I’ve been wrestling with something the last few weeks – heck – year and a half of my life. And it wasn’t until a veritable sleepless night last night that I was able agree on which, if any, visual example best expressed my hearts cries of late. And then it hit me – the “YoGen”.
I love all things electronic. All things “self-powering”, more so. I have this romantic idea that someday I will disappear into the woods, a “digital-nomad”, powered by the sun, the wind, and whatever streams I come upon. And so when I came upon the “YoGen”, I was intrigued. This was a mechanical power generator. Pull the cord like a yo-yo, connect your phone, and in your hour of dire need precious minutes would be added to your phone’s batteries for that one lifesaving call. EEEEEEEEEE pure shrieks of nerd joy!).
On the day it arrived at my house, I tore through the bubble pack envelope. I threw the instructions past me and dug down to the connectors and cords, and hooked up my Motorola DroidX. And started pulling that handle. I watched the charge icon on my phone light up, which drove me to pull the rip-cord even faster, and longer. I wanted to see that battery indicator move from “25%” to “26%” to prove it was working. I could feel the calories surging down my arms into the cord past the charger and down into my phone. Argh argh argh…
After 15 minutes (and a very painful shoulder) later, the realization that the “25%” was not changing was starting to sink in. I quickly fought to remember what the return policy was on the website I’d bought the device from. “No”, I defiantly thought – “this thing has to work”.
So I “jury-rigged” a device to my wife’s beloved KitchenAid Mixer. Something that would run long enough for me to see if the YoGen would ever charge my phone. Seriouis Maguyver stuff.
I turned on the food mixer, and held onto the YoGen. I’d tied the handle to the rope, and the rope to the blending cam. As the cam spun, it pulled the rope in and out, like someone on a Saturday trying to start their lawnmower. Over and over and over again the YoGen handle was pulled in an out. I watched my phone, intently – “25”……..”25″……….”25″……I turned up the speed of the Kitchen Aid mixer. The whining of its motors and the whirring of the YoGen caught my children’s attention at this point. I know because I saw them, and my wife staring at me with a very confused look on their faces as they tried to understand what I was doing with all these appliances and ropes and electronics. Admitting defeat, and now somewhat humiliated, I turned off the mixer and threw the YoGen charger back into it’s padded bag. I checked my phone one last time and saw the daunting, nay – mocking number “25” on it’s screen yet still. “(beep)….24″……Sigh.
What does any of this have to do with friendship, or the concept of “friends”, as a whole? A lot.
When we were kids, we knew who our friends were, and who our friends weren’t. You could go to any playground, any cafeteria or gym or school bus and quickly discern who was friends, and who wasn’t. It was as natural as breathing to us. There was no Bill Clinton “it depends on what the definition of ‘is’, is” with us as kids. If Michael W. Smith was on the radio singing about friends, faces flashed in our mind’s eye. You knew where you stood, and who stood by you.
Friends invited you to things, and you invited them to things. You saw them – a lot. You ate with them. You spoke with them, and they spoke with you. They knew awkward things about you, and had no problems identifying them in public to your dismay. You spent time in their homes and they in yours – knew your siblings, teased them, and probably called your parents “Mr. and Mrs. So & So”, which made your parents (who were our age) feel old. [I digress]. If you were close enough, you went on trips as friends with one and other’s families. You were close enough as friends as a kid, to have fights and misunderstandings and self-imposed-communication black outs. Always though, with friends – was the making up and moving on. Guys would say something macho like, “We cool?“. I don’t know what girls did. I imagine there were mushy gestures of some sort involved. People looking on from the outside in would undoubtedly say, “those guys are friends”, though.
The idea of “relationship” had what my inner nerd would like to call an “exothermic” quality, versus an “endothermic” quality. (Here comes the payoff for reading the boring “YoGen” stuff).
An exothermic reaction is one that generates energy. Striking a match is a good example. A nuclear reactor is a good example. Once you start the reaction, stuff happens and keeps happening, naturally. You don’t have to do anything to sustain it. It just takes off on it’s own, and runs. Exothermic.
