Tuesday, March 29, 2005

The Wanderer for Wonderwhat (10)

(Parts 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17)

What will grow from this tiny seed?
“I’m a farmer who’s been given a packet of seeds with no label.” Thought the Wanderer. “What am I planting here? What will it look like? Will it be a small shoot, or will it grow big? How do I take care of it? What do I look for? How do I tell the difference between weeds and the real thing? How much water will it take?”

“I can’t do this. This will never work. I don’t know what I’m doing.”

The Wanderer looked at the small group of people gathered in his brother’s house. The silence that hung over them was beyond awkward…it was suffocating. The Wanderer tried his best to fill up the space with conversation, but every attempt was met with minimal response. It was clear that everyone was wondering what this was going to be, as much as the Wanderer.

He surveyed the room. There was his brother, cradling a guitar on his knee, waiting to lead a few songs. There was his brother’s wife, a young mother who had learned the artful technique of being present in two worlds at once. She was physically with the adults, but her ears were attentive to the noises of the children down the hall. There was the Wanderer’s wife, who wore a similar look, but because she was a guest in someone else’s house, her attention was less divided.

Then there was the single girl, who had come to the meeting because her friend from work had mentioned it. Her friend didn’t come, but had heard about it through a chance encounter with The Wanderer’s sister-in-law.
There was the engaged girl, who had come because she was friends with someone the Wanderer had been friends with years ago, and had heard about a Bible study, and she was hungry to learn about the Bible.
There was the young, single man, who had been invited by the single girl, and wasn’t sure why he was there.

“This will never work. What are we doing?”

The Wanderer screwed up his courage, and said, “Well, I guess it would be cool to just spend some time worship God together. Lets sing a few songs, and just get our minds on Him, and lets relax a little, we're just hanging out, there are no expectations here.”

His brother led three songs. The Wanderer had hoped that maybe heaven would open during this time, and some great sense of wonder and awe of finally finding the simplicity of church would envelope him and whisk him away into spiritual bliss. All he had noticed was a slight tingling sensation in his buttocks, from sitting on a hard wooden chair.

The Wanderer got up, and gathered a stack of papers he had set beside his chair. He walked around the room, handing a sheet to each person. “I’ve put together a small Bible study. It’s nothing much, just a few observations and questions about the Sermon on the Mount that I thought we could discuss.”

“This will never work.”

The study never ended, the discussion led to one question after another. It was late, and everyone needed to get home, so reluctantly, they called it quits. The women busied themselves with gathering up empty dessert plates and coffee cups. Hugs all around, and final handshakes.

The single girl came to the Wanderer and said, “I really appreciate this. I learned more in this one discussion than I had in a year at my last church. And I love the way we’re doing this, it’s just so relaxed and comfortable. What a great way to learn the Bible! This is exactly what I’ve been looking for!”

The Wanderer watched as the last car drove away, and stood in the glow of what he had hoped he would experience. This was real. This was simple.

“This may work.” The Wanderer thought.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

The Wanderer for Wonderwhat (9)

(Parts 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17)

Part of the Solution
“Start a home group? You mean just start a Bible study out of nowhere? Who would be coming to it?” The Wanderer’s wife inquired.
“I don’t know yet. That’s the crazy part of it, isn’t it?” The Wanderer admitted.
“But, I guess if God’s in this, those kinds of details would work themselves out.” She said, careful not to deflate his excitement.
“Well, yeah, they would.”
“This is exciting!” said the Wanderer’s wife.

This was perplexing to the Wanderer. He thought for sure he’d have to explain himself more than this. Did she really get what he was proposing? He had imagined that she’d call him crazy, a dreamer.
“I’m talking about, you know, starting what would essentially be our version of church.” He looked at her earnestly, making sure she understood.
She smiled at him. “I’m not retarded dear. You’ve been talking about this incessantly for months on end. Of course I understand, and I’m with you.” She kissed him on the cheek.
It had been amazingly simple to convince his wife, brother and sister-in-law to go out on this limb on his dare. But he couldn’t deny that there was a “rightness” to it all. His fear of becoming an embittered objector to church had only one solution. “You can either sit around and complain about how things are, or you can offer yourself as an instrument of change.” He had thought.
And now the change was coming.

