Waiting for the Flip

As seems to happen a lot, Seth Godin got my brain juices pumping with a post about the way people flip from one way of doing things to another. In particular, he’s talking about how resistant we are as humans to better knowledge or technology or solutions, even in the face of evidence that refutes our prevailing view.

At this point, I feel like I’m somewhere around eight years into waiting for that flip to occur with the church. I’ve been trying to illustrate and teach and demonstrate that the church of Jesus is supposed to be something both far more profound and far simpler than what goes along with the term “church” in America: buildings and paid pastors and staff and screens and bands and worship wars and big budgets and overhead and bureaucracy and merchandising and marketing.

The church is the bride for whom Christ died. And that ought to be powerful enough that we don’t need to add to it. The church is the assembled saints who belong to King Jesus, both now and throughout all time.

Yet there’s been a strong tradition of architecture and budgets and business-y elements that really have no place in Scripture. And while they don’t need to be bad things (there are lots of things in the modern world that we use and adopt freely that the Bible says nothing directly about), they frequently turn the church into some grotesque caricature of what Jesus intends for it to be.

Whether that persuades or not isn’t really my point (I’ve written about this kind of stuff elsewhere anyhoos). I’m still convinced that this message is right. Yet I feel so isolated waiting for the flip to happen, for others to see what I’m talking about. And I feel desperate for it. Why?

Because it makes me feel like I’m either crazy or wrong.

If I’m wrong, then I simply want to be shown from the Scriptures and I’ll move on. Show me how I’m off my rocker and bring me back onto the reservation.

So far, it hasn’t happened.

Yet, I’m also not making much progress toward the flip. I’m loving me some Francis Chan for popularly putting into words some of these same struggles (though, granted, I’ve never made any substantial money from books or had a successful megachurch under my belt!). Even with all the platform he has, it still doesn’t feel like we’re getting anywhere. And this is a flip I banked my whole family on, moving us into a new city with grand plans for changing the face of Christianity in America.

Not that I would’ve ever said that out loud, but that’s really the crux of it.

So here I am, waiting. And wondering if maybe I’m just wrong, if I’m looking for a flip that’ll never come. And sometimes I just want to quit–even if I am right!–because this waiting feels too hard and the goals which were once crunchy like Frosted Flakes are now soggy in the bottom of the cereal bowl.

I believe the flip needs to happen. Some days I believe it will. I’m just not sure I’m strong enough to wait it out.

(And yes, I fully acknowledge that God regularly had his people wait much longer than that to bring about deliverance or put a plan in motion. I know I’m being dumb and dramatic–I’m just trying to do it openly.)

Adopting Loneliness

I really ought to say this up front: if you love Jesus, you really need (yes, need) to read The Babylon Bee regularly. They’re like The Onion, but centered around Jesus. It’s satire the way satire is supposed to be: both funny and painful. And they’re equal opportunity cutters, but they do it from the perspective that the Bible is a true story and Jesus is the only hero of that story. Seriously, check it out. Now on to our regularly schedule programming…

I write a post like this with some trepidation. And for a guy who tends to have writings that are “weighty and forceful, but in person he is unimpressive and his speaking amounts to nothing”, that’s saying something. But The Babylon Bee had a satirical post called “Report: 95% Of Christians Agree The Other 5% Should Keep Adopting” and it obviously caught my attention. Here’s the infographic from the fake report:

adoption-chart-696x394

Of course, I’m a big ol’ sinner because I read it and responded like I overheard a killer “Yo Momma” joke in the schoolyard. “Ohhhhhhhhhhhh–SLAM!!!” I might’ve even said it out loud. Like I was back in elementary school.

Because being an adoptive family now, we’re clearly in a position to judge the crap out of everyone that hasn’t done it. Isn’t that how it works with adoptive families and ministers and missionaries? We’re the chosen few who get the God-given privilege of looking down on everyone else.

And so my first thought after reading the post was, “Dude, I totally need to put that on social media. That’ll stick it to the non-adopters!” But once the dust from explosive, self-righteous pride settled, I didn’t. Instead, I left the post untouched, because at the end of the day, I really don’t want to be inflammatory. Nor do I want anyone to know how self-righteous I really am.

But a few months later, here I am posting it anyway. And I truly hope and literally pray as I type that it’s not to guilt trip, but to bring up something that most of us adoptive families dance around. My wife has already talked about it some, but I want to expand a bit. Here’s my thesis: adoption is really hard, but one of the reasons it’s so hard is because so few of us are doing it.

