Take. Eat. Remember. (Our Distinctiveness)

I’m not one for posting on Sundays, but as I was considering the communion table last night, I couldn’t resist.

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There is power in the body and blood. There is something to that bread and wine.

Today I’ll gather with my people in a small basement warehouse in Fayetteville, Arkansas. We’re Christians in the Anglican tradition, a people who sing hymns, recite the Creed, listen to the scriptures, confess, and pray. These were the ways of our fathers’ fathers’ fathers, and believing them to be led into the wilderness of the world by the Spirit, we follow.

Upstairs, in space with street level access, a larger congregation meets. They are a more raucous congregation, and their music seeps through their floor, falls from our ceiling. On occasion, their kick drum shakes the dust from the rafters, and our quiet group looks at each other with half-smiles. They are different than us—yes—but they gather to sing their own hymns, listen to the scriptures, confess, and pray.

We are two congregations occupying a shared space separated by little more than a thin wall. This is the way of the broader church.

Though we may vary in the style of our gathering, at some point during the service, both congregations will turn to the table. And here’s the real beauty—this is not just the way at Fayetteville Anglican, or Thrive Bible Church, but it’s also the way of Grace Church, New Heights Bible, St. Joseph’s Catholic, and Mt. Comfort Church of Christ. It’s the way of your tiny church in backwoods Nebraska, or her tabernacle gathering in Brooklyn. It’s the way of the church of Tel Aviv and Burundi. We are distinct in congregations, yes, but we share a common distinctive—the bread and wine; the body and blood.

At his last supper, Jesus lifted up the bread, gave thanks and passed it to his disciples saying, “take, eat; this is my body.” He took the cup next, and when he had given thanks, he passed it too, said, “drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” This was the grand moment, the moment when his words were fulfilled. “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood,” he said, “abides in me, and I in him.”

Cannibalism? No. Communion, union? Yes.

This was the last supper, but it was also the first supper. It was the institution of the quantum supper of unity, the one that stretched from its point of origin into all time, filing its partakers with particular purpose. It has endured throughout the centuries, has cut through various cultural, socio-economic, and liturgical contexts. The bread and wine was the staple offering of the first century Church, and is the same for today’s middle-class American Church. It is the feast of the underground church in Djibouti, and was the most holy meal of the twenty-one Coptic Christians who were beheaded on the shores of Libya. The Eucharist, communion, the Lord’s Supper—this is the meal that marks us as belonging to The Family.

Since the night of its institution, there has never been a Sunday when bread was not broken and wine was not imbibed in memory of Christ. And though some congregations celebrate it weekly, some monthly, and some quarterly, we all celebrate it. In that way, the very words of Jesus—this is my body; this is my blood—continue. They stretch across the years and fill us; they stick to the roof of our mouths, slosh down into our bellies.

I think often about the kind of church we are becoming, especially here in the West. I suppose I could spend one thousand words expounding, critiquing, perhaps even blistering a Church that has forgotten its distinctiveness, its set-apart-ness from the world. I suppose that would be an exercise in futility, pride, and perhaps cynicism. Instead, let me offer this. When we remember the body and blood—when we take, eat, and drink—we are brought to the Family table. And there, we realize that we are a strange people, who use strange words, and carry a strange hope. But this strange hope, is the hope of the world.

Take; eat; drink. Today, remember.

*****

In the most recent Tiny Letter (my once-a-month, insider newsletter delivered straight to your email), I’m discussing the Lenten season, the darkness of my heart, and the discipline of quiet reflection. If you sign up today, you’ll receive a FREE DOWNLOAD of the song “Train Wreck.” It’s a song I wrote about pain, loss, and the love of God.

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Good Friends and Good Links

I sat in the back seat of a brown Buick with two of my sixth grade basketball teammates. We were making the return trip up highway 71 after snatching defeat from the jaws of victory in Hatfield. The three of us were in the dumps. Mrs. G was driving.

