Thursday, April 28, 2005

The Wanderer for Wonderwhat (14)

(Parts 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17)
A road less traveled
The room was located in a long forgotten, upscale mall. At one time in it’s existence, it had functioned as a dress shop. Mirrors covered the walls and the floor was a mixture of black and white tiles and rattan thatch. It was small, and the ceilings were low.

This was the room that the Wanderer and the home group had inherited.

The Wanderer surveyed the place, scrutinizing its details. There weren’t, in fact, many details to examine, and that was the first problem he considered.
“When people were coming to my house, they were getting to know me.” He thought. “Decorations, family photos, objects of interest all adorn my house. It’s part of the process of how people get to know me. When we met in a home, it was appealing because it was personal, it was interesting, and it exuded the warmth of life.”
He let his eyes travel around the room where he stood. It was cold to him. It was clean and orderly and boring. Seventy-five black, stackable chairs, which had been donated by the Holiday Inn, were all lined up in neat rows toward the back of the room. Everything in the room was black and white. The only exception was the rattan floor, and thatch, which the former pastor had used to cover the mirrors on the walls to help with acoustics.

As he looked at the thatch, he squinted his eyes and panned across the room.
“Makes me think of Gilligan’s Island,” he said out loud. “Which fits, since we’re a bunch of castaways from church.” He smiled at his own remark, but slowly, what he had just said began to dawn on him. His eyes widened, and he looked around the room once again. As he looked, his mind imagined a whole spectrum of ways in which the room could be decorated, to indicate the personality of the group who met here. Images from his childhood of clubhouses, the Mickey Mouse Club, the Honeycomb Hideout, and the Little Rascal’s meeting room filled his mind.

“The church is a club! It’s a hang-out for people who love Jesus!” he said, almost shouting. “Why shouldn’t the place where it meets look like a clubhouse? Why shouldn’t it be a place where you can be yourself, and feel relaxed?” In his mind, he began making contrasts. He compared his emotional reaction to a typical church setting, the way their room looked now but on a small scale, with a restaurant like Applebee’s. Applebee’s décor and style created an atmosphere that drew you into a sense of casual comfort. A typical church setting, including their present room, did the opposite.
He scrounged around the room to find a piece of paper and a pen, and began scratching down his thoughts.
When we come to Jesus, we’re coming home. Where we meet should reflect the comfort of home.
Church=family. We meet like a family…a FAMILY room.
It was then that the Wanderer’s eyes fell on the rows of chairs, all facing the front of the room. He walked around to the front of them to face them.
“When I call my family together to talk with them, I don’t line them up in rows.” He said to one of the empty chairs.
“They flop around on any seat around me, or stretch out on the…” the Wanderer’s face spread into a broad smile. He moved through the place like a madman, pushing chairs around and rearranging the room.
He stood in one empty spot to the side and looked around. “This would be a perfect place for a couch.” He thought. He looked at a splash of dried coffee, which stained the tile floor. “People need a place to rest their coffee cups. We need tables.”

Just before the Wanderer left the room, he ran out to his car and retrieved the surfboard he had been using earlier that morning. He brought it into the room, and leaned it against the front wall. Stepping back, he squinted his eyes again to survey this decoration.
“I think we’ve got something here.” He whispered.

Monday, April 18, 2005

The Wanderer for Wonderwhat (13)

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

To strain against the current
“If you become a 501-c3 tax exempt organization, you’re going to have to face some harsh realities my friend.”
The Church Thug and his wife sat with the Wanderer and his wife and looked at each other across the table of a Shoney’s. The Church Thug smiled and shook his head, like a man who was trying to inform a child about the facts of life. He dug his fork into his chicken fried steak and waited until his mouth was full to resume talking.
“We’ve learned a lot of hard lessons along the way. We used to be idealists, just like yourself.” The Church Thug said, holding his fork in one hand, and pushing his glasses up onto the bridge of his nose with the other.

The Wanderer said nothing; he just looked at soft, middle aged man with curly hair sitting across from him. Their conversation had been interrupted several times as the Church Thug took calls on his cellular phone. The Church Thug’s wife was mostly silent, never really looking up from her plate of salad. She would nod in agreement and only chime in to repeat something the Church Thug had said first.
“I’m just saying, people will let you down.”
“They will let you down, it’s true.” The Church Thug’s wife would say.

A pastor whom the Wanderer felt he could trust had arranged this meeting. He had expressed his dismay at navigating the process of filing for tax-exempt status to the pastor, and had asked for advice. The friendly pastor had arranged for this meeting with the Church Thug. But now, the Wanderer was wondering if he’d been set up.
It had started out all right. In getting to know each other, they had exchanged small talk, divulging shared interests and points of view. But as the Wanderer began to unfold his particular vision for how a church could be, the conversation took a decidedly different direction.
It was quite evident that the Church Thug did not agree with the Wanderer on the finer points of simplifying church structure. And it was also clear that the Church Thug now felt it was his own obligation to set the Wanderer right.

