“Go therefore and make disciples…” -Matthew 28:19
One of my life goals is simply to be an authentic person wherever I happen to be. Now… I know this sounds high minded and maybe even kinda touchy feely. But let me explain. We love personas. Caricatures. Celebrities. We see this imprint of a person from afar, and we think we know them. We identify with them and are loyal fans. This can be true of athletes, pastors, politicians, musicians… you name it. And the person we idolize is a persona that we think we actually know. Now many celebrity’s have handlers to help them sell a certain image. This sounds crazy to us normal folk, but it shouldn’t. Because we all are a part of platform building now. With the rise of social media, we all get a chance to sell a version of ourselves. We get to sell a life. We choose what to put out there. We are our own public relations guru.
We are so intent on selling an image of ourselves, we have become less and less effective at real human connection. It has always been difficult. In times past, we were just alone. But now we have a semblance of relationships that aren’t really relationships and leave us somehow more lonely than where we started. We sell this image always. We are almost actors starring in our own one person shows. We have taken our cue from reality TV and say the next line.
But being a real person, being present in a moment, giving our full attention to those who are near us. Hearing ideas and interacting with them in genuine and thoughtful ways. Getting past witty comebacks and move quotations. Getting past our pre-formed answers and unassailable preconceptions. Getting above the metanarratives and actually having a real thought. These are difficult things.
It means being vulnerable. It means being honest. It means risk. It means the possibility of rejection. It means choosing to walk in the shoes of Dostoevsky’s “Idiot.” This is one of my life goals. To be a real person with the people I meet.
And more than simply a passive reality, I intentionally put myself into the mass of humanity walking by. In this city called Flint, I am in at least three different communities every week just showing up and walking and sitting and eating and drinking and talking and listening. I am trying to be a person among people.
There is this part in Matthew’s gospel where he recounts the words of Jesus to his followers… one of the last things Jesus says before He leaves. He tells them to “Go”. And this is a very active verb. I have heard many talks and teachings about the importance of pushing in and being out there. About going into. I have also learned that the Greek behind this verb “go” is of a sort that translates funny. It translates, “As you are going.” And that gives it a new flavor. Not so much a go stand on that street corner but a live life among people and as you are living your life among people DO THIS.
So as I am going, I hope to be making disciples. I have to do my work, so I am officing where people are. I like to eat, so I am eating where people are. I want to be healthy, so I am exercising where people are. I grocery shop at the same store every week the same day at the same time. I go to the same hardware store for every house thing I blow up. I am trying to be present and sensitive to the encounters that are occurring every day. Trying to be more than kind, more than socks and underwear.
So, last week a city worker, a black woman in her neon yellow jacket, she engages me at The Gas Station.
“Hey.” She is loud and intent on getting my attention.
“Who are you?” She says.
I laugh because the question has no context. “I don’t understand.” She tries again.
“I have been seeing you all over the place. Who are you? You work for the used car dealer or something?”
I smile larger, cause the exchange amuses me. “No, I am not selling cars.”
“So who are you? What are you doing here?’
“My name is Ernesto. And I am back here in this city of my youth, and I am starting a church.”
“Ooooh. With who?”
This time she laughs. “Oh, so you’re an angel.”
“No no. I am just a man.”
And we talk as the gas pours and before we leave the cold I know some of her story and she knows some of mine… and she is invited to come to a church that doesn’t even exist yet. I hope to see her around. Her and Rasheed and Tammy and The Butcher and The Chemist and The Judge. All the people whose lives keep on bumping into one another. I am a person among people. The light shines. Good deeds are done. And God gets some glory.