church

Salvador Dalí, pt 2

Last Monday, before the deluge of riverboat posts, I shared a post written by Cristian Mihai (his blog is pretty great and it’s located at cristianmihai.net if you want to read his work) and a comment written by Mr Wapojif (I have no idea if he has a blog, I’m not sure I’m his target audience.) (My post is called Salvador Dalí if you wanted to catch up.) (SO MANY PARENTHESES!!!!) At the end, I promised some thoughts on “success and if it actually takes a ‘great deal of luck.’” These are those thoughts.

I attended a church for years that abruptly closed its doors one Sunday. Abruptly isn’t exactly the best choice of words, it was a surprise to me, but all of the signs were there to be noticed. I just didn’t want to see them, didn’t want to believe my home church would ever end. Instead, I wanted it to go forever and ever. Now, that church had a pretty standard curve – we opened, grew, had a pretty significant dramatic split, and then slowly diminished until New Song Community Church was in the past tense and we were without a church. 

Now, in hindsight, we can ask the compelling question, was it a failure?

I love competitive sports. I played, lived and breathed sports. If a team lost, they had failed. It seemed so simple, but now I see that may have been an oversimplification, at best, and a colossal misconception, at worst. 

If you take the shot and miss, you fail, right? If the church doesn’t become mega- and meet in an arena, if the church closes because it can’t pay the rent, hasn’t it failed?

Now, in the realm of the spiritual, there is a theory that if God is in something, it will succeed. But what does that mean? Will it grow? Will it be profitable? Will it provide private jets and luxury cars? 

Was God no longer behind New Song because numbers shrank? Was God no longer behind the disciples who were martyred in various horrible ways? Is success illustrated by financial prosperity and status? Is success measured by wins and made shots and attendance and account balances?

I coached 2 teams this year. One was regularly thumped, and the other had its share of wins. But it can be no doubt at all that the one who had all the talent and wins was far less successful than our team of lovable losers. That’s strange. Unless God’s idea of success has always been unrelated to ours.

Maybe God doesn’t care if we make the shot, as long as we take it. Maybe God doesn’t care about the shot at all, just about the one who takes it.

Success might be about courage and risk and obedience – better yet, subjection – and following Him, no matter where that leads. Success might not be about how long New Song lasted, but that it’s impact be felt for generations through the people profoundly transformed there. As Vision says in Age Of Ultron, “A thing isn’t beautiful because it lasts.” And a thing isn’t successful because it lasts or because it wears the nicest jeans and has the most followers or likes.

I wrote a book and it broke even and that’s about it. (That’s good news for you because I still have some, if you want one;) Maybe the people who bought it read it, maybe some of those even like it. But that it isn’t Harry Potter or I’m not the Next Big Thing on Amazon yet doesn’t make it worthless or unimportant. I followed a dream that was inside me and in following that dream and the God that put it there, I changed. I became something different than I was before. Maybe it’s a missed shot…

…But I shot. New Song was awesome. My bad 14u team was the greatest. 

Maybe God doesn’t want me to sell a bajillion copies, but wants me to continue to be transformed. 

Maybe God just wants all of us. Maybe He wants us to show up and shoot and trust Him to take our missed shots and make exactly what He always intended. So Mr Wapojif, I think you’re wrong, there isn’t any luck at all involved in that. 

The Best Chicken I’ve Ever Had

After the riverboat docked and we were safely aground, we shared a meal, inviting everyone who was on the boat and whoever happened to be walking close enough to accost. I always make the joke (which is actually only half a joke) that one of the things we do best is eat. So, all of us ate the food we offered together at heavy stone tables across from our friends and, until recently, strangers. It is and has always been so valuable to me because, in addition to how deeply I love to eat, it is where all of the walls and barriers we concoct to separate us fall away and we can simply be ourselves, enjoying the blessings of God. (Now, I understand school lunches and dinner parties and business lunches and… well, I understand not ALL meals are about unity and blessing and instead focus on power, prestige, image, popularity and who is sitting where, with whom, but that’s gross and a perversion of the very idea of the table. We’ll talk about those distortions another day. Today, we will talk about when food and the table are right.)

