Packing my bags for the flight to Turkey, all I could think of was the 25-hour plane ride ahead. I am physically incapable of sleep while flying, and that makes good books and music imperative. This time I was prepared with hundreds of pages on cross-cultural relationships, short-term missions and the religious sentiments of Turkey today. It would be heaven for me; crawling over continents and oceans, listening to the thousands of songs stored in my little black iPod and preparing for the place I would land. I packed these vital distractions safely in my carry-on duffel.
The next morning, as Starbucks employees were filling the airport with the aroma of early caffeine, I handed all of my luggage to the desk clerk—including my carry-on. It wasn’t until I watched the bags sail around on the turnstile, disappearing behind the black rubber curtains, that I realized what I had done. But it was too late.
My duffel—with my precious books and iPod—was gone.
I trudged along to the newsstand and bought a couple romance novels and a three-dollar pen with the words “I love Sacramento” engraved on it. It was a long flight.
Suitcases are just no good unless we can unpack them and use the things inside. The same can be said of words. Some religious words feel as irritatingly out of reach as my carry-on was.
Movies and marketing and Sunday-morning sermons leave us expecting to find meaning in love, hope, mercy, community and forgiveness; but somehow it’s not available to us. So we check our luggage, hoping to wake up with treasures when we finally arrive. Until then we are left with soft-cover romance novels to pass the time.
The book of Acts gives value to these words as the markers of how first century Christians treated each other. “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs preformed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common” (Acts 2:42-44, TNIV).
The believers didn’t have to preach generosity and forgiveness because their lives were clothed in the meaning of those words. As Francis Schaeffer said, we see that community is the final answer. In some churches today it may take the intensity of staring at a 3-D puzzle to find these faith words in action, but community is where the Bible directs us to find them.
I first discovered the Bible on a dusty shelf in my garage when I was 16 years old, and the words about shared love and community life fell flat as I read. The pages held ideas I hadn’t experienced in real life. I read that God loves His Church like a groom loves his bride, and, with my parents always fighting and two brothers already divorced, I didn’t hold marriage in very high regard. If that was God’s view of His love toward me then it didn’t seem very strong.
However, my perspective changed over a game of poker. Dustin, who led our Bible study and weekly poker game, spoke of his wife in a way I had never heard of before. Even when she wasn’t in the room, he talked about her value and his willingness to lay down his life for her at any moment. He spoke and acted in a way that I had never seen a man in my family behave. Dustin’s love gave me a template to understand something that had been empty words before. Paul’s command jumped off the page, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25, TNIV).
Ever since then I have been collecting an eclectic array of clothing, developing a sort of hand-me-down closet of faith. But having words unpacked for me is not the end. I am also learning to wear these words as my own, allowing them to change my persona. Maybe even my soul. And I pray that my life, and the language of my community, would be as attractive to the world as the revolutionary disciples Jesus left behind. May our closets always be open.