Monday, February 25, 2008

Charity

I'm beginning to think I have a sign pinned to my back that says 'Charity case.' Or, perhaps, I'm wearing it on my face, in the form of blood-shot eyes framed in black. Regardless, in the past two weeks, I've thrice been been victim to what I've called a Chance F-D-B-ing.

The first occurrence was in Fazoli's. After porting two small children to a table--while carrying a pager in my mouth, balancing a booster seat on my head, and steering a high chair with my right leg--a lady from a neighboring church in Winona Lake sneaked up behind me. "Hi. We wanted to pay for your dinner. We remember how hard this stage was." She set two Five Dollar Bills on the table and returned to her husband.

Less than one week later, my in-laws agreed to babysit while Liz and I went out to eat. She won a gift card to a swank, local restaurant; it was burning a hole in our appetites. When her parents arrived at our house, her dad reached into his back pocket, retrieved his wallet, and pulled out some cash. "Take your time. This should be enough for two movie tickets, popcorn and a drink," he said, handing me the bills.

The third F-D-B-ing happened at the grocery store. An unexpected hand grasped mine. "Get something special for the girls," it said. I turned and immediately recognized a colleague. He sped off without another word. He had slipped me a five spot.

Three chance encounters; three acts of charity. (Is this tax-deductible?)

As a theologian, I use the term 'chance' rather loosely. Obviously, God is trying to teach me something (and/or empower the cash-carrying culprits). And I think the lesson is this: In God's economy, there is no place for chance, but plenty of space for cash.

Now if I could just convince my VISA card of this...

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

A Prank

People don't always notice subtle, decorative changes I make around the church. One week I swapped a plastic, five-foot Ficus tree for a six-foot, silk Capensia. The tree stood behind a green wicker chair I repositioned in front of the administrative center that I'd shifted two inches further from the door.

All these changes and no one commented.

Now, to be fair to my congregation, someone did notice when I purchased a stool and moved it beside the podium. But he is an unusually observant man; once he pointed out a scuff on my shoe.

So, for my prank: I have removed the hallowed items from our church's showcase and replaced them with pink and yellow Peeps. The former objects are safely stored in an airtight container.

I'm trying to envision the scene come Sunday morning. Families will meander through the doors, only to have their attention snagged by a brilliant showing of pink and yellow. The overhead lighting will glisten off the sugar crystals. Everyone will stop, licking their lips and creating a human barrier to the auditorium.

Reactions will be mixed. Some will try hard to decipher the spiritual meaning of a showcase filled with Peeps. Others, concerned with preserving the church's history, will search for the hidden items. And certainly some will be so enraged at the tribute to Ishtar (idol) and Walmart (idol-distributor) that they'll storm out.

Actually, after that forecast, I'm not sure I'm willing to suffer the backlash of my prank. A former pastor once told me not to make any changes in the first seven years of ministry. He never qualified the magnitude of the change. Service order? Music style? Translation of the Bible? Putting Peeps instead of antiques in the church's showcase? He simply said, no changes.

Of course, now my problem is what to do with the 4000 Peeps I just charged to my credit card.

Monday, February 11, 2008

A Prophecy

Friday, February 8, 2008; 8:30 a.m. ET

My phone rang, though not its typical tune; it was Melody 3, which I reserve for calendar appointments. I flipped open the device to see what was planned.

Typically, my phone alarm tells me when to wake up or if I have a breakfast date with someone. I've given up on the handwritten day planner; I prefer digital reminders and backlit screens. On more important dates, e.g., wife's birthday, I might also thumb in a notice, selecting a Ringtone that matches the event. Today's "event" fit none of the above.

Some time ago (before the foundation of the world, perhaps) the words Prophecy--church shift were logged into my phone calendar. Today at 8:30 I was reminded that this shift was immanent. When I upgraded to the V-CAST, double-flip screen, I had no idea of its capabilities.

A few things concern me about this prophecy:
  • I have no recollection of ever storing this information in my phone;
  • if I'm not the author of this prophetic utterance, I don't know whom to stone;
  • 'church shift' is unfortunately vague; however, it sounds more ominous than the Men's Breakfast I had scheduled the next morning;
  • I'm not sure if the church mentioned is Leesburg GBC, or the one, holy, catholic Church;
  • and now I'm divining the air for unusual scents.
Predictive prophecy has this effect: confusion, superstition, sign-seeking, and general unrest. This, of course, is as much a reflection of the interpreter as the message. I likely speak for myself, but a chamber of my heart is dedicated to confusion, superstition, sign-seeking, and unrest.

Another chamber of my heart, then, rushes to make sense of things. It places predictions on timelines and weds them with headlines on Fox News. It coordinates them with dispensation charts, midrashic margin notes, and provides cross-references to LaHaye and Rosenberg. Making order of chaos, sense of disparate stimuli, is a reflection of the imago Dei.

But until the time has passed, and the prophecy becomes a backwards glance, it's difficult to feel certainty. I await clarity, or try to force it. I manufacture fulfillments like Da-Lite screens. I go to the church building and rearrange furniture.

Predictive prophecy begs for resolution with granite-filled hands (Duet 18:20-22).

I suppose I should type a reminder into my phone to reconsider February 8th's prophecy in light of its recent history. Until then, I'll survey the current setting of church to see if the spring thaw moves its foundation. The more literal the prediction the better.


(NOTE: If you are the dubious prophet who tampered with my phone, please let me know so I can go back to leading this church without being so paranoid. I promise I'll put my stone down.)

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

The Grand Inquisitor

They were whispering behind me. This was not unusual. Every time I asked them a question, I heard them whisper. This is what adolescent girls do. And they whispered often, because I asked questions often. I made sport of it the week my wife and I watched them.

"Why do you think ________? Why did you say ________? What do you mean by ________?" I may have sounded like a three-year old, but I would not be victimized by their vagueness.

Questions are verbal instruments. They pry and chisel, opening minds and chipping away opaque beliefs. The question rivaled the parable as Jesus' preferred form of teaching: Why do you discuss the fact that you have no bread? Do you not see? Do you not understand? Do you have a hardened heart? (Mk 8)

Paul was rhetorical. The prophets were rhetorical. God is rhetorical (e.g. Ex. 4:11; Job 38). Rhetoric is an art form--political, philosophical, homiletic--but it is lacking as a basis for truth.

Herein lies MacArthur's critique of the Emergent church: It is too rhetorical, and rhetoric is more deconstructive than definitive. Questions are not absolute; they lead to more questions. Rob Bell said so much in Velvet Elvis (see "Springs").

But perhaps this topic raises some questions: Is rhetorical the same as rhetoric? Are questions the same as questioning? Is a tool to be judged based upon its function or who yields it? Is the term Emergent rhetoric or rhetorical?

These, of course, were not the questions I asked the two girls. They assumed I wanted "to make them think." Questions may function this way. But as a hammer has two sides (a head and a claw), so inquiry has another angle.

I did not ask simply to make them think; I asked because I wanted to know them.

Evangelicals are too quick to write off the questioning man as unstable and theologically suspect. We rush to call a question a doubt. I'm glad my wife said no such thing when I asked, "Will you marry me?"