Monday, March 30, 2020

A Relational Flip

There’s an interesting thing that has happened over the last month—a fascinating transformation. The social hibernation we’ve found ourselves in as a result of the health risks of COVID19 has, in some ways, completely flipped a number of things about the way we communicate with one another. Let me explain what I mean.

[and to note, I’m painting with VERY broad brushstrokes here, so please understand that and take these ideas with a giant grain of salt, but here’s my take on what’s happening]

Before the coronavirus entered our world:
1.     Physical, in-person communication was the best form connection, but we took it for granted and didn’t prioritize making time and space to actually be together in physical community. There weren’t enough meals with friends, happy hours with co-workers, and playdates with other families. We could physically meet with one another anytime we’d like, but we didn’t do this nearly enough.
2.     We were all on social media A LOT, but we didn’t use this tool very well. Our social media usage was too often divisive and not unifying—used to gather information from our trusted sources, share that information and our opinions in hopes of swaying the other side, and argue with one another when the information and opinions didn’t instantly win the other side over.

Since being quarantined and left with only online community:
1.     We LONG for physical, in-person community and can’t have it. We fully understand it to be the best form of communication and can’t wait to be able to be in physical proximity with our loved ones again. We just want a hug!
2.     We are still on social media A LOT (probably more), but we are finally using it in its best capacity. Social media has always had a great ability to foster relationships, but we are finally using it as the wonderful resource it can be. We are checking in on, encouraging, being kind, and sharing with one another. We’re grieving with one another, helping each other cope, brightening each other’s days, and making each other smile. We are connecting with people, locally and afar, that we haven’t connected with in far too long. And since we are all united under the struggle of this pandemic, we have (for the most part) put aside the differences that so often divide us.

It’s been awesome to witness this transition in our online behavior as we are cloistered in our homes. It’s kind of a miracle. But the real miracle would be if we continued this trend long past the time we can once-again gather in person. I sincerely pray that when this COVID19 quarantine is over, that we re-emerge with a commitment to being better at community, both in person AND online.

Let’s not take for granted the gift it is to gather with family and friends, in person, for food, fun, and fellowship. Let’s take the initiative to create more community and pour into the lives of our friends. Let’s be better about loving and caring for our neighbors. Let’s carry over the compassionate spirit that this time of pandemic has brought forth in our everyday lives.

But let’s also be better at social media. Let’s continue to encourage and connect, not argue and belittle. Let’s continue to unify under our common humanity, and not be divided by our religious, political, and socio-economic camps.

This virus is awful—and the fallout has been heartbreaking for some and unfortunate for all. But one way to redeem this tragic time is to recommit to a better, more-loving, way of being in relationship. Let’s take the best of both forms of community—in person and online—and move forward as the best form of humanity.

Monday, March 16, 2020

A Chance to Practice Sabbath

We were already shutting down as a society, but the last few days have brought us to a grinding halt. With organizations (including churches) suspending their activities, schools shutting their doors, ski hills ending their seasons, and everyone practicing a little more social-distancing, we have found ourselves in a season of slowing down and staying home.

Which can be REALLY hard to do. It might get a little boring. We might get a little lonely.

But this is also a great opportunity to practice something we should be practicing with regularity anyway: SABBATH. It’s one of the main things we are commanded to do as people of faith, and yet we aren’t very good about actually making time and space to drop our normal work, be intentionally present with our loved ones, and do the things that bring us joy and rejuvenate our souls.

But the Coronavirus has given us this time to actually practice the Sabbath. So let’s do just that. Take time to play games and watch movies and read books. Take a nap. Slow down a little. Commit to family meals. Use this time of forced isolation as an opportunity to practice this discipline that we should already be practicing regularly. And maybe when the virus is gone and we emerge from our homes and get back to our lives, we’ll do so with a refreshed spirit and an increased commitment to being ‘sabbath people’ in all seasons.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

An Unexpected Blessing

Yesterday, out the blue, someone blessed me with a free lunch.

I was enjoying my day off by spending a few hours at Bridger Bowl, trying to relax and decompress from a busy and stressful week. But my head was swimming with thoughts about a situation I need to deal with, so I had to run in to the lodge and quickly write an email before my words escaped me.

