It dawned on me the other day while I was walking. Faith isn’t believing things will turn out the way I want them to turn out. Faith is knowing I don’t know how things are going to turn out and doing them anyway. Put more plainly, faith isn’t trusting that God will reward my good intentions and hard work with material success. This makes sense when I think about Jesus. Things didn’t end all that well from an organizational standpoint.
As frustrating and inconvenient as this is, faith isn’t about me and my situation working out. Faith is about surrendering to and trusting in the bigger picture. It’s about possessing a humility that expands our spiritual perspective so we can witness resurrection in death and transformation in tragedy. In a world driven by the values of capitalism, it takes discipline to resist the temptations to equate faith with a supernatural ability to control the story’s ending.
I have never known the ending of The Land’s story, but I have always had faith in its beginning. This was a story beginning long before me that continued to begin all around me, whether I had faith in it or not. This was a story that had begun subtly with diverse people having collaborative conversations resulting in unexpected experiences.
For a long time, The Land was just a feeling about a possibility infinitely beyond reach. There was nothing to see, sell, or guarantee. But there were always people popping up out of nowhere who would fall in love with the process of possibilities and join the team.
Most people did not fall in love with the concept of The Land. After eight years of obsessively trying to prove The Land’s believability, I realized the mistrust wasn’t in the worthiness of the beginning. The dismissal was rooted in the impossibility of guaranteeing the ending. The strategic work in planning retreats and organizing grant applications attempted to offer intellectual translations for inexplicable things. Dots connecting at the right time, money arriving when needed, people showing up with passions and skills to fill in the blank spaces.
Behind these serendipitous anomalies were prayers and dreams and moments of emotional desperation driven by a deep need to make something work that I wasn’t even sure I wanted to be doing. These are the mystical realities that fail to shape concrete guarantees from molds of tradition. These are the miracles that make lousy mission statements, horrible stewardship campaigns, and ridiculous grant proposals.
The fear of personal failure and the love of the vision produced a savvy storyteller and a pragmatic negotiator. To get anywhere, we had to know where we were going to end up. This became shareable in charts, projections, and site plans. I made arguments about improving property value and offered promises that they could pave over things if we failed. I said there would be nothing to lose because the return on the investment would be more than the investment itself, which is still true to this day.
None of these caveats, statistics, or disclaimers resulted in revenue. Institutions and people ended up giving because they either didn’t understand the vision but saw God at work or they immediately connected with the vision and fell in love with what God was already doing. No one invested because I spent weeks writing grant applications or because I was a master negotiator. In fact, the money ended up being the more straightforward ‘ask’ because it inevitably came after the vision had stolen their heart away. It turned out that everyone that giving did so because they believed in what was already happening which meant raising capital was dependent on my ability to step out of the way and hold space for people to witness the story beginning for themselves.
As anxious as I was about earning trust and raising money, the greater risk we were taking was giving our hearts away to a vision without the promise of a personalized fairy tale ending. Donating money has been the easy part. The fun part. Our household contributes anywhere from $300 to $500 a month to The Land, and it’s one of the best feelings I have ever had. I buy special treats for Trunk-or-Treat because I love seeing the children happy. I donate to water the garden because I love how much pride and joy the volunteers get from sharing their harvest. I donate money for a sound system I can run because hardly any of us can run the fancy one, but we all deserve to hear the worship service. I donate so we can have an Intern because I want to offer others the same safe space to learn and grow that I have been given.
I would give everything I have to The Land. Not because it’s a marketable idea or because it’s the church of the future, or because we have built enough or done enough to prove it’s worthy. I would give everything I have to The Land because The Land has given meaning and hope in a time where it’s so easy to fall into patterns of apathy and despair. In a world with so much unpredictability, money is by far the easiest thing I can give away. Money is the safest investment in a scenario where matters of the heart are concerned.
More devastating than the loss of capital investment is the loss we all face when giving away our hearts. I give my heart to people who come to The Land and leave when the vision doesn’t meet their expectations. I give my heart to people who come to The Land and eventually move away. I give my heart away to little kids who grow up and build lives that take place far away. I give my heart to people cancer takes away and bury pieces of my heart under the memorial trees with these friends who were precious partners in this backbreaking and lonely work of new church ministry.
I show up every week to the chirping of prairie dogs, the song of birds, and the cautious gaze of antelope, and I mourn the inevitable coming of construction that will bury them alive and push the survivors beyond the sight of my eyes. I pass the monstrous oil wells towering behind massive walls, and my heart aches for The Land that will never be the same. I know what it is to work with the lump of helplessness that sits in my throat and the heaviness in my belly conceived from a vision of a new way of being human.
I am already living the loss of the only investment that matters. I already know the end of the story in the harshest realities, and I choose to give my heart again. I choose to hold my arms open and claim my place in a story I believe is worth telling. This story began long before me by my five-fingered ancestors, teaching that loss rarely comes without gains, even if the gains are not ours to receive.