Monday, October 5, 2009

living to connect

Then the LORD God said, "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner." 19 So out of the ground the LORD God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. 20 The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every animal of the field; but for the man there was not found a helper as his partner. 21 So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then he took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. 22 And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. 23 Then the man said, "This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called Woman, for out of Man this one was taken." 24 Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh.

This is hard to admit, but I’m fascinated by reality TV. And what fascinates me is the audacity of the claim – reality TV. Not compelling TV or lively TV or even provocative TV – no, they have the audacity to claim that this show is a window into reality. No need for a script – “lights, camera, action,” we’re here to teach you how reality works. So if you want to meet the woman of your dreams, we all know how the courting process really works, just watch the Bachelor. You go out with 25 beautiful women who already want to marry you, sometimes with two women at once to save time, plan an exotic vacation with your top 3, meet their family, weigh your options, and give a rose to your favorite one – just like God intended. Or let’s say its meaningful friendships you want to learn how to build? Oh, well that happens when seven pre-selected strangers with personalities destined to clash are haphazardly thrown together in a super trendy downtown loft. Right – isn’t that how the “real world” works?

Now, on the one hand, these shows understand something important about reality. Relationship – or being connected – is what reality is all about. Or perhaps to put it differently, relationship is at the center of the universe. But on the other hand, you watch these shows, and you get this sense that people aren’t connecting with one another at all. They’re trying to achieve something at the other’s expense. In other words, they’re competing – for a rose, for a job with Donald Trump, for money, to be the Sole Survivor, to win the amazing race – they’re competing. But they’re not connected.

Not connected. This is the phrase I’d like to use to describe the dilemma we’re in today. I say dilemma because ours is the world where it’s entirely possible to have a thousand contacts and not a genuine friend; to have a wife or a husband, but not a partner; to send a thousand text messages or emails in any given week and yet to go months without giving or receiving a hug. That’s what I mean by not connected.

In today’s reading from Genesis, Adam and God are hanging out in the Garden of Eden, way before the Fall. There’s no sin, no disobedience, nothing that damages Adam’s relationship with God, and Genesis tells us that everything that God has created is good. This is the constant refrain that’s occurred throughout the first chapter. God created the heavens and the earth, and God saw that it was – Good. God created light – good. The ocean – good. All types of plants – good. But in today’s reading, God looks at the man He’s created and for the first time God says – “not good.” “It is not good that the man should be alone.” Why? It’s not because God likes women better. The reason God looks at Adam and says “not good” is because Adam is “alone.” Or if you’d like a more accurate translation of the Hebrew Bible, because Adam is disconnected. Remember, God made Adam to connect at a deep, deep level. The only problem is there’s nothing for Adam to connect with. And according to God, Adam’s situation, being disconnected – “not good.”

Well, the story then takes a comedic twist, and we often miss this, but tonight’s reading from Genesis uses humor to communicate truth. Because if you read the story carefully, which no one ever does, God becomes Adam’s wingman. His boy Adam is lonely and God wants to set him up. So what does God do? He makes a bunch of animals and parades them in front of Adam hoping that Adam will connect with one of them. So here’s Adam, alone in Eden, and God brings to him animal after animal --- horse, buffalo, cat, lizard, rat, cheetah – and God’s like, “Adam, take your pick. Give a rose to your favorite one.” This is like the Bible’s version of the Bachelor. But as the story goes, “for the man there was not found a helper as his partner.” Adam’s situation stays the same. He’s still not connected with another person. “Not good.”

Now this scenario, with Adam and the animals – it’s obviously absurd. And there’s a reason for that. It’s meant to be absurd. It’s absurd to think that people like us – people that God created to connect with other people – could connect deeply with an animal or with anything else for that matter. I had a bible study leader in high school, and he loved to tell us we had a God-shaped hole in our heart that only God can fill. And for the record, I think that’s true. But today’s reading from Genesis seems to suggest that we all have a human-shaped hole that God won’t fill. I mean, think about it – Adam was in the immediate presence of God, but because God made him to connect deeply with people, God wasn’t enough. Adam was with God and Genesis still says that he was alone. Adam had a human-shaped hole. And no substitute could fill that hole.

And no substitute can fill ours either. No substitute can fill our need to connect deeply with other people. Not money. Not busyness. Not business. Not casual sex. Not casual conversation. Not looks. Not books. Not brains. Not achievement. Not alcohol. Not even our daily private time with Jesus. Adam was in a state of sinless perfection, and yet Genesis tells us that he was “alone.” Disconnected. And according to God, that’s “not good.”

You see, there’s a reason that being “disconnected” isn’t good. And the reason is this – relationship is at the center of the universe. Think about it. God is at the center of the universe, and God – the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – is perfect relationship. I mean, can you imagine any competition, any bickering, or any jealousy that ruins the “perfect connection” the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit share? Of course not! And so from the beginning of time, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit have been giving themselves to each other in “ceaseless, joy-filled, mutually submissive, generous, creative, self-giving” love. That’s what it means to say that God is perfect relationship, and that perfect relationship is at the center of the universe. At the center of our world is this perfect connection we call God, which means that you and I, who are made in God’s image, need to be connected too. To God. To each other. To things that matter. To things that will last. To things that are real.

Three summers ago I worked as a hospital chaplain in South Carolina, which means I had the privilege of being at the side of many people as they prepared to die. This may sound simplistic, but I remember two types of people. First, I met people who had measured their success by what they achieved – people who, in the eyes of the word, accomplished great things, but who never connected; people that had a stockpile of wealth and power and social status, but who, like Adam before he met Eve, were alone. And every single one of them died with bitter regrets. But I also met people who I’ll call connectors – people who measured their success by the relationships they’d fostered. And these connectors had a stockpile of friends. They were devoted to their family. They had learned a lot about the art of giving and receiving love. And not one of them regretted having lived for people – for their friends, their neighbors, their children, their family, their church. Not one.

And so take an honest, prayerful inventory of your life, and ask yourself – what am I living for? Am I living to achieve? Or am I living to connect? Achieving isn’t a bad thing, but it’s no substitute for connecting. It’s no substitute for people.

I think I know why I’m fascinated by reality TV. They stole Jesus’ claim. Jesus was the first person that ever had the audacity to claim that his ministry was a window into reality. That’s what he said. “I’m here to teach you how reality works. Reality is about loving God and loving people. That’s what the law and the prophets are all about. Connect with God. Connect with people. Connect with others in a way that mirrors the perfect connection I have with my Father in heaven.” Jesus’ words, not mine. You and I are not created to be alone, to find meaning by what we achieve at someone else’s expense. We're created to connect. To God. To each other. To things that matter. To things that will last. To things that are real.


Toothpick said...

Love it Johnny. Great read. Great work. Love ya, brother.

Will Maddox said...

I am friend of Kevin McConnell's and he referred me to your blog a year or so ago and I have been reading it ever since. So good. So funny, so true. From this post forward it is like you have a window into my life and are writing to me, praise God for this stuff. He is doing amazing work through you. I also think you may know my friend Ben Palaster who I used to lead at Young Life in San Antonio. Small world. Keep on keepin on.