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.