Thursday, September 27, 2012

Just Jesus

The old high school gym had the classic look, the banners which no one reads anymore intermittently hung from the rafters, the glossy yellow wood floor contrasting the ascending rows of dark brown bleachers, the multiple sets of double doors and exit signs, and all of it illuminated by the bright artificial glow only gym lighting can provide and smelling of decades of losses, victories and the sweat that made them happen.

The old school gym location was appropriate because I was there for something old school, but it wasn't basketball. I was there for a classic Youth Rally. My friend, who we'll call Ric, was asked to "bring the Word" at this youth event, and Ric had invited me to join.

The Youth Rally has been around a long time and had various manifestations in its history. It is no longer called a Youth Rally in most youth ministries, but its parts and intentions still exist. This story happened in 2001, so it still had no problem calling itself a Youth Rally. Whatever they are now called, the essential core remains the same and remains true to its original moniker: They exist to Rally the Youth. It may take loud music, pizza, hilarious games, hilarious-er videos, hyped youth workers, whatever, but you got to get them teens rallied up.
It's similar to a pep rally for the football team's Friday night game versus their division rival, except in this case the offensive line is 87 pound middle school boys and the enemy is Mammon or that ole Devil. Philippians 4:13 is still relevant in both scenarios of course.

Ric and I sat down front like good preachers and entourages should, and behind us the bleachers shook and squeaked as the stadium rows were being filled with teenagers from all the local youth ministries. The praise band had set up centered on the floor, just about ten feet off the front row. Ric and I were very close to the action.

As the patented 7:00 start time struck, a very non-cool looking man humbly walked to the keyboard, and was followed by equally postured teenagers who arrived at their various instruments and microphones. It was nice to see them all acting so reserved and unassuming about their role as worship leaders. The keyboardist began to play softly on his electric piano and the moderately volumed house PA system projected it somewhat garbled out onto us rally constituents.

The worship leader began to speak over his tickling of the heavenly ivories:
"Guys, these rallies are often about hype, and getting fired up and being passionate, with loud music or a great band, or cool speakers or games or whatever. And it's really easy to forget why we're here, and that's Jesus."

(awkward applause from the Pentecostal church present which died out when not properly backed by the Baptists)

"So tonight, we don't want it to be about us, or getting crazy, or winning games. We want to bring it back to the heart of worship, which is about singing to our awesome Savior, Jesus. Let's pray."

I don't remember what he prayed because I was just really impressed with his intro and how he was conducting himself. He seemed to really want to bring the students to a place of reverent humility and away  from vaporous hype.

He said amen and began to play Heart of Worship (which you probably saw coming if you remembered it was 2001) and lead the rally to a place of reflection.

What happened next? Revival? 500 teens getting on bended knee and crying out to God? Heavenly clouds appearing and parting and a dove descending in glorious light with messages for each of us in its talons?

Nope. I'll tell you what happened next and not one bit of it is hyperbole. . .

The three youth pastors who sponsored the event came rushing in from the lobby doors carrying a water balloon launcher and a trash bag of balled up T-shirts. They were whooping and pointing at the crowd and ran to the edge of the keyboard and set up to begin launching t-shirts into the crowd.

The worship leader just kept going with his subdued and authentic rendition of Heart of Worship with the three highly amped leaders right by his piano. Remember that the keyboard was about ten feet off the front row. They didn't care. The youth guys just started loading up their launcher with t-shirts, pulling back hard on those bungee cords and began letting the cotton fly.

The crowd became this surreal mix of people holding up hands to bless the Lord and teens holding up hands to receive the blessing of free clothes. I think the youth pastors assumed all of them were the latter. The scene turned into a bizarre mix of news footage of a protest mob being dispersed with tear gas and a crowd of people arriving at an armored car wreck with cash floating on the air. The shirt bombs were flying at them at insane speeds, people diving to avoid getting hit, others scrambling to get the free treasure.

The front rows were throwing themselves to the ground like they were playing dodgeball with rocks once they saw an eighth grade girl go down holding her face like she'd been punched by a bear. We reached our concussion quota for this youth event in the first two minutes.

The youth pastors kept firing and the worship leader kept singing.

