The Default to Activism

Its like a nervous tic that kicks in when life feels too calm and sane… ‘I should be doing something BIG – starting something – firing something up – kicking big goals – setting BHAGs (do people still do that?) and it feels like a default setting that so easily gets tripped if I don’t consciously resist.

Its not that I’m against doing worthwhile things, but I am very much disturbed by my tendency to see these as ways of validating ministry work.

Think – ‘The more I do the better a pastor I am’ or ‘the bigger a project I take on the better a leader I must be’. We all know that’s a nonsense but its very much a part of our way of being as western Christian leaders.

As I read Petersen’s memoir I came across the story of his church in ‘building mode’, energised, focused and passionate, but then he went on to write about the malaise that followed this – the lethargy and lack of energy that seemed to pervade once the tangible tasks had been fulfilled.

In his struggle with this he sought advice from a mentor. The advice was to start another building project – because people need something tangible to keep them motivated. This advice floored him and he had a ‘lights on’ moment as he considered the type of disciples we are producing if we need to have a tangible project constantly on the go to cause them to feel alive and engaged in the work of God.

He describes it as the ingress of American culture into the life of the church – a not so subtle syncretism that earned the applause of many, but it also became a turning point for him in his understanding of ministry. He wrestled with the need to be busy for several years before realising that his best work was done when he had space to think, pray and listen. He could pastor better when he wasn’t busy – even if he still felt the urge to prove his worth by activity.

Its a tough line to walk because the choice to not be busy can devolve into ‘one more episode on Netflix’ rather than intentional space to pray and listen. Over the last 15 years I have managed to let go of busyness fairly well, but I haven’t always managed to live well in the new space. And at times I feel like it’d be easier just to ‘get cracking’ and start some things up – that way I can see what I’m doing and feel productive again.

However when I use the ‘space’ well and genuinely tune in to the voice of the spirit I find myself doing things that are useful

Because Life Has ‘Brown Bits’

grass_copy_c83-0-659-336_s885x516Recently I arrived to do a reticulation job for a client who had just laid some new artificial lawn. If you know artificial lawn then you’d know there is the stuff you look at and straight away know its fake and then there is the type you need to look twice at.

His was that kind. It could have just about passed for real turf had I not known. And the reason it was so believable was because it had flecks of ‘dead grass’ strewn thru the weave, giving it that appearance of ‘reality’. (Ironically one of the things you are looking for in artificial grass is that it looks as ‘real’ as possible.)

The obvious fakes are those that are a rich dark green all the way through, but the ones that that make the grade as premium are those that have realised no one has a perfect lawn. No one has uniformly lush green grass over their entire yard.

The ‘brown bits’ gave the impression of authenticity – of it being the real deal.

In the same way its the ‘brown bits’ that give our life its authenticity… There is no such thing as a life free from pain, or darkness, or failure and when we try to give that image or even suggest that life can be something other, then we stop living in reality.

We pretend.

Even the most ‘together’ life has its ugly, shitty moments – times of darkness and despair – questioning and lament.

And its in the sharing of those ‘brown bits’ with one another that we actually move forwards on the journey of Christlikeness. Its as we own our darkness and confess it to one another that we find healing and grace to move on. Conversely its as we hide our sin, as we deny our humanity even that we stunt our journey Christward and end up pretending.

Jesus had no issue with people who were aware of their ‘brown bits’, but he had harsh words for those who sought to give outward appearances of godliness but inwardly were rotting away.

If we are to be fully the church then a significant part of that will be in acknowledging that we are a community of broken people trying to help one another become formed in the image of Christ.

However until we see the value in vulnerability and can admit our need we will keep running services, events and smiling at one another from afar, yet we will live with that nagging sense of disappointment and frustration that there has to be more…

There does – but it requires the courage to say ‘this is me’ whatever that means and in that space to find grace and hope to move forwards – or to offer grace and hope to others.