Thursday, July 23, 2009

“Our Gang” Band of Brothers

Yesterday, I put on my “Band of Brothers” wristband, given to me by the Men’s Ministry of Gulf Breeze UMC. It is an important reminder of our commitment to walk the journey together. Not only is Biblical Community one of the most important Biblical imperatives for the Church, but also, personally, it has become a cornerstone of my spiritual walk and life. As Christians, God has wired us to need one another. Our relationships are some of the most sacred expressions of how we represent the image of God in which we were created. Thus, when those relationships shine, the whole world sees and knows it. And, when they don’t… well… the same is true.

The following is an excerpt from my new book, A Positive Life, to be released by Zondervan-Harper Collins next February. The following section discusses a time in my journey when I first learned the importance of small groups and of “doing life together”.

(From Chapter Five: Putting Our Future Where Our Faith Is. A Positive Life, Zondervan Publishing, February 2010)

There were six of us in our tawdry man club. At first (or second) glimpse, we were not much to behold. One was a lawyer, another an accountant. One traveled across the world working for a global telecom company. Another coached basketball until pharmaceutical sales lured him away with more money. Then, there was the former college football player who decided to sell mail-order steaks. And of course, there was the seminary student--- me.

The group began because someone at Sunday School mentioned they liked golf. In no time, there were Saturday golfing dates, lunch after church, and finally, a regularly scheduled “man’s night out” every week. Before you wonder, it was harmless.

Mostly, we enjoyed the company and at least pretending that we were masters of our domain. We beat our chests and talked about how we were the kings of our castles, although most of us lived in apartments, and how much we enjoyed matching wits as we surveyed our kingdoms together. That was, of course, until we went home.

The whole scene reminded me of the Little Rascals or Our Gang from generations before. Spanky, Alfalfa and Buckwheat shouted statements of great manliness all the while subjected to the “Darlas” (the love of Alfalfa’s life) of the world who really pulled the strings. Sooner or later, Spanky and the gang informed Alfalfa that he was up to his neck in “love” with Darla and there was little they could do to save him. Of course, Alfalfa shouted the obligatory “I am not!” and proclaimed his sovereignty, all the while secretly preparing the next poem or gift that would say to Darla “I am sorry for proclaiming my sovereignty and listening to those stupid guys anyway.”

And, ironically, that pretty much described our own tawdry “man club.” Although we didn’t have a Clubhouse, we still met to sing from the man songbook about how we were different and how our wives loved us just like we were, and about how we could do whatever we wanted, until, of course, one of us would look at our watches and say, “Oh it is about time for me to go… I have to be home by 9pm.”

And, yet, there was more to the group than just our bursts of testosterone. For some reason, the Rascals needed the clubhouse. And no matter our insistence on strength and independence, we needed our group, too. No, it wasn’t an escape or distraction from our homes. Truthfully, we have great wives who we love very much. The connection for us is more than just another fraternal order, but a “wiring” issue at the deepest level. There is something important about knowing and being known by your brothers and about being honest enough to become real friends.

Because of this, the relationships weren’t just about golf, dinner, the clubhouse or surface things. Like I am sure many of the off camera scenes at the Our Gang Clubhouse, our discussions included talks of other, deeper things like hopes and dreams and fears and doubts and failures. And, we also wondered about whether we could ever really be who our wives needed, and more importantly, whether or not we could ever become who God expected us to be in the world. The six of us had a place where we could be ourselves, and in the long run, it made us better.

Over the years, the group has dealt with changes and difficult events like the death of a father, a mother’s cancer and a sister’s drug addiction. We have helped each other through marital woes, health crises and job dilemmas. We’ve seen the best and the worst.

I don’t think God is surprised by such groups or by our need to be in community. On the contrary, I believe God wired us up this way, because He knew how doing life together would be so much easier and better than trying to make the trek alone. Over the next weeks, you will hear more about how we will “live life together” in Christ, and how each of us will “love Jesus” and “love like Jesus” in our world. I look forward to those discussions and to what God has in store.

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