The Church Thug set his fork down, and leaned in across the table, scrutinizing the Wanderer. “This little endeavor of yours sounds really nice.” He said with a patronizing smile. “But I’m here to tell you that it’s not realistic in the least.”
The Wanderer finished up his plate of food, put down his fork as well, and pushed his plate to the side. It was as though two opponents were readying themselves for a rumble.
“How so?” he said, looking up at the Church Thug.
“Dividing up leadership, keeping no membership, and not taking up offerings, just for a start. Things just don’t work that way.” He said with a derisive chuckle. “I’m tellin’ you, people will let you down. You’re assuming too much about what church people are willing to do and give. If you don’t call the shots, and warn them to tow the line, they won’t. They just flat won’t!”

The Wanderer never took his eyes off the Church Thug. Here was the enemy, as much as any man had ever represented him. All he had wanted was a little bit of practical advice, but like everything else he had discovered along the way, this too came at a price. The Wanderer could feel his face flushing, and his eyes watering. He hated that every emotion he felt became so visible on his face.

The Church Thug continued, “I realize that this is hard news to take, but son, you’ve got to face it. All the stuff that’s spiritual and uplifting about church is like…well; it’s like advertising. It’s the stuff we want everyone to see and appreciate about church, but there’s more to it than that. You’ve got to face it son, there is a dark underbelly to the church, that idealists like yourself don’t like to acknowledge. But it’s there; yessir’, it’s there.
He leaned in even closer, and locked eyes with the Wanderer.
“You have got to realize that the church is first and foremost a business, and you have to treat it like that. You have to think about revenue and expansion or your little endeavor will just flat out fail. You better take what I’m saying seriously, and save yourself and your family a lot of trouble.”

The Wanderer never looked away, but steadied his gaze on the Church Thug’s eyes. He was mad, most of all with himself, that he couldn’t hide his emotions better. He could feel a full-fledged tear rolling down his cheek. But he didn’t announce it by wiping at it. “Let it roll”, he thought, “maybe it will go unseen.”

He had formulated his response while the Church Thug had looked away to scoop the last of his mashed potatoes into his mouth. When he looked up from his plate, the Wanderer said, “Maybe you’re right, but I’m counting on you being wrong. One thing I know for sure: if you are right, then I won’t have anything to do with church ever again. If the church has to think like you, and look the way you describe it, then I will walk away and never look back again.”
He got up, his wife following, and grabbed the bill from the middle of the table.
“Thanks for your time, I appreciate your attempt at helping.” Said the Wanderer, and walked to the register to pay the bill, then headed out into the cool evening air.

“Can you believe that guy?” The Wanderer’s wife exploded. “Who does he think he is, the Pope?”
They stopped in front of their car, and the Wanderer looked at his wife.
“It’s either real, or it’s not. I mean; church is either really supposed to be here by God’s design, or its not. For that guy, it’s not real, so he’s had to manufacture something that will stand in place of church. I think there are a lot of people who do that. But I can’t…I won’t. It’s either real, and going to be real, or it’s not, and I’m done.”

The Wanderer looked back across the parking lot at the Church Thug and his wife as they exited the restaurant.
“It is real, you’ll see.” Said the Wanderer quietly.

Several years later…
They drove past the building on their way home from a family trip. They hadn’t been that way in a long time, so it took them both by surprise.
The church building that the Church Thug had built stood empty and abandoned. Weeds grew up along the edges of the structure, and decorated the cracks in the parking lot. Full sheets of plywood covered the glass doors at the entrance. The amount of weathering they showed indicated that the building had been unoccupied for quite some time.
A large sign announced in big red letters: for sale.

“It’s either real, or it’s not.” Whispered the Wanderer as he watched the building disappear in his rear view mirror.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

The Wanderer for Wonderwhat (12)

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

Life is hard, machines are easy
The Wanderer cradled the small child in his arms, desperate and fearful. She was pale, non responsive, and breathing shallowly.
“Don’t.” he pleaded. “Don’t leave me this soon. It’s too soon. What can I do for you? I’d do anything, anything at all.”
He meant it. He had become so connected with her that without hesitation he would have traded his life for hers.
He sobbed, and ached in ways he never knew was possible.
“I won’t let you go.” He whispered over and over.

“God, I know You’re here, I just can’t see You. This hurts so badly, I don’t think I’m man enough for this. This is so hard; this is so hard. I had no idea it would be this hard, I had no idea it would hurt this much.”
In his mind, he strained to turn back time, to make his choices differently in order to avoid reaching this point.

