 17 or Christ’s appearance on the beach saying “Peter, do you love me? Feed my sheep,” tell us that Jesus intended the church to be the conduit for the growth of the Kingdom of God.

    I’m trying to rethink the individualized, privatized notions of religion that we’ve inherited from the reformation and the enlightenment. I want to push against the “individual” as the basic unit of being or the most important ontological category.

    Here’s what I really think: there is no such thing as Christianity apart from the church. The very introduction of any individual to the Christian faith must come through another believer or, usually, believers. It is through other members of the body we are baptized, receive communion, are discipled, held accountable, cared for, confronted, etc. It is with other members of the body that we share the love of God, the gospel message, care for the poor, fight injustice, take up the cause of the oppressed and live in light-shining, life-giving ways within our culture. Drawing near to God necessitates drawing near through Christ and the church is the body of Christ. Christianity is a team sport, not an individual sport. There are times that our training appears to be a little individualistic (prayer, meditation, solitude, etc.) But even those things are meant to build up the body of Christ – not simply to allow you to improve your connection to God. The individualistic notions almost always lead to some sort of “self-enhancement” view of Christianity which I think is truly dangerous.

    If we were to boil it down to the question: “what’s more important, your relationship to Christ or your relationship to the church.” I would really like to reject the categories and say “your relationship to Christ is in some very real sense bound up in your relationship to the church.” I think there are good theological reasons for this but the best one is a practical one. I’ve been doing ministry for almost 19 years now and I’ve just never seen anyone aligned with God without the church. In fact, when I see people who are followers of Christ decide that they want to distance themselves from God, the first thing they do is distance themselves from the church.

    I don’t believe that Jesus’ mission was to transform isolated individuals who are fitted for heaven. I think Jesus came to call into being a people of God, forgive them of their sinfulness, bind them together in his love and empower and inspire them as they creatively participate in God’s putting the world back together again. Not to get all purpose driven life on you, but I really believe “it’s not about me.” It’s not about what happens between me and Jesus – and I say that as a person who spends a significant part of most days alone with Jesus. But the real growth, work and alignment will come through my relationship to Christ that happens through, in and with the body of Christ or the church.

    Your turn!!

    Peace,

    -t

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10974397437648079481 Tim Suttle

    Gr,

    Thanks for the post. These concepts such as personal fulfillment, self-enhancement – they are really cancer for the church. You are so right about the futility of trying to turn back the clock. I can only say yes, yes, yes, that we must learn how to use the freedom found in Christ well – not attack the concept of freedom.

    I’ve been reading and writing all week about this and here is one of the things I’ve learned. When it comes to the proper response to this sort of culture, there are two ditches:

    Sectarianism: this is where you define Christianity in negative terms, (we don’t do this and this and this and we don’t consort with any people who do).

    Accomodation: this is where you bow to the whims of the culture. This involves taking the wisdom of the culture and dressing it up in Christian clothing and presenting it as God’s truth.

    I advocate for a third way which is to be fully participating/owning members of the culture – BUT, to live in counter-cultural ways as a community.

    If you want more than that, you’ll have to come to see me talk or I’ll try and blog about it later on. My talk is going to be at heartland community church at 83rd and Lamar in Overland Park, KS. I’m speaking at the Gathering service this Sunday night at 7pm. If you come out, make sure and say hello.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02289110643212600386 Scott Stone

    Tim,

    It’s obvious I did a poor job of explaining my position. I am certainly not advocating an individualistic approach to Christianity and I agree with much if not all of your point but I might be framing it a bit differently.

    Your main question to me was what is more important, my relationship with the church or my relationship with Christ. The thing is I can’t answer that because it is a dichotomous question for which I don’t believe there to be a dichotomous situation. As a Christ follower my relationship to the church is an extension of my relationship with Christ, and my relationship with Christ is also an extension of my relationship to the church.

