What are you wearing today?

WarningNo chicken sandwiches were eaten, or boycotted, in the production of this blog post.  I love this little bit in Colossians 3, which reads: “put on (or ‘drape yourself with’) a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.”  The author goes on to declare that a community clothed in these will be quick to forgive and also won’t be inclined to pick at each other over every little thing (which is the meaning of ‘bearing with one another’).  It’s a wonderful word picture people living in relationship with each other for the long haul, staying on the road to intimacy.  Taken with the rest of the passage, it reminds me of some things I easily forget in both real church life, and the cyberspace of chicken wars and election rhetoric:

1. A mature faith is made visible through relationships.  I don’t always like this because on the personality tests I show up as a bit of an introvert, which means that though I love spending time with people, I love withdrawing too – sometimes too much.  In terms of the book I wrote about the engaging and withdrawing spiritual disciplines, I’m an inhaler more than an exhaler.  As a result, I sometimes view the pinnacle of spiritual maturity as sitting in the mountains, reading, praying, walking by the stream, and just ‘loving God’ through writing: prayers, poems, blog posts, whatever.  It’s safe, secure, removed from the messiness of life, and terribly attractive to certain personalities.  But here’s the rub:  Jesus says that our faith is validated by what our life with other people looks like, not by our endless quiet time.  When Jesus went up on the mountain and the veil of this fallen world was yanked off, revealing spectacular glory, Peter’s response was understandable:  “Let’s stay here”.   I sometimes feel that way about solitude and being surrounded by the beauty of creation which, for me, provides such a marvelous window into the hints of what “shall be” in the kingdom which we pray will come soon.

The point of these “glory glimpses” though, is to fortify us for real life, which isn’t lived in a cave, or on a summit, but in the midst of real relationships with real people, each of us with fairly regular displays of our own fallen natures.   That’s why Jesus sent the disciples down off the mountains after the glimpse of glory.  Real life is lived in real relationships, not inside our heads.  If we’re going to know real Christian community, we’re going to annoy and be annoyed, hurt and be hurt, confront and be on the receiving end of confrontation.  I’d argue that for many of us, this is the most challenging piece of faith; not because we’re introverts, but because we live in culture saturated with the values of disposability and individualism.  Relationships, in a hyper mobile and hyper connected society, are as disposable as the plastic water bottles you buy:  “Toss and forget”.  But, like those bottles, there are consequences, which we are only just now beginning to realize.

I’d be interested in your thoughts about how we can counteract these tendencies of disposability.  For my part, I’m trying to commit to place and relationships more intentionally, recognizing that my own maturity depends on the skills of pushing through relational barriers of artificiality, so that truth telling, confession, forgiveness, service, and real commitment, become real in my life with more than just family members.  I’m learning, but it’s challenging.

2. The capacity for these relationships flows out from being in the Word.  Compassion, kindness, and all those other goods things are like flowers that must blossom, if we’re to give evidence that our faith is real.  But the root of that flower is this:  “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly” which means that I need to allow Christ – his example, teachings, values, priorities, and intimacy with his Father, to fill my heart and mind.  This isn’t a call to some sort of Bible memorization program, because knowing the words of the text is not the same thing as letting the Word find a home in your heart.  Rather, it’s a case of chewing the words of the text through meditation, reading, re-reading, talking about, journaling over, and yes also at times, memorizing.  I’m doing all this, though, not to win awards at Quiz Camp, but to foster intimacy with Jesus Christ Himself, so that He becomes in a real way, my best friend, the one whose values I want to baptize my own.

In the same way that I’m prone to too much withdrawal, there are many (though they might not read this blog) who are easily distracted.  The word doesn’t dwell richly in them because the phone call, or the e-mail ping, or the latest Olympics trivia update derails their obligatory pursuit of Bible study.  To such ones I’d say, “make it relational”, so that your time with the text of the Bible becomes in some fashion, real time with a person.  It’s why I write questions and my thoughts about what I read in a prayer journal sometimes.  It’s why learning the discipline of slow reading, called Lectio Divina, can have value.  It’s why memorizing some passages (like the wardrobe passage) can make an actual difference in your daily living.

