Friday, April 21, 2006

geese or sparrows

geese

This is something that crossed my life path last year. Last March actually. We talked about it in our house church. Recently it's come up again in conversation with a friend. You know, some of us wonder why it's so much work to assemble. And some of us are wonder, "Why learn more truth about God? Why add more disciplines? What's the point?"

Geese or Sparrows?

Watching a flock of Canada geese fly over in precise V-formation is an enthralling sight? How do you suppose they do that? Do they attend V-formation flying school when they are young? I can just see a older goose projecting a Powerpoint presentation against a birch tree and explaining to the younger birds that they must fly two feet to the outside wing of the goose in front of them, one foot behind and eighteen inches above its flight path so it will impress the humans below.

No, geese fly in a V-formation because flying in that exact spot allows them to fly in smoother air with less effort. If a goose falls out of position it immediately feels the added stress of flying on its own and moves back into position. Scientists estimate that by drafting on the wake of the goose in front of them the entire flock is able to fly 71% further than each of them could fly individually. To accomplish this incredible feat the stronger birds in the flock will rotate the lead position so that no one bird wears out. According to NASA, “This allows a flock of birds with differing abilities to fly at a constant speed with a common endurance.”

The reason you never see a flock of sparrows fly in V-formation is because they are not going anywhere. They flit around the yard from tree to tree, but at the end of the day they are in the same area. They could try to learn to fly in a V-formation, but by the time they got the formation together they would already be to the next tree and not need it. The same is true about fellowship. If Christianity is about rituals, routines and morals, our fellowship will suffer. We can rearrange our groupings or try a number of novel small-group techniques, but they will be as awkward as sparrows trying to fly in formation. But when Christianity is a life of growing dependence on God through the joys and challenges of our circumstances, pooling our wisdom becomes a natural extension of that life for us as it is for geese to fly in formation. When God is more real to you than the weather and the events of your day, you’ll find him filling your conversations and fellowship will be immediate, powerful and alive.


The point, actually, is life. Anything that is not producing it is a chasing after the wind, not being born of the Wind.

Monday, April 17, 2006

coffee is back

starbucks-mug

The coffee cup is back in back. I gave up coffee for Lent. What an incredible experience. It was one of the reasons this was my best Easter ever. So rich. I had so much anticipation of celebrating the Resurrection.

People would ask me from time to time if I got headaches at first. Yes. And now that I'd kicked the coffee habit, would I just enjoy the freedom of life without it? Not on your life! It was the absence of the thing I so enjoyed that awakened this longing in my soul, it was the death of something in my world that made the resurrection so precious. I don't regret one drop I drank...or one I didn't.

And how sweet it was to break fast with so many faces of friends calling, "Another round of espresso" in the wee Easter morning hours. Ah. The fellowship of the drink. I intend to open up a coffee bar in the life to come, and I'll bet saints will come from leagues away to smell the aroma, sip the joe, and talk about Jesus.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

beautiful tear

Beautiful tear
Eyes so blue
Skin so new
Hair so shined
Lips so kind
Mind so spent
Heart so rent

Beautiful tear
Streaming down
Smiling frown
Covered pains
Shame remains
Questions stay
Hope at bay

Beautiful tear
Cracked and torn
Journey born
Savior sought
Warrant naught
Setting will
Falling still

Sunday, April 09, 2006

truer than fact

fact

We’ve all heard the phrase “stranger than fiction” for when something happens that is just so bizarre that it’s hard to imagine how anyone could have even made it up.

I have another phrase that came to me: “truer than fact” because there are some things that even if you didn’t see them you believe them. Like Adam and Eve coveting and eating the forbidden fruit. Even if there were no Adam and Eve (which I believe there were) that story is true. We all know it’s true. We all feel the story inside of us telling itself whether it can be demonstrated factual or not.

And then there’s the death and resurrection of Jesus. Even if it never happened (which I believe it did) that story is true. Inside each of us we have this demand that there is life after death…somehow. In the Hindu religion it’s reincarnation. The various Buddhist sects have life after death. Many religions have had corn gods who die in the winter and come back to life in the spring. There’s even Osiris, the Egyptian god who was brought back to life. The amazing thing about the tabloid accounts of people dying, seeing a bright light, hearing a voice, and coming back is how doggone popular they are. Whether they are factual (which I am not sure I believe) they are true. There is just something deeper than the cold fact of death. There’s the warm truth of life after death. It’s not true because it’s fact. It’s true because everyone everywhere seems to inherently know that it’s true, and there really can’t be any way to explain how everyone would know it’s true…except that it is.

There are some stories that you immediately accept. I’m thinking about Snow White, with the wicked queen’s mirror on the wall. That story is true. We all know people who listen to their mirror above all, and the lengths they will go to if the mirror tells them they are not fairest. And while we’re on wicked stepmothers—why do so many fairy tales have wicked stepmothers? It’s not a fact that stepmothers are wicked, but we all know the truth of the wicked stepmother. And have you counted the number of times someone redoes Peter Pan? They’re not doing it because there are important facts that are relevant to our lives. They’re doing it because Neverland is true, and we know it, and we can’t get enough. We know that there is a reality beyond what we can see, a childhood that we’ve lost, a reality where the lines between good and evil are clearly drawn…no matter what the facts of Monday to Friday tell us.

