Crossing the Line
By Dave Hughes
2016 is going to be a really exciting year. It’s exciting to be alive and part of our community like ours.For years we’ve said, ‘we need to be serving more’, and this year there are so many good serving things happening from different people: Mainly Music, Upwey Community Meal Night, Finglish to English, the Freezer, Backyard Blitzes. We’ve got a plan in the works to design a great kids program, we’ve got a great structure for our collective rhythms and we’ve been able to cultivate a diverse community who share the same heart beat – simplicity, generosity, service, compassion, community, pursuing peace, standing with the other, caring for the earth – all centred around Jesus. Yet, what we are doing here is so much bigger than it first may seem. I wonder if you can see it?
Whilst at first what we are doing as a community might seem quite insignificant on a geographical, economical, political, world or historical scale, it turns that what we are doing is perhaps the most urgent and important cause we could ever dedicate our lives to. Don’t get me wrong, people are doing important and significant work in our world: researching cures to cancer, running celebrity concerts to raise awareness and money for world issues like poverty and education, serving the poor, educating children, nursing the sick, standing with those with no voice, struggling to love and keep their families together and alive…and we want to participate in those causes.
Yet there’s one problem that humanity just keeps being unable to solve, both theoretically and practically, and responding to that problem is actually our speciality.
Charles Taylor argues that we are caught in the malaise of modernity, where “there is a widespread sense of loss…if not always of God, then at least of meaning.”
Alasdair MacIntyre describes it as the new moral dark ages.
Stephen Hawking has said that humanity is entering its most dangerous 100 years with the technological capability to wipe out the human race through artificial intelligence, nuclear war and genetically engineered viruses, yet without the ability to escape earth.
And this problem presents many challenges for the human race:
- How do we live together without killing each other?
- How do we love enough to keep relationships together?
- How do we build communities connected and strong enough to withstand greed, selfishness and corruption?
- How do we raise our children to have strong and resilient identities such that they can lead a connected, flourishing and meaningful existence?
- How do we become fully human?
Rene Girard, my current favourite thinker, puts it this way:
“Since the dawn of humanity, millions of innocent victims have been killed in order to enable their fellow humans to live together, or at least not to destroy one another…I think it is Christ alone that allows us to face this reality without sinking into madness.”
We Are A Social Experiment That Must Succeed
We, as a community, are doing our own kind of social research into the question: how can a truly diverse human community live in peace together in our 21st century world? And our hypothesis is that the best way to achieve this peace in the 21st century world is to build a micro community around the life and teachings of Jesus – because it was he who had a unique and profound answer to the crisis of human existence.
Put aside all of your assumptions about the metaphysical or supernatural aspects of what you consider Christianity to be about. We can have deep, meaningful and interesting conversations about that stuff for the rest of our lives. And one day we’ll discover who was right and who was wrong and the one thing you can probably be sure of is that none of us had it right, but for now we have a far more immediate, urgent and tangible crisis to deal with.
For Jesus, the problem or diagnosis is a kind of sickness you find at the core of the human experience. It’s a kind of corruption, disease and malfunction that results in the human heart being self-centred. That given the right circumstances, we humans would all act in self-preserving, self-seeking, self-protective actions at the expense of others. And the answer, the antidote, the cure is that you find your life when you stop fighting for it and trying to save it. Blessed are those who don’t run from pain, suffering, poverty, but lean into it, love, pursue peace and reconcile. It’s a self-emptying of rights, wants, for the sake of others that yields a peace that surpasses understanding, and a life of abundance of good without the hangovers.
Ultimately, the cure to the corruption in our beings is a radical others-centred, self-emptying giving of oneself that loves not only our neighbour, but our enemy.
