This past week I’ve been mostly offline while my kids were on spring break.
We did some animal gazing in San Diego, carnival games in Santa Monica, and now are attempting to merge once again into the breakneck pace of Silicon Valley.
It’s not going well.
The past three months have been brutal for all of us: David has been traveling nonstop, I’m attempting to birth a book while going back to work in high tech and still keep my day job as a parent (oh and blog too twice a week). Between school and homework, basketball and soccer, family get-togethers and squeezing in a weekly Once Upon A Time, the kids haven’t stopped either. Our lives are full, spilling over, and not all of it good.
What used to be a rigorous 5-day week has become a full-octane 7-day week, and David and I battle together to reclaim hours, days and weekends here and there for playtime, for downtime, for community. We fight just to keep body and soul together.
I felt long ago a call from God, yes, an actual call, to stay firmly planted Out There … in “The World” as Christians like to call it. What Christians mean by “The World” is Those People Who Don’t Go To My Church Or Confess The Same Things I Do In My Religious Tradition. The tribal aspects of this attitude will require robust commentary someday, just not today.
For my part, I don’t see life through Us and Them glasses. I just see my friends and colleagues and acquaintances who have a different take on life and God’s place in it. I live in a multi-ethnic community, a true microcosm of the whole globe where gods, both grand and banal, are worshipped with varying degree of fervor.
God’s call on my life is to simply live out there, be myself, raise my family, participate in the schools and soccer clubs, accept the social invitations to pool parties and dinner dates.
I’m not an evangelist. I’m an image-bearer. It is what I am, not what I do.
What people see when they see me is what God looks like in juxtaposition to a flawed, wanting human being who nonetheless loves Him from a place so deep it can only be described in tears.
People with ears to hear and eyes to see will experience a God who loves outrageously, forgives extravagantly, has a wicked (and often) sarcastic sense of humor. They will see a God who is just fine with unresolved tension, a God who isn’t impressed with our moral machinations, a God who speaks more often in story and poem than didactic prose. They will see a God who, against all common sense, happily makes His home among fallible people.
So I live, somewhat flayed and exposed, Out There, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
But there is one huge problem and the craziness of the past 3 months has made me see it in excruciating detail.
You see, when you are Out There living life with Those People, Sunday isn’t sacred. Its just another weekend day for doing stuff — hanging out, having school functions, playing soccer and basketball and softball and volleyball games. Part of the price I am paying right now is that following God’s call on my life means I’m not able to get to church regularly. I’m just not.
I can hear the objections already.
“Your girls need to quit competitive soccer. What are you teaching them — that sports are more important than God?”
“You need to rearrange your priorities. Remember, the Bible says not to forsake the assembling of the brethren!”
“God won’t call you to something that pulls you away from the community of faith. I mean, think about what Proverbs says about keeping company with the wicked.”
And I blink back the tears, because its all there, the “us and them” mentality, the spiritualized guilt trips and the anxiety of unresolved tension. The inability to step outside a Western Christian 21st century moment and take a large view of God. I nod politely and say things like, “You are probably right,” knowing full well God is pleased with me even when some Christians are not. Knowing that my life is not something to be fixed but lived by faith.
I realize something else though, something that is oscillating at a deeper level.
This past year I have grown increasingly frustrated with the Evangelical Church. Or at least that’s what I thought. But yesterday, sitting in church for the first time in months, I realized I’m not frustrated with the church, I’m frustrated with the institutions of Christianity that have taken over the airwaves and the blogsphere and social media.
I absolutely hate the insulting banter and the way we turn others into caricatures. I hate the battle that is raging for power and control and the right to define what Christianity is and isn’t. I hate the 140 character platitudes and oversimplifications.
And then it hit me. What I have come to despise is this bastardized version of Christianity that is non-incarnational. It is a Christianity made up of bits and bytes, of tweets and blogs, of placards and platitudes and It Isn’t Christianity At All. It can’t be.
We cannot be Christians without sharing table fellowship.
We cannot be Christians without feet that bring good news, without hands that dress Samaritan wounds, without ears that hear the cadence of an actual voice, hear it crack and break under the strain of suffering, disappointment and loss.
God made it a priority to come in the flesh. God showed us how to live in our bodies as His followers, how faith works with our limbs. God made each of us a new creation, then grafted us together as a people, then modeled for us how we were to engage one with the other — in compassion, with mercy, for justice, as equals, authentically, in grief and in celebration, without pretense. He gave us His Spirit to make it all possible, because without Him present with us, we could not do any of it.
As I sat there yesterday, in church, it all hit me like a ton of bricks. All my frustration that has been mounting in these past months and, if I’m honest, these past years, is in part because I confused the body of Christ with the institutions of Evangelical religion.
I started thinking and feeling that The Gospel Coalition and Christians for Biblical Equality was Christianity. That it was Mars Hill Church and DesiringGod.org and WorldVision that was Christianity. All of these organizations are of course full of faithful Jesus followers; please don’t hear me saying anything else. But the organizations are not Christianity. They are, well, organizations — with financial motivations and partisan constituents, with Boards of Directors and Executives and business plans.
They are not the Church.
You know what is the Church?
Joel, there at the piano, with his Welsh accent that makes the Word of God just sound more holy. His wife, Kady, glowing and about to burst with a new life, singing with a whole heart to her God. It is Jerry, there in the pulpit saying something in Mandarin to a portion of our congregation and not translating it for the other half (nicely played Jerry!) My friend Bill, chasing his toddler, and my brother making us all laugh, and my longtime friend John who didn’t realize that a 2 minute “how are you?” was going to turn into a 30 minute “not so good” but who stood there with me and told me his own pain too and held the space for us both to wrestle. Marian, my 16 year old friend walking around in an 80 year old body who reminds me the point of this life of faith is not figuring it all out someday, it’s living the present moment in faith, hope and love, the greatest of these.
If it is not incarnate, it is not the church that Jesus built and builds to this day.
Does this mean we should all get off the Internet and social media and stop blogging? Of course not. Everyone has to make their own tentative peace with the technically over-saturated world we occupy now, and I most certainly cannot tell anyone how best to do that.
Where I land is here: at the moment, my life as God has called me to it is challenging because my particular church meets mostly on Sunday mornings and I can’t be there always. I am grieving about this. I am looking for a way forward, a way through. I don’t want to leave my vocation as image bearer Out There in order to take communion with my Kingdom family. I don’t want to find a new church. I’m in a place of profound and painful tension.
If you are the praying sort, perhaps you’ll pray for me.
And if you have any insights into how those of us who feel called to stay in The World can still partake, given the Sunday morning preference for gathering the Church, I’d love to hear it.