relationships, boundaries, and skating lessons

Once again, I appreciate the honest blog post here about being stripped of all things churchianity – the Christian subculture – and rediscovering an honest relationship with God, and letting him lead us himself. It has spurred more thoughts of my/our own trek that I’d like to share.

I want to talk more about relationships among people and God. This has been a recurring theme with my wife and I, and I believe this topic is common to anyone truly on the detox journey out of the church business ways to something real. After 20+ years in the church business way of doing relationships, my wife and I came to the hard realization that we didn’t really know how to do them well, and that we had allowed others to do our thinking. It wasn’t good enough anymore to know someone who knew God (or thought they did). God wanted us himself – the thrill of a lifetime!

We didn’t know how to take time with relationships – the years it really takes. Taking time to gradually go deeper rather than rush in head long. And how to recognize good indicators that the risk was going to be a good one, and be in touch with the desires of our own hearts. Did I want this relationship? Was there truly a sense in me that God was doing something in it? David prayed like his desires and God’s desires were one and the same. There was once a season I prayed each day, “Lord, help me feel today.” It seemed like I had spent all my life dialed in to what others indicated was the “right” thing to think and feel, that I had very little idea what God was really saying me, now that I was coming to know he speaks to us mostly through our own guts.

We didn’t know how to have honest, meaningful conflict resolution. Where you say the hard stuff without shredding the other person (though you wanted to). And they get to say the needful things, and maybe you actually come to new understandings together over time. Or maybe not, even after many years. But you don’t violate yourself in this process, yet be as generous as you can toward the other person’s prosperity. So many relationships in the church are based out of a man-made hierarchy positioning, which Jesus banned from the body of Christ. Thus, boundaries were mowed over so much that we had no concept of where they even used to be.

We had very little idea how to be peers, egalitarian, co-heirs in Christ with others in the body. How to truly live like the playing field is level, and only Christ is above the rest.

We didn’t know how to live like the imaginary relational boundaries we had around church businesses were just that – imaginary. To think that we actually lopped off relationships when people left our “church” (business), and felt nothing for it. Ludicrous! Same thing goes for the imaginary relational boundary between the man-made church subculture and those not yet among his followers. What? You can actually have FRIENDS that aren’t saved?! And even allow yourself to learn things from them that Jesus-followers are supposed to own the corner market on – such as grace, generosity, integrity?! Oh yes.

Indeed, this epidemic of relational violations is the primary driver for us getting off the church business merry-go-round to rethink all things church, which led to rethinking all things Christianity. A frightening, yet invigorating journey! I think a serious detox from the church business way brings you face-to-face with the horrendous handling of relationships there. In the end, I came to believe that, as an adult, I had no one to blame by myself. I mean, what was I thinking doing these things? But that’s the point, I wasn’t thinking. Hardly anyone in my Christian circles was. I guess we just didn’t suspect the violations there, but it was the same for the Lord and his first followers. We’ve had to essentially learn from scratch how to do relationships with God and people.

I would say we’re seeing two things these days: one is that as we’re learning, in the midst of safe, “go-slow” relationships with 5-7 other families, how to do healthy boundaries with relationships, we’re finding new boldness to be appropriately vulnerable again. The other thing, of course, is we’re sensing the Lord leading us to take more risks, gently nudging us beyond our comfort zones. It’s like so much of the kingdom of God revolves around relationships, so pressing in to them appears to be important to him.

I’m doing ice skating lessons with my daughters (5 & 7). I never had a lesson before, had no clue what I was doing, and it showed. So I’ve been avoiding ice skating all my life. My wife, however, is pretty good at it and takes our girls now and then. Lessons came available nearby, so it was my chance to have Father-daughter time and try to eliminate some embarrassment on the ice so I could skate with the family. About the 2nd or 3rd lesson they taught us how to stop. It’s kinda like a snow-plow action, and with some practice, it works! The unexpected result was that I was finally bold enough to risk some skating moves because I knew I could bring myself to a stop without having to fall down or slam myself into the boards. I see a correlation to doing just about anyting in life, including relationships.

houses of refuge

I read a nice blog post here about how God’s accepting love of us, over time, brings us to trust him with more and more of our hearts. As I read it, it inspired thoughts that I commented there, but wanted to post here as well.

