The Um!!! Moment.
Just the other week I had to go through one of those ‘um!!!’ moments again. You would think I would be used to it by now, that I would be able to give a nice slick, unembarrassed answer. That I would be able to reply without flinching and look them straight in the eye as I gave them my reply knowing that the problem was theirs and not mine. You would think a Holy Spirit boldness would come upon me and that I would feel no timidity or feel I have to be apologetic. I have to admit it does get easier over time but I still would not claim it is easy. Even now I pray that I might not run into certain people so that I have to try and answer this question again. You would think I could get a well rehearsed verse off pat, but when the question comes your way, even when prepared and maybe expecting it, it still takes you off guard for a while until the moment passes. I bet many of you are wondering what question I am talking about. Others who are on the journey will maybe already be identifying and whispering it under their breath. What is the question? Let me just tell you the story of the other week and then it will all become clear. My latest collision with the ‘um!!!’ moment.
On a Saturday night May 18th I was invited to share at a place called Christchurch in Aberdare. This small evangelical church invited me to one of their Saturday night rallies. People may ask me why I still accept such invitations, especially when this place still have what we would term a hymn/prayer sandwich. I have asked myself that many times, but then I meet the people after and speak to them and see Jesus in so many of them, these faithful servants who may never ever know another way of worship. I just have grown to love the people, many of them getting older, but great characters. To me it is not about the speaking, pulpits are a bit like Saul’s armour to me now, it is about people. Of course being a special there were some guests there who I had never met and I should have known this question would be coming, but if I am honest it caught me a bit off guard. First a Brazilian man sitting opposite me as I drank my after share tea, and a woman sitting next to me. Then as I was about to leave a man who was part of an Elim church who had picked up that I was an ex-Pentecostal minister. That question came from all angles. What is that question? It comes in two guises but are equally gnawing at you;
What church do you go to?
Where are you going now?
It is a moment that I am sure many of you face whether inside or outside of organised church structure. It seems to be the Christian equivalent of talking about the weather. It is that question that fills the awkward gap when we do not know what else to say or we are generally interested. The answer actually helps us shape an opinion on somebody, whether that opinion is right or wrong. If they belong to the same the tribe there is common ground, if not we can be on our guard! But when you belong to no particular ‘local’ church or congregation it is that million dollar question you do not want anyone to ask because for them it does draw a million and one conclusions. That you are a loose canon, that you are spiritually unsound, that you have a lack of commitment, that you must be hurt by the church, that you are a bit of a rebel, that it is just a phase that you are going through and you will soon find a remedy and a new spiritual home and be happy and content once again. How did I cope in the situations? I think I managed to look unfazed even if I was. I tried to be as honest as possible, I really did, but I do find myself softening the blow by saying things like ‘at this moment in time I am going nowhere’ or ‘at this moment in time I do not belong to any church’. I then find myself being a bit apologetic, ‘I’ve tried to fit in’, ‘we have looked around’, ‘nowhere feels like home any more’. I just wish I could be as bold as I am in these blogs. Sorry to burst your bubble about me but that old intimidation still rises up and makes me squirm. There is that fear of being rejected, which I have tasted much of and found it so bitter I try to live peaceably with all men if I can. Sometimes I feel it is no good casting pearls to certain people, and I am not being personal there, as I am sure Jesus wasn’t when He said it, it is just people will not understand so it is better and easier to flirt around the subject. I did finish all conversations with how I was now discovering the majesty and presence of God in all things around me, including the aisles of Asda. How I had never felt so close to God and content in and through much of my life. How the people around me were becoming the daily gathering and church that Christ was building. My prayer is that they at least grasped a bit of the truth in that that would set them free. Allison had noticed that I was fired that awkward question a few times tonight. She mentioned they might not ask me to go and share again. It honestly would be no loss to me anymore, my life is not built on what I do anymore. I was once a mean preaching machine but now I just love walking the garden with Jesus and anyone else who happens to be walking there too. But that question….that awkward question. It just keeps on popping up and seems to never go away.
When it comes next time I want to be prepared. I want to give a bold, honest, straight to the point answer about the failings of the structure and the freedom in the walk. I want to tell them the full story of my own journey through the pain and the isolation, to the place of walking the garden with him. the place of grace and love without performance and conditions. I want to tell them about what Jesus meant by church and what I have discovered about gatherings and fellowship. I want to tell them about broken relationships and new relationships. I want to tell them about the joy of flowing in the wind of the Spirit, wherever He takes me. I want to tell them about seeing God in and through everything, and that at the end of the day He is enough. I want to tell them that God does not live in brick and mortar but in and through people, even so called ‘pagans’ if we would just open our eyes to see. I want to tell them about conversations in the aisles and on the internet. That life is for the living and that truth is here to set them free not bind them up. There is much I would love to say. But you know when that awkward question comes again it may just take me off guard and I may not say any of this at all. But God knows my heart, my journey, my life, my all, and what I do pray is that if my words do not speak or stuttering things flow out, that He will communicate through a life that is lived. I know now even professional answers to this question will not impress Him or bring me a gold star. I am safe and secure in His arms whatever I reply. He knows my heart and reasons for reacting how I do, and He loves me passionately. The question may be an awkward moment, but there is now nothing awkward between Father and me. We simply dwell…