Feeling the weight of loss in the car, Mrs. G said, “I know what you boys need,” and she pushed the half-ejected cassette tape into the stereo and spun the volume knob to the right. The crooning harmonica of Stevie Wonder filled the car.

A collective groan rose from the sticky naugahyde backseat, but undaunted, Mrs. G turned the volume up even louder. Captive to the sentimentality of a thirty-something mother with a penchant for Motown ballads, we endured Dionne Warwick’s meandering first verse. We came to the chorus of “That’s What Friends are For,” and as Warwick sang “friends are for,” Mrs. G pointed at each of us on the beat.

Mrs. G’s son turned beet read and put his head down. I looked out the window pretending not to notice. The boy to my left had a tear in his eye. (He was such a tenderhearted point guard.)

To this day, this remains one of the most embarrassing moments of my life.

Embarrassment aside, though, I was reminded of this story this weekend. It has been a stressful week of tending to four boys, a dog, and a career while Amber has been in Israel. So stressful, in fact, that on occasion I’ve felt the ends of my nerves fraying. And in one such moment last night, my phone rang. It was my friend and second-sister, Nicole, and we made small talk at first, hemming and hawing a few platitudes. Knowing this wasn’t why she called, I said, “what’s up?” She came out with it straight, no chaser.

Nicole knows well of my struggles with alcohol, knows how thirst for a stiff drink can sneak up on me. We talked through the gyrations of desire, and of the coping mechanisms I’ve used to stay sober. She listened, even let me ask a few questions.

We hung up the telephone and I whispered a prayer of thanks. That’s when I remembered Mrs. G pointing to the kids in the naugahyde seat of the old Buick, and smiled. The truth of that song sunk in all these years later. Was it a moment of sloppy sentimentality? Maybe. But it was my moment of sloppy sentimentality. And I’m grateful for it.

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It’s the weekend, and as is my custom, I’m leaving you a few good links. Enjoy!

LINKS:

Nathan Elmore: Nathan brings a reflection today on the Department of Justice’s Ferguson report. It’s poignant, true, and there’s an embedded homage to Woody Guthrie. Read “Hands Spread.”

Esther Emery: Want to know what it’s like to go off the grid? Don’t miss the mini-documentary on Esther Emery’s yurt-dwelling family. It’s too much fun not to watch.

Winn Collier: This week, Winn writes, “how is it possible that we have arrived at the place where many believe that love for God’s world sits at odds with Christian faith?” Check out “Bless Your Water.”

Me: Are you following the Marriage Letters series? Amber and I are writing into our marriage, and you’re invited to participate.

TWEETS:

#Pray703: Have you heard of Ann Voskamp’s Lenten prayer series? Follow the hashtag #Pray703 on Twitter. Pray the prayers every day at 7:03 (a.m. or p.m.). It’s a simple but powerful Lenten practice.

MUSIC:

“I’ve got love I’ve got friends, I don’t need to pretend I’m surviving.” Turn on the sun with Adam Cohen today.

Thanks for reading along this week! Have a fantastic weekend.

*****

In the most recent Tiny Letter (my once-a-month, insider newsletter delivered straight to your email), I’m discussing the Lenten season, the darkness of my heart, and the discipline of quiet reflection. If you sign up today, you’ll receive a FREE DOWNLOAD of the song “Train Wreck.” It’s a song I wrote about pain, loss, and the love of God.

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Want to receive my updates in your inbox? Click here. Also, follow along on Twitter and Facebook.

What’s Gentleman’s Club, Daddy?

Baby it’s cold outside.

Cousin winter blew into town like an uninvited guest and brought the old ice-skating-rink-in-a-box with him. He spilled that skating rink across the entire town, looked at the children and said, “let’s call school off and party down! Ain’t this a gas!”

A gas. Sure.