"And it's all about you Jesus. . ."

Kaboom. Pow.

"I'm sorry Lord for the thing I made it. . ."

Kaboom. Pow. Ka-Boom.

Ric and I turned and watched the chaos. We laughed ironically and tried to follow our lone keyboardist and his timid little band of poor musicians. It was tough to do, being in the middle of an America's Funniest Youth video and all, but it became easier as the youth pastors exited with one last cheerleader like hand-raise and head bob, and dashing back through the lobby doors, no doubt congratulating each other with high-fives. Another successful youth rally and the Word hadn't even been "brought" yet. . .

"O Lord, help us all to be outdated irrelevant keyboardists of sincerity, and protect us from the passionate missiles of distraction launched our way. Amen."

Matt O.

(If you're cynically wondering what font they used at the Youth Rally, this was Pre-Papyrus era, when Comic Sans reigned. . .)

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Grit

I've now lived in the South as long as I ever lived in the North. In fact, each day down here my y'all gets a little more y'all-y. I guess I have dual citizenship now. . .I hope a civil war doesn't break out or I'll have the awkward decision of what team to root for, although it might be flattering to be recruited ;)

Going back to the little rural church I wrote about in "I Love You Gob", I'd like to tell you about my unwashed Northern ways and the first time it truly let me down in the culture of the South. . .

I had only been working for the church a few months when the men of the church decided it was time to raise up and forge that hairy beast known as the Men's Prayer Breakfast. I could probably write 18 paragraphs of jokes at this point but we'll just say that most of those beasts are all bacon and no bible.

Our deacons were the main impetus behind the movement, all three of them, as well as an older gentleman named Paul Pruitt. Paul was truly an original. I'm guessing he weighed 300 pounds and couldn't have stood more than five and a half feet. He had been in a wreck and had trouble with his neck and spine, in fact, it looked like he had no neck, his massive head just sat tilted to the side between his hulking shoulders, so much so that he would seem to strain and look up just to look at you in the eye. He had a voice like he was chewing rocks and had salt and pepper rose bushes for eyebrows.

Paul had two main passions besides his wife and Jesus: watermelons and vacuums. He collected old vacuums and then used the parts to tinker around with other peoples' vacuums and hopefully fix them. A visit to his house was like seeing the laboratory of a Mad Maid scientist, a museum of mismatched skeletons of sweepers of old.
And every spring, Paul would make runs in his tiny knockaround pick-up truck down to Florida and come back with a bed full of watermelons. It was a great sight, the massive hump shouldered man joyfully rolling out of that little truck with early treasures for the warm nights. He sold some of them, but you could tell he loved giving them away more. . .

Well, Paul and the deacons started up the Men's Prayer Breakfast (it requires all capital letters), and the deacons told Paul that they and the youth pastor would handle all the cooking. The youth pastor meaning ME. I got to the Family Life Center (see also Gym) at an hour when the roosters were still in REM, and asked what could I do to help. . .

The deacons had already been up for an hour praying and farming and probably giving Yahweh a few pointers for all I know, and so the battle plan was already set. I think they may have fought for the right to make the gravy for the biscuits, but I didn't press too much in order to avoid opening newly scabbed wounds. I got the honor of doing The Grits. Which to this day makes no sense to me--give the new Northerner who has never eaten a grit nor seen one, the crown jewel of southern breakfast delicacies?

The deacons got lost in their own culinary worlds, and so I only got to hear 2 things about grits:
1. Grits are good. They stick to your ribs.
2. Grits are easy, you can just put in the crock pot til the breakfast, they'll keep.

Regarding #1, I think grits need a new PR person if your first selling point is "they stick to your ribs"--yeah, so does paint and caulking, but you don't see me dipping my eggs in them. . .

And as for #2, all I heard was "crockpot". So, I mixed the grits in water and placed the white grainy soup in the crockpot and turned it to high and watched as the deacons danced the Martha Stewart together as smells of bacon grease and buttered eggs filled the air.

We put out our bounty in a glorious buffet and the guests arrived, our mish-mash assembly of hungry and spiritually disciplined males, emphasis on hungry, and we gathered around the awkward rectangle of church tables and "blessed the food. . .and the hands that prepared it". (My hands did feel kind of tingly and good after that prayer. . .)

