Wednesday, September 24, 2008

“Break on through to the other side”

A few weeks ago, my youngest son started Kindergarten. He’s doing well and seems to be enjoying the experience on the whole. He’s attending a Catholic school (long story) and, though the classroom part is fairly familiar (he attended a very academic preschool), there are other things about school and its structures he yet finds quite foreign.

His first day of class, my wife (who had taken off work for the occasion) and I walked him into the room, helped him find where to put his lunch pail, backpack, supplies, etc., and walked him to his seat. The next few days, I said goodbye just inside the door. However, for the last couple of weeks, I have only walked him across the parking lot and to his building. I stop just outside the door, kiss him on the head, and send him inside. He usually has much to say as we walk toward the class. He moves at a steady pace, full of energy. But, when we arrive at the door and exchange our goodbyes, a curious thing happens. He freezes at the threshold. He walks right up to the entrance and stops, silent.

Now, the classroom is decorated with kid friendly shapes, letters, images, and games of all sorts. Everything is low and mostly well within his reach. His friends are waiting for him just inside. The whole thing is designed for him—a place where he can thrive.

The exterior of the building is unimpressive and stark. There are no windows. It’s surrounded by other uninteresting structures, black-top, and concrete. Yet, there he stands. It’s not so much that he’d rather be standing on the sidewalk than that he just can’t bring himself to cross the threshold and enter the room.

So, I wondered to myself today, “what is he afraid of? He seems to really like school. His teacher is friendly, mostly disarming, and very complimentary of his performance and behavior thus far. He has already made friends, he enjoys the learning and activities… what’s the big deal? Just walk on in and start your day.”

Then, I realized on how many fronts, in my own life, I am standing outside, staring in the door, speechless, hesitant to cross the threshold. What’s the big deal? For the most part, I’m a risk taker. (Alright… so I am a “manageable” risk taker, but still...) Why do I just stand here, when the promise of what may be much better lies just over a metal plate between the sidewalk and the room ahead?

Curiously, later today, a thoughtful acquaintance (another friend of a friend) wrote to me about life after death and the mysterious way in which we cannot know with any scientific or academic certainty what lies beyond until we cross into it; on this side of the threshold, there's only speculation, faith… hope.

I see a theme developing. I hate that.

I don’t walk my son into the room everyday anymore— not because I don’t love him, or want to ease his trepidation, but because I know at some point, even in the smallest of ways, he must learn that crossing thresholds is an important personal step. Though others may walk you to the door, no one can enter for you. Sometimes, they can’t even do it with you. That's what makes it so powerful.

I don’t need to go to Kindergarten. This is his threshold to cross. I have my own. It seems at ages five and thirty-s i .. . (well, let’s just say I’m older than five), we have a lot in common. Who knew?

So, the question of the day is: “What’s holding you back from crossing the important thresholds in your life?”

Monday, September 22, 2008

Ref, can I make a substitution?

Yesterday, I was leading a musical worship set and altered a lyric on the fly. It wasn't intentional. I lost focus for a moment, omitted a line, and repeated an earlier one in its place. The song was new to most everyone in the room so it wouldn’t have been a problem EXCEPT that the words were being projected at thousands of ANSI lumens on multiple, jumbo screens throughout the auditorium. “No big deal,” I thought to myself, “my version made perfect sense and the song moved on quickly. I don’t think it was a distraction.” And, even now, I’m sure it wasn’t.

Still, figuratively speaking, I recognize how often in life I have changed a line here and there or substituted lines I should be singing for ones with which I am ultimately more comfortable. I wonder if that inconsistency is noticeable—if it creates a credibility issue. What are the consequences of projecting words on the big screen (the words I want everyone to sing) and then demonstrating something noticeably different… even if the “different” is not inherently bad.

There are other times I feel like it is someone else’s version of the song on the screen—a version I have no intention of ever singing. I’m held accountable for a standard I never accepted, one to which I feel no moral or spiritual obligation (only organizational or social).

Either way, it is not okay with me.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

"Now, how much would you pay?"

From time to time, I read a blog by Tim Miller (a friend of a friend) called These are My Church Clothes. A few weeks ago he wrote, “churches say they want to reach lost people, until they figure out what that means.”

For reasons I will keep to myself, the unfortunate truth of this statement has never resonated more strongly with me. That is, with one significant clarification: I do not believe the root problem is with “churches,” but rather, that “individuals say they want to reach lost people, until they figure out what that means” – personally… for their own life.

Without argument, we know we should be reaching people with God’s love. We want to do it! That is, until we recognize this means our church will no longer exclusively (or even primarily) exist to meet our needs. A church bent on impacting non-members with God’s love is not a safe harbor for personal, spiritual complacency. It is extremely challenging to admit some practices and experiences we guard in tender sanctity aren’t— nay, shouldn’t be important to everyone. It’s not so much that there may no longer be room in the budget or in the bulletin or on the calendar for my favorite ministry, or that I might lose my position or comfortable spiritual identity (though jagged little pills, indeed). But, even more difficult to swallow—having to face the reality that my sorrow (or even animosity) over the pending loss of these things reveals something about myself and the selfishness of my faith. I don’t want to see my reflection in that particular mirror.

“But wait… there’s more!” It’s not just about reaching lost people. Believers want to worship in unity, until we figure out what that means… personally. We want to disciple to real Christian maturity, until we figure out what that costs… personally. We want to minister/serve like Jesus, until we figure out that’s more than a one hour a week attendance effort… personally. We want to fellowship/partner in lasting, meaningful relationships, until we figure out that this requires availability, transparency, and covenant… personally. "Now, how much would you pay?"

It is my experience that most churched people are more resistant to change than the lost people we want to see transformed. Not resistant to the idea of change; just the personal implications of it.

Tim writes, “what they [churches] want is for their methodology to work.”

We hire people and read books and attend conferences and adopt programs to this end. But, a caterpillar can’t fly. He's not the wrong species, just the wrong form. A rather intimate personal (not environmental) transformation is necessary.

I am very challenged by this. Church is not an entity unto itself. A church can only be what its members are willing to be— can only accomplish by the active service of its collective individuals. Heaven help us. So, what do you think?

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Postcards from the Edge

Faithful Readers,

I’m thinking of trying something a little different. For the past year, I have posted entries here in article form—well thought out, focused musings and personal discoveries (see archive). I am finding it difficult, however, to devote the time and energy required to make such complete entries available. I have started MANY posts only to find that I haven’t the time to finish them. So, I am thinking of posting more often and less completely. This is not to say the entries will be any less thoughtful and, from time to time, I still hope to make more fully composed submissions. I enjoy (even relish) your comments and would love to pose some questions in hopes of discussion. Response is wonderful, but mutual engagement is even better. (Fighting the urge to post an emoticon wink right now. Don’t know what is wrong with me that I would even think about it. What has the world come to?)

I look forward to seeing how this goes. Thanks for stopping by my little corner of the internet from time to time. It means a lot to me to have the honor of capturing your thoughts for a moment.