Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Jesus & The Starbucks Connection

I don't claim to be a Christian anymore, but that doesn't mean I don't think about the faith I grew up in. In fact I think about it a lot. Write about it a lot, as you know if you stop by here with any frequency. Often I write in my sadness and anger, looking back at a former set of beliefs that hurt me in more ways than it added to me. I've left evangelical Christianity behind, but I think it would be easier for some people to believe that because I say I'm not a Christian, that that means I hate God, don't believe there is a God or have completely stopped thinking about God.

Fact is, I'm not a Christian and I think about God a lot.

I especially respect the person of Jesus as represented in the Bible. His interaction with people, especially those the religious establishment of his day judged, wrote off, condemned, rejected and abandoned is simply beautiful to me.

I'm not a Christian and I think about Jesus a lot.

Jesus, according to the Biblical account of his life, interacted with people in some really incredible ways. He connected with the people they WERE, rather than asking them to change, telling them they should change, or even asking them to emulate his own actions and behaviors. When Jesus interacted with people, he effectively made a "place" between the people he was talking to and himself. A place where they could sit down together with no shame and no hiding of their true selves. He understood the context of their pain. He saw THEM and didn't define them by their actions or behaviors.

That "place" he created for himself and whoever he was relating to was what he called "The Kingdom of Heaven." It wasn't like a lot of our experiences of "church" where you have to dress up, hide your pain, pretend you are "better" than you are and act like you have it together. Jesus, over and over, looked for and saw the REAL person underneath the behavior, actions and pain, related to and loved unconditionally THAT person. The connection between Jesus and the person he was relating to was for many the first time they had ever been utterly naked AND utterly loved and accepted. That's exactly how I want to be loved and how I want to love others.

But what was going on in those moments? I think I know. This wasn't all about God being able to magically see into people's hearts. That may or may not have also been going on. But I think to only define Jesus' treatment of others by that "divinity" would be a grave error. He seemed to think others were capable to doing the same. So what is it that he was doing that we are also able to do?

I think it was simply that Jesus approached connection with others with the expectation/goal of seeing through the shit to the real person and loving THAT person. I think it's that simple. He was living proof that the religious way of approaching people with a, "Are you 'good' or 'bad?' I get to decide," attitude was not loving and had no place in the kingdom of heaven. He simply saw. And he loved. Period.

So what was happening that created such a "real" connection between Jesus and those he interacted with? I've been thinking a lot lately about how, when we accidentally or on purpose connect with someone outside an established human construct, we often feel and experience a "connection" that we wouldn't normally. That connection is, at least in my mind, usually of a spiritual nature. Something happens when we are connecting with someone in a way that isn't governed by rules, norms or standards. It's almost as though we can sneak in a backdoor, by-passing the part of our brains that says, "Act like this; talk like this; this person is that; this interaction is limited to ..."

It happens in Starbucks sometimes. You might be sitting there in a sunny spot, watching stranger after stranger walk by, but then one stops and asks if they can share your table since the others are all filled. Every once in awhile that thing happens where two people move from strangers to people who "see" the other one in a matter of minutes, simply because they shared a table at Starbucks.

It happened in the streets of Christchurch, New Zealand a few weeks ago during the earthquake, and then again in the aftermath of the tsunamis in Japan. Strangers clung to on another in a sudden, illogical intimacy as they stood in the streets and watched helplessly while family, friends and colleagues were crushed or drowned. All of a sudden two people who would normally have no reason to even speak to one another spontaneously joined hands and cried into one another's shoulders. People who would never have helped one another because of gaps in age, gender, socio-economic level, etc. became one another's very real saviours, friends, brothers.

It happened in my family when one of my sisters gave her son up for adoption nearly 8 years ago. It is an open adoption, which means our entire family has a real relationship with my nephew and his adoptive family. Open adoption is new enough that there aren't "rules" for how to do it. We've made them up as we've gone along, following heart rather than head, without even meaning to or realizing we're doing it. While others would think we "lost" my nephew to another family, the reality has been that we "gained" a sister and brother "in-law," a second nephew and two extra nieces. My kids have an extra aunt and uncle, as well as extra cousins. There's no map, no rules and no "optimum result" besides my nephew being loved. That's it. So much beauty has grown out of what could have been a heart-wrenching loss.

Sometimes we experience this connection with someone else in the beginning stages of a romantic relationship. Often times it is at that "love is blind" stage of a relationship that we are able to see the "real," the good and the beauty in a person simply because we WANT to see it and are looking for it.

But my husband and I have experienced it in moments we'd never have expected it, as we sort through the anger, hurt, sadness and disappointment of our marriage. Our love isn't blind anymore, and in fact, the eyes with which we see all too clearly now often brim with tears. We're working through some serious shit in our relationship. It hurts like hell. But sometimes after hours of agonizing conversation, we find ourselves laughing through tears about some silly thing totally unconnected to the bitter pain that is still wet on our cheeks. In those moments of half-hysterical hilarity, we see in one another the old Cheryl and James that stood on the balcony of a pink house all those years ago, watching the stars 'til the sun came up. Sometimes the giggles lead to a tearful embrace and for a few minutes, the pain is gone and it's just ... "us," however impossibly, connecting.

Wherever or however it happens, we've all felt it to some degree. And I guess I'm just asking if maybe those "moments"—those connections—whether for a brief time or a lifetime, are what life is all about. I'm asking if maybe Jesus was living like that. I'm wondering what would happen if we intentionally lived like this, as much as possible.

How much in our lives and in our world would change if we lifted the human "constructs" off and just looked around at one another with eyes like Jesus'?


Jake Kampe said...

Really like this one, Cheryl. Great words.

sylvia said...

Thinking of you with love Cheryl!

Todd and Christy said...

Hey Cheryl,

I'm a bit late in reading this blog post of yours, but I have to say I really enjoyed it. What you have described is what I consider a great failure of evangelical Christianity. As one who still calls himself a Christian (even though there is a TON of baggage associated with that word), you hit the nail on the head; Christians, or those who profess to be Christians at least, do not do well in loving people. I love reading the Gospels of Jesus' life and how he interacted with people. He always dealt with people in a real sense and never sugar coated issues, but he also called people (mostly the religous establishment of the day) for their crap.

Your post challenges me to evaluate my motives - do I love people because I want them to get them to accept Christ, or do I love them regardless of what they do?


Cheryl Ensom Dack said...

Thanks, Todd!! :) Good to "see" you!

Great questions you are asking...motives for loving, etc. I don't love people to get them to accept Christ, but I also have to evaluate my motives. My question would be something like this:

"Do I love people so that THEY will love ME?"

Don't know if you read what I just posted today, but I do think that we "know" how to love, somewhere inside, BECAUSE we desire love. I think it's simply our nature to want love to be reciprocated so I'm not saying that I could ever just love without hoping to be loved in return. Even my own kids...I WILL love them unconditionally, even if they don't love me back. But I sure would LIKE them to love me back! :)

So I'm not saying, like a lot of Christians have said to me, that I am incapable of unconditional love without some sort of infusion of the Holy Spirit into my dark, nasty heart ;). I am saying I CAN and DO love unconditionally. Not all the time, for SURE! But my love for my kids is absolutely, unequivocally unconditional. I am also saying I don't love everyone that way, but I'd like to try. :)

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