“Can I read something to you?” The Wanderer asked his wife.
“Sure, what is it?” she said, tying a bowknot on their son’s shoe. When she was done, he scampered off her lap and out the door. “Tell your brother and sisters that dinner will be done soon!” she shouted after him.
“Now…what is it you want to read?” she said, finally looking his way.
“Remember how Luther nailed the 95 Thesis to the church door in Whittenburg?”
“Well…I have my own…I don’t know, thesis, manifesto, whatever!” he said excitedly.
“Whatcha’ going to nail it to?”
“I was thinking of nailing it to a window somewhere, since a door’s already been done. Are you going to listen to this or not?”
“Go ahead.” She said, laughing.
“It’s called: Why I Hate Church”
“Hmmm, don’t beat around the bush so much, tell us what you really think.” She said, still laughing.
“Come on, I’m serious here.” He said, laughing with her.
“Ok, I’m ready now, lets hear it.”
Why I Hate Church
Ever wonder why you come to church?
Ever wonder where the choir arrangements are described in the Bible?
Ever wonder why God wants you to sit in unspeakable boredom as you endure irrelevant rituals in order to please Him?
Ever wonder where the passage on the dress code for Sunday mornings is in the Bible?
Ever wonder what makes the “pulpit” holy, or the front of the church building “holy ground”?
Ever wonder why Christianity seems like a spectator sport?
Ever wonder if this thing could carry on nicely without you?
Ever notice that for the most part, it carries on nicely without Jesus?

We can trace our problems all the way back to our initial definition of the term. We speak the language of “church”. But what is church? These are the things we begin with:

1) The word “church”, as such, is not found in the New Testament anywhere. The word “church” comes from the root word “kuriakon” in the Greek, transliterated to “circe” in old English. The word kuriakon means “a building set aside for the Lord’s use”. The word church, which comes from the word kuriakon has come to encompass all the various aspects of the common assembly, yet it has no Scriptural support, is usually still referring to a building and has a depersonalizing effect.

2) The word “ekklesia” is the term used in Scripture to describe the common assembly. It is derived from “ek” (out) and “kaleo” (to call). It is a common Greek term to describe people called out from their homes to a gathering place for the discussion of public business….

….The manifesto went on and on like that, using verbose language to sound important and laboring over obvious conclusions. But the Wanderer loved it. For the first time, he had a sense of clarity in what he was looking for, and where he was now headed. For him, it was a storyboard that he could work from, a high ground from which he could view the surrounding landscape.

This was the ideal. It was simple, and he kept reducing it down, finding the rudimentary elements. Church was supposed to be a hangout. A club, so to speak. An exclusive club that anyone could visit or join. Church was supposed to be a place where people who love Jesus could hang out together. And what were they supposed to do while they hang out together? Support and encourage each other, and be equipped to live out Jesus in their daily lives.

That was it.

Since the Bible didn’t describe a church meeting, then anything that worked toward the basic goals of hanging out, loving Jesus, caring for each other, and demonstrating Jesus could be included in a meeting. On the other hand, anything that didn’t work toward those goals would be jettisoned without hesitation. Stuff done just to be doing stuff wouldn’t be tolerated. Real needs would find real solutions. If there were no needs being met by any given activity of the church, they would abandon it without regret.
This was the ideal. The big question on the Wanderer’s mind was: would it work? Could it stay simple? Was the juggernaught of Western Christianity too powerful for anyone to resist moving in its flow?

The Wanderer thought about his dream of the machine and smiled to himself. “Time will tell.” He thought.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Editorial blunders....

Ok...for the two, or possibly three people who read this nonsense....I need to apologize. I posted part 9 of my story today...but I got it wrong. I write this ahead of time in Word, and then post it here after its had time to age properly...but when I posted part nine, I skipped an important chapter, which has to go before it.