An endothermic reaction is one that sucks energy in like a sponge. Like my YoGen. To make anything happen, you have to keep cranking. Think about an ice cube. If you unplug the freezer, the ice-cube melts. It begins to absorb the energy from it’s outside air and change from a solid to a liquid. It needs juice to survive. Endothermic.
Love one and other
About a year ago, I started noticing something in the Bible. It started with my study of Jesus’ last prayer…the one where he asks the Father to bring the believers so close together in relationship that they were “one”, as close in fact as he was to the Father. The kind of “oneness” that would be the single defining characteristic of the Church. Not charity. Not fealty or holiness. But “oneness”. He prayed for future generations of believers in the same prayer….extending his “oneness” request generations forward to me, with my open Bible.
This bothered me. Bothered me in the sense of biting into an empty Italian cannoli shell, bothered me. The main ingredient was missing. Friendships and relationships not only like the ones I described from our childhoods, but something much more. A family. A family that transcended our earthly mom-and-dad family. One where we were all brothers and sisters with one Heavenly Father. Bigger than, “Little House on the Prairie”, family. Bigger than, “The Waltons”, family. Overlapping lives with shared meals and shared stuff and shared purpose and exothermic edification.
This bothered me. Because I didn’t see it. I was struggling to experience it. But here was this biblical map, with a big fat “X” on its pages like some two thousand year old treasure map saying, “DIG HERE”.
Parts of me, a year later, wish I hadn’t thought so much about this. Then there are the other parts…
Oikos isn’t just a Yogurt John Stamos Eats
According to Wikipedia, the greek word “oikos” translated, “defined the basic unit of society in most Greek city-states, and included the head of the oikos (usually the oldest male), his extended family (wife and children), and slaves/servants living together in one domestic setting“. It’s the same word that we see in the bible used one hundred and six times, in examples like these:
1. Jesus after casting a demon out of the man from Gerasense says, ““Go home (oikos) to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you” (Mark 5:19)
2. Lydia, a business woman from the city of Thyatira believed in Christ. Luke records for us the event in this way; “and after she was baptized, and her household (oikos) as well…” Acts 16 v. 15)
3. The Philippian jailor who said to Paul and Silas, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household (oikos).” And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family” (Acts 16:30-33)
Wikipedia goes on to define a modern version of “oikos” for us:
“The term oikos is contemporarily used to describe social groups Several dozen to several hundred people may be known, but the quality time spent with others is extremely limited: only those to whom quality (face-to-face) time is devoted can be said to be a part of an oikos. Each individual has a primary group that includes relatives and friends who relate to the individual through work, recreation, hobbies, or our neighbors. The modern oikos, however, includes people that share some sort of social interaction, be it through conversation or simple relation, for at least a total of one hour per week.”
In the early church – these first believers that Christ asks the Father to bring together as friends and family so close that they mimic or duplicate the closeness and intimacy of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit – were “oikos”. The gospel message would come to a home or household and change the lives of someone inside of it. Everyone in the household noticed the difference in that person’s life. Whether the once demon possessed man, or Lydia – people saw the indwelling of Christ in their hearts and responded. They said, “I want what you have”. Like Naomi to Ruth they said, “Your God shall be my God”. I can imagine if the parable of the Prodigal Son had a sequel, one of the younger son’s friends coming up to him saying, “Hey Frank, what the heck happened to you out there? You used to be a hell raiser and now you just look happy and peaceful all the time….”. Grace spreads like wildfire, in an oikos.
And this organic natural thing started happening in all these households. People that knew each other, grew up together, played on playgrounds together as children got to grow up in Jesus together. Nothing forced. Nothing artificial. Natural as Spanky and Alfalfa. (The Little Rascals are a great definition of biblical Oikos, now that I think about it. Who do you think Christ would come to first in that fictional clan? My money’s on Buckwheat.).
These clusters, clans of newly reborn families and households were the people, the “oikos” we read about in Acts chapter 2, verse 42:
42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”
Dr. Rob Rienow writes in his article, “Ministry in the Oikos”,
“In the early church, Gospel ministry was driven in and through homes. The early church gathered in homes for corporate worship on Sundays. For men to be qualified to serve as elders in the church, they first needed to demonstrate they were shepherding their family and discipling their children at home. New believers were called to begin their Great Commission ministry at home with their children…”
Mixing up the Oikos Yogurt.
