I grew up going to church – a Christian church. I knew the ins and outs of the traditions and the touchstones of faith. I knew that Jesus died on the cross for our sins. I knew the books of the Bible.
I knew a lot about Christianity, or so I thought. In hindsight, I think perhaps I knew a lot about going to church, and social gatherings, and the particular tools and equipment used in our rituals.
A little past the mid-century point of my life, I am less sure about anything I knew, or thought I knew, about how this all works. I stand back and look at the vast amount of information available about different sects and practices and theological positioning and interpretation and style and what it means to follow Jesus, and I think, Lord, have mercy. I’ll never sort this out.
The glut of information available to us via the internet is unfathomable. And it can be confusing; it’s enough to make me throw up my hands and give up.
Or throw up my hands and simply work with what I’ve got.
In spite of the vast possibility of experiences and ideas and information available, in these past few years I have chosen a more reductionist method of understanding the spiritual dimensions of my identity as a Christian. And the ultimate reduction is bringing it to my experiences, my understanding, my truth. In the end, isn’t it all about me?
There’s a great paradox there, because ultimately, yes; it comes down to me – my life, what I can control, choices I make, the reckoning of my behavior. But at the same time, my existence cannot be divorced from my place in the community – my interaction with others, my responsibility to family and friends, my place as part of humanity. And so, our lives – whether lived through a Christian lens, or another faith, or none at all – ebb and flow in constant flux between what works for us personally and what works for the whole of the community.
And these days, that’s where the fascinating, intriguing, wonder-filled understanding of Christianity resides for me. The Bible, as story after story of humanity – and the Creator’s interaction with it. Jesus, the example of a life so crammed fill of wisdom and compassion and in-your-face honesty, wrapped in a supernatural cloak of power and grace. My community, doing life as best we can, connected by moments of grace grown out of desperation and fear, victory and joy.
Yesterday I spent a couple of hours waiting for an iPhone repair. The Apple store is always
filled to the brim with people in various stages of seeking something. It’s always packed, it seems; and everybody is waiting. Everybody presents some form of desire; looking for a new thing, or resolution to some brokenness. We talk to the greeter, we are pointed to the altar, we offer up our shattered phone or failing MacBook, we trust a man or woman with knowledge to guide us.
Usually we get what we want. Sometimes it costs us dearly, but we pay the cost because we trust the company and the brand, and we so desperately want what they have to offer.
Alan – my repair guy – told me to return at 2:15. I ventured into the outdoor mall to get a coffee, found a place to park and work on my MacBook, and waited. A storm blew in, and as the rain began in spurts, I dashed back to the store. I was early by about 10 minutes, but I checked on the repair anyway. It wasn’t ready, so I leaned against the counter and started playing with something new, tethered to the table, right next to the greeter.
Another employee started a conversation with him; I gotta get to church tonight. I didn’t go this morning.
I immediately started eavesdropping.
I’m giving up soda, again.
I did that a few years ago – never got a taste for it after that.
Yeah? Crazy how that works. I really like Pepsi, but I think I can do it.
They’re bringing Crystal Pepsi back – remember that?
Yeah! Remember? ‘Oh, it’s clear – it must be good for you!’ Ha!
I jumped in to the conversation; I’m giving up an hour of sleep every day.
And just like that, I was in connected in a moment that held much more weight than the expensive gadgets tied to the tables around us. We talked about what it’s like to wake up early, to feel the quiet, to see the sun come up. It was a mere six minutes of conversation and connection…and then the storm got more intense and I asked him to check on my repair status again.
It was ready.
I got my phone, paid yet another guy in a blue shirt, and headed out into the rain.
My reading this morning, from Bread and Wine, focused on baptism as the beginning of this procession toward Easter. Jesus was baptized; it begins the story of his interaction with his community. He showed up at the river and John the Baptizer, recognizing him, protested: I’m the one who needs to be baptized, not you! But Jesus insisted.
‘Do it. God’s work, putting things right all these centuries, is coming together right now in this baptism.’ Matthew 3.15
I’m working with what I’ve got; in sorting out this faith journey, standing on what I know will form in me a better self and a better member of this community. In Bread and Wine, William Willimon says The chief biblical analogy for baptism is not the water that washes but the flood that drowns.
Discipleship is more than turning over a new leaf. It is more fitful and disorderly than gradual moral formation. Nothing less than daily, often painful, lifelong death will do.
That doesn’t sound too appealing, does it? But there we have the point of a Lenten discipline, a walk through these 40 days. Without a willingness to lean into the mess – the ‘fitful, disorderly drowning’, I cannot possibly appreciate Easter – or anything else about being part of humanity – fully me, connected by fleeting touch points to others.
What a privilege, this life we are given.