Last month I took a trip to China. When I travel abroad I always like to compare the contrasts between our culture in the West and the country I’m visiting. China has well over a billion people, so personal space and boundaries aren’t as important as pushing your way through the herd to get what you need. It’s a matter of survival.
It was fun to watch the Chinese people boarding a plane when taking domestic flights over there. They would push their way through and around you; whether there was momentary physical contact or not didn’t matter. The plane was boarded in half the time it takes Americans to board a plane in the U.S.
Then I thought about domestic flights in the U.S. Everyone maintains a DTM (don’t touch me) bubble of space between themselves and others. We board the plane cautiously, careful to maintain a distance of 24” from the person in front and behind us. If we touch another person… horrors… they might sue us. An American briefly touched me with his luggage while boarding one place and immediately apologized, while giving me a look of dread as if I might go off on him for touching me. Then, as everyone slowly unpacks their bags and figures out how and where to place them in the plane, they puts on a politically correct smile, as if they’re pleased to be there and happy to wait., all the while you know they’re really thinking, “I wish this guy would quit messing with his luggage and just shove it in the overhead bin!”
This is what our churches sometimes look like. Everyone’s walking around in their DTM bubble, smiling pleasantly as if everything’s okay. Our culture has trained us to be friendly, but we don’t know how to make friends. Be polite and tolerant, but don’t tell anyone the truth of what’s really going on under the hood. Preach the word and sing praise songs, then drive back home back to your comfort bubble, without touching anyone or getting to know them. Another weekend gone and our DTM Bubbles are intact.
All the while, we’re hurting with loneliness, discouragement, emptiness, and depression, or suffering under the weight of sin. Is that it? Is this what the Christian life is about?
Many of us don’t realize how our culture has messed us up. We’re Americans, so the way we do things is right. We’re the leaders of the free world… so advanced we created social media… many of who are porn and lust addicted, hurting and lonely. We think that because we post on Facebook that we have friends, but it’s all an illusion. They don’t know us; they just see the fluff we put out there.
When I would attend sex addiction support groups I would often find myself thinking “this is real church.” It would be a bunch of men who no longer carried about their DTM Bubble. The pain of their failures had destroyed all want to fake it any longer and put on a Sunday Happy Face. We were blatantly honest about our sins, failures, and weaknesses, and in doing so discovered the blessed experience of being accepted as we were, screw-ups and all.
If you’re struggling with porn or sexual sin, or are a hurting spouse, the DTM bubble has to go. You can’t find healing in isolation, which means you’re going to have to take a risk and look for other safe Christians you can open up with. Most men and women do everything they can to find a do it yourself way to freedom from sin or healing from pain and anger, but it doesn’t work. I know, because I tried. Keeping all that gunk bottled up inside never works.
He who separates himself seeks his own desire, He quarrels against all sound wisdom.
I would often ask the men who came to our groups if they had any close friends, and I can’t remember one who did. In a church that is supposed to be about love, this shows we’re doing something seriously wrong. We’ve allowed everyone to walk around in their DTM Bubbles under the delusion that their lives are okay and they have “friends” when all they really have are acquaintances. We don’t model what true transparency and integrity looks like because we’re too afraid or proud to take a risk and admit that our lives are a mess and we’re not the good Christian we want everyone to think we are.
Real church is a group of broken people who have the courage to take off the mask and show others the scars. Real church should be an occasional Sunday where the pastor tells everyone to break up into small groups, share their needs, and pray for each other. This would freak people out at first, but we need our DTM bubbles popped. Real church is a bunch of men sitting around a table, confessing their sins and praying for each other like it says in James 5:16.
Real church is God shining His grace through the cracks of our weaknesses and brokenness and pouring His love through us to others. It doesn’t work when we’re sealed up in a bubble.