For instance, marriage is hard. Parenting is hard. Being a light in a dark world is hard. But in each of these things, they’re common experiences. So, they’re hard–but we have a community and shared stories built around it. I can share a struggle or you can tell the difficulties you’ve faced, and we all go, “Yeah, I know exactly what you mean.”

But with adoption, it doesn’t work that way. Instead, we share our struggles and difficulties, and we get one of three responses: horror (“How could anyone ever feel that way about a child!?”), pity (“I can’t even imagine how hard that is!”), or awe (“It is so incredible that you all have adopted kids from hard places–you’re true heroes!”). The first just hurts, the second is nice but ultimately not very helpful, and the third feels really cool but does nothing but enforce my personal Superman complex. But more importantly, all three responses have a distance, an otherness to them.

The fact is, it’s hard to adopt because it’s so incredibly lonely. Our church–the people who are closest to us in our mess–fight for us in every way they can, but it’s still from the outside. And I don’t mean that as a critique, but as a statement of reality. And they’ve listened as we’ve tried to explain the ugliest parts and excruciating struggles, coming as close as anyone in our lives to truly understanding our struggles. So I don’t write this as a critique of them, because they are in it with us in every way they can be.

But they’re the exceptions. Most of our brothers and sisters in Jesus can’t figure out what to do with us or other adoptive families. And that’s a lonely place to be. As I sit here and think about it, I’m sure that’s what overseas missionary families or pastors’ kids or adult singles or divorced believers all deal with. The otherness and loneliness of experience is just plain hard to shake.

Then I circle back to the article I linked to at the beginning of the post. Because I also get angry. Unlike the overseas missionaries or pastors’ kids or singles or divorcees, caring for the fatherless is something every believer is actively called to. So in my worst moments (or maybe my best), I’m angry because we ought not be alone. Caring for the fatherless isn’t some new, hot trend. That’s an oldie.

What would it be like if 50% of Christian families adopted? 60%? 75%? How many of the fatherless would have fathers? How much community would be built? Would adoption finally tip from weirdness to commonality? What would it be like for a confessed struggle to turn from “Oh, really?” to “Yes, me, too!”?

On our parenting blog, we’ve not hidden the struggles. We’ve not done the pretty thing and given the impression that the best thing we’ve ever done for our family was adopt. I still don’t think I can say that. But that doesn’t mean I think we made a mistake. The call to come and die sounds painful, because it is painful. We’ve had to die and die and die again, day after day, to graft four wild branches into our tree. The lessons and parallels to my own adoption in God’s family are myriad, deeper and richer than I would ever have imagined. The rebellion toward the good will of my new father, the desire for the old way of life, the memories of brokenness and ruin–adopting kids has re-colored my own adoption.

I just wish you knew that, too, the glory and gory. I wish we weren’t so alone.

An Integrated Life

One of my core convictions in Jesus is that we’re to live integrated lives. And by that I mean lives that aren’t separated, that aren’t compartmentalized. And as best as I can tell, there was an entire generation (or two) that approached life as separate compartments on purpose. Work doesn’t interfere with home life. Home life doesn’t interfere with work life. Churchy stuff is only at churchy times and nowhere else.

elastic-bands-2229753_1920But I don’t buy it. Not at all. There are certainly times for things. There’s a time to go to work and a time to be at home. And there’s a time when there are pressing concerns in two different realms and a decision has to be made to prioritize one over the other.

But that’s not the same as placing dividing walls between components of our lives. I follow Jesus. That’s part of me no matter where I am or what I’m doing. I’m a husband: My wife doesn’t disappear for eight hours each day while I’m at the office. I’m a dad: I don’t stop being a dad when I walk out the door to commute to the office. I’m an employee: Just because I leave the office doesn’t mean that everything is done or that I won’t have other things to take care of.

Would it be easier if I could segment my life? Oh yeah–you bet it would. To only have to follow Jesus here and there? That’d be way easier. To only be at work or only be at home? That’d be nice.

But it’s a delusion. It’s much clearer when you look at my wife, a stay-at-home mom with ten kids she homeschools. Where are her compartments? When does she stop being a mom and start being a teacher or a wife or a servant to neighbors? When? Simple. She doesn’t. Life is one continuous loop, with a big blurry mess of all her responsibilities and spheres constantly overlapping.

