While at the Jesus for President event last week, I picked up a brochure for a forthcoming magazine that I’ve heard a little bit about. Everything I read in this pamphlet sounded compelling, but this paragraph really struck me, as it organized a misty cloud of thoughts that have been swirling around inside my head:
…we believe that the call of the Gospel is a call into relationship. Not virtual communities. Not electronic interactions. Real, enfleshed, ongoing, messy human community rooted in specific landscapes and neighborhoods. We believe that plotting goodness on the edge of the empire–or anywhere–demands that we take hold of actual, flesh-and-blood hands in particular geography. In an age of virtual reality, that’s a bold assertion.
At first, that last sentence seemed overly dramatic, but upon further reflection, I think it needs to be said. Because so many people have an ideal of community, but no ongoing experience with it. So many people write and blog about ‘ministry’, but isolate themselves from anyone to whom they might minister. Many people talk about doing God’s work, but have alienated themselves from anyone who might challenge them or disagree with them or just generally rub them the wrong way. So many people have so mediated their lives through their computers that we’ve actually created a shorthand expression for tangible, physical interactions: IRL (‘in real life’).
So I clucked about this quote for a couple of days, fantasizing about a few folks to whom I might email it. Then, as I was talking to some friends about ‘church’ and ‘community’, I felt its sting myself, as I realized that the temptation I feel toward social isolation comes with a hiss. That the choice I sometimes contemplate to ‘streamline’ my life of relational complications might well make my life irrelevant. That my tendency toward abstractions about God means that these very ideas about God are less true and less useful.
In the Bible, James writes about the pointlessness of faith without works, and John writes about the falsity of faith without love. I guess I’m realizing the critical need that we all have to be in relationship with people, whether those relationships are easy, difficult, or otherwise. We need to give something, and we need to get something. So that, in all of it, we can allow ourselves to be both softened and sharpened.