Saturday, May 31, 2008

What would it take for you to give us a chance?

Hat tips to Erin, Barb, and Happy and the many commenters on their posts. . . I'm partly picking up on a conversation already in progress on several other blogs. But partly not. This complex of stuff has been swirling in my thoughts for months. You can think of it as an open letter, I suppose, because there's a number of you out there that I would address it to individually, if you lived in my little splodge of Indiana . . . which you don't . . .

Hi. I'm the local pastor's wife. Our church is small--there are two dozen bigger ones in town. We're not doing glitz; we don't have the people to pull it off even if we wanted to. Things often look pretty staid and conventional of a Sunday morning. (I know I do--I'm never at my best in the morning). I would like to have you worship with us. I would like to worship with you--will you give me the chance to worship with you?

I've read some of what you've been writing lately. You sound like someone that I'd like to know. A vibrant, interesting person. A person who's willing to ask questions and let the answers mean something. I love having those conversations. I know you're not going to a church these days. What would it take for you to give ours a chance?

I know you were burned pretty bad last time. Neglect. Lies. Overwork. And boxes--more than anything, you're leery because "they" tried to stuff you into a too-small box and you were told that that was the Christian life. Well, you figured that God is far, far bigger than that. Weirder, wilder, stranger. Holier and more awesome than our frail little human frames can even begin to dream of.

Here's the thing. I dream of having a church full of people who know that--know down in their gut that belonging to Christ means a wild ride. That God growing us into the people he wants us to be is going to shatter our boxes and expectations . . . that chasing Jesus is not a side-bar to whatever life we happen to be living anyway, but that it is turning "in a direction that isn't usually there . . . a left turn that was left to absolutely everything." And that it leads us to a place more wonderful, real, and difficult than this world wants to admit exists. I want a whole church of that. I want the gift of being able to worship together with people who take me off guard.

Oh yeah. It'll be messy. I really do know that--have I mentioned that I'm a mess too? I'm not completely clueless. I know that the realest, most alive parts of our being are the places where we've been hurt the most deeply, the places that the darkness seems to live. And yes, that's what I want--I want a church where we're not afraid of each other's brokeness . . . because I think that it's only when we dive into those depths that we can find out just how much further God goes.

But here's the thing. There can't be a church of hurt people together unless some of the people who know that they're hurt are willing to give me, to give us, to give each other a chance . . . I've heard you say that what you want doesn't exist. And I know that our congregation isn't that either. Yet. But I would like to take it closer. And I'd like to have your company along the way. I think that by God's grace we could build something pretty good--and I think it would be better for having your insights, hurt, expectations and creativity in it. Is there anything I can do so that you would give a less-than-perfect church--any church--a second chance?

Thursday, May 29, 2008

One of the best things about re-reading is re-discovering exchanges like this

The creature laughed, scornfully. "I," it said, "am frightened of nothing."
"Nothing," it said.
Charlie said, "Are you extremely frightened of nothing?"
"Absolutely terrified of it," admitted the Dragon.
"You know," said Charlie, "I have nothing in my pockets. Would you like to see it?"
"No," said the Dragon, uncomfortably, "I most definitely would not."
There was a flapping of wings like sails, and Charlie was alone on the beach. "That," he said, "was much too easy."

--Neil Gaiman, Anansi Boys, pp. 348-349

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

10 Things that make me happy

Tag! I'm it.

Rules . . . the usual. You know. Follow 'em . . . post 'em . . . tag more people . . . nah. If you haven't seen these on Rob's blog already you can go look at them there.

1. Coffee: Well, what did you expect to be first on my list? This includes it in all forms. Fresh-brewed. Lattes. As a mixed drink. Ice cream. But not left-over-and-oxidized-from-yesterday-and -then-reheated. That's not happiness. That's just desperation.

2. The music turned up really loud on a sunny morning.
3. A good morning with my kids.
4. A couple of hours to write
5. Worshipping together with people who are right there with me
6. My husband. I'd elaborate, but none of you really want to read my getting sappy.
7. Rereading a great book
8. Arches National Park
9. Coyote and road runner
10. Poking a stick in the campfire.