This week Emma and just finished watching season 2 of a show called Broadchurch. We’ve finally found a genre that we both like. Emma loves murder mysteries and I love stories about authentic, depth of human condition kind of stuff. Broadchurch is a story about a quiet-ish, seaside, holiday town. Normal people, nice people, which as you start to scratch the surface you start to discover that no one is normal, and many people aren’t so nice. But every story – even of the ones that end up as murderers or abusers – you can understand. The only thing that distinguishes me from a murderer or an adulterer or a pedophile is a set of circumstances, that start with a few seemingly harmless choices, that becomes habits, that become addictions, that aren’t intercepted, that are kept in the dark. More than ever we need communities like ours to experiment and find a way of being human that solves the human condition.
You are the salt…light of the world…let it shine
The future hope of humanity rests with micro-communities like ours figuring out how to be fully human in a way that loves without conditions. Our community can be a living, breathing social experiment working towards solving the the crisis of human meaning and then bringing that hope, that light to the world. Jesus put it this way, ‘You are the salt of the earth…You are the light of the world…let your light shine’ (Matthew 5:13-16). But it all depends on where we’re willing to draw the line.
Cross the Line of Time
As we go about our 21st century Western lives we put everything in boxes. I can prove it to you. Google Calendar. iCalendar. Some of the things we value – work, birthdays, holidays, parties – get instant access to one of our treasured boxes. Other things we don’t value as much slide in if there’s any gaps left. And the things we really don’t want to do – we find something else to put there and then just say we’re ‘busy’. These boxes are the guardians of our most important treasure. Our time, and what we do with our time makes me ‘me’, it is our lives. It’s one way we draw the line…and we need to be intentional about how we draw it. I wonder where Open House sits in your calendar?
I wonder if you’ve heard any of these before:
- I just need a night at home to veg and watch The Walking Dead
- I’ve got way too much going on…
- I’m peopled out, I just need some ‘me’ time…
- Work is really taking it out of me, I just need to get away…to some overseas holiday
- My house isn’t clean, organised, to have people over for dinner…
Perhaps such excuses have crossed your mind before? Perhaps they have come out of your lips? When you haven’t wanted to go to work or do exercises or look after the kids…or participate in something like Open House?
I’m not, for a second, suggesting that if you have thought, said or used these excuses that you’re a bad person, a lesser being, or not-spiritual. God knows that I’ve certainly used them. These thoughts, these excuses, seem to be just a natural outflowing of living in the structures of our modern Western society. But we don’t have to be dictated to by them.
There are the tier 1 excuses – you really can’t get out of – I’m in labour, I’ve got liquid flowing out of both ends, There are the tier 2 excuses – you could work around with a bit of effort – family parties (depending on your family). Then there are the tier 3 excuses – can’t be stuffed, I just want to watch TV.
Every excuse we give, everytime we say no, or everytime we say yes, is another way we draw the line – we keep certain people, certain values, certain habits in, and certain people, values and habits out. What tier of excuses do you permit yourself to use on Open House?
Other Ways To Draw The Line
Of course, it’s not just in our calendars and our excuses that we draw the line:
- where we shop, where we eat, what we buy
- what we say yes to, what we say no to
- where we send our kids to school
- the sports we play, the movies we see, the place we go
- where we buy our houses, if we buy our houses
- the cloths we wear, the music we listen to
We are forever making choices, that define ourselves in reference to others and form in groups and out-groups, separating ourselves from others, and not ‘liking’ people based on difference.
This isn’t love, this isn’t Jesus. Jesus intentionally crosses the lines that the state put around him, that his religious tradition put around him, that social custom put around him.
There Are Lines We Draw Around Our Selves
Some of you right now might be feeling a little uncomfortable. In our culture, we’re not used to people challenging us to think about our own desires and choices. It’s like an unwritten law or a subconscious social contract. But thinking about it, being intentional is so important as we start to confront the problem of the meaning of life. It’s not just that we miss out on one experience or event that doesn’t matter in the big scheme of our lives.