I see a correlation in that story to what God is revealing to us among human relations as well. Or better said, among the mix of Jesus and his followers.

For the first few years of our gathering, with about 5-6 families, we were still fresh from the church-business model, and I think we carried some of that habit of trying to prod others to do the things we thought a group of Jesus followers should be doing. You know, the “shoulds” and “ought-tos”. We’re so good at directing this business, with all our strategies and methods, with “No Holy Spirit Required.”

Gradually, that kind of stuff seems to be dropping off, and in recent years, without consciously intending it, but now realizing in reflection, we’re seeing that we’re mostly just “being” together, with our loving Father, accepting each other where they are the best we can, screw-ups and all. Not that it’s always a piece of cake, and certainly not perfectly done. But what else can we do? Where else can we go? We’re ruined from going back to anything, so all we can do is press onward. It’s like we realize how much we appreciate and need this life-together-with-each-other-and-Jesus.

God is getting his way with us, and safety is growing. And an interesting thing is happening to nearly every one of us over the last year: God is bringing us to the growth points he wants for us, right in front of each other, where it can’t be hidden. Messy sometimes. But I think we’re starting to “get” what some of his design is for his followers – as we keep gathering in Jesus, year over year, we can become a host to his healing presence and power, and he shepherds the growth and change all on his own, with “No Human Intervention Required.” It might be early to say, but it would seem that “scrapes and scabs, that were all over his body, are disappearing” (a quote from the above referenced blog post).

Thank you, dear God. May you raise up small, simple gatherings of your followers everywhere, and would you fill them with hunger for your presence, that we might become houses of refuge in the midst of these stormy days.

doing the 1-step with Jesus

As I’ve mingled among fellow followers of Jesus who are getting detoxed and unplugged from the ways of church business, there’s the ongoing issue that we are still carrying in our bones a lot of the church business ways. I certainly have my own stuff to deal with.

Let’s not over-think this. We don’t have to have it all figured out. In fact, we don’t have to have ANYthing figured out. Jesus called us to follow him, right? The key for me becomes getting as good as I can at day-by-day, year-over-year, following Jesus. Having “eyes to see” and “ears to hear” what he is doing. In many ways, if you haven’t had years of church business, the art of following him in this may be much easier for you.

Clearly this life of following Jesus is not a solo act, but we’re part of a body, family, army – pick your metaphor. So together, in some local, collective fashion, we figure out how to follow his lead. If you’re by yourself, it’s just the natural thing as fellow human sojourners on the earth to find others who want to go the same direction and walk togther. Simple. Who cares what it looks like, where you do it, who you go with, what you do together, etc. etc. It’s about simply following Jesus together, right? I believe there’s a ton of freedom here, we just need to ask him what he’s doing, and follow. One of the challenging things about striking out in something new is allowing yourself to even entertain an unfamiliar thought or idea.

I propose we, as his bride, do the 1-step dance with Jesus. Especially if you’ve had a lot of history in church businesses, if you’re thinking more than just the next step, I bet you anything you’re already over-thinking it – meaning you’ve gone past what he’s really saying. And if you feel all that entrepreneurial energy surging within, “hey! we can do this! we have the technology! the harvest is ripe!!” – whoa, steady cobra. I recommend caution, hard-hat required. Things might start falling down all around you. All too often we go down those same old paths of crankin’ out church like we crank out American business – and we don’t even realize it. Especially if we think about it mostly by ourselves (“sole proprietorship”, “start your own business”) in our own world of thought, instead of out in the open with trusted relationships of the body of Christ in our world (but someone might steal my idea!).