So...I've yanked the present chapter nine, and will replace it with the right chapter nine...and then re-post the chapter I already posted today later as chapter ten.

Confused yet? Me too.

Monday, March 21, 2005

The Wanderer for Wonderwhat (8)

(Parts 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17)

A long time after that fateful day…
The Wanderer was racing down the hallway of the “Big Room”, trying to get to his office for one last glance at his notes before he stood up to teach. As he rounded the corner, he almost walked right into a woman who was standing halfway into the hallway. He moved to the left of her, making as graceful a dodge as he could, and realized that she wasn’t the only one there. The woman was actually the end of a line of women, who were waiting to get into the restroom.
“There’s a line for the bathroom?” The Wanderer thought to himself. Then, he noticed there was a line of two men waiting for the men’s room.
For just a moment, a surge of panic swept over the Wanderer, and he re-traced his steps back down the hallway, and ducked into the empty “nursing mother’s” room. He stood in the darkness, and looked through the two-way glass at the Big Room.
“Where did all these people come from?” The Wanderer thought. A creeping sense of déjà vu perplexed his mind, and he realized he felt similar to the day he left the church as he’d known it behind.
“How do we take care of all these people? Who’s in charge of this?”

The Wanderer left the dark room, and again moved down the hallway toward the coffee house, and out toward the offices.
“I have an office. It’s expected that I have an office. How did I end up with an office?”

As he opened his office door, he noticed it was occupied. His brother was sitting in the chair to the side of his desk.
“Mind if I sit in here for a moment?” asked his brother.
“Not at all.” Said the Wanderer as he eased himself into his chair behind his desk.

“I have a desk.”

“Lotta’ people here today.” Said his brother, looking out the window. “They just keep coming in too.”
“Probably 200 in the first service, and from the looks of it, second will be full too.” Said the Wanderer, also looking out the window.
“How’d this happen?” the Wanderer asked, squinting his eyes.
“Not sure, but I do know it’s all your fault. It was your idea to start a church.” Said his brother. Then, mimicking a whiney voice he said “I hate church, lets start a different kind of church…it’ll be fun!”

They both laughed.

“I didn’t think it would get this big. Who knew so many people would like this idea.” The Wanderer shrugged.
“Doesn't everyone know that we don't know what we're doing?” his brother's trailed off.
“But see…to me that just means it’s not about us, right? I mean: if it were, it would be a debacle. But this has a life that has nothing to do with who we are. This is exactly what we were hoping for, something that had no religious agenda, no egos to feed; a place where anyone is accepted. No hang ups on church subculture stuff…just real people loving Jesus. It’s really happening, and there seems to really be a need beyond my own personal angst. It must be something God’s doing, because screw-ups like us couldn’t have done this.” His own words began to encourage the Wanderer.

It was true; this growth had come from no design of theirs. People were coming from all directions, drawn to the same simplicity that had drawn the Wanderer to begin with. They came from high-church backgrounds to no church backgrounds. They came young, old and middle aged. They were well dressed and dressed down. Tattoos and piercings sat next to gray hair and ties.

All of them unique, but all of them hungry for something real.
“How did we get here? How did this happen?” the Wanderer thought, watching from across the court as some leather clad bikers entered the door to the Big Room.

Friday, March 18, 2005

The Wanderer for Wonderwhat (7)

(Parts 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17)

Groping through the past
Sitting on the edge of a dock at the marina, the Wanderer tried to write things down. It was hard going. Trying to compress thoughts into manageable pieces that could be expressed intelligibly was a lot of work. Especially when he wasn’t even sure what it was he was trying to say. He began filling pages with statements and questions.

In my search, I’m finding very little in church as we know it that is relevant to my everyday life and culture.

Shouldn’t the church be able to exist in any culture or generation, and adapt to the felt needs?

Church subculture – language, dress, worldview. The idea comes across that if the world wants help, they have to have their needs prescribed to them and conform to the subculture. Shouldn’t the church be blended into the present culture, addressing felt need?

