Having just finished Rob Bell’s Velvet Elvis I must say there are several observations he makes in his book that I have pondered over the past several days.
One of them is a picture of a missionary “taking Jesus” to a people who don’t know about Him—and the common belief that God is absent from a certain place until they take Him to them. I must admit that that is exactly what I have thought, more or less all these years until reading what he had to say next. He said and I quote, “So the issue isn’t so much taking Jesus to people who don’t have Him, but going to a place and pointing out to the people there the creative, life-giving God who is already in their midst.” More like a tour guide than a missionary per se is what we are left with in his opinion.
In tandem with this thought is the idea that God is everywhere because if He wasn’t somewhere then that place wouldn’t even exist. So we simply show people who don’t know about God how to see Him wherever they are. Makes a lot of sense to me.
And this thought opened up several which I pondered for a time the other day. When someone opens up my mind to see something new and I start to make my own connections and feel the flow of creativity, I am sort of like a kid in a candy shop—I can’t wait to tell everyone I see about the journey and how exciting it is. Everything I am at that point is wrapped up in what I am thinking about the present reality that I find myself experiencing. It is new wine and would probably be better if shared after it had matured, but I guess the way I am wired is that if the present is under the tree it might just as well be opened.
My thoughts that day went like this: If God is everywhere and we are always in His presence, then what is He saying to us at any given moment and if this is true what else is all around us that we are missing out on by not being aware if its presence either. It is kinda of like the picture of the rose always being there but in our hurry not taking the time to look at it. Georgia O’Keefe said this about why she painted really big pictures of flowers:
So I said
to myself, I’ll paint what I see-what the flower is to me but I’ll paint it big
and they will be surprised into taking the time to look at it-I will make even
busy New Yorkers take time to see what I see of flowers.
So, as an artist, Georgia O’Keefe is like a visual tour guide showing us, who are often to busy to stop and look at and smell the roses, what they really look like up close and personal.
As a missionary then, our job as tour guide would be to show the people around us, what Romans 1:20 tells us is clearly there: For since the creation of the world God’s invisible
qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen,
being understood from what has been made, so that men are without
I guess you can begin to see where I was taking all of this. What are we missing by not being aware of all the stuff that is unseen and going on all around us. Not that we can be fully alive in every moment gleaning each and every kernal there is to glean from life (why can’t we be?).
In thinking this way I began to arrive at the conclusion that perhaps we have shut ourselves off to a lot of the stuff that is pure potential around us by being so task oriented in how we process our lives. What are we not seeing in each and every moment that we are awake and interacting with people. What is the travelogue going on all around us that we could tune into and by listening become fully alive and authentic people in the process.
It is like God is always broadcasting but much of the time we are tuned to another channel or have the radio off altogether.
I know this seems idealistic—we can’t really quit doing our jobs and become like bees pollenating every flower that we see—but maybe we can start by being more aware of the space around us and the people that we come into contact on a daily basis. Maybe our job is to make a difference in their lives by simply listening to their story and affirming their value as people—that’s a good place to start. Who knows but that we might find those people that we pass everyday may have something of value to give to us as well.
It is like the man used to say on television years ago before a certain crime drama—the naked city has 8 million stories and this is one of them.
Enjoy the flowers in your life.
It encourages me that your connections went from being alive with God in the moment to developing as more authentic people. I wholeheartedly concur. When Christian theology is task-driven, it means that finished work of the cross and the wonder of the resurrection have been devalued. Conversely, when we “just be” who we are because of the cross and His resurrection, the person in front of us becomes much more important. They become someone we love.
A preacher friend of mine once used the analogy that if God is bigger than the earth, then we can’t hug God to let him know how much we appreciate Him so that is why he gave us one another to hug and in hugging and loving each other we are loving God. How many roads I have traveled in order to get back to the complete simplicity of that statement.
Great post today Terry. This book sounds like something I need to read at some point. Maybe our job is to make a difference in their lives by simply listening to their story and affirming their value as people—that’s a good place to start. Who knows but that we might find those people that we pass everyday may have something of value to give to us as well. My daughter Alison is currently enrolled in a karate dojo. One of her classmates parents are from India. I’ve spoken with the mom a lot during the class. One day I mentioned how much I enjoy Indian food and we talked a while about that. Later on she invited us to come over to their home soon (when her husband comes back to town) to eat with them. I look forward to this, but I know that if I mention it to my Christian friends one of the first things out of their mouth is that we’ll be able to “witness” to them (they are Hindu, I think). Honestly my goal isn’t to “witness” to them, but rather to get to know them. I hope that God opens a door for us to be able to share with them at some point, but not out of a forced “must do” attitude. For relational Christianity to work, there must first be a relationship.
Amen to that…can I come to dinner as well—I love Indian food. The book is “Searching For God Knows What” by Donald Miller. In it he addresses your very concern and his answer is to get out of the formula that says befriend them in order to lead them to Christ and just love them the way God loves us. Radical, eh. Let God do what God does…we really are their tour guide for a world view that can add much meaning and substance to their lives…that is if we are living it ourselves. I guess that is where it starts and from what you have shared on this blog, I would say that you are already on that ride.
Terry, This book stirred me also. Many of the questions Rob Bell asks resonate with me. More importantly I am encouraged by the normalization of the question asking process; the pushing back of the walls that we create to contain “us”. I remember the excitement I felt when I first read itabout a year ago. Reading your blog, I re-felt some of those feelings. Thanks. I love your comment “Maybe our job is to make a difference in their lives by simply listening to their story and affirming their value as people–that’s a good place to start.” If we could just love people where they are, hear them and affirm their stories, I believe they would feel the love of God. Everyone’s story is ultimately a story of God’s wooing them. There are as many different stories as there are people who have ever lived and each one has value. I believe that recognizing that value and affirming people is one of the most important and impactful things we can do. There are many things I don’t understand. In fact the more I learn, it seems the less I know. One thing I am sure of. The world is dying from a lack of love and encouragement. So often, we spend all our effort creating masks and holding them up to pretend that we have it together. I find that when I tell stories of how screwed up I am, it breaks down some of the barriers for others. It creates a safe place for them to tell some of their REAL stories. The masks begin to crumble and in our common state, we find and share hope. It truly isn’t a matter of “taking Jesus to them”. He is there and always was. At best, we are merely tour guides.
Thanks for dropping by the neighborhood. You have a nice website as well. I liked your post on creativity.
Thanks for the kudos on my website. It is a work in progress for sure. Our mutual friend, ded told me to check your site out. I am impressed with your presentation and your thoughts.I notice that Carey is a frequent commenter. I’m assuming that he is another friend from yesteryear. If so, his birthday is tomorrow. If you see him, tell him that Jim says, “Happy Birthday”. Hopefully he doesn’t subscribe to your comments 🙂