Monday, November 19, 2007

Real Relationships, Blogging, and Taking Life Seriously

Do you know how much more I blog when I know I have an audience? Before I blogged, my friends received long, winding emails quite frequently. I’d threaten them that if they didn’t respond, I’d keep writing, desperate to have some contact with them. Then I’d warn them that if they did reply, it would inspire me to write back. Evidence imposes reality on my realization: I write more when I know you’re reading. I talk when I know you’re listening. The substance is better in conversation than in desperate attempts at starting a friendship, or drawing attention: advertising.

I’ve been looking at my life, and praying about what I see. Some days I can’t do that; my prayers are focused on survival. God gives us phases, I think. Like the moon. I love the moon: always there, always the same, almost always visible, almost always seen in a new light. And the light is beautiful.

Why do I have better conversations, ones that “hit the spot” via blogging, or with an eclectic group of admittedly eccentric protesters outside abortion clinics? I don’t agree with all the theology, but we can pray together. When they ask how I am, I can answer that God is teaching me about grace, and share a little. They share. I want to know. Not just their stories, but the stories of my friends, and the people at church and Bible study. But in the hallways all I hear is “How are you?” and all I can answer is “fine,” unless we were going to cancel nursery service, worship, and lunch. Then I could talk. That’s the beauty of blogging and abortion protests. There’s no schedule, no interruptions that matter. So I can’t be online at work... The conversation picks right back up, no awkwardness, more forethought.

In my prayers I keep telling God I don’t want to play. I don’t want to play at life. Gas prices shouldn’t drive me crazy; I don’t want to play. Hard decisions aren’t on my shoulders; I don’t want to play. It’s pretending to say I have the wisdom or strength to decide. And at church, I am so tired of playing. What I do there is superficial. I believe in being there, and in making the most of what is there for the sake of bringing the body towards perfection (Ephesians 4). There is something so wrong about the way we do church. Why do we bother singing and praying and listening to lessons when we don’t even know each other?

People move away or change churches, and we never talk to them again. Why? When they were at church activities, we admired them. We enjoyed doing ministry together. Their comments in Sunday school were challenging, and their smile uplifting. They’re gone, and we miss them. But there was never anything more. We never met for lunch. I didn’t know what they were thinking, the little things that they might say as commentary on life, but would never think worthy of a special phone call.

I have a friend at my church, and we’re going to start praying together. I’m really excited. She selected an anonymous envelope to “adopt” a teen from our youth group, and I wanted to ask her who she got. I wanted to enter into even this little facet of her life, and so many more things like that.

Tonight I babysat for a church plant. I sat with three little boys while they ate dinner, and the parents and friends talked around the kitchen island. I care about the adults, but the kids know me, and I love them because I watch them eat. When one does some weird thing with his spoon, I get to know him. The middle kid imitates the oldest, and you see how relationships are developing. I intentionally sit with them when they eat, to build the relationship. But do I do that with adults? When is the last time I sat by someone not to start a conversation, but just to be there in case there was commentary?

Speaking of the church plant, I could hear from my position in the basement of the pastor’s house uproarious laughter, evidence that the group is bonding. They feel free to be loud, to be humiliated, to laugh, and thus are invested in the details of each others’ lives. Eventually I think the plan is to have a “normal” church where there is preaching and singing, but I believe they want to keep groups like this one as core to their church. Once they are loving, unified friends, they can march in sync in their ministry. In fact, the pastor told me a couple weeks ago that he believes the church’s primary purpose is evangelism, and I’ve been thinking about my disagreement, looking for what the Bible says instead of just what I’ve been taught. I see the great commission. And I see Jesus’ prayer in John 17 for what He planned his followers to be. I read Ephesians, and see that the church is about unity, edification, maturing into the image of Christ. But that unity of the Spirit is what produces the striving together for the faith of the gospel, the reaching out to the world with the gospel.

So another thought: I get challenged like that from this friend, who is a pastor. His church asks him questions like that more than some, but I think they’re in awe of him, and respectful of him as their leader. (His wife was originally on my side, properly heeding his perspective and coming early to the conclusion that we’re basically saying the same thing different ways/different emphasis.) My pastor doesn’t talk to me like that. I get answers from people who run blogs. They dare to address my real questions. But a lot of times their own friends and churches aren’t asking. What a mess. Why can’t we be real with the people in our churches?

I want everyone to read my blog. But I’m fair about it. I would want to read everyone else’s blogs or journals, too. I don’t want to play at friendship, to pretend to be the Body of Christ, anymore. I, me, personally, want to be real. And I want to be a real friend. May God take me, sold out, take my every hour, to be invested in Him and in building people.