But he was here. And so was she. And she was dying. And all of the sobbing and straining and willing that the Wanderer did would not undo it.

“What do I do?” he whispered into the darkness. “What do I do now?”

“No one ever said this would be easy.”

The Wanderer stilled his breathing and listened, turning his head to hear the echoes in his mind.

“You have choices. You’ve always had choices. It was your choice to meet when you do. You have a choice to change it. Flexibility is medicine; it can heal many things. You have a choice about which battles to fight. This is all about people, not schedules. Times must fit their needs, not the other way around.

“You have a choice before you. Keep meeting on Saturday nights, and steel yourself to let her go. Or, be flexible, and meet on Sunday morning again, and she will revive and grow strong. But I’m warning you now…if you let her grow, she may not look the way you imagined in your mind. That will have its own set of consequences.”

“But she’ll live?” The Wanderer pleaded.

“She’ll live.”

The Wanderer looked at her in his arms, and felt her chilled forehead with the back of his hand. He looked at her closed eyelids, and the tender veins that were visible through translucent skin. He looked at her lips, almost white.

“I want you to live.” The Wanderer whispered. “Even if you look different, even if you change, I want to see you grow.” He broke into deep sobs that wracked his frame and caused his ribs to ache. “Any choice I make calls me to surrender.” He sputtered out between gasps of air. “But if surrendering will let you live, then I’ll give it all; everything I have.”

“You didn’t know it would be this hard, yet you wanted something real. Learn this lesson well: life is hard, machines are easy. To ask for life is to ask for pain, heartache, suffering and tears. But to ask for life makes way for laughter, joy and love that makes a person whole.
Live to surrender, and you’ll know what love is.”

“To know love is to know surrender.” The Wanderer said aloud.
“I want to know love.” He sobbed. “I want to know love.”


They had pulled the couches into a semi-circle and sat facing one another. The Wanderer looked at everyone there, a group dwindled in number to the size they were when meeting in his home. One of them was slurring his words and had the distinct odor of alcohol around him. Most of them had the air of disinterested obligation about them. Yet he knew from talking to most of them that they were hungry for God. It wasn’t a failure on anyone’s part necessarily.
It was seven o’clock on a Saturday night, and for the first time, the Wanderer noticed how gloomy the rented room seemed.

She was pale, breathing in shallow gasps.

“Tonight, I have an announcement. I’m going to make an executive decision. That’s not to say it’s not open for discussion, but I really think we’re at a crossroad here. I believe it’s time to move our meeting to Sunday mornings again. I really think we have a choice. We can keep doing this like we’re doing, and let this expire in the next month or so, or we can see what will happen if we become flexible, and accommodate the cultural expectation of Sunday morning church meetings.”

She was pale, breathing in shallow gasps when her eyes began to open.

“I think it’s a great idea.”

“It’s time for a change, we need a change. Our hearts haven’t been here. I was worried that maybe we were in over our heads, that maybe this was a mistake. But I agree, we should move the meeting to Sundays.”

“I’m for anything that will shake this up.”

The Wanderer smiled. “Me too. Well…let’s go get something to eat. This is good enough for tonight. Next week, be here Sunday morning at 10 o’clock for the re-launch. I’ll bring the doughnuts. It’ll be fun.”

She looked up at him, and her white lips formed the faintest of smiles.

Friday, April 08, 2005

The Wanderer for Wonderwhat (11)

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

Into open waters
The group looked at the Wanderer intently. He studied their faces, hoping he could read something that would indicate the right choice to make. Eighteen adults were crammed into his tiny living room, a small band of dreamers who had set out with him on a journey away from church, as he’d known it. They sat encircling the Wanderer, weighing out the news he’d just given them.
He continued talking: “Well, that’s the bottom line. The pastor has decided to leave, and they are offering the building, chairs, and sound equipment for us if we want to move out of the living room and grow into something bigger.”

“It is crowded here.” Said one person.
The Wanderer looked around at the group, crammed into every free inch of space. “Yes, it is.”

“It’s a scary thought, but its kind of exciting too.” Someone else offered.

“Who’ll be paying the rent?” the Pragmatist asked.
“Good question.” Said the Wanderer. “I guess we’ll have to start a community fund that will cover expenses like those.”
“And what if nobody gives to this fund?” pressed the Pragmatist.
“Well…if nobody gives, and we can’t pay rent, then I guess we have our answer about whether we should have done this or not.” The Wanderer said, smiling.
“So, this means we’re going to start taking up offerings?” the Pragmatist added quickly.
“Why?” No response.
“No really, why would we need to do that? We all know there are needs. We all want to keep meeting together. Why would we need to act like we’re not family, and pass a bucket around like panhandlers? No, we will not be taking up offerings. We’ll put a box, or a basket or something out, and people can contribute as they’re led.” The Wanderer said with a sound of someone bringing a case to a close.

