PSPC Fall Retreat 2005

February 6, 2006

The Way of Our Flesh

The Gospel is addressed not only to individuals, but also to the communities to which these individuals belong, because these individuals are what they are largely because of their life in their communities. Communities have a corporate identity. They can think and act together. If you take an individual right out of his community he becomes a different person.

Lesslie Newbigin, British missionary to India

In 1970 or thereabouts, Newbigin was invited to join a group of clergy in the Church of South India, and teach them from the Scriptures before the serving of Communion at their monthly worship services.  These talks were collected into a book, The Good Shepherd (Oxford: Mowbray, 1977), where I read the comment quoted above.  As it happens, Newbigin was talking about the Christian mission to industry in the city of Madras, but his words would have been equally at home in the middle of Park Slope Presbyterian’s first retreat.  This past fall, a few dozen of us gathered to sing songs, eat and drink, taste wines and pick apples, in the hope that God would be molding PSPC’s corporate identity as we thought and acted together.

The Rev. Tuck Bartholomew’s teachings at the retreat gave us a lot to think about.  Maybe you’ve heard someone say, after a speech or sermon that really touched them, “I felt as if s/he was speaking directly to me.”  That is not what I’m talking about.  Tuck’s words are still unfolding in my mind, not because I heard them as if they were meant only for me (though I did hear them that way at times), but because, in Newbigin’s terms, they were addressed not only to me, but to the community to which I belong.

I always figured my most prized encounter with God would take place when I was alone with him.  But Rev. John’s note at the front of the retreat program said this:

the purpose of this retreat is simply to deepen your relationship with God… this will occur primarily as we deepen relationships with one another as His church body.

This notion was hard for me to grasp as long as my Christian faith was a private matter – when I attended Redeemer as one in a crowd, living with a woman who did not believe in Jesus.  Once I became part of a community group, the idea of God’s church body was literally fleshed out for me.  Once I had a small number of Christians to call friends – and we would gather faithfully every week – pray together – push each other to examine the Scriptures more fully – confess our personal corruption – listen to each other with sympathy, and so help each other exchange some of that corruption for some holiness – then I could begin to grasp what it means to be loved by God.

There’s been a lot of talk – in church and out of it – about
“community.”  I think, if we over-use the word, it will lose its
power.  We will no longer be able to hear its echoes of other words (such as communication and communion) and the images it brings to
our mind’s eyes will grow stale.  So in what follows, I’m going to use the word corps (rhymes with core) anywhere I need to refer to a group of people who have gathered for a purpose, people who become more closely knitted together over time.

in light of God’s mercy

One metaphor Tuck used throughout the weekend was the idea of “wrestling with God,” drawing on Genesis 32.  You may recall Jacob’s long night by the side of the Jabbok river.  An unnamed man comes and wrestles with Jacob, but can’t defeat him.   Jacob gets a new name, Israel, and the man tells Jacob that he has fought with God and won.

It’s hard to say what’s more astonishing: that God takes the initiative to wrestle Jacob in the first place, or that Jacob wins, or that God takes the opportunity to give the story of his people Israel a new beginning.  “God is preparing a people.  There’s a uniqueness to Jacob’s life,” Tuck said, adding, “…and yet, there’s something incredibly ordinary about his life and about his struggle.”  Jacob is like any one of us, making a fool out of himself as he struggles to secure an identity for himself.  It could easily have been that Jacob knew nothing else his whole life but this kind of fruitless wrestling with shadows, but it so happened that God showed him mercy: making himself tangible in the form of a man, being pinned by an unworthy opponent.  Our ordinary lives as recipients of God’s mercy are connected by a history that runs through God’s chosen people all the way back to Jacob: an extraordinary individual whom God used to bless the whole world.

Wrestling can look like lovemaking and feel like murder.  To be throttled, tripped, overturned, and pressed against the ground is to be hurt and humiliated.  This is one way in which in Tuck’s metaphor is helpful for making sense of life in the Christian corps.  God’s church has the body of a wrestler.  Whoever best exploits the other’s weakness might, might escape being tenderized like a piece of meat.  Even in a victory, the body is sacrificed – every limb exhausted by the total effort required to
prevail over the opponent.   And Jacob’s story reminds us
that the man or woman who wrestles with God may find herself exalted at the very moment when God seems to inflict the most harm.

