I was 19 years old when I moved to California to be part of an urban ministry. I was probably 1 of 10 white people in my very large, historically black neighborhood. My roommates – all white – stuck out everywhere we went. A passerby once commented, “You guys look like six pieces of rice walking around in a raisin bowl.”
Every time we left our apartment we were the minority. This was a new experience for me. I was used to being able to blend in or fade away at will. I was used to my accent, my vocabulary and my social etiquette being normal. Now, every day felt like I had cymbals strapped to my legs and a marching band following me every step. I was no longer invisible.
Now, every day felt like I had cymbals strapped to my legs and a marching band following me every step. I was no longer invisible.
This isn’t uncommon when you cross cultures. I remember once while I was in Northern Africa with some friends, we were passing through a remote village when our tire went flat. Most of the children in the village had never seen white people. They had only heard about us – like the Tooth Fairy or the Loch Ness Monster.
They surrounded the Jeep on all sides and put their faces hard against the glass, pushing each other out of the way to try to get a glimpse of these crazy-looking human beings. They pointed and laughed because we seemed so unreal to them. They weren’t being mean. They were just being kids, but it was chaotic. The adults pushed the doors open and asked the elders of the village for help repairing the tire. If these kids had owned smart phones and YouTube accounts, we would have shown up on TMZ. We were kind of a big deal. Or maybe we were just a freak show. Either way, it was embarrassing and that level of attention was uncomfortable.
Sometimes, even in America, the feelings of cross-cultural ministry feel like this. It might not be as big of a culture jump, but by nature, when we choose to leave the beaten path, people get confused.
This is because bold love takes us outside of social norms and into territory that just feels weird. People are unsettled by bold love because it feels dangerous. Bold love always abandons the comfort of home and goes out into the wild. Bold love doesn’t know how to leave well-enough alone. Bold love moves outward, away from ourselves and toward other people. Bold love makes the needs of others more urgent than our own safety.
People are unsettled by bold love because it feels dangerous.We underestimate how uncomfortable a life of bold love is. And because we underestimate how hard it is to love people boldly, we become disillusioned when it is hard. The movies make it look easy. Books make it sound inspiring. But once we’re in it, it often just feels… awkward.
It’s easy to read the Bible without realizing how socially bizarre much of Jesus’ ministry was. Much of the time, Jesus and the Disciples were on the move – striking up conversations with strangers, sharing meals with people they just met or walking straight toward the social outcasts. If you place these decisions in a modern context, it’s easy to see why it felt so strange for people. Think about how you feel when you try to have a meaningful conversation with a stranger, share a meal inside the home of someone you barely know or when you look a homeless man in the eyes and introduce yourself. Bold love isn’t for the faint of heart.
John Sowers wrote something about love that I think is true. He says sometimes people need something from us but we panic and run away (or don’t even show up) because pre-failing seems a lot easier than trying and getting it wrong. He says, “People were depending on me to do something. Anything. I had no idea what. But when you love someone, you figure it out.”
What once seemed like an ambitious and passionate vision – moving into the inner city to love their new neighbors with the Gospel – now seemed like a stupid idea dreamed up by reality television producers.Many years ago, some of our Team Members were struggling to get out their door and meet their neighbors. They felt like I did in Africa. They felt out of place and overreaching. What once seemed like an ambitious and passionate vision – moving into the inner city to love their new neighbors with the Gospel – now seemed like a stupid idea dreamed up by reality television producers. They were positive Honey BooBoo was going to show up any minute. Every time a window of opportunity and time opened up to meet their neighbors, they found something else to do instead.
Finally, they had an epiphany. They realized they were immobile because they were waiting. They were waiting for it to get easier, waiting to feel inspired, waiting for instructions from their leaders, waiting for it to be less weird. And in their waiting, they were finding endless excuses. They realized that finding excuses to avoid the responsibility of loving someone is easy. It’s making the decision to love someone despite our excuses that is hard. The real barrier to loving and meeting their neighbors wasn’t any external situation. The real barrier was within themselves.
So they adopted a mantra: “Dare to be awkward.”
They realized they were immobile because they were waiting.They finally embraced the truth that bold love isn’t normal. Bold love doesn’t play by the rules of society. Bold loves requires a little bit of death to self each and every time. Bold love will always feel scary and uncertain and a bit out of place.
Bold love will never stop feeling like this.
They could either keep waiting for a luxury train that would never arrive at the station or they could lace up their boots and start walking. They decided to get out their door and start moving. Because their love for their neighbors was bigger than their desire for fun, ease or clarity, they started thinking more about what their neighbors needed and less about what they themselves preferred.
Bold love will always feel scary and uncertain and a bit out of place.Paul Angone says it like this: “The possibility for greatness and embarrassment both exist within the same space. If you’re not willing to be embarrassed, you’re probably not willing to be great.”
What about you? Are you willing to love your neighbors more boldly? I dare you to be awkward.