“So, then, are we going to meet on Sundays now?”
“Maybe…maybe not. What do you guys think about Saturday nights? Leave Sunday open as a full day off to hang at the beach or whatever? It definitely would defy expectations!” The Wanderer suggested excitedly.
“I don’t know. What if people think we’re Sabbath observers? Or Jehovah’s Witnesses?”
“People will think anything they want, we can’t worry about that.” Someone else offered. “I like the idea of a Sunday free-day!”

The group was getting more and more excited as they talked. They all prayed together, asking God for guidance, and spent some time in silence, contemplating the choice before them. In a unified decision, they agreed to assume the lease, and take the equipment that was offered.

“Ok, one more thing,” the Pragmatist ventured cautiously, “ does this mean we need to call you Pastor now? I mean, now that we’re becoming a legitimate church?”

The Wanderer looked at the Pragmatist to decipher if this were a joke. Then he noticed that everyone else in the room was looking at him with an expectant look, waiting for his answer.

“Ok…let’s start from the beginning again. A legitimate church?” The Wanderer said, making quotation marks in the air with his fingers. “Let’s go back to my manifesto. Why I hate church; part one….” The group cut him off with groans and laughter.

“You call me by my name, and nothing else. We’re in this together, you’re not gonna’ pin this whole rap on me!” The Wanderer said amid the laughter.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Parenthetical Intrusion...thoughts on Haiti

I just got back yesterday from Haiti, and my body is still in protestation mode, so I don't think I'll be doing much today either. It sure is good to be home!

Talk about a grueling endeavors. I'm not sure I remember when I've been this tired before. Yet, it's a "good" tired; the kind of tired you have after surfing. I'm so glad I've had this experience, and I have so much to process and try to articulate. Brad and I shot a ton of tape that is going to be very useful, I believe, for the Latillades.

I'm thinking that Brad and I will show a few movies (short ones), and share about our experiences this Sunday. The challenge of that is to not bore everyone by being detail intensive. Just an overview...and maybe provide an encouragement to deeper involvement.

I'm sitting here and reading over a few thoughts I jotted down while over there. I'll finish this post up with a few of those.

I wonder who I am in Pastor Joel's eyes? I know who he is in my eyes...a giant. Not physically, of course, but in relation to all that he faces and all that he does, I'm nowhere near his peer. He's thin, like everyone else around here, and almost sixty. He wears the years in the slump of his shoulders and the lines on his face, yet his eyes have a piercing...something about them. The barriers of language keep me from communicating with him like I want to. I want him to pray for me, that I could have a heart like his. I watch him flash at a young ruffian who tries to move ahead in line at the clinic, and then turn and place his long fingered hand so softly on the shoulders of a young mother holding her child to guide her up the porch. He displays that universal Jesus incarnate, that all good leaders seem to possess. I want him to pray for me, so that I could have it too.

A word to describe Haiti is oppressive. In climate, in government, in spirit, all is oppressive. The heat is inescapable; there is no air conditioning to run for. It presses on your shoulders like a sweaty giant leaning on you.
The dust...the dust makes this a different world than the one I come from. The everpresent atmosphere of dust and dirt is something you swallow with every breath, so that every breath is suddenly a part of your thinking process. You breathe reluctantly, through a closed mouth, and even then, you get the crunch of residual grit between your teeth. You breathe through your nose to stem the choking tide and your greeted by the smell that says "welcome to Haiti".

These are flexible people. Even physically, the way they sit or lean on their legs. But mostly they are flexible in soul. They have to be, things go wrong here constantly, and plans are subject to change with the suddenness of a striking snake. They roll and move with inconvenience and are unfazed by it.
I am an embarrassed man, and I have a lot to repent for. I complain way too much at home. I have nothing to complain about. Nothing. The simplest of tasks here is a monumental effort. The things I take for granted and end up despising embarrasses me now. The dentist had no anesthesia, local or otherwise. He had a small drill he would twist with his fingers, and he used this to dig into the cavities of the people here. I watch them with a mixture of empathetic horror and awe. I never saw one of them flinch. These people live with and in pain daily. Life is hard from beginning to end. Pain is life, life is pain. I am embarrassed.

The hope of Jesus is universal. The message of the Gospel transcends this life and points toward a life to come. This is the truth that a people like this must have, and what, I believe is the appeal. Give a man hope, and he can do anything. If a man has no hope, all he wants then, is something to do. Pastor Joel embodies that hope, and he accomplishes wonderful things, albeit, on a small scale. But "small" is relative. What is small about a child who's name has been written in the book of life?
Only a hope that arches above this present life can provide hope for these people. But that hope itself changes this present life and lifts it. What a cool, divine circle.