Every time we draw a line we form our very selves, our very being, our identity. We create the story about who we are, what we value and what we’re giving our lives to. Our identity is created every time we draw a line – we become our choices, our choices become our habits, and our habits become our automatic dispositions that we form the way we act and live even when we don’t think about it..
Most of us give draw our lines without conscious reflection. Without critically reflecting on the lines, instead just going with whatever feels right and good. We say yes to this, no to this, yes to this, no to this, and suddenly this is who we are.
As a micro-community we want to resist the pull towards feeling and falling our way into an identity that we haven’t freely chosen.
And The Lines Around Our Community
Every time our community gathers, has conversations, decides to act, decides not to act, every time we make a decision to change the way we go about being community, we draw lines and create our collective or community identity. And as a community we want to resist drawing lines around our community that create barriers between us and them on racial, religious, social barriers, or barriers based on age or sex or education or political affiliation. Sexist, racist, ageist, religious, social, cultural, personality typist barriers are offensive to the God we see in Jesus who crosses over the lines, who smashes through the barriers, who loves without discrimination.
So the question for us becomes:
- How do we become individuals who create identities that cross the lines to love unconditionally?
- How do we become a community who create the space and the rhythms that create individuals who are line crossers?
- How do we become individuals who create a community and a community that creates individuals?
You cannot have the community without the individuals and you cannot have the individuals without the community. It’s a mutually reinforcing relationship.
To be the kind of community that becomes a solution to humanity’s biggest crisis of meaning, the kind of community that is a light to the world and the salt of the earth, requires us to draw certain lines, to make certain choices, to be intentional, to connect with the kinds of people that will help us to become fully human – crossing lines, love others unconditionally. And that’s what Open House is about…being an intentional community that cultivates the kinds of rhythms that will help you, to help us, to help you, to help us, become fully human – finding life – in the counter-intuitive way of Jesus. And our collective rhythms, the rhythms we do together, centre around our teaching and conversation loop.
This Month’s Teaching Loop – Crossing The Line
Each month we will have a series of conversations in our House Churches, based on a weekly podcast and a monthly chapter of the book. This will help us to have three streams of learning within our community:
- Theology Nerds [DEEPEST] – read a chapter of the book, and listen to the podcasts, meet up online with the other Theology Nerds once a month, feedback ideas into house churches…
- Podcasters [DEEPER] – listen to a weekly podcast, generally from Bruxy, and
- Conversationalists [DEEP] – listen to the Open House talk on the Sunday, maybe read the summary, and join in the conversation at house churches…
So, this talk becomes a bit of a catalyst for those three communities of learning that happen within Open House.
NT Wright and Virtue Reborn
The book we’re going to be studying this year is by NT Wright and is called Virtue Reborn. It is the third book in a trilogy where, in the first book Simply Christian, Wright outlines what it is to follow Jesus. In the second book, Surprised by Hope, he paints a picture of the future hope of Christians – where the world is heading according to Christian faith. And the third book, Virtue Reborn, is all about well – I say I’m a Christian, and I think this stuff might happen in the future, but what do we do now? He argues that this question is so significant because we have all these Christians around the world sitting in churches, with their golden tickets in hand just waiting to go to heaven when they die. But what should they do in the meantime whilst they are still alive?
Wright resurrections the ancient virtue tradition and maps out how our minds are transformed, how our characters are developed, and how we end up aiming at the perfection of being that is being like Jesus in this life…not just the life to come.
Crossing the Line
And the first podcast series we’re launching into is called Crossing the Line. In the four podcasts this month, Bruxy weaves together some brilliant insights based on Jesus’ interaction with a Samaritan woman in John chapter 4 in the Bible.
