I’m enjoying my last morning in Australia. I woke up about as early as usual, around 6am, threw on some clothes, and went for a walk around downtown Perth. It’s sunny and warm even this early in the morning, and the nearness to the water gives the whole city a beachy feel. It’s beautiful here.
The people are beautiful here as well. Everyone seems so put together. Even at this early hour, professional men and women are walking to work, dressed in sharp, neat business attire. I briefly feel self conscious walking among them, having just rolled out of bed and thrown on a disciple t shirt and a beanie. Then I sit at a coffee shop and decide to just take in the moment (isn’t there always something to take in?).
Australians seem to care deeply about how they present themselves. Most are fit and well groomed, and always dress sharply. Just now I saw a businessman walk by me, headed to work wearing a tailored suit, carrying a packed lunch in one hand, and a pair of running shoes in the other. I can only surmise he plans to go for a run on his lunch break. This is exactly the kind of lifestyle so many Australians seem to subscribe to.
In North America we love casual. We love t shirts and shorts and sneakers. Most of us avoid dressing up if we can help it. How many times have I heard someone say (or said myself), “well at least I don’t have to wear a suit every day.” If we see someone in a suit, we assume it’s against their will, that this person must have been forced into a career where he’s forced to wear a suit. Surely he’d rather be in shorts and flip flops.
We apply these same principles to our church lives. I grew up in a church that was proudly “come as you are!” Ripped jeans, biker jackets, short shorts, whatever. No doubt when my parents’ generation started these churches, it was in reaction to the legalism and traditionalism of their parents’ generation. They didn’t want to be a part of a church that forced them to dress a certain way on Sundays. I can understand the sentiment. I might have felt the same way if I grew up the way they did.
The churches my Dad pastored were more of the “anything goes” type churches. In addition to the casual dress, anyone in the congregation was free to speak up at any moment, with a prophetic word, question, or shout of affirmation. Again, I am sure this is a response to the fact that my parents generation grew up in churches where the activity was quite one-sided. The ministers preached, the congregation listened.
When I was 17, I moved out on my own and began to search for a church of my own as well. I checked out a Pentecostal church, Baptist church, and several others. I ended up getting involved in a Harvest Bible Chapel, which is an offshoot of the baptist church, but I also began attending a Sunday night youth service in Toronto.
These youth services were held in an ancient church downtown, and they were unlike anything I’d ever experienced before. It was emphasized that God was HOLY, and not someone to be approached lightly. Scriptures were read with care and detail, and the point was clearly made that these writings were SACRED. The word of God given to men. There was a heaviness to it all. An appropriate heaviness. I realized that all these years I’d been thinking of God as a vending machine. Put praise and worship in, get good things out. A convenient arrangement.
There at those services I saw an aspect of God’s nature I had missed until that point. The Sacred. The Holy.
A few days ago the guys and I traveled to the southernmost tip of the Albany area, and saw these incredible rock formations on the coast. There are massive cliffs, and the sea comes crashing into them with incredible force. The experience was humbling. I approached the edge of the cliffs with care, and awe. There is one place where you can climb underneath a section of the cliff face, where you’re literally standing under millions of tons of rock. Just feet away massive waves are slamming into the rocks. I was struck by the sheer scale of the forces I was in proximity to. Beyond comprehension. I couldn’t help but feel that approaching God is like this. With awe. Not with fear, but with awareness of the bigness of it all…. How easily I could be crushed, swept away, or buried, in a moments notice.
I don’t mean this to be any kind of indictment of charismatic churches. I merely mean to say that having grown up in one point of view, I appreciated experiencing others. There’s got to be a balance to it all. If I had grown up in a more traditional church, I’m sure I would have sought out a place with more freedom. Most of us crave new points of view when we come of age.
I’m continually amazed by a God who has absolutely no reason to do things only one way. He is bigger than that. He cares about what is in our hearts more than anything. Our outward expressions are a beautiful union between who He is, and who we are. We all share a need for salvation, but beyond that human beings are so wonderfully different from each other. No wonder our walks with Jesus can look so different.
I am thankful for a world full of different points of view. I love stepping into other people’s perspective for moments. There continues to be so much to learn.