I like what the Wikipedia author says about modern day oikos. What they say it is, and isn’t,
“Several dozen to several hundred people may be known, but the quality time spent with others is extremely limited: only those to whom quality (face-to-face) time is devoted can be said to be a part of an oikos“. (emphasis added)
So, after reading about what it is and isn’t, searching through the New Testament, and peering back 30 years into the relationships of my childhood, I’ve come away with some conclusions. Right or wrong, it’s where I’m at in my journey, today.
1. Facebook isn’t oikos. With over eight hundred million users, and rapidly approaching one billion users, this is the first and most important stop to make on our journey. In the past 5 years especially, we’ve conditioned ourselves as a society, and a micro-community of church believers, to believe that Facebook is a substitute for oikos, when it isn’t. Facebook is a multi-billion dollar public traded company with one purpose – to make money. Facebook reminds me a lot of secular Christmas, in fact. It tells us that these are the people that should be important to us….only three hundred and sixty five days a year, versus one present laden day. We should share every details of our lives with these people. They will share their lives with us, in return. And oh, please swipe your credit card, here….
But it doesn’t pass any of our definitions of friendship, or family. It doesn’t matter how many posts we read. How many “LOL’s” on good days or upside-down-smiley faces on bad days. Because Facebook says we are friends, doesn’t mean we are friends. Not in the childhood sense – not in the biblical sense. At best, we’re “acquaintances”. But there’s nothing thrilling about an “acquaintance request”, is there? You can’t sell Farmville credits to a person’s acquaintance. Your friends….all day long.
Kevin Cain of Socialmedia Today notes that the average Facebook user spends a minimum of 14 minutes a day, or seven hours a month on Facebook, also noting,
“There’s no lack of examples of how communication has changed as a result of social media. We’ve seen sentences communicating complete thoughts devolve into esoteric sound bites laced with a dizzying array of fragments and acronyms. We’ve watched emoticons replace words as a tool for expressing feelings. Perhaps most importantly, we are witnessing how social media is helping to foster a society that values frequent communication more than meaningful communication….We are now also communicating different types of information that are often are far more personal in nature. We freely like or dislike anything and everything, provide an array of details and images from our private lives, and over share a variety of information that was once unthinkable for public consumption. Most recently, our friends at Facebook have even given us the ability to share our organ donor information. Just as we’ll gobble up any new item on the menu at McDonald’s, with little regard to what we’re actually eating, we’ll seemingly share any information that Facebook gives us a new and novel way to communicate no matter how personal.”
Stephen Marche writes in his article, “Is Facebook Making us Lonely” for “The Atlantic”,
“Social media—from Facebook to Twitter—have made us more densely networked than ever. Yet for all this connectivity, new research suggests that we have never been lonelier (or more narcissistic)—and that this loneliness is making us mentally and physically ill.”
We’ve traded oikos for updates. As a result, we have less of a sense of family, and a growing sense of dissatisfaction with our own lives and a measurable increase in the loneliness of our society, at the expense and degradation of our relationships. Jon Cacioppo, the director of the Center for Cognitive and Social Neurosciense at the University of Chicago sums it up when he says,
“For the most part,” he says, “people are bringing their old friends, and feelings of loneliness or connectedness, to Facebook.” The idea that a Web site could deliver a more friendly, interconnected world is bogus. The depth of one’s social network outside Facebook is what determines the depth of one’s social network within Facebook, not the other way around. Using social media doesn’t create new social networks; it just transfers established networks from one platform to another. For the most part, Facebook doesn’t destroy friendships—but it doesn’t create them, either.”
2. Small Group isn’t oikos
A lot of the time, anyway. There’s an important distinction to be made about small groups in the New Testament, versus small group programs in most churches. It’s “reversed”. (Prepare your pitchforks and torches!). Hear me out.
