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Sunday, November 23, 2008

Cathartic Cathedrals…

I spend a lot of time trying to clean up after religion.  It has made a royal mess of things in many ways.  I don’t feel like I could vouch for its history, but there are some “baby/bathwater” issues that must be delineated for the sake of truth and its endurance to all generations.  

I recently visited Germany and was surprised to feel how moved my heart was by the relics of religion.  I walked into a cathedral in Salzburg, Austria and stood there paralyzed in prayer. The statues, the crucifixes, the candles, the prayer benches, the stone columns, the pipe organs, the paintings, the confessional booths, the basin of holy water, the hard pews, the hand hewed wooden molding, the stone walls, the high ceilings, the spires…all these things just moved my heart so deeply.  At one point I was holding in tears.  That’s when I know my heart is being summoned. 

I’m learning that religion isn’t all bad.  Just because we can get caught up in the surface of things alone, it doesn’t mean the surface of things is meaningless.  In fact, quite the contrary.  There were so many moments on this trip when I felt saddened at how everything in the States is about three things…Is it cheap?  Is it quick?  Is it easy?  Because of this, we forfeit quality for quantity, aesthetic beauty for basic economy.   Religion cares about what things look like, to a fault to be sure, but at least they invested in quality and beauty knowing it represents worth.

Things were expensive.  Things were built to last.  Things were crafted with pain-staking precision.  Why?  Because they believed in symbolism.

Everything was made to symbolize something, to represent something.  That’s what I miss about ancient religious history.  Symbolism.  Imagery.  I miss liturgical practices.  I miss altars and stones of remembrance.  I miss phylacteries and recited prayers of forefathers.  I miss the cold feel of reverence instead of the warm feel of relevance.  I miss the echoing halls of stone and the Gregorian chants.  I miss incense and Latin.  I miss sackcloth and ashes.  I miss adhering to the church calendar.  I miss the silence.  I miss the stillness.  I miss the repentance. 

Cheap.  Fast.  Easy.  Comfortable.  Accommodating.  That’s the contemporary church in a nutshell.  And it’s just about small enough to fit into a nutshell.  But not the God that they built those towering, monolithic cathedrals for.  He couldn’t fit in a nutshell.  He was big.  He was beautiful.  He was exquisite.  He was overwhelming.  He was infinite.  He was awesome and awe-inspiring.  He was holy…and wholly other than us.  He was too hot to handle, too cold to hold.  He was beyond, yet within.  He was there, and here.  He was ineffable, yet approachable.  But you had to kneel before him then.  You couldn’t just waltz up to him in a nonchalant manner.  You couldn’t just talk to him like he was your little buddy next door.  You wouldn’t dare.  He was better than that.  He was God back then.

And somehow, even with all the gorgeous reminders without and within the cathedrals, they lost him.  They worshipped the created things instead of the Creator, but that’s no reason for us to stop caring about created things, now, is it?  That’s no reason for us to stop kneeling when we call upon his Hallowed name?  That’s no reason to abandon symbols of worship?  That’s no reason to hold in contempt church fathers and their patterns of contemplation.  That’s no reason to start building crappy churches barren of beauty.  That’s no reason to abandon repentance just because we don’t have to hit the parish on Saturday night with an indulgence.  Come on.  What has become of us? 

I was holding back tears that day, because I knew the baby was lying three stories down on the cold pavement badly injured.  The bathwater had long evaporated.   I felt myself descending the stairs in my mind trying to get to the ground floor of my faith and the place where the baby of religion lay ever so still.  I wanted to pick it back up and say sorry.  But instead, I just sat there on the pavement looking at it wondering how I could have done such a thing.  I’m still staring at it wondering what to do next. 

All I know is that religion isn’t to blame for every mishap along the way.  Sometimes it’s just ignorant people who need something to throw under the bus to make them feel better for their own stupidity.  This I know, it’s not the cathedral's fault.  Cathedrals didn’t lead the crusades, people did.  Ignoramus people.  

Friday, November 21, 2008

A theological discussion about toilet paper...

My recent trip to Germany got me to thinking a lot about an all too often underestimated utility of our society…toilet paper.

You don’t know how important toilet paper is until you experience a bad product or no product (aka – primitive camping). 

I’m not sure what the rich history of European toilet paper is, but based on my experience, it is neither rich nor fit for a toilet.  It isn’t toilet paper; it is quite simply just paper.  Rough, recycled, brownish card stock paper.

You know you’re in for a treat when you can barely tear it off the roll.  You know you’re in for a special experience when you have to fold it back and forth before you rip it at the crease.  You know you’re in for a harsh encounter when you could either use it to cover tables at a wedding, sand a antique piece of furniture or twist it up and use it as a tow strop to pull someone out of a ditch.  If you haven’t been to Europe, imagine wiping with reams of paper from Kinko’s. 

