Hullo all, it’s been awhile, hasn’t it? I thought I’d give you the update…
Its been nearly a month since the blessid event, but I feel maninly compelled to journal about a truly amazing weekend at a farm in Roanoke, Alabama. It was a spiritual retreat with a group of 15 close friends from Berry days, a couple of sisters from my church and a fella named Gene Edwards (and his wife, Helen). I wasn’t expecting anything out of the weekend one way or another, honestly, but I have to say that what grew from our time together was so sweet and so significant in many ways. (I am a sentimental guy, as many who know me can attest, but its not always that my sense of sentiment is stirred in such a manner. In fact, looking back over my life, there are only a few such epochal times: Camp of the Arts in 1995 where I met the folks at Harvester like Seth and Bethany Irby, and cemented my love for Theatre, the bittersweet Summer of ’97 when…well, all sorts of stuff happened, and I ended up meeting Jasmin in Miami; certain late late nights in college…you get the idea, Watershed moments, frozen in time in their significance. I usually detect the significance of such events about one week after they’re over, and this time in Roanoke was no exception)
So…the weekend. It was very potent. Let’s see if my Journalism education in brevity paid off:
We, as humans, have spirits. As people redeemed and indwelt by Christ, we have spirits that have been made alive and can contact God. “Heaven,” in contrast to what Religion often tells us, is not an inaccessible place that we go when we die. No, scripture and the experience of many saints through the ages confirms for us that eternal life begins now, heavenly places are places where we fellowship with God now (“We are seated with Christ in heavenly places” in Ephesians to think of one place, see also John 14-17). Of course this isn’t to negate our lifelong time with God and one another in eternity future, but the point is, we have spirits that can meet with God in Christ, spirit-to-Spirit. We can have meaningful, consistent fellowship with God now, in a place beyond our mind, will, and emotions.
And so, over the course of the next few days, we did just this. We spent time taking slow walks, getting on our faces resting in Him, breathing Jesus’ name, and just telling Him that we love Him in the morning. We did this alone and together, with a kaleidoscopic set of results. Finally, we spent some time learning to pray scripture, and listen to the Spirit in the text, gathering after such times to speak forth the Lord to each other.
The results of what took place during this time were breathtaking. What came from our spirits, from the Lord, was such a beautiful tapestry, you would’ve thought we’d spent months rehearsing for these gathering times rather than it being the spontaneous result of interaction with the same Lord. If this is all that had happened in the course of the weekend, it would have left its indelible mark on my heart.
But this isn’t all that happened. Some of us guys–we were all staying in trailers, by the way, on this old farm–we were sitting in the trailer, and we said, “Hey, why don’t we all live together?” For those of you who don’t know, this has long been a vague, general aspiration of ours from the Berry set…we feel convicted that New Testament faith is lived out communally, in practical fellowship daily…none of this once-or-twice a week meeting nonsense! My church is a neighborhood church; that is, we live in close community to each other in about a square mile of Lithia Springs, Georgia. So Berry folks, we’ve long thought we might live in other such communities across the country and around the world…but then we realized: We’re not just sold on the abstract idea of Christian community, but we love _each other_–each concrete, flawed person that we’ve come to know over the past couple of years! And we wanted to stay together as a group.
Well, Gene was delighted to hear this. Gene is gifted in calling together and planting churches; he is what I like to call a “community organizer”: One part cheerleader, one part cynic, he gives interested parties both the soaring heights of a vibrant center in Jesus Christ and the nitty-gritty realites of finding a neighborhood to live in and not killing each other.
Gene, now in his 70s, is especially burdened about the plight of us younger Christians. You might not realize we have a “plight,” but oh, my friend, we do! We are the most used, abused, and burnt-out demographic in Christendom! What do I mean by this? Well, I mean we grow up in church )(or perhaps “get saved” in our late teens or early 20s) and we’re sold the spiritual life as being Fun! Exciting! Neat! Depending on our denominational persuasion, we’re either sold lots of study and theology and doctrine, or else some exotic emotional experiences, and told to go out there and do! do! do! For God. And implied in this arrangement is that we’ll always be “on fire” for God, and we’ll always be able to carry on this pace of a vibrant Christian life.
But the sober facts show that this is not so. By the time we’re married, a mild case of what our fundamentalist grandparents might call “worldliness” begins to set in. We are becoming affluent, or trying to. We’re having kids, and small boats. Everyday life in all its mundane enormity begins to sink in. Nobody told us we’d be signing up for all these bills and responsibility! We have to stick to a job, stick to a spouse, and–most of all–stick to a God…with all our heart, by the way. But the church demands just as much as ever, and we begin to see its shortcomings and predictability—staring at the backs of each others’ heads, listening to 52 monologue-style orations a year…is this all there is? Whatever happened to summer missions? Whatever happened to the fire?
Gene challenged us to avoid the heady mixtures of intellectualism, emotionalism, and spiritual workaholism as much as we can…because by the time we’re 25, their appeal starts to wane anyway. (Just so you know what “sober facts” I’m talking about: After Youth Group most Youths start to “fall away” from an active faith, either externally or internally. The few vibrant “college faithful” seem to do the same during or after college. Most churches are made up by the young, the young converts, and a base of the very few very old. About 75% of “born again” Christians are no longer in church. Most of us, whether we like it or not, end up ?dropping out? of meeting together to fellowship and know God.) The amazing thing, though, is that there is a sustainable way to ?stay Christian? (I’m speaking practically here, not theologically)…it is to have knowing Jesus Christ as your Center, and doing so together. I’ve seen this bear lots of fruit in my five years of “home churching” it now; being together with Christ as our Head really does foster stability and a truly multi-generational church of all ages.
Anyway…enough! I’d be more than glad to continue this conversation with you in the coments box or by email. The bottom line is, to finish my Roanoke story, that most of us decided we want to stick it out with each other. We want to marry each other, and bury each other…fo’ life. A number of us are scouting out a state to live in in August!
Updating from my last post, that weird feeling turned out to be pretty serious: I have an irregular heartbeat sometimes…palpitations! I have no idea what is causing them, but I was in the Emergency Room twice in June (running up a big fat bill, too!) I was told the first time that it was a panic attack, and that I was to avoid all caffeine and chocolate…forever. The second time was in, I had sugar and white flour (for now) added to that list. Basically, I’ve had three or four spats that compare with my “near-death experience” (see previous post) in intensity. Its truly been scary. But the ER docs assured me its nothing life-threatening. Now “Why,” you might ask, “Have you been going to the ER (and running up quite a hefty bill) instead of going to a proper doctor and to get this cheked out?” Well my friend, the answer is that it was only the First of the month that I obtained benefits from my new job. Soooo, I have an appointment with a Doc on Wednesday…a general practitioner. After that, I will probably be referred to a cardiologist, a shrink (no really), and perhaps an exorcist (no really again, though that’s a pretty sensationalistic word. I should say ?a friend who is proficient in ‘deliverance ministry.’). We’ll see what happens. Please pray, though, if the thought strikes you. I want healing from this, of course (I SO miss my mocha frappucinos at Starbucks!), but even more I want to know why it’s happened; what Father might be trying to show me.