Saturday, September 29, 2007

Jesus Beyond The Suburbs

For the past six weeks, I've been talking about all the ways life in the suburbs can dry us out spiritually, and different ways we can avoid the desertification of our soul.

To move away from measuring our lives by our own concrete symbols of acheivement, toward the depth of strength and patience we hold in reserve to be able to deal with life's complexities and trials.

To move away from measuring our importance based on ow many people need us and how many appointments we have on our calendar, toward the depth of relationships we have with those who matter to us in our lives and the strength of the connection we have with the living God.

To move away from measuring our endurance by how hard and long we can work and quality of life by how luxurious our downtime is, and move toward appropriate rhythms of work and rest while measuring the quality of our life by how respectful we are of those different than ourselves.

To move away from wanting our children to the best the most competitive they can be, toward wanting our children to have a meaningful relationship with Christ.

It's been a great series, but tomorrow we need to wrap it up. To conclude "Jesus In The Suburbs", and go on to something else. So, with one last day to talk about this subject, here's what I want to say.

In the book, Death by Suburb by David Goetz, which really formed the basis for the ideas behind this series, Goetz ends the book by making the statement that at one point, when he was younger, all he wanted to do was make his mark on the world. That's really where you are at when you are young. You are ready to move others, change things, and succeed. But, at some point as you grow older, you begin to realize that the world (sometimes slowly, but too often at the speed of light) makes its mark on you. Whether its by punching or grinding or gouging or branding makes no difference... pretty soon, physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually you begin to show the scars.

I'm sure you know about the funeral service Charlotte did here on Friday. It was a high profile, in the media kind of affair. A nineteen-year old boy whose life was lost fighting insurgents in Iraq. The Patriot Guard was hear. A Major General arrived to speak and present the family with medals of valour. People in uniform stood at attention, bagpipes were played, and a young man's body was slowly lowered into the ground. It was a poignant moment. Nineteen year-olds are supposed to be dating around, working hard to get a foothold in life... not die at the hands of an IED halfway around the world.

But what you didn't know was that there were two military funerals here this week. One Friday, and one yesterday. A service of rememberance for a man who did three full tours of duty in Vietnam as special ops for the Navy. Another patriot who served his country for 17 years until physical limitations stole away from him the life that he loved. A man who saw all kinds of atrocities in battle, struggled to maintain relationships with others, and had to suffer as his body (particularly his lungs) detoriorated so badly he had to have a transplant ten years ago. Only immediate family were here for the service, and because he'd had so much more time on this earth, he had many more marks, more scars, that complicated how people felt about him. There was no news crew or vet on a motorcycle or a buguler sounding taps for Joe... just a bible and flag from the local VFW, and few family members sorting out their feelings.

And that's exactly what Goetz is talking about. The difference between the 19 year old tank driver who just wanted to make his mark on the world by proving himself by military service, and the old veteran, who's desire to make his mark faded long ago only to be replaced with complex relationships, mistakes that had to be dealt with, pain that goes with a body that fails you, and pain that goes with nightmares about things you lived through that will never go away. One man wants to make his mark, while the other is heavily marked and scarred.

One guy is ready to beat life on his own terms, while the other is just about beaten.

The problem is that the older we get, we begin to realize the truth. That the force of our own will or desire to win this game, or the shortcuts we took to be able to move forward faster and further than what seemed possible, or the people we stepped on to help us move just a little higher up the ladder, catch up with us. While on the one hand, this often makes us wiser and smarter, it can also leave scars that are so deep and lasting, that the memories of that which hurt us can make us afraid, bitter, angry, depressed, full of anxiety, addicted, or even just plain ol' tired. Thus, we begin to opt for a safer, more reliable route that will help us avoid the pitfalls of life, or get more reckless, pushing ourselves or the relationships we value closer toward disaster as we seek even more irresponsible behaviors that become more likely to destroy us.

I love the image we have here in John 15. The image of pruning. I think the idea that Christ, though his teaching, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, presence whispers into our ear that which needs to be cut out or off of our life, not so we can end up stunted, but so we can grow in new ways that produce fruit, is a powerful image. In it we sense the pain one must feel by having to surgically remove that which grows out, or on us that would seek our destruction, but in Christ, the point isn't to live life spiritually amputated, but rather ready for new growth and healing so can still push out in new directions, accomplishing new things, living into the New Kingdom as a life that spills over with good fruit that nourishes not only ourselves, but others.