They haven’t been introduced to the idea of the “tissue”.  What we call toilet paper in our society could better be described as toilet tissue.  It isn’t paper.  It is sometimes doubled up for more cushion, it is often quilted, sometimes even impregnated with aloe to for a medicinal purposes.  No, we don’t have toilet paper…we have rolls of pillowed cotton made for pleasure as much as purpose. 

Pleasure is something that wasn’t associated with my bathroom experience in Germany.  If there was any pleasure or relief being experienced, it was soon clouded by the inevitability of having to wipe.  I never knew how important wiping was to me in the whole bathroom experience.

But I did say this was going to be a theological discussion about toilet paper, so allow me to explain.

When looking for a church home, how do you determine the health of a church?  So many people check out the church website to see how technologically savvy they are.  Others stop by the information hub and gather all the literature and pamphlets available for their curious perusal.  Others want to meet the leaders to get a horse sense of their people skills.  Many just want to attend the weekend service to see if they like the music and the preaching.  They look for creativity and relevance.  Still others are interested in the children’s program…is it safe?  Is it fun?  Is it biblical?  Many walk in and are tallying how many people introduce themselves and how friendly the church is in general.  Do they feel welcome?  Do they feel at home?  All these litmus tests and so many more are employed by many to determine the credibility of a church. 

I have a little different criterion for health.   I walk into a facility, past the greeters, past the welcome hub, past the worship space, past the coffee shop, past the pastors, past the ushers handing out bulletins and onto the bathroom.  I open the door and head for the first stall.  If there is someone occupying it, I patiently wait my turn.  When the coast is clear, I enter and close the door behind me.  Even if I don’t have to go to the bathroom, I lock the door to give the impression that I do.  For the next several moments I engage in a thorough examination of the “church toilet paper”.  How soft is it?  Is it doubled up?  Is it too thin?  Is it brittle and harsh? Is it quilted with ornate designs?  Does it tear too easily?  Is it see-through?  Does it tear easily enough?  What does it smell like?  Does it have an aroma or an odor?  What does it feel like on my fingertips?  What does it feel like rubbed up against the sensitive skin on my face?  Are their backup rolls anywhere in sight?  What is their girth prior to use? 

Toilet paper matters.  When a church doesn’t think it matters, I’m bothered by that.  And here’s why. 

If a church doesn’t think to take care of my butt, I highly doubt they will take care of my heart.

It is loosely connected to the verse in I John where it states that if you don’t love you brother whom you do see, how can you claim to love God whom you can’t see.  My rendering of this passage would go something like this, “If you don’t care about my butt which you can see, how can you possibly take care of my heart which you cannot see.”  It’s holistic ministry. 

I don’t know what it is, but when I go to a church that doesn’t cut budget in the toilet paper line item of the budget, I have a warm feeling rush through my whole being.  I can entrust my heart that that kind of church.  I can relax and feel at home in that setting.  They care about my rear end, not just the end times.  That gives me great confidence in their leadership of my heart.

Toilet paper matters.

Monday, November 17, 2008

some eye candy from Germany...






I'm not home quote yet (still holed up in the Atlanta airport), but here are some pictures to tickle your facebook fancy...
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A picture paints a thousand words...

Friday, November 14, 2008

the reunion of souls...

I'm sitting here in Germany trying to let my food digest after a dinner party with a bunch of troops and their spouses.  It was an amazing night filled with stories.  I just can't imagine being deployed for 15 months and then coming home to my family.  I find it hard to find words to describe what that reunion must be like.  

Tonight, we are actually going on the military base and watching as the last of this round of troops comes home and reunites with their loved ones.  The wives who were here at the dinner tonight said that you just have to see two things in the military...#1 - a memorial service for a fallen soldier and #2 - a reunion of troops coming home to see their spouses and children for the first time in 15 months.  

We just couldn't pass up this once in a lifetime opportunity.

So in about an hour we are heading out to see this phenomenon...

I can't wait to witness this almost holy moment...

These are the things that make me come alive...Advent... and adventures.  

Can a man's heart look for any greater pleasure?

I think not.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Daddy-Daughter Dance #3...

For the third year in a row, I got to go dancing with one of my daughters...this time it was Aly.  She's in second grade now and that gives her an important right of passage that she's been waiting for before the foundations of the earth in many ways.  

It's the annual "Daddy/Daughter Dance" at Cherry Creek Elementary for the 2nd and 3rd graders and it just so happens that my daughters were born 2 years apart.  That translates into 6 straight years of these festive balls.  I couldn't be happier about this 6 year tradition.

