Renee: We’ve been thinking about this whole idea of the invitation and what Christ invites us into. Sometimes we understand what that means, but most of the time, we don’t understand the fullness of what that invitation is. He invites us into being a community and being in relationship with one another.
We find all kinds of games when we’re younger to include or exclude people when you think about it, right? Playground games where no one tells us how to do it, but we find a way to invite someone in, exclude someone or even make a group ourselves. At a young age, everyone learns how to do Red Rover. Do you remember that? I think most kids know how to do Red Rover, Red Rover send Sally on over, right? But that whole idea of how we get invited into relationship and groups is an interesting one because at a very young age, even as we get invited in, we can feel both the foundation of being excited about belonging to something and also nervous that we could be the ones kicked out of the group. We know that that dynamic is always happening. There’s both a benefit of groups, but also nervousness. When you belong to something, you also ask, “Am I going to get voted off the Island? Am I going to be the one whom they don’t want to be hanging around with at recess? And we all have our experiences of that.
Don: I think it’s kind of funny because in terms of what’s satisfying and interesting, if something doesn’t pique our interest, or isn’t a little risky, then it starts to become boring and familiar. There’s a part of us that wants to be safe, but there’s also another part that wants to feel alive. We have both of them going on.
So we’ve created Disneyland, right? Going to Disneyland will guarantee your safety. Disneyland is, I think, this fake place that I want to be. I want to feel risky, extended, and alive, but I also want to feel safe. I want to go on the thrilling rides but then I want to get off to feel safe again. I think Disneyland works because it puts two things together that in the real world don’t travel together: risk and safety. We tend to want Disneyland relationships: they’re only safe because none of what we’re experiencing is real.
Renee: The truth is if we don’t have Christ as the backdrop to relationships, we don’t have a reason to be motivated to stay in relationships. In order to develop relationships, you have to see things differently. You have to have a different perspective of people. If we don’t have Christ as a way to look at community and relationship, I think it’s pretty rough to be in a community or be any in any kind of group.
At some point, everyone understands that there is a risk to be with each other. There is a downside. It doesn’t take very long for us to realize that there are places inside of us that are undeveloped. There are places that are undeveloped in other people, the sinful nature of people. You are up close and personal as you do life with people inside of groups. You may welcome the risk at first, but then safety becomes a priority pretty quickly in any kind of community or group because as you see one another, you start to wonder, is this worth it?
Don: Well, I think you can make some Disneyland kind of friendships and some Disneyland kind of groups to where it looks like you’re all about it. But you’re just posing for pictures, and you’ll buy a little something, you know, a little souvenir of the event.
Renee: It’s like that one time when we saw college students on the beach. This was at the very beginning when cameras were new on cell phones, and we didn’t know what these college students were doing. They looked odd. As we sat on the beach, we’re like, what are they doing?
They were all pretending to be a group, but they weren’t a group. They would pose to take group pictures having fun and then go back to looking at their phones. If the image wasn’t good enough, take two! Take 27! They just kept doing it. Then when they were done looking like a group, they left the beach.
Don: They never really played. They never really talked. They never really did anything at the beach other than getting a picture of themselves looking like they were having an amazing time at the beach. I’m sure they posted to their social media, which I’m sure gave them some kind of satisfaction that there are people out there believing they were having so much fun. But it was all manufactured.
And I remember sitting there thinking, “wow, the image or the idea that people see you this way has somehow become more satisfying than the experience of just being at the beach and throwing a Frisbee or getting in the water and hanging out and feeling the sun on your face.” The image and manufacturing have gone past the actual lived experience. If that happens at the beach, in a group or in a relationship, the presentation has somehow eclipsed the actual lived experience. And that’s not as satisfying as anybody wants it to be.
Renee: It takes on a whole other meaning to say, “well, I want to look as though I have meaningful conversations, community, fun, and connection. I want to appear that way. But I don’t know how to have that.”
There’s an introduction to community in scripture; the first community is the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. That’s the first and foremost community. If we didn’t have that, I think we would be stifled in the way of knowing what community is because we are birthed out of that. Out of that first formation, the gift of The Father loving The Son and loving The Spirit is them being in community with one another.
In John 17, Jesus prays for his disciples first, then for his believers. He says this prayer, and it’s interesting because he’s praying something that will be for us, for our whole life, something we need to be in relationship with. He says in verse 17, “my prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message. That all of them may be one.“
Further down in verse 22, it says, “I have given them the glory (He’s talking to the Father) that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one. I and them, and you and me. I and them, and you and me.”
He’s talking about that we would be one. But there’s this illustration, this place, this significant relationship that comes before us, right? Christ with the Father that they are One so that we could become One. “I pray that they will be One as I am.”
Why do you think Jesus prays for that? Why do you think it’s essential that we have relationships with one another? Why is that an important thing? Why would Christ be praying that for us?
