I. For a moment let's be still. Let's listen to the chatter of birds returning from milder southern winters; let's smell the neighbor's fresh mulch spread in anticipation of the spring thaw. For a moment, let's see the daffodils stretching upward, or at least imagine them begging to break through winter's last gasp, its final chokehold.
On Saturday, I visited a coffee shop with a hippy flair Carrboro, North Carolina. It was a packed house, with Tar Heel students sitting at the island tables that populated an outdoor garden. One student swung in a hammock, looked up through the greening trees. I walked by the hammock, smelled the weed stuck to his skin, noticed his nary-a-care smile. He looked up at me, said, "hey, man. Cool?" I had no idea what the question was, so I looked down, smiled, and nodded.
"Cool," I said.
In the coffee shop, the high-ambition students sat along the room's edges, they with their headphones on, furrowed brows sunk into the spines of text books. On occasion, they'd cast a longing glance to the low-ambition students in the center of the room, they chatting and laughing about who knows what. They were an eclectic mix of doers, and resters. They were a mix of take-the-world and take-what-comes, alike.
I watched the children poised on the unknowing edge of prosperity's ambitious burnout. I wanted to tell them to dive into the pit of take-what-comers, to let things develop without assuming the onus being a catalyst, some sort of personal Big Bang.
"Go swing in the hammock," I wanted to whisper in all their ears, but they wouldn't have listened. I wouldn't have either.
Before the Carrboro coffee shop, I sat in a lake house living room with fourteen men. We were strangers before the weekend, each of us coming from different professions and being invited by the five members of a sort of spiritual direction community. There were two pastors, a tech-startup cat, a money-manager, an executive coach, and a rock-and-roll church administrator from the Rocky Mountain State. There were two pastors from Virginia, and a peace mediator from Old Dominion, too. A seminarian had driven from the Blue Grass state, and two money managers and a pastor-therapist from middle Tenessee attended. Then there was me--a lay lawyer from the Ozark mountains.
One might ask whether a retreat of strangers is as uncomfortable as it sounds. I suppose the answer depends on the sorts of people that comprise the collective, but in our case, I would say it was anything but uncomfortable. We talked in simplest terms about the things we wanted and the status of our souls. We shared a common desire to live what's left of this one life well, to push into relationships that are meaningful, that go beyond the platitudes of job, and money, and even family.
There's something rich about sharing the status of you soul in a collective of otherwise strangers. Pretense and posturing disappears (if you let it). There are no business competitors, no one to get a leg up on. If the collective is honest, and ours was, it fosters a sense that, when you take it down to the nuts and bolts, we're all so similar, all have the same underlying self-consuming doubts and struggles.
Near the end, I shared about my growing distaste of the creeping, subtle, Christian violences. I told them I was weary of Christian ambition, of church mission statements that include grandiose statements about "taking the city for Christ." I've had my fill of warfare metaphors, and fighting memes. I'm tired of long-on-opinion and short-on-grace living. I want a community that's flips the notion on its head, one that rests. I want a community that believes the great "give us this day our daily bread."
We unpacked the notion, and the pastor from Virginia boiled it down to the bones--"at our church, we're not looking to take anything anymore; instead, we're hoping to cultivate a community of restful belonging."
Belonging--I think it's what we all want if we're honest.
Spring is not something to be seized and dragged into our present realities. It comes in its beauty, in its own time. It comes and we belong to it in the same way the cardinals, or the redbuds, or the daffodils belong to it. It comes without effort--without our effort, anyhow--and it's the best of graces. This is the way of the good things of God, at least that's the way I reckon it.
Is this the way of belonging?
Give us this day our daily bread.
Take what comes.