In the thick of things
I like delving into the world of ideas. I sorta always have. It may be an outcome of growing up on a farm where one mile to the north, the road literally ended. You could walk a quarter mile west and a mile north and bam, no more road, at least in that section – it was simply pasture as far as your eye could see. How could you not think endless thoughts and ideas with the expanse of the world right before your eyes. So when I was a college freshman, a happenstance class in Philosophy was like throwing a baby duck in water, it was simply natural to me. I have a memory of calling home and telling my dad how much I liked my Philosophy class and some people actually get paid just to think. There was a long pause, then my very practical farmer dad said something to the effect that it wasn’t likely a reality and to focus on my math and English classes. Ministry is the best of both worlds for me. It’s the world of ideas and the world of practicalities. It’s finding ways to lift ourselves to the biggest ideas of what God envisions for us, and doing the hard work of putting details in place for those ideas to become actual service to God’s people. It’s knowing God can change the world, and realizing we’re the ones God put in place to do the changing.
For the years I’ve been at Grace, I’ve taught a Thursday morning class intermittently during the year. I think it started as an invitation to teach Disciple Bible study and then different iterations and populations who have allowed me to teach 5-6 week studies on books – some with commensurate curriculum and questions, others simply whatever the leader wants to put together. Some of the books and studies I’ve loved the subject matter, and some not so much. This spring we did Rachel Held Evans last book before she left this life too early, entitled “Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again.” Labels are almost always NOT helpful – given that, Rachel is, in my perspective, a conservative-evangelical-inclusive-progressive Christian. Right??? She is an authentic mix of what we most often see and experience as polarizing opposites, and she talks about that process in different amounts in her different books. I have actually read and re-read this book this spring, because while it was written and published before the pandemic, so much of her essential biblical interpretations seem to fit where we find ourselves. Here’s the piece that I’m ruminating on this week:
No one lives in general – not even Christ or his church. The Christian life isn’t about intellectual assent to a set of propositions, but about following Jesus in the context of actual marriages, actual communities, actual churches, actual political differences, actual budget meetings, actual cultural changes, actual racial tensions, actual theological disagreements. Like it or not, you can’t be a Christian on your own. Following Jesus is a group activity, and from the beginning, it’s been a messy one; it’s been an incarnated one. The reason the Bible includes so many seemingly irrelevant details about donkeys falling into pits and women covering their heads and Cretans being liars and Jews and Gentiles sharing meals together is because, believe it or not, God cares about that stuff – because God cares about us . . . The Epistles reveal, with startling concreteness, how the announcement of God’s victory over sin and death through Jesus played itself out in real life among a group of highly dissimilar people. ‘The Bible looks the way it does,’ wrote Peter Enns, ‘because, like Jesus, when God shows up, it’s in the thick of things.’
My favorite sentence??? “Like it or not, you can’t be a Christian on your own. Following Jesus is a group activity, and from the beginning, it’s been a messy one; it’s been an incarnated one.” We’ve probably all heard the statement that churches would be great if it wasn’t for the pastor and the people. snort Because it does get messy when we all get together and we all have life experiences and we all have thoughts, big and small, and we all are at different times needy and self-assured; overwhelmed by grief and awe-struck at the promise of life; sure there is no way out and brimming with hope for the future; bitter about all our struggles and so in love with life that we can’t squeeze enough out of every moment. In other words, we’re all a big ball of contradictions and in the midst of that we’re invited to create a community that together follows Jesus and loves our neighbors as ourselves. Good luck with that, we might think. And guess what? We’re still doing it . . . together. It is messy and hard and complex and wonderful and beautiful and surprising “because, like Jesus, when God shows up, it’s in the thick of things.”
I don’t know where you each are on this journey through life and in this chapter of the pandemic/post-pandemic/sorta-still-pandemic. Frankly I’m not sure where I am in the midst of it either. What I am sure of is that we need each other and God is in the thick of it with us wherever we find ourselves. The good news/bad news/good news? “Like it or not, you can’t be a Christian on your own. Following Jesus is a group activity . . .” It’d be a LOT easier if it wasn’t, but it is. We cannot and must not check out because we don’t agree with other Jesus followers about masks or not masks, social distancing or not so much, vaccined or not-vaccined. God created us to love one another and to need one another . . . like it or not. smile
My penchant for the world of ideas has not gone away, nor my attraction and too much purchasing of reading material of other people who write about the world of ideas. AND I have a marvelous community of people who ground me, remind me that Jesus is also in the bills getting paid, hungry people being fed, strangers being invited and welcomed, and love being shared in the midst of our differences and disagreements. I am reminded on a daily basis how much we need each other, and in those moments, I know God is always in our midst!