February 21, 2015 § Leave a comment
I took my wife to the local climbing gym for her birthday. It had been years since either of us had been on a climbing wall, so we were up for a new adventure. Once there, we ran into an old friend, Jamie, who was now quite obviously a very skilled climber and a regular at the facility—He has a nine year old daughter who climbs competitively, and they had recently conquered a 250 foot cliff together in Wyoming. As we caught up, Jamie quite literally showed us the ropes and talked about his love for climbing and especially “the community” at places like this.
We quickly saw what he meant by “community.” Jamie enthusiastically introduced us to a spirited and friendly guy named Ed, and within minutes we all knew where each other worked, worshiped, what we liked to do for fun, and where these guys have vacationed together to climb. A young woman they both knew appeared and the group of fellow climbers exchanged hugs and jovial hellos. She expressed how busy she’d been teaching piano (but was dropping four students), and we all sympathized with her recently having to say goodbye to a beloved horse she owned.
Now about these hugs. At a climbing gym. I can remember some casual conversation with a few of the folks we see at our fitness club regularly, but I couldn’t imagine a hug fitting into those relationships. These climbers were quite obviously friends who genuinely cared about each other’s lives.
Throughout the afternoon of climbing the walls around the gym we saw this played out a lot, at least among the regulars who knew what they were doing (as opposed to newbies trying out climbing because they had a coupon or had climbed a wall at Bible camp a couple times—like my wife and I). I began to think about this “community” and why the climbing world seemed to have it down so well. Jamie and Ed happened to be Christians, but I sensed there was something about the sport itself that cultivated and strengthened this relational atmosphere. Then I realized it had to be about the belay.
If you don’t what the term belay means (climbers do), it’s the act of managing a rope, which is attached to the climber’s harness and runs around a bar or belay device at the top of the wall, and then back down. The belayer’s job is to stay below and anchor the opposite end of the rope, which is also attached to a harness on his own body, and let out slack as the climber ascends. The critical part of the gig is to exert friction (squeeze) on the rope if the climber slips off the wall so he doesn’t fall. In a gym with 50 foot walls, a belayer is pretty important. On a rocky mountainside with 250 foot walls and no cushy mats on the ground, they are a matter of life and death. These climbers take turns belaying for each other, basically putting their lives and limbs in each other’s hands. I’m willing to bet this is a big part of what fosters such a tight climbing “community”. It’s critical to know who is on the other end of the rope, and you continually practice trusting them with your life.
Do you routinely hug people at your gym, office, book club, pottery class? How about your church? Out of all our communities, church should be a place of not only warm greetings but sincere love and care for one another. The church is marked by what we do there (teaching, fellowship, communion, prayer—Acts 2:42) and also by its purpose to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ (Matthew 28:18-20), to encourage each other toward a deeper and grounded faith (Romans 15:14, 1 Thessalonians 5:11), to look out for one another’s welfare (James 1:27) and to love each other (Mark 12:31). Church is where life’s biggest questions and our biggest struggles should be brought and shared in community. Church is where we point each other “heavenward in Christ Jesus” because of what He has done, but we trust and help each other to move closer to Him. When a church is doing what it should do, we are trusting each other with our lives, and the rewards can be eternal.
Other than catching a climber before he falls, a belayer is often a coach. He has a different perspective of the route and can often see things the climber can’t. If the belayer is a more experienced climber than the one on the wall, he can offer suggestions on what handholds and footholds are best and which ones to avoid. The belayer’s objective is not just to protect the climber if he slips up but to encourage him to be “straining toward what’s ahead.”
“Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” (Colossians 3:2) Remember what hangs in the balance at church, and that your part as God’s hands and feet is important, even moreso than the pastor’s part. God uses this important community to change lives, and sometimes to save them. If your church isn’t known as a community of people “devoted to one another in love” (Romans 12:10), then it starts with you. Be a belayer. Pick up the rope and help someone along. Or head to a climbing gym and see how community is supposed to work!