One of the “big ideas” of my life comes from my experiences in my faith communities. I have been a committed Christian since I was a child, and have always been in churches. I am incredibly thankful for the layered and piled up blessings that I’ve received from many people over many years in pretty much every one of these communities. When people get together for a bigger reason, and a transcendent purpose, good things happen. Beyond that, I also believe that God shows up. I believe He is interested in our lives and does intervene with abundant blessing, making the crops grow, and churches produce better fruit than really makes sense based on the input factors. God’s design of growth and blessing is evident throughout the cosmos.
That being said, I have also struggled at various points with the vagaries of my religious experience. Especially I have struggled as I think I see churches and church people not “being real.” Religious leaders meeting and spending inordinate amounts of time and effort on technical organizational minutia like what title to give a denominational leader, or whether or not to take an exception to the creed, rather than focusing on the substance behind those pretend issues. How does power get distributed in our denomination? How does doctrinal variance on issue x effect the integrity of the church, especially in relation to the Bible? I have seen these things, and others like them. Churches pouring efforts into pet projects, and choking on invitations to get real, and commit to something significant and probably also risky.
And I think this problem isn’t just out in our faith communities, I think individuals and families also struggle with this kind of subtle capitulation to fear and worry. We settle for the “safety,” of mitigating factors or sometimes we even settle for predictable failure of a half-baked effort rather than take the real risks of real and intentional effort. So what does it mean to be real? How can we live in a way that focuses on what is real and meaningful?
I don’t have a complete answer but I think I can offer a starting place. First, believe in yourself, and believe in others. Here’s what I mean by that. Please believe that what you see and the questions you have are valuable and legitimate. No one else can see through your eyes. You are here seeing this for a reason, and you’ve been given a voice to join the conversation. Speaking of conversation believe in the others, they are here on the same basis. No one see just what they see, and that matters too. When you speak and they speak in this context a beautiful and meaningful thing happens, the world get’s bigger and our collective understanding can grow. I think that is real.
Second, avoid posturing and politics. Don’t be fake. Although this should be an easy and unspoken part of being real, I have to say something. Far too many of us are far too concerned about what people might think, and about how our perspective might endanger our interests. We have to get over this. In my opinion nothing endangers our interests more than dishonesty. Posturing, or currying favor to gain power are both in that category. You can use discretion and give your perspective the best chance at being heard, but at the point where you are compromising or fudging for potential future benefit, I want to call foul. Just stop it. Keep your mouth shut. Or tell the truth. Don’t be insincere in the name of power or reputation.
Third, make your actions match your words. If you say you care about people, feed them, spend time with them, be there for them in need. No one can do this perfectly, but we know the difference between people who talk a good game and people who actually serve. Make sure you are an embodiment of what you preach. If you say you want to deliver the oppressed make sure you listen to the their cry. If you say you want to empower people, make sure that there are examples of people who have more opportunity and who are taking advantage of it because of you.
And that’s a start. In the end I mostly wish that people and communities would just do a gut check every so often. Ask “am I being real?” “Are we being real?” Don’t be hollow, and don’t settle for hollow things in your life. Be whole, be genuine. Do things you truly believe in, and say things you really mean. At least join the conversations of your life with integrity. I believe if we could all truly do that we’d really be able to grow together and bless each other. It seems simple, but I’m still afraid is often too rare.