Posts Tagged ‘story’

At 97 years of age, Grandpa had appointed himself as the musical entertainment of the home where he was living. And it resulted in a fight. Nursing homes may not be the place you think of for a fight to occur, but Grandpa was able to make it happen. He and his roommate got into it one day in the dining area. I saw him not many days later. 

He had a guitar and played as he sang some songs he had learned at church. Picture “I’ll Fly Away” and similar songs. And picture them being sang while accompanied by an extroverted 97-year-old who is playing a guitar with only one string. Grandpa had carried that guitar with him for some time. We were used to him singing and playing. But that doesn’t mean his roommate enjoyed it. 

The story was that Grandpa was playing for a group of the residents when his roommate came into the dining area, entered the kitchen, came out with a skillet, walked over to Grandpa, and hit him in the head. Grandpa told me he bounced back up and put that guy on the floor. He then leaned in like he was telling me a secret and said “I’m the oldest one in here, but I can whip them all.”

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          I can remember a church that was suspicious of science, preferring to rely on things that seemed more religious. However, in recent years there have been pockets of the church that have begun to view science as a valuable ally. Some have even formed specialized sciences like Christian psychology or what is referred to as creationism.

          It would be unfortunate if we are allowing ourselves to believe we need the strategies of the world in order to support our worldview. It would be even more unfortunate if we manipulate these strategies or cherry pick facts in an effort to make our worldview more convincing.

          We can all agree that it is a problem when science disregards objectivity to support positions that are morally suspect or for political advantage. We should also agree that it is a problem to treat the Bible as some science text to validate our new pet science. It seems that those inside the church and those on the outside are willing to hi-jack science in the hopes it is a credible voice for their position.

          A Christian worldview is not dependent on scientific agreement with others. I have an interest in science and am certainly no science denier. I have always been fascinated with the sciences like biology and botany and astronomy. I am also fascinated by sciences like tectonic plate theory and paleontology and evolution. My fascination with science allows me to engage in conversation and even question where the data is coming from or for what reason. Science is an evolving thing. New data is constantly being collected and scientists are constantly tweaking their theories. Why spend time arguing with someone about something that may change by next week?

          Our Christian worldview does not permit us to belittle or ridicule people who espouse different opinions than we do. That is a certain way for us to lose trust. Who will want to listen to what we have to say if we are not considered trustworthy? It is important to remember who it is we represent.

          Science addresses different questions than the questions addressed by the Bible. It would be good to remember this. Likewise, it is important to remember the Bible addresses different questions than science. We hinder the mission of the church and cheat the world when we confuse the two.

          It is not possible to understand all the data out there in the world of science, people will be looking for reliable messengers to make sense of the world. The role of the church is to learn to tell our story well. To become faithful tellers of the story that makes sense of the world.

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Sometimes we experience some unplanned things. That describes how I met Gwendolyn. I suspect our relationship is over, in all, it lasted about twenty minutes. It was about 9:30am on Thursday morning. I had just walked out of FedEx on Paxton Street and was busy plugging my phone into the cigarette lighter when there was a knock on the window. I rolled the window down and could hear her already talking. Unable to catch everything she was saying, I heard her apologizing for upsetting me and messing up my day. At the same time she was saying something about being pregnant and getting out of the hospital and hitching a ride to get here.

I stopped her to ask what she wanted. She said she wanted to go home. I asked if she needed a ride to the train or to the bus station. She said she lived in town and I told her to jump in.

She did and I introduced myself. She told me her name was Gwendolyn and repeated she was pregnant, had been in the hospital, and had hitchhiked this morning. She then told me she hadn’t eaten and asked for a couple of dollars. I told her I don’t usually carry cash but we both noticed that I used the cigarette lighter as a change holder. I told her she might find a couple of dollars there.

She did not waste time and by the time we turned onto her street she had a hand full of change, claiming there was almost fifteen dollars there. She asked if we could turn around and go to the bank. At this point I am not believing Gwendolyn’s story and thought strongly about saying, “No, we agreed I would take you home” and “I thought we agreed on a couple of dollars.”

But there she was, in the car, hands full of change, and I’ve been reading I Thessalonians. This is a letter that strongly encourages love. This letter encourages living with a holy heart. I remember thinking that might have something to do with Gwendolyn.

