The Ideal … and the Real

So, we’ve done it. We’ve kicked off, pulled the trigger, dropped the hammer … We’ve met as a church, in person.

That was Sunday. And it was a fine beginning to our regathering process—90 people at first (socially distanced) with a few more joining us as we went along; and that beautiful constellation of people catching the stream from home.

I’ve never done anything like that—addressed the scattered saints, gathered in person, and then loved and cared for that other group on the other side of that little black camera with the green light.

And here’s another thing I’ve never done … I’ve never led an in-person but also virtual communion service. And that’s what we’re planning for this next Sunday!

And that’s where the story of personal transformation in all this starts for me. I’m an idealist. I love (LOVE!) the idea of the church gathered. I’m not crazy about the multi-site movement. I don’t even want to have more than one service. I love the picture we make at Woodland when we gather (especially at the Lord’s Table) of one body of believers, resting in the finished work of Christ, pressing toward that future, in-person, meeting with Christ in the air (1 Thessalonians 4.16-17). And we do this united, all in one place, together.

But, I’m also a realist. And I see we’ve been blown asunder in these last months. Now we’ve begun to regather, but we aren’t all gathered yet. There’s that beautiful part of our fellowship that’s worshipping at home, every bit a part of the whole as those who come and share space and air.

The idealist in me would wait to go to the Table till we’ve ceased the stream and seen all gathered in. But the realist will win the day, and we’ll go to the Table Sunday.  The reason comes from two verses from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. Here’s the first:

For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes (1 Corinthians 11.26).

Did you get that last bit? … until he comes. The Table is given to us to remind us (among other truths) that the terminal point of our struggle in this world is our regathering with the Lord Jesus, in person. Until then, we’re kinda … we’re kinda “streaming”. We’re really, really with the Lord through the ministry of the Spirit, but we can’t touch him, be held by him, or feel His breath. To wait till we’re with the Lord to celebrate communion is to miss the point of the ordinance. The Table is our help for now … until he comes. It’s for His people in the process of being regathered. When we’ve finally arrived we won’t need the ordinance. We’ll have Him, Himself.

Now, I don’t want to blur the theology of the local church with the theology of the church invisible. (And don’t build your end times theology or your theology of the church on my meditation.) But do think with me about what we’re doing Sunday when we take the elements to proclaim the Lord’s death, united, together; some in-person, others streamed. We’re recognizing that we’re in the process of being gathered up. The regathering of our local church is a picture of the wider church universal that Jesus is gathering to Himself. And we’re to go to the Lord’s Table … until He comes.

The other verse is one that has long fascinated me: For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face … (1 Corinthians 13.12a, KJV).

Paul is talking at the end of this chapter about love triumphant. While many gifts of the Spirit will cease at the great regathering of Jesus with His people, the reciprocal love of Jesus for His people and His people for Him (and one another) will endure. And, until we’re with Him, we’re living in a “stream” that grows ever stronger, sharper and clearer, until we see Him … face to face. Maybe the COVID-19 crisis with all its streaming and Zooming and virtual, but not quite satisfying, interaction can help us appreciate what it means to be … face to face. At least, I’m still thinking about this.

Whatever you take from my mid-week meditation, I hope you come to see the Lord’s Table we’ll celebrate Sunday as something we do to “remember” Jesus’ work (1 Corinthians 11.24-25); but also as something we do while we’re being “regathered” to Him, something we do till we’re in His presence. Until then, we’re in process, we struggle, we move together, we receive His grace.

That’s a big enough thought for one week, don’t you think? If you’re in our church family and you’re preparing for the Table Sunday, let me hear from you at [email protected]. Let me know what these recent months have taught you about God and His people.

And have a great week, in the Lord!

 

 

Bodies and Souls …

This past Monday our church team leaders met to discuss how to regather our people after two months of disembodied streaming and Zooming. The meeting in sum revealed that spectrum of postures and positions that every church is finding right now—some want to reopen, others prefer to wait for more certainty. Old news by now. (We’re going to meet this coming Sunday, so you know. We’re also going to unite through this and be fine.)

But what interested me most in the meeting proved to be one quick exchange—a crease in that rambling discussion, a kairos moment in my thinking that entered like the whir of a hummingbird, hovered for a moment, then vanished on invisible wings, taking my thoughts with it.