Before heading back out to the slopes, though, I thought I’d grab a quick bite to eat. As I entered the cafeteria of the Deer Park Chalet, however, I suddenly noticed someone who serves with me on the board of The Rock. She’s new to the board and has been a huge asset to The Rock already, but I don’t know much about her and wasn’t expecting the generosity she offered.

Unexpectedly, she volunteered to pay for my lunch—which is no small fee at the ski hill! She wanted to thank me for all the work I do, and have done, at The Rock over the years. I was blown away. After gathering our food and following through on her promised payment, she continued her generosity by inviting me to eat lunch with her and her family. It was a fantastic opportunity to get to know her better, and to meet her husband and son.

Now…the reason for sharing this story and writing this article is not simply to boast about my free meal. It’s to encourage us all to use the blessings we have to be a blessing to others.

You see, in the process of our lunchtime conversation, I came to realize that this family seems to have no shortage of money. But they are using these blessings to be a blessing to others. They aren’t hoarding their blessings. They aren’t behaving as if they’ve ‘earned’ those blessings and should be entitled to do with them as they please. Instead, they are searching for ways to use their blessings for the benefit of others. This woman is new to Bozeman, yet is already serving the Lord in so many ways in this valley.

We’re always blessed to be a blessing. We’re always asked to take what we have—our time, talent, and treasure—and find ways to use those blessings for the sake of others.

So, you might not have a lot of extra cash laying around where you can pick up the tab for people anytime you’d like. But I guarantee you have been blessed in certain ways. I guarantee you have things you can share—your time, guest room, kitchen table, passions, hobbies, or skills. Yesterday’s lunch was a beautiful reminder to share what the Lord has given. May we all be encouraged to be a blessing out of the myriad of ways we have been blessed.

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Stuck in 'Fake Spring'

As I walked the girls home from school this afternoon, I was beautifully surprised by the incredible weather we experienced today. The sun was out, the temperature was up, and the sidewalks were free of ice and snow. It almost felt like Spring!

But having grown up in Montana and calling this state home for the past seven years, I know better than to think Spring has actually arrived. As much as we might trick ourselves, we all know this is ‘Fake Spring.’ Before we know it, the snow will reappear and Winter will rear its ugly head once more (if not more than once).

Now, it’s okay to hope. It’s fine to get excited about our newly-found good weather. But the realists in us know better than to assume the cold and snowy weather is gone. We hope and anxiously wait for warm and sunny weather to be the everyday norm, but we do so knowing there will still be a number of stormy spells before Summer arrives.

Which is the same posture we can, and should, hold as followers of Jesus. We live in this transitional time of history—stuck between the joy of resurrection and the ultimate joy of Jesus’ return. We get small, but powerful and hopeful, glimpses of God’s kingdom, but we also still live in a world of sin and pain. We are witness to God’s movement and action, the blessing  of our world through the good news of Jesus, but are also privy to the imperfections of our world—war, violence, poverty, racism, etc.

We live in the “Fake Spring” of history—longing and hoping for the eternal joy of ‘summer’ with God, while still enduring our fair sure of ‘wintery’ pain, suffering, and evil. But that’s okay. It’s alright to be in this time and place—because God is with us. So let’s strive to be people who faithfully and hopefully stand in the threshold of this historical and cosmic transition. Let’s embed ourselves deeply in our current world, not longing and hoping so fervently for the next season that we miss out on the beauty of what God is doing now…today.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

The Problem of Perfection

This week, as I continue to process our trip to Chicago and dream about new forms of worship at our church, I’ve found myself thinking about perfection. You would think the drive for perfectionism would be a noble pursuit. You would think striving for our Sunday worship gatherings to be polished and flawless would make them better and more successful. And yet, as  BrenĂ© Brown shares, “We are successful in-spite of our perfectionism not because of it—that it actually holds us back even though it feels like it’s helping protect us.”

The worship gathering we traveled to Chicago to observe—a Sunday evening service called The Practice—was perfect and polished. The band was well-rehearsed, the decorations and room set-up were precise, and the preacher was a professional author and speaker. All went according to plan and was perfectly led, and yet, the service lacked heart and passion, and left us uninspired.

Meanwhile, the Sunday morning worship gathering we attended—at Peace of Christ Community Church—was far from perfect. It was well-planned and beautifully-led, but had plenty of improvisation and mistakes, whispering children and imperfect transitions. Yet, we left our time of worship inspired and encouraged, caught up in something profound and transformative. They obviously weren’t concerned with perfection, and we weren’t bothered by not finding it. Peace of Christ was more concerned with honesty, vulnerability, transformation, and real connection, with God and one another. And it showed. It was deeply moving.