As soon as the Amen descended, the fellas and I dug in to the cultural beauty known as a Southern Breakfast  (and to be honest, the South does have everyone licked in this department). Let's just say I loved everything. . .except the grits. Gross. How do you people eat these things? It was like eating sand from the beach, except the grains were more like pebbles made of newspaper. I employed the "Used Napkin" technique and covered my shamefully uneaten grits and went back for seconds on bacon (which is one of my Love Languages).

But then I noticed I wasn't the only one deploying the Used Napkin to hide unwanted grits. Everyone else had pushed theirs away too. . .everyone but Paul Pruitt.

A kind of hushed stare collectively permeated all of us as we watched ole hunchbacked, crook-necked Paul try to gag down my horrible grits. . .

Finally, mercifully, deacon Len said "Paul, you don't have to eat that."

And he said, "Oh, good", and pushed it away from his plate like he suddenly realized it had rabies.

We all laughed for a solid ten minutes at the Yankee boy's attempt to cook grits. Apparently, you put the grits in the crockpot after faithfully working them in the pan for a few days, and then just "to keep". . .you never cook them in a crockpot. They called my grits "The Grit".

They asked Paul why he kept eating it even after he knew The Grit was awful. He said because the new Yankee youth pastor had made them and he wanted me to feel welcome.

Now that my friends is hospitality, and that is making the effort to love someone. Any time I'm struggling with loving another person, I remember one thing:

Paul Pruitt ate my grits.

Matt O.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

A Poem for Peters

"I am Simon Peter and I love you Lord!
See my devotion as I swing this sword!"

Simon Peter, I love you and know thee,
Rooster crowing, you deny you know me.
Foot in mouth and boldness broken,
Fear not, Peter, grace has spoken.

"I am Simon Peter and I love you Lord!
See my devotion as I swing this sword!"

  Simon Peter, do you love me more than cheese?

Cheese Lord? Yes, Jesus, I love you please,
I love you so much more than cheese.

But Peter, your stomach, your belly,
It really really wants PB and jelly,
By your appetites you will be led,
It's so hard to follow full of bread.

"I am Simon Peter and I love you Lord!
See my devotion as I swing this sword!"

Simon Peter, do you love me more than ease?

Ease Lord? Yes, Jesus, I love you please,
I love you so much more than ease.

But Peter, we know, ease is so easy,
Suffering is tough, it makes you queasy.
By your leisure you'll fall asleep,
Can't bear a cross if comfort you keep.

"I am Simon Peter and I love you Lord!
See my devotion as I swing this sword!"

Simon Peter, do you love me more than Wiis?

Wiis Lord? Err, Jesus, what are these Wiis?
I think I love you more than Wiis.

Peter, Wiis are techno-innovation,
Techno-worshiped in adoration,
 By your fascination you're directed,
In your distraction, I am rejected.

Simon Peter, I love you and know thee,
Rooster crowing, you deny you know me.
Foot in mouth and boldness broken,
Fear not, Peter, grace has spoken.

Do we truly love You more than these?
Your grace should bring us to our knees.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Wax & Bottles

There are two travelers in the woods at night. They both wish to arrive safely to their mountain homes. Rain falls steadily through the canopy of leaves, sheets of droplets drenching them, running into their eyes, adding irritation to their already lost sense of sight.

One traveler relies on the flashes of lightning to get him home. They come in spectacular streaks of luminescent brilliance, staggered over time, their patterns matching their intermittent arrivals.The light of lightning inspires a sense of awe every time, the traveler stands and marvels, eyes seared by the perfect image, a sending from heavenly places, unable to be controlled or explained.

He was blind and groping before, but now, with the intense flash of pure energy gone as quickly as it came, his lack of sight is full as well with swimming spheres of light, after-images accompanied only by the answering thunder.

For that one brief moment, as the bolt arrived, he could see! The world of the woods, with its roots and snarls, its brush and mysteries, was illuminated perfectly! Yet, for all that clarity, for all that crisp detail, he now stumbles again even worse than before. . .the roots and the snarls are no longer framed by lightning in his mind, they are jumping from the earth and grabbing his ankles. . .