“Why do the elders want to regather now?” one of our team leaders wanted to know. An obvious but excellent question.

My instinctive answer, an instant later: “Because we NEED to” … I’ll stand by that answer. But just like I finish every preached message in the car on the way home, I’d like to complete it.

Our Present Worldview Crisis

Just as Bilbo Baggins in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings described himself as “butter spread over too much bread,” we all feel instinctively that something is wrong in the world, and we’re all somehow wrong in it. There’s a moral and spiritual haze in our dispositions—a certain cast covering our every action. At different times and places none of us has been certain whether or not we’re within or outside the law of the land. Even when legality is defined, the spirit of the law defies simple explanation. What does social distancing say about how we value people? Do we love others by running toward them or hiding from them? Does meeting as a church family mean we’re careless, or that we care about our community? What is the relative value of safety verses, say, courage? And, above all, what does love look like?

We’re not helped by looking to public figures. Dr. Fauci, head of the Center for Disease Control and a household name by now, strikes me as a nice man I’d like to have for my own doctor. He describes himself as  “… a scientist [who] gives advice according to the best scientific evidence  .”  Our Wisconsin governor, before being overruled by the court, said, regarding models and case tracking,  “… we follow science” . Christian leaders in the blogosphere have largely and deferentially followed civil authorities, citing Scripture like 1 Timothy 2.1-2 and 1 Peter 2.13-14.

Fine and well. God has made a world that can be studied, and Christians should love science. God has put government in place to protect, and Christians should honor civil authorities. But what does defining the crisis and our proper response to it in purely material terms say about the human person? If I am no more than a physical, material being quantified by empirical evidence, then I am no more than a potential virus-carrier. I owe you the debt of keeping my potentially diseased self away from you, so you can enjoy what scant years you have left  in your own virus-free body—until we get a vaccine, or maybe forever.

Do you see what I mean by a worldview crisis? The virus is serious and bad, but it’s our truncated response that strikes most profoundly at the heart of what we believe ourselves to be as human persons.

So, what’s the right answer? What are we, exactly?

We are bodies and souls!

This answer is nothing new. It’s as old as Adam, really. But notice what I’m not saying. I’m not saying that we are bodies OR souls, or that we’re bodies WITH souls, or that we’re souls that happen to have a body in tow. I’m not saying that either the body or the soul is more important than the other. Or that we have a body now and will get a soul later.

None of that. I’m saying that we each have a body and and a soul NOW. And that this self-understanding is crucial to our understanding of who we are as human persons. It’s in keeping the two together that we live. It’s in seeing the two separated that we die. It’s in this understanding of who we are as humans that we grasp what a big deal resurrection is—Jesus’ first, then ours eventually. And it’s in seizing the significance of our being bodies and souls that we understand why we need to meet as a church family.

We’re in a global crisis. We get the trickle-down effect locally. In our Northwoods community, crime is on the rise. A grown man I met with last week broke down mid-conversation and simply wept. Even as I write this a total stranger drove in from Highway 13 just to find “someone to talk to.” People are starting to do crazy things. All this provides “scientific,” if you want it, evidence that we are doing enormous damage to peoples’ souls, because we are treating them as bodies only … But, what do we do about it?

For starters, we meet together as a church family. Meeting itself is our manifesto to God’s design in creating us as His image-bearers. In doing so we celebrate God’s wisdom in creation, … then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. It’s not just an imago Christi (“image of Christ”) thing (as though that weren’t everything). It’s an imago Dei (“image of God”) thing. No human being is excluded from the need for ministry to her soul. The great thinkers (I call them “great souls”) of our civilization knew this—the Tolkiens, the Lewises, the Chestertons. It’s the narrow thinkers—the Freuds, the Marxes, and the Nietzches—who followed their dialectical reasoning to destruction in the last century.

Now, when we regather Sunday we don’t meet flippantly or defiantly. When we come together we’ll recognize our bodies with common-sensical practices. This is no time for the holy kiss (1 Thess 5.26). We’ll be careful and respectful. But, we’ll also recognize that “soul ministry” is every bit as “essential” as searching for a vaccine.

