Defining “Church” Can Be a Pretty Messy Thing:      A Video Montage

[Note: This post is a bit different than previous ones – being loaded with a host of videos to view. Worth it, I believe.  Highly worth it.  But, it does have me imagining you wanting a nice cup of tea or coffee or soda – as you sit and enjoy… and ponder.]

I’ve been sending daily video links to my brother – as he’s about a rotation at work in Kuwait.  Four weeks over there, four weeks here.  I am hoping that the videos give him a sense of distraction [and humor] at the end of long days away—cutting through the space and time between us.  (And then, there are the ways that I hope some humor helps to counter the grief we are experiencing in the wake of losing our other brother, Bob, a few weeks ago.)

Videos this week had a way of centering, at first,
on worship “bloopers” or “fails”—as, e.g.:

[Yes, when all else fails, bridge the awkward moment with a “Praise God” or two!]

Further searchings had me googling for preaching “bloopers” and “fails.”  They’re out there, to be sure.  But in the mix are some which I’d hope were “fails” but have a real edge of being real… and being serious.   Here, I want to be careful.  I want to be tolerant.  I know and want to affirm that it’s different folks for different folks.  I must admit, though, that the more I engaged these videos, the more they made their way from amusing to shocking to deeply disturbing:

Surely, I hope, this last one was one church’s humorous way of asking members to silence their phones–via a video about something that never happened.  But, then, after the above, I do not know what to think….

[Here, as an aside: I’ll admit with some embarrassment and shame: the time or two I came down on my own kids, distracted (and distracting… at least to me) in worship.  Not real happy about those memories.  Not happy at all.  I pray that they’ve overcome those memories—forgiving me… and not holding them against the Faith!]

From these worship and preacher “fails” (sent earlier in the week), links migrated (here, in the last day) to some Steve Hartman human-interest stories from CBS news.  The first one I saw this last week.  It had me recalling the second one (from a couple of years ago).  I’ve always loved Steve Hartman’s stories.  I wish they could build a whole hour (at least once a week) on his kind of “news”:

Putting them together here–juxtapositioned,
I can’t help but hear a message or two:
that we need not confuse the “Church”
with particular expressions called “church,” and
that “Church” can and does breaks out beyond “churches” and congregations.

Yes, defining Church
(the ongoing “body of Christ” in this world)
can be a pretty messy pursuit, an imprecise science–
what, when there are so many imperfect expressions
that vie for the title…
and, then, there are the ways that the cosmic Christ
breaks out in most refreshing ways!

Building Sandcastles in a Mud-Pie World

holiday at the sea (fin)A young boy sat in his front yard on the edge of a sandbox—
pouring water out of a small cup, into a variety of molds
filled with sand and dirt.

It was a confusing picture.
Yes, he hummed a certain contentment.
It was a song, though, punctuated by sniffles.

I asked him how he was doing.

“I’m okay.  I’m fine… Now,” he said,
wiping his runny nose with his sleeve.
Red, swollen eyes betrayed some prior trauma.

“But, it looks like you’ve been crying.”

“My daddy scared me this morning,” he said with a slight scowl.
“He wanted to take us to a place called South Padre Island.
I told him I didn’t want to go.
I told him that there was no school today and I wanted to play.
I wanted to make mud pies.”

“Have you ever been to South Padre?
Have you ever been to a beach?,” I asked.
“Why they have lots of sand… and plenty else to do!”

“Yeah, that’s what my daddy says.
But, I don’t care.  I’m happy here.”
As he continued, his face tightened,
his brow furrowed and his lip curled:
“I told Daddy that.  I told him I didn’t care…
I threw myself down and told him that I didn’t want to go,
that he couldn’t make me go, that I wasn’t going to go!”

There was a sniffle or two as he wiped his runny nose again.

“Mommy and Daddy are inside, unpacking now…
Don’t know why they are so sad.
Don’t know why they are so mad,” he concluded.
“I couldn’t be happier!”

No, this did not really happen.
It’s a fiction, a parable I created –
inspired by words of C.S. Lewis.

But, while the story may not be real, it is true –
for the ways and signals something that is,
too often, happening around us (and within us).

In my own life, I find myself admitting and praying:

Dear God,

Forbid that I—that we—
should be satisfied with our mud pies in our slums
when a holiday at the beach is your plan and promise!

Forgive us for our lesser contentments. 

Equip us, equip me
for the joyful journey
of your higher Glory
and our true selves!

It’s a prayer and a metaphor which strike
at the heart of our mission and hopes here at Zoe-Life Explorations:
* helping folks hear an invitation to an alternative [richer] life, and
* helping them navigate the path to that life
     (including the inner resistances and inclinations
     that stand in the way on the journey)

Spiritual Formation Lessons from My Houseplants…

“Let your roots grow down into him,
and let your lives be built on him.
Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught,
and you will overflow with thankfulness.”  (Colossians 2:7)

On a recent Monday morning, I wrote this in my journal…

This morning I felt compelled to do two things before I sat down for this time.  For days, I’ve been intending to water three houseplants.  Done.  And I really had no idea what my calendar had on it for the week.  Done…

 I watered the bromeliad from the tray it sits in. In other words, I took care of the plant from the roots up.  That’s what this morning time is about – from my roots up…  The deep part of me needs this refreshing time. 

