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Archive for May, 2009

As I drove to run errands in the dark in the rain, in my 1980 Mercedes that has no dashboard lights and a radio that only works when you’re not in gear, I did what I usually do on the drive to and from town: prayed, thought, wondered, in silence. I think I’m supposed to be still more often, to just sit with my thoughts and allow them to wash over me, to clean out my soul. The drive in and out of Americus is just the right space to practice this letting go. Tonight as I processed all the awesomeness of the past few days, a song I haven’t heard in at least 10 years came to mind so clearly that I was transported back to my high school days, and I could have been on my way to the school with all my friends in the car, the passenger playing air guitar while I drummed on the steering wheel and we all shouted the lyrics together.

The song was Weezer’s Say It Ain’t So. When I got home I looked up the lyrics which you can read here, and the video so you can listen to the song here. I also learned from Wikipedia that the song is about Rivers Cuomo (the lead singer’s) fear that his step dad would turn out to be an alcoholic just like his father had been. Cuomo’s father had left the family when he was four, and as a teenager the pain of losing his father was awakened by the discovery of a bottle of beer in the fridge belonging to his stepdad. He feared that his step father would also leave, and the song’s poignant guitar solos capture this sense of impending loss.

So what’s going on when I’m praying and a song like this comes along? I think God’s trying to get me to laugh at myself, and to let go of my deepest fears. I’d like to invite you to let go with me. Here goes…

In high school I longed for someone, anyone, to love me enough that I would feel whole. I wanted so badly to be cool that I couldn’t really tell you what I liked and didn’t like because I was afraid of giving the wrong answer. Now that I look back on those days, I absolutely have to laugh at myself, and shake my head a little as I realize that I had everything I was looking for right beside me all along. What I mean is, I was surrounded by hundreds of other people who were looking for exactly the same thing as me. But I was so afraid you wouldn’t like me that I was unable to become someone likable. Instead I thought I was invisible, and I also decided that I was shy and introverted and practically gave up on having any friends at all.

By the time I got to college, I had discovered that alcohol and drugs could numb the fear enough that I could talk without stammering and laugh as loud as I wanted. I could have opinions and ideas, some of which were brilliant, and when I shared these “secret” thoughts I found that others wanted to spend time getting to know me. To my suprise, I discovered during my college years that I’m actually an extreme extrovert who needs lots of conversation to sustain my energy level (no wonder those lonely high school days were so draining).

So here it is, as succinct as I can get it: My deepest fear is that you won’t like me. Kind of anti-climactic, huh? But it was true then and it’s still true today. And though I believe I’m a lot more likable today than I was in high school, the fear still keeps me from being completely comfortable being myself more often than I’d like to admit.

I suppose the Weezer song hit especially close to home because I’m now a recovering alcoholic learning how not to run away when things get hard. Through most of my 20’s I quit before you could fire me, left before you could break up with me, moved before the scenery got old. It was just easier that way, and it kept things fresh. If I left before you got to the ugly parts, then I could always return to friends.

But this particular fear is showing itself in a new way this time, and this time around facing it is going to be different. See, this time around I’m steeped in commitments, and I’m sticking with them through whatever comes my way. Not only do I have a wonderful husband and two beautiful, precocious daughters, but I’m also committed to a whole community of people. I just hope all of these people still like me once they get to know the real story…and if God’s hand is truly in all that’s happening here at Koinonia, I’m certain that they’ll continue to love me even on the days when I’m not very likable.

You may wonder why I’m sharing this here. I’ve found that speaking about my fears takes the wind out of their sails. So, what are you afraid of? If you find that something’s plaguing you, I invite you to tell about it. If it’s something simple, leave a comment here. If it’s more serious, tell a trusted friend, or send me a private message if you like. The point is to tell someone before the fear becomes a way of life. Before that begins to happen, listen to that voice in the back of your mind, say it ain’t so, and just let the fears go.

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Get used to it

My friend Havilah shared something profound with me this past weekend regarding the practice of her faith walk. She said, “Someone once told me that obedience is more important than being effective.”

A couple of weeks ago when Church of the Servant King members were visiting, Teresa shared that a turning point for her in the process of forming their life together was when she realized that their end goal could not be self-perpetuation, but that it had to stem from doing what God was calling them to do now, all the while patiently waiting to see what comes next.

And just yesterday Ellie shared this little gem in morning chapel: “Success is not as important as remaining faithful.”

Sometimes it’s not clear what God is calling us to be or do. What then? Well, according to the word for me this week, I’m to be obedient, faithful and patient. And I’m to give up my stranglehold on effectiveness, success, and any earthly guarantees of longevity.