If only he had a bottle, or something, to catch the perfect transcendent lightning in and have it with him always, to guide him home. . .but alas, he does not- - he wanders, tripping, unable to see the woods and wondering, when, oh when, will lightning strike again?

The second traveler reaches into her pocket and pulls out an ugly nub of a candle, wax clumped in misshapen forms, like flooding rivers captured in still as they left their natural beds. She sits on a wet stump, and strikes her well-worn tools with practiced hands, waiting for a sputtering spark to catch the wick of the tiny wand she holds. She does not move from her spot, simply waiting for the ritual to run its course, knowing in time it will light.

It does light, the dark wick sheltered by her hands, giving birth to the smallest of flames, growing into a steady but shifting brightness, one she can walk by if she holds her body protectively and does not move too swiftly. Her eyes focus not on the candle itself, but on that which the light bathes, defining it with detail she never knew in the midnight darkness.

The roots have texture and purpose, twisting and turning like serpents at play, feeding the massive sentinels above them with food transformed magically from sun, water, and decaying sacrifices in the rich dirt. She no longer fears the roots as enemies of her journey, but she delights in their unheralded complexity. . .as she steps over them smoothly.

She continues this pattern, walking slowing by her faithful and flickering waxy companion, appreciating the wonder of the world as her mountain home grows steadily closer. When it fails her, she finds another stump, sits, works, and waits for the flame to appear again and then proceeds on as before. . .

There are two travelers in the woods at night. One worships the lightning strikes and wanders tripping and cursing through the forest, hoping that he will one day arrive at the place he seeks. One walks in intentional deliberation, by the light of an imperfect but illuminating candle, seeing the woods for what they are, and with a steady gait towards home. . .

Matt O.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Gob Loves You

The first seven years of my journey in serving the Lord were spent in the trenches of the battle known as youth ministry. From volunteer to paid intern, to part-time guy for part-time pay, to overtime guy for part-time pay, I was there teaching passionate Bible studies, poorly washing cars at fund-raisers, doing crazy things to my hair for the sake of the kidz, and rocking lock-ins left and right.

My first full-time, fully in charge, here are the reins to our teenagers youth ministry was at a small church in very rural Georgia. They had completed their Family Life Center (see also: Multipurpose Room, Fellowship Hall, or Gym) and constructed three classrooms on the second level which overlooked the gym floor. I was given a tour of the classrooms and told that two of them would be Sunday School rooms (naturally) and the third could be. . .The Youth Room.

This was in the mid-90s, DC Talk had just recently released Jesus Freak, so the wave of CCM (Contemporary Christian Music) and praise bands in local churches was just forming, and the student ministry phenomenon and rite of passage known as The Cool Youth Room was also in cultural gestation. We were pumped to not have a Senior Citizen Sunday School hand-me-down room for our gathering place and to be on the cutting edge of "real" ministry. . .

I promoted the big Decorating of the Youth Room for a few weeks amongst our nine students as the first can't miss event of our journey together. I didn't really have a budget or anything close to resources near by (see above: very rural) so I began pillaging materials from The Closets of Cantatas and VBSs Past for our extreme makeover bash. I ended up with a patchwork art supply quilt of metallic silver pens, dehydrated markers smelling like chemical fruit, and primary colored poster paints. The big night came and the youth took my meager offerings and became the Rembrandts of teen faith expression as local Christian radio leaked out of my tiny boom box plugged into the corner.

Our walls looked like they had been in the middle of a war between fired Christian T-shirt designers and chimpanzee graffiti artists whose only knowledge of color was a Twister game they found in the jungle. Walking into the room, your sight was assaulted by a vision of sprawling bible verses, silhouettes of middle schoolers, dripping bumper sticker cliches, John Hancocks proudly blazed, and wallpaper designs as conceived by 8th graders and their gasping markers.

We loved it. We were proud.

We kept the supplies in the room for a few weeks, so the one or two students who hadn't been able to make it could add their Monet-like thoughts. And that was our mistake. . .because one morning in youth sunday school not too long later, someone pointed out a new phrase on the wall, barely noticeable, tiny letters written at an angle by an unsteady hand:

"I love you Gob."

