So, I’ve regained a modicum of composure after yesterday’s justifiable meltdown. The very idea that mindfuldigressions.com would label me a narcissist … why, as I said yesterday, that’s beyond the pale! When Mindful Digressions (MD) insists on raising this “N-word” accusation, it is absolutely a bridge too far. I should have let it go, I might have.
But then! He closed out the post with this stunning paragraph!
A selfie? He even emphasized the word, highlighting it in red, providing a weblink to define the word!! How could I ever let that accusation slide? Comparing the practice of blogging to the sophomoric act of snapping a selfie?
That, sir, is cruel! Does MD think it’s fair to paint bloggers with that expansive brush of unabashed self-worship? Lumping garden-variety (albeit, incurably narcissistic) bloggers into the same company with notorious selfie-ers? I mean, we’re talking the likes of Carlos Danger and Geraldo Rivera! That’s just plain icky! Oh, the humanity!
Okay, I’m slowly breathing in, breathing out. I’ve got a brown paper sack here on the desk just in case I feel a sudden wave of dizziness… I’m feeling better. Phew!
Of course, I’m writing again today with tongue firmly planted in my cheek. I wasn’t truly offended by MD’s blog post; the writer offered reasonable observations and logic. And the comparison of blogging to taking (and posting) a selfie? On the face of it (so to speak), I have to admit I understand why he would make that argument.
Maybe … just maybe … there’s a smidgeon of truth to it. Are bloggers just another cadré of performance artists? We don’t smear chocolate all over our naked bodies, nor do we thrust swords down our throats. If we open our veins to squeeze out the words mingled with blood, it’s (usually) only achieved metaphorically.
In the sense that every blog post represents a waving, uplifted hand (if not a desperate plea) for attention … Notice me! Notice me! … I willingly (though grudgingly) concede MD’s point. (Still don’t care for the selfie comparison.)
EveryChristmas is a merry one! Spending time with family members who − during the rest of the year − are scattered far and wide, provides us time to love on grandkids, to catch up on some of the challenges and joys and struggles of the past months, as well as to recall, to laugh and to cry about long-forgotten memories and shared history. We all end up exhausted, we eat too much but have trouble fitting dishes full of leftovers into the refrigerator. We down gallons of juice and soda pop and coffee and tea.
The grandchildren (seven of them between the ages of 2 and 10) stay up too late after playing hard all day. They argue with each other about toys and sometimes even break into childish scuffles (not a shrinking violet in the bunch). They pass back and forth through the kitchen claiming hunger, but rarely pause long enough at mealtime to finish what’s on their plates.
While the entire celebration can be wearying, the saddest sound is the silence that hangs heavily in the air once the door closes and everyone has packed into their cars to head home. Still, we go about our busy lives knowing next year we’ll enjoy more sweet days together, attempting to create precious memories for our grandchildren, just as our grandparents and parents did for us.
Like many families, however, we regretfully acknowledge an empty chair. I’ve written before in this blog about our absent son and brother (here and here) so I won’t rehash old ground now. Yet, no matter what family gathering takes place, we know we are not quite whole because of our loved one’s absence. I don’t write this to be gloomy. I’m quite aware of others whose situations are far more troublesome or tragic. And I’m buoyed by the comfort about which Proverbs 13:12 speaks: “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.”
The artwork I’ve used in the background for this sonnet is a favorite painting of mine, produced by the master painter Rembrandt. The work is based on Luke 15:11-32, Jesus’parable of the prodigal son. Rembrandt’s painting reflects his heartfelt compassion for the subject. Of course, as Rembrandt well understood, this parable carries a deeper meaning beyond a family’s estrangement between its members.
When it comes to our Creator, he longs for all of us to return Home where our separation from him is resolved through the Christ of Christmas. There, at his feet, just as Rembrandt portrays in this painting, our forgiveness and reconciliation is certain and without reserve. A father and son share an embrace that declares past grievances moot … the momentous picture of desire fulfilled.
After all the Christmas programs I’ve attended in my lifetime, I’ve mostly memorized Luke’s second chapter. Luke the physician presents a clear and observant narrative. In addition to the birth story, Luke describes the witnesses (1) present following the birth event (shepherds guided by stars and angels to the stable) and (2) in the family’s appearance at the Temple eight days after the birth (Simeon and Anna, both elderly people awaiting the Messiah’s coming). I’m fascinated by Luke’s description, but the personal story of Mary always draws my focus to her. I’m always amazed at her circumstances − hardly ideal for delivering a child and further complicated because he’s her firstborn. (What does she know about birthing a child? I remember my first birth; it was stressful!) How tranquil she appears to be with every turn of her adventure into the will of God!
As a mom, I believed each of my offspring was pretty special. Not once, however, did a visitor come through the door announcing excitedly that angels had delivered a proclamation about his or her birth. There were no signs and wonders in the sky outside my hospital room. And people who shared each birth event with us were quite ordinary; not a prophet or prophetess in the bunch (as far as I could tell).