The pavilion that covered us was full of laughter, noisy conversation, and full bellies. Everything was just as it should be.

Clean up was easy, the food was nearly gone. 

As we turned out of City Island and back onto Market Street, I realized just how exhausted I was. Big weeks take a toll in much the same way that sledgehammers take a toll, so I was ready, counting the seconds until I could collapse onto my very soft, very comfy couch and put a movie on that I wouldn’t see. And that’s just what I did, the lone exception being that the movie was replaced by the HGTV program Good Bones – I am married to a woman who strangely feels that there is more to entertainment than superheroes. Go figure. 

We were satisfied, peaceful, soaking in God’s lovely grace, half-awake.

Angel’s phone interrupted our lethargy with a dinner invitation that we would obviously decline.

Yes Man is a pretty good book, written by Danny Wallace, that was adapted into a completely average movie starring Jim Carrey. I only mention it because I have been taking steps (sometimes small and imperceptible) to say Yes to things I would regularly refuse. The thing is, my ‘natural’ bend is towards a hermit-like isolation, which has cost me many friends and experiences. I’d like to change that, don’t think it’s ‘natural’ at all to crawl into a hole where I am the only resident. I think my ‘nature’ is more like laziness and apathy and doesn’t deserve to survive the next metamorphosis of my evolution.

So, we said yes to dinner with some new friends (so new that it would be the first social interaction I would have with this beautiful family). They had a gorgeous home, great dogs, an easy openness, and far more food than I was prepared for. I count calories for everything I put in my mouth (you can judge me if you like, I certainly do), and when I saw the amount of pure deliciousness that would be served, there was a decision to make. I haven’t eaten a cheeseburger in a looong time, my friends. Where does a caloric threshold fit into saying Yes?

I’ll tell you, at least last Sunday, it doesn’t. 

I ate a huge juicy cheeseburger and chips and something called dump cake (exactly as awesome as it sounds) and then there was the chicken. As I was wrist deep in burger and macaroni salad, a plate of chicken was set before me, as if it were delivered by angels. Now, chicken is not something I would usually comment on, it is mostly fuel: bland, dry and laced with protein. But this chicken was marinated in God’s love and herbs harvested from the garden of Eden. I ate until I was sick in gratitude, deciding that these people were amazing and chicken was now my favorite food.  

The calories would have to wait to be tracked.

****

So, Now what?

This is the last post on this riverboat/chicken adventure and now I can see that they (including the message I shared, though I couldn’t have guessed at the time) are all tied in the willingness to show up, to open ourselves to possibility, to imagine that this hurting world can be (in fact, IS) beautiful if only we have eyes to see and ears to hear and hands to hold and hearts to love and be loved, if only we have the courage to say Yes. A tapestry of chicken and new friends and swimming pools and Shukran and riverboats and Gisy’s voice and Mephibosheth all sewn together by a God who has not left us, not even for a second, who is just waiting with wide-open arms for us to sit down at His table

Shukran

We boarded the riverboat around 9:30, and by 10 she was full. Our Bridge community comprised only about half of the total on the boat, and this allows an interesting amalgam of 2 contrasting emotions to hold hands and enjoy each other, despite their obvious differences. 

On the one hand, new faces and hearts brings me into a fairly anxious space, where I feel the familiar fear of, “what if I’m terrible?” Or if I’m not terrible, “what if they hate me anyway?” This sounds self-absorbed and probably is, but it’s also a desire to introduce someone new to the God who rescued me, who gave me life (generally, capital L Life, and also specifically, this beautiful life of mine.) The baggage that comes with that is, fair or not, that someone new could possibly mistake me for God and the Bridge for The Church – I know that makes me seem like I have a complex, the biggest delusion of grandeur EVER, but how many of us or those we know have walked away from church or God because of something a Christian did, or didn’t do? What if the person sitting next to you in church was the person you saw be rude to the server at the table next to yours last night? What if the pastor said something dumb on his blog, or in an off-handed comment at a youth baseball game? What if 2 women on the church board dropped off offering envelopes at your house because you hadn’t attended in several weeks? What if the drummer on the worship team has an addiction? Now it’s not so far-fetched, right? 

