I was going to call this post, “An Unsexy Gospel” initially, but then I realised that I would just be falling into that old Christian trope of giving your literature a controversial sounding name in order to inflame passions, so I decided against it. You’ll note, though, that by mentioning what I had intended to do, I get away with the results without actually going through with the action. Bear with me here, you’ll see what I am getting at shortly.
This is one of those anti-consumerist Church posts, but to not kill the overly used word “consumer”, I’ve instead gone with the word “commercial”. I feel like it accurately describes what I want to get at anyway, which you can tell by the title is Community. I’ll be honest, I could probably write a book on community. It’s a vast and far reaching subject with so many different aspects that we can talk about, and I have no intention of covering all of those things in this post, or even in this blog. I mainly want to discuss how we’ve begun to commercialise our relationships and how that hurts a society so desperate for authentic community.
I want to take this chance to be a little more open, a little more honest, a little more raw, with you. Up until now, this blog has done a pretty good job at keeping people at length from myself, but I am going to try and invite people in a bit more. Allow a peek at the me that I am not trying to present online. For the last few weeks, I have been depressed and I have been beating myself up existentially. I discovered that I have not so much a fear of commitment, but some real issues with it (not just relationally, but in a few areas). This in turn got me thinking about all the areas where that was evident and I really started to feel down about myself. I began to question my ability as a leader. I began to wonder if I was even in the right job, or if the idea of eventually becoming a pastor was even worth it for a guy who was so clearly messed up. I wanted to talk to somebody, but I was so afraid of them agreeing with all of these fears that I would lose my opportunity to be as involved in my church community as I have been. I became distant from people, I became quiet and unplugged. That is until I finally did talk to a really close friend, who also happens to be my pastor but has just been the greatest friend ever since we met. I shared all of the things I was struggling with, and all of my fears behind them and we had a very encouraging conversation. I shared how great it was to be able to share because in a job like mine (a pastoral job) the temptation is to feel like you need to be “on” constantly, to always be performing and to not let cracks show for the sake of others. Truth is that pastoral workers need the chance to share their very real struggles and fears as much as the next person.
I also visited with a really awesome friend of mine last night, and we both shared that we had been wrestling these past couple weeks with slightly different things. Though they were different, the results on both our lives had been roughly the same. We were able to encourage one another and had a great evening hanging out! I am telling you this because it is decidedly unsexy. There are so many times where I have been on something like facebook and saw people complaining about their lives and thought to myself “Facebook isn’t for sharing this kind of stuff, keep it to yourself”, and I bet that I am not the only one. Social media communities are about presenting the best and most exciting version of yourself to the world as possible. Having friends has always been treated as a kind of popularity contest, and friendship and community have increasingly become more of a commodity and commercialised. This doesn’t just happen in social media. If you get one thing from this post, please don’t let it be that social media is bad. Social media just happens to be a place where it is very easy for us to keep people at a distance while presenting a marketable version of ourselves.
A couple years ago I wanted to work on a comic. I have these creative spats where I absolutely need to start a project that I swear I will see to the end which usually lasts until the end of the day (remember that whole commitment thing). I had this idea of creating a story around a society that had allowed commercialism to inform every single aspect of their lives, and more importantly, their relationships and how they treated people. A persons worth was measured by what they could bring to your life, friendships were merely decorations and marriages were like corporate mergers. In this story, a man was going to introduce a very dangerous idea that would undermine that commercial society. He was going to suggest that people had worth beyond what they could do for you, and worse yet, he was going to live his life in a way that reflected that belief. There were also some bits about couriers carrying ideas like computer files and spreading them like viruses. It was all very wacky. I even managed to find a way to add super awesome fight scenes and killer code names.
Who would have thought that this was already the reality of the situation? Christian or non-Christian, we all do this. We surround ourselves with people who will assist in our presenting a certain image of ourselves. We get involved in only the newest and most trendy projects to assist in this process. The clean up after a flood doesn’t demand a great deal of our time. Volunteering with the poor and marginalised demands a long term sacrifice of our time and doesn’t get you the ticker-tape parade. The Gospel tells us to go to unsexy people with unsexy problems and to love them because Jesus said that they are worth loving. Not to earn favour, not show people how great we are, not to puff ourselves up. It says that loving those who are easy to love is nothing special, but to love those who are hard to love, this is the transformative power of Jesus and his Gospel. Jesus calls us to love others as he loves us, sacrificially. Can you imagine whole communities of people loving simply because they are loved? I feel like we’d get so much more done!
Authentic community/relationships are unsexy. They are hard work, and they involve a level of honesty with people the means laying yourself bare and open to potential judgement. Authentic community peels away all those layers we’ve surrounded ourselves with and gets to the soft, and vulnerable core of ourselves and nobody likes exposing that core, let alone putting it into the hands of other people. Community is messy, and complicated and comes with problems, because ultimately communities are people and people are not perfect. People want to be loved, and people are afraid that if others begin to see the parts of themselves that don’t get broadcast to the world that they might not find love. Jesus says to love my neighbour as myself. It’s a beautifully simplistic statement with far reaching consequences. Community around the idea that I can love people simply because I am loved, and simply because they are worth loving, not because of what they can do for me, but just because. As a follower of Jesus Christ, I should know that I am loved. The reality is that I often forget this, but I should know it. Knowing that I am loved, should motivate me to love others because if I am loved, so are they. The reality is that I love people who are easy to love, and only because they provide me with something. But the good news is that Jesus continues to transform me so that the reality of my situation, and what should be, begin to swap. The Gospel is good news for all people with all of our unsexy issues.
Love for Love’s sake.