The struggle to live rooted, real lives

What is it with human beings and not wanting to relate and preferring pieces of paper to do the relating for them? Last night at the About Circle of Hope Dinner, we were huddled around our smart phones looking at Circle of Hope proverbs (because someone—that’d be me—forgot the handouts). Rather than everyone pulling out their own phone, we met in groups and got close and intimate looking at tiny screens together.

In some sense, we were embodying the proverb we have in Circle of Hope: “As the world pulls us toward ‘virtual’ we will keep struggling to live rooted, in real time.” We want to be real and connected and even though technology is useful, we do not want it to get into the way of real relationships. After the groups read the proverbs they were working out, we shared stories from what we learned. It was great!

The entire meeting could be summed up on a website or something, but that’s not the point. Getting together, in real time, face-to-face is an important part of being the Body of Christ. Being known, giving people access to you. We can’t replace it with a videocast or a podcast. We can’t replace it with a blog post or a sermon. We have to do it together. We’ve gotta smell each other. I think that’s the whole point of the Gospel.

Jesus came to the earth, in the form of a human, to relate to us. We can’t lose that!

A few months ago when we formed the Development Without Displacement team, I started serving on the steering committee for the coalition that the team is on called Philadelphia Coalition for Affordable Communities. I attended my first meeting on Monday and we started talking about giving different organizations who were part of us “levels” of connection with titles. We decided that calling them all “members” would be better than developing a hierarchy and allowing them to relate in order to articulate what their needs and responsibilities could be, as opposed to dictating it for them just through titles. It’s better to relate than let a label do it for you.

Likewise, we deal with covenants in Circle of Hope. They are like agreements. We make them with people who want to make a commitment to us. And we also make them for our leaders and staff. They are not binding. Nor are they the sum of what each person does. But they guide the person and help them remember what they agreed to do, in a sense. But they can never circumvent the inevitably of dialogue or a relationship. For some of us, it would be nice if we could relate and perform our job without ever talking to someone else. But living like that is costly to our souls and, I would argue, not the best way to do it.

As leaders, our job isn’t to be governed by a piece of paper or a procedure or policy. Our character matters more than those things, and it is best built in relationships where we are discipled and built up. And yes, those relations are flesh-to-flesh too.

It seems to me like we live in an era where many people are getting used to relating each other in a way that is not personal or direct. Email, SMS, and Facebook is the new way to interact. Some of my friends explicitly say, “Don’t call. I don’t like the phone. Just text.” But Jesus wants us to do more than that. To form community, he wants us to be together.

You could call Matthew 18 Jesus’ guide to forming community, and in that chapter he addresses exactly what I am writing about. When he is articulating how to deal with someone who has sinned against you, he talks about direct, one-on-one confrontation. After that, if it doesn’t work, you include other people. Jesus utters, “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”

Jesus is among us when we are gathered. He is incarnational. So he lives inside the Body of Christ. That Body can’t happen in a way that isn’t personal and face-to-face. It can only happen in real life. I’m thankful for the numerous opportunities we have for that face-to-faceness. Here are a few.

  1. Our cells. These don’t work unless there are people involved, obviously. In fact, we multiply them when they get to big so that we can stay intimate. You will be known and loved in the group, so sometimes it can be too intense.
  2. Our PMs. These meetings are for public worship. They work because we are together, united in Jesus for celebration. Although you could listen to the speech on your phone or you could just sit in the very back by yourself or something, they work best when we are together and we can hear and feel each other.
  3. Our teams. From mission teams to compassion teams, our teams live and die based on the passion of the people in them. They only work if we have enough juice to keep them going. They don’t exist permanently. It’s probably their right to die that makes them so radical.

I hope this gives us some reasoning to be a little more personal, a bit more intentional. There are many temptations that may lead us to the virtual, but I’m thankful there is another way in the Body of Christ.

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