The Imitation Game – John 4:1-6
Bruxy points out some really interesting points about the text:
Samaritans were ethnic and theological half-breeds – they intermarried with the Assyrians centuries before and their religion had incorporated all kinds of non-Jewish traditions – they built built another temple, they interpreted the Scripture differently, yet they still considered themselves God’s chosen people
There was an enormous amount of animosity from both sides – at one point the Samaritans had sent a black ops operation into the Jerusalem temple in the middle of the night, scattering bones in the courtyard, making it unclean, and then Jews responded by sending an army to destroy the Samaritan temple of worship
Jewish children and Samaritan children would’ve grown up with stories of pain, hurt, horror for generations, some Jews wouldn’t even go through Samaria and if they did, they would pack their own food, so they wouldn’t have to talk to people,
So, Jesus doesn’t have to go to Samaria, but he does, he doesn’t have to drink in Samaria, he doesn’t have to eat in Samaria, he doesn’t have to use the utensils of a Samaritan, which makes him unclean, but he does…
It was because Jesus’ intention was to help his disciples learn to live a life of living the other – those who are different to themselves. That was Jesus’ plan to change the world to teach his disciples how to love through imitating him. And to do that you need to insert yourself into context where there are others to love. And that’s the way we change the world – through imitating each other as we seek to learn to live Jesus’ way of love.
She Came At Noon – John 4:7 – 18
So, Jesus asks for a drink and this Samaritan woman is feisty, witty, she is jousting with Jesus.
Here is a woman who has heard it all. Men her whole life have been offering her the world and then leaving, abandoning her. And here is another man, a Jewish man, offering her ‘living water’.
Jewish men were not supposed to talk to Samaritan women. Men weren’t even to talk to their own wives in public, they would walk behind them, particularly at a well.
The well was where women went to hang-out, usually in groups. And always in the cool of morning or evening, never at noon, and never alone. So, she was either socially shunned or personally shamed, or perhaps both, choosing to not even try to integrate with other women – just choosing to avoid others altogether.
And men only went there when they had romantic interests.
So, when Jesus asks her to go get her husband and come back, then acknowledges he knows she doesn’t have one, it would’ve kind of confused her. Here is a Jewish man, talking with a Samaritan woman, who knows her darkest shame, yet is still talking and just by talking is granting her dignity, a sense of equality. Here is a man who doesn’t want what men usually want, instead asks for a drink and is wiling to use her utensils.
In doing so, Jesus crosses the line of ethnic hatred, of gender separation, of religious difference.
Hanna Wolf suggests that Jesus was the first male who broke through the ancient world’s androcentricity. ~ Hanna Wolff, Jesus Der Mann
By the way, in the second podcast, Bruxy cranks up some dance music, pumps up the base, and starts dancing – which, when you’re listening on earphones, and not seeing any video, and hearing the grunts and groans of dancing, may be a little confusing. Bruxy also tells a phenomenal story about being caught up in a white-hate protest rally, preaching hate, promoting killing, being moved to tears and fearing for his life – it’s really worth listening to.
The Big Reveal – John 4: 19-26
The Samaritan woman brings up the deepest division between them – their religious divide. You’re a prophet, we worshipped on this mountain, we don’t know if we’re ok with God, we don’t have a temple. The Samaritans were hoping a messiah would come to sort it all out. The woman says she wants the living water, and Jesus then invites her to go deeper. Then revealing that he is that messiah, that their religious and ethnic barrier is meaningless.
Bruxy makes some interesting comments about Jesus’ views on marriage, that Jesus clearly distinguishes between living together and marriage. Jesus doesn’t agree with the woman’s choices or actions, yet he does not condemn her, he does not judge her, but instead fully accepts her. There is no condemnation in the conversation, the way Jesus operates is through love that woos hearts to a better life.
Eating Like Jesus – John 4:27-34
And finally, in the final podcasts for this month’s conversation loop, we note Jesus’ single-minded purity of heart to do one thing – to the do the will of the father – which is to cross lines with a scandalous love. The Gospel, the news that Jesus brings into the world, is to move across boundaries, it is to cross all lines, to those in need – socially, ethnically, religiously, economically, existentially, psychologically – that people might come to find hope, restoration and peace in the Kingdom of God.
