"Desire 05: You Had to Be There"
by Tim Suttle
Desire 05 –
Mark Twain once said, “He who carries a cat by the tail, learns something he can learn in no other way.”
You get what he is saying right?
Just imagine for a moment that I’ve carried a cat by the tail.
I have not … but just imagine that I have.
And imagine that I am a master storyteller… & I could recall for you in vivid detail the precise experience of carrying a cat by the tail.
What it felt like… what the cat did… how it sounded & what happened.
Even if I was the best in the world at conveying this experience to you.
Hearing my description of what it’s like to carry a cat by the tail… will never be the same as if you did it yourself.
There is this irreducible knowing in the experience itself.
Something in the doing … that can’t be transferred w/words.
There is an understanding that only comes through experience.
It only comes from the inside.
It’s like when you have a joke between you and a friend about a shared experience, and so it’s only funny to you guys… nobody else gets it.
We call those things, “inside jokes.”
Their funny because of the unique circumstances of the original event.
So, if you weren’t on the inside from the start, you don’t get the joke.
Have you ever tried to explain an inside joke to someone on the outside? … it never works.
You can try to explain it … & they may get the irony.
They may say “oh that’s hilarious,” but they won’t actually laugh.
They won’t bust a gut like you & your friend do, because you were there the first time
And the reason, we say in the moment, when they don’t really laugh is:
I guess you had to be there.
PT: To get the joke you had to experience it from the inside. If not, you can get the joke intellectually, you can see why it’s funny. But if you weren’t actually there at the time it happened … if you weren’t on the inside, it won’t make you actually laugh. In order to actually create spasms of joy in your stomach that spill out into the world as laughter, you had to have been formed by the original experience itself… you had to be there.
What’s it like to carry a cat by the tail? I could tell you, but you won’t really know, you won’t really understand… you won’t get it unless you try it.
I was 39 yrs old when I first became a senior pastor, which means that for 38 years of my life I had a very clear understanding of what a pastor should do.
And then I became one… and I experienced it from the inside.
And I realized I had no idea what I was talking about for those 38 yrs.
I learned there are all of these variables & levels of complexity that I knew nothing about…
Burdens that you carry… a level of powerlessness that weighs down…
I only thought I had an understanding of what a pastor should do.
And then I became one…
And I experienced the overwhelming urge to apologize to all my former pastors & say: now I get it.
These days, anytime I get in a room w/other pastors I notice how much we laugh together…
To be a pastor is to share an inside joke… mostly about our own insecurities & struggles & sense of inadequacy…
There are just things about this job you can only know from the inside.
& tho it seems really clear from the outside what it means to be a pastor… trust me… you had to be there!
PT: And of course this really goes for almost any profession or anybody we judge in life. We don’t really know what it’s like to be that person. I remember hearing Brene’ Brown say one time, “Everybody has a story that will break your heart,” & I think it’s true. To really get another person’s struggle, you had to be there. There’s a kind of knowledge that only comes when you are on the inside.
I often feel this when I am with a group of mothers. There’s a fraternity to motherhood, and I am among the uninitiated.
There’s something to the experience of carrying a baby: those long months of expectation, the changes to your body, the labor of childbirt
It’s something that can only be known from the inside.
As Burley Coulter would say… Burley Coulter is a character in Wendell Berry books… sort of a backwoods philosopher…
Burley says, “All women is brothers.”
And, you get the joke, right?
All women aren’t brothers… they are sisters.
But how would Burley Coulter know this? He’s a man!
He doesn’t know what it’s like to be a sister.
So from the outside they all look like brothers to him.
The Sisterhood of Motherhood is something that can only be known from the inside.
PT: The experiences we have, and the choices we make form us in ways that nothing else can. Information & intellect play a role, but what really forms us isn’t what we read in a book or memorize so we sound smart. What really forms us in our life are things we encounter in a holistic, bodily way. This is how virtues form in our lives… things like compassion, patience, kindness, & love.
Have you ever noticed the way Ex-presidents of the United States don’t criticize the sitting president? … or each other for that matter?