So our relationship with God is filled with intimate encounters and brutal struggles, and sometimes it’s hard to tell which is which.  It involves asking and receiving, taking and dishing out… it’s a love relationship.  God loves us, and that love is not a mere concept or ideal, but is embodied.  He has fleshed it out.

to offer up your bodies as a living sacrifice

One of Tuck’s anecdotes left a strong impression.   It was
about a woman he’d known in the context of a small group.  She was in a dark place emotionally.  Tuck encouraged her to tell her story to the group, and reflect on the times in the past when God had shown her his love.  Well, she tried.  The group listened as she narrated one painful experience after another – but in defiance of Tuck’s expectations, she really couldn’t see any evidence of God’s love in her life.  At some point, it occurred to her that her present experience – sitting in a circle with sympathetic listeners as she told them her sad story – was actually the first time she had ever known God loved her.

For Tuck, this incident shed light on Paul’s words in Romans 12:

I appeal to you, therefore, brothers and sisters, in light of God’s mercy, to offer up your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, which is your spiritual worship.

Tuck pointed out that Paul appeals to many Christians (“your bodies,” plural) to seek God’s pleasure as one (“a living sacrifice,” singular).  Just as that group came together to listen to the woman’s story, when many Christians come together to do God’s will, they are bringing their various bodies together to embody God’s love.

In our society, all kinds of associations are held up as potentially profitable for all concerned – marriages, business partnerships, labor unions, various committees and organizations – but if your involvement in a group impinges on your independence in some way, it’s time to get out.  Many popular movies and TV shows are about a man or a woman who makes things happen because he or she refuses to be bound by the conventions of a profession or family or other group.  I inherited this cultural value, as did most of you, and it will always be easier for me to see the wisdom of standing apart from the crowd.  If I do “get involved” with other people in any way, I will see it as rewarding only insofar as I can gain from it individually.

The kind of involvement Paul has in mind, he tells us straight up, is sacrificial.  A Christian corps does not violate the laws of thermodynamics by giving back to you more energy than you put in. “Getting involved” definitely means a lot of give and take, maybe even more give than take.  For most of us, it will not come naturally.  To consistently offer ourselves up to God as a corps, to put ourselves at his disposal, requires a mental and emotional and physical effort that we make together.  The trouble with living sacrifices, says the old joke, is they just won’t stay on the altar.

which is your spiritual worship

I drove up to the retreat center Friday night with Ryan and Megan, and found out that each of them was raised as a Christian.  Ryan said, “I can’t really remember a time when I didn’t believe.”

“It’s hard for me to imagine what that would be like,” I said, “You could say the exact opposite about me.  I can’t really remember a time when I did believe.   I’m not just talking about when I was a kid, but even now.  It always feels as though I’m holding something back, like there’s a part of my old mind that will never go away.”  Pause.  “That’s why the church is so important for me.  It’s about having a way to be a Christian that isn’t just about what goes on inside my little mind.  It’s that…  I’m doing the Christian thing, you know?”

They got kind of quiet after that.  They probably weren’t sure what I was saying – and I wasn’t too sure myself.  Later that weekend, as Tuck started teaching from Scripture, it occurred to me that there were at least two sides to the statement.  I might have meant that my observance of Christian ritual served in my life as a substitute for an interior relationship with God.  However, I might also have been talking about the power of corporate worship to shape the interior life.

Tuck illustrated this power with Psalm 73.  The psalmist, Asaph, describes his own struggle with God.  In his suffering he rebelled, to the point that he doubted God’s good will.  He studied the people around him, successes in the world’s eyes.  And he was tempted to conform to the world: to call himself a failure, and even God (in effect) a failure, because he did not enjoy the same success.

The climax of the story comes with a visit to the temple.

When I tried to understand all this, it was oppressive to me
till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny.

What’s so climactic about entering the sanctuary?  Asaph entered the sanctuary to take a concrete action in the midst of his suffering: to worship the Lord as one of the people Israel.  He didn’t do it out of a spontaneous burst of worshipful feelings toward God, or because he had a theological breakthrough – it was the appointed time for his corps to worship.   He did what everyone else was doing, and by doing so, he learned anew how to entrust his destiny to the Lord.  In other words, this is a story about how sometimes we forget our true identity and have to relearn it.  This relearning comes, not by listening to talks or reading reports like this one, but by doing worship.  And to do that, you need other people.

The most amazing thing about the story is that it’s just like the story the young woman told that loving circle of listeners: we’re only hearing it because he chose to share it with his corps – in fact, he turned it into a song to be sung as part of worship.