We were incensed. An unregistered and rogue artist had violated our sanctuary. . .and with a sacrilege: a misspelling of God's name!!

Turns out the delinquent was the younger brother of one of the students, who on being questioned and cornered, said he just wanted to belong too. . .

Don't we all?

And don't we all at times scribble furtively in the dark our little prayers, feeling unworthy as we write them, a mix of uncertainty and ignorance, missing something. . .like God's name or a vital phrase crucial to making the prayers actually work?

Over the years, the story of the little vandal has repeatedly brought a reassuring smile to my face in times when I most needed it. . .
. . .when all I can really say is: I love you Gob.

And then, in those moments, I sense that Gob loves me back. . .

And Gob loves you too.

Matt O.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Biology Class

Most of my formative years happened in the obnoxiously distinctive decade known as "the 80s". It is no surprise then that my wardrobe choices and fads over the years have been less than timeless (though I have held the line with the fall flannel shirt pretty courageously. RIP Kurt).

One of my more prideful (at the time) and humorous (now) clothing collections was frog shirts. No, not those Johnny-come-lately Peace Frog shirts, the Earth Day type frog shirt and my personal favorite, the poison arrow frog shirt! I loved it when kids would want to pick out which little rainbow frog they liked best, or when girls would stop and read the dire environmental warning silk-screened gloriously across my scrawny chest about frogs being an indicator species for unhealthy changes in nature. . .

I don't know when the obsession started with frogs, but I know for sure when it didn't start:
Biology Class. We had a legend in our school named Mrs. Grove, a grizzly bear crossed with a tsunami, a hungry hawk perched on high and we the field mice, a cranky grim reaper wearing a six foot grandma disguise. . .who sometimes masqueraded as a sane person who knew some things about nature and yelled them at pubescent bags of bones trembling like mugs of coffee sitting on an unbalanced washing machine. . .

But enough about those lingering memories (nightmares), we are talking about frogs.

Biology Class is where you got to dissect animals for the first time. Most of us started with the earthworm, or maybe a cow's eyeball (What are we, witches?), but wherever we started, we almost always went the way of that rite of student passage known as frog dissection. I've heard of "really cool" schools who provide baby pigs or even sharks to dissect, but I think coolness can be a relative term sometimes (I'm looking at you skinny jeans. I know you're an easy target these days, but wow, I feel less shame about my John Stockton shorts than you'll feel 15 years from now with those pants. Trust me. Children of the 80s have a good feel for these things.)

Remember the smell of pasty green frogs in the air? The precarious feel of the over-sized safety goggles on your face? The tiny shake in your hands holding the scalpel as it hovered over the belly of the worshiping amphibian?

A few hesitant slices later, a few sticks of pins, and you were staring at the circuitry of life. Your teacher (or Force of Nature in my case) was asking you (or growling spit-filled verbiage in my case) to identify the parts of frog anatomy. There's his little frog belly where all those flies go, and his little bowels (which, if nicked by a blade clumsily wielded led to other mysteries of life), and the powerful muscles where hops come from. . .

I definitely did not fall in love with frogs (or their Tshirts) in Biology class.

I loved their otherwordly eyes, their vivid greens, their smooth and comical underwater swimming strokes you could only see on a sunlit day in a happy creek after you'd startled one off the bank with your noisy approach. . .

I may have learned what the insides of a frog looked like in that class known as Biology, but I learned what Frogness was from delighting in frogs. You have to kill an animal to dissect it.

If you've made it this far (long blog post, I know), here's my heart:

Life in Christ is a live frog and if you start messing too much with the insides, trying to define exactly what it means to be a frog, you kill it. This is not a statement against systematic knowledge, but it is a compassionate plea to smell the air for embalming fluid when you are seeking knowledge from others for what life in Christ is like. . .

My growing suspicion is that God is more pleased by our amazement in the thrilling leaps of  frogs though we do not know how or why than He is in us being able to accurately express the technical terms for amphibian guts. . .

What is Biology again? The study of life.

Welcome to class.