You could tell they loved each other and were committed to the journey of Jesus together. They hugged and cried and shared profound stories of God’s work in their midst. They blessed each other, wished peace upon one another, and prayed over their community. Heck, even their style of sermon invited response and conversation. The whole gathering was a threat to perfectionism, and yet, it was beautifully and inspiringly real.

Sure, Jesus instructs us to “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect,” but this is an invitation to love perfectly, not to play church perfectly. Love is challenging; and even perfect love is messy. But that’s the good stuff. That’s where the real transformation happens—not in the perfection, but in the messiness of honesty, vulnerability, and real connection. As Mat Kearney (my favorite musician) says about his creative work, “When I think about my favorite work, flaws and perfection weren’t even on my mind. I was moved by the passion and spirit of what I was working on.” Perfectionism can rob us of the passion and spirit that makes worship so formative as followers of Jesus.

So, again, I’m not sure what this new, experiential, practice-based worship gathering will ultimately become. But I’m definitely not interested in it being so perfect and polished that it lacks the transformative power of honesty, vulnerability, and real connection. I love that our Sunday morning gatherings have room for mistakes. I love that our musicians sometimes begin in the wrong key and have to start over. I love that we can add in an extra song at the last minute because the sermon went short. I love that our worship feels real, and will certainly want that for the new worship gathering we are dreaming about. Let’s commit to never losing the passion and Spirit of God in our quest for flawless worship.

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Embracing Conflict, Opposing Antagonism

I listened to a fascinating podcast this week—an interview of author David Fitch, who recently wrote a book called “The Church of Us vs. Them.” In the interview, Fitch discusses the difference between antagonism and conflict. Both are ways of thinking about and interacting with others, but only one is a healthy form of engagement.

Antagonism gathers like-minded people around a banner of commonality and promotes anger against the other side. Antagonism digs in, makes an enemy, and embraces fighting, bullying, and ridiculing. Antagonism leaves us feeling good when the other side loses or something bad happens to them. Antagonism picks sides and then asks us to distance ourselves from the opponent, only coming together for battle.

I think we all understand antagonism well…considering the polarized and combative state of our country.

But then there’s conflict. And while we often think of conflict as negative, Fitch argues that conflict is a natural part of everyday life. In fact, he says “conflict is ground-zero of the Kingdom [of God].” While conflict is not normally an enjoyable practice, it a vital part of growing and expanding God’s kingdom of love, grace, and redemption. To be in conflict is to actually engage with people outside our own little club of those who agree with us. It’s a sign that we haven’t secluded ourselves within our safe, ideological bubbles, and are actually interacting with the world and are open to people not like us. Conflict is a sign that God is working in our lives, taking us to new places, and challenging us to grow and mature. As Fitch says, “Conflict opens up space for God to do God’s redeeming work.”

Now, of course, conflict may be good and helpful, but it’s still not easy or fun. As opposed to the othering, bullying, and hurtful words of antagonism, conflict requires us to actually engage with one another in full, humanizing presence. Conflict invites us to actually know, listen to, and love our enemies (as Matthew 18 instructs). Conflict involves an openness to being changed by the presence of the other. Where antagonism demands that the other ‘wrong’ person succumb to my ‘right-ness,’ conflict invites both parties to name their insufficiencies and be willing to grow and change together.

In a divided world of rampant antagonism, Christians are called to engage difference differently. We are called to love our enemies and pray for our persecutors. We are invited to talk personally and privately when in conflict, not to air our dirty laundry on Twitter. There’s no speech-ripping or name-calling in the Kingdom of God. That’s antagonism, not conflict. That only perpetuates the ‘Us v. Them’ cycle. There’s no redemption in antagonism.

David Fitch reminds us that the way of Jesus invites us to be intentionally and fully present to people with whom we disagree, make space for real conversation, and allow Jesus to be Lord of all—in order to reconcile our current conflicts…and the whole stinkin’ world. Let’s not run from our conflicts, but also not resort to antagonism. Let’s see conflict as an opportunity to learn and grow, transform the world, and demonstrate the diversity of God’s Kingdom—leaning in to conflict with love, instead of fighting or fleeing in fear.