The goal is for Christ to become your best friend, so that you’re thinking his thoughts, and living out from his values.  This will drive us introverts into the arena, and take some of you activists up to the mountains for a while.  We’ll all be shaped, and changed, and challenged, and blessed.  Go very far down this road, and we might just see that our own divisions, nit-picking, in house fights, and hypocrisy, are far bigger barriers to the gospel than eating, or skipping, a fast food chicken sandwich could ever be.

I welcome your thoughts.

 

About Richard Dahlstrom

As Pastor of Bethany Community Church in Seattle, Richard teaches with vision of "making the invisible God visible" by calling people to acts of service and blessing. It's working, as a wilderness ministry, homeless shelter, and community meals that serve those living on the margins are all pieces of Bethany's life. "We're being the presence of Christ" he says, "and inviting everyone to join the adventure." Many have, making Bethany one of the fastest growing churches in America in 2009 according to Outreach Magazine.

  • Angela Wahlquist

    In my experience some of the things that helped me in the development of what you mentioned in this post are things that Bethany supports to some degree. I was a part of a church about the size of Bethany where a very strong focus was on having everyone involved in a small group. Many times the church would produce a study that corresponded with the sermon series at the time for the groups to study. It was also very encouraged to find an accountability partner to help us live life in accountability. This was all visible by example of the leadership of the church.
    I was never closer in my walk with Christ than when I was a part of those things along with other “real” women who were open and vulnerable loving and real with me.
    Bethany does support these things, so I might just say “keep the encouragement coming”!

  • Ryan Hofer

    I liked your inhale/exhale metaphor. Interesting that in my meditation practice, I was taught to slowly exhale, while the inhale then takes care of itself. The exhale is also when it is simpler to have one’s mind and body on the same page. Physiologically in relaxed inhaling, air pressure causes our lungs to fill as the diaphragm creates a vacuum, though I think my tendency is to suck in with tension. The exhale seems easier to address as a calming practice.

    I feel your comparison with the disposability of relationships, while at the same time, a connection with the plurality of modern life is going to give us more and more niche interactions. I want to exhale into that, in a healthy way. If I thought about how imperfect each relationship is, I would get neurotic. If I think about how fallen people are, I miss the abundant nature of humanity, the prime theological reality, and that which grace predicates into our relative world.

  • Ryan Hofer

    “Nothing that is complete breathes.” -Antonio Porchia

  • Nicole

    Richard,
    I’m sure you have read or seen these words once, twice, or perhaps many times before; regardless, I was reminded of them while reading through your blog and thought I would. May they bless you today.

    “If you asked twenty good men today what they thought the highest of the virtues, nineteen of them would reply, Unselfishness. But if you had asked almost any of the great Christians of old, he would have replied, Love. You see what has happened? A negative term has been substituted for a positive, and this is of more than philological importance. The negative idea of Unselfishness carries with it the suggestion not primarily of securing good things for others, but of going without them ourselves, as if our abstinence and not their happiness was the important point. I do not thik this is the Christian virtue of Love. The New Testament has lots to say about self-denial, but not about self-denial as an end in itself. We are told to deny ourselves and to take up our crosses in order that we may follow Christ; and nearly every description of what we shall ultimately find if we do so contains an appeal to desire. If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by an offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” – C.S. Lewis

    “As much as we try to manufacture beauty, Nature still trumps whatever we can conjure up.” – Anon.

  • kkeyes

    While I think most people would agree that relationships/love/people are more important than any material possessions we can acquire and accumulate, I don’t think our actions follow that line of thought. We spend a lot of time and worry and effort investigating and investing in diets or workouts or careers or x-hobbie or whatever…none of which are bad in and of themselves, but it just seems like what if we were as diligent about our relationships as our fashion or IRAs etc? Even more specifically, what if we put as much concern and effort into friendships and family as we seem to in romantic relationships?

    What if we really started asking ourselves what the point of a friendship is? I think that’s a good place to start.


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