Thursday, March 24, 2011

The One That Will Get Me In Trouble

Okay. Let's talk about community for a minute.

Specifically, within the church. 

As many of you know, my wife and I moved to South Carolina last June after living in Miami for three years. Our jobs may have brought us to Miami, but there was something else that kept us there: our friends. People we met at church. Friendships were deeply forged over a lot of Thai or Cuban food. And quite honestly, we probably keep up with as many people we met OUTSIDE the confines of the university we worked for as we do those we met inside. 

Now go back three more years. Our jobs may have brought us to Athens (GA), but there was something else that kept us there: our friends. People we met at church. Friendships were deeply forged over many games of APPLES TO APPLES. And quite honestly, we DO keep up more people we met OUTSIDE the confines of the university we worked for than we do those we met on the inside.

Now jump ahead to October of 2010 (I know; all this jumping around is like an episode of Lost, but bear with me). I attend the Catalyst Conference inAtlanta. I meet a large number of people in person for the first time that I had already "met" online. Friendships are deeply forged and continue to strengthen after the conference through continual emails, texts, and Tweets, and the occasional Skype chat.

And quite honestly, I feel closer to many, if not more, of these people than I do to some of the people I have met in person here in Columbia.

Specifically, within the church.

Now, for some of you reading, you may think this odd, since here in Columbia, I could - theoretically - just grab my phone, call up someone, and meet them for coffee, dinner, drinks, or whatever. That there is a flesh-and-blood component to our relationship that trumps any electronic relationship I may have. That there is a depth, a realness, to a face-to-face conversation that goes beyond what one can share in 140 characters or less. That I can share more of me with greater frequency in person than I can with those I know online.

For some people, this may be the case. And your relationships, your friendships, are the richer for it.

But there is one small component lacking in 99.4% of the flesh-and-blood relationships I have with one specific subset of people I know. And since this subset represents 99.4% of the people I know, it's kinda a double-edged sword. (As a side note: that statistic is totally fabricated; I just like the fact it's the pureness percentage for Ivory, and that just makes it oh-so-beautifully, poignantly ironic.)

That one component? Openness. Transparency. The willingness to be real.

The real - people I see and can physically interact with - tend to act unreal, and yet the people I know who could hide behind a (literal) screen - their computer - don't. Hello, irony.

We share our struggles. We share our pains. We share our victories. We share our bad puns. And a number of us have been writing lately about these struggles. And we have been frank with one another and supportive of each other. And we do it both in real time and with a realness that might make some in the 99.4% uncomfortable. 

Funny, since those 99.4% are specifically in churches.

Now, I'm not advocating that every pastor everywhere should become BFFs with every person who attends their churches. I'm not advocating that there does not need to be a HEALTHY distance or boundary to the relationships that church staff have with all members of their churches; let's be honest - not every leader can handle transparency, not every follower can handle the idea of seeing their leaders with feet of clay, and a level of maturity, both spiritual and emotional, is needed on the parts of all before this transparency can occur.

What I'm referring to the "I'm doing good" disease that causes certain church leaders to never show a crack in their veneer: every email sent out always addresses the glowing, always-progressive nature of the church; every Tweet is always about the amazingness (and by inference, rightness) of their church; every in-person interaction is always a smile, a handshake, or a "how you doing?" - sometimes never addressing the person they are greeting by name, even if they have known them for months (or in one case I know, for years). 

Everything is beautiful. Nothing hurts.

I also am painfully aware that me giving advice on transparency and openness is only slightly less ironic than me giving advice on what shampoo you should choose. I suck at it. I've spent YEARS dealing with chronic "I'm doing good" disease. I've spent a good chunk of my life deflecting, redirecting, and misdirecting attention on areas of my heart that have caused me pain to the point of where Criss Angel could stand to learn a few tricks from me. 

But I'm trying to get better. I've started letting people see those areas where I've hidden memories, regrets, struggles, and pains in my past. It began with a group in Athens. It continued with a group in Miami.

And it has grown with a group I met first online, and then in person. A group I am proud to call by name individually and collectively friend. Friends who I hope will not drop me on Twitter after they read this. :)

If you are a pastor I know, and as you read this you are wondering if I am talking about you...good. Consider your openness. Consider your transparency. Consider your masks (yes, plural).  

Consider going to iTunes and downloading Jesus Jones' song "Real, Real, Real."

Consider giving me a sign that you feel some emotion. 

Then let's talk about it.


A Fathful Realist said...

I see you Sonny. I understand you. And believe it or not I have always appreciated you for being one of the most sincere, real, and genuine people I know. We all have dark corners in our heart and it takes the special people that we first call friends. who eventually become family, to shed light on those corners. It is what bonds us. Love ya man.

Emily T. Thomas said...

Oh so aware of this . I call it the "i'm fine" disease. Well the simple fact is NO ONE is really fine. We all have fears and doubts and have a hard time looking in the mirror some days. I want to start a community called "for the rest of us" like a 12 step program for people who aren't addicts, but just perfectionistic over achieving control freaks. like me. thoughts?

Jenah said...

I agree and to take it a step further, I have felt a proding from the Lord to start an online "small group."

Our new lifestyle has us traveling EVERY weekend and going between two physical addresses so we no longer have a "home" church.

I am on Facebook every day thru my computer, ipad and iphone so I was praying a few months back and keep to this day getting nagged about starting a closed group on facebook for about 10-20 individuals from anywhere and everywhere that could just "meet" for prayer requests and the like and be "real" with each other about needs and desires and pains and praises.

But what do I know, if you remember the old No Doubt song, "I'm just a girl."