And that’s because people are bodies and souls …

Let me know what you think about the idea. I hang out at [email protected]. I’d like to chat more about what this response means for the robust care of human persons in their entirely.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Conspiracy Theories … “My Rights!” … and Civil Disobedience

This promises to be a big week for us in Wisconsin. Sheltered-in-place now for over seven weeks, and with no clear plans to reopen, people are restless. My family and I are restless!

Sometime this week (perhaps even before I hit “publish”) our Wisconsin Supreme Court will weigh in. But, depending on their decision, the situation might grow more tense. All of this is why—staring each Sunday morning into that little black camera with the green light—I’ve started to give little teaser messages about biblical principles to help us in our situation.

Now, these aren’t scholarly diatribes crafted from having read lots of books. (My routine hasn’t gotten easier with the crisis, so I’m plenty busy just keeping up.). They are, rather, quick statements of biblical truth. Let me know at [email protected], if you agree, disagree, or want to talk more. Here’s three quick thoughts. I referenced the first yesterday.

Conspiracy Theories

I don’t spend much time on Facebook, but I get on enough to see what people really think. And last week was the week for conspiracy theories! I didn’t see it among my own Facebook friends, but my favorite theory is that the Corona-crisis is caused by the millimeter wave spectrum related to 5G technology. (If true, just about everybody is a virus carrier, I guess.).

All of this is distracting, but not new. My wife pointed out to me last week that there were many conspiracies circulated around Jesus’ resurrection. That’s what the men on Emmaus Road were discussing, after all. And yet, none of these theories proved true. And all paled in comparison to the truth—that Jesus is alive!

So let’s be careful with the theories. Let’s keep our minds on the truth of the gospel, and eagerly anticipate what God is doing in us personally, in our families, in our church family, and in His church around the world. At the cross and tomb, Jesus cracked the great conspiracy of Satan against God. Let’s not forget it.

“My Rights!”

The present climate has us forgoing basic rights for an (un)specified period of time in the face of a global threat. What about these rights?

Not meaning to get outside my wheelhouse here, but my understanding is that our “rights” originate from our obligations to God. If God requires something of me, I have a right to respond to God. This basic premise forms the foundation of our law code. Take God out of this equation, and you have nothing left but the will to power. And the 20th century demonstrated in manifold cases what that looks like.

So, I have a right to worship … to work … to care for my family … to speak the truth of the gospel, among other responses to God. These rights are being violated, right? Well, not so fast …

Within His created order God has also created government. Civil government, which Scripture begins to reveal in Genesis 9.5-6, has the basic responsibility of preserving life. The New Testament goes on to describe this basic responsibility of civil governors in Romans 13 and 1 Timothy 1.1-4. These governors might or might not know God in a saving way, but they’ll be held accountable to God for carrying out their basic responsibility.

I’ll not share where I stand personally and politically in our present Wisconsin crisis. It doesn’t matter, for our present purpose. I do believe that our shelter-in-place order has the basic intention of preserving life. This is why I and the elders at Woodland are working so hard to honor our government and stay within the “letter of the law”. This is why we’re not leading our church back before the order is lawfully lifted. In Zooming with other pastors across Wisconsin, I’m not aware of a single pastor who is pressing to regather before lawfully permitted.

Both the church and the state are ordained by God. In our present situation, we’re living in the space occupied by both. That’s what’s so hard about our predicament. So, how long do we comply? What would change our practice at Woodland?

Civil Disobedience

Last week the blogosphere was abuzz with talk of civil disobedience. I read some and listened to a podcast put out by the guys at 9Marks. I appreciated a statement by theologian Bobby Jamieson, “Civil disobedience is warranted when civil government forbids what God commands or commands what God forbids.” He went on to discuss examples of both cases from the book of Daniel. And I’d add the example of Peter and John from Acts 4:20, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.”

We in our Wisconsin churches need to defer to government as long as possible. We aren’t being told not to worship. We are being told we can’t drink coffee and mingle in our church welcome area. The former is a right; the latter is a preference. Worship and fellowship can be carried out with some creativity, and that’s what we’re working on as we look at some kind of regathering in the month of June.

