I was introduced, early, to the way we Christians are. And I was a quick study.
At seventeen, I was new to a relationship with God and along with this new way came a whole new set of people and conversations and ways of doing life. There were late night talks about Him at a coffee shop with friends and notes passed under the desk during Geometry that weren’t just about boys and Friday-night plans — they now included Bible verses and prayers. I had new CDs with songs about God and I wore a cross around my neck.
That summer, I had an interim youth leader who was much younger than I am now but who seemed old and wise and knowledgable about God in ways that created almost an unfettered trust in me towards him. We hung out with him and his wife after hours and talked about changing our school and our city for God. When I was around them I wanted to save the world.
And I wanted to do everything just like they did.
So when they bought a box full of blue notebooks with sections and dividers — categories of Bible Study — to hand out to others in our group (to help us maintain diligence in our pursuit of God), most of the twenty or so of us who filled their living room each week quite naturally slid those notebooks underneath our arms with the intent to make a new practice of using them. This is what Christians did, right? Nearly everyone in the group was wet cement, waiting to be told and led.
I, however, graciously passed. Because, you see, I’d just bought my own notebook. I’d spent summer nights creating labels and writing verses on each section and making a system for my study of God that fit me *just so*. The organizer in me loved this new notebook of mine.
But my Bible study leader didn’t.
He wanted me to not just be a part of the group, but to lead the others, younger than I. He saw leadership in me and spoke into it. But leadership, to him — at that time — meant conforming. We *all* were going to use this blue notebook.
Though old to my seventeen year-old self then, he really was young, unweathered by life and perhaps a little immature. His years in full-time youth ministry weren’t too long-lived after that, but at the time his life was our roadmap. My guide for all-things-Christian. He was emphatic, determined — verging on forceful in his brazen days of youth — and I was insecure.
I didn’t realize, then, but I was being indoctrinated into the church culture of sameness.
This blue notebook wouldn’t be my last invitation away from the unique fingerprint of God in me, into the cloying comfort of “same”.
Back then, it was a room full of sweaty teenagers on a summer night without air conditioning, sitting cross-legged, each with blue notebooks spread in their laps. “Same” was appealing, even necessary for some of us. When God was new and the pages of our Bibles were still stuck together, imitating the behavior of others was safe and helpful.
But over years and seasons and different versions and expressions of Christianity, something about that striving towards “same-ness” continued to creep in, even beyond new believers and ones needing guide maps with big print.
In my twenties I became a youth leader — young, un-weathered by life and immature. I had more answers than questions — just enough zeal to form an opinion and secretly hold others to that same opinion. Radical to me, then, was evangelism. You weren’t telling people about Jesus, often, and you were relegated — in my mind — to one who wasn’t really very willing to run hard after God.
We looked for churches who had people like us and had dinner parties with friends who carried “the same vision.” This was natural, human. Of course we naturally enjoy those whose pillow-talk probably includes the things we stay up late dreaming about. It’s the fuel of friendship — shared hearts.
But it’s in how I related to those who were outside of that vision that God had uniquely given to me (and the thoughts I had about them that I didn’t necessarily say out-loud) that revealed my anemic perspective on what it means to be “one.”
Somewhere between making best friends out of those with whom you’d take to battle (because, of course, we are wired for this!) and our broad understanding of the body of Christ, we are all to often — subtly — requiring our identical notebooks.
We populate our schedules and our pews and our Friday night dinner table with those who are same, and enough time spent with eyes only on those who walk and talk and act just like we do makes us miss the multi-faceted face of God.
I’m a lot older now, but the insecurity that makes me want to mold to another’s heart and passion, or draw the boundary lines and keep only those right around me inside still creeps in.
That blue notebook still entices me.
But Jesus prayed that His church would be one — not same.
The theological stream or church or ministry where you land is often so beautifully-suited for you — but what might He have to show you from another — an eye, a hand, a foot — whose prayer and study of the Word and thoughtful consideration has found them reading different books by different authors and filing in to different pews down the street?
Jesus prayed that His church would be one — not same.
We have graduated versions of passing out blue notebooks with subtle, unspoken understandings that those within our circles — who look like us and talk like us and dress like us and exegete like us and spend their wide-awake hours of the night dreaming the same dreams we do — are the only ones within this body of His, and in so doing we miss the beauty of God displayed uniquely in ones different from us.
My notebook that summer was beautiful. Beneath the thick, ugly grey padded cover were pages that reflected a young, hungry heart. They told a story of a girl who gave up cigarettes and gossip and kissing boys she barely knew for a God who thrilled her.
But it wasn’t blue.
Dear church , dear Bride — dear me,
Have we become so fixed on our own unique expression of Christianity that we’re missing the other Bible-living-and-believing-and-studying followers of God who’d spend their hundred dollars on a different vision of God’s heart and a different broken part of this world? Have we sought to make “same” and missed the prayer of Jesus’ heart? Have we missed the beauty of Jesus in our same-ness?
Have we created human-constructed versions of unity that are keeping us from being the kind of “one” that is holy-other — such that can only come by the power of God?
Does the world not yet believe God sent Jesus to die for them … because we are zeroed in on “same-ness” and missing this holy-other “one-ness”?
Today might be the day to put your own blue notebook into storage and ask Him what parts of yourself have not yet come alive because you’re following someone else’s expression of Christianity that’s not quite what He intended for you.
Might today be the day to ask Him for eyes to see those with notebooks that look a little different than ours?
First, second and fourth photos compliments of Mandie Joy. Third and fifth photos compliments of Cherish Andrea Photography.