I think of Bill Clinton & George H.W. Bush… bitter political enemies.
It’s not like they suddenly agree on everything…
But they do know exactly what it means to sit in that chair.
The chair Truman called the crown Jewell of the Federal Penal System.
And sitting in that chair formed in them the simple kindness of keeping their criticisms to themselves.
You and I can read books about the presidency.
We can study political science or the executive branch,
We can read biographies of presidents past & present.
But none of us really know what it’s like to be president.
Something about being a president = only be learned from the inside.
The lesson is: our formation in life is not primarily about what we think, though thinking is indispensible. It’s not primarily about what we feel, though feeling is certainly part of it. Formation is primarily about what we do… it’s about:
… sitting in that chair & feeling the weight of the country.
… carrying that baby, experiencing the changes = body, delivery...
… walking a mile in the shoes of the person=easy to critique from afar
… being there, in order to get the joke.
Our formation is about grabbing the cat by the tail, ourselves.
In the life of faith, it’s not just hearing about Christ & assuming we know all we need to know about what it means to be a Christian...
We have to actually follow JS in order to really know what it means to follow Jesus.
We cannot learn it any other way.
Romans 12:1-2 “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
This verse (I’m guessing) is probably familiar to you.
In it, Paul talks about presenting our bodies to God.
The word is somata, all of you… not just heart or mind… whole you!
This is a lived reality that Paul calls a true & proper worship, the word is logikos, … sensible… to not do this is nonsense, illogical.
Do not conform, it says… to the pattern of this world.
The word there is su-schema-tizesthe (soos-khay-mat-id'-zeth)…
And you can see right in the middle of it the Greek word schema.
The prefix is sun, which means “along with.”
So the schema of your life—your organizational patterns of living—can’t go along with the patterns of the world.
They have to transform… the word there is metamorphousthe, the root in that word is “morph” … to actually change in physical shape.
This Greek is so much more emphatic than the English.
Paul’s saying that the only logical or sensible thing for the Christian is just to present your whole body as a living sacrifice.
Don’t adopt the schema of the culture… but morph, change, grow…
Only then will we be able to discern how to live in this world.
We’ve been talking about this word LITURGY for many weeks now…
Liturgies are the habits, rituals, or behaviors that simultaneously reveal what we love, and give shape to what we love
Liturgies are the daily schema of our lives… repeated behaviors… &…
Our desires, our longings, our loves are both revealed & shaped by the liturgies of our lives…the things we know from the inside;
Everything we do shapes us… especially those things that are consistently part of our lives… our habits & rituals…
Paul is saying that when it comes to the daily schema, the liturgies of life:
Don’t organize your life around the patterns of the world.
Instead you have to actually morph – you have to transform, become a whole new creature…
Only then can you see what God’s will is for your life.
If you try to conform to the pattern of the culture, you’ll never know what it means to be human.
Only when you present your body to God & let it conform to the liturgical schema of the KOG.
… not just a set of beliefs, but a whole new way of being…
In a sense, only when you lay your life down … present your body as a sacrifice, like JS did… only then…
…will you be able to chart a course for your life that is pleasing to God.
Paul says it is perfect – the Greek there is: teleios …which doesn’t mean blameless, it means the end toward which a thing is intended.
Perfect isn’t unblemished… it means it plays its intended role.
Last week we talked about politics as an example.
We have R’s & D’s all as part of the congregation.
The schema of the world tells us that we should hate each other…
Schema of the KOG tells us we are brothers & sisters… one…
We will never hate each other… we’ll live in love & unity!
Let me give another example of how this works in our world.
Throughout our lives we are all formed by the liturgies of shopping.
We all have habits & rituals around shopping & the use of our money.
The stores we visit, are all set up to shape those habits & rituals.
You nearly always enter near the bakery, so the smells hit you right away.
And the first section is almost always produce… bright colors
They know that if you’ll go there first, buy healthy breads, fruits, & veggies, you’ll be more likely to splurge on other stuff.
Things that aren’t good for you & are expensive.
