Professor Mike Stroope joined Dr. Matt Homeyer this week on the Truett Church Network podcast. The headline above is taken from that interview. Words of wisdom.
Dr. Stroope observed that we live in a time where we are fragmented. We have few spaces in which we can be whole, complete selves. Some, those who are friendly, use their friendliness as a shield, a way to hide flaws and imperfections, limitations, failings, and sins. We spread ourselves thin, connected to others at a calibrated degree of social acceptability and personal comfort, but not so close as to become exposed.
The danger is this: when we spend time with another person face to face and in close community over time, we become vulnerable. We enter into a space where we can be known more fully, not only by intention, but also in moments when our guard comes down, when words are uttered that could be misunderstood or misconstrued.
Or, conversely, words are spoken that are understood perfectly well and to our horror, having revealed the truth about our character. People come to know us, to know things about us, not only the good, but that bad and the ugly, too. Proximity also results in our sinning against one another. We hurt the people we love most, not because we mean to, but because they are close. Community comes with risk, first the risk of harm, but also the risk of rejection.
But close community does not only yield the possibility of exposure. There is an upside. Close community also brings the possibility of grace, acceptance, and love, not because of who we are but very often in spite of it.
Most of us see that close community only develops when a person reveals weakness and another person responds in gentleness. Love is a discovery; we can be loved, and we see it particularly when a person knows the very worst thing about us, and they stay.
In close community we learn we are flawed, vulnerable, and weak. This is the part of the human condition. We are mortal, limited in power, commonly mistaken, mixed in our motives, and, quite often, we make things up as we go along. Close community helps us see what is true of ourselves, and what is true of us all.
This realization, this admission, allows for the dropping of pretense and an increase in compassion, not only for the self, but for all we encounter, particularly those closest to us, those we spend the most time with, those who see us not as we pretend to be or who we are project ourselves to be, but as we really are.
I’ve go to lunch with students and colleagues. I commit to being present at church every Sunday I’m not sick or out of town, in the service of worship and in the context of a smaller fellowship, which in my case is a Bible study (if you are local, you’re invited). I’ve written before about deleting social media apps from my phone, and logging out in the browser.
But the most important commitment I have made is to my family. I want to know them; I want them to know me, flaws and all. I’ll run the risk that they might love me in return.
I think we’d all benefit by sitting down with pen and paper, drawing a small circle, and asking ourselves, “Who do I most want to spend my time with?” Write down the names. Picture the faces. Think about what you know of each person, what they like, what they dislike, what gifts they bring, what flaws they possess.
Consider how to be a friend, how you might be a more loving sibling, parent, cousin, or grandchild. Not all friendships are the same. Community takes numerous shapes.
Create spaces where you could spend more time with this small circle of people, where you initiate conversations, express curiosity, ask for stories. Think of ways you might begin to share more of yourself. It could be a weekly call, or a monthly coffee. It will need to be a commitment, one that can be sustained over time.
It’s easier to be friendly with many than a friend to a few.
Be a friend.
I’m nearly through with Donald Worster’s A Passion for Nature: The Life of John Muir. I continue to think aspects of Muir are misrepresented due to misunderstandings of the Christian religion by the biographer. It makes me wonder who his readers were.
I am reading a Song of Songs commentary by Paul J. Griffiths. And I’ve been on a purchasing binge lately, buying used copies of books that have caught my interest or that I’ve had my eye on for a while. But at the moment, I’m not progressing through books at my normal clip. I’m busy at the office, which is pretty normal for the early portion of the semester.
I just started John Goldingay’s The Theology of Jeremiah: The Book, the Man, The Message, and I like it.
Sights and Sounds
February playlist is here on Tidal. I’ll post links to the blog as well, including a link to the list on the Spotify platform.
I’ve watched a few movies lately: I Am Chris Farley, The Gentlemen (2019), Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator (1940), and Guillermo del Toro’s 1993 film Cronos. Up next are The Hunt and Midnight in Paris.
I really enjoyed The Gentlemen, starring Matthew McConaughey, Charlie Hunnam, and Michelle Dockery. It’s a gangster tale, violent and comedic, yet compellingly told through the eyes of the various interesting underworld characters and through the eyes of a writer, a savvy and slimy investigative journalist who has taken what he’s discovered about Michael Pearson (McConaughey) and his criminal empire and turned it into a screenplay. Coach, a minor character played by Colin Farrell, is my favorite.
I posted a terrible app idea for church placement and ministry job searches, excellent photography of the ocean by Rachael Talibart, a leadership insight from Andy Crouch, a writing exercise from Jeff Tweedy, a fun find on a dust jacket, and a reminder to listen.
Before I go, standard copy.
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Be well this week. Bless others.
P. S. - We recently took a trip to San Antonio. We met a new family member and saw others we already love a lot but needed to tell them face to face. Photos are from our visit.