Monday, May 25, 2009

Fallen

Memorial Day in Leesburg, Indiana would make Norman Rockwell drool. Families bring their strollers, puppies, and folding lawn chairs to watch a quarter mile procession of tractors, fire trucks, and police cars. They roll across the brick streets and make eyes at waving hands. Horns blast, flags fly, and the colors red, white, and blue appear in various shades and shapes on printed tees. This is how the town remembers.

And there, where the engines die and cemetery starts, our church body gives out hot dogs and soda. This is how we reach out. Patriot fodder for the local herd.

For the second year I was asked to join a duo of Methodist pastors share homilies from the graveyard. Our words, God's word, framed a ceremony, insulated with pledges, salutes, and Star Spangled hymns. We removed our hats, covered our hearts, and paid tribute to the fallen. At no point did I mention the clause in my statement of faith referring to 'no carnal strife,' which at one point meant nonresistance.

Instead, I pledged and prayed and spoke a benediction. "How have the mighty fallen!" David began his dirge. His lament memorialized the life and loss of Saul and Jonathan, 'beloved' king and 'pleasant' prince of Israel.

David's eulogy was my benediction. I read his poem, pointing out that David first was a shepherd, second a poet, and third a warrior. As a shepherd, David called his people to fast and mourn (2 Sam. 1:11-12). During this time he composed* his Song of the Bow (vv. 17ff). Then he unleashed corporeal punishment on the murderous Amalekite (vv. 13-16).

The mighty fall, David sang, and I agreed. Even today I could see their decorated gravestones. But the mighty were not alone. Sitting among them, with solemn faces and Americana shirts, were the rest of us: big and small; patriotic and apathetic; residents and hot dog vendors. "For all have fallen..." Paul wrote because he wanted us to remember our need for a Savior.



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*Chronologically, the poem follows the execution, but the fact that David chants the song and requests a copy of it for successive generations implies he had worked on it prior to verse 17. The time of fasting is the most logical time. Moreover, I have to believe David's poems were thoughtfully composed, and not simply the product of spontaneous, ecstatic utterances.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Get

We were discussing how Jesus healed the man with the withered hand. Three characters interact in the story: Jesus, his critics, and the handicapped soul. Jesus is angry and active; the Pharisees suspicious and passive; the handicapped is desperate and obedient. Jesus, of course, is the hero, but each character vies for our affections. We know them by their actions. Pharisees: watch, accuse, question, go silent, go home, and conspire for a kill. Handicapped soul: rises, comes forward, stretches and receives. Jesus: speaks, asks, surveys, emotes, and heals.


We should find ourselves in these characters as we read God’s Word, but too often we don’t. The reason is simple: We introduce a fourth character, namely ourselves. With our own context and verbs we harass the text: read, analyze, diagram, expose, and apply. We don’t find ourselves in the man or the critic or the Christ. We find ourselves in a living room, above the passage with our Bible study methods. And the central question is “What did you get out of this story?”


“I got this…” one starts.


“I got that…” another adds.


We circle the room with our gets and gots, treating this story of Jesus as a product that we could buy or rent for a few dollars. Perhaps this is just vernacular, a way of saying, “What is God teaching you? How do you observe/experience/obey Him in this story?” But these questions are as mute as the kill-a-life-but-keep-the-law Pharisees.


No, the word was get, as in take, consume, pull from. The verb reduces the Bible to a commodity. Eugene Peterson addresses this Western approach to the Christian life in his book, The Jesus Way. He writes, “My concern is that the prominence of the way in our Scriptures…has been transferred in contemporary life into ways of getting money, getting jobs, and getting power” (pg. 38).


I felt God moving me to address this language in our Bible study. The company was mostly unfamiliar, but house church gatherings promise a voice to everyone present. “I want to challenge our language for studying the Bible,” I began. The room was quiet. I pointed out and corrected the language of reading-to-get, and offered an alternative.


“We enter into the text as a participant, not a consumer. This is God’s story to tell, not ours simply to take from.”



Perhaps this is just clever wordplay, but I would argue otherwise. The words we employ both reflect and shape our thinking. Approaching the Bible as an entrance, not a fuel stop, might help reform our withered reading.

Rise up. Come forward. Stretch out your hand.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Itch

Today marks the two-year anniversary of my return to Indiana. I woke up at six a.m. for a breakfast of steak and eggs at the home of my collegiate running coach's home in Nebraska, so I could be on US 80 by seven. I wanted to arrive in Indiana by dinner time. It was mother's day 2007, and my gift to my wife was returning safely.

Six weeks earlier I had driven most of my possessions across the country in a Ryder truck with my brother-in-law. We drove through the night, fueled by Rockstar and unleaded gas at $2.76 a gallon. Throughout the night my brother-in-law shouted expletives as my eyes drooped behind the wheel. What was left for my successive, and permanent return trip was a Mazda Protege filled with clothes, books, and a laptop.

Two years and a move--this had become our modus operandi. From Indiana to Phoenix to Denver and back again--one foot for each year in each state. By the time Liz and I felt settled, we uprooted. In fact, we'd become so efficient at moving, I wrote an article for Relevant Magazine's website that was published: Transience - Life by the Lease.

In reality, I'm not sure we ever felt settled. Both Spirit and circumstance influenced us. The religious discontent that drove me to the house church movement, and then further to the communal living experiment, surfaced the essence of my discontent. I wanted to experience the transforming power of God's church, but also balance a budget and birth some babies.

Neither movement nor community are the solution to spiritual discontentment--our Heavenly Father is the remedy. Movement and community are proper means and fruits, but they are not the goal.

Like Paul, I have not achieved the goal (Phil. 3), but I press onward. My current context is no more conducive to apprehending God. I could've done that in Phoenix homes or Denver communes. At times I did. What is different, however, is the comfort of my own skin. It doesn't itch anymore. The pollen of discontentment no longer compels me to sneeze and scratch and move.

Of course, that might change if I can't solve this confounded dandelion problem in my front lawn.

Monday, May 4, 2009

T9 word

I met a guy yesterday who sends 4500 texts (min.) in a month. I shook his free hand after the church service. In between the words 'hello' and 'what is your name?' he'd fired off two messages. His thumbs rival his lips.

To his credit, he did a fine job multi-tasking. He carried on a conversation with me while digitally transmitting to a remote audience some miles away. Later we went to lunch, a group of nine, and the young man simultaneously spoke with me, the group, and Cha Cha--a mobile search engine.

To author 4500 texts (min.) in month, one would have to average 150 texts in a day. If the average message is 30 characters, then, including SEND and any punctuation, the person, would likely exercise 1000 thumb presses a day. Orthopedic companies would be wise to develop replaceable thumbs for Generation TXT.

Perhaps 4500 is an extreme case. The record, I've read, was over 14,000 in a month; the average looms closer to 2000. Regardless, this prevalent and rather nascent form of communication requires a special skill set, which may eventually cost more than our thumbs.

First, predictive text, called T9 word. What would Isaac Asimov say about a phone that knows what I want to write before I write it?

Second, disjointedness. One must juggle several conversations, both personal and mobile. But do I really want to compete with the IN network?

Third, immediacy. Yesterday we waited, anxious and agitated, while Cha Cha took two whole minutes to respond. Is this why we could not discuss any single topic for more than 90 seconds?

I'd be interested in having a deeper conversation on the subject, but I can predict how it would immediately stray from the topic. So instead, I'll read a book.