In supermarkets they have something called the “Bull’s Eye Zone.”
usually there are 5 shelves on a supermarket isle.
The top & bottom shelves have the knock off brands & cheap stuff.
The 2-3rd shelves have best sellers & leading brands that cost more right at eye level (bull’s eye zone), where you’ll reach for them.
Stores put the milk at the far back corner of the supermarket.
So when you run in for a gallon of milk, you pass as many other items as possible… you might pick one up.
The liturgical space of the supermarket is not random.
It’s trying to impact your behavior… manipulate your actual life.
It’s trying to fit you into a pattern that will hopefully become a habit.
All stores have these liturgical patterns… the modern shopping mall is often built to resemble a religious cathedral, w/vaulted ceilings & high windows.
It’s meant to give you a sense of meaning & purpose as you shop.
Jamie Smith says this is intended. He writes:
“The mall doesn’t believe anything. It’s not after your intellect. Its aims are lower… Victoria’s Secret is that she wants your heart.”
In shopping there’s a transaction, the giving over of my resources for concrete goods & services that is meant to give a sense of purpose.
And the aggregate of that is that we’re all deeply formed by the liturgy of shopping, to be consumerists.
We’re all consumers now…
PT: That’s good for the economy… but it tends to form us so definitively that we struggle to not treat every relationship in consumeristic ways.
So when someone does something nice for us & asks nothing in return, we don’t know how to receive it… we feel this obligation… we’re out of balance.
We don’t know how to receive an unbidden act of kindness w/out any expectation of return or payback.
Bcuz every transaction in our life is shaped by this deep consumerism
It snows some winter morning & before you can get up and outside your neighbor shovels your driveway for you.
And one 1 hand you’re happy, on the other it sort of ticks you off…
You wonder how much you owe them for it…
Something like marriage is another liturgy that shapes & forms us over time.
And if marriage is going to hold together over the years, it has to become a liturgy of dying to self… that’s the only way it will last.
There’s just no other way for a marriage to work… die to self.
Marriage is a liturgy of putting another’s needs in front of our own.
This ritualized in 1000s of tiny actions, habits, & movements.
From cooking dinner, to mowing the lawn.
From giving attention in conversation, to going off to work.
There are rituals to how we come & go (often kissing hello/goodbye).
Why do we kiss hello & goodbye as married people?
It’s a liturgical reinforcement of love & affection.
We wear wedding rings… an outward sign of an inward fidelity…
And all of it is based on this commitment that we will seek the good of the other, no matter what… even if there’s no immediate payback.
Now, if I have been more fully formed by the liturgies of consumerism, than by the liturgies of Christian marriage…
Then I’ll only be able to approach my marriage as a consumer.
I’ll provide for you, but I’m going to need something in exchange.
Shopping has formed me over the years… to naturally expect that if I put something in, I will get something back out.
When I don’t get something in return at the store, that’s a problem…
But if I bring that framework into marriage the relationship is doomed.
Because there will be seasons of marriage during which my spouse cannot reciprocate the giving that I have for her…
There are seasons when my wife gives & gives & I have nothing in the tank w/which to respond.
And in those seasons our formation as consumers threatens to break the relationship itself.
The only thing that holds it together is that we are submitting ourselves to a different liturgy.
We are presenting our bodies as a living sacrifice to marriage.
We are not formed by the transactional patterns of this world.
We’re formed by covenant & commitment… and to do this we have to morph… have to change.
Ask almost anybody in their 1st year of marriage what they’ve learned.
Almost every single one will say: I’m learning how selfish I am.
I’m learning how to Live as a sacrifice… and a sacrifice doesn’t ask what it’s getting in return.
PT: This is part of why marriage is so important. We need liturgies that shape us to see human beings not as commodities, but as friends & lovers that we’ll live & die for. This teaches us the motion of presenting our bodies as a living sacrifice.
Now that’s not to say that there’s no payoff to marriage… not that we don’t ever get anything in return.
In fact, I think the truth is that we get far more in return than we could ever ask for or imagine on the front end.
But just what those things are that we receive as the gifts of marriage...
