Today’s devotional: pouring your life into the streets

I like my privacy. My Myers-Briggs test results indicate that I’m some sort of super-introvert. I often feel uncomfortable shaking hands with people at church and I spend time stressing out over my Facebook privacy settings.

And so it was a challenge for me to read this devotional from the Online Pulpit archives this morning, recounting the author’s visit to Vietnam and the lessons he learned there about privacy and public engagement:

In Vietnam there is little separation between public life and personal life. Especially in the north and central part of Vietnam, where there is much less Western influence, the people conduct life out in the open. The small shops that line most of the streets are places of business, but here shop owners also sit with their families and their neighbors while they eat their meals and drink afternoon tea. It’s nearly impossible to distinguish between paying customers and family members. And when you walk the street, it’s not uncommon to be invited to sit for a while. […]

I was struck by how dramatically this contrasts with the American obsession with privacy. We have weatherized our porches and air-conditioned our homes so that the windows and doors are almost always closed, and our blinds or drapes are often pulled. If we do venture out, it is into the privacy of our back yards. We are intentionally not open to the streets and our neighbors. One sociologist says that Americans have lost a sense of public space. In our search for privacy we have retreated, and we now fail to value publicly shared lives—lives that pour out into the streets.

Vietnam was a vivid picture for me of the task that lies ahead for my church. We must find a way to pour our lives out into the streets. Our church services and activities should be much more open to passersby. And more of our activities should be done on the streets and in the neighborhood. After all, according to the Scripture, “The Word became flesh and moved right into the neighborhood” (Jn 7:17, The Message). We need to do the same.

Talk to any American who’s spent a lot of time in a foreign country, and you’re likely to get a similar story: America, and by extension the church that lives within it, are much more private than many other countries and cultures. I experienced this vividly during an extended stay in rural Jordan—in the village where we stayed (and even in the large modern city of Amman) it was almost impossible to walk more than a block in any direction without being invited to a stranger’s house for tea or dinner.

It’s unlikely that I’ll ever change my relatively introverted personality (nor do I especially want to). But while intense and continual social engagement was disorienting and sometimes awkward… it also left me with the sense that Americans, with our emphasis on privacy, are missing out on something important.

What would it look like if Christians lived lives that were “poured out into the streets”? What does your church do to actively engage its community and encourage church members to live open, welcoming social lives?

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