Get Out of Your Bubble
When I taught at Gordon College, the students would complain at times about “the Gordon bubble.” When I first heard the term, I asked what they meant. They explained that living 30 miles north of Boston in a beautiful but sometimes isolated setting, with people who were all supposedly Christian, left them feeling like they were living an existence that was too insulated from “the real world.” One student who had been raised in a rougher neighborhood of Boston told me that the campus scared him – no sirens, few night noises, no people yelling at each other, minimal number of cars on the one road that runs through the campus.
I’ve thought a lot about the ‘living in a bubble’ issue, and I’ve come to realize that we all in effect live in some type of bubble – either by choice (as in the insulated-from-the-world tidy suburb that I live in) or by life circumstance (as in the bubble of poverty that locks people into a lifestyle that they’d never choose for themselves).
For most of you reading a blog on our iPad or another device, we find ourselves in the former type of bubbles, the ones that our wealth allows us to create for ourselves. We have choices, but what will we choose? We can stay in the comfort zone or we can leave our bubbles and go serve and learn elsewhere (as many Gordon College students do) to offset the bubble effect. We have the freedom to travel, to volunteer, to reach out to internationals in our midst. The bubbles we live in are often the self-created oases of wealth and isolation, of remote-controlled garage doors leading us into our air-conditioned homes. Will we choose to stay there?
Sometimes, for those of us who live middle-class American lives, the problem is that we like our bubbles. They’re safe and cozy. They’re predictable, manageable, and comfortable. A woman at our church once told me that she refuses to go anywhere where she might hear Jesus’ name taken in vain; her insulated bubble will probably even keep her away from young Christians who bring their habits with them as they start the faith journey.
The issue for any Christ-following person is that the life of discipleship is not about safety and predictability. It’s not about protecting ourselves in our bubbles. It’s about risk and faith and crossing boundaries into the unknown. As John Ortberg has written, the life of following Jesus is about getting out of the boat and trusting Jesus to take care of us on the open sea.
Here’s a simple example: in the bubble that my wife and I live in, nobody smokes. But several of our friends do, and when we meet with them or drive them in our cars, the smell lingers. On one occasion, I came into the house after some meetings, and Christie immediately asked, “WHO have you been with today? You smell like you’ve smoked two packs of cigarettes!”
When we exit our bubbles and spend time confronting the challenging needs in our world, the world inevitably gets on us – like the lingering smell of cigarette smoke. If I’m in the world (as I’m supposed to be as Jesus’ disciple), I get the world “on me.” That’s why I need to come regularly to the gathering of fellow Christians. Christian fellowship is where I’m supposed to come, confess my sins, and re-align my purposes with the purposes of God. I come into the corporate worship of the people of God to get “scrubbed up” spiritually – so that I can return the next week as a redeemed, forgiven witness for Jesus Christ.
Let’s be ready and willing to leave the bubble to do the work of salt and light in our messy world. John Henry Jowett challenges me to get out of my bubble through this quotation:
It is possible to evade a multitude of sorrows through the cultivation of an insignificant life. Indeed, if a person’s ambition is to avoid the troubles of life, the recipe is simple: shed your ambitions in every direction, cut the wings of every soaring purpose, and seek a life with the fewest contacts and relations. If you want to get through life with the smallest trouble, you must reduce yourself to the smallest compass. Tiny souls can dodge through life; bigger souls are blocked on every side. As soon as a person begins to enlarge his or her life, resistances are multiplied. Let a person remove petty selfish purposes and enthrone Christ, and sufferings will be increased on every side.