And what those gifts will mean to us … & to our souls…
These are things that you can only learn from the inside…
You have to be there in order to get it.
If we’re in a marriage & we’re formed only by the liturgies of consumerism, we’ll never see the true benefit…
Because there’s a wisdom to it that just can’t be discerned until we have the experience of learning to die to one another..
So what Paul’s great passage says about marriage is:
Marriage that doesn’t involve presenting your whole body as a living sacrifice to the other will never make sense.
In the same way… life as a follower of Christ that doesn’t involve presenting your body as a living sacrifice … it’s nonsensical.
Only when you lay down your life before God…
Only then will you be able to know God, the world, and the part you are meant to play in life.
But this knowledge only comes from the inside…you have to be there.
PT: And we have to learn how to do this with every aspect of life… which I know can seem daunting… but it’s just part of the long, slow, never-ending task of becoming like Jesus. We call it discipleship. It is the call of your life. It is the only path that leads to flourishing… present your bodies as living sacrifices…
In this series we’re talking about how we all have these MAPS of the world…
They are our vision of what makes for a good life.
They are external to us & come from lots of different sources.
They instill in us certain kinds of desires… “I wanna go there…”
We navigate those maps by the COMPASS of the heart…
The heart guides us & propels us into our journey & navigate our maps.
Problem is: none of us know our own hearts as well as we think.
How we tell what the heart wants is we look at what we do.
Our ACTIONS both shape & reveal the truth about the human heart…
The heart is revealed by what we do…
And the heart is also shaped by what we do…
So we have these LITURGIES… habits, rituals & behaviors that we enact…
All of life is filled with liturgies… and everything we do shapes us… (hear that now: everything we do shapes us… shapes our desires).
Most liturgies come from CULTURE, & function w/out our knowing it.
…and in large part, they cannot lead us to flourish…
We cannot discern God’s good & perfect will for our lives when we are following the failed liturgies of culture.
We need to reengage in ancient & proven COUNTER-LITURGIES that can shape our hearts in ways that lead to flourishing.
We’re trying to relinquish the old maps & liturgies of our culture.
And to enact the counter liturgies of the KOG… to let them shape us.
And learning to inhabit this kingdom is something that can only be learned from the inside…
You have to present your body as a living sacrifice if you’re ever going to get the joke… you can’t just think yourself into a meaningful life.
Jamie Smith says it this way: “We can’t recalibrate the heart from the top down, through merely informational measures. The orientation of the heart happens from the bottom up, through the formation of our habits of desire.”
So, most of the time this presentation of our bodies as a living sacrifice comes in the form of our Habits… remember:
A habit is something you can do w/out thinking about it.
It’s the first 15 minutes of the day... driving to work... eating your food.
Good moral habits are called VIRTUES.
Bad moral habits are called VICES.
The sum of those virtues & vices make up your CHARACTER.
PT: If your habits of life are dominated by virtue, then you have a virtuous character… if your habits are all vices… you’ll have a vicious character.
This word vice is an interesting image. Anybody have a vice hooked to the end of their workbench?
The vice is this mechanism that squeezes an object with immense pressure in order to hold the object in place.
In that way it’s no different from a bad moral habit … a mechanism that squeezes your life & constrains you from flourishing, moving & growing
Vices trap us… they hold us back.
Virtues free us… allow us to be what we’re meant to be.
In Greek the word for virtue is arête: which means “that which caused a thing to perform its intended function… its teleios”
Virtue of the eye is in seeing… not in being able to see, but actually see
Virtue of a knife is in cutting… not in being good at cutting, but cutting!
Virtue of human is to flourish & to image God to all creation.
Not being able to flourish… having the potential to image God…
But actually flourishing in the world & imaging God to all creation.
And you can’t do this in theory…
It’s like that Forrest Gump line: stupid is as stupid does?
Well virtue is, as virtue does.
Character is, as Character does.
You can only do this from the inside.
We talked one week about tithing & Sabbath keeping as the most basic liturgies of Christian life.
There is no earthly wisdom that will recommend tithing… the giving of 10% of your income to God & the church.
