Practicing being Present


From very early on the people of God were called to active missional engagement with those who were very much unlike themselves.

Whether it was God’s call to Abraham with the backdrop of the Table of Nations in Genesis 10, Yahweh’s missional instructions to Jonah, or our current mandate to make Jesus known, we are always pushed to engage with those who think differently, live differently, and have different values than we do; anything else is simply Christian fellowship.

As culture continues to shift and change we are forced to consider new ways of contextualizing the Good News. By far, one of the most strategic ways of doing this is by practicing being present.

It was another evening when dancers gathered.

A certain atmosphere was present, one that just seemed mediocre at best. It was this evening, however, where I learned again of the need to be present especially in a place where there was a collision of stories.

For it is only by being present can we ever hope to be written into someone’s story.

I leaned up against a large post in the club. I was relaxed, actually tired, and just stood enjoying the sound of good Blues music. It was crowded but not as crowded as it had been on other nights. I was, though, keenly aware of whom was dancing with whom, the whispers turning into paragraphs that were being written, and the tacky one-liners often written by those who lacked the prose of a good narrative. Nevertheless, I really wasn’t in the reading mood.

There I was, however, just practicing being present.

She was an average looking woman but seemed to know what she wanted. She approached me with a sense of determination and forthrightness that one would actually expect at an accident scene.

It was almost as if her body language screamed, “What did you just do!”, as if I pulled out in front of her and smashed the side of her car.

“Hi, my name is Lisa. My friends over there told me you’re a pastor?”

“I am,” was all I said, aware that it was time to listen to the accident details.

“I can’t believe you’re here, in a place like this. I’ve never met a pastor in a bar before. What is the name of your church? What kind of church is it?”

I explained, actually, I yelled with the hopes being heard over the pulsating of the bass and drums. I spoke about how our church was different, what our vision was, and what we sensed God was building. It all sounded great to me.

Who wouldn’t want to come to this!

“I was a Christian at one time. I moved here from Edmonton a couple of years ago. I was in a church that focused almost solely on spiritual warfare and I got so burned. I have been so hurt by leaders… by pastors.”

Then, I threw out my one liner that had, until this day, always worked, “I would love the opportunity to have coffee one day and hear a bit more of your story.” Wrong one liner, for sure.

“No, I don’t think so,” was all she replied.

My invitation was genuine and I knew that any decent conversation had to be held in a place with slightly less noise.

She didn’t trust me.

She didn’t trust me because I was a Christian and because I was a pastor. Really, I represented the very collision(s) she had hoped to forget yet, she approached me and something propelled her forward, to re-live those not so distant memories.

But, what was I supposed to say, now?

“I’m sorry, Lisa. I am very sorry. On behalf of the church and on behalf of the leaders that hurt you, I’m sorry. Forgive us.”

A blank stare was her response. I continued, “My sense, though, is that you may have given up on the church but you have not given up on Jesus.”

“Yes!”, she exclaimed, “That’s it!” That is where the conversation seemed to end.

There was some more cordial chitchat and I remember giving her our church website address. There was no blues bar conversion, tears, or further encounters with Lisa again. We did, if I remember correctly, exchange a light embrace or a warm handshake, but that was it.

I think back to that night often and to the many other nights just like it, where there seemed to be a weaving of stories, God moments as they have been so apply named. Honestly, I struggle at times with the relevance of situations like this, though.

We have been immersed in a culture of being results focused and mentored by systems and strategies that define for us an inaccurate lens through which we view success and failure. We now look for opportunities to “see stuff happen” and to present when kingdom fruit forms to feed and nourish. Contentment shrivels when faced with multiple opportunities to “simply” plant seeds because we don’t see the growth that we expect.

What if what propels us forward was to practice being present, and to look for opportunities to actively participate with Him in the forgotten and avoided places?

Could we handle being “retrained?” Could the places of the “mediocre” really become places of the “extraordinary?”

Could the profane, secular spaces of our time come truly alive by simply being a people who practice being present, waiting patiently for the very moment the Author begins to write new stories?

Daniel Snell
Nelsen, B.C.

~ by blueporch on March 18, 2013.

One Response to “Practicing being Present”

  1. Amazing story Todd! I was in Thailand at 2005 Vineyard Asian Conference, these guys are so enthusiastic and full of the Holy Spirit, Good for you!

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