Matt O.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Lost Quotes: Post #5

I am not what folks would call a morning person. My eyes do not shoot open at the first tinkle of sound from my alarm clock, my body does not bounce out of bed bright-eyed and bushy-tailed ready to face the day (What are we, squirrels?). I wake up disoriented most mornings, and the darkness does not help (yes, I still get up early even though it isn't smooth like your grandma. "I've already read the paper and had 4 of those tiny cups of coffee!"). The darkness laughs at my pre-dawn clumsiness, obscuring the shoes I didn't quite tuck under the bed and aligning my path with the half-closed door. . .

Imagine living in complete darkness. There is never any light. You have no ability to rely on your sight to navigate, your only hope is to memorize where objects are by the unscientific method of groping with hands and banging with shins. Household items become painful enemies or at best, mysterious unknowns. The blindness does more than render your motor skills next to useless, it makes the usually simple acts of finding food and water a daily search for a holy grail. . .

Now imagine a whole mass of humanity in the same darkness, and in their blindness, just as desperate to find food and water, cursing over the same obstacles, panicked and fearful of the same unknowns. Would we trust each other? Would our voices alone be able to make peace with the strangers in the night? Would hunger trump trust? Would we all be monsters? It is not hard to imagine the answers to these questions. . .

For the last of the Lost Quotes series, I wanted to share this little line I found hastily written on a torn piece of paper, folded and forgotten in the back of a drawer:

"Light brings unity."

When light comes, the enemy can be truly seen. It is just the coffee table. It is just the stairs. It is just my neighbor and they too are hungry. The world we stumble around in is the same for all of us, and we are all the same. But it takes light to bring unity amongst people. . .it takes light for us to truly see each other, and to truly see ourselves. They were the monsters, but I was the monster too.

Light brings unity, a sense of union with another person, we are together, we are not enemies.

John writes in his first epistle:
This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. (1 John 1:5-7 NIV)

People can only have true fellowship with each other in the light, if they remain in darkness, everyone is an adversary to be tricked, to be used, to be avoided, or to be harmed.

Jesus says in John 3, after describing being born again, seeing the Kingdom, and receiving eternal life:
"This is the crisis we're in: God-light streamed into the world, but men and women everywhere ran for the darkness. They went for the darkness because they were not really interested in pleasing God. Everyone who makes a practice of doing evil, addicted to denial and illusion, hates God-light and won't come near it, fearing a painful exposure." (John 3:19-20 Message)

We fear the exposure of the light, so we remain enemies in the dark.

Only the Light of Christ can bring us into union with the triune God, and only in Him can we have the fellowship with others for which we were designed. In fact, Paul indicates life only really begins when we are in the light of Christ, until then we shuffle around as spiritual zombies, dead but hungry, hurting ourselves and fighting anything we meet in the darkness. . .

But everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for it is light that makes everything visible. This is why it is said: "Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you."
(Ephesians 5:13-14 NIV, also read 5:8)

There is no unity with God and people without living in the light. And that light is Christ and is only found in Christ.

Matt O.

(Further reading: There are so many light passages! Too many for a simple blog! Follow the trail of LIGHT in the gospel of John starting in 1:4 and be amazed at this metaphor, chosen by God, to communicate the truth of knowing God and human living. Or the gospel of Matthew starting in 4:16  or 2 Timothy 1:10 or 1 Peter 2:9 or. . . )

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Lost Quotes: Post #4

Our cable shows have made going to flea markets and antique stores a hot fad by showing professional pickers and treasure-hunting contests between eccentric personalities, but I've always loved that scene. I still do.

This past Saturday I got two wigs, a fluorescent tiger-striped fur trench coat, and a pair of school-marm glasses from the 60s all for about 3 hours of wandering and seeking (I collect wigs and costumes in case you were wondering). I even picked up a pair of hedgehog sculpture bookends for my wife (She raises, breeds, and sells hedgehogs in case you were wondering).

I came across a quote this weekend as well, ironically, that I had written from an antique store on one hunt long ago:
"We now live in a world where we see antique furniture and we want to turn it into a profit without ever hearing the story of the owner or the piece."

This quote has multiple levels of meaning for me, so it was interesting to see it lived out in a literal sense at the antique markets this past Saturday. There were many booths and tables of junk, with folks just heaping piles of unwanted items that they had purchased for a lump sum at a yard sale or that they had raided from a relative's home. As they stacked their trash, they hoped it would become someone's treasure.