If it sounds messy, it is. But I don’t see how it’s anything less than exactly the way God designed us to be. I feel like the compartmentalized life was just another effort to build our high places where we define what honoring the one true God looks like instead of letting him make that call. Cuz ya know–God.

I want my life to be integrated. One of the big reasons we homeschool our kids is to help them learn everything they learn in the context of family and home life. I want them to grow up seeing their spheres overlapping and crashing into each other. I want them to see the Spirit of Jesus as central to every breath, not just Sunday School and youth group.

I want that for my church, too. I want that for my neighbors. I want the kingdom life that says family and work and service and ministry and church and recreation are all part of the rubber band ball of life. I want moms and dads to teach the faith to their own kids. I want to serve Jesus just as much on Sunday as I do at the office as I do at the park with neighborhood kids. I want one life, centered on Jesus, filled with his Spirit, headed toward our one Father.

I suck at it, but it’s the goal.

Gleaning Principles

wheat-field-1490000804lzAIn the Old Testament, God the Father gave provision in the law for the poor, widows, and foreigners to be able to glean the crop from the edges of the landowners’ fields:

When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen.Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the Lord your God. (Lev 19:9-10; also 23:22)

When you are harvesting in your field and you overlook a sheaf, do not go back to get it. Leave it for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow, so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. When you beat the olives from your trees, do not go over the branches a second time. Leave what remains for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow. When you harvest the grapes in your vineyard, do not go over the vines again. Leave what remains for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow. Remember that you were slaves in Egypt. That is why I command you to do this. (Deut 24:19-22)

God’s provision for the poor or afflicted was gracious and free, but not effortless. While it was there for the taking, they still had to go get it.

We’ve had times in the past where we’ve given money to those who couldn’t afford to pay their bills, only to have that happen again a month or two later. And then again. And then again. I wonder if this “gracious gift of ours” (ha!) wasn’t gracious at all because it replaces need with privilege.

Of course, it’s not like I’m exempt from the principle. I really can’t count how many times the grace I’ve been shown has then turned into entitlement and ungratefulness. What I see is that our hearts are wicked and find it far too easy to confuse gifts with wages and donated with deserved. So there’s that.

Regardless, I do wonder what the 21st century American version of this gleaning principle might be. I hate the idea of giving money with strings attached. That feels like some kind of contract or deal, which I don’t think is the point. How could we leave the edges of our field unreaped? What does it look like to leave a commodity available, but in a form that requires some impetus from the receiving party to get it?

I really don’t know, but I feel like there has to be something better than a welfare state or pan handlers or church benevolence fund shoppers.

Pushing Through

I don’t remember when it started, but “pushing through” has become almost a life motto somewhere in the parts of my brain I tend not to examine even though I follow their incessant advice. Life’s hard? Push through. Tired? Push through. Not sure what to do next? Just push through.

But I gotta admit it’s flat out tiring. Always pushing means constant effort, if not necessarily always constant movement. Where’s the rest in always moving forward? When’s the time to slow down? And the trouble with slowing down is that it might just mean you miss something.

So the real question comes down to a matter of risk: Which one’s riskier–plowing ahead on fumes or pulling off at the next exit to fill up but missing the event?

I’m really not one for dwelling on missed opportunities. I have too many and I’d rather not think about them than to possibly drown in a sea of self-doubt. But even in admitting that, there’s a part of me that always wonders if I’m about to miss the real thing coming my way. I’m not sure what this ephemeral “real thing” is, but I’m sure it’s a thing and I’m sure it’s really out there somewhere, beneath the pale blue sky.

I serve a Savior who ministered on the Way, taught on the Way, lived on the Way. His pace of life exhausts me. And I’m never sure whether I should chalk that up to “he’s Jesus and I’m not” or “time to be like my big brother.” Either way, I know that movement is as certain as the earth making another revolution each day. So the movement isn’t bad.

The problem comes when I’m pushing through to get to the endgame, ignoring everything on the way. Shoot, even at the end when Jesus set his face toward Jerusalem, he still stopped along the way to heal and to teach his disciples. His destination never got confused with his passage–both were important and he didn’t neglect either.

I, on the other hand, push through Now to get to Then. Even taking the time to write this almost feels torturous because I feel like I need to do something more, like I’m not driving toward a goal. I’m just writing and it’s as meander-y as this blog’s namesake. I forget that King Jesus could meander like nobody’s business. A sharp turn into random never seemed to bother him. He could meander with purpose. Or perhaps he could aim with freedom.

I’m just afraid I’m not brave enough to follow in those particular footsteps.