So that can be heavy if I think about it too long, but the opportunity to point to the actual Living God who loves you now, has always loved you, no matter who you were/are, who you think you are, what you’ve done, how far you think you are from Him, is so fantastically exhilarating, it’s why I get out of bed and onto a riverboat in the first place.   

It’s a swirl of emotion, and is compounded by the fact that many of the new faces were Muslims there for the Eid al-Adha gathering. What will they think of me, of us, in our shorts and sunglasses? So many questions, will they think us disrespectful of Our Jesus? Will they find our worship not, um, well…not enough? The truth is, it doesn’t actually matter, our worship is for only One, we do not do anything for, as it says in the Bible, the praises of man. But again, we would like to not be off-putting and a reason (irrational though it may be) to turn away.

Here’s another question: How many Muslim services have we been to? How many would we attend? What about the open hearted spirits of those who joined us, though they may have been taught our separate faiths, our separate cultures, our separate lifestyles, could not under any circumstances coexist, and certainly not for something so trivial as a free boat ride?

Yet they did, and as I began, I wondered how they would receive my message…

I wrote the message years ago – with the changes it required. (I once heard that we never read the same book twice, and I find that true of most everything. The book might not change, but we do. So, I could look at a message I wrote last Tuesday and be affected by something entirely different today. All the more when we speak of months and years instead of days and weeks.) I often use the Old Testament as a jumping off point, and did here as well, discussing the story of Mephibosheth. It’s a wonderful illustration of grace; Mephibosheth didn’t do anything to deserve it, but was invited to sit and eat at the table of the King forever. 

But beginning with the Old Testament allowed those of us with different faiths some common ground, like an open door to a deeper universal conversation. I wrestled with this topic for some weeks, even as I worked to prepare the concepts, and was immediately thankful the book of 2nd Samuel and Mephibosheth won. Often, I find if we can stop being “us” and “them,” or generalizations, labels and sound bites, we’ll usually find similarities (like bosses and kids and car trouble and back pain and promotions and Morrissey and the Avengers and how lovely my wife is) and if we can find similarities, we’ll start to like, then maybe even care about and ultimately love each other. This is often surprising, but it shouldn’t be, we’ve all been created by the same God, in His image. Sometimes, though, it takes a free ride on a riverboat to see it.

I’ve promise the next post will be about food, including the Best Chicken I’ve Ever Had. But one more thing on the impact of our shared humanity on that boat: As one man (very near my age, holding his child while his wife held another) left the boat, he purposefully turned, found me, and said, “Shukran.” I had no idea what that meant and, since we had shared such a sacred space together, had no interest in doing what we usually do and nod and pretend to understand, so I asked, “What does that mean?” 

Of course, it means “Thank you.”

Red Canvas Shoes

The Pride Of The Susquehanna, the riverboat on City Island in Harrisburg, usually charges a fee to cruise, but the cool thing they do on Sunday mornings is allow different local churches to use it to hold their services and open to the public to ride for free. Some people use it as their home church and attend every Sunday and hear & experience different denominations, speakers, andcommunities. Last Sunday, those folks had the distinct and surely unexpected pleasure of the best singer they’ve ever heard and the rest of us at the Bridge Faith Community. 

Now. When we arrived, just after 9am on a Sunday morning, the island was flooded with cars and people, nearly impossible to find a parking spot.