11. Rome
12. comics
13. chocolate
14. prayer
15. cats!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

For your reading pleasure

I recommend Michael Chabon's Yiddish Policeman's Union. It's always a delight to find a previously unread author with a back catalog to devour. The last time I was this taken with a read was when I read Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere. Chabon is a master of prose. Never mind the fact that the book's written in present tense. Quite beside the fact that you'll stop noticing that you're reading present tense after about the first chapter, it serves a purpose. (The POV character is severed from his past and is pointedly neglecting his future--to tell this story nearly requires that it be always living only in the immediate moment). The plot is beautiful, the characters vivid, and this Sitka-that-never-was is alive in a way that makes me wish that the U.S. had given part of Alaska to the Jews in 1940 after all . . .

What I did not expect to find in so secular an author and his vulgarity riddled book was an extended meditation on the nature of faith and the desire for home. And not just an earthly home, but a spiritual one . . . and how much of that can we have here on earth anyway? And what does our salvation look like? And how much of our own salvation can we create for ourselves? What is this thing we call faith really made up of?

Monday, May 19, 2008

Taking the city for God

Abmo started this meme, thoughts sparked by a post of Heather's. It asks what a city would look like if it really were taken for God. If the whole city suddenly (or even gradually) became 100% really Christian (you define that in the post). I like a lot of what Abmo had to say on the subject. Heather said, that that city would be a ghost town--because we'd be sent. I'm going to be contrary and say that that city would explode in population.

Speaking as a parent, that'd be a city that would take care of its kids. Yes, we're sent to make disciples, and one of the first places that most of us are sent to do that is in our own homes. Every day, more sinful people are born into this world that need the love of Jesus. That would a city that understood that the most fertile time to tell someone about Jesus is before they're twelve years old, and that if you start actively discipling people in pre-school and grade school then you've usually saved yourself a lot of grief and heart-break later on. There would churches that LOVED their kids. Encouraged, interacted with and answered their questions. Parents, grandparents and communities that loved worshipping WITH their kids and loved teaching their kids to worship, and didn't just warehouse the kids while the adults "had church."

This would be a city where parents actively loved their kids and demonstrated how to live a God honoring, Christ-abundant sort of life seven days a week. There would be parks, sidewalks, and bike paths and affordable public transit and it would be easy and safe for kids to be outside LOTS, honoring God with their bodies by playing hard and just being kids. People would understand that we honor God by really nurturing the minds he gave us. The schools would be well supported. There would be plenty of volunteers to help kids who needed extra help. Art and music programs would flourish as artists and musicians trained up the next generation. No kid would be sent off in the morning without breakfast, or be unable to learn because she was worried about whether the heat was going to be able to be on this week, because he was thinking about the fight his parents had the night before. Teachers would be recognized and honored and wouldn't have to teach to any damned standardized tests.

And you know what? This would all make this a great city to live in. It would win awards like "Most bike-able city in America (or Australia, or whatever)" and "Most Parent-Supported School District." That city would GROW. A church and city that understands that it is sent first to the next generation would truly be the light of Christ's city on the hill.

some toddler messes are theologically significant . . . most, NOT

What can make her think that it's a good idea to pour most of a bottle of water into her cereal? Or to then try to climb down her stool with it? Carry it half way around the house? All I ask is that until I finish my first cup of coffee, any messes she make not be ones that have to be dealt with immediately. Shouldn't even two year olds have more sense than this? Oye. Emergency prayer: oh-help-God-help-oh-help

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Signs you're a control freak, # . . . eh, I don't want to know what number

My being a control freak might be more understandable if I was more competent at it . . . But God has apparently decided to address this particular flaw in my character in large part by handing me a life that is most obviously out of my control. Mind you, I'm not complaining. God has blessed me with more than I would have dared ask for--but it's obvious that it's not by my efforts nor within the realm of my being able to manage.

Most days, I content myself with shoving this great good on the back burner and instead incompetently attempting to assert my own sense of control by micro-managing the stupid details of my family's life. This too is doomed to failure because:

1. I'm fundamentally lazy and micromanaging is a lot of work

2. I'm a big picture thinker and micromanaging requires keeping track of a lot of details

3. There are 4 other control freaks in my family who want to manage their own affairs, not have me manage them for them.

Which brings me round (almost), to my point. Let me note in passing, that by training and inclination, I am a (moderate) Calvinist. Theologically, I'm not a control freak. This is very comforting to me. I can't even manage to get my dental appointment made--the fact that my status before Almighty God is not subject to my screw-ups is a really good thing. Upholding God's sovereignty over a bigger picture than I can even comprehend appeals to my sense of things. So . . .