The boys have been out of school for two days now and Amber has been on the other side of the world. She’s exploring Jerusalem and getting to know the people there, seeing the sights, walking the Old Town. We were exchanging messages last night, and she said, “there’s so much to learn I think my head might explode.” I looked out the window, saw the snow piling up, and heard the children screaming with delight at the announcement of today’s school closing. They ran through the house like caffeine-infused squirrels, laughing. “My head might explode too,” I said, “just for different reasons.”

Yesterday, the boys came to the office with me because our baby sitter couldn’t make her shift due to the inclement weather. All four wheels engaged, I trucked us eight miles to my office. The boys oohed and awed over the falling snow while I did my best to keep us between the ditches. This is the work of single parenting, I think. Just keep it between the ditches.

I finalized reports there at the office and the boys constructed Minecraft cities. Generally speaking, I think Minecraft is a soul-sucking, brain-melting, addiction-inducing thing. Yesterday, though, it made my list of favorite common graces. And when I was finished with my reporting and they with their construction projects, I said, “let’s find a restaurant.” Another dizzying cheer of joy rang out in my very small office.

There was only one restaurant open in town. La Heurta is the Mexican joint that sits right next to one of Fayetteville’s local gentleman’s clubs. As we pulled into the restaurant parking lot, Isaac asked why there was a club that was only for gentlemen. I said, “there’s nothing gentlemanly about that club, son.” He pepeppered me with questions, his 10 year old brain trying to make sense of a men’s only club that sported a logo of a woman reclining in a martini glass. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that it was a club where women negotiated feigned affection; I didn’t have the heart to tell him that gentlemen have been making sport of exploiting these women for millennia. He’s only 10. Shouldn’t a child be allowed his innocence for a time?

Innocence is a gift.

After supper we made our way back to the house and sat in the living room to read Shawn Smucker’s new offering, The Day The Angels Fell. We read a chapter about innocence, how it is found in the eyes of a lamb, or in the heart of a pre-teen girl. We read about the sacrifice of innocence, too, how evil tries to snuff out any pure thing. I read, and the boys listened, eyes wide. They were not taking the metaphor in, but I was. I considered the ways in which this world attempts to steal the doe eyes of boys, the ways in which it hopes to turn them into gentlemen too soon. This is lamentable.

I tucked them in and prayed over them. Turning off the lights, I glanced at photos of Amber streaming from Israel. She and the rest of the women wore the glow of joy. They were awake when they’d otherwise be asleep and did not show the signs of jetlag. I, on the other hand, walked to my bed and crashed face-down, surely suffering from some sort of parental jetlag.

I tried a quiet prayer for my sons before I drifted to sleep in my jeans, but I didn’t make it past the “dear God.” I slept hard, dreamed of lambs and boys, dreamed of slaughter but also resurrection. I dreamed of the hope that might rescue every gentleman, even those yet to be born. I dreamed of innocence, dreamed that it was fashionable again. And in this way, I suppose I dreamed well.

*****

In this month’s Tiny Letter (my once-a-month, insider newsletter delivered straight to your email), I’m discussing the Lenten season, the darkness of my heart, and the discipline of quiet reflection. If you sign up today, you’ll receive a FREE DOWNLOAD of the song “Train Wreck.” It’s a song I wrote about pain, loss, and the love of God.

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Want to receive my updates in your inbox? Click here. Also, follow along on Twitter and Facebook.

Absence Makes the Heart Grow: A Marriage Letter

On the first Monday of each month, Amber and I are writing marriage letters to each other. Sure, there are qualified experts who’ve written well about marriage, but we’re writing into our marriage. We’re mixing it up this week. Amber is on her way to Israel, and I’m home alone. I’m writing my marriage letter and posting a snippet of it here and the entire letter on Amber’s blog.

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Amber,

We left early Saturday morning to beat the ice and snow to the Tulsa airport. I dropped you off a full day early there at the airport hotel, extending your already eight-day trip to the other side of the world. By now, you are somewhere between here and Jerusalem, and I’m high-centered in the ice-covered Ozarks with four cooped-up boys. And you are well-acquainted with this truth—being cooped-up with four Ozark boys is nothing short of chaotic.

