“Boots on the Ground – Or Heads in the Clouds” – The biggest challenge Christ followers face

In two weeks I’ll be home, preparing to meet people in the church I lead who I haven’t seen in nearly three months.  Their priceless gift of a sabbatical has blessed me with a rare opportunity for extended time away from church life, American culture, and the day-to-day responsibilities of my job.  As a result, I’ll return restored spiritually and emotionally, refreshed and stronger physically (up to around 500k in hiking, running mileage now), and challenged.

I’m challenged because these three months have been a concentrated time away from teaching, studying, and writing, three activities I enjoy and look forward to doing again when I return.  As much as I enjoy them though, I’ve come to see them as dangerous because America’s about education, and among American cities,  Seattle’s all the more about education, and among Seattle churches,  the church I lead, filled with university students and professors is even all the more about education.   We’re educated.  Highly.

All this education has upsides of course, but this trip has made me aware of the downside.  That’s because I’ve met lots people with  bikerlittle formal education who in spite of their “lack” have poured generosity, service, hospitality, and joy, from their cups to ours, over and over again.  Whether it’s been food, hospitality, the gift of sunglasses at a hut when mine had been stolen, directions offered when uncertain of the way to go, a much needed ride from strangers,  or bus drivers signalling ahead to another bus so that it wait would for us, so that we’d make our train connection, we’ve seen people with large hearts, who allowed themselves to be inconvenienced in order to care for us.

Remember that story in the Bible about the guy who gets robbed and beaten up?  Jesus uses it to draw a distinction between the educated religious leaders who,  in spite of their eloquent sermons and theological precision, frankly didn’t give a damn about the wounded victim, even though they knew Hebrew.  Then there was the Samaritan.  He’s the one who, for the purposes of this story, is, (are you ready for this?):  Blue Collar.  He never went to college, earns below the median wage, and is having a hard time affording the new mandated health care.  He doesn’t enjoy reading C.S. Lewis much and doesn’t even know who N.T. Wright is.  He can’t tell the difference between a Neo-Calvinist, and a Rob Bell devotee because frankly, he’s too tired at the end of the day to read all the blogs and add his own comments.  Besides, he doesn’t really care.

He works.  He comes home and cares for all the things that need to be cared for in lifeshopping, cooking, maintenance, friendships.  You’re not even sure where he stands on most issues because in small group he doesn’t say much.  He prays.  He’s not perfect, God knows.  He’s got issues, but he’s working on them.  In the meantime though, until he’s perfect, his greatest joy isn’t found in talking about faith.  It’s found in living it“boots on the ground” as the saying goes.

When there’s a need in the shelter though, he volunteers.

When there’s a homeless person outside TJ’s he often makes the time to engage in conversation.

When there’s a neighbor in the hosptial, he’s there with meals, and laughter, and maybe even an awkward prayer.

He’s as generous with his limited money as he is with his time.  He doesn’t know where he stands on the issues of homosexuality and gun control, but he’s had dinner with the newly married gay couple on his block, and the NRA guy whose Jeep has a bumper sticker with something about his “cold dead hand.”

Who is this guy? Never went to seminary.  Falls asleep in most Bible studies.  Wakes up immediately when someone needs a helping hand.

The point Jesus is making in Luke 10:36 is that this (along with loving God) is the point of the Christian life.   And in that story, the protagonist is a Samaritan for God’s sake; a compromising half-breed who “anyone with a Bible degree would know is an outsider because his belief system takes him to the wrong mountain, and my pastor, who has a PHD (or is “super funny and edgy”) says that such people are…”    blah blah blah.

Talk on if you must, o educated one.  I’m tired.

Tired of doctrine being more important than living.

Tired of words being more important than actions.

Tired of writing about life as a substitute for living it.

Tired of Sunday being viewed as the peak experience of faith rather than Monday, or especially, Tuesdays.

Tired of hype and zeal on the surface, and pride and greed at the core.

Tired of ministry professionals like me thinking they have all the answers for “the little people.”

I don’t know all the ways that I’ve changed as a result of being on sabbatical.  But I know this much: in the days to come, my criteria for personal health and spiritual maturity will have more to do with how I know and treat my neighbors, friends, co-workers, and those in need around me, than the size of my church, the “impact” of my sermons, or the hits on my website.

I know this because I’ve been pierced by the degree to which I’ve often lived alone, inside my head these past years, as slowly, I confused right thinking, and speaking/writing about right thinking, with spiritual maturity.