I guess Jung and others would say that these stories are offspring of our archetypes—that wicked stepmothers and talking mirrors and forbidden fruit and neverlands are just personifications of our inner hopes and fears. Fine. Give it a name. But just because you’ve named something doesn’t mean you’ve explained it. Telling my wife she’s obviously upset doesn’t nearly explain what’s going on.

There are things in life that are true even before they happen. Truer than fact. Truth so deep that sometimes predictably animates cold, lifeless fact, but sometimes just snickers at our search, playing it coy, waiting for an opportune moment.

I think this is what’s behind a lot of people’s search for God, or for those who say they’ve found God, their search for miracles, healing, proof, signs, and all that. It’s not their doubt that keeps them looking, but their faith. Fact, often repeated and with authority, should have killed their quest for God or for signs long, long ago. But the quest continues. From TV evangelists to healing crusades to seminars on prophecy, even to the lone wanton sinner hoping there really is a God, and that God for some reason loves him. It’s really not facts they’re looking for. In their hearts they know what is true—their search is for validation.

The fact is that some wounds will never heal, and some things are broken beyond repair. But the truth is that somehow, someway, somewhere everything can be redeemed, and everything restored. Can’t you feel it? Don’t you know it? I do.

I’m not concerned so much with facts anymore. I guess I wouldn’t have made a good lawyer after all. I am more concerned with truth, with ultimate reality, with the heart of matters, with what is good whether it’s right or not. I know it makes me hard to live with, hard to pin down. People are always asking you for proof, and demanding to know by what authority you say and do things, and requiring you to justify yourself. But some things can’t be proved, the authority for some things is buried way below fact deep in the heart of reality, and justification often comes years or decades or centuries later. Some things are truer than fact. And so if we decide to live by fact, we will live in the shallows, and we will live in error. Some truths are more true than mere fact. Deny them at your peril. Wait for facts at great cost to your soul. Go with what you know and let facts train like cans behind the getaway car while the honeymooners enjoy the truth of their love.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

out of the amens

wall-vine2

I wonder if I ever sat through a sermon as an insider and said ‘amen’ to some scolding of an outsider, but now find myself as that outsider.

Like, I wonder if one of my old preachers said something like, “The guy that says, ‘I don’t have a problem with Jesus—it’s the church I have a problem with.’ Let me tell you something: if you have a problem with the church then you have a problem with Jesus, friend, because the church is Jesus’ body, His bride, His institution on earth, and you can’t love Jesus without loving His body!” You know, things like this get said during those periodic membership-drive or fund-raising sermons.

Today, I think I am that outsider. I don’t have a problem with Jesus, but I do have lots of problems with the church. Of course, I could file a complaint against preachers for calling the church Jesus’ church. It’s a bit of equivocation I think. Just because there is this a sign on the front that says "The Church of Jesus" doesn’t mean it’s really His. It’s only really His to the extent that He actually owns it. It’s not a matter of labeling, I don’t think. Maybe the part Jesus is running is His, and the part men are running is theirs, like a joint venture with Jesus as the silent partner. Maybe there should be a sign out front that says "Our Church" with a tag underneath that says "A Jesus Christ Company". But even if I don’t argue the assertion that everything that calls itself His church (Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, Ecumenical, Evangelical, Fundamental, Conservative, Liberal, Mormon, Gay, etc.) truly is His church, even if I accept that notion, I still would say I have no problem with Jesus, and lots of problems with His church.

So I wonder if I’m now that very guy that my preachers were so vitriolic towards. I wonder if they knew what I was thinking when I walked up to them if their faces would get red. I wonder if my problems with the church make me a heretic (a divider). I wonder if I’m the bad guy destroying the “unity of the body”. I just wonder if I’m now the object of so many sermons. It’s a little unnerving when I first consider it, kind of like being in a group of people where they’re having fun with nationalistic stereotypes, and then they someone makes a joke about my ancestry. The smile turns into a curled lip pretty quick. But at least in this case, it’s ok with me because I find myself in good company. Paul spent most of the New Testament articulating his problems with the church. So did the other writers. I mean, it’s not all problems with the church—there are some praises for the church in there, too, but there are a lot of problems. One time Paul even says, “Come back to your senses as you ought, and stop sinning; for there are some who are ignorant of God—I say this to your shame.” Ouch. But Paul was really nice compared to Jesus. I read in Revelation where Jesus speaks to the Seven Churches and has something against every one of them except two. And He promises trouble to all but one—the Church in the City of Brotherly Love—which, interestingly enough, didn't have much strength.

Yeah, I’m pretty sure I am several of those guys my old preachers warned me about. In the last several weeks I’ve heard stuff like this again, but as an outsider. One preacher bellowed that the law of God requires you to go to church on Sunday. He really said this. Another claimed that people who don’t go to church are rejecting Jesus. Wow. And another was railing on people who were “Anti-Conservative”, as if that’s equal to “Anti-Christ”. Sheesh. Meanwhile I’m taking part in covert operations to destroy the very words of those wealthy pulpits, like a yeast working its way through the lump, like a vine crawling and covering a fortified wall, slowly and silently tearing it apart. And my only shame is that I can’t take back the amens from when I was in inside the wall.