Let’s do the 1-step: just get together with others in the body, and take 1 step together. Gather, have a meal, go home. Then do it again, and take it 1-step more – together. Talk about it, let your ideals melt into something that becomes everyone’s – and no “ones”. Meaning no “one” can say “look what I thought up”, because it has a little bit of everyone’s thinking in it, and it becomes clear that Jesus is Shepherding it. And then you don’t care so much if you need to chuck some or all of it, and redo. If you’re like us (really, we’re pretty normal!) you’ll probably end up in a WAY different place than if you rushed in headlong. And you won’t birth another Ishmael – you know, man’s idea, that causes a lot of grief, and that lives on right along with God’s idea, that will indeed come to pass. And if you go slow, as a group, our experience is that you have a much higher likelihood of ending up where he’s in charge and you are not carrying the burden to keep things going under your own flesh steam. Which is where we really want to be, right? So in a very real sense, this way is much quicker. The fast-track, don’t-go-together, don’t-wait-on-God ways seem exciting for awhile, and lots of cool stuff seems to be happening…but then there’s the carnage, the fallout, and all the stuff that has to get unraveled, and relearned. Again. Yuck.

Here’ s the 1-step program in Isaiah 42:

“I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them.”

I believe blindness describes what most of us in the church are really dealing with today, even though there are things we are starting to see. And unfamiliar describes our path, even though much of it feels like we’ve “come home.” It’s not the home we’ve known, and it doesn’t always seem intuitive how to live there. The emphasis I like in this scripture is that God is the one doing all the work, and he’s putting the focus on lighting up the path “before them” – just the next step.

I definitely see that God, by his Spirit, is leading many to think his thoughts, to have dreams and visions of what he’s doing, and to follow his lead. The deal, of course, is turning away from the flesh and following after the Spirit. May we be strong, courageous, and wise!

church thoughts – from April, 2003

I’m cleaning up a personal web site where I had the following story posted from April, 2003. I wanted to keep it as a reminder for myself, so I’m re-posting here. This was from the earlier years of our journey in rethinking what it means to simply, truly, follow Jesus, and I apologize up front for sounding a little “know it all” – ha! It’s kinda like the 17-yr-old who thinks he knows so much (naw, I didn’t do that! 🙂 ), and then he gets into his 20’s and realizes he’s not so smart. This post runs along similar themes as others, but I’m coming to believe the encouragement to “just gather” is worthy:

April, 2003

Christine and I are rediscovering the beauty, challenge, and adventure of being part of God’s church. We gather with friends in homes. We worship God, pray to him with others, and see his power change us. The words of the bible are read with fresh simplicity. We are finding ourselves walking through this life with newfound intimacy and dependency on God, ever growing, week after month after year. And we are learning the patient art of building loving, trusting relationships with others.

If you find yourself longing for these things, I encourage you to begin gathering with people and doing them. I have come to believe that if we are not experiencing the allusive sense of “community” with others, it may be that we have only ourselves to blame. All too often we willingly sign up to spend countless hours, energy and resources on activities that are not taking us where our hearts have been leading us. And many times as believers in Jesus we give incredibly to building church businesses, only to find that the really important things (above) are missing from our lives. I spent about 20 years doing it myself (starting ministries, churches, small groups, etc.) before finally stepping off the merry-go-round long enough to seek answers to the deeper longings in my heart. God is doing many great and wonderful things through church businesses, but don’t be fooled into thinking this is his endorsement of that model for gathering with other believers. He’ll use us imperfect humans any and every way he can, and there is no mandated model for gathering with believers in the New Testament. When you start taking an objective look at the popular church business approach, you’ll find it quite difficult to support much of any of it from scripture. And worse, many parts of the generic design are working against the essence of what God’s church is all about.

For the last several years my wife and I have been seeking God’s direction in this, and seeking out others with the same passion. We discovered something that we weren’t prepared for: God is quite free with encouragement on the topic, and the people are everywhere! We gather locally several times a month with them, and we even “gather” periodically with remote friends through planned phone calls who are also on this incredible journey of rediscovering the meaning of being the church as opposed to going to church. It didn’t happen over night, and in fact has taken several years to get to this point.