Where does a creed end, and groupthink begin?

But all these random thoughts were yielding no answers, and his fear that he would turn into a bitter, anti-church agitator was growing more and more real.
The Wanderer walked from the marina down to the library. He meandered through different sections, until landing in the magazine room. He sat down in a well-worn, yellow chair that bore the design tastes of the sixties in its shape. His eyes scanned the magazines on the metal shelf.
His gaze fell on the cover of Christian History magazine, which he thought was an odd title for a library to hold. Then he took in the cover story: “Worship in the Early Church”
With a renewed sense of wonder, he got up and took the magazine back to his chair. He read it from cover to cover. Reaching into his pocket to retrieve his notebook, he went back through the magazine and wrote down the names and titles that had been quoted in various articles.
Then, he went to the center of the magazine, and copied word for word an excerpt that had been highlighted from Justin Martyr’s writings. It read:

“…And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons. And they who are well to do, and willing, give what each thinks fit; and what is collected is deposited with the president, who provides for the orphans and widows and those who, through sickness or any other cause, are in want, and those who are in bonds and the strangers staying among us; and in a word, is the protector of all who are in need.
But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Savior on the same day rose from the dead. For He was crucified on the day before that of Saturn (Saturday); and on the day after that of Saturn, which is the day of the Sun, having appeared to His apostles and disciples, He taught them these things, which we have submitted to you also for your consideration.”

The Wanderer read and re-read the excerpt. By the fourth time through, the tears began to flow. Not just a trickle down his cheek, but a gushing torrent of emotion that he just couldn’t hide.
He looked up through bleary eyes to see an older gentleman watching him. The Wanderer tried his best to salvage a little dignity, wiping his face with the back of his hand, and sniffing back the wetness from his nose.
The man was still watching him, a look of concern on his face.
The Wanderer looked back at him, and realized he needed to offer some sort of explanation. He held up the magazine, shrugged, pleaded with his face and said, “It’s just so simple.”
And again, the urge to weep swept over him, and he knew he had to leave.

The Wanderer spent the next few months buried in books as he began his journey into the past. He read the Shepherd of Hermes; he read all of Justin Martyr’s 1st and 2nd apologies. He read The Octavius of Minucius Felix, Polycarp and Ignatius and so many others. Yet it was the discovery of the Didache that stirred him again, the way he had been stirred at the library.
Again, it was simplicity that drew him in.
He began to feel he was nearing the heart.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

The Wanderer for Wonderwhat (6)

(Parts 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17)

Like stairways to nowhere
The Wanderer took his Bible and shook it with the pages down, as though trying to shake something out of it. With a flip of his wrist, he tossed it on the table where he was sitting. He was frustrated. This had happened quickly. His journey into Scripture had begun with such high hopes. In his mind, he had imagined himself coming across whole passages that had been ignored or forgotten, like an ancient treasure trove, which held the keys to unlocking the mystery of what the church is supposed to be.
His first endeavor had been a huge disappointment. Pastors, so far in his journey, had been a particular source of difficulty for him, so it made sense to start with them. He’d find out what they were supposed to be doing, and why they were really there.
To his chagrin, he found them mentioned in only one verse, and there just in passing. But that wasn’t the only information lacking. There were no descriptions of meetings, apart from Paul’s corrections to the Corinthians, and even there, what was said was so unheard of he couldn’t connect it to a practical concept. There were no ministry descriptions at all, just lists of types of ministries, but no practical information about how they would operate. There was no indicator as to when the church should meet. No mention of children’s needs. No order of authority; could an apostle trump a bishop? It didn’t say.

“This is absurd!” the Wanderer said to his Bible. “I mean, the whole thing about Christianity is the establishing of the church on earth, and you don’t even describe what it looks like? The focal point for Christians around the world is the church, and you can’t devote even one chapter to a start-up guide or creating a checklist for the mandatory ingredients! That’s just stupid!”

