A Fall Story

This is a Fall Story. I’ve always liked Fall, there are things I like to remember about it and things I look forward to. I like to watch the leaves change. I remember people always saying that leaf color peaked in the third week of October, but here we are and things are still green. I enjoy Fall for those mornings you can see your breath against the sky. I enjoy anything apple or pumpkin.

There are things about Fall that I have always loved and figure I have probably retired from. This is not an intentional retirement, but I haven’t done them in so long I suspect that I’ve retired. I’ve played a lot of Fall soccer, but not for some time now. It has been a long while since I’ve made a scarecrow or bobbed for apples or attended a costume party. I was never very good at that.

But, surprisingly, my Dad could pull off a costume. Dad was influenced by whoever influenced James Dean. He combed his dark hair straight back. I might also add that Dad had false teeth. Once when the church was in need of a drunkard for a play, Dad volunteered. He flipped the collar up on his jacket, pulled out his teeth, messed up his otherwise slicked back hair, and staggered up the aisle – he totally pulled it off. I think people were lining up afterwards to get his autograph.

Since it is Fall I am reminded of a Halloween costume party. At this particular party, there was an unrecognizable old man in a dark corner. He looked rough, he held a cane, he held it out if someone came near. He would sometimes yell and cause commotion. I stayed away, out of fear. When the party was over, the scary man stood up, combed his hair and put in his teeth. I had no idea that was Dad.

Each Fall there are things I look forward to. I like to overnight in the forest and Fall is the perfect time. The sounds, the smells, the way the fire feels against the cold, the way the star lit sky looks through the tree canopy. I like to carry my bow in the woods. I like to fit in one more fishing trip. And now that I have retired from some activities, I do things like clean out the gardens, clean out the bird boxes, clean the feeders. I used to run around on a soccer field, now I have become a maid for the local wildlife. I am seriously thinking about putting up an owl box. I am thinking about putting up a bat house.

But so far, I haven’t had a chance to do any of this. I have been busy writing a paper. 7500 words, for those counting at home that is 28 pages double spaced. Now that I think about it, I should have continued bobbing for apples and retired from writing papers.

This paper took over my life, at least it felt like it. A class I am part of was assigned a text and told to read it over and over. We were told to steep in it, like a tea bag steeps in water to make a delicious refreshing drink. It doesn’t happen instantly, it takes time. I took the request seriously and steeped and steeped for over two months. I read it in six different translations. I read it in a different language. I read it out loud. I moved to different rooms to read it. I read it upstairs and downstairs. I read it standing on my head (true story). I thought I might read it in a tree, at least in a hammock, but then I haven’t made it to the forest.

The text I’ve been reading is from the New Testament and includes apostles and widows and complainers and table servers and priests. I pretended to be all of them. I read as if I were auditioning for the part of apostle. I read as if I were auditioning for widow. I read as if I were auditioning for someone waiting on tables… you get the idea.

Did I mention this paper took over my life? Fortunately for me, I turned that thing in this week – all 7500 words. And the best news is, we are not yet halfway through Fall. I have time left to do some of those things I’ve been looking forward to…

Steeping with the Text

I am a simple guy. That includes my beverage of choice. I am a tea drinker and all I require is black tea brewed properly and poured over ice. It seems so simple. Yet, I have had to suffer through some nasty tea. Some of my friends would call me a tea snob. They are probably right. If I am served nasty tea someplace, it is highly likely I will not be going back.

Joe Dongell is also a tea drinker. Much more sophisticated than I, he drinks specialty teas from exotic places. He would claim the secret is to make sure it “steeps” properly. Good tea cannot be rushed. On that, I agree. I agree with Dongell on an even more important matter as well. He claims we tend to be scavengers with the biblical text. We often abuse it, reading it just to get what we need from it.

His recommendation – we need to “steep” with the text. We need to sit with it and listen to it. We need to explore it, asking questions without pressure to find answers. “Who, what, when, and why” open up possibilities. Of course, we are interested in the content of the text. But we also want to be attentive to the process and movement.

This sounds like a recipe for a good morning. Exploring text while sipping iced tea. I should put that on my schedule.

Adventure and Text

I do not want to allow adventure to pass me by. Yet, the adventure advertised by politicians and others leaves me with doubts. Instead I find myself more and more in the biblical texts. These texts are far more imaginative than what others try to pass off as news. In the text I learn that I have descended from wanderers. I discover that my people escaped from slave camp. I am a descendant of spies sent to scout promised land. We were unlikely warriors who entered battle with weapons of clay pots and trumpets. While in the text, things begin to make sense. Turns out I am created for adventure. The mundane suggestions from others are woefully inadequate.

I am not the only one who feels this way. Others have been finding the same clues. There are others exploring the same texts and stories that make sense of life. We have been gathering for some time now, usually on Sundays. We retell our stories and encourage one another to practice what we have discovered. I am drawn to these people in the hope that together we will discover who we are and why we are here.

