By Anthony Casperson
There’ve been several times when I’ve said that God can teach us through strange/unforeseen/unlikely circumstances. I’ve experienced it enough to know this without a doubt. And yet I am surprised every time that he teaches me in this manner. I constantly stand amazed at his ways.
Though these lessons are not just for a single individual. Sometimes they are possible learning moments for the Church as a whole. Moments where every one of us who call ourselves followers of Jesus can learn and grow to be more like him, even if the location of the lesson isn’t in the most spiritual of places.
As I said last week, I want to write about some of the thoughts that came to my mind during my time at GenCon two weeks ago. And it is from this nerdy location that I see some lessons that the Church can learn.
But before I give my short list of lessons for the Church, I want to make myself clear. I am an individual person who has only experienced “church” in an American/Western context. My view of the Church is skewed in that direction and some of my critiques of the Church might not apply to the Church in every culture.
Secondly, my critiques of the Church are in a general fashion. I personally know of several congregations that already act in accordance with certain of the following lessons, though none follow all perfectly. There is room for improvement in us all. So let’s learn the lessons that we need to learn and be reminded of the ones that we have been working on.
1. Be willing to admit your weaknesses.
One of the sessions I went to during GenCon was called “How to Start and Grow a Geeky Blog.” In most panels I’ve attended, the panelists begin their time by giving their credentials. They attempt to prove their expertise in the subject at hand. There’s a reason why they are up there talking and here it is.
But at the very beginning of this session, the panelists did something that caught me off guard and caused me to invest more in the things that they were saying. They admitted their weaknesses. There was no hiding behind masks of greatness. No air of, “I have arrived and you should be like me.”
These panelists gave a sense of only being someone who’s further down the path than we in the audience were. We are on the same path, but they have more experience. And they desired to uncover the pitfalls and the oft-missed tracks. All the while they admitted that areas, like monetizing blogs for one of the panelists, were not as strong as they’d like to be.
Far too often I’ve seen it in my fellow followers of Jesus (and I’ve done it often enough myself) that we try to have this “perfect mask.” We want others to think that we’ve arrived to some level so that the people around us won’t see the imposter syndrome that we’re feeling. And acting this way just puts unnecessary pressure on all involved to maintain this level of fakery.
It’s okay to say, “I don’t know.” That lesson was one of the most freeing I’ve ever learned when it comes to teaching/preaching/leading. It humanizes the one speaking. It means that we don’t have to spread bad info that we might have to apologize for later. And it gives us an opportunity to help others grow by learning the process of how to figure out the answer.
Let your weaknesses be known. Who knows what other person’s strengths can aid us.
2. Encourage the passions of others even if it’s not exciting to you.
Before that same session mentioned above began, I was sitting in the otherwise empty room. In entered two guys. I later discovered that one of them was a panelist for the session and the other was a co-worker of his. But at the time I thought that they were just two people interested in geeky blogs like I was.
The co-worker sat in the row in front of me and asked if I had a geeky blog. (Well, I think of it as a “nerdy blog,” but same thing.) When he asked me about it, I began to tell him. I mentioned the theological slant of the blog, wondering what this person’s reaction would be.
The guy told me that he had actually been to a seminary, but that he and God had gone their separate ways. As we continued to talk about our specific blogs, there was no judgement on either side.
He asked me what the name of the blog was. And when I told him “Brushstrokes of a Theonerd,” he smiled and said, “I like it. That’s a good name.” In that moment, I felt encouraged.
Do you know that, after all this time writing these blogs, I can count on one hand the number of people who’ve told me that “Brushstrokes of a Theonerd” is a good name? Most people either ask, “Whaaa?” Or they tell me that it’s a long name. (No offense to all of you reading this who’ve said either of the latter. I’m just telling the truth here.)
But this guy, who has a reason for rejecting God, encouraged me in my pursuit to glorify God through my nerdiness. He saw the passion that I have for showing the beauty of God in the mess of the world through the eyes of a nerd. And his kind words built me up.
I can’t help but think of the people in my own life and the lives of some people I know who’ve seen passion and squashed it. Maybe unintentionally, but these people have quenched the passionate fire in us. Whether it’s by reminding how difficult the venture is, or how strange the idea is, or how little we fit in the “proper mold” of those who do similar things, or even saying that the venture is not worth it, the form may change, but the discouragement remains the same.
We as followers of Jesus are called to encourage one another, build each other up. That doesn’t just mean when the passion lines up perfectly in our minds with what we deem worthy. We can disagree with specific forms, but as long as the truth remains, we should encourage one another.
It doesn’t matter if we would do things the same way. If God has given someone a passion to complete, let’s encourage that passion. Yes, we need to make sure that the passion is from God, but if it glorifies him, let’s encourage one another.
3. Let people experience their emotions.
Last week, I wrote about my experience in line waiting for signatures from the Critical Role cast. I’m not going to repeat it here, but one other lesson happened during that time.
When it looked certain that we weren’t going to get through to see the cast, one girl behind me started crying. Talking with people in line, she eventually apologized for it. The guy behind her told her that it was alright and she could feel how she felt.
The guy went on to talk about how he and probably many of us in the line have struggled with our emotions: depression, anxiety, and several other psychological issues. He wanted her to know that crying didn’t show any sort of weakness or lack in her. It was an outward expression of how she felt. And I could see (as I turned, nodding) many of those around us were nodding at his words.
There’s a range of human emotion for a reason. While sin can infest and pervert certain emotions (like making sadness into despair), the emotions at their base level are given to us by God. In the gospels, we see Jesus weep. He gets angry at sinfulness of people’s actions. He experienced all of the same emotions that we do, but was without sin. That means that it’s okay to feel these emotions.
But then why have so many of the churches I’ve experienced contain people with plastered on smiley faces? Why do we gravitate toward “happy happy” songs to sing God’s praise? The Psalms are filled with songs from so many different emotional states, why can’t our modern praise songs? Why do we who preach feel like we have to apologize when we speak on subjects that are less than happy?
We need to be allowed to feel how we feel. Yes, God’s truth can speak into certain situations. But what will help people more than speaking at someone about the truth is living that truth with them.
That guy in line could’ve said, “Look around you. Do you see anyone else crying? We all knew that this was a longshot when we got in this line. At least we got pretty close to see them.” But he didn’t. He shared in her emotional response and validated her feelings. And she came to see that she wasn’t alone, there were many of us with her.
Just imagine how the Church could look if all of us broken people admitted our weaknesses, encouraged godly pursuits of many paths, and were given the freedom to emote without fear of judgement.
That’s a group of people who could change the world.
Without being self-righteous, without being self-centered, without being self-conscious, those people could change the world. And if backed by the Truth of God’s word, that change could only be for the better.