Twenty minutes from the time I met her, it was over. We met on Paxton, stopped at a bank on Thirteenth Street, and I dropped her off at a place that I suspect was not really her house. As she climbed out, Gwendolyn turned to say “Thank you Randy, you are an angel.” And I begin to think this short friendship was not for Gwendolyn’s benefit at all – but for mine. Probably because God wants me to have a holy heart.

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Readers of the Bible know the story isn’t over. The principalities and powers appear to have the upper hand. There are still dragons out there. A roaring lion still prowls about seeking whom he may devour. And a battle continues to be waged. A resistance group continues to infiltrate society. Maybe you belong to it. Maybe you know someone who does. Maybe you are thinking about joining. It might not look like it on the surface. But readers of the Bible know the resistance is winning.

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At the present time I serve with others of a similar mind who are trying to be intentional about what Jesus taught. For centuries followers and disciples have taken these teachings seriously. We are following the same steps and praying the same prayers as these early followers. These are the people walking with me as I learn to be a grandparent and learn how to deal with the loss of my father. We break bread together and remember who called us. We walk through the church year with the understanding we are on a journey.

Early in my relationship with this body, I was called to a meeting held in the downstairs of the building. Some referred to this as the dungeon. I was ok with this description since some of the church’s best stuff has come from out of dungeons. We discussed details during the meeting.  But what I remember most was the way the meeting concluded. We joined hands and we prayed the Lord’s Prayer. I felt like part of something big. I felt like we belonged to a long history of people who have prayed these words in dungeons and church basements.

Of all the things that have contributed to my own spiritual formation, among the greatest is a sense of belonging. Being loved and belonging to something that is bigger than any individual effort may be the most sustaining force in my own discipleship. Such belonging is most evident when we gather together. We open the word and pray together. We practice silence and song together. We pass the peace and join one another at the Lord’s Table. It is our intention that this activity will spill over into our weekday lives where we are trying to love others. It is our intention that our Sunday liturgies will influence our weekday liturgies also. Once one begins to view themself as an active participant in the plan of God, our worldview is guaranteed to change. Once one begins to recognize the significant role we play in the community of Christ and in larger segments of creation, there is impetus to grow, to be faithful, and to complete the mission.

I cannot deny having growth spurts in what seem like unlikely places. I have discovered that I grow when I spend time in the nursing home, the rehabilitation center, the hospital, or at a funeral. I have grown on account of time spent in the home of one struggling with borderline personality disorder or reactive attachment disorder. Situations like these help me to recognize the privilege to spend time with people who struggle. Friendship may not seem a spiritual practice to some but I cannot deny the way friends have influenced and shaped me. The list of those who have helped to shape me is long and I cannot help but recognize that to have a friend is privilege as well. Friendships continue to pour grace into my life. These situations and relationships remind me I am not only to love God and others, I am dependent on them as well. Discipleship is not a solo venture.

The path of spiritual formation is not easily put into words and not easily diagrammed. It is not easy to state with certainty how we became who we are. It is easier to write about where one is, what he is up to, and who he is with when it occurs. Things that are good for the soul are usually things that take time to develop. There is no instantaneous event or practice that shapes us into a mature disciple. The list of things that continue to nurture my own soul cannot be overestimated. Such things help me to pause and allow space for God to perform His work.

Yet, soul work is always done best in the midst of the community of God’s people. The list of people who have influenced my own discipleship is significant. Some of these are further along than I am. Some are contemporary allies. Others have challenged me. Some have ministered alongside me. Some have reminded me of wonder. Others have reminded me that I am unfinished. Some continue to love me while I continue the journey. I need them all. This is a group project, a corporate adventure.

There is a strong connection between our identity as individuals and our role in the church. We become who we are not only by our spiritual practices but by those we travel with as well. When we talk about relationship, we know that basic relationship is imitative. To learn to relate lovingly, we live in loving community and we copy the most loving members. To learn to become forgiving people, we live among forgiving people and we copy the most forgiving members. We could go on. As James K. A. Smith says “Such dispositions are not natural… virtues are learned and acquired, through imitation and practice.” I have been fortunate to have belonged to a people where these skills are demonstrated.

I am beginning to understand the church for what it is – an adventure. I have not experienced an Egyptian slave camp, a Babylonian furnace, a Jerusalem stoning, or a Roman imprisonment. But I belong to a people who have. I have been shaped by these people. I have learned from the words of this people. I am a disciple.

