I went to a city wide men's ministry "conference" this weekend. I was actually one of the presenters on Saturday morning and I enjoyed the experience. A young black man came up to me and shook my hand firmly and said, "Hey man, God bless you." We talked for about ten minutes. The time moved us to one place where this man said, "I wish that men celebrated what they have in common, we'd enjoy life so much more." The statement wasn't trite, but I don't remember feeling that the statement affected me profoundly...a simple statement, but one he admitted only thinking about but never expressing until that day. This morning I have a different view.
My friend Neal was at the conference and he describes a hug he gave and received during one exciting moment and he describes the hug in this way, "When my eyes were closed I could only see and feel and imagine and know that this was the embrace of God." (read his blog--click here)
Imagine understanding that amongst my family and my friends I experience a lighter yoke, a burden lifted, a comfortable place, a graceful and merciful place, and a safe place.
Some of my friends were with me last night...we sat on our deck around a fire burning in the fire pit and we enjoyed hot dogs, smores and "smoreo's (you figure that one out...we're going to market that one someday!). We covered many topics of interest...the Dodgers, College Football, Marriage, Family, bowling etc. We also grazed the edge, mere edges of the political scene, and of our particular church situations and a few ideas about religion itself. One friend, Julie, said that she doesn't express her views easily in some circles for a variety of reasons. One reason centers around safety. In some circles her views would be exploited and vilified. A quick epiphany rolled through my head...the man who said he wished we would celebrate what we had in common. While his statement doesn't give me a full view of relationships and culture, I understand that amongst friends we can celebrate what we have in common and what we don't. You're safe here. I said something to the effect that so many conversations have been wasted in anger and immaturity. I enjoy a conversation where differences are exposed but not exploited. I enjoy a conversation where new things are learned, and where commonalities are reinforced. But I relish the environments in which I'm allowed to safely present myself. I don't do that easily.
We enjoyed a John Ortberg study before last night's "smoreo" fest. One moment gave me opportunity to say that we know that Jesus' yoke is easy and His burden light, but we seem to prefer the heaviness sometimes. I don't understand why. We don't often accept challenges as exciting opportunities. Instead, we give ourselves reasons why situations and challenges should be met with anger and discontent.
You're safe here. You're safe amongst friends and family. Julie is most welcome in my home and is allowed to think as she pleases in my home. That's something I hope we have in common. I hope that she, and others are willing to learn and change and grow, but I'm glad that she and others are brave enough to feel something important, and I'm glad that can happen in my home.
My horizontal relationships reflect my vertical relationship with God. I understand safety, because I have felt profoundly unsafe. My hope is that when you, my family and my friends, and even those whom I don't know well come into my home, that you feel you've been welcomed and hugged by God Himself.