Sunday, August 31, 2008

eating the mushrooms

Okay, so the story behind this post's title is too long to share here; suffice it to say the title raises the question: What am I willing to risk to move my faith from belief in to acting upon. As I was challenged this morning to move from belief to action, the answer to that question was clear in my head. All afternoon, except during the nap that has become a Sunday tradition that I also try to observe on other days of the week, the words have echoed in my mind. Here's my answer:

I ask God to give us the strength to enter into the suffering of those in my community so that they might share in the blessings I've been given.

A brief explanation: My family and I live on the semi-rural campus of the college that employs me. Our house is provided and maintained by my employer (which has its problems, of course, but in the balance we are very well taken care of), so there's a whole area of life that we don't have to devote too much time or energy worrying about. Our neighbors are, without exception, faculty, staff, and students of this small private college. There isn't a single run-down, dodgy building within sight (even though there are three different trailor parks on campus). The things my neighbors worry about (and get upset about) include finishing midterm papers and preparing for exams, whether the neighbor mows his lawn with adequate frequency, whether the teenage children of my coworkers had permission when they accessed school facilities, and (this is a particularly pressing concern at the moment) whether residents observe the posted 15 mph speed limit in the residential areas of campus.

In other words, we are very sheltered.

In the midst of all of this, my greatest fears are these. First, that we will forget that outside this sheltered enclave is a real world where people have to worry about mortgages, neighbors, the cost of keeping their homes heated, dysfunctional and abusive domestic environments, and so on. My immediate world is untouched by these concerns. And while ours is a wonderful community to raise children, the fact is that many parents — single, teenage, homeless, unemployed, abused, underemployed, or whatever — cannot provide such a safe and caring environment for their children. Every day I run the risk of thinking, subconsciously if not on purpose, that these parents must not love their children as much as my wife and I love our daughter. I cannot imagine what it must be like to want to provide for your children and not be able to. This is a blessing that the vast majority of the world's population, I would imagine, have never known.

We are an explicitly and intentionally Christian community, but there is a real danger that as a Christian community we will forget that Jesus explicitly and intentionally sought out the hurting and poor around him. The paradox is striking and terrifying: Claiming to have committed to live lives faithful to him and his teachings, our day-to-day lives risk looking nothing like his. And how does that work? How do we who claim to be (or seek to be) his disciples live lives wholly unlike his?

Second, I worry that my daughter, who was seven months old when we moved here, will grow up thinking that the rest of the world is just like this little world she knows. The longer we stay here (and we have no plans to leave at the moment), the more she will think this place is "normal." What a shallow person she will be if she doesn't know that this place, rather than the city around us, is the oddity.

But I have a plan, a plan I've had in mind since my daughter was a bundle of elbows and knees poking and prodding my wife from the inside. I'm sure my plan, by itself, isn't enough to counter the pervasive secludedness of our community. But it's a beginning, a "square one" from which we can begin to take the blessings we've been given and share them with those around us. I can't give specifics here, but I'm coming to believe that now is the time to begin taking my daughter by the hand and introducing her, in measured doses at first, to the rest of the world.

But I also have a request. You don't need to live where I live to be sheltered like I'm sheltered. In fact, if you're a Western Christian, you probably know exactly what I'm wrestling with here. So, in the comments below, I invite you to answer the question, How have you poked holes in the bubble that protects you and your family from the rest of the world? What risks have you taken to keep from isolating yourself from the chaos outside?


jason said...

i share your views on bible college "sheltering". well spoken. in fact, it's probably the one real gripe i have about my 4 years at kcc.

why couldn't quote have been "eating the mystery pizza". it's a difficult analogy for a person (like me) who does not like mushrooms, whether they're poisonous or not. but if an unknown variety of pizza mysteriously began to grow in the indonesian jungle, i would gladly be the first to try it.

jason said...

oh answer the question...find ways to befriend people who are not "practicing" christians. i say that because many who you would say are definitely not christians will actually say they are. this is easier to do in the non-ministry work force, granted, but surely possible. and i say this not in the "find a target, befriend that target, and EVANGELIZE that target." I mean, just be a friend, hang out, have real, everyday conversations and experiences with people who are not followers of Christ.

Anonymous said...

I would say that some of the most powerful, growing experiences for me here at Johnson have been the jobs I've held off campus. From an alocholic/tyrant boss to a trendy/hipster record store, I have gotten a taste of Knoxville that I would never had seen by only working on campus. My relationships with these people are strong and the conversations we held ran deep. I have always sought employment in very worldly places. It's a step of faith for sure; well for me at least!

bill said...

no. you are right. you do not have to live on a bible college campus to feel this way. in fact, i have found VERY little difference between living on a bible college campus during my 4 years at JBC and living off of a bible college campus and working full-time in a church.

its the exact same christian comfort-zone. and the exact same christian lethargy that i find myself in.

ragamuffinminister said...

my family has chosen to ACTIVELY pursue relationships with those that others might reject. whether it's because they smell, can't afford the cool clothes, are crippled in some way, etc., it's what me, my wife, and my kids do. you don't need inner cities to find broken or poor people. we've done it in the sticks...

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