Doing Better at Being

—by Julian DeShazier

Being comes from doing. Essentially, this is how humanity understands the self. We are the jobs we have; we become our habits, and we are often known and remembered for what we have done. In life we leave legacies of work, not being, and our resumes tell a story of past performance, never a litany of how nice we are.

This is not a fully secular ideal; Most Christian circles overture the importance of good works: “we are KNOWN by our works” (heard that before? It’s Matthew 7, sort of). I could list for you the amount of times in scripture where a prophet or writer admonishes (or affirms) the deeds of the people. The motto that drives Protestantism – “faith without works is dead” – and the ensuing work ethic that defines Capitalism, American Values, and dare I say ALL human activity…comes from James 2. Yep: the Bible did this to us; rather, a very loose understanding of it.

So in church life it becomes all about “what do you do?” Potential new members ask this all the time. Folks who have been here 30 years ask this all the time. The search committee that found me (2 year ago!) asked me constantly what I intended to do. I answer the same way: “it depends.” First, because I disagree with the opening statement: being does NOT come from doing. In my mind it’s the other way around: Focus on BEING and the doing will flow easily. So the question is not, “What do I want to do?” but “What do I imagine CHURCH to be?” Once you answer that, you’ll know exactly what to do. I believe this for your life as well: if you spend time focusing on and articulating your AUTHENTIC SELF, you will almost always be doing the right thing. You will find the right job, the right partner, and be where you need to be, because you are being who you truly are. Jesus is not teaching the disciples what to DO; he’s teaching them who they are and how to be (this is why he says plainly, “ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE.”) Focus on being.

University Church does a lot, perhaps too much, and I want to make sure we don’t place value in this place based on activity. You know what I’ve noticed lately? There are a lot of new faces, and a lot of you don’t know them. How often have we asked someone to do something without even fully knowing their name? I know why, of course: There’s a lot to be done. But activity without intimacy is fruitless (now look at Matthew 7 again). I feel fully confident that we are about to change the community in a new way, as we have done since 1894. But if we have the most active committees in the world yet do not know each other, doesn’t that seem off?

I want us to focus on INTIMACY. Wear your nametags on Sunday. Join us for the small group dinners (they ONLY exist to allow us to know one another more deeply). Take the time to learn another person’s story. God created community so we could care for one another. If we “love” through advocacy and can mourn in the suffering across the globe but can’t remember the name of the person sitting next to us, I’m telling you, this whole “church” project is going nowhere. Doing comes from Being.

We need to do better at being. God needs us better connected with one another.