Touching Strangers and the True Reality

About a year ago, I ran across Richard Renaldi’s “Touching Strangers” project. It has been something that has captivated my attention for a while. If you aren’t familiar with it, check out the video below:

This project is so beautiful to me, and I think it is a powerful reminder of the nature of faith:

When we begin to live like something is true, it actually becomes true.

These complete strangers are put into positions of affection for each other, and what happens is actually affection. It is a beautiful insight into the human condition.

I was reminded this weekend as I was teaching a class how important the idea of “living into” is for our faith. So many times we are trying to prove, manipulate, coerce, or even create out of thin air some new way of living.

It is exhausting.

We think it is our job to “make things happen” and to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps.

Yet this is not an accurate picture of the Christian life. Christianity is built on grace – something we receive and not earn. If we don’t understand this, we miss the whole point of Christianity.

I have mentioned before Paul and I don’t always get along. However, most of my hang-ups come from how Paul is interpreted, not what he actually said. We have taken Paul and made him into the Christian/Church law-maker and rule keeper. But I don’t think this is what he had in mind.

We constantly find Paul encouraging his audiences to live into what they have received. When Paul gives descriptions of the Christian life, he is not saying, “Do this so God will like you.” He is saying: “Here is what the new creation looks like. Be like this.”

This is what he says in the text this week. The old ways of living are no longer true, so stop living like they are. Live into your new identity. See yourselves as God sees you. Be who you actually are.

For Paul, transformation is simply becoming who we truly are.

This might seem like a confusing statement until we see things like Renaldi’s project. These people started out as strangers. But when they went through the motions of connection and intimacy, they were changed. Affection was actually created by acting like it was true.

This is why faith is such both essential and difficult to the Christian life. Faith is not about believing the right things and having the right answers. Faith is about trust.

Faith is trusting that what God says about me and my fellow humans is actually true, and taking the risky, bold, unpredictable step of living into that reality.

Sometimes this means we don’t understand how true something is until we take a step in faith. We act on the things God has told us and as we do, we slowly discover the profound depth of the truth we are trusting in.

In Matthew and Genesis, we see examples of people who have been rejected and cast aside for one reason or another. Faith says when we have been rejected and despised by others, the way through is to live as if we are accepted and loved and nothing can truly harm us because the God of all creation is watching out for us with a the careful and nurturing eye of a parent.

In the most difficult moments of being rejected by those who are supposed to embrace us, we are given the radical call to faith. We are called to live like God’s opinion matters more than people’s.

This is scary and difficult and requires us to be brave.

And honestly, I know few people who do it well. We get so tied up in what people think and tie our identity in with things that have no business trying to give us life and hope and fulfillment.

Faith is remembering who we are, even when it seems like everyone else has forgotten.

Faith means we are never a stranger, never alone, and God has a glorious identity which is being shaped within us.

All we have to do is remember, and take the bold step of trusting that God’s opinion is actually the only one that matters and the only one that has the power make us more like Christ.

The beautiful thing is that when we don’t live into our identity, it doesn’t stop being true. This is the nature of grace. We are constantly in process and on the journey of being transformed into the most pure version of ourselves.

May we learn to live into what God has in store, and receive the grace of who we truly are.

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