In a small way, the retreat was my own personal Psalm 73.  I live from day to day in a condition much like Asaph’s – feeling disconnected, feeling like being a Christian makes me a sucker. As I said to Ryan and Megan, there’s never been a time when I simply believed.  When I tried to understand all this, it became oppressive to me, but then I entered the “sanctuary” of the retreat.  I ate meals and sang songs and read the Bible side by side with other Christians, “doing the Christian thing,” acting as part of a body that has come together to worship God. Suddenly, I listen to a letter written to a body that has come together to worship God, and what do you know?  It sounds brand new.

I’ve read Romans 12:1 for years without really getting it.  I wanted to get out of it something profitable for myself as an individual.  I had conformed to my toxic culture.  “My life is mine to give to whomever or whatever I choose. Sacrifice is optional!”  In fact, I must worship at some altar or another, and something precious must be sacrificed there.  The question is: will my worship be unreasonable?  It could become a crazy-making dependence on something which cannot support my weight, or a hard-headed refusal to depend on anyone but myself.  It could lead to an unsupportable sacrifice; my integrity or my compassion or my sense of humor could end up dead on some unworthy altar.  Is there an alternative?

Paul understands quite well that worship is a fundamental part of every person’s life in every culture.  Furthermore, he assumes that his listeners want their worship to be “spiritual,” or true to who they really are and who God really is – they want their worship to be reasonable, or intelligent.  So, in Romans 12:1, Paul tells them just what spiritual worship means.  It involves sacrifice, but not as the world understands sacrifice, found only in bloodshed and death.  It is a living sacrifice, a matter of day to day life.

do not be conformed to this world

In several different ways, Tuck pointed out that the church is often a loose assembly of people that fails to be a corps.  We rarely look like the Marines, or the Peace Corps, getting things done in the world.  We don’t “go to war” against evil.  We don’t “go to peace” against war.  Instead, we tend to “go to pieces,” dividing up into cliques and factions and selfish individuals.  Maybe, Tuck suggested, that’s because of the way we think about taking action.  We tend to picture it as something we do apart from the work of worship and prayer and Bible study, as an optional extension.

Tuck provoked us with the example of a family he knows in Chicago.  He calls them the Rainbow Family because they have adopted children from several different countries.  He was talking with the mother, and she told him that it was estimated that there were one million orphans in Ethiopia.  “My dream,” she told Tuck, “is that the church will mobilize itself one day, and Christians worldwide will just adopt all those children.”  When Tuck opened the session up to questions, Judy, herself an adoptive mother, returned to this example.

“Adoption counselors will tell you, it’s very important to only adopt a child because you really really want to be a parent.  If you do it out of pity, or to be a do-gooder, it will be disastrous.  So as dramatic as it would be for all these Christians to adopt the Ethiopian orphans, it could turn out very badly for a lot of families, and a lot of children.”  Tuck acknowledged that this was true.  “One thing I think the church can do,” she continued, “is provide an environment where people who might not have thought of themselves as parents can spend time with kids and come to realize that God is calling them to become a mother or father.  We can help open their hearts.”

This exchange struck deep.  The tendency is to think of this offer Paul is talking about – of ourselves as a living sacrifice – like it’s an inspiring (but unrealistic) vision.  Like a New Year’s resolution.  Ideas like this challenge us to “do more good,” but rarely lead to transformed lives.  As Judy pointed out, the idea of adopting all the Ethiopian orphans is indeed too simplistic to work in reality.  However, she went on to say, there are things that the church really can do.  Having considered God’s desire to see us “look after orphans and widows in their distress” (James 1:27), we can think the problem through and make constructive choices.

As soon as we start thinking in terms of solving problems, there is a danger that we will follow the pattern of our culture and start thinking like project managers or experiment designers.  Deep in the American mind lies the enduring fantasy that life can be “hacked” like a computer program, that you can crack the code and find the five steps or the seven habits that lead to success.  The sociologist Peter Berger calls this “the assumption that all human problems can be converted into technical problems, and if techniques to solve certain problems do not yet exist, then they will have to be invented.”

This is the key.  It’s not enough to know in our heads that this assumption will fall apart somewhere along the line.  We need an attractive alternative that lures our minds away from it, and not just in a vague “overall” sense, but in each dimension of our lives touched by the assumption.  Take prayer, for example.

Later the same day as this discussion about adoption, Tuck drew our attention to Psalm 107, which tells a series of similar stories. Each story is about people (always in the plural) who were rescued from trouble by our Lord.  You can read the psalm to find out about the different kinds of trouble, physical and emotional, self-inflicted and God-inflicted.  Each story has the same climax.  Four times, the psalmist tells us:

Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress…
Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love
and his wonderful deeds for man.

