INSIDE THE BUBBLE
One of the things that drives me crazy is the near obsession among certain Christian groups with “reaching” people with the gospel. Don’t get me wrong. There is a sense in which we ought to be concerned to share our faith–directly or indirectly–with people we get to know. At least those who think about such matters cannot be accused of being overly separatist in their approach to Christianity.
Still, it amazes me how we sometimes distance ourselves from those we supposedly care for. We do this, at times, by living like we are outside the bubble, looking in, as if we are strangers in this land that is called reality. So, we watch from a distance and try to figure out ways to bridge the gap between the church world and the real world. Again, there is certainly a place for such thinking, and it doesn’t hurt to brainstorm about the best ways to assist our communities. Still, we often unknowingly hurt the cause in a number of ways.
For instance some will (rightly?) think that Christians are arrogant to approach life in such a distant and condescending manner. If we are not involved in the nitty-gritty of other people’s lives, what right do we have to dogmatize from “on high” (outside the bubble)? Furthermore, by approaching life as an outsider we never really cultivate the relationships that spawn legitimate concern for people. People aren’t statistics to be counted or numbers to add to our church roll. They are real human beings with hurts and joys and needs and questions. To be honest, I don’t think we normally have the right to fling truths at people if we don’t already know them. On a similar note, what kind of spiritual authenticity are we promoting if we constantly view outsiders (whatever that means) as some type of religious projects? Again, they are more than that, and so our deepest expressions of compassion and love and genuine evangelism will only result when we don’t view relationships as a means to some artificial end (“to get them saved”) but as real people whom we truly care about because we know them. If you feel plastic in your approach to the faith, you are probably by-passing the very thing that ought to motivate any effort to be a blessing to another human being. That “thing” is a true relationship.
Of course some would argue that such an approach is dangerous, and at a certain level, I agree. If you live in the real world, you might come up against forces that are real and hurtful. It’s easier to stay away, to view the world from a distance, to bypass the messiness that is a part of actual living “inside the bubble.” But it’s also wrong and–how can I say it–sub-human, and ultimately damaging to those who just might benefit from your genuine concern. You see, faith is, by the nature (super-nature?) of the case dangerous, but it’s the only way to live faithfully . . . and with purpose.
Please understand what I’m not saying. I’m not suggesting that we absorb the worst features of the culture around us or that we naively assume that we can live our lives without discernment. Far from it! What’s more, I am not minimizing the need to connect with like-minded individuals, who already share a similar worldview.
All I’m trying to say is that this faith outreach thing, if it is to be genuine, has to be tied to real, up-close relationships with the people who come our way. While there are plenty of things to talk about (and theorize about), the stuff that really matters is as simple as the people whom God sends your way. You can’t manufacture these things, and–if you want to be more than a robotic believer–you shouldn’t want to.
Not long ago, someone reminded me that it’s not always easy being a Christian in, how shall we put it, the real world. If you can say that, you are probably already doing something right. Only those who have felt the tension and the pressure and, sometimes, the misunderstanding and even criticism of living in the world know what this is like. It’s not easy, but it is certainly worth it. Of course what you are persecuted for also says a lot about the kind of Christian you are, and that's another subject that needs to be addressed. For now, it’s simply enough to say that God intended that we live our lives “here” and not “there,” that is, on the inside of society and not on the outskirts.
If you want to know what makes people tick, if you truly care about others, if you are even interested in figuring out what truly matters (spiritually and otherwise)–you have to be immersed in the here of where God wants you to be. Strategies and approaches and similar things may have their place, but the thing that truly matters is that we sincerely show ourselves to be faithful in relationships with the individuals God sends our way. It can be unsafe inside the bubble, no doubt, but it’s also where the action is, where the blessings are, where God is.
Carmen C. DiCello
Carmen C. DiCello has served as an associate and senior pastor, and he is currently both a public school teacher and an adjunct professor at Columbia Evangelical Seminary. He is the author of Why? Reflections on the Problem of Evil (2007) and Dangerous Blessing: The Emergence of a Postmodern Faith (2005). You can catch some of Carmen’s more recent thoughts at Notions (http://ollecid.blogspot.com).