Finally, let’s not stray from asking ourselves what love looks like in each stage of our crisis. To date, love has looked liked social-distancing. There might come a time when love looks more like courage—running toward hurting people rather than caring for them from a distance.

But, that’s a topic for another day. Do let me know what you think. And have a blessed day …!

 

 

 

What’s the Plan? …

It’s not a vacation, or even a staycation … It’s a “Coronacation”.  That’s a pretty awful word made just for this, well … challenging time. And challenging times raise questions. Questions like, What’s the Plan?

As the virus grows closer, everybody is making plans—globally, nationally, and locally. And then, of course, the plans change. Those changes, along with the curtailing of our freedoms and choices, frustrate and sadden us.

There’s so little we control here. But there are some things we influence. With credit to Brad and Jessi Borchardt who did this with their family, we Regiers met earlier in the week to talk about what we influence—and to make a plan for our Coronacation. Even if you’re alone or not with a family, you could join us in what we did.

We listed out THINGS NOT TO DO. Don’t snack between meals … don’t tease or annoy people … don’t be wasteful.

Then, we listed out THINGS TO DO. Meet each morning for prayer, emphasizing joy … focus on school … pray for people by name … finish making syrup … prune the apple trees … clean out the barn …

Finally, we listed out our DREAMS. We’re learning about dreams. They can disappoint us, but realistic dreams keep us grounded in reality. We’d like to: research goats (Jack) … add a pulley system to the tree house (Henry) … play Scrabble (Katja) … learn to make some “bakes” (pretzels, bagels, filled donuts, Scandinavian cookies) … build a Viking house (all the boys) … read some books out loud (Amanda) … grow a beard (Bryan).

There will be much teaching, caring, loving, and disciple-making in the days ahead. Lots to do! But we ALL need routine. We ALL need to keep some chores and dreams ahead of us.

SO, what’s your plan? Make your own lists, why don’t you? And then share them with somebody. Maybe even ask us how we’re doing with ours. But do let’s go forward with a plan …

Off to a good start. Jack and his Scandinavian cookies.

 

 

 

Ok, so that’s how it works …

Since we’re coming off our snow-day Sunday, you’ll find message material already posted, several posts back. Or, just go right here.

But, I owe you something from last week. At the points when I squeezed out the message post there was a tree sitting on my house. That was kinda stressful, especially since we were preparing to leave town for the break.

Quite a few of you offered help, and we do so appreciate the offers! But, the major takeaway from the ordeal is about how God uses unexpected things that go THUMP.

Certainly, that tree didn’t fit into our plans. In fact, I could have made the argument that a big red pine that takes on too much snow and lowers itself on to my roof—without appreciation for the way I was trying to serve or the family I was trying to visit—isn’t from God at all.

But, I know better. God uses things that go THUMP, especially unexpected things that seem to be in the way of what we think He’s doing. Here’s how it worked, for us:

Right after the THUMP, we called Don Hadden. He’s our insurance agent, but also our friend. Don popped over and made some connections, since this situation outsized us by a good bit. A bit later, our neighbor, Leon, who plows for us, appeared and assessed the situation. Leon knows a lot about trees. Then Tony, Don’s friend, turned up and promised to return with machinery in the morning. Next, we heard that Jim Blomberg was on the way. Jim made a plan to patch the roof, told of us his new ministry, and we prayed together.

The next day Leon appeared again, this time with his son and a just-shot deer on the back of his four-wheeler. (He talked about the tree, but I think he wanted to show me the deer.) Then Tony and his dad arrived with their mini-excavator and other impressive machines. Jim Blomberg returned, this time with Kevin Blomberg.

In a few hours, the tree was gone, the section of roof that had allowed tree branches to enter the upstairs closet had been patched, and we were on our way to the southern part of the state for Thanksgiving.

Now, what just happened here? An unexpected THUMP did alter what we thought we were to be doing. But, hey, the Lord knew we’d be snowed out Sunday. And without an urgent need to prepare for the service (though I didn’t know that!) He created opportunity for—what was it?—eight visits by five different friends and neighbors. And not all of them know the Lord either!