Aly looked dashing.  He little blue eyes that she got from her mother were sparkling like the blue reflected off a summer lake rippling with the stirring of a gentle breeze.  One time I actually asked her to look at me so that I could take in her gorgeous eyes.  I told her I want to peer into her precious soul.  She looked into my eyes and tilted her head in bashful embarrassment.  I wouldn't stop gazing...I know these nights only come a few times in one's lifetime...I wasn't about to let awkwardness rob me of this moment.  After she smiled with her little front tooth dangling by the thin skin of her gums (it needs to come out, but she won't let me rip in out with some dental floss...go figure!), she buried her head into the bend where my shoulder meets my neck.  Her head still fits in that curve perfectly.

Her mother dolled her up like a little princess.  Her hair was twisted and pulled back to a sideways pony tail in the back.  But the pony tail was curled and teased out with hair spray...she was really a little woman.

She had glossy lip stick that she would put on throughout the night in order to keep this shiny glaze on her cute little lips.  While I was driving, she would pull down the visor and use the mirror to apply what can only be described as something akin to the same substance used to coat crispy creams.  It makes you want to eat her lips it's so succulent-looking.  She would purse her little lips just like her mother spreading it around by pressing her lips together and moving them back and forth, and in and out.  Little woman.

We went to Ruby Tuesdays and she got a Coke (something she doesn't ever drink) and some Mac-n-Cheese (something she always eats).  We played hangman and tick-tac-toe on a napkin, laughing and giving each other high-fives.  We shared mild chicken wings and she kept coughing because of the spicy hot sauce.  We held hands a lot throughout the night.  She loves to hold hands.  (the interdigitated kind of hand-holding)

We left there and headed to Barnes and Noble to read books together.  Everywhere we went I would open the door for her.  Every time I did, she would sheepishly say "thank you, daddy".  She was trying to get used being the sole focus of my attention and affection.  It didn't take her long.  She was born to be the apple of my eye.

We got to the dance and got our picture taken together.  She hopped up on my lap and we pressed our faces together as the photographer's flash blinded us.  And with that we were on the dance floor cutting the rug.

It took her about 5 minutes to relax into the idea of being around a bunch of other humans living out a freedom that is rarely seen in the ruff and tumble of everyday life.  As she got a sense that everyone was o.k. with letting their hair down and letting loose, she started to let loose.  I love watching her when she's free from her preoccupation with other people's thoughts toward her.  She glows like a girl should, like a girl was made to.

As the night drew to a close, Bryan Adams started singing the song, "Everything I do, I do for you."  I grabbed her, picked her up and started swaying back and forth.  I whispered into her ear, "I've had an awesome time with you.  I love you so much."  She pulled her head off my shoulder and I could tell she wanted to cry.  She looked at me and said with a quivering voice, "Dad, when we have good nights like this together, it makes me want to be with you forever."  I knew what she was saying.  You see, if Kami said that it would have meant something a little different.  She would have been thinking about that night and staying up late together...almost like, "I wish this night could go on forever or I wish this night would never end."  That's not what Aly was saying, because she's Aly.

She was thinking about the day that she would leave our house and maybe get married.  She was thinking about way into the future and the reality of growing up and moving out.  She was dreading the idea of not living with me and staying with me for the rest of her life.  That's how Aly's little mind thinks in a moment like that...this is why she lives with so much fear and concern and insecurity...she thinks about past, present and future with such vivid clarity.

As she shared her mourning of the day when we wouldn't be together anymore, she started to cry really hard and, again, buried her head into my neck sobbing with sorrow.  I rubbed her back and said, "I will always be with you.  I will never leave you.  You will always be my daughter no matter where you go or what you do.  O.K.?"  She looked up with tears dripping down her face and nodded her head.  She squeezed herself into me and we finished the dance just hugging each other while I swayed to the rhythm of the 80's classic.

We left the dance and went to Flat River Grill for dessert.  She didn't know we were doing that.  It was already an hour past her normal bedtime and she knew it, so she couldn't fathom that the night was still young.  She smiled with the biggest grin you could imagine and we held hands all the way to the restaurant.  Her friends were there and they all sat at a table and got ice cream.  Their fathers and I got some coffee and talked about the West.  It was a great night.

We got home and I tucked her in bed and whispered into her ear, "This is my most favorite night I've ever spent with you."  She gave me a hug and said, "Thank you, daddy."  With that I went downstairs and crashed on the couch.  

Three dances down...three to go.  

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

What's true and what's truth...

