What follows is an email I sent today to the folks involved in the microcommunity/cell group I lead. This is one of the most important things I do in life- it’s central to who I believe I’m called to be; so I thought I’d share it:
Our microcommunity met last Sunday, and I wanted to fill you in on what happened. We had an intimate group with just Kirsten and I along with ***** and **** in attendance. I used the quote below, from Anne Lammott’s Traveling Mercies, to kick us off:
My coming to faith did not start with a leap but rather a series of staggers from what seemed like one safe place to another. Like lily pads, round and green, these places summoned and then held me up while I grew. Each prepared me for the next leaf on which I would land, and in this way I moved across the swamp of doubt and fear. When I look back at some of these early resting places — the boisterous home of the Catholics, the soft armchair of the Christian Science mom, adoption by ardent Jews — I can see how flimsy and indirect a path they made. Yet each step brought me closer to the verdant pad of faith on which I somehow stay afloat today.
I think the way Lammott describes her faith journey is really meaningful and appropriate- especially for our group. I’d like to think of our microcommunity as one of those lily pads that we stumble to as we struggle to follow Jesus. We land on it and then get held up- by one another and by Jesus- while we grow. We did some growing on Sunday, I think, as we talked about being folks who are “on the way” with Jesus- folks who don’t have it all figured out yet as we try to follow him together. Even so, we keep working at it. I believe that a lot of the work we have to do to really build the kind of community I think we all long for happens when we simply “show up” with “Jesus as our only agenda.” We do this very intentionally whenever our microcommunity meets, but I hope we do it throughout our lives in all our times together too. It is hard, though, and we see that reflected in changes to our group as new folks join and trusted friends move in other directions, but that’s okay- if we’re all still working to follow Jesus we won’t really be able to get too far from one another anyway.
So- forgive the mini-sermon, but I’d like to encourage you, if I can. I think there are some significant ways in which as a community we’ve chosen a harder path than others who also want to follow Jesus. We talk a lot about being “different,” and we do that because we want to distinguish ourselves from what often passes for “Christianity” these days. For example, we don’t think following Jesus can be reduced to a set of rules about what to do and what not to do, because as I like to say- “rules are for relationship.” God created us in and for love and wants us to be in right relationship with him, one another, and the world. Rules can help us to have those right relationships, but the relationships are the “thing,” not the rules. For some Christians, sadly, the rules take center stage. It’s certainly easier to reduce life with Jesus to a series of checklists so that as long as you can check off certain beliefs (like God as trinity, the resurrection, etc.), behaviors (smoking, drinking, the usual), and practices (like how you vote) then you can know that you’re “okay” with God. However, this basically removes God from the equation and becomes a relationship with a set of rules rather than a relationship with a living being.
The truth is that life, especially/even life with Jesus, really isn’t that black and white. After all, if God played by the rules then there would be no grace, no Jesus. We need to remember that we’re dealing with a God who judges- with his mercy, by laying down his life. Sometimes following that example leads to a bit of ambiguity, but hopefully it’s ambiguity that we can learn to live with, because there are some absolutes, of course. I’ll stake my life on the fact that God is love, for example, and that Jesus is the ultimate revelation of that love- and because that is true, I know that Jesus should be the lens through which I read the Bible, which really makes a lot of the hard stuff in there a bit more understandable. Anyway, we’ll keep working on all this, and I invite you to keep showing up- it’s at least half, if not most, of the battle.