This all makes a great gospel case study in what to think and do when things go THUMP. Listed out, here’s what I’ve seen, once again:

  1. I’m about as finite, weak and in need of God’s grace as I could be. The tree from the sky reminded me of that, again.
  2. God has everything in hand. If ” … Christ died for our sins …” (1 Cor 15.3), and He did, then things that go THUMP are well within His control and command.
  3. Faith in my Redeemer is both a gift of God (Eph 2.8-10) and a spiritual skill to be exercised. My right response to the Gospel will result in the discovery of both gospel truths (God loves both me and my neighbors) and gospel behaviors (I should pause to see what God is doing, each time my plans are interrupted.)

How about you? What’s going THUMP in your life? How do you, now, plan to respond next time you experience the unexpected?

Have a great weekend. If you’re around here, hope to see you this Sunday, at Woodland.

 

Lighting the candle for you!

It’s on! Not the snow storm that shut us out at Woodland yesterday, but Advent, our celebration of Jesus’ coming.

This past Sunday, amidst the sadness and disappointment of not seeing most of you, some of us snow-shoed and all-wheel-drove ourselves to church to represent you all. It wasn’t the BIG celebration we’re looking forward to this coming Sunday, but it was REAL. We lit the first Advent candle, sang Christmas carols, and prayed together, giving thanks for our Woodland church family, and for JESUS.

So, hang in there through the week, everybody. We missed you! But, we have this coming Sunday to look forward to. And we’ll pick up where we left off …

See you this Sunday, at Woodland!

Movements and the Master: Thoughts on Joshua Harris

This week Amanda and I joined many others in being sad over the divorce and spiritual defection of another Christian leader. I’m a bit too old to have been influenced much by Josh Harris’  I Kissed Dating Goodbye  (1997) or Harris’ account of his own courtship in Boy Meets Girl (2005). My (forever) young Amanda isn’t so old as to have missed out on the target demographic of the books, however. And, we’ve been aware ever since of Joshua Harris’ contributions as a former homeschooler, a senior pastor in his church, and a mover-shaker type in the Sovereign Grace network that forms a stripe of the, so-called, Young Restless Reformed movement—which in turn gave birth to the Gospel Coalition.

Not much is private anymore. When a leader goes down, there’s usually announcements on social media. Such was the case a few weeks back when Josh Harris announced on Instagram that his marriage had failed and shortly later announced that he was undergoing a “deconstruction” of his Christian faith. Since then, leaders like Al Mohler and Janie Cheaney have weighed in, together with friends of Harris like Kevin DeYoung and Collin Hansen.

Like everybody else, Amanda and I have tried, just between the two of us, to talk some sense out of the tragedy. How could this happen? How could Josh touch off such a movement, but then fall so short?

We expect other announcements to come and much public finessing of anything Josh writes about his spiritual adventure. But, the point that comes through for Amanda and I (and the one we ought to heed in our own Woodland Community Church) is that following movements isn’t the same as following the Master.

That’s important for us at Woodland at this juncture of our church’s history. It would be super-easy for us to get whipped-up over the growth of our dynamic, little church up here in the Northwoods of Wisconsin. We might even float some talk about the “Woodland brand,” whatever that would be. Amanda and I might share some thoughts from the Classical Christian homeschool movement, which fascinates the two of us. We might take a group to the next Gospel Coalition conference and all come back with matching TGC tee-shirts.

But, following these movements isn’t the same as following Jesus!

Popular Bible study curricula, RightNow media, blogs, ministries that help us study the Bible or rear our kids, popular or historic schools of theology. Much of this (if not all of it) is great. But, none of these movements will save us. And, none of these little eddies in our wider Christian culture will produce guaranteed results.

Jesus will and does produce guaranteed results! That’s what Paul said when, after visiting Athens, he wrote to the less-complicated than Athenian citizens of Corinth:

And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified (1 Corinthians 2.1-2).

So, we need to be careful at a lively, happy, growing church like Woodland. We need to be careful that we aren’t mixing up some secret sauce, some magic Kool-aid that will leave us far short of Jesus Himself.

Next time you see us, let us know what you think of this thought. Let us hear from you about how following Jesus, the Master, has taken you to better places than following any movement ever could.

 

Missed you this week, at Woodland …!

It’s just doesn’t feel right, you know. The week starts with the Lord’s Day (i.e. Sunday), and that’s the day God’s people, since the beginnings of the church of Jesus, have gathered: Acts 20.7; 1 Cor 16.2; Rev 1.10.

