Kathy writes, “Cultivating a community requires an extremely high level of relationship that many of us haven’t learned to really do. The way to learn how to love is to have chances to practice love. We practice in close relationship and have our lives rub up against others. Like so many other ways of the kingdom Jesus’ call to love requires a level of commitment to time, vulnerability, risk, and sacrifice and that can’t happen only facing forward in a seat and going home.”
But let’s talk about how down and dirty this gets.
A long, long time ago we started this thing that eventually was called Northstar Community. First we rented an elementary school cafeteria on Sunday mornings and later we added a worship experience on Saturday nights back at our home church. Eventually the school stopped renting its space during the summer months and our church graciously allowed us to meet there on Sunday mornings for the ten or so gap weeks when the school was shut up tighter than a drum.
One of our friends on staff didn’t like his children walking through our community’s smoking section that inevitably congregated outside the church entrance both before and after worship. He thought the second-hand smoke was bad and the leftover butts were unattractive and messy to clean up. I GET IT; HE WAS RIGHT. I’m a non-smoker and as much as I love the guys and gals out there stocking up on nicotine prior to worship, I don’t love how I smell after I stand for a few minutes chatting with them. My pastor friend tolerated our smoking after I reminded him that although smoking, at least these friends were showing up. We supplied some butt cans. And for those few weeks in the summer we managed to make do.
But there was a big huge elephant in the room that we never discussed. And that’s a problem. It leads to all sorts of unintentional shaming and embarrassing hypocrisies. Is it true that no one in large evangelical churches smokes? No. That is not true. But NEVER do we smoke together or in sight of the rest of the church. At my home church, we all know smokers congregate across the street behind a low slung but fairly private office building that is conveniently unoccupied on Sunday mornings. Deacons, Sunday School teachers and even the occasional choir member hustle over and puff puff puff that cigarette between services. It’s commonly know, never acknowledged. In communities that lead with messy, annoying, and often inconvenient openness and vulnerability, for the most part (although there are many exceptions and those always end badly), people don’t hide what is to them the “no big deal” issues like smoking, dancing, drinking (for the non-addicted) and going out with girls that do it too. For the most part, this is a good thing. It gives us a chance to have honest conversations about these issues. It isn’t easy; but it is essential if we value transformation. Are you prepared to live with nothing hidden? That is the question.