the life and times of a twenty year old designer

Archive for January 2013

a baffling level of other-ness

with 2 comments

As most good things do, this bit of writing was inspired by a surge of brilliance from a dear friend, a welcome moment of clarity in a scatterbrained heart to heart. So, all the credit belongs to H,  for an insight that prompted an extended series of interpretations.

The hardest thing in the world to do is to love someone who isn’t like us.

That’s why we favor cliques and affinity groups and soul mates and best friends. We long to find those who will validate our existence simply by being like us. We shape our careers around those who share our passions and dreams, we build our lives on a foundation of people who know where we’re coming from and want to walk with us into where we’re going. We want to be known and loved and valued and not as different as we know and feel that we are.

And yet. In spite of our preferences and predilections and comfort zones and levels of experience and cultural upbringings. Whatever we have about us that validates us personally, gives us a level of confidence, competence, or certainty. No matter how all-together we feel on a good day.

When we face God, we are all alike in that we face a baffling level of other-ness.  And when he looks at us, He must see creatures that are so woefully unlike Him that they would be completely incapable of carrying on anything resembling a relationship.

In any other relationship, this alone would be cause to have no further interaction. Familiar phrases like…

“He’s not really my type.”
“We just didn’t hit it off.”
“We don’t have anything in common any more.”
“Have you heard what kind of trouble they cause?”
“I can’t believe  they’d say/do/believe something like that.” 

are all accepted as quite valid excuses to cut short our relationships with each other, or never to start them in the first place. When a friend gives us these excuses, we nod and smile and wish better luck next time in the quest to find the perfect friend/mate/community  where they will find sameness and commonality and love…right?

It seems so often we expect the same from God. As though he is standing on some distant pedestal, scoffing at our efforts, waiting until we have it all together and we are enough like him to be worth his time.

And that. That. That is not true, my friends.

God took on the challenge most of us refuse to approach. Looking at us, in full recognition of our otherness and the potential for separation that may cause, He reached across the barrier of our humanity. Unable to wait for us to be enough like Him to be worth His time, He became like us. 100% human.

That is what it took to change everything. The kind of love that abandons right and privilege and comfort for the risks of true connection.

As a twenty-something woman who is single, recently graduated from college, engaged in an ever deepening relationship with my local church, and wondering where the trades of design, carpentry, ministry, banjo music and teaching all collide, let me say unreservedly. I am beyond eager to find others like me.

It seems my particular combination of talents and interests is not altogether common (is anyone’s….?) and I often dream of what it would be like to meet someone who not only thinks my passions are interesting novelties worth contemplating, but vital and important and worth pursuing together. If any of you have already met this clan of smoky-mountain-dwelling, flannel-wearing, book-devouring, folk-music-playing, theatrically minded, local-church-serving, carpentry-appreciating monks and nuns, you let me know.

But  (at least in my two decades of experience) it seems such a perfect community is only reserved for our mental images. So we’ve got to stop asking the real world to be like that. And I think part of that has to be expanding our willingness to engage with the dreadfully frightening “other.”

How would it transform our workplaces, homes, places of worship, if they were not simply safe spaces for like-minded folks to find refuge, but radical communities where those who appear to have nothing in common find love and encouragement at a shared table? What if friendships between the poor and the powerful,  the parents and the childless, the academic and the laborer, the musician and the biologist, the recent graduates and those long past retirement, the athlete and the artist, became not the stuff of fantasy but the fabric of our everyday life?

I had the privilege over winter break to attend a global conference with 16,000 young people where we participated in arena-style worship, sang in multiple languages, listened to testimonies from young and old, students and professionals, missionaries and everyday saints, Kenyans and Brazilians and Canadians. It was a big, crazy mess of people, and my introverted self was often overwhelmed by the sheer size of it all. But beautifully so. Because it was so much bigger than my imagination of what the church could look like.

And what was most wonderful was not the times when I met other people who are the same kind of crazy that I am (though I was grateful to meet other artists, sing some folksy hymns in English, and meet others working in the grad student/faculty sphere). The most beautiful thing was to see God moving across so many languages and cultures and preferences and styles and backgrounds. Chasing us across all the chasms we see dividing ourselves, and calling us back together as one big, beautiful family.

So, friends. Even as we all have unique strengths and giftings that deserve strong encouragement. Even as we all find ourselves in a particular stage of life that demands the support of companions along the way. Even as we are tempted to take pride in our own individuality or despair in our inability to find deep-soul companionship. May we accept the calling to love those who do not appear to be at all like us, reaching into the world as our Father has done, seeing no barrier capable of preventing a new, deep, surprising, and breathtaking love.

And may we find that, as one conference speaker so beautifully put it, that the party we have been long searching for can already be found in the house of our Father. That the hope, encouragement, and support we seek from sameness would be radically multiplied in our interactions with those we see as others. And that those seeking the Kingdom would know us by our surprising love for one another.


Written by Taylor Webster

January 20, 2013 at 5:55 pm