He sat staring at his Bible as though waiting for a response.
It began to dawn on the Wanderer, that it this was an impossible task. He couldn’t pretend that he’d never heard of church, and go strictly to the Bible to find out what it is. The Bible provided the doctrines and the premise, but not a description of the thing itself.
This was bad news for his plan. There was no way to arrive at the concept of church without a historical reference point to start from. The church as he’d known it had it’s origin in the doctrines and premises of the Bible, but was now the product of it’s own history. There was no way of conceiving of the church apart from its story up to now.
He realized that he would have to approach this from a different tack. Instead of pretending he’d never heard of church and discovering what it looked like from the Bible, he would have to go the other way around. He would have to disassemble every aspect of church as he had known it, and drag it all, piece by piece to the Bible and see if it had merit, based on the original intent and premise of the church.
His wife’s warning that it sounded like a lot of work came back to him.
He sighed, looked at his Bible and asked, “So where do I begin?”

Monday, March 14, 2005

The Wanderer for Wonderwhat (5)

(Parts 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17)

Finding the question
He looked across the table where he and his wife were eating breakfast and smiled uncontrollably. For the Wanderer, it was the proverbial moment of clarity. He knew that a person should never go off on a life-quest based on a dream, because burritos and onions often were the fuel of dreams. But this was different somehow, and he knew he could never explain it.

“What we’ll do is take everything we know about church, and I do mean everything, and throw it on the floor. We’ll start from scratch, as though we’d never heard of church to begin with. We’ll just let Jesus pick out the pieces He intended to be part of His church!” The Wanderer exclaimed to his wife.

“Sounds great…but you’re using a lot of metaphor. What does it mean in real life?”

“I guess what I mean is: with everything we associate with church, we’ll press the question why on it.”



“No, I mean why are we doing this?”
She was looking at him blankly.

“Ok, let’s try this. When I say “church”, what are the first things that come to your mind?” the Wanderer asked.
“Hmmmm, well I guess the church should be about…”
The Wanderer cut her off, “No, no, no…don’t give me the answers you think are right concerning church. This is more like word association. When you hear the word church, what just pops into your mind, or what images are conjured up?”
“Alright.” She said, closing her eyes, “A white building with a steeple, pews, offerings, dressing up and trying to get spots out of the kid’s shirts on the run!” she laughed.

“Ok then! Let’s start with that. Why a white building with a steeple? Is that something in the Bible, or did that just come as a tradition over time? In fact, why do we automatically associate a building with church? If someone asks where a church is located, we instinctively give driving directions to a building. We never think of a bunch of people. Why?” He was talking with his whole body, and he could feel the fire in his belly.

The Wanderer’s wife smiled, got up from the table and started clearing the breakfast dishes. “It’s a new mania!” she quipped, mimicking a British accent.

“So from zis moment, I no longer am familiar wit zis…how you say, church?” he said with an exaggerated French accent.
“How you say, help with zee dishes?”

“I’ll have to go back to the beginning. Start with the Bible, see everything that pertains to any kind of description of the church, it’s government, it’s structure and format. See what’s really there, and what isn’t.” he said, staring out the window.
“Sounds like a lot of work.”
“Sounds like a lot of fun!”

For the Wanderer, the horizons had broken wide open. There was no turning back.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

The Wanderer for Wonderwhat (4)

(Parts 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17)

