Bad Advice About Boldness.
A couple months ago, I was asked to share my thoughts on what it means to be bold. For hours on end, I sat at my computer, writing draft after draft about what boldness might be. I knew I had been asked for my thoughts because my peers who chose me believe I’m bold, but it felt like every description I came up with missed the point.
I thought, what is boldness, anyway? Is it standing against something/someone? Is it a reaction to an external force? Can boldness be subtle, or does it have to stand out in the crowd? Is boldness always an action or can it be a state of mind? I had no idea, and dictionaries sure weren’t helping.
But then, just a couple days before I was supposed to have my thoughts ready, I received some of the worst advice about boldness I’ve ever heard. Thankfully, it was also the exact advice I needed to hear.
In an open discussion about how church leaders can know when it’s time to confront controversial topics within their congregations (such as the full-inclusion of women), I was told, “Sometimes, it’s easier to go where people already believe what you believe instead of trying to change the church.” Like most people, I can think of a thousand ways I would love to respond if I could go back to that moment.
Overall, I think that advice is insulting. Not because I’m a woman and that was the topic of concern, but because it suggests that God is not big enough to change the church. You know, the church God established to begin with. Regardless of differing opinions and hot-button topics, I think it’s incredibly dangerous for us to live lives that revolve around being where people already believe what we believe.
Why do you think democrats and republicans find it impossible to work together?
Why do some people – intentionally or not – discriminate against those who have different color skin, live in a different type of neighborhood, earn a different amount of money, or possess different levels of education?
Why do we feel so uncomfortable talking about issues that require us to acknowledge our limited experiences?
Because it’s almost always easier to be where people believe what we believe, look how we look, talk like we talk, and so on. We love our bubbles so much that we’ve begun to believe anyone outside of our bubble is our enemy. I don’t think all of us feel that way, but most of us can easily think of someone we know who does.
It doesn’t take boldness to step out of our bubble and befriend someone who differs from us. It doesn’t take boldness to walk in the life, the gifts, the purpose you were made to walk in.
It takes boldness to say, “No, thank you” when people tell you to go back to your bubble. It takes boldness to walk in your life, gifts, purpose when you’re told it was a mistake for you to have them. It takes boldness to continue living outside of your bubble when the conversations are difficult, not easy for you to understand, and expose your shortcomings. It takes boldness to believe living with people who do not always look, talk, and believe like you is part of God’s way of healing the brokenness in our world…especially when those same relationships can show you more brokenness than you knew existed.
Sometimes, it requires boldness simply to be bold. It won’t always come naturally, but I think God has been asking us to choose it anyway since the very beginning.
When God called Abraham to leave his family and home, God asked him to do something that had never been done before. People didn’t leave, didn’t do things differently, as God asked Abraham to do.
When Mary was pregnant, God asked her to trust that the judgmental looks, the whispers behind her back, the physical and emotional and mental strain were all part of a greater plan.
When Jesus talks to the woman at the well, he asks her to be bold, believing that – though she was the one who lived differently – her story could bring people hope.
When Paul made it his mission to reach the Gentiles (people who Jews of the time believed were not welcome as Christians), he embodied boldly living with people who do not believe what you believe.
Heck, Jesus’ whole ministry had him walking, eating, serving people who did not believe the right things, work the right jobs, live the right ways. And yet he spent all of his time with them anyway.
What if, when Jesus made it his mission to go against the grain and bring hope and change, we said, “Sometimes, Jesus, it’s easier to go where people already believe what you believe instead of trying to change the church”? Do you think he would laugh? Tell us we missed the point entirely? Considering that’s essentially the conversation he had with the religious elite of the time, I think it’s safe to say that he would.
Our history is one of boldness. May we choose to put aside our fears, discomfort, and egos in order to live better, bolder lives. Lives of inclusion. Lives without bubbles. Lives that bring wholeness because of our willingness to go where people do not already believe what we believe.