Monthly Archives: November 2011

Worldly

Worldly: Concerned with material desires or everyday life rather than spiritual things.

In the darkly lit bar, it takes a few moments to recognize each other, to call up the memories associated with faces. Sometimes, it takes a surreptitious peek at the name tag.

Ten years after graduation, we still look mostly like ourselves. As a group, we average an extra twenty pounds or so since then. We’re starting to get a few lines around our eyes. There lots of tall boots in the room; the men, as a whole, have less hair.

I am buoyed by the glass of white table wine that I had at a good friend’s apartment beforehand, by the brisk walk in the late November rain from her place to the bar. My husband is nearby with his beer and easy smile. He is a tether to my real life; he is keeping me from floating back in time.

I say “Hello,” to the first person I see, and it’s so simple. Just conversation. Just talking, listening, nodding, laughing.

I am surprised how easy it is to speak to these people who so intimidated me all those years ago, when I was a Jesus Freak. I am surprised that when I say, “It’s so nice to see you!” I’m not pretending.

We are well-rehearsed, all of us, our lives condensed to sound-bytes, tweets, status updates. Job. Relationships. Locale. Where did you go to school again? And if with a date, So, how did you guys meet?

But every once in a while, there is a gap, and something else slips through. Like when that guy I once went to Homecoming with says, of his bachelor life, “My longest relationship ever has been three months, and that’s how I like it,” but his eyes say that he doesn’t really like it that much at all.

Or when the girl I sat near in choir says, “I don’t get why people think it’s okay to ask if you’re in a relationship.” She stops, takes a sip of her drink, looks around. “I mean…what am I supposed to say to that?”

The line between “worldly” and “spiritual” is thin as thread, barely holding. Or maybe not a line at all, not that divider that I saw back in high school as separating me from them, them from me, all of us from each other. (They are “worldly” who party, drink, smoke pot in the parking lot during study hall.)

Maybe “worldly” is a layer, a threadbare jacket that I am clutching at too. I’m saying things like “I stay home with the kids, write on the side,” when what I really mean to say is, I’m sorry I was so afraid. I am asking things like, “So, where do you work?” instead of looking people square in the eye, asking, How are you doing?

The night wears on. DJ Dirty Darren starts up with the techno music, and it is so loud we can no longer hear each other’s voices. We try shouting in each other’s ears, but it’s no use.

We’ve lost our hold on the bar, and the college girls start trickling in with their tight dresses and tall wedge shoes. One of them shoves a couple of renegade balloons in the top of her dress and dances large drunken circles in the middle of the room.

It is “worldly” behavior, some would say. She will regret it in the morning. But look closer. There is more than this.

She is spirit; she is glimmering; she has never been more precious to God than she is at this moment.

Just [as used in prayer]

just-as-used-in-prayer-christianese-redefined

Just A filler word commonly used in communal, evangelical prayer. (Example: “Lord, we just come before you today to ask that you would just fill this place with your presence…”)

I learned how to pray in a group when I was a freshman in high school. I suppose I’d been hearing it all of my life, but here, I was listening. Here I was paying attention.

I was in the home of a boy I did not know. I was a freshman, invited by a senior, surrounded by upperclassmen. I was conscious of my hair, my outfit, my hands as I folded myself into a corner of the couch. There were guitars. Guitars are my undoing.

Here is how you pray in a group of evangelical Christians: you listen for the space between the end of one person’s prayer and the beginning of another. You know when it’s your turn to speak because even though no one is looking, it feels like everyone’s eyes are on you.

When you pray, you repeat the name of God in different variations, you add in the justs to fill the spaces. Lord, we just…we just pray that you would do something in our school, Father God. We pray that you would just send revival!

You know when you on are on track when the room bursts into a chorus of Yes Lord and Thank you Jesus. Then you know that everyone else is just praying that too.

You pray for everything you can think of. You cast your words like a net in the air. You feel like if you just say enough, just put together the right combination of thoughts and syllables, all the sevens will line up on that great slot-machine of God’s goodness, and the riches will come pouring out.

Just.

Only. Simply. (As in “just be yourself.) Barely. Precisely. Perhaps. Possibly. (As in, “it just might work.)

Here is the undercurrent, the connotation: a theology of not enough. As if there is not enough to give. As if He does not want to give it. So we ask, communally, for this. Just this.

I have trouble praying aloud these days.

I hate the way my words take on the old cadence, the sounds not of my deepest heart but of the people I once knew. I begin to speak, and I feel exhausted by all there is to ask for, beg for, hope for, wait for. There is too much; there is not enough.

But he wakes up at three in the morning still, and I sit in the darkness of his room, rocking him while he drinks. He makes his small, glad eating sounds, but other than that, there silence. It is vast, expansive, deep. There is enough here. Enough space, enough time, enough to go around.

I do not need to say anything aloud; I don’t repeat the name of God in all its variations or cast requests like arrows. I don’t need to put it just right.

This is enough: to be here, my heart split wide open, the silent, speaking, mysterious God all around me.

 

 

Photo Credit: Todd White at CreationSwap

Veggie Tales

Veggie Tales: A computer-animated series developed in 1993, which, in its original format, was meant to communicate Biblical truths and moral lessons via talking fruits and vegetables.