The Dream
The wanderer stood in a cavernous room, with arched ceilings like he had seen in pictures of old Roman cathedrals. The light came into the room in shafts that angled down from high, narrow windows that were pointed at the top.
In the center of the room, a group of men were busy filling a huge bag of some sort with hot air from a bellows near a fire. The bag itself was a patchwork of materials, sewn together with large stitches. As the men worked, the bag began to undulate, and fill out. Then slowly, it started to bob on the ground, and dance upward.
“They’re trying to make it float. They’ve worked really hard at it.”
The voice had come from behind the Wanderer, and he tried to turn his head to see who it was, but couldn’t glimpse anything but a form in his peripheral vision.
“They’ll have to build something that will keep it in the air, because it just can’t float on it’s own.”
The Wanderer watched in amazement, as men like insects began crawling all over the bag, erecting scaffolds and connecting ropes to pulleys. They worked at an exaggerated pace, and before long, a huge construction had been built in the cavernous room, all but hiding the original bag. It was a thing of wonder. Wood, metal, and even parts that seemed organic. There were smokestacks that chugged out an oily smoke, and made a low rhythmic thrum. There were propellers on the sides and near the top, all whirring at an alarming rate of speed, but making no wind at all. Wires and cables and ropes were wound around the thing forming an impenetrable web. Men were still all over the construction, moving on catwalks and platforms, turning dials, stoking fires, and pulling ropes. Everyone near this odd formation was occupied with some sort of activity. Everyone was sweating, and all had an aura of weariness about them.
“This is the machine. It’s been around for a long, long time. Do you think it’s your job to tear it down?” Said the voice behind the Wanderer.
The Wanderer felt a surge of strength, and a strange indignation rising at those words. He felt a hatred for this thing, without even knowing for sure what it was. He found himself desperately wanting it torn down, destroyed and desolate. He wanted the people he saw to quit slaving over this monster; he wanted them to rest.
“I can try.” Said the Wanderer, and he began walking toward the machine, rolling up his sleeves.
“STOP!!” shouted the voice, with a tinge of anger. “That’s not for you to do. Don’t go anywhere near the outside edges, or you’ll be torn to pieces.”

The Wanderer stared at the propellers.
The voice came nearer, right up behind him, almost whispering in his ear. The Wanderer was afraid to look back, but listened intently.
“Do you see that opening?” The Wanderer looked at the machine, and suddenly, right in the center of the maze of wires, ropes and cables, near the floor, he saw an opening large enough for a man to walk through.
“Go in there.” The voice was closer now, and the Wanderer could almost feel a warm breath on his neck. “Go deep inside, forget what’s out here.”
There was a long pause.

“You’ll find your answer at the heart.”

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

The Wanderer for Wonderwhat (3)

(Parts 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17)

The shutdown
“What about the kids? If we quit going to church, I guess they’ll just be raised outside of any kind of spiritual peer group?”
The Wanderer looked at his wife, but then looked away. He had no real answer. He didn’t like the sound of what she was saying, but it was the inevitable conclusion if he were to stick to his decision. He was trapped again. Painted into the corner where religion and exhaustion meet.
“I don’t know. I mean, that’s not what I really want, I just…” his voice trailed off.

His mind drifted back to a conversation he had with a soft spoken man at one church he had visited. He had dubbed it the “Jewish Wannabe” church, because of the music style and use of the name “Yeshua” in place of “Jesus”. He had tried several times to open up with people, looking for someone who could relate to his plight, anxious to find a kindred soul who could understand.
“I love Jesus, I really do, but I just can’t seem to get a handle on church. I’ve been in church all my life; my father was a minister. I believe there should be a church, but for some reason I just can’t seem to come to grips with our current expression of it.” The Wanderer had confided.
The soft-spoken man looked at him for a long time. He had glasses, and dark rings around his eyes. His hair was balding and gray, and he wore a bushy, gray mustache. Finally, with a sigh, he said, “Maybe you’ve set your standards too high. Maybe you need to accept that there is no perfect church. I don’t like everything I see in church, but that doesn’t matter. I’m here to support what’s going on. I’m part of this church, and I want to make sure that it’s meetings run smoothly and God is glorified. It gives me a purpose, to be part of what God is doing through this church. Maybe you should just grit your teeth, and dive in, like you would into a cold swimming pool. It will be hard at first, but soon, you’ll become acclimated to the temperature, and you’ll be just fine.”
He looked at the Wanderer hopefully.
With each word that the soft-spoken man had said, the Wanderer could feel energy being drained from himself, like Superman facing a rock of Kryptonite. The soft-spoken man didn’t understand the Wanderer’s plight, and it was clear that he really had no intention of questioning anything. The soft-spoken man admitted freely that he was there to support….what? Not people, no, to support a meeting.
“If I stay here” the Wanderer said with every shred of earnestness he could muster, “I’ll die.”
“You’re over-reacting.”
“No, no really. And I don’t mean here, as in this church. I mean here in church. Church as we know it. I’m groping around looking for something real, and all I come up with are slogans and sentimental arguments about a perfect church, and those things are nowhere near what I’m talking about.”
He paused and looked at the soft-spoken man. No response. So the Wanderer plunged ahead.
“I’m trying to find the connecting point between real life and church. I believe God is real, and I believe the church is really supposed to be here…but for what? What is the church? Is it designed to accomplish anything? Is it working? Where does my Sunday morning intersect with my Monday afternoon? How much of my life becomes a part of the church? How much is my own?” The Wanderer realized his voice had risen in pitch.
“Maybe you’re thinking too much about it.” Said the soft-spoken man, bringing the conversation to a close.


