I love how the voices of others give clarity to our feelings and experiences. That’s happened more times than I can count at Camp Arcadia. This summer, our 20th at Camp Arcadia, was possibly the most relevant to our family.
About three years ago, Brian and I felt led to change where and how we were living. As our children entered school, we hoped to create an environment that provided many different voices from different generations and life experiences, while encouraging an openness to others. As a family, we wanted to be an extension of community. And we wanted that to reach across religious connectivity.
We set out to move to an area where “community” would be easier to incorporate into our everyday lives. In our neighborhood, 92% of the children in our school district go to the public school, where our children happily attend. Our school district is one of the smallest in the area – not quite 4 square miles – and sees one of the most diverse populations, in terms of racial and socioeconomic demographics, in the St. Louis area. We are also one of the least-churched populations in our area.
This summer, sitting in the Dean’s Program during Family Week Two, Gabe Kasper and Josh Woodrow gave our family’s intentions a perfect heading: “Confessionally Missional.” Their program spent the week examining the tensions of Living a Sacramental Life – the fullness of life in light of the gospel – in a world that will drive you crazy trying. On Wednesday, Gabe presented the statement, “The Sacramental Life is a mission driven by confession. Our confession of Jesus as Lord necessitates mission.” See that’s the great thing about Camp Arcadia. It is a place where God can confront us, and then give us ice cream.
When we moved to our neighborhood, we set out to live in this confession by valuing relationship over our comfort. Relationships with people became our #1 focus. We wanted to leave everyone better than we found them. We wanted to listen to people so that they really felt heard. We wanted to open our home so frequently that it became a new normal for both us and those who were being welcomed in. We wanted to shine love so brightly that people would come to us just asking why we were different.
Then we moved in and actually tried to live this out. And found that Josh’s statement on Thursday was terribly accurate: “What if discipleship isn’t fancy or complicated but boring and ordinary?” That was precisely our experience. Our confidence in God’s call to discipleship helped us moved forward. We clumsily moved into a space of hanging out on our front porch for hours at a time introducing ourselves to every person who walked by. We clumsily lingered while bringing in our trash cans. We clumsily walked over to neighbor’s houses and introduced ourselves and invited ourselves into their homes under the guise of “curiosity regarding your refinished woodwork.” We clumsily borrowed lawnmowers and tools instead of purchasing our own.
And somewhere in the awkwardness we’ve gained a different sort of confidence. This confidence comes with an understanding that we are boldly reaching out to love people and that each ordinary step brings us closer to relational opportunity. Each ordinary introduction might be a new friend. Each ordinary school drop-off challenges us to compliment or talk to a stranger. Each ordinary family walk means we meet new dogs, babies, or older couples sitting on their front porch.
As each new relationship develops, our confidence to start out, even clumsily, helps to clarify our mission. We’re working to have our friendships and social activities more accurately reflect the racial and socioeconomic demographics in our neighborhood. It’s taking time to develop trust. We continue to regularly examine our sin of lack of willingness to work this mission into our everyday life. We confess that He is King, and we are not. We repent when we act in pride or when ego enters our thoughts. We pray that we are fully engaged with our community while being fully submitted to God’s authority and fully obedient to His will. We accept that God loves us deeply despite our imperfections so we can wholly claim His promises.
As one neighbor struggled through the loss of her mother and the familial turmoil that came with her death, she found our front porch a safe place. For weeks, she cried, laughed and cursed and I mostly sat silently as she let out just enough of her pain and frustration and then found courage to walk back to her house and face it all. Safety in our relationship crossed the street, when, months later, while sitting on her front porch, an insurance agent drove up asking for a copy of the death certificate that had slipped through the cracks. After she collected the information and the agent left, she vented about the episode and said, “I guess this works on my porch too.”
Our ordinary encounters and emotional investments transformed into something radical one day at the bus stop when her husband said, “Thanks for sitting on the porch with her. We’d go back to church if it looked more like this.”
We hold onto radical comments like this as we do ordinary things each day. Maybe parking in the driveway instead of a garage will lead to an ordinary conversation with radical outcomes. Maybe on the 500th visit to our local coffeeshop, restaurant or grocery store, something radical will happen. The shared meals, snacks, drinks, walks, laughter, tears, stories and in some cases, prayers, certainly seem ordinary, but we’re pretty confident God is up to something radical.