It’s time, again, to go out. Out beyond the known walls. This has meant so much more than a Sunday change. It’s about hearing new voices, meeting and listening to new people, reading new authors, engaging and participating: not as one with an agenda but as one who has a lot to learn.
I could have written this as a 21-year old finishing college, and I daresay I did. I went off my security grid and into a gritty part of LA, listening to lives as different from my own as I could imagine. Teens in the neighborhood didn’t give a damn about my wall of leadership trophies, they just wanted to know I would be there for them. Would I be able to recognize that I did not already know their life, and that my suburban white music didn’t stoke their soul?
I went then from a wall cemented with bricks of knowledge, to scattered rubble, rebuilding as life taught me. All was not lost: some of those bricks still served me well, they just needed rearranging, and for that, mortar must be chiseled into.
Back then, whatever idea I had of being forty-some years old¹ would never have included more rubble. I wasn’t sure what kind of career or wealth or family I would have, but I did imagine my ideas and worldview would be somewhat settled. As in, “I can’t wait to solve all my 21-year old problems in this year of therapy so I can get on with life.”
As the pondering Ben Patterson once said, “Why did I think the sins of my twenties wouldn’t be with me in my sixties?” To think otherwise would imply we are now sin-free — or moved on to other sins — but honestly there just aren’t that many sins to choose from, and hubris will always be the tree’s low-hanging fruit.
So we deconstruct again, we build again. Thankfully love was one of the cornerstone bricks from the beginning. It’s a humbling pleasure of age to look back and see at least a few times when your first reaction was love, acceptance, understanding, and togetherness. It’s just that those cornerstones soon get topped by other bricks, penned in by pride and procedure and prescription.
Next thing I know, I’m again loving others with the treatment that makes sense to me, without first seeing if it’s the medicine their wound needs.
Meanwhile I’ve built myself behind new walls, comfortable ones: “the lines for me have fallen in pleasant places.” Adding in a few bricks of wisdom and maturity did not prevent the cement from hardening; being settled is often tinted with surety.
Many of us have found our once unified tribe, now looking more fractured. Recognizing that our party, community, or God have been seen through stained glass, revealed the converse: that we’ve seen others through that same grid. The lines between cultures and people groups are being redrawn. And hopscotching this line are my two feet, looking for a place to land. When we find ourselves more comfortable among those thought of as outsiders, then who is who?
As Rob Bell describes², when we first (or again) step outside our tribe we become aware of other tribes, we might even see that our tribe hasn’t always been good to other tribes. The certainty has been broken, but the beauty and mystery have increased.
“Oh yeah,” my heart remembers, “we’ve been here before.”
A central theme of my past few years has been asking the humbling questions, “How did I miss this?”, “Why wasn’t I thinking for myself?”, “How did I have all the answers without listening to all the people?” “Why did I think of outsiders as ‘the Others’ needing only to be drawn in; versus my need to draw out for lessons I could only learn outside?” It’s been so refreshing to be with voices asking those same questions.
Those questions are being asked everywhere to a certain degree, but not always out loud. Should I go to a place where they’re already being asked out loud, or a place where I can work to coax questions out of the silence?
I want to be in a community that is explicitly learning and listening. Like the repentant tone I heard and wrote about in The Hovering. That is, to me, the we. There is so much of it already in communities I know well, but mostly around the margins. Hidden out at the edges, each conversation starting with antennae-like feelers: “Are you unsettled too?”
Is it possible to bring these questions into the center so we can all talk out loud about it?
Jesus continues to play the role of unsettler in my life, just as he did in ancient times. And I hope he still will. I’d rather not go alone, but for now I’m still playing hopscotch.
♦ weekendswell ♦
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¹anything below 50 can be rounded down, right?
² Taken from Rob Cast The Endless Invitation