Tuesday, October 25, 2011

A beautiful mess

I realized earlier this week yet another way that five years in Georgia has influenced more than just my path in ministry. As I rushed around from meeting to meeting, energized by each conversation, scattered yet grateful, a song came to mind. A country song came to mind. Yes, while living in Atlanta, I had gotten into the habit of listening to some good 'ole country music, and on this day of running late and feeling only half prepared, I began singing Diamond Rio's Beautiful Mess. While the romance-centered mess re-told in the song did not really match the story of my day, the idea of a beautiful mess did. I realized that in moments like these, as uncomfortable as they were for me, I was part of something beautiful.

For the last month on Sunday nights, The Well has been discussing what a spiritual community would look like if it practiced caring for its neighbors, not with charity, but with friendship and economic redistribution. Toward the end of our discussion, one participant commented, "If we do this, if we really practice the stuff we're talking about, it's going to be messy." I wish in retrospect I had let that thought settle for longer and had not moved on so quickly. Her reflection was heartfelt and seemed full of both confession and warning. Are we really serious about getting involved in this kind of work? Are we ready for what might happen? Are we willing to move away from our neat, well-defined and strategic projects and into new, more tangled and vulnerable ways of being in relationship with one another?

On numerous occasions described in scripture, Jesus said "the kingdom of heaven is like...". Compared to a seed, a child, a feast, a pearl, a wedding, the kingdom seems something to be grasped, yet something difficult to define. The kingdom, the work of God, is not easily defined, it does not provide a quick fix, it does not keep us isolated and disconnected from pain and suffering. When we dare to venture into the work of participating in God's work in the world, yes, it is messy and it is beautiful.

I've mentioned before that I do not like mess. I am learning, though, that you can't have the beauty without getting into the unsettled, tangled, often chaotic web of activity and connectivity that can make us feel crazy at times. This particular day involved creating a first budget for our church, sharing in grief over the sudden death of a family member, and planning a Christmas store for low-income families. It involved too many schedules, too many changes, too much pain and too little time.

A couple of questions come to mind: How do we handle the mess? Can we become obsessed with making things neat and manageable? Instead, are there ways we can begin blessing it, calling it beautiful, and recognizing that it just might be the kingdom of God unfolding before us?


  1. We all struggle with the need for stability and "neatness" in our lives. If we can't provide that for our families, we often feel we are failures. It is so tough to release the control and accept the mess! I loved your blog-

  2. Just an FYI, I love your blog. It is filled with such insight. And it sounds just like you, so it fills my Susan void. Thanks for blogging.