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Reading had become more than a data collecting exercise. It began to open me up for new possibility. Interestingly, movies began to do similar things and I became a lover of plot. It was becoming easier to recognize the plot of everyday life and my role in it. Part of my daily work began to include serving as a mental health professional. I am who I am in part because of time spent working in this field. The ways I engage others, the things I listen for, even the way I work with others has been influenced by time spent in mental health. My spiritual practices evolved as I learned to be patient with others. I had opportunity to work with people who suffered from serious challenges and with others who attempted to exploit the system. I had opportunity to learn from these people and am better on account of it.

It was during this time that writing became a more consistent spiritual practice for me. This helped me to articulate some things and to allow for regular feedback from others. Another significant source of spiritual support came to me from a golden aged group that I joined for a Sunday morning class. Though they called me the teacher, it was I who learned much about church in that room with those people. There is great benefit to spend time with those who are further along the journey than we are.

I had always found music to be entertaining. Yet, my enjoyment expanded significantly and became more than pleasure. I became a fan of classical music, especially Johann Sebastian Bach. Whenever we have precipitation, I still listen to classical music, it always seems like an accompanying soundtrack to raindrops or falling snow. Rock bands became my fairer weather friends. But music had become more than entertainment. Music spoke to my soul. I wish I played. Maybe I will take up the mandolin.

My family was growing. Nothing puts one into the mode of twenty four hour discipleship like children in the home. If raising children is a discipleship course, raising adolescents is the advanced course. Just when a parent starts to think they have figured everything out along comes a teenager to remind us we are not finished in our own spiritual growth. That Jesus encouraged us to receive the kingdom as a child has led me to ask, “Why aren’t we following our children around more closely in an effort to learn the kingdom secrets… We should be serving as apprentices to our children in the hopes that we discover more wonder and enter the kingdom.” I have many memories of my daughters and me sharing story, song, and outdoor adventure. We wandered over the mountain and through the woods and I learned the secrets of the kingdom.

I continue to make efforts to improve my attentiveness in the world around me. The practice of paying attention is a lifelong pursuit. Sometimes I am more successful than others. Attention to the beauties of creation, the diversities of people, and the mysteries of God help to shape the soul. There is so much going on that feeds our souls. If only we could pay attention.

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Upon graduation my spiritual journey continued as a pastor in a small rural setting. It was a perfect fit; I was raised with people just like them and knew their ways of thinking. Or at least I thought I did. I was married while here and they did seem excited about that. But, I was not prepared for the way they thought about church. During this time there was much I learned about living in Christian community. I was thinking about the joys of ministering alongside others. I was thinking about helping people get excited about the word. I was thinking about baptisms and administering communion. I was eager for much, some of it happened. So did some things I was not expecting. I learned firsthand that Christians divide, even in a small rural church. I learned people can be impatient. I learned that things said in your absence do not always match what is said in your presence.

I learned the people of God are not a perfect group. The people of God can be an awkward bunch that can become caught up in untruth or division. The people of God are not always easy to work with. Still, these are the people of God. Despite difficulties and differences, we all belong to a Kingdom where we are treasured. We belong to a God who patiently walks with us as we develop in maturity.

My personal practices of exegesis and reading strengthened. I suspect this was partly due to the difficulties I faced outside the study. I was struggling with a pastoral theology that matched my biblical theology. It was as if I could point to things of significant meaning on Sundays but weekdays had me scrambling to respond to the challenges of leading a congregation. There were times it was difficult to maintain a sense of adventure. After one difficult meeting with the board, I purchased a copy of In Search of Excellence by Tom Peters and Peter Waterman. I think my plan was to fine tune the operation of the church to run so smoothly that even those who thought differently than me would change their mind. This was reactionary and uninspiring. It is difficult to juggle a spirituality based on the Bible one day and one that helps IBM remain successful on the other days.

It is now clear to me that the Spirit was working on me in ways that were not visible to me at the time. My history to this point had emphasized the spirituality of spontaneity. Anything else was something other than the Spirit. Planning and other liturgical practice was something for other churches. So was further education. Somehow during this time I was influenced to begin thinking that the Spirit could indeed work in advance. The God who is able to work in loud preachers and spontaneous displays is able to work in the study, the liturgy, even in written prayers. I was growing as a disciple by recognizing the sovereignty of God.

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