To tell you, “I am not a fan of messes” and leave it there would be to willfully mislead you.

I can’t stand messes. I deplore them.

In fact, when it comes to things being dirty, out of place, unkempt, strewn about, untidy, chaotic, or in any state of disarray, “hate” is really not too strong a word to paint an accurate picture of my emotional state.

And so, to cope with this somewhat neurotic distress I find I have become a compulsive tidier-upper and putter-awayer. But don’t take my word for it; just ask my wife how many of her half empty Diet Cokes have gone missing from the kitchen counter in the last month.

I will also confide that I usually feel very self-righteous and more than a wee bit smug as I go on my tidy way.

Yes, I do realize that this admission puts my man card at serious risk. But those are just the brutally honest facts about who I am and what makes me tick.

And so it was with a very mixed set of emotions that I viewed a story on our local Public Broadcasting Service station recently. It was a story produced as a part of the “Beyond Belief” series… highlighting the intersection of faith and life in the Kansas City area. The story was about how a woman from the Democratic Republic of the Congo fled her country three years ago in fear for her life and somehow found her way here to the heartland of America.

One of the first things she did was to locate a church where she could worship. And when that church – Central UMC – demonstrated that it was open and excited to have this woman and her family with them, she began inviting other family members and friends.

Despite the fact that very few of the new African residents spoke English and despite the fact that their worship style was very different from that of their host congregation, they felt as if they had found a new home there at Central.

In fact, so many Africans began to come and attend Central that they have now come to outnumber the original congregation. The pastor and the other church leaders found themselves at a critical decision point… a fork in the road where they had to choose to turn either left or right. Staying put was no longer an option.

The choice, in essence, was between tidy and messy.

The tidy choice – given their new reality – would have been to create two separate congregations under one roof: one service for the original, mainly white congregation, and a whole different worship service, preacher, Sunday school program, and structure for the African members… likely with a degree of financial support and encouragement from the original congregation.

The messy choice would be to keep everyone together; white people and Africans in the same service and Sunday schools… translations going back and forth of each part of the service, classic American Protestant worship styles and music mingling with rhythmic, energetic African styles in the same service. Children’s Sunday school classes overflowing with black and white children… too few teachers and too few resources to serve adequately.

Beyond that were other logistical and financial considerations about the church leadership and administration that were not really touched on in the piece, but which – I imagine – would also involve no small degree of messiness.

As they faced that critical crossroads, the church prayerfully chose messy over tidy. And as the piece unfolded, the images of that messy, lively, loving, spirit-filled congregation connecting in worship and life were just beautiful to behold.

I am sure things don’t always work the way they should at the church. I am sure misunderstandings and mis-communications happen on a regular basis. Feelings may even be hurt now and then in the process. But what they have received in return for choosing the messy path is LIFE. Pure, bubbling, effervescent, throbbing life… probably the kind Jesus was referring to when he talked about “life abundant” in John 10:10.

It made me stop and look back on the times in my life when I have been a part of something new and innovative. I remembered that those times were almost always messy right at the outset… and sometimes continued to be messy even for a long time after. You don’t have predictable patterns to be guided by. There is not a known routine or set of operating instructions. People are not on the same page because that page hasn’t been written yet. It is often uncomfortably messy.

But there IS life. And that life is good.

And so it made me wonder… how often in the midst of my compulsive pursuit of order and tidiness, is it possible that I (or any of you other neat freaks out there) might be sacrificing life and vitality on the altar of neatness? How often might we just sanitize the MOJO out of something in order to keep it manageable and orderly?

Yes… Genesis tells us that in the beginning God created order out of chaos and darkness. But I believe the narrative we see over and over and over again in rest of the Bible tells us that God is the God of the NEW… the SURPRISING… the UNEXPECTED… and yes… even the messy. (See Isaiah 43:18-19, 2 Corinthians 5:17, Revelation 21:5, etc.).

Though it pains me a little to say it out loud, I must now say: thank God for the mess. Thank God for life.

2 Responses to “BLESSED MESSES”

  1. June 25, 2016 at 7:12 pm

    I so resonate with you Russell. I think that my desire for “order” is an aspect of my control freak personality. I recently wrote this to a friend whose husband has been struggling to recover from a stroke for many months:

    “I recently had the thought that I am only trusting God when I am not (trying to be) in control. It reminded me of a time in 2002 when my world was falling apart as my wife lay paralyzed from the waist down on a cruise ship in the Caribbean. I was totally stressed and in the middle of crisis when God began to quietly speak to me about flowing with Him in life and not trying to control my life. I pray that you will find a way to flow with the Spirit in this distressing time.”

    Flowing with God in the chaos can be overwhelmingly difficult if our orientation is to control instead of to flow. I am learning to flow. But progress is slow.

    • June 26, 2016 at 10:55 pm

      Perfect illustration, Bob. It is so very similar to the first step of the 12 Step program where we are invited to “admit that we are powerless” over events in our lives. Not an easy admission for anyone.

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