No stories, no interaction, just dollar signs and stained merchandise and castaway toys. And to be honest, if I found a "treasure" there, I would have bought it and walked away. . .both of us happy with the transaction.

But at the good flea markets and the real antique stores (not just the ones selling snowman crafts or candles that could be purchased at Cracker Barrel type stores) there are folks who know their wares. They have hunted and studied, traveled and haggled, cajoled and connived to put this motley menagerie together. Walking the rows can take on a magical and whimsical feel.

Also though, many of them have lost grandfathers who fought in forgotten wars or family homes where life took an unfortunate turn.They bring together chairs where their parents learned to drink from a cup or favorite knick-knacks their crazy great aunt would let them get down off the shelf when they visited...they bring together a museum of memories, and the true treasure in their chests are the stories. . .
They don't just want to make a dollar off the material goods of their heritage, in fact, I would say many don't want to sell at all, but reality has forced their hand. What they really want is to share their lives with people. . .(I got the story on the tiger coat by the way, in case you were wondering)

We are losing the ability in our culture to engage people in genuine conversation, to freely listen to their stories, to understand that when someone tells you about their past they aren't always being egotistic, they're actually being vulnerable and hospitable. . .inviting you into their story.

I wrote that quote in an antique market as I watched people speed through looking for the hidden buck that the vendors had somehow missed. I found it sad that we looked at these valued nostalgic pieces from past moments as just pragmatic goods to be transferred. . .

But then I realized with sadness that in today's world we can look at people the same way. . .
I don't want the story, I just want to know what you can do for me.

Matt O.

Monday, September 3, 2012

The Lost Quotes: Post #3

"God loves for us to be fully human in His presence"

I remember writing this one now that I've come across it again. . .

I had been wrestling in prayer. Correct that: wrestling with praying.

Wrestling in prayer is the saintly practice of Jacob-like grappling with God over some spiritual issue, usually involving compassionate intercession for the lost or outcast.

Wrestling with praying is a daily tango with the snooze button followed by a rodeo where my wandering mind is the bull and I end up being the clown. It ends up as a cocktail of equal parts dozing off and daydreaming with a sprinkling of spiritual sounding outbursts thrown on top that may or may not have a Bible verse involved.

But the cocktail is always washed down with a tall glass of spiritual guilt.

I once saw a motivational poster at the YMCA that said "No matter how slow you're going you're still faster than the person on the couch." The prayer version of that poster is how I used to defeat the guilt from my sporadic and chaotic prayer times. At least I'm up and trying to pray. . .unlike those slug-a-bed believers who probably can't even spell Oswald Chambers. . .

The motivational poster works maybe for workouts, but not for our walk with Christ. Anytime we're seeking validation for our spiritual lives through the spiritual disciplines themselves we're in trouble. We're doubly in trouble when we seek additional validation by comparing ourselves to others.

So, where did my lost quote come from?

It came from a realization that the full range of human experience and behavior (discounting participating in sin) is a delight in God's eyes. He made us and knows us, and He knows our weaknesses, foibles, and struggles. His desire is to be known in it all.

I don't get upset when my infant daughter tries to walk and crashes (repeatedly), in fact, even though I want her to walk so bad, I find great joy in the process she is engaged in. . .

What?! You are delighting in her failures??

Yes. And No.

I am delighting in her as she fails. I am not finding delight in the failures themselves, or taking pleasure in her defeat.

I would put forth (not as well as other heroes, saints, and mystics who have gone before me, Nouwen I believe somewhere has written some thoughts on this) that God, even as we miss the mark of our intention of the perfect "sweet hour of prayer", finds all minutes sweet where we wrestle in His presence. Wind blown daydreams, holy naps, poor prayers and all.

I am not advocating a lack of effort in becoming more focused in prayer, by both silence and petition, but I am offering the idea that the process itself towards becoming a real pray-er of substance may be more blessed than we realize. . .

. . .and realizing that may make those wrestling matches a bit more enjoyable and those cocktails a bit more drinkable.

Matt O.