What is it about us as parents that leads us to think that when we cannot control anything else in our world, we can control our children--independent agents, separate people, their own wills? I keep finding in myself this deep-seated insistence that my daughters' well-being, spirtitual and emotional, is dependent on my efforts. On my doing a good enough job as a parent. I may affirm every week that we're all sinful, but when my kid screws up, there's the devil, whispering in my ear that it's due to my failure. I am fighting, I think, a battle common to Christian parents . . . I may know in my gut that MY salvation is only by grace, the product of Christ's death and mercy . . . but by golly, my kids' salvation is going to be my job . . . by my own blood and sweat . . . surely, if I just do everything right enough I can ensure that my kids will be okay . . . and when I run into the horrible truth that yeah, my kids are sinful too, I find myself asking "What did I do wrong?"

Dear Lord . . . you ask me to trust you with my whole life. Some days, I can almost manage that. But I'm having a hard time with your asking me to trust you with the lives of my children as well. Help me to remember that they are not my posessions. Help me to know that you love them more deeply than I ever can . . .

Monday, May 12, 2008

The Meme-oir that will never be

So, Heather tagged me last week with a meme that asks for the six-word title of my memoirs. Ack. I've never been good with titles. I played with things that involved God, coffee, fantasy and lots of synonyms for all of them. My husband so helpfully suggested Life on Six Cups a Day. Like I drink that little coffee. Well, he gets to make it every morning--I guess he deserves an occasional shot. So,

I Refuse to Title Myself Anything

If you get around to reading my memoirs, which I will never get around to writing, I'll be delighted if you'll just take the time to get to know me. I'd like to get to know you. But I'm not going to give you the six word shortcut. Even if I could come up with one. Or even really wanted to.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Maybe it's just about humility

My two year old is being nearly insufferable this morning as only a two year old can. As usual, her daddy fed her breakfast with her older sisters, started my coffee, then, after I've stumbled downstairs, he left to take the older two to school and himself to work. Almost as soon as they're out the door, she starts hitting me up for second breakfast. (Yes, we're raising a hobbit--she likes her seven meals a day). "I wan cer-a! I wan raisin ban! I wan pizza!" Loudly. Demanding. Until she lands herself in time out. When she gets up, she's back at it. "I am not giving you Raisin Bran," I say. I'm thinking, I don't want to clean out yet another bowl sodden bran flakes which she's abandoned after picking out all the raisins. "Look. I'm going to have a bagel in a minute. You can share some of my bagel."

So I slice the thing and set it toasting, and immediately the litany turns to "I wan bag-uh! I wan share!" We've drilled all our kids in the forms of good manners, so on auto-pilot I say, "May I have some please?" This is the cue for our kids to repeat what we've said in words and tone, and they get what they want. But the toddler's not having any of it this morning. "I wannit!" I give her The Look. Sullen, "Peez."
"May I have some, please?"
"I wan share!"
"May I"
"have some please?"
"Wannit! I wan share!" Remember, she's already eaten this morning and this is my breakfast we're talking about.
Round and round and round we go, until I hear myself yelling, "If you say, "May I have some please," I will give it to you! But you need ask right!" And I think of this verse.

You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. (James 4:2b-3)

And all of a sudden it just all snaps into focus. At two years old, she has her pride. She doesn't want to ask my way. Is this what James means? I've heard intelligent adults try to figure out what's the right way to ask? What magic formula do I need to use to get what I want? Doesn't God say if I ask I can have? I want to get what I want! But maybe what God's looking for is for us to humble ourselves a bit and remember that we don't have as much of a God-given-right to whatever it is that we're demanding as we think we do. But he's still delights to share breakfast with us.

We compromise finally on "May-I-peez?" and I give her the bagel. She nibbles at it some and abandons it, mangled and soggy at the table, to go look at books. But at least her mood is improved. I'm left shaking my head, wondering how many of the things we demand of God are things we don't want that much, that are going to be abandoned, mangled and sodden within minutes or months of our receiving them. How many of those things he delights to give us anyway. Truly, our Heavenly Father is gracious to us.