If you are at all inclined, I hope you begin such a journey. Or maybe you just need to get back to it. Either way, I’m convinced you’ll never be the same – for good! If you’ve spent a lot of years involved in the common church businesses of today, and you have many friends there, be prepared for a bit of a wild ride for the first few years. It can be downright frightening to seriously re-evaluate something you’ve held dear for so long, especially when it comes to the things of God. Our fellow believers will not always be kind, so you’ll have lots of opportunities to practice forgiveness. But press through till you get back to the core basics of what it means to be a follower of Jesus and part of the family of God. And you’ll see what I’m talking about – that God is putting this on the hearts of many. I won’t say it’s for everyone. In fact, if you have no inclination for this, and you feel God has put you in the midst of the life and times of a particular church business, then may you continue to prosper there in all that God has for you. But for the others, join us in going back to our bibles and taking a fresh look at the life experienced by the New Testament church – and seek it with all your heart! The rewards are deep and lasting – like coming home.

At first it can be tough to find resources on this, but they are there. We’re interested to know how others are finding success in this journey, such as:

  • how church gatherings and structure are becoming simpler and more true to the message of the gospel
  • how the emphasis on good relationships is being lived out
  • how leadership hierarchies are being stripped away to reflect a truer image of the church as Jesus and the first church modeled it
  • how the trappings of church businesses (buildings, equipment, payrolls, formalities, traditions, by-laws and non-profit requirements, fund raisers, over-busy evenings and weekends – all the stuff that has everything to do with growing a business, but nothing to do with being the church) are being avoided
  • how believers are experiencing worship, prayer, bible study, the power and gifts of his Spirit – in “new” models of simple structure with freedom (new to many of us, but not new under the sun)
  • how believers are getting freed up from a so-called Christian sub-culture and integrating more in the lives of those outside the church

In the grand scheme of things, we’re on the early stages of our understanding, but are very encouraged to press on as God keeps disclosing more. And when God brings you new life in some aspect of this journey (expect it often) – share it with us!

Blessings on you,
Page Hamilton

people relationships, God relationship

Over in Facebook, another conversation spurred some thoughts. It has to do with how our relationships with people is tied in with our relationship with God. Here’s my comment:

Our family is part of a regular gathering (aka, simple, organic, church gathering in a home) of 6-7 families, and over the years we are gradually growing in love, in vulnerability, in trust. It certainly hasn’t happened overnight. We’ve had to hack through some rough waters, offending people, bruising one another (hey, that’s not one of those “one-anothers” is it?!) – and I’ve been one of the biggest offenders. But this is life, eh? Early on we sensed the Lord say he was making love a primary focus – both his for us and the world around us, and his love growing in us for each other. And when we come together, sharing what he’s been up to in and through our lives is a focus, along with times of intimate worship of our King, and times of prayer and his gifts moving among us.

Over the years, what God has been doing in our relationships with him has been very connected with the growth of the relationships among the people. As love and safety grows, it’s like God says, “alright, that’s what I’ve been waiting for, now I’ve got some work to do in some folks here, and there’s gonna be some rough waters, but I’m going to use the environment I created with these relationships to do some amazing things.” And we learn to love people when they aren’t always lovely. And in time, everyone gets a go at being unlovely. And we see what God does through it, both in us, and through us, and we’re all amazed at God again, and find ourselves drawn to him afresh, with a greater faith in him rising up.

So the dynamics of good things among the relationships in the group is directly connected to coming into “more” in our relationship with God. For example, one thing I’m only vaguely coming to realize is that, as I be a mess in the group, people love me through it, I gain a sense of safety among my “hood”, I’m seeing a similar kind of safety in my relationship with God – the one who doesn’t want us to ever question his unending love. It’s beginning to put a fresh lens on “he who doesn’t love his brother stumbles around in the dark” – paraphrased from 1 Jn 2. I’m sure there’s much more to develop on this topic, so will be interested in other’s thoughts.

So, it’s my growing realization that the relationships among us are inextricably intertwined with our relationship with God, whether for better or for worse.