As a crowning point to how this whole topic is being driven home to me today, in one day-long thought, I was telling all these things to my brother after watching some of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. I have no idea how much we missed, but I wouldn’t dare go back to find out; there’s a reason you can skip tracks on DVDs. (I’m definitely NOT endorsing the movie, but I’m not all that sorry I watched what I did. Just read a review, and make an educated, prayerful decision if you ever think about watching it.) Anyway, the premise is that this guy is getting his memories of his girlfriend erased, so he’s going backwards through the memories. And timelines are just a bit confusing, but if you watch it twice I suspect everything would make sense. Watch the hair colors. It’s a key. We discussed how our brains have to extend to the furthest reaches to follow the movie, and the implications of the story. It’s too far out, to complex to put our arms around, to hold. But you can follow it, if you try. That’s relevant, but this is commentary, windows into my world that produces these thoughts.

After I said most of the things above, and actually some are his additions, I was talking about being tired of friendships being fake; I want to hear what is going on with people. I want to read blogs, and my blog to be read. In an amazing double-irony, he asked, “Did you read my blog?”
“No.” We both laughed and I was crying, too, from the irony. I knew of course that I was contradicting myself because I hadn’t read it in the past couple days, and that he must have written about basically the same thing, or he wouldn’t have brought it up. And maybe we’re both thinking about the same thing because we read the same things, and talk, and (sometimes) read each other’s blogs. So here is his perspective on real listening and real friendship. You have to promise, if you are reading this post, to read his too, and to read it like he meant… every… word.

Oh, and less crowning but still continuing, we’ve had an ongoing conversation with some friends of ours about “heads bowed, eyes closed” altar calls, whether it be for salvation or other things God’s doing in your life. We’re tired of playing, and want to be the Church to those around us, at least. If we can’t see each other, and we’re silent, not praying together at all, how are we going to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep? What are we saying about the shameless gospel of our God’s great grace?

To God be all glory.

PS: My brother reminds me, and I thought it important enough to make clear: being serious does not exclude joy or smiling or fun. When I say "I don't want to play," I don't mean I'm opposed to silliness and recreation. Actually, we should even take our fun seriously; be intense, and sincere when you play.

5 comments:

CAR said...

Hi Lisa, You might enjoy reading the book we are studying in Sunday school. It talks about being more "real" with each other and the role grace plays in our decisions. It even mentions the "I'm fine, just fine." level of communicating. The title is Truefaced, by Bill Thrall, Bruce McNicol, and John Lynch.

Lisa of Longbourn said...

Thanks. I'll look it up.

Is your Sunday school class practicing it, too?
To God be all glory,
Lisa of Longbourn

car said...

Well, I know I am trying. Some keys are wisdom, trusting God, and an atmosphere of grace. I think our Sunday school is being taught more about providing that atmosphere to each other.It is hard to break habits.

Brian said...

I don't know how I can agree with you more :)

I grew up in the church, starting at a very young age. After being thrust into public schools from a very sheltered private school life, I pulled back some. By the grace of God I was tricked back in (but that is another story,) and started my relationship with Christ in high school.

The sad part is that I've been in and out of churches for nearly 15 years now and the majority of that time I had little to no example of being 'real'. Most churches (intentionally or unintentionally) have been in the robot building business. I say unintentionally because I have seen leaders, and congregations that had incredible intentions but no imaginations. Being real embodies so many frightening things that many pull back from it. It is one thing to fall down before Christ broken and an entirely different beast to reveal that brokenness to our brothers and sisters. And that is only a fragment of the entire picture of a thriving body of believers.

As a church we do not understand community. It feels like we try to create artificial communities. We have youth, young married, singles, prime timers, middle aged parents, middle aged single soccer moms, and so on. Sometimes it feels like a church with seven political parties. And the members are just as stubborn as republicans and democrats. We absolutely need to be real; we need rich thriving community. One of the topics in Blue Like Jazz was the need for community (someone described it to Donald Miller as food for the soul.)

It is really cool that you and your brother have been talking about this. Among many other random things, this has been on my heart. I’ve been thinking about how we can improve community, why do our services look the way they do, why do we sing this, do that, etc… Not to complain, not to tear down or discourage, but to determine how we go about creating a real community.

Lisa of Longbourn said...

Brian,
Thanks for the commentary. For the record when I said I was scared (on When People You Know Read Your Blog), it was an excited, I just had no idea scared. Shocked would have been maybe better.

As an example of lack of community, we were in Sunday school for like 2.5 years and I didn't know your history. What I did learn is that you don't persuade people by arguing. You don't change church by arguing either. I appreciate your approach.
To God be all glory,
Lisa of Longbourn