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Ruminating about phones, doing church and the Kingdom

A couple of years ago, we made the decision to use our cell phones instead of a land line for our home phone service. Even so, we kept a business land line upstairs, though we rarely used it (except to keep our TiVo feuled). Recently, however, we finally cancelled that line (feuling our TiVo from the Internet)—and surprisingly, it was a bit unsettling for me. In fact, as I drove into the driveway the other night thinking about this, I had the sensation that our house was suddenly untethered from the earth, somehow floating free in the cosmos. Nevermind that we still had power, plumbing and cable lines holding us fast to the land. I still felt suddenly and uncomfortably loosed from the earth.

I’m feeling a bit that way when it comes to this how-we-do-church stuff. After taking the poverbial red pill almost a year ago (one I realize I’d been in the process of swallowing for some time), there are certain things beginning to sink in that give me a similar feeling of untethered-ness.

I can’t get past how this life we live isn’t about how we do church, what kind of structure we use, what we call ourselves, or even claiming a better way to live. Instead, this life is about a relationship with the Father and walking with those God’s put in my as-I-go way. It is all about learning to live more deeply in Jesus, trusting him more and my self less. It’s about surrendering and living out of the Spirit that lives within me—that has renewed and is transforming me. It’s about learning more and more how much he loves me—and then living and trusting and growing in and out of that love. And that love gushes outward from that abba relationship, out onto the people I encounter every moment. That is life in the Kingdom—the one Jesus brought with him into the world we live in.

I’m discovering that kind of Kingdom, love-filled life is more about loosing things rather than putting them in line. It’s more organic than organized. More relational than structured. More about unboxing than boxing up. When it comes to living-together, it is less about “how we do church” and more about loving others as we go and letting God bring us together and build his body. It is more about eating together and sharing our lives as we go than a meeting or bible study or “fellowship” event. It’s about walking in this wild, expanding, incredible Kingdom together as we go.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for coming together with other believers to do work in the kingdom in an organized or structured way. I heartily support (with my stuff, prayers and time) organized and structured efforts ranging from gathering with believers all over the world to fight injustice (as in Darfur and Uganda) or bring relief to the suffering (like MCC does) to efforts with local believers to provide food and shelter to our neighbors (like the services the local mega-church I attend does) or provide fellowship for our children (like David and his friends in Ludow).

But I’m beginning to realize how much we make these doing-organized-Kingdom-work-together the center of our living-together life. We gather to study the Bible but we don’t know each other’s struggles and brokenness. We group together to bring food and shelter to our neighbors but we don’t share a meal together. And when we do gather for meals, we struggle not to make it just another event to add to the calendar (or skip because we are too busy) than sharing our lives or being in relationship. But institution and structure or organization is to serve the Kingdom, not be the center of it.

I hadn’t realized how geared towards programs, events, structures, progress, and results we are; or, more honestly, I am. And when these things themselves become the purpose—more important than and the basis—for our relationships together, that dims the light we are to the world. I’m beginning to get that a great deal of our light-shining is how much we really love each other. And we can’t love each other if we aren’t in relationship—first with the Father, and then with each other. And we can’t be in relationships with each other if we aren’t sharing meals, hearing each other stories, encouraging each other in trust and walk, listening, all those things you do as family. In Acts, it was very much the sharing of their lives together—and how that loved spilled out into their streets they walked each day—that brought the early followers of Jesus and the Way to the attention of others. And you can't structure much of that type of living-together. It happens more organically than anything else.

But I must make a confession. This all makes me feel a bit lonely. And when I see the dearth of relationship among us, I’m prone to let my desire for that kind of living-together relationships become my focus. And inevitably, that distracts me from my relationship with the Father. And, as folks like Richard Foster, Wayne Jacobsen, and Dallas Willard often remind us, first and foremost we must have a relationship with the Father. Jesus calls us to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and Paul reminds us that we live hidden with Christ in God. When we live in him, he will do the rest. Out of his love and life, comes our love for others. Out of his love and life, we find the living-together he desires and plans for us.

Growing into all of this—realizing my dependence on structure and program for living-together and living with God as I begin to grasp what’s what in this Kingdom life—makes me feel a bit undone. In some ways, I suppose I’ve been keeping this dependence on structure and program in my back pocket, like a back-up land line to my cell phone.

But getting what’s what in this Kingdom life is a giving up of an old thing for something new. An unboxing. A loosing. An untethering. And, in all honesty, a part of me finds this floating loose (bouts of vertigo and all) isn’t such a bad thing—be it with cell phones or God.

(Images: cell phone by gitchel at flickr with some rights reserved; grape vine by julsatmidnight at flickr with some rights reserved; bread by tastingmenu at flickr with some rights reserved)