Movement 2

Bad Breath, Awkward Silences, and the Art of Being Uncomfortable

Commentary February 26, 2024

22 February 2024| St. Albans UK [Adrian Peck with tedNEWS]

In this second ‘movement’ of Church on the Move – From Isolation to Community, we consider how the church family lives together, and how our call to create community sometimes creates discomfort. The author, Adrian Peck serves as Lecturer in Pastoral Studies at Newbold College of Higher Education. In addition to this month’s movement, Peck reflects on his life and ministry, and shares in an interview how the church needs to move from where it is – to where it should be. [Ed]    

Bad Breath, Awkward Silences, and the Art of Being Uncomfortable

One of the most awkward places to find ourselves is in close proximity to an ‘uncomfortable’ person. And, like everywhere else, church communities are full of them. There is the person with bad breath or poor hygiene who determinedly encroaches on your personal space, no matter how hard you try to keep your distance. How about that someone who is terrible at small talk? Try as you might to liven the encounter, their monosyllabic answers eventually lead to awkward silences from which it seems there is no escape. Or, how about the person who speaks too loudly, or their opposite number who speaks far too softly? Then there is the person who always moans about everything. Or, there is the individual who wants to unburden themselves by dumping their latest bit of drama upon you. Then there is the character who takes delight in describing their ailments for you in excruciating and inappropriate detail. Or, what about the person you have to tiptoe around because they seem to get offended with little cause or encouragement?

Sometimes, our worst is seen when attending a church board or business meeting. It doesn’t take long to identify the one who irritatingly prolongs meetings because they never keep up with what anyone else is saying. There always seems to be someone who insists on having their say over and over and over and over again. Or, what about those individuals who always want things done their way and make a right old fuss if it doesn’t happen?

Similarly, in Sabbath School classes, there are those who seem incapable of expressing themselves in a sentence or two and turn the whole affair into an opportunity to deliver a sermonette… every time. Then there is the member who metaphorically has you tearing your hair out as they once again artfully bring the topic of conversation round to their pet subject. And, what about that chap who is able to start an argument in a room on his own and who delights in turning every study into a heated debate?

Church communities can be full of such people… probably because in our own way, we too are an uncomfortable presence for others at times. It seems that to enter into the life of a church community is to enter inevitably into a life of discomfort.

Returning to the story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:30-35, the victim of the mugging finds himself nowhere near his comfort zone. As the story progresses, however, he arguably ends up in the more comfortable situation – especially when compared to his rescuer. The victim gets to have his wounds tended to and dressed; is taken to a place of safety; and gets to sleep in a bed in a comfy room for which he does not have to pay a penny. However, even as we naturally identify with characters in stories, it is unlikely that it is him that we choose.

As Christians, don’t we aspire in some small way to merit the title ‘Good Samaritan?’ Identify with the Samaritan, however, and we have to take on the role of neighbour.

Neighbours

Neighbours have to go out of their way to help other. More than being inconvenienced, this means risking their lives. Neighbours have to commit to care-plans by offering to drop by and pay for extra board and lodgings. Neighbours have to alter their travel arrangements no matter how troublesome that might be. Neighbours have less wine and oil in their possession. Neighbours have to give up what is theirs to put others first. Neighbours have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

US Navy Seals are trained to be comfortable being uncomfortable.[1] Yes, this challenges the rules of logic, but this is promoted in recognition of the potential for moments of discomfort to bring about personal growth. This is not our default mode, of course. It is natural for us to search for ways to optimise our comfort or at least minimise our discomfort.

Adventists don’t believe our ultimate destination is heaven, because we read right through to the end of the Bible and recognise that God is working to have us inhabit the new earth. That doesn’t stop some yearning for the ultimate comfort zone that is heaven. A heavenly place by definition is where pain, suffering, and discomfort are no more. A place where only those who have been transformed by the Spirit will be found. A place where presumably no more awkward silences or unsociable bodily aromas will be experienced. Escaping to such a place is tempting indeed. However, it is not our reality or role now.

Mission-minded preachers will urge us to get comfortable being uncomfortable ‘out there.’ As vital as this is, however, it seems there is a need to get comfortable being uncomfortable in a place much closer to home… within the very heart of the church community itself.

Our ultimate destination is an earth made new, but, in the meantime, we are looking to bring those ‘out there’ into an Adventist community where trends suggest 2 out of 5 people get so uncomfortable, they will leave.[2] This is not necessarily because they have failed to get comfortable with us, but rather we who remain have perhaps neglected to get uncomfortable with them.

Let’s dare to imagine!

Let us dream a little, therefore. Let us dare to imagine the church community as a foretaste of the Kingdom of God. To see church as a place where there is a hint of heaven on earth before that fully becomes reality with the descent of the New Jerusalem.

A place not just where there are Seventh-day Adventist members, but a community of Seventh-day Adventist neighbours. A place where people go out of their way to help others even if it means taking risks. A place where there is a community where care-plans are offered and travel plans are altered no matter how inconvenient.

A place where soothing, healing oil and life-enriching wine are offered. A place where others are routinely put first. A place where its routine to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

[1] https://special-ops.org/9-navy-seal-quotes-to-improve-your-life/

[2] https://www.adventistresearch.info/wp-content/uploads/2021-Annual-Council-statistical-report-slides-copy.pdf

_________________________________________________________________

Copies of Church on the Move are available from Life Source Christian Bookshop (the retail outlet of  The Stanborough Press). The book is also available as an eBook for Kindle. [Photos: Stanborough Press (featured image)

‘Movement 1’,  The Question of Neighbourliness     first published in the January edition of tedNEWS asked the question, “Am I being a neighbour without limits, qualifications, equivocation, or hesitation?”.

Continued in the March edition of tedNEWS, ‘Movement 3’, “When Will You Become Like Us” 

Excerpts from Peck’s book, Church on the Move – From Isolation to Community, recently published by Stanborough Press, features  in every regular edition of tedNEWS from January to September 2024. In doing so, we’re inviting you to become a fellow traveller with Peck. Interestingly, his book offers ‘movements’ rather than ‘chapters’ to encourage a sense of the reader ‘being in transition’. If there was a book that could have been specifically written to wrestle over the meaning of the Trans-European Division’s three strategic values to Extend Love, Grow Lifelong Disciples, and Multiply Communities, it is this one.

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