In Berger’s terms, the world sees prayer as a technique that was invented by human beings to solve some problem.  The most dizzying thing about Psalm 107 is perhaps the fact that the word “prayer” never appears.  There is no theory of prayer.  There are no prayer techniques.  There are only memories of God’s “wonderful deeds,” and how they came in response to the cries of his people.  There is only the story of a relationship.

Paul’s appeal to offer up our bodies “as a living sacrifice,” we now recall, continues into the next verse.

Do not be conformed to the world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.

When we consider how this appeal is also made to us “in light of God’s mercy,” we see why Psalm 107’s stories were sung as hymns of worship.  The world surrounds us with stories in which we have no meaningful role to play, in which prayer is mostly a monologue and activism is the pastime of a select group of worthy individuals. Without an alternative story about our God, for whom our prayers somehow become part of his work of healing the world, we will have no choice but to conform.

Even now, as I write this, my mind is asking, “What about the orphans in Ethiopia?  What about them?”  That is a prime example of the kind of conformity to the world which Tuck was trying to challenge.  Over here, you have some folks from Park Slope Presbyterian talking with a visiting preacher about “making a difference.”  Over here, we have the idea of prayer reviewed in the context of a relationship with God.  The world says I have changed the subject.  My own mind, having learned its lessons very well, says I have changed the subject.  Let’s all defy this assumption.  I am not going to do writing somersaults to show how these two topics are related, and you are not going to insist on them.  We are simply going to remember how, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught us how to properly give to those in need, and went on: “And when you pray…”   Jesus Christ, casting a great vision for the depth and breadth of the Christian corps, moved from social action to prayer without changing the subject.

be transformed by the renewal of your mind

By this time, when we hear that one word “transformed,” we should also hear – at the same time – connotations of corps formation, spiritual reformation, individual moral sanctification, and sociopolitical action.  (Ideally, we would hear all that without ever listing them individually – as I just did.)  Such a convergence might make us feel a little dizzy, and that’s probably a good thing.  As Ani DiFranco sings, “Try to keep your eye on the big picture, picture keeps getting bigger.”  This was what Judy had done with Tuck’s example of the Rainbow Family.  Tuck had stepped back to give us a “big picture” kind of image, and Judy had stepped back even further to make the picture even bigger.

Judy called a crucial fact to our attention: the church’s role in loving the suffering world might not look like what the world would expect.  There might not be any
answers in the sheer multitude of Christians, nor in the cash those Christians can pool together, not even in the ingenuity of various church programs.   The most important thing might be the kind of people that we become as part of the church.  It might be the way we think.  It might be the mind of the church – its imagination, its vision, its transformative power – in which we all share.

The modern world has assumed that our minds  are located exclusively in our brains.  It’s an unhelpful assumption in many ways.  In any case, the mind of a corps is not a matter of a bunch of brains piled together somewhere.  The mind of a corps is found to some degree in its practices.  A corps learns how to do things differently by actually doing different things.  Put another way, our own doing will not depend on some kind of “figuring out” beforehand of God’s will.  If we expected that sequence, Paul has blown it up in Romans 12:2.  We are not talking about the mere execution of an idea which miraculously comes into our mind.  Then again, this doesn’t mean that Scripture hasn’t provided our lonely minds with some images to hold on to as we wrestle with this notion.  Tuck called our attention to  James 1:18, 22:

God chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created… Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves.  Do what it says.

The diagnosis: we get into trouble by separating learning and doing.  You haven’t learned anything, James insists, you’re still living in deception – until you’ve done what the word says. Then James relates this to the matter of identity.  The word of truth holds up a mirror in which we can see who we truly are – our wretched condition as sinners, our exalted condition as adopted children of God – but then we turn away from the mirror and instantly forget who we are.  It’s just like a lesson you learn in school just to pass the test but forget as soon as you leave the classroom.  What good is an identity found in Christ if you don’t really get it through your head?  And how will you get it through your head if you don’t act it out?  This is the question James puts to us, and to which Tuck added: how will you act it out alone?

Just as Jacob put his body on the line and received a new name – a transformed identity – the Spirit will renew our mind when we as a church put our body on the line.   The Spirit will transform us through a new identity as we embody God’s love.  James refers to this process as our becoming a kind of first-fruits, referring to the ultimate transformation and renewal of all the world through the lordship of Christ.  The word comes into our lives as part of Christ’s exercise of his lordship, exercising his authority over all the earth.  The Word teaches us by leading us into adventure.

