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There seems to be a recurring theme in many of my conversations of late. These conversations pop up when you I least expect them, and at seemingly odd times. The topics of discussion range from family life to broken hearts to school to abortion. But they all are circling back to one central theme (dare I say truth?).

Faith is messy.

We in the western world like things put into neat little compartments, wrapped up in pretty packages, with nice, clear labels. We like to have a category in which to put everything. A place for everything and everything in it’s place, right?

And when it comes to faith and matters of the soul, we seem to take those ideas and desires for a neat, tidy, pretty, labeled package to the extreme. We want to know what category you belong in. Then we want everyone to know that we are okay, we know what we’re doing, we have all the answers and don’t need any help. We know what to say and when to say it. If we venture into a church with any sort of regularity, we barely have to think about what we say, where we go, what we do. We are in auto pilot. We put on our best clothes, smile our pretty smile, and talk about how much we love Jesus. And that’s the way we like it. It’s simple. It’s clean. It’s easy.

But what I’m experiencing in my journey of faith is turning out to look much different than that. My faith is messy. My life, my relationships, my mind is messy. I don’t necessarily mean messy as in messed-up; wrong; dysfunctional. Though at times it is all those things, too. I mean it’s complicated; more gray than black and white; it takes energy, critical thinking, and blood, sweat and tears.

And it desperately needs community. The Bible says that faith without action is dead. But I’m also finding that faith without community is shallow. “Christianity” in the western world has become shallow, cold, exclusive rather than inclusive. It is sterile, impersonal, and lonely. Of course, I’m speaking in very general terms. And I use the term “Christianity” very loosely when it is in such a context.

If people claim to be a people of faith, there needs to be community present along with the actions that accompany that faith. There should be real community, where life is shared, warts and all. Where people are free to talk, discuss, question, wrestle and grapple with the messiness that comes when humans mingle with the Divine. In an atmosphere of true community, there is safety in walking through these questions, issues, and even doubts that are swirling within the spirit of each one of us. Real community is beautiful, supportive, freeing, and messy.

It’s not easy, or pretty, to work through your stuff, whatever that stuff is. But, oh what sweet intimacy and friendship and love that is cultivated when people we put their our guard down and truly share life with one another. Why do we put up the facade that we have it all together? Fear.

If they really knew the real me, they’d never want to hang out with me again.

If they only knew what I really wanted to ask about God, they’d think I’m an idiot.

There’s no way I’d deserve to be loved by God if He, or they, knew my past.

Sadly, most, if not all, of those statements have been proven to be true (other than that God not loving you part) in countless “bodies of faith” over time. Most likely, each of us has personally experienced it.

But the beauty of real community – community based upon and within the unconditional love of a Man who walked this earth and shared His life with all sorts of people – is that in such community, there is freedom to question, to ask, to wrestle, to struggle, and to decide. And the true beauty? No matter the decision, there is always love. Lord, let me be a part of a community like that! And make me the kind of person who fosters community like that.

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