This was an email I wrote to someone from my life group last night that was inquiring about "staying in a struggle" and wrestling with God in order to get "a name change".  So many Christians "seize the day" (carpe diem) and try to look at the bright side of life dismissing nagging feelings and abiding discontent inside of their, less than amused, heart.  But I think it's just as important for Christians to get serious about "seizing the night" (carpe noctem) in their life and staying in that darkness until God sheds his light on it.  You can't just keep making like it's not there.  And you can't just keep saying, "I just want to be thankful for what I do have" disregarding the places inside that are screaming for a voice, an expression, a place at the table to be present and accounted for.  When we don't acknowledge the deep reality of our dark side, we do ourself no favors and delay God's process of refining us "with fire".  It hurts and heals.  It's the great oxymoronic paradoxical contradictory gospel of God at work in the nitty, gritty and sh***y of our everyday life.  God is big enough to handle our dark side...are we?

So here's the email I wrote this morning...
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Wow...you're questions are so right on the money.

I had something happen last night at life groups that doesn't happen often for me.  It was like being in a movie and forgetting you are actually in a movie because you're so enraptured with the story.  I literally caught myself forgetting where I was because I was wrestling with what I call the "raw footage" and "raw sewage" of life.  I was there.  I wasn't trying to be there.  I wasn't trying to be real.  I wasn't trying to listen or trying to lead or trying to ask good questions.  I just was.  I felt like I could just be...instead of trying to "be something".

This is critical to spiritual growth, in my opinion, and relates perfectly to what you shared about staying in something until you get a name change.  Maybe it's my background or maybe it's just broken human nature to prematurely escape painful stuff, I don't know, but I'm learning it doesn't go away.  It just gets re-buried and comes up later with three heads instead of two.  This stuff doesn't just go away just because we're trying to not think about it.  It sticks around like a virus needing a remedy that hasn't yet been discovered.  It's the virus of "unprocessed story".

When you don't process your story, you don't really grow and you don't really change, you just modify behavior and work harder on cosmetic cover-ups to make like things are better than they are.  It's called "make believe" in a child's world.  And that's what I fear many adults are still playing with their stories...Pretend.  

Even last night...with the raw footage of what was being shared and even the swear words that were being drudged up in the process, part of me felt like teaching people about how to guard their tongues and sharing in a more refined manner....but this is something that I'm learning about life.  Raw footage is so necessary if we are to even have raw community.  You can't just clean up and change in order to fit a formal environment with unspoken rules and boundaries, you have to show up and be who you are and let growth start from there.

There will be a time to talk about language and our tongues and honoring God with our words, but last night was not the time.  A couple of them are toddlers in their faith and it's more important for them to feel comfort sharing their hearts than it is for them to governed or legislated or policed.  So much of my background was spent trying to share properly, and what often was lost was what I "actually" felt and "actually" wanted and "actually" did.  I was too busy trying to frame it biblically and cast it maturely and couch it theologically.  I feel like I lost what was real and what was put on over the years.  And what ultimately gets lost is my heart.  I lose who I am and what I feel and what I really want.  I could go on explaining this, but hopefully I've shared enough that you get my point.

I love the Bible, I love theology, I love doctrine and I love truth...but these things are meant to bring freedom, not restrict reality.  If something is really happening, I don't want to hear people talk about what they "should" be the whole time, I want to here what they are being.  If it's a bunch of "would'a, could'a, should'a" the whole time...when are we going to talk about what is really real...I mean really happening now, what you're really feeling today...this is something I've been starving for as a Christian.  A place to stay in reality without aborting from truth.  Truth is patient...it can wait to be drawn upon in time.  It doesn't need to barge into a moment...it doesn't need to cut into a conversation...it's not the sword of truth in the armor of God...it's the belt of truth.  It isn't a weapon...it holds things together.  

I think that's what truth does in community...it isn't supposed to be used as a weapon in conversation to keep people in line.  It's supposed to ungird and support and hold words and feelings and thoughts together.  And again, it's patient...it lets honesty talk even if it's not completely true.  Alot of times we're honest, but honestly wrong.  But here's an important distinction...just because something isn't truth doesn't mean it isn't true.  What a person shares is true to them and as such must be respected.  What I love about truth is that is waits for someone to share what's true to them, and then delicately and precisely waits for a natural time to make what's "true" accountable to "truth".  

Last night, we were dealing with a mix of both.  What's true (or real) for people and what's "truth" (or really real) according to God.  I like it when both are occurring.  When either is removed, something quite sad emerges.  I'm getting more comfortable staying in what's true a little longer in order to extract the poison out of the wound.  Rushing to bandage a wound before letting the blood spill out and clean it from the inside out only leads to infection later.  If there isn't an inside-out cleansing (what's true) mixed with an outside-in cleansing (what's truth), I'm convinced that nothing truly transforming has a chance of taking place.  Again, these are just my knee-jerk thoughts.

Thanks for asking good questions...thanks for letting me give you broken answers that come from the real-time footage of my own story.  I hope it assists you in discovering for yourself what the world (life as we're experiencing it and see it) is saying and what the Word (life as God experiences it and sees it) is saying about TRUTH.  I'm learning God is speaking to us through both.