God’s good, pleasing and perfect will

In my title, I obliquely promised flesh.  I hope I’ve given you plenty of it, and even gratuitous flesh (in the proper sense).  I also promised a “way.”  By now it should be clear why to end with a way is appropriate.  I might enjoy writing about this, and you might enjoy reading it, but we need a direction for walking.  Tuck, for his part, after finishing his talk on Romans 12:1-2 and James 1:18,22, gave us a series of specific instructions about how we could (in his terms) flesh out the Kingdom.

1.  Think through the Word out loud together.

The world does some of its best work in conforming us to its patterns by inviting us to wrestle against it.  In a way, there’s no such thing as non-conformity, only conformity to a better pattern.  We need a positive program covering every area of life relevant to the Kingdom – including sex, money, and politics.

Where will it come from?  After all, the Bible is not a user’s guide, where we can look up the needs of each day in the index and find the appropriate techniques (with diagrams).  The traditions handed down in the church play a role in this process, as do the fresh efforts of every new generation.  When we try to “listen to the Word, and do what it says,” as James says, we’re going to find ourselves wrestling with God, which means wrestling with each other and the rest of the saints and with Scripture itself. So Tuck encouraged us to start conversations with each other about how to relate the Word to the world.  To talk through what the Word is telling us about sex, money, politics, our jobs, our neighborhoods, etc.

Talk is not idle.  Talk does things, and doing is learning. To talk through is to think through.  “Thinking through” is not like “thinking.”  The latter is what smart people do well and leads to good ideas; the former is done by everyone and results in what I’ll call “through-thoughts,” or threw-thoughts.  I like spelling it “threw” because these thoughts take into account the “thrown” quality of life – the way we’re kind of thrown into a world in which we must immediately play a part.

These threw-thoughts will not occur in some vague space within our brains.  They will not have to wander around looking for a way to get out of our heads and, somehow, into actual life.  These thoughts will already be part of the actual world – they will arise in our conversations with each other about our everyday lives and the Scripture we’re reading together.  Once we make ourselves vulnerable and start talking, really facing up to what Christian life is going to mean for us in this time and this place, we’ll be more than halfway to some serious nonconformity.

2.  Step into the light shed by the Word.

Through Scripture, the Holy Spirit holds out a torch, by the light of which we can take a few steps in the right direction.  We move, following the torch, often without recognizing how the very motion of our bodies powers the torch.

As the song says: you’ve got to move.  Deep conversations do not transform the corps.  Indeed, those conversations will have no real depth unless part of what people are talking about is what they are currently doing.  For example, it’s one thing for a group of Christians to have a conversation about education, and another thing if those Christians share a volunteering commitment that brings them into contact with young people in the city.  It’s one thing to talk about how tough life is, it’s another thing to counsel and encourage an actual human being who has been willing to bring her sorrows before her small group.

If we want our conversations to be more than mere chit-chat with some religious jargon thrown in, we have to “get our hands dirty in other people’s lives.”  This kind of action makes God’s grace visible to other people, and makes the church a potentially attractive place.  Which is another dimension of the renewal which God has in store for his church, because just as people are starting to get comfortable with each other – and therefore, starting to forget how monstrous (and, at the same time, exalted) their fellow corps members are – new people come in and shake up the status quo.

3. Keep your eyes on the Lord behind the Word.

At its simplest, the instruction is to worship God instead of idols.  It was Tuck’s more specific framing of it that fascinated me.

He basically said, everything we’re talking about takes effort. Specifically, it’s effort that converges from a variety of sources.  It’s like the climax of an X-Men story where all the heroes have to direct their respective powers at the bad guy at the same time to stop it from destroying the earth.  It’s effort that intersects.

What we have now is mostly effort that runs in parallel.  I’m working hard on overcoming my pornography habit.  You’re working hard on getting over your traumatic break-up.  And since we’re Christians, we’re both working on it the same way, we’re both trying to draw on the power of the Gospel and find healing for what ails us.  And we get together and talk about it.  And that’s being the church.  Right?  Wrong.  Our lines seem to point in the same general direction – towards God – but actually our effort is really going into ourselves.  It’s running on a perfectly straight track to nowhere, because the point is to feel a little better about ourselves by doing something to improve.  Ostensibly, we’re doing a Christian something.  However, the truly Christian something doesn’t look anything like this.