Sometimes I like to stand on a street corner at a busy downtown intersection. Just stand. I enjoy the flow of people all around me. Their conversations. Their facial expressions. Their hurry. I’m certainly the only one still just standing there when the walk sign lights up. 30 seconds later I’m with a new group of strangers.
It’s like little 10 second snapshots into other people’s lives. Amazing to get that tiny window into so many different people’s daily realities. Each one is different, but almost without exception, they’re in a rush. They have places to be, things to do. Hurry up. Faster. You can almost feel people muttering it.
How much of my life do I spend in such a hurry? A ton of it, don’t I? I’ve got worries and concerns and things to get done just like anyone. How much am I missing when I rush?
Right now I’m sitting on a bench in Australia. I’m in Australia. The other side of the world for me. That’s amazing.
I’m sitting on a bench at the side of a stone walkway. Amongst the regular stones there are specially made black stones scattered throughout, with little steel leaves embedded in them. The whole design makes it appear as if leaves are blowing down the street, shimmering in the sun.
Someone made those metal leaves. Someone else placed them into the black stones, and someone else incorporated them into the stone walkway. How much effort to go to for something people are just going to step on? Who is even going to notice?! I think it makes the walkway look beautiful, but I only noticed because I sat down here and chose to notice. I slowed down…. And the gratitude an appreciation had a chance to catch up with me.
It’s amazing how wonderment is possible only when we slow down.
Normally it’s the big things that force us to slow down. We see a huge sculpture or archway, and we sloooooooow down to examine it’s beauty. We stand at the edge of the grand canyon and it’s vastness commands us to slow down. Big things tower over us and demand this reaction, and appropriately so. When we feel small, the world feels big, and we are in awe. Things feel right when we feel small. Almost as if that’s how we were meant to feel all the time.
Maybe slowing down intentionally can help us feel small in other moments. I can’t imagine how much effort went into this walkway. The immensity of the job makes me feel pretty tiny as I stare down the entire length of it. It must have taken incredible effort to design and build it…. And now I walk on it.
I’m grateful for the reminder to slow down and feel a little bit of wonder at the bigness of it all. Slow. Small. This feels right.
On the plane to Australia I watched one of my favorite movies, and found that it was not a favorite anymore. Weird feeling.
I hadn’t watched this movie in quite some time…. And I assumed I’d love it just as much as I used to. Instead I found myself watching it with new eyes.
I first saw it over 10 years ago. I had just moved out on my own, and I was so unsure of my direction in life. Insecure. Quiet in groups of people. The guy in the movie is just like this. He was someone I could identify with back then…. constantly paralyzed by fear and uncertainty. I was that guy.
I am floored by how little I identified with him this time around. Obviously the movie hasn’t changed. The story is the same, the characters are the same, and the ending is the same.
It’s me that’s changed.
I still experience fear, but I am learning to refuse to be paralyzed by it. I still experience uncertainty, but I recognize it as a part of life, and do my best to move forward. Watching the movie, I still identify with those feelings. They haven’t gone away. Fear and doubt never leave. I just try not to feed them.
We choose what to feed, I think. When I begin to feel afraid of something, I steel myself for the urge I know is coming. The urge to run. To back away. To avoid the opportunities for hurt and failure to strike. However, if I act on that urge, I miss opportunities for joy as well. That last thought is where the energy comes from. I’ve known few joys as great as the joy of a fear conquered. You can feed the fear, or feed the courage to find the joy beyond it.
This actually enters my decision making processes now. When faced with a tough decision, I try to ascertain which route I’m most terrified of. I see the opportunity to conquer another fear. Or fall flat on my face. Either way, I refuse to succumb to it, and that’s a triumph in itself.
I can feel determination grow in me. I refuse to be a slave to fear. I repeat this to myself.
I’d rather have a history of failed somethings than successful nothings. Immobility is the greatest of all failures, and one that you can avoid by choice. The race isn’t over. Keep moving. I repeat this to myself as well.
I can’t know how it all will end, but every day I can choose where to begin, and what to feed.
God, thank you for life and breath and for the time that we are given. Thank you for melodies and phrases. Thank you for families and friends. Thank you for courage, the fire inside each of us that is kindled by your love, and ignited by our suffering. Thank you that you know better than we do.