It's almost comical. I have felt under pressure to be more active in the various programs of my church. But now this missionary from Morocco blows into town and tells our Sunday school class that we need to slash our to-do list by half and cultivate relationships-thus adding "relationship cultivation" to my to-do list.
With de Tocqueville-like lucidity, Ms. B contrasts the leisurely greetings and spontaneous assemblies in her north African home (where it is considered more honoring to drop in than to make an appointment) to the dismissive "let's do lunch" of her country of origin (where it is considered more polite to make an appointment than to drop in).
This is no idle philosophical harp strumming but an issue on which we all de facto take sides many times a day-every time the phone rings and the door knocks. WWJD is still a good question, because "whoever says he abides in Him ought to walk in the same way in which He walked" (1 John 2:6). The bugbear, of course, is how Jesus would "walk" if he were born in 1980. He lived in a time and place more like Morocco than America. What do we say to this? Is the right thing to contextualize Jesus' walk to our BlackBerry culture? Or is the right thing to muscularly resist the BlackBerry culture that carries us away from the simplicity of Jesus' lifestyle?
The phone rang this morning. I looked at the screen and it was a caller I would normally have left to the rude triage of the answering machine, but I'm practicing "relationship cultivation." Her cousin Laurie (not the real name) has three kids under 6 and is pregnant and exhibiting behavior reminiscent of the woman who drove her children into a lake some years ago. My caller asked if I knew the pastor's phone number. Evidently, the pastor must be called into this because, well, everybody else is busy (with church programs, presumably). I have a high regard for pastors but I don't think this is going to work, mathematically speaking. Too many Lauries, too few pastors.
I'm not trying to idealize African culture. When my seminary friend Philip went home to Nigeria one summer to translate Christian books into his native Tiv, he had to rent a house in a village where nobody knew him so he could get some work done. You can't turn away visitors because you're busy, he explained. Even Jesus tried to get away. He didn't succeed, but He tried (Matthew 14:13). Interestingly, our Lord's attempted escape was not so as to do tasks, but to rest from tasks-and for private "relationship cultivation" with the Twelve.
Which reminds me of what "Transport for Christ" chaplain Dave Roberts said. Not sanguine about program-mania, he pointed to Jesus' small coterie as the model. It's not that the Lord was making do with a bad situation-techno-clueless society without Facebook and dot-bomb capabilities for disseminating the message. It's that the relationship is the message. Relationship should be the aim of church programs. Relationship is the fundamental fabric of the universe. Before "there was light" there was the Trinity.
"It's the seed principle," Roberts told me. He talks Jesus eyeball-to-eyeball with one trucker at a time at his Mobile Chapel behind the Wilco-Hess. And it's a mystery. You encourage me, and then I encourage two friends, and those two friends encourage each two friends, and those four people each encourage two more.
"Do not be conformed to this world" (Romans 12:2) goes a long way in the task-versus-relationship debate. Be "all things to all men" (1 Corinthians 9:22) tends to pull back in the other direction-don't make yourself entirely culturally irrelevant. I have neither television nor cell phone, which both limits and enhances my relationship availability. One thing is certain: If you're leaning toward a simpler life, you have to choose it. You won't slip into it.
Someone asked Beth Moore how she felt about The Prayer of Jabez, which emboldened us to pray for enlarged borders, a la 1 Chronicles 4:9-10 (bigger church programs?). "I feel just fine about it," she said. "But sometimes I wonder if God is thinking, 'I was kind of hoping that you would operate in the borders I already gave you.'"
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