Don’t Check Your Baggage

luggage dim lightI’ve traveled and flown enough to know that baggage check-in is the biggest headache for those who fly. Now, to battle the economic crunch, most of the airlines are charging for every bag checked, not just those that are overweight or exceed the usually permitted two bags.  Even before this financial crunch on travelers, I have taken note that those who fly a lot for business have packed carry on luggage, thus skipping the baggage check-in altogether and can go straight to the ticket check-in kiosk.  They have learned to improve their travel experience with carry on rather than checked baggage.

Besides affecting my packing plans for the next airline trip, this phenomenon tells us something about life in community.  The reality is that we all have baggage.  Life just comes with it because we are imperfect, fallen creatures in a fallen world.  Even as redeemed (Christ-following) people, we haven’t lost the baggage that life has given us.  The origin of each person’s baggage is as different as the life we have lived, but we all have it. To ignore its presence doesn’t make it go away.  To pretend that the large piece of “luggage” we drag around behind us doesn’t exist only prevents us from claiming it, opening it and emptying it of the unnecessary contents that true freedom permits.

When an airline passenger checks his luggage, the Sky Cap and baggage handlers transport it and load it into the baggage compartment of the plane (provided it doesn’t get lost along the way).  Although the passenger may not be constantly aware that he has baggage, the fact remains that it is following him and the weight is still a part of that contributed to the plane…the journey.  However, if the passenger consciously carries her baggage onto the plane, she can handle it and even ask others to assist her in handling it for a more “hassle-free” experience.

The same is true for us in the context of community.  If we check our baggage at the “door” when we gather with others, it is still there impacting our journey, but not being “handled.”  If, instead, we consciously “carry on” our baggage in community, we are able to more effectively handle it with the assistance of others who have also admitted their carry-on baggage.  This requires authenticity…being real about who we are and the struggles we have.  This can be scary.  One of my favorite authors, Donald Miller, describes this fear in his book, Searching for God Knows What.

Sometimes I feel as though I were born in a circus, came out of my mother’s womb like a man from a cannon, pitched toward the ceiling of the tent, all the doctors and nurses clapping in delight from the grandstand, the band going great guns in trombones and drums.  I unfold and find flight hundreds of feet above the center ring, the smell of popcorn, the clowns gathered below amazed at my grace, all the people chanting my name as my arms come out like wings and move swan-like toward the apex where I draw them in, collapse my torso to my legs, roll over in perfection, then slowly give in to gravity, my body falling back toward earth, the ground coming up so quick I can see the center ring growing beneath my weight.

And this is precisely when it occurs to me there is no net.  And I wonder what is the use of a circus, and why a man should bother to be shot out of a cannon, and how fleeting is the applause of a crowd, and …who is going to rescue me?  (Donald Miller, Search for God Knows What, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2004).

When we are “performing” life, we think we have to keep all the flaws and struggles hidden in order to be accepted, appreciated or applauded.  We end up doing life alone even among the multitude of relationships we have around us, not because we want to, but because we don’t think we have a choice.  It takes a place that is safe to be able to open up and know that we will be given a net into which we can fall as we do life together.  Rick Howerton, in Destination:  Community, describes seven key perspectives to produce authenticity in our small groups or faith community (Rick Howerton, Destination:  Community, Serendipity House Publishers, 2008).

  1. Recognizing that there are mysteries of God found in the Bible. Even God has secrets (Deuteronomy 29:29) and we don’t always have all the answers.  There are times that we must, by faith, live in the mystery of God’s infinite wisdom and trust Him when we don’t understand.  Living in community will help us to do this.
  2. The fact that life is messy. As much as we would like to put all of life into neat little categories that are black and white, neat and clean, and convenient, life just doesn’t always work that way.  We have come to believe that all of life’s conflicts can be resolved in short order like a 30-minute sit-com.  In reality, I may suffer and struggle with an issue for my entire life, but will learn to cope due to having a community of Christ followers around me with which I can be real.
  3. Personal imperfection. The airbrushed images of the fashion magazines and ideal persona of the hollywood actors are not reality, if you haven’t figured it out by now.  We are imperfect physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.  I have to wear glasses, one ear has significant hearing loss and my spine is curved.  I struggle with insecurity and, at times, depression.  I have never been very good at sports and have never been good at being witty or telling jokes.  However, I’m learning not to let what others think about those things matter to me.  When we admit our imperfections and decide that they don’t define who we are, we take a step in the right direction of experiencing and offering authenticity.
  4. God is always present even when He feels distant. David understood this and expressed it in the Psalms.  In particular, he said in Psalm 28:1, “To you I call, O Lord my Rock; do not turn a deaf ear to me. For if you remain silent, I will be like those who have gone down to the pit.”  He knew what it was like to feel that God was giving him the silent treatment.  Yet, in his faith, he continued to call upon the Lord and keep his eyes fixed upon Him (Psalm 28:2-9), thus experiencing victory at length.  Our faith community is a place to be real about this and encourage one another through the process.
  5. We are all individuals and don’t have to agree with all that each one does or says. We must understand that there are foundational, cardinal doctrines of the faith.  These include things like the fallen/sinful nature of mankind, the infallibility of the Bible, and the exclusivity of salvation by faith alone in Jesus Christ.  However, when we get beyond the foundational doctrines, there is room for differences of opinion.  Additionally, being authentic will to some degree allow people to express their thoughts and actions that differ from ours for the sake of sharing their story and being encouraged. When we feel free to share without condemnation, we are able to come alongside one another where we are and help to promote growth and change.
  6. The value of confessing our failures at the right time with the right people. James reminded us of this when he wrote, “Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.  The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective” (James 5:16 NIV).  If we are experiencing authentic community (in our small groups or elsewhere), we will find God opening doors of opportunity with the right people at the right time to practice this important process of confession.
  7. Satan is at work in our world. John 12:31 and 1 Peter 5:8 remind us that Satan is real and He is vicious.  His primary goal with believers is to be a destroyer.  He has many tools with which to accomplish this.  However, it is an authentic group that admits this and is willing to engage in spiritual warfare on behalf of one another.

Authenticity is a core perspective for faith community.  Our small groups will never function effectively until we have grown to the point of being real with one another.  When we experience authenticity, we feel safe to share our stories…stories of our past, our present, and dreams for our future.  Be real…don’t check your baggage at the door.  Be willing to help one another with your carry-ons!


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