When I try to convince anyone of anything, I’m coming to realize that I actually limit God’s capacity to work in the lives of others. If I have to convince you, then that must mean you think differently than me. If I think I have to convince you then I’m in a state of fear that something bad might happen if you don’t see things my way. By coming at you with my agenda and expecting you to abide by it (even if I think it’s God’s agenda) I create a state of active resistance which often leads to conflict. Meanwhile God sits waiting in the wings, giving me the signal to let him take center stage. Sometimes I take my cue. And sometimes I improvise a monologue.

Now, these are not easy thoughts for me to sit with. I live in a community where we have spent months and years creating and implementing enough structure to set us free, and one of our promises to one another is that we will speak openly and directly with others rather than gossiping and complaining. How does one address issues in others without coming across as overbearing and controlling? I’m still figuring out the answer to that one, but I know it has an awful lot to do with humility. If I feel that God is calling me to share some difficult feedback with another member of the community, I’m learning to pray for humility before I ever open my mouth.

What I’m finding is that when I can go to someone else willing to humbly admit my own shortcomings, then we can work through our issues together. And when I’m obedient, open and faithful, then God gets to be effective, long-lasting and successful. I think I could get used to living like that.

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Listening to one of my favorite Pandora stations this evening, I was suprised to find that in the midst of the many angsty, shouting punk bands there was an “alternative gospel” Christian group called Hoi Polloi. Intrigued by their name, I did a little digging and learned an important lesson. The band’s name is a Greek phrase that means “the many.” According to wikipedia, it’s usually used in a derogatory sense to speak of the “plebian masses, riffraff, commoners,” etc.

This past week, a group of six people from a community in Eugene, OR called the Church of the Servant King visited Koinonia and led us in a study of the scriptural basis for Christians living in community with each other. Throughout the entire Bible, there are passages that direct us to share our lives with one another, learning to become servants just as Christ came to earth to serve us. We at Koinonia tend to admire our friends from Eugene. As we rebuild our community, we have been inspired by the way they do things there. When they become full members they make a lifetime commitment that they take very seriously. They agree to be held accountable to the scriptures, and to prayerfully call each other out on the sins that might keep them from manifesting the kingdom of heaven here and now.

Now, it’s easy for the Koinonians to start to think that the Church of the Servant King folks have it all figured out. But the truth is that they go through all the same struggles as we do. They are just so refreshingly humble, and as I ponder this new concept of hoi polloi I see that they recognize that not one of them is any better than anyone else. The truth is, we are all hoi polloi, we all belong to the masses. To think any differently, at least for me, is to fall into dangerous grandiosity. Whether I think I’m the greatest person ever to have lived or I think I’m the lowest scum of the earth, I’m being grandiose because I’m excluding myself from connection with the people around me. I need to be frequently reminded that my struggles are not unique, and that I’m really just a member of the community among other members, and that each of us brings gifts as well as challenges.

Here is the biggest lesson I learned this past week:

The last night of Jesus’ life as a human, he broke bread with his dearest friends. But first he insisted on washing his disciples’ feet. Foot washing in that day was considered the job for the lowest servant, and was reserved for honored guests. The disciples knew that Jesus was the messiah, that he was God among us, and so for him to wash their feet seemed rather absurd. Why would the ruler of the heavens stoop so low as to do the work of a servant?

As Jesus began to perform this ritual, Peter continued to protest: “You’re not going to wash my feet — ever!”

To this Jesus replied: “If I don’t wash you, you can’t be part of what I’m doing.” (The Message, John 13:8)

The message to me in all of this is pretty clear. Unless I allow God to serve me, I can’t possibly do the work of his kingdom here on earth. If I think I can handle life on my own, or if I’ve decided that I have things figured out and I’m ready to explain it all to you so you can do it my way, I’m actually preventing God from working in my life!

This might seem in direct contrast to all the work we’ve been doing here at Koinonia in the past few years. We have spent hours refining a very specific process to full membership in the community, laying out expectations and agreements. Just a couple of weeks ago we went through the painful process of asking an exploring member to leave the community. So, as we work towards clarity of commitment, how can we stay open to God’s service to us?

I think the answer is within this “hoi polloi” concept. As long as we realize that our way is not the only way, and we are just one small group among the masses, as long as we stay open to the prompting of the spirit, and as long as we are willing to serve and be served, we’ll remain on God’s path. And when we inevitably veer off course, Jesus is waiting patiently on the shoulder of the road. If we are willing to take his direction, the kingdom of heaven will always be close at hand.

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