We gather on this first day of the week: because that’s the day Jesus arose from the grave … because we begin the week as new creations in Christ (2 Cor 5.17), and because we begin (not end!) the week in the rest Jesus has earned for us.

And, then, comes this:

And, this …

And, this …

And, this:

And, just like that, no big gathering for worship on Sunday. And that feels disorienting. A big letdown, like falling through a hole in your roof when you’re up there shoveling. Be careful up there, everybody!

But, we did gather. Just six of us. And we did pray for you all. And we did sing the doxology. And the tradition of SOMEBODY meeting at Woodland each Lord’s Day did continue. And God’s big-picture plan for his worldwide church did continue to move toward that precious return of Jesus our Lord. And God was and is glorified.

And we’re planning to meet again this coming Lord’s Day. Right, everybody?!

So, hang in there and lean forward—just like when you step from your ladder to your snow-covered roof. The snow will (probably) catch you, and the Lord will do His good work in each of us when we rely on Him this week.

And don’t be discouraged about the weather. Think on what is true (Col 3.2-3). And, if you’re a local reader around here, plan on joining us this coming Lord’s Day, at Woodland.

See you then …

Books on my nightstand: “Lila”

During our now bygone holidays I read a little. My present reading artery relates to an idea I call “rural renewal”—the transformation of rural communities through Gospel-preaching, disciple-making work.

There’s precious little written here. But, from what exists, my favorite by far is actually fiction, a trilogy of fairly recent novels by the Iowa writer Marilynne Robinson: Gilead, Home, and Lila

Robinson’s literary landscape involves the fictional Iowa town of Gilead—in 1950s Iowa, the northwest region (my guess). John Ames, her central figure, is an aging congregationalist minister who, defying every convention, marries Lila—a deeply troubled former prostitute (though we learn this only gradually, right along with John Ames).

We’ve met Lila before, in the first two novels, and she’s married to Ames at the beginning of Lila, but how she’s come to be the pastor’s wife—after wandering into a church service to “get out of the rain”—becomes apparent only gradually throughout the book.

What I find fascinating is how Robinson, in the figure of Lila, helps me understand the sometimes maddening logic of those who act out of deep hurt. We know them. (Maybe, we are them.) We love them and only wish we could understand them better. These are those who come to our congregations seeking to be anonymous. Serve them, care for them, draw them to the center, and they bolt and are gone. Lila helps us understand why.

Lila’s early life, only a vague shadow of memory to her, involved a dysfunctional family of birth that ostracized her by leaving her on the family porch, for days on end. During one of these periods of rejection, she’s snatched up by Doll, a member of a wandering, hobo community. Doll is a strong, maternal figure who takes Lila to herself like a chick to a mother hen and comes to represent to Lila everything solid and real Lila will search for the rest of her life. Later in the novel, Lila describes the Doll “feeling”,

She wanted to rest her head on a bosom more Doll than Doll herself, to feel trust rise up in her like that sweet old surprise of being carried off in strong arms, wrapped in a gentleness warn all soft and perfect

Lila eventually finds herself alone after Doll commits murder with a “wicked, old knife” that Lila inherits and keeps under skirt. After a coterie of odd jobs over many years, Lila runs and comes to live in an abandoned shack outside the town of Gilead. There, in the lengthening shadows of the twilight each evening, Lila copies biblical passages from a Bible she’s stolen in her travels. Her favorite passage she finds in Ezekiel where Israel is described as an abandoned child the Lord has taken in, Then washed I thee with water; yea, I thoroughly washed away thy blood from thee, and I anointed thee with oil.

Lila wants to be that baby. And, when she meets John Ames, she does, so to speak. To that point the only constant in Lila’s life has been running. And, even after Lila meets, marries, and comes to learn that she is expecting Ames’ child, Lila is planning to, all of a sudden, walk out the front door. Her maddening logic takes on a kind of sense as Robinson narrates Lila’s personal history, right up to the critical moment when Lila, having just been baptized by Pastor Ames, reveals to Ames what has been forgiven by God,

“I worked in a whorehouse in St. Louis. A whorehouse. You probably don’t even know what that is. Oh! Why did I say that.” She stepped away from him, and he gathered her back and pressed her head against his shoulder. He said, “Lila Dahl, I just washed you in the waters of regeneration. As far as I’m concerned, you’re a newborn babe. And yes, I do know what a whorehouse is. Though not from personal experience. You’re making sure you can trust me, which is wise. Much better for both of us” (89-90).