    I want to come along side the lost and poor and downtrodden, my neighbor, and reach my hand out to help and love them. Why? Because Christ told me to. For this transformation in my life to occur my heart, my whole being needs to be God centered. I believe that drawing nearer to God and having my heart correctly aligned with his, I am better able to serve the church corporately. I think that there are pitfalls with first relying on relationship with others.

    Your original post seemed to suggest that by drawing close to each other we could draw closer to God. I believe this to be true but the problem as I see it is that men will fail. They will fail themselves and each other.

    Jesus says to Peter if you love me you will feed my sheep. Peter’s heart first had to be aligned with Jesus before he would ever feed his sheep.

    The community church that I attend has three core values; Relationship, Revelation, and Relevancy. All three of these are intertwined. You can’t have one without the other. But at the center of it all is Christ Jesus and the relationship with him.

    All in all I think it may just be semantics. Let me know your thoughts.

    Peace,

    Scott

  • http://www.myspace.com/crackdmirror Hillary Davis

    It would appear that I’m a month late in replying, but I wanted to leave a comment–it won’t be as well put together as some of those already left, but bear with me.

    First, I’m quoting Casey’s comment, because it says exactly what I’ve been thinking lately, and it is what came to mind when reading your post: “…[we] put on our smiley faces and best behavior for God on Sundays, and save our sadness and brokenness for a journal or the darkest places of our heart and mind when we are alone later.”

    Could this be anymore true? It’s a knee-jerk reaction to hear about things like what happened to our friend (he was more your friend than mine, but I considered him as such during my regular time at k10) and automatically mark that person down as a deviant who was living a lie, using God as a cover, whatever. The truth is, as you pointed out, we are all broken in one way or another. I sometimes think the only way we feel we can live with ourselves is to put the blame on on people whose sins are socially worse than our own.

    When it comes to putting on that happy face for church or most friends, we are hiding behind that margin you spoke of because we do not want to be judged–labeled a bad person or even a “bad Christian” if you will. This is counter-productive, because (1) it prevents us from having a true intimacy with our fellow churchlings (I just made that word up…it works in context :) ), and (2) it forces us to build friendships based on a lie that we are someone that we are not. It isn’t that we are defined by our sins, but that we are defined by our whole person. We want to be known for our successes when it is also our mistakes that make us who we are today.

    The “blame” for the margins we institute are not all our own doing. Most people do not react well to knowing someone’s dirty laundry. I’m sure you encountered this with the situation that prompted your post. I think that in order to be a more open community, we need to be open to sharing AND listening. This means not judging others, listening openly, and comforting when indicated. It’s not an easy thing to do, on either side. No one wants to be that vulnerable, but when it comes down to it we are vulnerable whether or not we present our true selves to the public. I’m inclined to believe we are more vulnerable when we hide behind that personal buffer zone.

    I don’t know that I’ve offered any insight, but I wanted to get that out. I hope everyone is doing well at k10, and I should be returning soon (at this point my only excuse is gas prices…I don’t start life as a nurse for another 2 weeks, so I’ve been extremely conservative with the finances lately).

    Take care,
    ~H

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10974397437648079481 Tim Suttle

    Hillary,

    Thanks for the post. You’ve brought out into the open once again that relating to each other as broken people is really difficult precisely because of the judgments which we are all programmed to make. I was reading in the Newbigin book that I reviewed in my latest post that he takes God’s election to be an election to brokenness. In other words, God levels the playing field and what we should take as given is that we are all screwed up. The gospel tells us that we are not stuck there, though. There is this assumption that having “faith” or “becoming a Christian” assumes that we should be people who are actively following after something. The sin is not what should break our heart as much as the fact that pursuing that stuff is like chasing a parked car, it just doesn’t go anywhere and ends up denting your forehead. Inasmuch as churchlings (great word BTW) are uncomfortable with the sin of others it can only be because we’ve forgotten exactly what it is we’re called to do and be. Following Jesus requires actually following, not just agreeing. “Faith” is not a mental state or a state of grace, but it is an active recognition of our utter brokenness and God’s utter presence in the midst of it, transforming us into the likeness of Christ.

    Or at least I think so…


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