My two year old, Dane, is swirling around in circles in the bathtub, singing the theme song from Veggie Tales. At least the two lines of it that he can remember. His baby brother, Liam, is sitting in the baby tub next to him, transfixed.

Water is sloshing out of the tub and getting my socks wet, but he is so happy with all the singing and the spinning that it doesn’t occur to me to stop it.

I caved a couple of weeks ago and started letting Dane watch Veggie Tales at our kitchen counter at night while I make dinner. It seemed like a good alternative to his current favorite activity: trying to kill Liam.

So he clamors now, up onto the stool and says, “I watch Tomato!” And I think This is absurd, while I open up Netflix and click on the animated cucumber.

The Vegetables are doing an elaborate retelling of the story of David and Bathsheba—that violent, R-rated tale in which King David has an affair with a married woman, impregnates her, and then has her husband killed to cover up his indiscretion.

Except, in this version, King Larry the Cucumber merely steals a rubber ducky from the poor and adorable Junior Asparagus. He then sends Junior to the front lines of a food fight, where he gets a cream pie to the head. In the end, Junior Asparagus recovers, and King Larry returns the Ducky, and all is well in the kingdom.

I am listening to this while I sauté bell peppers. It occurs to me that perhaps I was a little bit too hard on Zacchaeus.

I’m thinking, also about how Veggie Tales has boiled the story down, stripped out the questionable, and made it into a lesson on greed.

But when I think about the actual story of David and Bathsheba, greed is not the first thing that comes to my mind. It’s our frailty, that pull in all of us towards the darkness. It’s our capacity for rationalizing our own evil. It’s our numbness. It’s the wrenching road back to freedom.

In her study of spiritual language, Amazing Grace, Kathleen Norris contemplates the importance of play in human development, in childhood. She recognizes the inevitable truth that we all will need to outgrow and unlearn much of what we are taught about faith.

I want to give my children this freedom to play in the shallows of Biblical truth. To laugh at the tomato on the screen. To sing the silly songs. But I struggle against the fear of teaching them things that will be painful to later unlearn.

I recognize, for example, that it is fun, so fun, to spread your arms like an airplane and zoom around the room singing, I may never fly over the enemy, but I’m in the Lord’s army. But I worry—will this translate, later, to a wartime ethic that permeates their faith? Will they, like I did, see themselves as soldiers, fighting, always fighting for their beliefs?

I want to teach them that to know God is to have the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart. Where? Down in my heart. But I also want them to know that it won’t always feel that way. That sometimes it will feel like loneliness, like pain, like too much too much too much. I want them to know that even when it feels that way, the joy can still be there, feeding their hearts like an invisible stream under the earth.

I am overthinking this, I know. But I’m a mom now. This is what we do.

A song comes on – Junior Asparagus on how God’s way is the best way, and Dane starts singing along without really knowing the words. He is so happy singing and watching, and of course, I won’t stop him. I smile back. I join in the song.

These are his earliest foundations. These are the songs he will still be able to sing twenty-five years from now. I close my eyes, pray for grace.

Get Plugged In

get-plugged-in-christianese-redefined

Get Plugged In: To enter into the life of a church by joining one of the programs it offers or attending an activity that it promotes.

Here is what I remember about depression: it’s like being pulled under the deep water. Everything around you is muffled, the details obscured. You are aware of a vague kind of light somewhere above the surface, but you can’t reach it no matter how hard you swim.

You’re tired a lot. You meet new people, and you grasp at your collection of words and greetings and charming one-liners, but you come up empty every time. You feel shadowy, a sort of fragment of yourself.

You are broken. You are shards, jagged and cruel in your sadness. You are desperate for love and unable to receive it all at once.

It’s not something you can slap a little church on. You can’t just “plug” your tired soul into the electric current of this place and be filled with power. It’s not a matter of joining a Bible study or volunteering with the Jr. High Youth Group or singing in the worship band. Plugged in. It’s not really that simple.

There is a woman sitting at the end of the aisle on Sunday morning when I slip into church. Andrew is out of town for the weekend, and I’ve somehow managed to get both kids deposited into their classes by myself. I am focused on getting seated, on not spilling my coffee. I don’t even notice her until I sit down and take a breath.

At communion, she does not get up, but shifts awkwardly out of the way to let us pass. During the worship time that follows, she takes a Kleenex out of her bag and dabs at her eyes. She studies the carpet. I want to say something, but I am too many chairs away. I want to touch her arm, but I cannot reach her.

The pastor is speaking, and the church bulletin is filled with programs and possibilities, but we are not this. We are, first and foremost, people. We need to train our eyes to see each other, to let the love of Christ move through us as we take each other by the hand.

Not join or plug in or get connected. Just come. Come as you are.

The woman at the end of the aisle leaves early. She goes in the small space between the sermon’s end and the first chords of the last song. Gone. She will not stop at the Information Desk to see about getting plugged in to a small group, the women’s Bible study, the clothing ministry.

She will hurry toward the glass doors, toward the parking lot. She will disappear into the day.

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