The reason for the congestion was a truly wonderful surprise. I say surprise, but I sort of knew…I didn’t know the extent of the event, all I was told was that there would be a Muslim prayer service on the island from 7:30-8:30, so we may want to give yourself some extra time. Whatever is in your head is inadequate to describe the scene. Thousands of people in the most breathtaking dress gathered for the holiday of Eid al-Adha, the Islamic Feast of Sacrifice. This four day Feast of Sacrifice commemorates when God appeared to Abraham  and asked him to sacrifice his son as an act of obedience.

(I teach in shorts and red canvas shoes with my shirt untucked, so what I’m about to say is going to sound awfully hypocritical…and I suppose it’ll sound that way because it is. Oh well.)

We so desperately value the nonjudgmental freedom to attend church in our pajamas, if we so desire, coming “as we are,” that something has been lost. Perhaps what is gained outweighs what is lost, but as I soaked in the colors and beauty of the dress, I imagined their morning and felt every ounce of the loss. I imagined each of them waking hours early to prepare, as if for a special date or a wedding, wearing their finest clothes, souls peaceful and focused, mindfully approaching. This is a sacred occasion and must be entered into with the utmost respect and love for their God.       

In my house, we calculated the night before the latest we could sleep so we could rush through our many duties for the service and lunch. The contrast in my heart as I acknowledged the weight of their worship was striking and convicting, as if the Spirit was whispering into my ear that it would sure be nice if I would give that kind of attention to our time together.

I recognize this is what’s called projection, that probably some hurried, rushed and sped through Walmart, getting on each other’s nerves on their way, but certainly not all of them. Well, I probably shouldn’t even say certainly…maybe all of them did. Maybe the rude woman working at the Walmart that yelled at me when I asked about mustard packets had been asked about mustard packets since 5am for the Muslim prayer service. Who knows??? 

The point is, it doesn’t really matter – it felt far more sacred than my polo shirt and slip on shoes. I think that God doesn’t much care what we wear to the party as long as we come, but at the same time, giving our attention and intention to how we come is valuable to our own hearts and us becoming the kind of people we are created to be. We don’t have to…we get to.

And maybe the Spirit was whispering in my ear, after all, using an unexpected example to get my attention.

It’s interesting, at different times in our lives, different things are vital to our spiritual journey. In some seasons, maybe the pinnacle of faithful worship is setting aside the suits and ties of religion and enjoying the freedom to wear pajamas and flip-flops. At others, maybe a suit is exactly what we need. What we look like as we sit in church illustrates almost nothing about our relationship with Jesus. That we are prepared to hear those whispers and prompts, on the other hand, sure does.

(I haven’t even gotten to the riverboat or the chicken. This may be a longer series than I was expecting;)

No Sunday Service This Week

We have some VERY IMPORTANT NEWS: We will NOT have our Sunday morning service on June 30… you are free to do anything you like: go to a friend’s church service, sleep in, meet a neighbor or friend for breakfast, walk outside, listen to some music, watch a movie, stay in your pajamas, do some gardening, and on and on. There are 2 things I ask, though.
1, that you love someone (this includes you) and say thank you to the God who gave us each other, every day, every breath.
And 2, we take a moment to remember that the building/church service is not The Church. We are. It’s easy to get confused and think Church is a place we go, but it isn’t. The Church is the body of followers of Jesus.
On this day off, June 30, if you check into Facebook at 9am (on the Bridge Faith Community page and our Angel Galloway Slabach personal page), I am planning a Facebook Live short message (15-ish minutes on exactly the purpose behind closing our doors for a week) from my sister-in-law’s house in Canada. This is another avenue we have been planning where we can connect, and this is the perfect week for it. I’m not sure how it will work, I think we can communicate via comments/questions, but it will be our first one so you never know.
Enjoy your freedom in Him and, whatever you do, soak in His love.
This purposeful rest is not in any way to say a weekly local church service isn’t vital to our spiritual health. It is, and we’ll be back in July!!! Until then, I will miss you.
All of the Love & Peace.
Chad.