I am currently reading The Tangible Kingdom by Hugh Halter and Matt Smay. It puts into words so many things I have been thinking about in the past year or two. That church is so much more than a weekly meeting or two. That the lack of enthusiasm people have for church and religion has very little to do with the life-changing adventure of following Jesus. That every aspect of life can be relational (connecting with God and with others) if I look for it. That Church was never meant to "happen" behind closed doors. That helping others (not just watching out for my own interests) is much easier and natural than I thought, yet much more challenging than is comfortable.
This summer, I have been trying to get better at connecting with people outside of my immediate circle of friends (read "comfort zone"). Once a week or so, I make a point of calling someone up that I would not normally hang out with and inviting them to go for a drink. They might be people I have not seen for awhile. They might be people I don't really know, but have seen around. They might be people I keep thinking about for some reason. They might be people that have approached me in the past, and I never gave them much time. They might be a random person that I strike up a conversation with.
Without fail, all of these encounters have been interesting, fun, and as far as I can tell, meaningful and encouraging for both of us. Sometimes they start a bit awkwardly, but as soon as I let my guard down, so do they. Let's face it. Everyone can use a friend, a listening buddy, and someone to let them know that they are valuable enough to have an hour or two devoted to them.
And last week, I found someone who has lived with these ideas much longer than I have, and he says it much more clearly than I could. Here's Hugh:
There are 4 things that Mr. Halter suggests should be part of a life that seeks to connect well (with God and others):
1. Leaving: get out there. Go where people are. Invite people not only to participate in your life, but express interest in theirs. A few examples are: 1) let people live with you for extended periods of time. 2) have dinner with people (not just the usual friends). 3) do what you love with others (invite someone you are just getting to know along on a bike ride). 4) go out of your way to build relationships (walk over and say hi, don't just hurry along on the way to your next appointment, and hey, maybe leave early to allow time for these connections). 5) look for chances to talk (neighbours and mailmen and bank tellers and waitresses need friends, too). Oh and by the way...selfishness is the enemy of "leaving."
2. Listening: let people tell their story. Make space for them in your life and day. Don't feel the need to offer advice or relate it back to yourself. Watch and listen and let people reveal themselves to you. It is a gift most people only give to the patient, loving, and trustworthy. You know what? Arrogance is the enemy of "listening."
3. Living Among: If we are incarnational people (that means letting Jesus live in us), we will develop the habit of living among. We participate in the natural activities of the culture around us with whimsical holiness. We are at home with people of all walks of life and don't try to separate ourselves from certain types of folks. Jesus really knew how to do this. The religious of the day felt uncomfortable around him, but the sick and needy and people with issues didn't. He came to their homes, he ate with them, and he hung out in public places with them. You guessed it: fear is the enemy of "living among."
4. Loving without strings: people can tell if we are just trying to get them to sign up for something or take them on as an improvement project. I need to become comfortable with receiving unconditional love (from God), and then get good at giving it out. Love is the most attractive force in the world. And wouldn't you know it: having expectations is the enemy of loving.
One nice quote from Hugh to end it all off: I've concluded that, almost without exception, relationships are formed, important dialogue and conversation begin, and powerful moments of ministry occur during spontaneous, unplanned moments while we are sharing our lives together. In many cases, these events occurred when I didn't want to be some place or have someone with me. Over time, I have learned that "interruptions" are the very place where I look for God to work. It's almost as if God creates interruptions as his last attempt to get me out of my own life. - Hugh Halter
These 4 points and the ending quote shamelessly ripped (with paraphrasing by Matte) from the pages of The Tangible Kingdom by Hugh Halter and Matt Smay. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2008.
This is a photo from the Mardi Gras parade in Montreal thus summer. Who wants to be a knight in shining armour?