If you look back throughout the examples of a household coming together, being “saved” together, then living life and evangelizing their communities and surrounding homes together, it started at the OIKOS level. You interacted with people who were already in your circle of influence. Most recently Neil Cole author of the popular book, “Organic Church” notes a story where someone in his home church is addicted to drugs. In response, Cole and the young man go back and preach the Gospel to the young man’s drug dealer. Several weeks later, she accepted Christ and began inviting people to her home for bible studies on Sunday and dinners throughout the week. She started calling all her “clients” and sharing what Christ had done in her life, and how he had delivered her from addiction. Several months later, she had a thriving home church in her building that went on to split and spread into the surrounding community via another one of her former users.
This is “Oikos”. It is life lived and shared with the people that you see and interact with continuously. The people you see in your neighborhoods and your job. You are Acts 2:42 throughout the entire week with these people – sharing your things and helping with bills and watching their children so they can go on date nights. You are bringing them meals and receiving meals from them. You have internal jokes about the different people in your circle. You know what the people in your oikos would love most on Christmas morning – what places they would travel to in the world if they had a ticket to go anywhere on earth. You know their biggest disappointments and hurts and moments of deepest shame and regret. It’s what popular radio evangelist Chuck Swindoll refers to as “Backyard Evangelism”.
Dennis McCallum writes in his article, “Eleven Reasons Why Home Fellowship Groups Usually Fail”,
“One church after another has reported that they formed a plan, presented it to the church, started a dozen home groups and got dismal results or even strong resistance from the congregation. We suggest not approaching home groups this way, because it is unnatural. Home groups should grow in an organic way, not be thrown into existence through a massive program….In some churches, the large worship meeting and/or teaching meetings are viewed as essential, but the home group is considered an option–helpful to some, but not necessarily normative for healthy involvement in the local church…As pointed out earlier, this view ignores the Biblical point of view that the local body depends on the individual function of each and every member (Ephesians 4:15,16). We need to resist the temptation to dilute this teaching.”
In the New Testament, we see all the local “Oikos”, these groups of people that were naturally and organically meeting – people with common interests and cultural backgrounds coming together with these other “oikos”. It’s this picture of hundreds of “tribes” blending together in the one large temple. The temple meeting is secondary to the oikos meetings all week. People are coming together from all parts of the community, in these organically formed tight knit mini-herds – and sharing what the Lord has been doing locally with them on their blocks, and on their streets. Susan comes with all of her friends who used to be drug dealers or users. Barney’s there with his second and third generation of Seventh Hole on the Green Christ followers. Chris is in the back with his Dungeons and Dragons friends, who all know Susan is a Lord of the Rings junkie.
What is happening today, is happening for the most part, in reverse. I think large buildings are being built, and people are invited in and told that they should be involved in a small group. They’re sent back into homes with strangers that have little to no pre-history. They stare at the walls, and ceilings, and floors, sometimes sharing a struggle or two. They struggle to identify where in the clique they fit in…spend years theorizing and planning how to break into the inner sanctums of the established oikos. Eventually, they end up counting down the minutes of their 1 hour commitment/obligation until the end when they can pack the kids in the car and head back to their real oikos. Small group leaders left scratching their heads questioning why no one does the homework…why no one shares any meaningful insights or struggles, and why no one is getting together when they don’t have to throughout the week.
It’s an important distinction….do you see the difference? I did….do.
Out on the limb
Today is January 15th. This week, has been the third time in as many months that my wife and I were told, however indirectly, that were were “distancing” ourselves from “friends”. It’s important that you understand everything I’ve written (above) when I note our apparent “distancing”.
See, I long for the family that Jesus promises in the Bible. I think most people do. If it’s the single most defining characteristic of our faith – our oneness – our closeness, than it should be worth fighting for and digging down to.
So when our small group ended early summer last year, I noted that when the once-a-week meeting constructs were gone, so were the phone calls and texts and face-to-face encounters. Simply put, when we weren’t “supposed to get together”, we weren’t getting together. People that lived 1/2 a mile or 2 miles up the road from us who had to pass our house to go to other small groups, never called or wrote or stopped by in fact.