LGBT: How We Talk About Things Matter

I am one who hopes that the reason some of us are intentionally welcoming toward the LGBT community is because we are trying to take seriously the command to love our neighbor. I surely want to believe that we do not make decisions in order to keep step with society. I am one who hopes that the reason some of us are perceived as opposed to that lifestyle is because we are trying to take seriously the biblical text as the word of God. I want to believe that we do not make difficult decisions in order to keep people not like us away from us.

I am one who hopes that the tensions that emerge from this conversation lead to prayer, soul-searching, and fellowship together. I want to believe that we will be part of an ongoing dialogue that is faithful to God’s words and God’s character. Our conversation must take seriously the questions about how we love our neighbors who do not think like us or act like us. Our conversation must give priority to the way we read the text and the way we interact with others.

This will be an ongoing debate, I suspect it will be a primary conversation in the church for several decades. Nearly all of us will be certain we are on the right side of the debate. While we must be true to the biblical text, we do not want to encourage inappropriate behavior. May we be gracious even as we discuss controversial subjects.

The way we hold conversation is important. Instead of challenges to our faith, our points of disagreement become opportunities to demonstrate the way God works in the world. We are to love the person who opposes our beliefs, love those who are unlike us, love even those who consider us enemies. We are to become more in tune with the character of God.

We may never reach consensus on this issue, still we must behave like Christians. May our discussion prompt us to explore biblical responses to things like creation, humanity, sexuality, salvation, and grace. May we explore what it means to be the church. Whatever our thoughts about homosexuality or the LGBT community, we are still called to love those who think differently. Whatever our thoughts about the human condition, we remain confident about the grace of God.

A Story of Adventure

The text is not God.  But it is summoned by God.  And it keeps coming at us whether we request it or not. Sometimes, I think I have tamed it, like Lewis’s men thought they had tamed the grizzly.  Then it keeps charging at me and I am unable to escape.  Sometimes I think I can charge back, but like ocean waves it repeatedly reminds me of my place in the story.  The text offers numerous difficulties that are not easy to navigate, yet I continue to be drawn into it.

The adventure that the text takes us on is not an easy one.  We know this is true because even preachers of this text do not always believe its words.  If they did they would not so often explain away its mystery.  Or attempt to make it into something that seems more relevant for this century.  The fact is, though we claim that we are serious about this adventure of the text, we seem uneasy with allowing it to speak for itself.

The text is more than a journey from Genesis to Revelation.  It takes our soul on an adventure with prophets, poets, and evangelists as our guides.  The context is creation.  Everything we see and do occurs here.  In the opening scene, creation takes shape.  In the final scene, creation sings a song of praise.  The text calls us to engage with other participants as we live out creation realities.

Living by a text is nothing if not a story of adventure. It is a story about surviving and testing one’s wit in this place.  Our text gathers us and asks us to look inside to explore issues of identity. It strips us down to our bare bones in order to find out what lies underneath the surface. It asks who we are when there are no props of modern convenience.  It alerts us to danger and beauty and an abundance of gifts.  It motivates us to continue a life of gratitude.  It orients us in the ways of God and gives us a ticket close to the action.

Scattered Thoughts About a Text

I am not a lone adventurer.  And I am not the first.  I read the logs of those who have gone before.  Their insights help to orient me.  They help with decision making and direction.  Those of us participating in this adventure are explorers of these particular texts.  Exploring text is a lot like exploring the forest, or the backyard, or the seashore.  In order to become skilled at it, we must be attentive to things like contrast and movement.  Things like shape, tone, and frequency call our attention to what is going on.

Sometimes it is tempting to read the texts through the eyes of where I am and when.  But reading the text is necessarily contextual.  All texts have a specific context.  Eugene Peterson says that we must “immerse ourselves in their soil and weather.”  The texts were formed because the traditions are important.  We take this seriously so we continually read the texts, gather around them and acknowledge that we are wisest when we are attentive to what they have to say.

The text is not tame and calls us to either choose a new world or defend the old one.  Reading the text is a daring, dangerous act.  The text calls us out and places us in a larger system than first imagined and explores our relationships with the Creator, creation, outsiders, enemies, neighbors, and with one another.  Ecclesia may mean “called out” but it does not eliminate our connection with the world at large.  The text reminds us that we do not dominate what is around us. Instead we are participants in it.  We are part of an eccle-system.

The text does not exist that we may gain information.  Instead it directs us to a King and invites us to join up with a collection of people who gather to follow that King.  Our words, our behaviors, our attitudes, all of our moves become extremely important and influences everything else in this eccle-system.  Here, we recognize that everything belongs to the King and that determines how we respond to it.  Our response becomes one of thankfulness and gratitude, of becoming as children, as taking on the attitude of a servant.  This is a community where love for God and neighbor are strong, but love your enemies is equally strong.

In this community it is evident that what happens to one member affects and impacts the rest.  It is no accident that the text calls us to rejoice with those who rejoice and to mourn with those who mourn.  What outsiders do affects us as well.  Persecuted by someone?  Bless them.  Have enemies?  Feed them.  Evil is not an option.  Peace to everyone.  The text provides an eccle-systemic view of this gathering, this thing we call church.