When I was preparing to go on my week long wilderness survival camp (which I had to reschedule for November because of Mel’s unexpected trip to the hospital) I noticed something interesting about the response I received from those I know and love whom I told about this upcoming event. Most everyone said to me two things. 1.) They saw a TV show about people surviving in the woods and 2.) They thought I was crazy and they would never do anything like that. Because I received this response so consistently, I found it hard not to reflect on it. This reflection will be the theme of this blog post.
I began to ask myself, “Why would anyone want to merely “know about” surviving in the woods vicariously (watching a TV show, reading a book, etc.) if there was an alternative of “experiencing” surviving in the woods as a first hand, real life opportunity?” There could be many answers to this question with various levels of depth and insight, but here are a few that I thought summarized them. 1.) It is easy, comfortable and convenient to “know about” instead of “experience”. 2.) It costs very little in the way of time or money. 3.) The “knower” does not have to overcome challenges, both external (getting dirty, working hard, living with less) or internal (fear of the unknown, self preservation, humility, trust).
While we have been on this trip we watched the newly released Disney movie “Incredibles 2.” In the movie, the “bad guy” (Screenslaver) has a quote that I believe is both profound and speaks directly to this “knowledge vs. experience” theme. It is as follows:
“Don’t bother watching the rest. Elastigirl (The heroine of the movie) doesn’t save the day; she only postpones her defeat. And while she postpones her defeat, you eat chips and watch her confront problems that you are too lazy to deal with. Superheroes are part of your brainless desire to replace true experience with stimulation. You don’t talk, you watch talk shows. You don’t play games, you watch game shows. Travel, relationships, risk; every meaningful experience must be packaged and delivered to you to watch at a distance so that you can remain ever-sheltered, ever-passive, ever-ravenous consumers who can’t free themselves to rise from their couches to break a sweat, and participate in life.”
Now, I must apologize if this blog post is becoming offensive to anyone reading this. Please know that my goal is not to speak against anyone here. I am simply preparing a contrast to the difference of knowledge vs. experience that we ourselves are having on this trip.
After visiting Kansas City, MO and enjoying nearly two weeks with Mel’s brother Matt and his family, and seeing our friends in Oklahoma, Mel and I decided to drive back down to Texas to spend another week at the Homestead Heritage. Why? I hope the introduction to this blog post will assist me in my desire to accurately communicate what we have experienced.
Simply put, being at the Homestead Heritage, we have experienced something about life that, in the past, we have only understood (known about) intellectually. These experiences include our relationship to God, church, community, people, raising children and lifestyle. Even now, as I write this, I am forced to deal with the impossible task of communicating our experience, so that it can be known to you. I will try my best.
At the Homestead, I have experienced the “Acts 2 church” for the first time in my life. In the past I have only read about this church, I have only known about it. I’ve caught a glimpse here and there, but I have never fully experienced it. Acts 2:42-47 reads, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer…..All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold their possessions and goods and divided them among all, as anyone had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people.”
In all my Christian life (20 years now) I have only read about this Acts 2 church. I have understood it intellectually and have been taught that this is the example in which church is to be modeled. I have been involved in church leadership and have attempted to help direct the churches I have been a part of towards this model. But, I have never once experienced a church that has truly embraced this model until now.
It is difficult to fully articulate here what we have experienced. A depth of relationship throughout a community that is unlike anything else we have ever experienced. A body of Christian believers who are truly and actually united together to serve God, serve each other and meet the needs of those in their keep. We ourselves have been on the receiving end of their hospitality which is unmatched by even the most expensive of resort hotels. It is the difference between examining the fruit hanging from the tree of life and actually eating its fruit.
This community lives a lifestyle of faith each and every day. Not a once a week, Sunday kind of faith, but a day by day, moment by moment reliance on God’s provision to guide their every step. A community that doesn’t talk about cultivating relationships with each other, but demonstrates it in their everyday interactions with each other and us. A community that prioritizes relationship over productivity and yet, at the same time, demonstrates hard work. A people group that unites to become the body of Christ and worships the Lord deep within their hearts.
I could continue to use words to attempt to communicate our shared experience with this community. But let me tell of one specific event that I experienced here that has touched me deeply. On Wednesday evenings, the community hosts a worship meeting and teaching of the Bible. Last Wednesday we attended. A noticeable characteristic of the community is their commitment to excellence, which was in no way lacking that night as we listened to the instruments and voices lead the group into a time of honoring God with music. I had come to the meeting with a feeling of awe and amazement, struggling to believe that a place as such as I was experiencing now could actually be real. This feeling was leading me to tears of joy (which I commonly experience during times of sincere worship). I, being situated in the middle of the building, in the center of the crowd of worshipers, I found myself moved by the beauty of what I heard, saw and felt. Everyone around me was standing with arms raised high in gratitude as they sang. I, too, stood. I, too, raised my hands (which for me is mostly uncommon as I tend to enjoy being more contemplative and less demonstrative). My tears of joy were increasing in intensity with the music until I found myself weeping and laughing out loud (at the same time, weird right?). With arms fully extended I physically felt my heart becoming warm in a way I have never experienced before. It was as if God was connecting with me in a new way, as if he was coming and touching my heart. I was filled with a joy that was new to me and I felt a calm and gentle peace. The rest of the evening was as I would have anticipated. Good music, good teaching, and a good time of socializing afterwards. But I came away from that meeting with a fresh experience of the love of God that I pray I will never forget.
Again, I could go on and on, attempting to share stories and experiences of the unbelievable time we are sharing with this community of believers. But I feel words are inadequate and experience is far to difficult to describe in the context of a blog post. I will conclude by leaving you all with this. I have experienced something that, in the past, was something I only knew about in my mind. But now, for the first time, I have experienced it as something real, something actual, something that can be lived in and experienced. I do not now know what this means for my life to come, only that I know I have much more to pray about and to search through as I look towards the future.