On a slow winter morning I am going through old letters that I have sent to various friends in the past 5 years or so. Recently I have been feeling kind of a strange sense of disorientation that has to do with "living in the grey", not being real sure of what the goal is, what the plan is to get there, and what I am all about. In that context, I found the following letter, which seems to mark the beginning of my grey zone. But I think I still agree with much of what I said back then, and while living in the grey is harder I think I have to stay here and fight it out...
January 29, 2002
... So you were asking me what I see as a big picture. Well, I don't know if you will believe this, but part of what I have been learning in the last few years is to let go of my definition of the big picture. I really don't have any over-arching master plan of where I see things going other than the following of basic guiding principles. For me, the problem with grandiose all-encompassing visions is that they take the control out of God hands, placing the burden on us. And pretty quickly the lines blur as to whether we are doing it or God is doing it.
I guess, for me, this time of deconstruction has been about finding out what is at the foundation of all my strivings. As I look at Christ, I come to believe that the foundation for everything I do should be Love. Inasmuch as God is Love, Love becomes the absolute prime directive. Jesus and his greatest commandment - Love god and Love people - that is what I want to be all about. But there is something inherent about big plans and visions that takes my focus off of the goal of really loving God and people. Somehow, people become part of my project, a means to an end rather than an end in themselves. At least that is what was happening for me. I read where Peter tells Christians to really Love each other deeply, from the heart, and that is compelling to me. But as far as I can see, that requires quality time and quantity time. When I was really a part of the big structure, I was so busy that all I had time for was quality time. But I seemed to be leaving a trail of disconnected, disillusioned people who thought they were part of a family, but were finding that they were really an unpaid employee in my corporation. I was thinking about it yesterday, I have been outside of the structure of church for some time now, and I have never had such an alive, growing network of relationships as I do now. The network is primarily about becoming a family - a people of God who Love each other honestly and want to do life like Jesus did. But I must admit I am hesitant to start placing titles on people and meetings because it seems like too quickly we would be back on the road to corporate status.
What I want to do these days are the small things of Love, and then trust God to bring about an awesome "big picture". One friend of mine was talking about the need in any healthy group to find the balance between community and mission - to Love the people in your group but be looking outside the group for more people to share Love with. And for me, that is best done in a small group of people, primarily. This is not to say that I think large gatherings are evil. I think sometimes they're really good, like Sunday. It is just that right now, they are definitely the primary focus, and to me, there are way too many people in the room to really make for a healthy family.
These days, there is a lot of life for me in the community of friends that is forming at my job. I am not real crazy about the teaching part, but the job itself puts me in daily contact with, well, I guess you could call them "the poor". A lot of the students here have addictions and other circumstances that they are drowning in, and real friendship is something they respond to quickly. And there is no glory in it, and that is a good thing for me. It was a paradox for me, that in the context of a large church with a big plan, I could use my relationships with the poor as trophies, pointing to how I was really "doing it". That is not so much an issue in a place like this, where nobody is watching.
The bare bones of what I think would be a good idea organizationally for now looks something like this: a gang of us has been talking about turning Sunday morning into brunch time. We want to get together around what Paul called "the Lord’s table" and eat and build friendships, encourage and teach each other. I like the idea I see in the early church how communion was part of a larger meal, and we want to give that a try. We have also been getting together on Wednesday evenings to pray, usually, just basically because we have all been feeling that unction these days.
I suppose I could get into the whole discussion of how the early church organized itself (webs of house churches, etc) but I will save that for inch 3 of the stogie.
Talk to you more on Thursday,
In another letter I had pondered that "Jesus is God, yet he threw it away in the way he lived, and then threw it all away at the cross. And in doing this, he showed us how to give all the control over to God, letting him take care of the resurrections." This was a theme that showed up in a lot of letters and journals those days that I think I have forgotten recently. I don't know how it works for other people, but for me it seems that there are some bedrock principles that I can't forget or else everything else starts to slide. And this one is a big one for me, that of not focusing too much on outcomes but letting the dream be the acting out of Love in my everyday life. For me now things are becoming a little too unintentional, and a little too relaxed and suburban. I need to think of some ways to change that.
Update: Or maybe this is all just nostalgia...