“I’m just saying I can’t go for now. It’s not a forever thing, I just have to figure out where I am on this.”
“Well, I’m going. I’m going to make sure our kids have some peer interaction with a Christian influence, and that just can’t happen by ourselves at home. I’ll go just for Wednesday services at the last place we went. You don’t have to come.” The Wanderer ached at this. This was real pain. He didn’t want to leave his wife to fend for their children’s spiritual well being, but he was weak. He had no strength to go on. There had to be answers, but they were so hard to find. “If I were smarter.” He thought. “If I just knew how to phrase my questions. But I’m not, and I can’t. So I’ll wait.”

Monday, March 07, 2005

The Wanderer for Wonderwhat (2)

(Parts 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17)

What else is out there?
In a much bigger, paved parking lot, the Wanderer and his family sat in their old blue station wagon and screwed up their courage to “try” yet another church. The Wanderer surveyed the building they were preparing to enter, while his wife worked furiously to keep a cowlick from standing at attention on her son’s scalp.
The building was large, with a great wall of glass windows that faced the parking lot. Two rows of flags from around the world lined the walkway toward the entrance where well-dressed families were already entering in. It occurred to the Wanderer that this place reminded him of the U.N. building.
They unloaded from their wagon, and the children marched in a line between the two parents, as they stepped into the human stream that led into the interior of this latest attempt to find their place in the church.

Just inside the door, the customary greeters stood on either side of the four sets of double doors. Each entering person was greeted with a smile, and a bulletin was pressed into his or her hands. The smell of church wafted up to greet the Wanderer’s nostrils. He wondered about that, why every church had the same smell. Did it come in a can? Odor de’ church?

“Good to see you again” said the smiling greeter. She was a middle-aged woman who clearly had no intention of admitting so. Her hair was big, according to the style of the day, her make-up excessive, and her dark pants suit fit snugly on her well kempt physique. She wore a plastic nametag that had the church’s logo on it, and the name “Jessie” underneath. She extended a bulletin toward the Wanderer with a thin hand, criss-crossed with veins and bracelets and rings.

“This is our first time here.” Said the Wanderer.

“Oh!” exclaimed the woman, “Well, welcome to our church!” She reached behind her to a stack of burgundy folders that sat on a small table. On the cover, in gold letters, was the word “welcome”, and underneath the name of the church and the logo.
“You’ll find out all you need to know in our visitor’s packet. God bless you!” she said, and turned to the next entering person with bulletin in hand.

As the Wanderer’s wife shuffled their children through the maze of hallways that honeycombed the children’s wing, he sat down on a pew with the visitor’s packet. He felt the familiar weight pressing against his inner frame again. He opened the folder like a man about to read his sentencing in court.