There’s no cultural liturgy to reinforce this practice.
And as a Christian you can agree it would be good to do.
But the real wisdom of it… the incredible impact it will have on ur life?
You cannot learn this from the outside.
You have to actually do it to feel the impact of it on your soul.
There’s no earthly liturgy to support the observance of Sabbath.
The liturgies of culture tell us that if you’re not busy, you’re not important.
They tell us your value as a person is tied to how much money you make & how conspicuously you consume it.
If you take a whole day & do nothing but just enjoy life?
You just aren’t trying hard enough.
That’s the liturgy of the culture.
The liturgy of the KOG says that unless you stop & smell the roses… unless you take delight in the day, the creation, & the gift of being alive
… you will live more like a slave than a person.
But the wisdom of this… the truth of it…
You’ll never know it unless you try it.
This life we’ve been called to live, you guys, is a life of flourishing…
We’re meant to enjoy life… to take delight in every single day…
And we do this by following Jesus in every aspect of life.
And you can’t just follow JS in your heart or in your mind.
You can’t just worship Jesus here in church on Sunday morning.
Your life is meant to be an act of worship.
Paul says, You have to offer your body as a living sacrifice.
That is true & proper worship…
So, what’s the part of your life that you’ve never offered to God as a sacrifice?
I remember when we were trying to find a permanent location for the church.
We were choosing between this building & one up off K7 w/great visibility… hundreds of thousands of cars per week drive by it.
Nobody outside this church thought it was a good idea to come here.
They all said, go up off the highway you’ll get huge.
But it didn’t feel like presenting this body as a living sacrifice for the K…
The wisdom of buying this little church was something you couldn’t learn from the outside… you had to be here.
YHTBT: to see 75 little kids from the neighborhood playing a soccer tournament w/their families watching… in this neighborhood where that never happens.
YHTBT: when we all gathered, heart-broken & crying because Bob Starkey died, the 1st homeless man to really weave his way into the hearts of our church.
Or when adults give up their Sunday morning in here w/us, so they can huddle up with kids of all ages & pour into their lives & help them walk w/God.
EX: Video… kids in our maker’s club, kids from the church & the neighborhood… (kid’s going to say what the frick, can we all just be ok w/that).
They’ve built this robotic goal line technology.
Lasers that shoot down a line & a little beep that says when the ball crosses the goal line.
They built it out of cardboard boxes & little bits.
It’s like a PK game for soccer… watch.
Cole talked about this for a week… but you had to be there.
Have you ever had to tell your friends about redemption, and explain why it’s such an amazing place… and it just doesn’t land?
You really have to be part of this community to get it.
Or you bring them & say one of the best “one of the best things about our church is the carpet… the coffee stains are amazing… custom…”
This is part of how you know you’ve been caught up in the MOG.
It’s just absurd to anyone whose not in on it.
This is what it means to follow Jesus.
You can’t just read about it in a book.
You can’t just hear a sermon about it.
You can’t let your spouse’s faith be enough for you, too.
You can’t just say “well I’m here because my kids need to be in church.”
If you’re going to be a virtuous person & not a vicious one…
If you’re going to present your body as a living sacrifice.
If you want to life a life that is truly life…
Then you must step into the life you were truly meant to live.
You’ve got to get in on the joke.
You have to grab the cat by the tail yourself.
1. Share a time in your life when you were "on the inside" of a situation. How did it impact your experience? Are there times when being "on the inside" might have drawbacks?
2. Tim shared an example of how the liturgy of shopping can create or emphasizeconsumeristic habits and can lead us to treat others as commodities rather than living, breathing human beings. Do you agree? Discuss the potential effects on our relationships both within and outside our normal "tribes" (people or groups of people you belong to).
3. Tim mentioned that good moral habits are virtues and bad moral habits are vices. Both make up our character. Share a grounding virtue that you've made a habit and how it has become essential to your well-being. How does this impact the kingdom of God? Is there a vice in your life that is holding your back from finding purpose and contentment in life? What would it take to sacrifice it before the Lord?