Monday, October 18, 2004

"This isn't a diet."
"It's not?"
"NO! I'm learning new ways to think about food! I'm beginning to understand why I feel the cravings I do, and how to alter my understanding about my bodies needs."

"Do you avoid certain foods?"
"Oh yes. I'm very careful about what I eat."
"....And that's not a diet?"
"No, of course not. Diets don't work. This is a life-alteration method."
"What part of your life is it altering?"
"Every part of my life, it's wonderful!"
"But specifically...what has been altered the most dramatically?"
"Well, my eating habits, of course."

" 'Dieting; v : to cause to eat and drink sparingly or according to prescribed rules' . But this is not that, right?"
"Look, you can say what you want...but diets don't work. I don't diet. I've altered my..."
"Your understanding about your bodies needs...yes, I heard that."

Call it what you want...but it's still a diet. Isn't it interesting how we, as humans, do that? We feel like we've fundamentally changed something if we re-name it. It's still the same old thing, but somehow we feel better about it.

I heard someone say "There's nothing about Eastgate that's a normal church service. We don't do normal church here."

Really? Actually, I think we do. What do we do that's any different from our Baptist neighbors down the road? We start with a set of songs that we sing corporately. We give announcements. We have a time where someone teaches, and then it's about over. How is that not a normal church service? Re-naming it doesn't make it different.

If I were to identify what I believe is not normal...it's the sense of community and honesty that has become equivelant to Eastgate. It's the attitude of prioritizing people over programs. That is different...that's not all that normal. We do have what is considered a normal church service. But the people who make up this church, who assemble at this service, are anything but normal church people.

"Yeah, it's a diet I guess. But it's really working for me."

"Yes, it's a church, but it's really working."

Thursday, October 07, 2004

On his journey, he's seen many things. He's skinned his knees and bruised his hands and cried more tears than he really thinks necessary. He's wandered through dry places, where the dust of the road coated his throat, and run with abandon through lush forests that sparkle with bubbling springs. All of it a journey through wide open places. It was never as closed in and limited as it seemed at times.

It's on mornings like this that he sees it. Moments of clarity that reorient him on the trail. He's hunting for clues, and he hears laughter in the forest ahead of him.

Maybe the world is on the verge of turning?

"I am bending my knee

In the eye of the Father who created me,

In the eye of the Son who purchased me,

In the eye of the Spirit who cleansed me,

In friendship and affection."

-Carmina Gadelica, -a record of ancient Celtic Christianity

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

We received copies of a book we're going to carry in the bookstore yesterday. I happened to be at the office, catching up with the other guys I serve with, when the delivery came in. It's a book I had ordered mostly for me, but I was hoping others would get a kick out of it. The title is "The Christian Culture Survival Guide" by Matthew Paul Turner. The book has a huge disclaimer at the front end, explaining that there is a strong possibility that the contents will offend some sensibilities.

As I thumbed through it, I was reading excerpts out loud to my compatriots, who were laughing heartily along with me. The book is full of lists of odd activities that are uniquely associated with church culture...like this: here is Matthew's list on how to know if you might be worshipping your pastor:

  1. If you have ever taken a "sharpie" with you to church on Sunday morning.
  2. If you look around during "closing prayer" for the quickest route to where the pastor will be after the service.
  3. If you own two or more books written by your pastor.
  4. If you have your pastor's cell phone on speed dial.
  5. If you've ever caught yourself picking out your Sunday outfit based on a previous compliment from your reverend.
  6. If you have a special CD holder for his sermons only.
  7. If you travel more than an hour to church on Sunday morning.
  8. If you have ever skipped Sunday mornings because you know your pastor is out of town.

I'll admit....I don't get the "sharpie" thing? Maybe someone can enlighten me sometime. But overall...I think it's a pretty humorous observation of some of the odd foibles we indulge in for the sake of church culture.

Now the question that just naturally flows from all of this is: what about my last post? My inner soul-searching, and struggle with an observed prejudice toward the overly religious set? Doesn't this book just reinforce an already negative bias on my part?

As I thought about it, after putting the book down...I really don't think it reinforced a negative mind-set. In fact, if anything, the humor of it actually seemed to endear them to me. I think it's the same effect that Jeff Foxworthy seems to have in pointing out and exaggerating all the oddities of redneck culture. It doesn't have the effect of galvanizing a hateful attitude toward those with mullets or cars on blocks in the front yard...his humor helps to reveal the underlying human-ness that gets a person in that state.

That's what Turner's book (the bit that I thumbed through) did for me. It caused me to look at things from a different perspective. I'm an outsider already. I've been out of church culture as we know it for over ten years. For me, there is a tendency to only view the religious behavior, and miss the human element that drives it. The short list quoted earlier was enough to jog me a little. I started thinking about a person who would chose their apparel based on a pastor's compliment. I started imagining the loneliness that must accompany that kind of thinking. All of the sudden, a person who does that isn't just some religious brown-noser who's trying to prop up their own sense of importance. A person who does that is a confused, hurting, lonely for God human, who just needs to remember who he is.

I dunno'. It's odd that a book which on the surface seems sarcastic and derisive would have such a softening effect on me. Maybe it's not the book. Maybe I was reading one thing, and the Spirit was instructing alongside it.

I like the sounds of that.

Now....where's my "sharpie", and what do I do with it?