It’s really hard for a neurotic like me to imagine, but the picture is of a church where people are looking at God instead of themselves.  That doesn’t mean I’m still looking at myself through a God-colored lens, that means I’m looking at God.  My corps is looking at God and I’m looking with them.  We’re looking at Scripture together.  We’re looking after each other together.  We’re looking out for our neighborhood’s interests together.  We’re seeking – first – the Kingdom of God, and God’s righteousness.  What does God’s righteousness mean?  I think it means we still want to be better people, but we have some grasp of the notion that it’s by being a better part of a better corps that that happens.  God’s righteousness is a function of participation in God’s kingdom.  That is totally different from me going to work on myself every day so
I can look pretty for my full participation, someday, in God’s Kingdom.  That’s idolatry, and idols suck.  Literally, they suck spirit from the bloodstream of the church body.

Imagine if all the energy you and I direct into our own moral improvement was instead marshalled for the moral health of the whole corps.  And imagine if everyone else was doing that too. Imagine what it would mean to be part of a corps that was seeking to be holy, not by each individual doing their own little seeking, but as a corps, united in praise and worship of a holy God.  What if it was really about God, and not about anything else?

4.  Get found, kid.

Robert Fulghum (that’s the “everything I need to know I learned in kindergarten” guy) has a lovely essay in which he describes looking out his upper-story window at a game of hide and seek going on in the yard below him.  One of the younger kids had found a hiding place so good that, long after everyone else had been found and the kids had moved on to playing a different game, he was still there, gloating over his spot.  Finally, Fulghum leaned out the window and yelled, “Get found, kid!”  The kid looked around bewilderedly for this (as it seemed) disembodied voice, then ran off to find the others.

Tuck told us a sad story about a friend of his who sought a divorce from his wife, and refused to stay and work things out in spite of the intervention of his church.  As a result, he was excommunicated.  When Tuck went to talk to him, his friend told him: “There hasn’t been any love in this marriage for ten years. I appreciated what the church was trying to do, but by the time the church got involved, there was nothing left to save!”  Tuck said that in retrospect there had been plenty of signs that the marriage wasn’t going well, from a long time ago, but nothing so glaring as to force it out in the open.  He mused, “You know, I never asked, ‘How are things with your wife?’   I never even made a comment, like ‘It seems to be that you guys don’t communicate very well…'”

This is one of those ways in which, in spite of everything Jesus showed us, the church still conforms to the world.  It’s great to have conversations with people, but for some reason, the greater the possibility that something is seriously wrong, the less likely we are to really ask questions.  We learn our lessons very well every day, from the thousands of superficial interactions we have with our neighbors and colleagues – and even friends.  We learn how to hide.  It’s a valuable skill, and actually takes a lot of hard work.  We know how to find the really good places, that no one would ever think of.  How are you going to just turn that off when you’re in church?  And why would you want to?  Are folks in the church any more likely than folks in general to be compassionate and responsible when you reveal those things that make you feel skinned and raw?

Of course not.  We’re all serving up sin to each other constantly, and cruelty and indifference are always on the menu.  Let’s not be shocked, shocked that the corps isn’t made of sterner stuff than everybody else we know.  Let’s not shrug our shoulders either.  We can repent.  We can start by getting found.

If you wear your fancy pants at church and keep your real self hanging in the closet at home, if you’re not willing to wrestle, if you’re not willing to get your hands dirty, everything grinds to a halt. It’s not really dealing with Scripture if we aren’t honest about ourselves as we read – and so it’s not really thinking through the Word together if we aren’t saying the most important stuff out loud. Without the Word, our walk becomes lame, and not in a good sense. This is the lameness of being perfectly whole, but perfectly stationary.  Jacob limped away from Jabbok, because God Almighty had personally busted his hip… that’s good lame.

Why would you ever step into God’s light if you don’t want your shadow to appear?  Why would you ever do anything out of the ordinary, whether it be community service or joining a small group or seeking reconciliation in a stalled relationship, if you’re trying not to call too much attention to yourself?  And as should be apparent, it’s a form of idolatry to keep a private shrine at home where the other half, the one we don’t bring to church, has to do its worship.  We can hang a cross over that shrine – it still might as well be the Almighty Dollar or the Multiple Orgasm or the Golden Parachute or some other 21st-century idol.  It’s hidden.  That’s the tripwire that lets you know you’re off the narrow path, when you worship alone.

You hear it?  That voice coming from somewhere over your head: GET FOUND.

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