Paying for School

My ongoing adventures in life and the pursuit of more...

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Being Better Together - What Does It Take?

We are about half-way through our series on being better together - a fellowship of differents, at our church.

In these days of intense polarization we are staking out Galatians 3:28 for this whole series and the big idea Paul unpacks for the Galatians and eventually the Romans. Being in Christ changes the narrative geography we inhabit and the relationships we share with those who share that piece of mystical real estate.

Bonhoeffer wrote, “Life Together” and gave the Church in his time and place some guidance on what that should look like for all of us sharing this home in Christ. It’s guidance nearly completely stands the test of time and the shift in cultures. We would all be better off for having read it, even better for having applied it to our everyday lives.

In this post today I want to quickly offer a few thoughts for our current time and culture – a little guidance for my friends – on what being better together and living as a fellowship of different takes today.

To live successfully as a fellowship of differents, the beloved community, the outpost of the kingdom of heaven, we need to practice self-awareness.

Self-awareness is not self-consciousness or self-centeredness. It means regularly, honestly and fearlessly taking a look at the man or woman in the mirror. And almost all of the time, the mirror for having a look at ourselves is in our relationship with other people.

Other people are the gift God gives us to discover who we really are.

I’m quite good at fooling myself. I can very easily focus on my intentions rather than my actions, my most noble thoughts rather than my more perverse ones. And on another day I find it very easy to condemn myself and find no good thing in me, wretched man that I am. Community reminds me that the truth is somewhere in between. I’m neither angel nor devil but something more like the way Brennan Manning describes himself, “When I get honest, I admit I am a bundle of paradoxes. I believe and I doubt, I hope and get discouraged, I love and I hate, I feel bad about feeling good, I feel guilty about not feeling guilty. I am trusting and suspicious. I am honest and I still play games. Aristotle said I am a rational animal; I say I am an angel with an incredible capacity for beer.”

Life before the mirror of community, authentic community, sharing life together, help me see myself in all my glory and all my imperfection. And this is good.

To live successfully as a fellowship of differents requires all of us sharing this home in Christ to be self-aware enough to recognize our incredible tendency to be wrong about things.

Do you know the difference between how you feel on the inside when you are wrong about something and when you are right about something?

There is no difference. 

Until you know you are wrong you feel exactly the same on the inside as you do when you are sure you are right. We need each other, this fellowship of different to help us discover the places and ways in which we are wrong – BUT STILL LOVED.

I am biased. So are you. It’s our broken default setting. We need to practice self-awareness by being willing to admit we all have bias, we all listen through our bias and speak through our bias and that’s dangerous only when we are unaware of our bias. Life together helps uncover our bias. It helps us recognize that our “normal” setting actually looks quite different from the “normal” setting of others and we might need to actually contemplate what “normal” really is.

These are two big ideas, two major practices for doing life together as a fellowship of differents, that I have seen profoundly lacking in the church today. Not just the church I attend but THE Church. I’ve seen the absence or lack of these two aspects of self-awareness tear up families, workplaces and churches.

The Red Green Possum lodge prays this simple prayer, “I'm a man, but I can change, If I have to, I guess.” Maybe it can be a starting place for us and our capacity for self-awareness.

Within the fellowship of differents, our greatest need when it comes to self-awareness is our awareness that we are in need of grace. God’s grace and the grace of God extended to us through other people, especially our friends. As followers of Jesus we often talk about grace and reference grace, even expressing appreciation for grace and maybe even acknowledging our dependence on God’s grace.

And then we promptly walk away and act like had it covered.

Jesus told this story about a guy who needed grace.

Like a billion dollars’ worth of grace.

And the guy was given grace. A clean slate. And then he came across someone who owed him some pocket change and demanded immediate repayment.

In the story as Jesus told it, God does not take kindly to those who gratefully receive grace but do not willingly extend that grace to others.  This wasn’t a “get to heaven” parable, it was a story about how you and I are supposed to get along together, as different as we are.

Because here’s the deal. You need grace.

We're both the first guy in the story AND the second guy in Jesus' story.

You don’t just need God’s grace, you need grace from the people with whom you are doing life. 

Here’s an exercise – think of someone you know in your own little world who bugs the crap out of you. Someone you hope isn’t at the meeting, meal or get together. Someone who doesn’t even have to speak before you are already on edge around them.

You are that person for someone else. Someone close to you. Someone you think of as a good friend. Some days you are that person to many people. 

I promise.

If you don't already know this it is because people around you don't feel like you can bear hearing it, worry what hearing it would do to your relationship with them or you have power of some kind over them and they fear reprisal.

But the truth of doing life together is that people you love sometimes think you stink and some people you're doing life with who you feel like you or are with you ALSO think you stink. Doing life together with love and mercy at the center can bear this.

I have a friend who killed someone.

He was driving downtown in a heavy downpour and had several more drinks than anyone should have when they are behind the wheel of a car. On the road ahead of him a young man tried to run in the rain as quickly as he could from one side of the street to the other. My friend saw him, but didn’t react quickly enough – and there was plenty of time – and hit and killed him.

My friend turned himself in and did time and on his release he sought out the father of the young man he killed. He sought grace. He was looking for forgiveness. The father of the young man showed mercy and extended forgiveness and grace and even reconciliation so that he became a guiding influence in my friend’s life.

But here’s the part of the story that I need to get to – this friend of mine practiced grace in the most irritating relationships he found himself in after that because he was self-aware enough to know that he had killed another man and that a father had given him grace and forgiveness for what he thought could never be forgiven.

My prayer would be that we all catch the revelation of how much we have been forgiven, you and I. May we all have the self-awareness to see how much grace we need and more freely extend that grace to the people we know and don’t know. I would ask God to expand all of our capacities to walk humbly with one another and gracefully with one another and instead of judging we might extend a hand of mercy.

After all, mercy does triumph over judgment. When we practice self-awareness we will embrace mercy as a way of life together.

Brother’s Keeper
by Rich Mullins

Now the plumber's got a drip in his spigot
The mechanic's got a clank in his car
And the preacher's thinking thoughts that are wicked
And the lover's got a lonely heart
My friends ain't the way I wish they were
They are just the way they are

And I will be my brother's keeper
Not the one who judges him
I won't despise him for his weakness
I won't regard him for his strength
I won't take away his freedom
I will help him learn to stand
And I will, I will be my brother's keeper

Now this roof has got a few missing shingles
But at least we got ourselves a roof
And they say that she's a fallen angel
I wonder if she recalls when she last flew
There's no point in pointing fingers
Unless you're pointing to the truth

And I will be my brother's keeper
Not the one who judges him
I won't despise him for his weakness
I won't regard him for his strength
I won't take away his freedom
I will help him learn to stand
And I will, I will be my brother's keeper

…to be continued…

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