Like Mary, with each of my children there were things I “treasured” in my heart. We compiled the baby books, captured first moments in photos, collected congratulatory cards and letters, hospital bracelets … all the usual memorabilia. Of course, this continued through the years of each child’s path into adulthood. But I have no doubt Mary’s treasure was much more compelling than mine.
I wrote this sonnet thinking about those things stored in Mary’s heart treasury. How did she do it? She watched him grow, pondered (like most mothers) his potential future, and in what must have been a terribly excruciating moment for both of them, she found herself standing at the foot of the Cross as Jesus entrusted her into the care of his best friend John. How did she do it? I know it was only by God’s grace she was able to bear it all.
A new book out this month caught my eye. The title, Why Nobody Goes To Church Anymore, probably invites a thousand different responses, many of which could be thoughtful while a roughly equal number of others might be scornful and acid-tinged. I’m guessing few people seeing that title will be neutral about it.
Though I didn’t find much biographical info about this couple, Amazon‘s introductory sample pages provide details of their association with Group Magazine and also, that they share a passion for seeing lives transformed through the power of Jesus Christ. An interview with the couple on the Group Magazine website reflects their heart for youth ministry.
Since I haven’t yet read the book, a critique would be unfair. However, the table of contents leads me to conclude I’d agree with much of what they say. I’m especially interested in the four acts of love they propose as transformative for the church: loving with (1) radical hospitality, (2) fearless conversation, (3) genuine humility and (4) divine anticipation. I’d likely share their primary thesis, but books presently on my night table take precedence. I’ll reserve further comment until I’ve read the book.
My own experience with churches is lifelong. My dad’s family were organizers of the first German Baptist church (founded in 1849) in St. Louis. My mom’s family was similarly involved in founding at least one church in Pennsylvania. I don’t know whether those churches faced attendance problems, but I remember an attendance board like the one at left was almost always a prominent fixture of churches I knew.
As a teenager, I attended a Plymouth Brethren (PB) church. Having come from a Baptist church, we were outsiders. They were delighted to have us as members, but our unfamiliarity with PB traditions set us apart. I well remember thinking the core members tended to be older, and families with children (like mine) were the exception rather than the rule.
My long history with churches is peripheral. Let’s turn a corner. During my daily exercise (on an elliptical), I usually watch television. It distracts me from the seemingly endless (really, only 30 minutes) one-foot-in-front-of-the-other monotony. Often, I tune into a TCM movie (no commercials) or find something tolerable on Netflix or Hulu.
This week, I decided to try a British series Hulu had advertised. Didn’t know if I’d like it but figured it had an agreeable premise. It’s called Rev. and features an Anglican vicar named Adam who serves an inner-city London parish. Adam struggles to build the dwindling church membership while ministering to a diverse flock. Having only watched the first two episodes, I’m still reserving judgment, but the show is appealing (though imperfect). It resonates with a refreshing authenticity.
The second episode struck a strong chord. A charismatic vicar named Darren meets with Adam to request permission to use Adam’s parish hall (for Sunday services) while Darren’s parish hall is being remodeled. Darren’s a photogenic man, head and shoulders taller than Adam. He wears civilian garb rather than the typical vicar collar and robe. His speech is generously sprinkled with words like “cool” and “awesome.” Of course, Darren enthusiastically proclaims, “Jesus is awesome!”
Adam consents to the temporary merging of congregations, but by Sunday, the stately worship hall has been jarringly transformed − pews pushed back, luxurious couches, flat-screen televisions and blaring sound system installed. The coffeepot once located on a back corner table has been replaced by a fruit smoothie bar. Darren’s congregants are mostly an under-30 crowd, hip and animated. Taking a cue from Jay Leno of The Tonight Show, Darren waltzes in from offstage to rousing cheers and applause.
The most memorable scene (for me) occurs when Darren introduces a rapper to perform special music. The rapper makes a sign of the Cross and then delivers a peppy number with this refrain:
Love me, take me, Jesus. Make me feel brand new! Love me, take me, Jesus, Our resurrected Jew.
Of course, the show is meant to be provocative. Several commenters condemn Rev. as blasphemous and sacrilegious. In part, I agree (and there is salty language).
But I like Adam’s character. He prays (in voice-over). He loves his wife and she genuinely loves him. The tension Adam feels comparing his shrinking congregation to Darren’s youthful growing congregation resembles a bonafide tension many churches encounter.
The question Thom and Joani Schultz pose with their book must be asked: Why would anyone go to church anymore, especially if it compares to Adam’s dying parish? But the opposite question also begs an answer: What is it about Darren’s parish that draws the young folks? How many pastors have asked themselves those questions in the last year?
Once I’ve watched a few more episodes, I’ll have a better sense of Rev. For now, it seems as though they’re seeking to entertain, but as a side benefit, they’re asking good, incisive questions … and if they continue, that’s what will keep me watching.