Smile, It Confuses People

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It’s Monday. For many, it’s the day of dragging ourselves out of bed after a couple of days of not having to think about work, and trudging to that place that sucks much of our time and energy. I’ve read a number of articles and blog posts over the last several years about the Church losing it’s way and continually living in a confused Monday-mindset. I used to think we were finding our way again, but I keep getting reminded of how hard it really is to be “Church.”

We still struggle with size-envy.  We keep succumbing to the temptation of “bigger is better”? As I read the gospels I understand Jesus had the inner twelve, but often the texts allude to hundreds that followed him or came out to hear him as he traveled. He had no building, he had no Christian Education program, no order of worship, no committees. He was building a community in the ancient sense, not a Church in the modern sense.

Is there a way for us to rediscover our sense of community with one another, even in this seemingly deeply divided political environment? Early in my time as a youth director and pastor I relied heavily on programs and spent much of my energy trying to create a “moment” for people to experience. The one major factor I think I was missing was the people themselves. Our base desires are not for more programs and flashy lights, though such superficial dressings might be the first things we notice. Our base desires have more to do with the fact that we are relational beings. In fact, don’t we learn about ourselves more often through our reflection and deflection of other people, especially in our younger more formative years? I learned my hot temperedness by observing people who are both hot and even tempered, and from observing other people’s reactions to what I preferred to call my “passion.” But when I see others acting a certain way, I watch and I realize what I might look like when I fly off the handle. Hopefully I begin to think: I don’t want to look like that or be perceived like that. I see even tempered folks and wonder what is happening inside them—are they raging and just not showing it, or are they so centered and comfortable in their skin they are really able to stay that calm in a situation that to me is outrageous?

We are relational beings from the very start. A baby comes out of the womb and immediately forms a bond with her mother—this is often troublesome for fathers because we aren’t sure how we fit into the equation beyond observing (though I believe the bond between child and father does come, it is different). We form bonds early in life. I remember all my teachers, whether or not they are able to remember me among the hundreds (maybe thousands?) of children they have taught. I remember my youth group leaders when I was a teenager, though I really don’t remember much of what they said during Bible study.

In my faith tradition (Presbyterian) we get pretty caught up on words. In fact our whole form of worship is shaped around “The Word”—namely the reading of scripture and sermons, understanding that through these things the Word of God can be revealed to us and that they themselves do not encompass the Word of God. It’s easy for us to lose sight of the relational center of what we’re doing, including during worship, and who God is calling us to be. As our churches shrink we get distracted by things we believe will “sell” our church to others: programs, nice facilities, projection screens (because that’s what the big churches do), etc. But is this what Jesus asked his disciples to do? Did he model any of those things?

Yes, he said share the gospel (the good news of God’s love and redemption). But he talked a lot more about how we do that in terms of how we live every day in relation to God and the people with whom we live and work. As I’m reading the Bible, I’ve wondered if it’s not even a priority thing: God first, people second. It feels more like a “both/and” at the same time—one informs the other, and it can go either way at different times.

Others far wiser than me have said that this faith thing we’re doing is a journey wherein along the way we may experience the presence of God in so many awe-inspiring ways. In fact, the early Christians were called “followers of the Way of Jesus.” Have we lost the Way? With debates about guns, violence, mental illness, debt ceilings, global economics, immigration, and all these other things, the base desire of our hearts remains the same: how do we relate to and with one another. We need one another. Anyone who says different is kidding themselves (and ignoring the fact that the products they buy and consume as well as the food they eat more often than not comes from someone else’s labor, the laws that help us be safe on the roads and in our neighborhoods require all of us to abide by them if they are to work, and they require us to be held accountable when we choose not to or forget to abide by our them).

Jesus taught that we are all connected, and the Way of Jesus was/is about trying to live in awareness of that connection and our connection to the one who called us into being in the first place. Well, sometimes it’s not easy to get into that mindset. The old adage “fake it ’til you make it” comes to mind. When I’m grumpy or frustrated, if I can summon enough self-awareness and God-awareness, I have actually put this adage to use. I just smile. Regardless of what’s going on, I just smile. And before long broadens, I remember my call to live in the Kingdom of God (not my own tiny fiefdom), and whatever is frustrating me seems to gain clearer focus and perspective. The smile more often than not becomes genuine. It softens my heart to recognize that we are all struggling. I’m not alone. God has given us God’s self and each other to struggle together.

And, if nothing else…I like to smile because it really confuses people, especially on the streets, and that’s just good clean fun! When I realize that I can’t help but feel more like I’m living in the Kingdom of God (or as some call it, the “kin-don” of God) here and now. Imagine that…smiling as prayer!

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