Each pocket of the folder brimmed with forms, tri-fold brochures and gifts. A pen with the church’s logo on it. A cassette tape labeled “A special word for you, from Pastor A______.” Forms to fill out for contact information. Envelopes to place an offering in, and a separate one for an ongoing pledge. The amount of effort and money that had gone into the packet was impressive, yet intimidating. He felt as though he were being pressured to buy something, as though this were all part of a carefully crafted sales pitch. His stomach began to twist.
The Wanderer studied all the contents carefully, even after he had assessed it all sufficiently. The visitor’s packet provided sanctuary for him, in this foreign place. He could keep his head bowed, intently absorbing the information from the packet, and not have to look up and make eye contact with someone who would see that he was all alone.

“God is present with His church.” The Wanderer thought. “The Body of Christ has many and varied expressions.” He had begun his rote explanation to himself as to why he was here. “Somehow, God moves here, speaks here, reveals Himself here, and I am here to find Him.”

The lights went dim in the auditorium, and the Wanderer’s wife just made it to their pew as the first rhythmic blasts from the trumpet section started. From down the three main aisles that led toward the elevated platform at the front of the sanctuary, a parade of women walked with banners that declared, among other things, that Jesus was Lord.
A large man with long, curly and heavily gelled hair stepped out to the front of the stage with a wireless microphone and shouted, “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord!” at which time the large gathering of people became a cacophony of shouts and clapping.

“You are real, I do believe that.” The Wanderer prayed, silently. “I know you had something in mind when you instituted the church. There has to be a reason for it. You said you would be with us…” the Wanderer looked around at his present surroundings, “but where are you here? I can’t feel you, I can’t see you, and with all this noise I can’t hear a thing. I know you must be here, but where? What is the purpose of this?”

Friday, March 04, 2005

The Wanderer for Wonderwhat (part one)

(Parts 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17)

That fateful day…

He pressed open the door, and held it open for his wife and children as they walked outside. The air was warm, a stark difference from the cool of the air-conditioned atmosphere of the building. They said nothing as they walked, and the Wanderer looked at the ground as he moved toward their car. He watched the gravel of the parking lot pass under his feet. He stopped, and watched his family; his wife with four children underfoot as they moved through the parked cars toward the old blue station wagon that had hauled them to this place so many, many times.
The Wanderer turned and looked back at the church building, and knew he would never come back again.

Twenty minutes earlier:
“All I’m saying is, I don’t think I can go along with this in good conscience.”
“Go along?” the Preacher repeated the words back to him as though he had caught him in a crime. “Go along with God’s Word? Go along with Truth? What do you mean?”
The Wanderer could see where this was going. The tenor of the Preacher’s voice had changed; his smile had receded back into a thin line on his face. Truth, and God’s Word were the leverage points the Preacher used to shift his weight against the Wanderer.
I want Truth…I love God’s Word.” He thought. Already, he could feel the struggle; feel the pressure to conform. Then he looked at the Preacher’s face, and saw in his eyes that familiar look of an elevated man, who considered himself the right hand of God, whose arguments were flawless because the Spirit inspired them.
It was then and there that the Wanderer suddenly woke up.
He had been struggling to awaken for months, maybe years, he wasn’t sure. He had heard voices, and strained to focus through bleary eyes; tried to fix his thoughts on his surroundings. Then, with a start, he was alert.
“No, this isn’t a question of God’s Word, or His truth. What I question is your truth, and what you are calling God’s Word. I’m not so sure you’re right, and I just don’t think I can keep going in the direction this church is going. Not in good conscience, at least.” The Wanderer could barely believe what he’d just heard himself say. There was a thrill in the pit of his stomach, and he struggled with all his will to stop his hands from shaking, or eyes from watering.
“Well what have you been doing here all these years, if you haven’t been hearing from God? It just shows how stupid you are, for sitting under my teaching for so long if you don’t believe it’s God’s Word.” The Preacher said through his teeth.
“Sitting under your teaching.” The Wanderer thought. “That’s a good description, isn’t it? Where’d we get that phrase?” Yet it seemed accurate to him. He could feel the aching in his bones from it now. He felt the crushing weight of sitting under this man’s teaching. He was weary from it.
“You’re so right.” Said the Wanderer, never leaving the Preacher’s eyes. “That does make me rather stupid. The good news is, I still can learn.”