I noted that when I stopped hitting “SEND” in my email or text or Facebook apps, and just watched the “INBOX” of the same, the artificial oikos’ started revealing themselves. The “endothermic / YoGen” nature of my relationships with some people started crystallizing right before my eyes. It was a very hard lesson that still has fallout to this very day, interestingly enough. “Where did everyone go”, I asked myself. It felt like we were holding our breath under water to see if anyone up top would notice we were laying on the bottom of the pool. After a six month absence in the big building, our oikos theories were playing out in front of our eyes. Radio silence. (An elder told me once at what I thought was a get-together-catch-up lunch that many people had come to him and told him that it was “me/us”. We were/I was the problem. When I asked him what these people said when he directed them to talk directly TO us, and not ABOUT us, he just shrugged and ate another french fry.)
And so we sat, and waited, longer still. Not doing anything for the sake of doing anything. Waiting on what Pastor Francis Chan refers to as the “Forgotten God” (the Holy Spirit). Wondering if we had made some gigantic mistake. An “Oh Lord what have I done” feeling crept over me. But then…
Like fireflies just after dusk, it started happening. Oikos. Spontaneous texts from people across the street. Invitations from others. Meals. Camping trips. Hospital visits. Harleys and tattoos…
These were the phone calls and notes and visits from people – exothermic notes and texts and calls and visits we’d hoped for. People who said in so many words, “Hey – I haven’t heard from you. I’m worried about you. I miss you. You make me laugh. What’s up?“.
Organic. Multiple layers. Deep confession and sharing of physical and spiritual stuff, stuff. New Testament Acts 2:42 stuff. “Not because we have to but because we want to”, stuff. People whose lives affected us, and were affected by us.
But it’s come with a price. To look at a previous relationship and say, “Listen, I don’t want to be the only person ever calling you”, is hard. To say, “You’re always very, very busy and I’m tired of using a pry bar to find room in there”, even harder. Not many people understand it. Some lashed back against it. Most just talk about it (never directly to me, or my wife) as through something tragic and cult-like has transpired. It couldn’t be farther from the truth.
When Felix Baumgartners jumped from a balloon suspended capsule some fourteen miles from the surface of the Earth, his final words before jumping haunted me as I watched him edge forward past the safety handles.
He said, “The whole word is watching me……I am going home now“. And then he jumped. More precisely, let go and fell forward….
What most people don’t know about Felix – the man who broke the speed of sound in a space suit – is that he was claustrophobic. Like class five claustrophobic. Bat *$@!! crazy, claustrophobic.
When they put his suit on him, and his helmet over his head – he nearly passed out and experienced a paralyzing paranoia so strong that it required months of intensive therapy and counselling. His sponsors and peers that saw him that day were pretty sure the whole project would have to be scrapped.
Ironically, jumping off of the capsule some 128+ thousand feet above the earth turned out to be easy for him. Putting on the helmet, horrifically terrified him. That first step forwards nearly shut him and kept him down.
I bring up Felix, because I think we’re past the helmet phase. We’re finished pulling the YoGen. Not settling for the artificial sweeteners of Social Media, or the forced and reversed (however good the intentions) Parochial Programs.
Is it the Biblical “deep end“? Yes. But he promised Oikos. Said, “dig HERE X“. And so, we dig. He promised to provide the treasure – that it would happen organically, and naturally, and that he would be the “YoGen” for us. He whispers to us to stop pulling…to put the artificial stuff down, and be still. Experience his power, in his time.
When I see Jesus, I want him to knowingly say, “Nice Helmet, Michael“…with the seams of my suit still burning from the spiritual free fall – having trusted in his promises as I jumped. As we jumped. Me and my oikos. As I write this I’m thinking to myself that with Jesus the parachute never really goes off. You fall what C.S. Lewis described in the “Last Battle” of his ‘Chronicles of Narnia’ series, “farther up and farther in!“, running throughout and ever deeper into the new Narnia without ever losing your breath or feeling fear again. (I like the part about never losing your breath. )
But like Felix, it’s not a natural desire, this falling business. This trust stuff. I don’t really want to do it – it scares me to death….this side of eternity. But don’t you know – haven’t we read together -that’s usually how I know-how we know it’s him?…the one who prayed for me 2000+ years ago.
For now -we’ve put him back in charge of our household, our family, our circle of influence. And it’s awesome, and scary, and day by day just enough – like he promised. Him. The one who encourages us to fall forward weightless into the unknown. Dares us to trust. Calls us into the eternal oikos. The one whose face he promises we’ll see just after we say,
“I’m going home now“.