To paraphrase Goethe, life is full of dangers – among them is safety. My cell meeting began our discussion at Franny Lou’s Porch this morning around this concept. Whether we took it back to tools being twisted into weapons in the Neolithic period or our own pursuit of avoiding danger, Lent can help us bring a potentially far-out concept down to earth. I got to spend some vacation time in Southern California visiting and learning, and facing some danger. Some of my most formative work happened during “board meetings” with a mentor and good friend. Even if you don’t surf, see if any of these little situations remind you of how you are sorting out safety and danger.
Little Rincon, just down the beach from legendary surf spot Rincon, needs something like a 5′ southwest swell to have ridable waves. It happens a least a few times per year. It was firing the first two days I was in the Ventura River Watershed. While the power, quick time between sets, and size were pretty much out of my league – Ched told me if I felt OK I could start in the smaller, sloppier end and work my way back. I sensed the ocean’s power, dangerous yet inviting.
The rip was strong enough to take me half a mile down into a hairy situation with some unfriendly rocks. Like many beaches in the area, the floor has several jagged rocks throughout. Riding an unfamiliar board and not having been out in the water since last October, getting enough juice to lock-in to a wave took longer than I care to calculate. Being surrounded by locals and people who surf multiple times per week was at times embarrassing for me – I saw them shredding while I struggled.
I got snaked a few times by paddle boarders when I was sure it was going to be the big one! My life is often like that. I get interrupted when I’m on the verge of something exciting and I get bitter. It doesn’t work out the way I wanted. I get cranky. I could have forgotten that I was in the ocean with the air temp over 70 degrees on my February birthday! I had the privilege of connecting with God’s creation in ways that excite me, humble me, and keep me wanting more.
So I kept paddling, trying to get in the right position. I got pummeled a few times. I went over the nose of my board trying extra hard. Then my wave came. It took me four strokes to dial in and then I was up and going right. It must have only been about 7-10 seconds earth time, but for me it seemed at least a minute. It eventually closed out and I was treading water next to my board, grinning from ear to ear. Had I really just been exhausted and ready to quit? I felt renewed enthusiasm.
The ocean is straight-up dangerous and I’m afraid of it. Besides sea monsters (they’re real), I could get hurt out there. Fear, in this case my response to detected danger, could mean “pay attention” when I could have thought “stay away.” I think it’s dangerous to follow Jesus, especially as part of the church. It can be dangerous to consciously try to get in touch with God, or get going again following the way of Jesus.
How many people see the church or get invited to a Sunday meeting and feel the instinct to “stay away” rather than “pay attention?” You could even get to a meeting and convince yourself how much everyone else is a certain kind of way: known, liked, comfortable in their own skin, knows what they believe, secure in faith. I have friends who start to consider God and stop at certain points – usually growth edges that maintain their sense of safety that could develop into an invitation.
This discipleship path is a lot like surfing unfamiliar breaks on sunny days with friends. We don’t get to control Jesus, make God not powerful, or tell the Holy Spirit which way we want to go. We participate. We try. We fail. We play. We get it. We reflect. We try. Etc. We welcome others into this dance – into wonder and learning – embodying a different kind of safety in the face of real danger.