Wednesday, January 26, 2005

What Does Church Look Like?

Yesterday two church members stopped by to talk with me in my study. "We have a question for you," one said. "My son knows a man at work who is really having a rough time. Trying to raise kids by himself, unable to work right now because of an injury, and basically at the end of his rope. Is there anything we can do for him?"
I asked, "What does he need?"
"Food," was her blunt reply.

Blessed are the hungry, for they shall be satisfied.
- But it is actually a spiritual hunger, and Jesus meant that if you yearn for a relationship with God, you will find it.
Ask, and it will be given to you.
- Well, God does answer prayer, but sometimes the answer is "No."
Whenever you saw someone who was hungry and fed them ... you did it to me.
- You know, so many people are just scamming the system, we can't just give food to anyone who comes by.

All of these things flashed through my mind in three seconds, which allowed the second church member to enter the conversation. She said, "You know, we have a whole bin full of food people have given for the Food Pantry out there in the lobby, and a lot of stuff down in the freezer. All of that food is going over to the Pantry eventually, anyway, and I thought we just might as well..." As she left the thought dangling in the air, I realized what I was seeing.
These two women were being the Church.

Wherever two or three are gathered in my name, I am there also.

And I realized that I really don't believe any of those rationalizations that flashed in my mind, the one about spiritual hunger and God answering No to our prayers and being extra careful about who gets food because so many people scam the system. I just don't believe them.
So we got the guy some food, and the church lives on.

Grace and Peace,
Andy B.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Dive In

One of my good friends read my last blog entry and sent me an email that said, “Way to stay low key right off the bat.” If you could type with a sarcastic tone of keyboard, she would have been doing it. Her point was, of course, that I had been anything but “low key” in my blog, and she was poking fun at me for diving into the pool with no thought whatsoever to dipping my toe in first to check the temperature.
I have never been a wader; I either take the plunge or don’t even bother putting on my trunks. (It’s funny, even when my family goes wading in a creek, my first objective is to get out into the deepest, fastest current, rather than stay close to shore and dabble around in the shallows.) What is at stake in the debate between rigid fundamentalism and vibrant diversity is nothing less than the life of the Church, so I really see no need to screw around. Call me selfish, but I love the Church, and it is being stolen away from me, and I want it back. So I’m selfish. I’m diving into the river (or perhaps we could say the rainbow).
I am encouraged that there are others out in the current with me, others who refuse to stay close to the nice, safe shoreline barely getting their ankles wet. Dr. King would sat that there are a lot of people wading in those shallows over there who would prefer a “negative peace,” or “the absence of tension” (the Pax Romana), to a “positive peace,” or “the presence of justice” (shalom). “See,” they cry out in self-satisfied arrogance, “I’m in the river.” Come on, pal, you haven’t even rolled up the cuffs of your jeans, yet!

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

The Retreat Into Fundamentalism

Dig this. In today's paper here in Kansas City, someone on the opinion page lamented the scientific exploration of one of Saturn's moons. It seems that, up on Titan, scientists are looking for a parallel to the origins of life on earth, and apparently, in order to discover said origins of life on earth, "all they have to do is turn to God's holy word, the Bible, and read Genesis." Well, that sure got me thinking.
The first, easy thought that came was (naturally) a smart aleck question, "Which story in Genesis should they read?" There happen to be two stories in Genesis about the origin of life on earth, and they are different from each other. But that, like I said, is the easy way out, a counter-productive smart aleck response, and besides when you enter the rainbow, things are never simply black or white - there is a whole spectum of color to consider.
My second, more difficult thought was this: the reaction against scientific discovery and the reation against cultural diversity are branches on the same vine. They both represent a retreat into fundamentalism based on a fear of what is so rapidly becoming known about the world. As humanity comes into contact with the intimate minutiae of the atom and the immeasurable breadth of outer space, we are astounded and amazed. Likewise, when humanity comes into contact with people with different cultural systems, different values, and different belief systems, we are nearly overwhelmed with the vastness of the variety. We then have basically two options in how to respond: deny it or embrace it.
Those who deny it will tend to retreat into the known, go "back to the basics," affirm the foundations of their own personal epistemology. Those who embrace it are the ones who know what it means to enter the rainbow. I choose to embrace it!
The problem with the denial of scientific discovery is that denying it doesn't make it go away. The problem with denying cultural differences is that denying them doesn't automatically make us all the same. You can choose not to enter the rainbow, but that doesn't make the rainbow disappear.
One last thought: Denying diversity by retreating into fundamentalism is killing the Church. Embrace diversity and you embrace God.
Peace - Andy B.
(By the way, I dare someone to tell me who Cain's (Adam and Eve's murderous son) mother-in-law was.)

Monday, January 17, 2005

Enter the Rainbow

I'm calling this blog "Enter the Rainbow." I owe the idea to a friend of mine who told me this story.

In a time of her life when she was experiencing a lot of anxiety, issues around her job, her family, her personal relationship with God, she drove into a rainbow, and everything changed. That is not a misprint - she drove into a rainbow. Most of the time when you see a rainbow in the distance, it stays in the distance. A physicist could probably explain that for us. However, this time as she drove, the rainbow in the distance did not recede; it stayed right where it was.

She drove closer and closer to the point at which the rainbow intersected the earth, and thoughts of leprechauns and pots of gold teased her mind. But as she got even closer, she saw that a drive right through the end of the rainbow was inevitable, and she began to feel uncertain. This had to be some kind of trick, right? This kind of thing just didn't happen to her. It sounded like some unbelievable, touchy-feely, Chicken Soup kind of a story. But it was most definitely real. It was happening. She drove into the rainbow.

There was light and there was warmth. A shimmering cascade seemed to surround her, penetrate her soul. Silent music drown out all other noise. There was, for a timeless instant, peace. She felt an embrace gently lift her up to where she could float, suspended in light and music. Then her car continued on doing what cars are built to do and carried her back into the world.

It was not so much a jolt back into reality as it was a sudden revving up. Sensation, noise, dull grey color seemed to rush back into her perception like a wave onto a beach. And she drove home. And you know what? She still had anxiety about her job, her family, and her personal relationship with God. None of that went away. But she had had that one moment in the rainbow, and somehow she would find a way to muddle through her life.

That's all any of us can really ever hope for, isn't it?

Grace and Peace,
Andy B.