A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.
John 13:34"Fellowship, the scripture is about fellowship." Arms crossed, leaning forward, the woman spoke to the gathered group. Silence stretched languorouly across the room. Again. The quiet glazed eyes and set mouths like formal photographs. She looked around, searching for the next speaker. Guessing from where the next voice would come.
"We need to get to know each other." A man across the circle began. "Jesus said to love your neighbor - you can't love your neighbor if you don't know them." The head swiveling was almost comical. Speak. Look around. Speak. Head swivel. Attitudes of listening. Well intentioned. Sincere. Nice-to-meet-you smiles fading, the effort to keep them too much.
This gathering - this meeting - was awkward. They had two things in common: they were Christian, and they were involved, in some way, with church youth. This circle was their opportunity to discuss and gain insight into what their youth were studying in their groups. The theme: super-glue for a broken world. The super glue? Fellowship. Caring for one another. Kindness. Getting to know each other. Empathy and sympathy.
Civility ruled. Speakers took turns - mini statements about their backgrounds and beliefs. The conversation swam tentatively in shallow waters seeking acknowledgement and agreement. Self-conscious - searching for validation. Contrived. And I knew why. Fellowship. We were strangers.
Years ago, I lived in a very social world. I had a lot of friends and we did stuff together. We went dancing; we had parties; we met at happy hour; we played and laughed together. Good grief, we even exercised together. Conversations centered on books and movies, clothes, cars, food, places...sometimes we even talked about our work, and rarely - we spoke of our families. We were experts at 'bar' talk - that shallow pool of conversation that doesn't require emotional commitment. We were fun. We were happy.
I stayed there, in that shallow pool, for a long time - living a kind of double life. I was in a relationship with someone who was in a relationship with someone else. That was a roller coaster ride. There was a lot of pretend involved - pretending that everything was ok, making our time together happy when I was dying little by little inside, not knowing the future. There was a lot of crying. I didn't believe in God. I didn't want to feel deeply; I didn't want to cry, so I purposefully stayed away from the depths. Truly, I was lost - at the surface.
So, here I was at this youth conference. Years later. No longer lost. But I could see the shallows swimming around me. Well-meaning, experienced youth leaders and pastors were having a hard time getting to the deep waters. I could relate - no one knew the struggles of anyone else. In order to really fellowship, we needed to share our struggles. Giving voice to that sharing meant we each had to face the demons of our past and present - we had to take that E ticket ride through our own emotional baggage in order to let anyone in. And then, quid pro quo, we had to ride shotgun on their emotional baggage.
God made us in His image. We feel for each other because He gave us emotions and the ability to express our emotions. If our world hadn't fallen, perhaps our expressions would stay on high ground - love, encouragement, kindness, hope, faith... But we are a fallen world and we stray to anger, frustration, disappointment, fear, anxiety. Fellowship means getting to know each other. It means sharing beyond the surface; it means learning why feelings are sometimes muffled or restrained. It is situational. It means confessing. It means trusting, listening, laughing, and crying. It means getting on a roller coaster. It means giving up control. It means changing.
I love God's perfect plan. He knew we'd be in for a ride. He knew the best fix. Fellowship. But fellowship isn't easy; it takes time. It takes purpose. It takes getting through the awkward and moving to comfortable. It means sharing our situations - our choices, both good and bad. It means suspending judgement. Job's friends sat with him silently for seven days. Seven days of just sharing time with him. Fellowship means we have to be willing to feel; we have to be ready to laugh and cry together. Ups and downs - you can't fully have one without the other.
We were in the right place at that conference - we were doing the right thing. It was a beginning. Awkward, yes. Tentative, also yes. But a beginning.
Getting to know one another, koinonia, Christianity itself, truly and completely, is a wild ride. C.S. Lewis described God/Jesus in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, like this:
It's quite alright. He'll often drop in. Only you mustn't press him. He's wild you know. Not like a tame lion.
Our God isn't a tame God. Christianity isn't a tame thing. The fellowship that drives it is frighteningly uncontrollable - We have to be willing to get on the roller coaster and go for the e-ticket ride. I like that.
Thank you, God, for the opportunity of fellowship. Help me to give up control. Help me to dive deep and to ride the ride. Thank you, for wild Christianity.