And Lila does grow in trust. But, like all of us in life, she’s not completely healed this side of eternity. Even late in the book, newborn baby at her breast, Lila reflects on that residual tension from her former self,

The problem is, she thought, that if someday she opened the front door and there, where the flower gardens and the fence and the gate ought to be, was the old life, the raggedy meadows and pastures and the cornfields and the orchards, she might just set the child on her hip and walk out into it, the buzz and the smell and the damp of it, the breath of it like her own breath, her own sweat. Stepping back into the loneliness, a dreadful thing, like walking into cold water, waiting for the numbness to set in that was the body taking the care it could, so that what you knew you didn’t have to feel (256).

Books like Lila change our mental maps. We could read an instruction manual on how to love those struggling with deep hurt, and it might say “be kind, be patient; don’t judge, listen.” Or, we could read Marilynne Robinson and see our imaginations formed through the character of John Ames as he, haltingly and with uncertainty, loves Lila like Christ loves the church (Ephesians 5.25).

I recommend Lila with a caution. This is literature! You’ll need cold weather, hot drinks, a fire and lots of time to nibble through Robinson’s book. Discuss it with me, if you do. And, enjoy it …

I’ve returned my copy. Why don’t those of you in the area order it in through your Westboro Public Library?

Have a great read, and a great week!

Young people love liturgy, it would seem …

Here’s my quick and cursory contribution to church life in America, on this Monday morning in late 2018.

Yesterday proved a glorious Lord’s Day at Woodland, our dynamic and somewhat quirky little church in the snowy Northwoods of Wisconsin. (By this I mean that we have a church family of nearly 200 souls in a mostly disappeared rural town of 169. By 21st century church growth standards, that’s quirky, fantastical even.) In our rotation of (what is it?) seven worship teams, Scott was “up” leading with classic hymns. Gary played the organ. We dedicated little Eira Kay, looking pristine and classic in her flowing dedication dress made from her mother’s wedding dress. The elders laid hands on Dan, who  this morning is undergoing cancer surgery. The platform was dedicated in a sylvan scene with white lights and long candles, anticipating advent. The whole morning had a touch of formality; liturgy, even. (By dropping the “l” word here, I mean that the worshipping work of the people toward God took on form. That’s what the word means, anyway.) But, there was nothing fusty or traditional about it. This service moved and breathed!

Here’s my big observation, though: We had young people. Oh, my goodness, did we have young people! Young families and singles in their 20s and 30s, the so-called Millennials. (Sorry, don’t want to lump you all in together.) The young people observation wasn’t mine alone. Visitors from Chicago couldn’t believe it. “What have you got here?” What’s going on?” I was asked, in wonder and disbelief.

So, here’s my heuristic guess, my working thesis about liturgy and our newest, rising generation of church leaders. It kinda blows smoke in the faces of consultants and church growth “experts” writing and working for the so-called Boomers, the parents of the rising generation we’re seeing at Woodland.

Young people love liturgy. 

Really … In contrast to the post-institutionalism of their parents, young people want to belong to something. They like baby dedications where parents and congregation pledge in turn to preach the gospel to the growing child, to bring the child up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, to share the joyfully light load of teaching and discipling and including the child in the form of worship to God that is our liturgy. And, it would seem, young people delight in reaching back to past forms of worship that go deep and strong back to the roots of our faith in the early church that gave primary witness to Jesus and to the events of the Gospel.

That doesn’t sound like come-as-you-are, feel-good stuff to me. That sounds like material for come-and-be-changed. I like it, and I think others do to!

So, those are my thoughts before I get into the matter of the week. I’m excited about where we’re going at Woodland, and about the worship I’m sharing with my (slightly!) younger friends.

Why don’t you scroll to the bottom of this page and toss up a comment on what you’ve observed about our younger people and worship. Do you see what I’m seeing?

Have a great week!