Sharing the news of Jesus is to never be about superiority or inferiority, never about judgement or condemnation, but by expanding our own lines to include more and more, in relational expressions of love and mutual service, we share the peace of God with all who will hear it.
Drawing Our Lines
So, what does this story mean for us?
Where are the social, religious, cultural, racial, gender, age, economic barriers that separate us in our society? Who are the ones on the other sides of the lines we draw? How do we cross those lines? How do we love others, show dignity, act without judgment, love them unconditionally?
The invitation for us, as we seek to live the way of Jesus, is three fold:
- Cross the lines that our culture and society draw…
- To expand our own lines to include more love, more people, more joy, more hope…
- To be a community that takes risks, challenges norms, and shares stories that inspire all of us to cross the lines and embrace a scandalous love that can change the world
One Last Jesus Story
The story of Jesus and the woman at the well wasn’t the only time Jesus crosses the line, breaks down the walls and shows us how to love without conditions. The story where Jesus is confronted by a mob of religious leaders wanting to stone a woman caught in adultery is pretty remarkable. I don’t want to go into much detail about this, but I think it draws out the profoundness and uniqueness of the way of Jesus. That the way of Jesus is about a love that risks the self, it’s a love that is so scandalous it is willing to die for the sake of others.
Our Collective Hope
Our world is in crisis – it’s a crisis of meaning for those of us in the West where our material needs are met, and it’s a crisis of survival for much of the rest of the world.
My hope is that we might find ultimate meaning together in striving to embody and enflesh a scandalous love that can change the world by bringing the peace of God all humanity.
My promise is not that everything will succeed, but that if you participate in our community as fully as you can, then you will experience a kind of belonging, connection, peace and meaning that is super unique and rare in our day and age. That we together can make the best contribution to transforming the world as a micro community experimenting with how to be fully human.
What’s it going to take, is for you to draw some intentional lines into your world. To take control of your calendars, of your excuses, of your identities, and find ways for your life to orbit a different star – to be pulled towards living a different way.
We need to own this together. Own each other’s maturing to perfection. Make our unique contributions that only we can make. Without each other, we too are doomed to meaningless destruction and maybe Stephen Hawking is right – maybe humankind may not last beyond this century.
The Lucky Ones
Over the years, Open House has brought me some of my most joyful, rich, deep and meaningful moments. Many have become like family. I know you, you know me, we can say whatever. I know that if my family was in trouble, there’s a tribe of people who have our backs.
It’s also brought on some of my most heart-aching experiences. But that’s life. When you take a risk on love, connection, meaning, deep relationships – some people will draw lines differently to you, it will feel like rejection – but I still believe we are the lucky ones.
On Monday night Emma and I dashed into the city after work to hear Rob Bell. Rob Bell is pretty famous, or infamous, in Christian circles depending on where you come from. He told some great stories and had the athenaeum theatre eating out of the palm of his hand. Emma’s favourite part was when he was sharing how he just visited Alcoholics Anonymous, not because he had an alcohol problem, but because what makes Alcoholics Anonymous so good was that it was a bull-s**t free zone. My favourite take away line was when he mentioned one of the big things we need to see is pastors smoking what they sell.
Perhaps thing that resonated most deeply, however, was when someone asked the question: what does ‘church-evolved’ look like and mean in the 21st century? And the way he described it sounded exactly like Open House. It was 2 or 3 gathered, around a meal, openness, vulnerability, depth, lived experiences, coming together to share experiences and then living out unique stories of serving the world together.
We are the lucky ones – it’s time for us to cross the line.
Collective Rhythms: Designed to Get You In Rhythm
So what now?
Participate in our Open House’s collective rhythms (house church, gatherings, serving) to get your individual rhythms in order, so you can make your unique contribution to the world by crossing the line and giving away a scandalous love that can change the world.