Month: July 2016

Garbage

My overachieving friend works at a library. She also leads a ministry at a correctional facility. These 2 places/missions are very different until they’re not, and it’s in that space, where the purpose of each is exactly the same, that they can hold hands. The library has books to get rid of, and the correctional facility needs books for the residents. Perfect match, right? Of course, so my friend with the giant heart asks if, instead of putting the books in the garbage, she put them in her car. The right answer is “Yes,” but that’s not the truth. The truth is that the library says, “No.” As I heard this story, my ears burned and my head hurt. I was outraged, and I was happy to be swaddled in my rage. I already know that organizations get so much wrong, that structures fail so often, and it’s easy to deal with my preconceptions.
But this story isn’t over, it takes 2 unexpected turns (well, 1 sort of unexpected, and 1 completely shocking) before it ends and the men have the books.
First, the sort of unexpected. The library’s reason for their ‘No,’ is that the books “weren’t good enough for the men.”
Sort of unexpected, but not unexpected at all, if you stop to consider that answer. How often do we not act/say/give because it’s not good enough, because we’re not good enough? And those things remain undone, words remain unsaid. There’s a story in the Scriptures where there are thousands of people, and nothing to eat. No one knows what to do about that, except for Jesus, because no one has enough for this enormous task. However, there’s a boy who doesn’t understand how the world works, who doesn’t understand reality, who is too young and dumb to really be helpful. This hopelessly naive boy brings 5 small loaves and 2 fish and offers it to them. ┬áJesus takes them and feeds everyone (!!) and has leftovers (!!!!!!).
How about instead of deciding what is and isn’t good enough, if we just take what we have and offer it up and let Jesus turn it into something wonderful and amazing? How about that? How about instead of deciding if we’re good enough, we just push all we are into the middle of the table and see what happens? Maybe, after Jesus gets His hands on them, our small loaves and fishes and tattered paperbacks will be exactly what the crowd needs.

Moving on.
This excuse is transparent and small, right? Just words. Only the library administration wasn’t finished, content to just let my friend walk away dejected. She said, “They’re not good enough, how about if we get some new books and give them, instead?”
Shocking, right? Like I was saying earlier, sometimes organizations and structures succeed, give so much more than an individual could…
I have a box on my porch that we intend to take to the Blue Mountain thrift store. We haven’t taken it yet, because every time I look at it, it looks more and more like garbage. Maybe I shouldn’t only give my junk, the things I don’t like, the leftovers. Maybe I should give from the top, the first, the best. Maybe I should give you the first bite, right from the middle, instead of the crusts, the gristle, what I leave when I’m too full. Probably. Absolutely.
Now, I don’t know if actions/words/things are or aren’t good enough, are or aren’t garbage. I don’t know if I should destroy all organizations and structures in fiery explosions (Fight Club style) or just annihilate my preconceptions.
The point is that I want to scream from the mountaintops how much I love this library administrator, their books, and especially my friend’s heart.
(One more thing: This story ends not with new donated books, but with the library paying my friend to take them there. Seriously! Ha!)

Liminality

My car was inspected two weeks ago. It’s an older car, and inevitably needs some work, which we always figure as being our ‘car payment,’ and it hurts much less that way. This was no different – that beautiful Ford Focus needed some engine mounts and exhaust work and small nickels and dimes, which gathered into fifties and hundreds. Then, 2 days later, I changed the battery (all by myself!!!) after it folded its arms and refused to take me home from church, pouting like a petulant child.
And now it’s perfect, again.
Yesterday, Angel handed me the garage receipts I had brought inside, for the files, and said, “Put these in your car.”
This is not unusual, it’s our standard practice – to keep them in our glove compartments for years and years. One that neither of us had ever questioned. Until yesterday.
I said, “I know we keep them there. But I brought them in, on purpose.”
“Well, put them back in.”
“Why?”
“That’s where we keep them.”
“I know, but why?”
This, very quickly, and before I could notice, descended into, “Well, then, don’t. I don’t care what you do.”
I didn’t think I deserved an “I don’t care what you do,” as I have always been the kind of person that asks 3 too many ‘why’s,’ of everyone and everything, especially my lovely wife (which may be exactly why I did deserve it). But when I do ask, no matter where I ask, I often get the same answer, “because that’s how we’ve always done things.”
And, in the spiritual life, that can be so dangerous and the enemy of actual growth.
Richard Rohr writes, “We keep praying that our illusions will fall away. God erodes them from many sides, hoping they will fall. But we often remain trapped in what we call normalcy–“the way things are.” Life then revolves around problem-solving, fixing, explaining, and taking sides with winners and losers. It can be a pretty circular and even nonsensical existence.
To get out of this unending cycle, we have to allow ourselves to be drawn into sacred space, into liminality. All transformation takes place here. We have to allow ourselves to be drawn out of “business as usual” and remain patiently on the “threshold” (limen, in Latin) where we are betwixt and between the familiar and the completely unknown. There alone is our old world left behind, while we are not yet sure of the new existence. That’s a good space where genuine newness can begin. Get there often and stay as long as you can by whatever means possible. It’s the realm where God can best get at us because our false certitudes are finally out of the way. This is the sacred space where the old world is able to fall apart, and a bigger world is revealed. If we don’t encounter liminal space in our lives, we start idealizing normalcy.”
This normalcy, this business-as-usual, has, sadly, been the golden calf of religion. We take a practice, tradition, ritual, and we siphon any meaning out of it until it is just motions, cutting on the dotted line, just tracing our lives over the lines already there without any thought as to meaning or purpose. Without a why.
In the Scriptures, God says, “I want you to show love, not offer sacrifices. I want you to know me, more than I want burnt offerings.” (Hos. 6:6) This is wildly unexpected because, in the Old Testament, sacrifices and burnt offering were commanded, the way to come closer to God. But God has always wanted our hearts, not merely our routines. We have replaced sacrifices and burnt offering with church attendance and liturgy.
Being a part of a faith community that is created out of God’s word, calling, and the Cleona dust, independent of any denominations, we are also independent of any ‘because that’s the way we’ve always done it’ reasoning.
We can engage in the Lord’s Table and Baptism, because stripped of their status as requirements, we are able to discover them anew.
Today, we have been invited to fast, for as long as we desire. We have been invited to replace our food with our devotion – our fast as a “bodily expression of prayer.” This fast is nothing we ‘have to’ do. Instead, we are free to bring all of us (our bodies, souls, minds, spirits) before our Creator, to share all of us with the One who made all of us, to enter this sacred ‘luminal space’ (as Rohr calls it) where God can tear down the old world we’ve constructed and reveal a bigger one.
If I am honest, I am not yet enjoying it. Maybe it’s not supposed to be enjoyable. Tearing down the walls we’ve built hardly ever is. Transformation hardly ever is. But it’s always worth it.

I Proclaimed a Fast

Don’t forget that Ryan and Friends will be with us next Sunday July 10th. We want to pack the house for his ministry. Ryan is a comedian, ventriloquist, speaker, musician and super talented. It’s something you won’t want to miss. He speaks all over the country and we are honored to have him with us. Join us at 10:30, next Sunday July 10th.