Don: I don’t know if I completely understand it, but I think our culture says, “I can only become my true self and my best self if I’m by myself.” I think there’s face validity to it. It sounds right. If you press on that possibility that I can become my true self and my best self as I’m in relationship with others, it is not necessarily violating me. It might be liberating me. What if I can become my best self in relationship with others as opposed to I can only be my authentic self by myself?
I would say I think there’s a cultural message that says, “I’ve gotta be independent, and I’ve gotta be by myself and for myself and with myself exclusively. And then I’ll somehow emerge as this fully formed, authentic, capable human.”
But all of that assumes that there isn’t something in the interaction and the mixing. That as we’re with one another, our best true selves emerge out of that. I think that’s more of a biblical framework, but I think it’s a real counter-cultural idea.
Renee: Well, and I think it even goes against our flesh. This is a little riskier to say, but I believe that the message that we’ve been given, even in most recent years about self-care and boundaries, is to keep your walls higher. And we believe in self-care and boundaries!
I mean, all of it is good, but it also seems like it borders on this thinking of, “do I set boundaries so that I don’t have to be known?” Do I do that so that I don’t have to be with other people who are not like me? So that I can keep my walls higher so that people don’t really know what’s going on in my life, my most intimate places? Or maybe not even my most intimate places, perhaps just places inside of me that I don’t want people to know about?
So the guarding of ourselves is interesting because I think when Christ is praying this prayer for us, He’s talking about an intimacy that Christ has with the Father. He’s known by Him, loved by Him, and received by Him. Then he’s saying, “as you and I are one.” He wants that for us, the people who follow him, that we would have unity. But most of the time, when we’re in relationship with one another inside of groups, it feels like there’s disunity because we have to experience other people.
Don: I’ve noticed that the psychological language of boundaries is being utilized on a daily basis these days. I’ve worked with some parents and their 12-year-old kids, and one dad said that after asking his daughter to make her bed, she told him, “you’re really triggering me, dad.” She’s basically saying, “Hey, I’ve got boundaries, and I feel violated when you’re asking me to do this. Load the dishwasher, to put your clothes in the hamper!”
So we’ve taken some pretty legitimate psychological terms and constructs, and when you begin to put those into daily interactions, they have an air of legitimacy in every and all situations. If you can use the word trigger or trauma or boundary or self-care as the headline, then fill in the blank…it’s an absolute “get out of jail free card.” Everything and anything that happens under that column is beneficial, balanced, and helpful. And usually, they are legitimate concerns. But I think we’re talking about to be known in relationship and being with one another. If we’re the only ones evaluating our relationships and we don’t have more eyeballs on our life, we don’t have other people challenging us, balancing us, adding to ourselves, everything we do say, think or feel becomes legitimate when we’re the only ones looking at it or considering it.
Renee: Yeah. And the truth is, when we’re by ourselves, we don’t know who we really are or experience the fullness of what Christ has put inside of us. I think we get odd and strange when we’re by ourselves. That’s the truth. I think if I am left to my thoughts and my wanderings, I will be a mix of my defaults without any boundaries about someone having a counter kind of thinking. But initially, I don’t think the counter feels that great. I mean, when we’re in any type of group or community, we come up with language to defend ourselves in our positions.
But the truth is it hasn’t served people because people are now more lonely than they’ve ever been. They don’t know how to connect, and they don’t know how to have relationships or stay committed to it so that they can be known.
Don: Look at the actual history of people; they do not self develop when they’ve been isolated for extreme periods of time. Humans do not just self develop. They don’t self-actualize by themselves. We live in a developing community, and if you put a person in isolation for an extended period, there’s an unraveling that takes place.
A person who’s by themselves is much more likely to have an arrested development sort of experience. Isolation is more likely to deform us, right? When you look at people who have sustainable contributions and connections, it’s frequently in communities. Scripture promises that community has the potential to transform us. I think God always wants to turn us into this beautiful, mysterious, messy way. He uses us as agents in one another’s transformation.
It’s all in the Mixing
Renee: I love to bake. I love to put ingredients together and see what comes out of a recipe. It’s one of my favorite things because it’s an art and a science. I evaluate it after I do the baking to notice what I like and don’t like about it. I like to look at recipes and see what the reviews say about it. It helps me to formulate and understand how the recipe is going to come together.
But if I just took the flour, salt, baking soda, oil, and eggs, and threw it all in a pan without mixing, it would not be a great recipe. However, if you took all the same ingredients, put them in a mixer and blended it, the recipe would most likely turn out beautifully. It’s that mixing and blending that makes it beautiful.
The blending is what really flies in the face of our independent society. We can feel violated by being mixed with other people. But what if instead, we thought about community in terms of blending? It’s what God is up to on the inside of relationships. God intended us to be one with others so we can be made beautiful.
We encourage you to be in a group and be with other people in that process, so we ask you these questions:
Is it hard for you to be blended in a group?
What’s difficult about that?
What are your hesitations about belonging to a group?