My fear is that like lots of people in the suburbs, we too often end up like the person who has seen what damage life can inflict, like a car wreck, and opt as a result to begin to protect ourselves from the potential of being marked again. We opt for passive safety, replacing our sedan with a big lumbering SUV. Surrounding ourselves with luxury, in a shell that will protect us when life comes roaring along to inflict its damage on our quarter panel. If we aren't safe at home or at work, the only other place we travel to is our lake home or all-emcompasing resort or on a cruise, where life has been sanitized and made comfortable for us. We live there, unaware of the crying need that lies just on the other side of the wall, or track, or street, or sea, slowly allowing ourselves to view that which inconviences us as a major issue worth all our attention. We help, when we're asked, but for the most part, our life is lived quietly, passively, so that attention might not be drawn to us, living out our days looking only for a quiet beach or a delightful game of bridge.

And my other fear is that others in this room this day or getting more reckless, taking greater chances, upping the stakes as the illness, addiction, behavior, hatred, self-loathing or estrangement from others only grows stronger and more dangerous. You've traded in your sedan for a for crotch rocket motorcycle that you push harder and harder... tires growing increasingly bald and brakes slowly wearing down to nothing. Your hoping to outrun life, but narrowly missing hitting the wall again and again and again and again. Your life looks like it's moving a million miles an hour, but you are just living as passively as the guy whose life has become having a well-manicured lawn... because if you ever driven or rode really, really fast, you know how little control you really do have.

And you are probably just traveling the same well-worn roads too, in the process, never going anywhere new. Just the same dead ends.

If your whole life is boiling down to two weeks vacation at the lakehouse and a week on some beach in the winter OR a deeper, darker hole that you can't seem to get out of, don't you think you really need a change?

I remember exactly when I got thrown out of the sedan that was heading on life's highway toward a big lumbering seemingly safe SUV. It was on a summer day, at Lakeside Ohio, when a pastor stepped up to me and asked if I'd be interested in taking a job as a youth director. That day I said yes, I had no idea that in a smelly, largely unkept youth room, hovering over ancient bibles, asking the big questions like "What is life all about?", Why do bad things happen?", "If God is all powerful why doesn't he stop suffering", and "Is there life after death?", that soon my active seeking of the Living God through the Word that is Jesus Christ, would flip over my life. From a future as a corporate attorney, looking to make big dollars so I'd never had to say "no" to myself or my family ever again, to the roller-coaster that trying to explain who God is and what God wants to others has taken me deep into trying to understand my own ego, needs, points of weakness, and sometimes very publically and painfully, my ignorance. I am a living example of what it means to be pruned and how painful it can be....

but, oh, the fruit. I have tasted such good fruit. In the silence, with God, and in service, to others, the blessings were so great. So great indeed.

And instead of an SUV or a crotch rocket, I've opted in my life for a nimble little sports car, that carries people along with me, provides a measure of safety in the instance of a collision, but remains nimble and powerful enough that I can take new road littered with new potholes and still possess what's needed to avoid them. To travel to places with streets that were so unknown to me, that they had no name.

And now, in suffering and joy, that's where I want I to go.... I want to travel this life in places where the streets have no name. Where the people living there feel forgotten or unimportant, but really are invaluable to God and indispensable to the community at large.

I want to go to where Daniel Joseph raises his children on a dollar a day, riding my bike on the footpath that takes me to the side of hill where his hut his. I want to go out into the country, to meet Miss Viola, a ninety-year old woman living in a rundown shotgun shack so decripted that snakes could live her in back room, crawling in and out of the house through holes in the floor. I want to go into subdivision, where large houses pop up seemingly overnight filled with people who spent their life thinking they had it all figured out but suspecting over time that they didn't.

I want to go to streets with no names, not so I can mark them, but so that I might meet Jesus again in the hope that he might, in his grace, mark me.

There is so much waiting for you beyond the high wall and swinging gate. There is so much life available when you crawl out of that hole. When you make that journey with Jesus. He wants to teach us what love really is. Love that prunes us back, and love that grows us strong. Love that wants to nail the sins that our ours to a tree, so that he might be marked with our wounds in order that we might find healing. A love so great that even the pain of death drives us closer to the one who would teach us that the end is never the end... but only a beginning.

What is at the end of our life? What is the reward at the finish line? Is it security? Is it success? Is it just not having to race anymore? Are you just trying to get there in one piece, or as safely and securely as possible....

or is the reward abundantly given, yours, now, every single day, as God takes you places you never dreamed you'd get to see?

1 comment:

Seven Layers said...

You write so well Bryan. Could you write my newsletter articles for me?

But seriously, as we age we get tamer. We also seriously doubt God working miracles or moving mountains. We are more content with paying our mortgage than making an impact.

We are also lonely. I encounter many people who are lonely and just wish to have true friends in the midst of their busy lives.

My friend, keep up the good work. Keep listening, preaching and writing.