More Cause for Community
I recently read Donald Miller’s Searching for God Knows What. I had been told that this book was not on the same level as Blue Like Jazz, though I didn’t find this to be true at all. There are some aspects of the book which I felt were lacking, but we must remember that books, like movies, songs, and even people, communicate to us in context. In many ways, our interaction with what we read is a form of relationship, and relationships do not happen in a vacuum. For my context right now, I can think of very few books outside of the Bible that communicate more clearly the power of being in relationship with God.
One metaphor that pops up throughout the book is that of the lifeboat. Miller comments on the state of mankind being like individuals in a lifeboat that has limited supplies. Eventually someone is going overboard so we had better do a good job of convincing the others of our worth! The metaphor addresses a mentality that is so undeniably prevalent in all of our social interactions.
Personally, this struggle to receive affirmation of my worth has been the driving force behind many of my actions in life – both good and bad. We usually address this by telling people that their self-image shouldn’t come from external factors, that we must become self-actualized and look for the value that is within. But Miller points out that God created us to receive our identity rather than to create, build or find it on our own – he gave man a name and Adam was tasked with giving names to the wildlife. We are not created to exist in isolation. Our relationships help to shape us and define us, though this is only possible after we have received the core of our identity from God.
We see in creation that God’s design included an interactive exchange in naming and giving identity. God created humanity in his image, Adam named the wildlife and even Eve. This was a part of holy creation, and it was designed to take place in the presence of God. But then sin entered the picture.
We are still very much consumed with giving and receiving identity. Sadly we are now consumed with a giving and receiving that is meant to elevate our own standing in the community; to give validity to our own existence often by denying the validity of someone else’s.
I met with a woman today who is one of countless people down here trying to put life back together after Katrina. Since the storm her family has been through countless hurricanes. Family members have died only to have the remaining family scramble to fight over inheritance. Children and grandchildren have been sick and have needed surgery, she has developed and had surgery for skin cancer, she and her husband both lost their jobs and they’ve been working non-stop just to keep the family afloat. Of course all of this has put a strain on their marriage and has been difficult for their 5 children (ranging in age from 5 to 24 years old…the 24 year-old with 3 kids of her own).
We listened for a couple hours to her story and what struck me most were the things that seemed the most difficult. With all of the financial and logistical frustrations going on, most often it was the relational stresses that seemed to bring the tears. People taking advantage of other people seemed more devastating than the 6 pine trees that were removed from her house. And the story that really struck me was the pain she felt recently when her father told her she was worthless because she didn’t call him one evening. It was obvious that she knew this accusation was not only unfounded, but that her father must be damaged to say or think such a thing. She told me how ridiculous this was, but her eyes were telling a different story.
I knew the story in her eyes, and so do you. I know the pain of being made to feel worthless. It doesn’t have to be debated logically or convincingly, a simple sentence or even a look can communicate it straight to our core. I don’t even have to know who is reading these words to know that you’ve experienced this. Maybe it was in junior high and the popular kids made sure you knew you were not one of them. Maybe it was late at night in the “safety” of your house. Maybe it was in a college classroom or the office break room. Maybe it was in the cutting comment of a parent or the thoughtless comment of someone you hardly knew. But we’ve all felt that feeling. We’ve all feared for our position in the lifeboat.
Jesus had a way of speaking worth into people’s lives. Think about what it would have meant to the woman in John 8 who was caught in the act of adultery to have Jesus speak to her the way he did. Imagine how it would’ve felt to be drug naked through the streets. I wonder if she knew that she meant nothing to the men who had caught her. I wonder if she could tell that they didn’t even really care so much about God’s law but rather that she was simply a pawn to trap Jesus. Did she know how little she mattered to these men?
So how did it feel when Jesus looked up and spoke words of forgiveness and mercy? How did it feel that he spoke directly to her?
Or what about the woman in Mark 5 who had wrestled with the humiliation and social stigma of bleeding for over a decade? After risking everything, coming into the city and touching the hem of Jesus’ garment, it says she was afraid. Of course she was, for 12 years she’d been taught that she was worthless as long as she was unclean. “But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. He said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.’”
The Bible is filled with story after story of God communicating to his children that they are valuable. These stories need to be repeated. In the wake of a hurricane or the wake of junior high, we need to be reminded that we are valuable. You are valuable. It doesn’t matter what you do or how much you have. You have great worth. No tribal counsel; no lifeboat popularity contest will ever be able to cast you out. Jesus came to teach us that we should get out of the lifeboat anyway. Listen to him. His message isn’t about systematic theology, it isn’t about politics. The story that Jesus is telling is the majesty of God and value of His children.