 The other activity was to help me know what to expect.  I’ve been immersed with house guests.  I hadn’t looked ahead.  And the morning time with God is, in part, looking head. 

 This morning time is both these things –
deep root watering and
preparing myself for what’s ahead.

 To soak a little more in that metaphor of being watered—from the bottom up…

  •  Watering from the bottom is the better way to tend to potted plants.  Rain tends to plants from the top down, but in an artificial environment it’s best not to do so.  Watering that way compacts the soil and restricts air the roots need.  A gentler way to water is allowing the plant to soak water up from its tray.

I need to take care of myself from my roots up. 

  • Watering from the bottom benefits the root system because the roots will grow directly toward the moisture.  If the moisture remains in the top of the pot, the roots don’t benefit from spreading out in their nutrient-packed soil.

I am better off when I’ve been stretched a bit. 

  • Bottom watering plants will keep the roots uniformly moist but it doesn’t wash out the salt and minerals that will eventually accumulate at the top.  Every so often, watering from the top is necessary to wash these away.

Every now and then, I do well with a good rinsing.

And then, after all this, I’m better prepared for what’s ahead…



Wake Up!

A week or so ago, I spoke of our need to “demystify mysticism”—taking time to claim and embrace contemplation as an ordinary gift, available to each and all of us. (cf, Keeping Your Ear to the Ground [of Your Being])

While available to all (and an inevitable part of the spiritual journey), though, it’s not that easy.  What Chesterton said about Christianity, also applies to the contemplation (at the heart of mysticism): “it has not been tried and found lacking de mellow, awarenessas much as it has been found difficult and hardly tried.”

It demands, for example, that we “wake up,” as Anthony de Mello put it – acknowledging that we’ve been “sleep walking” in life.  Here, a quote and a story from de Mello are helpful beginnings:

Spirituality means waking up.  Most people, even though they don’t know it, are asleep.  They’re born asleep, they live asleep, they marry in their sleep, they breed children in their sleep, they die in their sleep without ever waking up. (Awareness, p. 5)

          A man found an eagle’s egg and put it in a nest of a barnyard hen. The eaglet hatched with the brood of chicks and grew up with them. All his life the eagle did what the barnyard chicks did, thinking he was a barnyard chicken. He scratched the earth for worms and insects. He clucked and cackled. And he would thrash his wings and fly a few feet into the air.
          Years passed, and the eagle grew very old
          One day he saw a magnificent bird above him in the cloudless sky. It glided in graceful majesty among the powerful wind currents, with scarcely a beat on his strong golden wings. The old eagle looked up in awe.
          “Who’s that?” he asked.
          “That’s the eagle, the king of the birds,” said his neighbor. “He belongs to the sky. We belong to the earth – we’re chickens.”
          So the eagle lived and died a chicken, for that’s what he thought he was. (Song of the Bird, p. 96)

“Repent,” Jesus said, “for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matt 4:17)  Among other things, it was and is an invitation for each and all of us to wake up… and claim our true identity!

Keeping Your Ear to the Ground [of Your Being]

It was a tidbit thrown out as an aside in a discussion–a “scrap” which has had a much fuller and deeper life for me than a lot of other things I heard that day.  Facilitating a retreat on “Effective Living” (what, 20-25 years ago?), Sister Elizabeth said in passing, “You know that we are made of the stuff of the earth… So that, when we pray ‘Thy will be done on earth as in Heaven,’ we are including the earth that we are.  ‘Thy will be done in this earth that I am as well as the earth all around!’”

It stear to grounduck with me.  So much so that it gave extra life to some words I was reading from Fr. Albert Haase.  Somewhere in the course of his most recent book, Becoming an Ordinary Mystic; Spirituality for the Rest of Us (IVP, 2019), he threw out the old line of “keeping our ear to the ground.”

Sister Elizabeth ringing in my heart and soul, I saw another metaphor for the spiritual formation journey–conveying its essence and nature: keeping our ear to the ground (the earth that we are)… and keeping our ear to the ground of our being.

It’s not easy, I will grant you.  Keeping your ear to the ground—listening to what’s going on inside… and all around—demands stillness and some solitude and some humility and a lot of [healthy] self-awareness.  There are hard questions to ask and sit with – as, e.g., “why, O Lord, do I react such and such a way when ‘that’ happens?”  It demands that we, like Adam (we might call him “Clay” or “Dusty”), come out of hiding—being willing to answer God’s primal question, “where are you?”

In a flyer for one of his programs, Fr. Albert quotes Karl Rahner: “The Christian of the future will be a mystic or will not exist at all.”  Frankly, my only argument with such words would be with the word, “future.”  Hasn’t this been a call of Christianity and God from the beginning?  But, that’s a post for another day – when we’ve got time to unpack and de-mystify mysticism.  When we do get to that post, though, I think it will be clear: “keeping our ear to the ground” is or should be a sacred vocation for us all!