I just got back from a trip overseas. We left at 10:30 pm across the Atlantic. We flew into rough headwinds for much of the flight.
The bumpy ride filtered through to my dreams. I sat, terrified as our Airbus jet was going down in flames. I awoke with a pounding heart, realized that it was just a dream, and breathed a sigh of relief.
It’s always great to return home from a trip involving a long flight. The plane environment does something to you – it dries you out and depletes you. I am allergic to something in planes and begin sneezing about seven hours in.
Of course the cabin pressure does a number on you. And the little kids kicking your seat from behind are a bonus that your frequent flyer club didn’t tell you about.
If after your first flight, you happen to connect flights in that lower level of Dante’s hell called Charles DeGaulle Airport in Paris, then God bless you.
I had an hour and a half on Sunday morning to make my flight – no problem, right? Oh no, this is Paris. Frequent flyers to Europe on Delta have inevitably been traumatized multiple times by that airport.
The first sign we were in trouble? It came when they emptied the plane into a couple of buses. The buses then had to drive to the other side of the airport.
When the buses disgorged us into a roiling mass of people stacked up in one giant, shuffling queue in front of about six Immigration windows, alarm bells were ringing in my head. We were like cattle in the Kansas City stockyards waiting to be processed.
There was no way I was going to make it. Hundreds of people in front of me and 15 minutes till my plane began to board. So I did what any sane person would do. I cut in line. But that only took me to the part of the queue where they take you back and forth about ten times.
So I cut again trailing apologies and muttering about my flight leaving. And again. And again. Finally, I darted in front of a woman who was clearly in front of me. The whole misadventure had taken less than half an hour and somehow, I was losing my grip on sanity. Inside I was thinking, “This is the last helicopter out of Viet Nam!”
It was a shameful thing. Who does that? I guess certain cultures and type-A people like me excuse it, but really it’s just very rude.
Eventually still in panic mode, I made it to the plane and boarded. In Atlanta, an Uber driver named Khan picked me up. My head was aching from sleeplessness and I still had an hour of driving to do once he dropped me at my car.
I arrived at home, feeling less than human. My family was there having Sunday family dinner. Everyone was gathered around the table and the slime of my battle to get home began to melt away.
Yeah, we’re all a mess
This afternoon, in the sanity of my office, with laughter outside and the sun shining in the windows, my humanity has returned. And I’m thinking, “It’s amazing how quickly I lose my sanctification. It takes very little for my inner adolescent to manifest.
How many people must live like that every day? How many live under the tyranny of their own broken behavior all the time?”
Who doesn’t struggle with pressure and with their own brokenness? We all do, we just find ways to hide it.
Our inner mess especially doesn’t show up on Sunday morning. If we’ve had a Paris Immigration experience in our week, we lock it far away out of sight.
And you know what? I’m done with that kind of church. I’m done with churches that are big boxes for people to bring their best selves on Sunday. I’m done trying to pretend that life should be that way.
The reality is that life is often a lot more like Charles DeGaulle Airport. And a lot of people respond to it like I did – just trying to get through, often at the expense of others.
Rest and authenticity
Jesus didn’t call us to that. He said, “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.” (Matt. 11:28-30
I can do church with people like that. I’m starting to find it here at a small church startup here in Gainesville. I let my hair down and it’s OK. I leave my title at the door and bring my mess inside. And you know what, my mess actually encourages other people!
They’ve had weeks like I had. And we lean into each other in a place of authenticity. I think this is what Jesus meant. I think this is coming to him – we come as individuals to the body of Christ. And there we are seen and validated and welcomed into the group that loves us.
It actually feels restful. I lay my burdens down in a place of unforced rhythms. I let out a sigh as the pressure to be anything I’m not melts away.
Isn’t that the church of your dreams? Isn’t that the good news of abundant life? Isn’t it the kind of community that a generation longs for?
If people are sick of the judgmentalism of Christians, well so am I and so are the people I work with. If they are looking for a place where they don’t have to park their mess at the door, then welcome to the mess that is us.
We’re all a little sick inside by ourselves. We need to find that place that lifts us up. I may be a mess, but that’s OK. I’ve found a group of people who welcome my mess.