I suspect I’m not alone, because look at what Phil Yancey has to say in his upcoming book:

yanceyquoteWe’re good, it seems, at talking about Jesuswho he was, what he taught and stood for, how he died, how he rose, why it matters, and what people should do about it.  I’m just suspicious (and so are lots of other people apparently) that I, maybe even we, have elevated our words as the real proving ground of maturity.  When we do that, huge blind spots will remain and we’ll think we’re fine, when we’re really far from the life Jesus has for us.

It’s a dilemma for me.  This is because words still matter.  We grow in response to revelation and my calling and gifts have to do with teaching God’s revelation so others can respond.  So we all need words in our lives, and I need to study words, teach words, write words.

And yet, I need and want to make room in my life for actually putting those words into practice with real neighbors, and co-workers, and friends, and family.   How does it all fit together?

That’s the question I bring home with me, but this much I knowif something’s gotta give, it won’t be the living of it any morethat’s become a higher priority.  Pray that I’ll live it.  New adventures await, as I learn to be a Samaritan… who’s in?


12 thoughts on ““Boots on the Ground – Or Heads in the Clouds” – The biggest challenge Christ followers face

  1. Thanks for the words Richard. Love this: “Falls asleep in most Bible studies. Wakes up immediately when someone needs a helping hand.” I qualify at least for part 1, at my best for both parts. 🙂

  2. I’m in! This also echoes words from Matthew 11:25-30. Jesus says revelation is hidden from the ‘wise and prudent’ but given to little children. How interesting! Over the last couple years I’ve realized that God wants me to move when He calls, to act in obedience, be open as a child to following His lead in whatever way it presents itself day to day. Yes, make time for praying, reading God’s word and being in church community. But be careful not to make spiritual knowledge more important or a higher priority than serving God and loving others. Boots on the ground is what we’re called to do here. And then give glory to God for the ways He reveals himself to us and through us – He is always amazing and praiseworthy.

  3. Crying while I write this: “Bridges, not walls. So thankful for your listening heart and your courageous spirit, Richard. Bowing beside you before our Great God of Mercy…”

  4. You have opened a window and let in some much needed FRESH AIR. Thank you for your leadership, showing us the way, just as you have been shown on your journey across the mountains.

  5. Richard – Thank you! I live in San Diego; read and am continually inspired by your words. I, too, strive to be a better Samaritan.

  6. Blogs should bring people to thought… This one more so than others also to response. There are educated Samaritans hidden in the midst of what appears to be a regular congregation…be careful what you wish for, you just might get it, as a modern song lyric goes. For much of the last ten years, I’ve been physically in the Samaritan’s position… Overtired from working too long hours, for minimum or just about wage, scrapping to keep everything paid, and praying for no emergencies… Yet I am also in the dangerous class, I guess…brought up educated, upper middle class money,college educated, seminary graduate, hundred dollar vocabulary, typical Seattle native, with opinions on everything…Having to live at least the last decade well below the median Seattle wage earner and raising a family on it, I’ve seen fellow Samaritans, same as you describe, generous and gracious. The key, I might surmise, as with what I see unstated in Jesus’ narrative, is the heart and vision of this “common” man… One key of willingness to vulnerable and perhaps anonymous service is not usually something we are born with, but taught and nurtured over time, and mercy usually the same. Could it be that this Samaritan might have been as spiritual as the priest? From my encounter with the “class” of wage earners I work alongside daily, I’d say so… Whether or not they even have an inkling of desire to worship the same God i do. May be just the ” heart of the matter”(inspired from a favorite song by an old school folk musician named Bob Bennett).Do I wish this life “better”, less stressful, of course. Am I going to rail about the wage for work that at least I have, yes I do get the wage disparity issue…? No. Do i really begrudge the educated, comfortably compensated their life, especially those who work long and hard for it? No… Not my place, and was part of that class growing up, where I learned, inside and outside of church, to value and learn from humanity, be gracious and respectful, and that ” true royalty treats the household stewards as well as the lord and lady of the manor,” as a good friend, raised similarly often says.
    Part of contentment, as Paul reminds us, is not comfort, complacency or even resignation in our given situation, but adopting the heart attitude Jesus implied in the parable… Maybe in reexamining the story, the “commoner” won’t continue to get such a bad rap. Thanks for a great blog, as usual, welcome back, both of you…look forward to seeing you soon.

  7. I absolutely am in! And it has been a journey. As a teacher I really relate to the challenges of holding a lot of information and much less skill.

    I think I find myself in the position of the religious leaders when I am viewing myself as the one giving, the one who has or earned or even learned. Instead the Samaritan shares. I need to share life with the people around me. And that often looks like responding to the daily joys and challenges.

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