Our retired neighbors go salmon fishing a few times every year – and they always bring us a portion of whatever they’ve caught. This time it was just minutes after they arrived home, and it came as nearly a foot long slab of bright red-fleshed fish.
If you know me, you know I’m generally not a fish eater, and I know, sad, because it’s so healthy. Whatever. It’s fishy, especially salmon. Now halibut, that would be another story. Pure, white flesh, decidedly non-fishy, yet fish. Win. Oh, and battered please. It’s good, especially with a generous splash of malt vinegar. And a side of potatoes cooked any of a bizillion ways. But, Jim loves salmon, and so I joy in this generosity for him.
Here’s some random thoughts that have been ruminating, and are more to the Jesus-y theme about our delightful and kindhearted neighbors.
First off, I didn’t set out to inquire whether our neighbors know Jesus. I know, right? Evangelical fail.
Or not. “By their fruits you will know them…” so I’m thinking I kinda know them. Excepting our six year Seattle hiatus, they’ve been our neighbors for many years. Gracious. Encouraging. Generous. (Oh, and long-suffering, since we’ve had some renters who were less than fabulous.) We know their fruits: goodness, kindness, and so forth.
Their language doesn’t show up with the salvation assurances that are key to some traditions that seek to hear to be sure we’ve done our job. Formulaic Christianese lingo, has been decidedly absent from our conversations – perhaps that’s why we’ve had so many of them.
And they’re not churchgoers, well, at least not these days. So, they can’t be Christian or know Jesus, right? Wrong. (Yes, I’m aware of all those Scriptures that people use to mandate church attendance.)
And, I really like these words from Roger Woolsey’s adapted variation of D.T. Niles quote: “Give me rules and I will flee. Give me Jesus and I am free.”
For me, frankly, I’m exhausted from the wrestle of needing to define our faith in an exacting manner. In my work/calling/mission life, it’s become somewhat of an expectation or necessity to do so – and yet I resist. (If you’d like to split a four cup French press sometime, let me know.)
For my purposes, the element I’m most interested in, is that people discover there is a faith that invites hope – that there is something beyond what we currently experience, and even if we have doubts about the certainty of it all, it’s the direction our heart is (increasingly) oriented. See, there’s the hope: to want something to happen or be true and think that it could happen or be true. That there is a greater Force at work in the world, and maybe the world beyond what we can see. But I have no interest in telling someone what that faith should look like. Jesus said “Do not be afraid, only believe.” I’m trying. And I’m finally embracing the reality that it’s enough.
Years ago a kindred spirit Catholic friend remarked: “You Evangelicals always need to attach the Christian label to everything,” after I had excitedly shown her my newest acquisition of a Christian chemistry book for my youngest daughter. It was yet another significant moment that invited me to reconsider the way I held my faith. Would a regular chemistry book be any less Christian? Doubtful, unless it intended to bend science.
Several years ago I decided I had no need – and no desire, to insure that other people’s faith looked like mine. So, our neighbors faith looks different than my experiences, my understandings and my story. Okay. No problem.
But there is a problem. Some Christian expressions size people up to determine their worthiness to God, or their insurance for heaven, by their specific beliefs, in specific language, a specific lifestyle, and specific attendance at an approved church. And that makes me not only sad, it makes me irked (weary, irritated, bored). But don’t be tossing daggers at my view here: church can be a fabulous place to express and practice one’s faith. I have loved some church experiences – some of you know I’m a community junkie who craves conversation. But I’m here today to say that Christians who don’t attend a church aren’t any less faith-full than people who frequent church. (Yes, the co-opted version of faithful was intentional.)
Why is this important? There are people to care for and love: People who are waiting to be included, welcomed, and heard. People whose stories are in process. People who desire to access hope in the form of a believable, beautiful faith, inspired and created by a Beloved God, lived out in the life of Jesus – but not necessarily in a church. And mostly these people aren’t as crazy focused on this God stuff as I am, but they need a voice.
So, yes, I detect reminders of Jesus’ character, and the admonition to love God, and love others in my relationship with my neighbors. These salmon-sharing people also bring us bountiful shares of their garden harvest to our door. They invite us to pick wild plums from their tree. And who knew she is a former school librarian, who helps with managing our little corner book-house (as part of the Little Free Library awesomeness)?
And we share as well. New seedlings for their garden, eggs from our chickens, fresh-made jam, and invitations to periodic social gatherings at our house. But no aha moments of needing to seize the opportunity to make right their faith, by making it look like mine/ours. No manipulative steering of the ship that deters genuine relationship.
But, we’ve talked. They hold belief in God, in the person of Jesus. We didn’t run them through a checklist, we just had conversations.
Can we be sad they’re not in a local church? Maybe. But if only because we who have experienced the beauty of a faith community can grasp the blessing there can be in sharing life and spiritual practices together in a more organized manner.
When we listen to their experiences, though, we can grasp why they might not be. They’re not so different from some of our own less than honorable experiences: command and control models that dictate what and how to believe, that somehow eclipse personhood and calling and grace.
And so we sow relationship, across the fence, with mutual interest in gardening, sharing resources and goods,andwords of care that help us get through the day, week, month and year(s) with a few more smiles and a little more gratefulness.
Meanwhile, they’re still delivering broccoli, cabbage, carrots and lemon cucumbers by the armload – and we’re feeling cared for and nurtured, body and soul. And I’m grateful for the lessons we’ve learned from being neighbors, that give us a picture of the heart of God for other relationships in our lives: a bountiful, generous and gracious love.
If you’ve had an unpleasant experience in church when you were seeking hope, or to understand faith in a way that honored your need, I think I’ll just say, I’m sorry. If none of this interests or matters to you, and yet you’ve gotten this far, then, I think I’ll just say, thanks for hanging in there, and I hope there’s one tidbit you’ve gleaned that makes you feel refreshed and curious. Questions are always welcome.