Yesterday, Jude made paper shreds at the table while Titus emptied every Lego from the Hobbit universe onto the floor. Ian found several boxes of Hot Wheels (where did those come from?) and raced them around the house while Isaac played “Fur Elise” twenty times in the living room. I worked in the kitchen, choosing to ignore the boys’ systematic destruction of a once semi-clean house. They were quiet—save and except for Isaac’s butchered rendition of Beethoven—and there were no indications that they were maiming each other, so I didn’t think twice. I put up the last dish, walked from the kitchen to the dining room. My mind swam in a sea of anxiety as I discovered an origami wasteland, enough Hot Wheels to cause a Manhattan traffic jam, and all of Lego Middle Earth exploded across the floor. In the background, Isaac played the soundtrack—ba da ba da ba du da na nuh—over and over again, ad infinitum. 

TO CONTINUE READING, FOLLOW ME TO AMBER’S BLOG…

*****

In this month’s Tiny Letter (my once-a-month, insider newsletter delivered straight to your email), I’m discussing the Lenten season, the darkness of my heart, and the discipline of quiet reflection. If you sign up today, you’ll receive a FREE DOWNLOAD of the song “Train Wreck.” It’s a song I wrote about pain, loss, and the love of God.

*powered by TinyLetter

 

Want to receive my updates in your inbox? Click here. Also, follow along on Twitter and Facebook.

The Doxology and a Few Good Links

You know the Doxology, right? It’s a hymn of praise sung by Christians, and it’s been at the top of the church charts (both contemporary and traditional) for who-knows-how-long. The lyrics are simple. If you know them, sing along. (No really… sing along.)

Praise God from whom all blessings flow.
Praise him all creatures here below.
Praise him above you heavenly hosts.
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
Amen.

We sing this song every week, just after the offering. We raise our voices as Colby carries the plates to the altar. And last week, as he was making his way to the front, the words really took root.

I have an awful lot to be thankful for (or “for which to be thankful” if you are reading this Mom). To the left of me was Jude, trying his best to keep up with the recitations of the liturgy, always a quarter note behind but trudging along anyway. Ian was to my right, drawing three crosses with a house in the shadow of the smallest cross on the right. (He would later tell me that our house sits in the shadow of the crosses.) Isaac stood in front of me, arm around Amber’s waist and head on her side as she sang harmony to the Amen. Titus sat in the floor of the far aisle, cuddled with his blankie.

And if it were just my family singing together in church, that’d be enough. But surveying the room, I beamed at our congregation. They’re a small band of misfits and miscreants, but they’re my misfits and miscreants. We’re led by a priest with a penchant for Star Trek (rest in peace, Mr. Spock), and a deacon who’s daughter calls out “MAMA!” from the back while she’s leading the Creed.

I dig these people. I love my church. Praise God from whom all blessing flow.

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Welcome to the weekend! And while we’re here, let me share a few of my favorite things.

BOOKS:

photo (2)

I didn’t always love the Church. In fact, I once kept a crockpot of church hatred simmering. I haven’t written about those days much. But if you’d like to read the story of my coming clean from church hatred, pick up my friend, Nish Weiseth’s book, Speak. In Speak, Nish shows how the power of stories can change lives. In fact, Nish shows how my story of falling in love with the church (again) changed hers. What’s more, her book is a good read on the power of story.

Click here to buy Speak from my fantastic friends at GIVINGTON’S. GO NOW. DO IT.

 

BLOG POSTS:

Are you keeping up with the persecution of Christians at the hands of ISIS. If not, it’s time to get up to speed. Follow the links for some good information, and a few thoughts on praying for our enemies.

ISIS Fast Facts, at CNN.com;

“Let us Not Forget Our Enemies, Also Known as Our Brothers,” by Erika Morrison;

“When the Way of the Cross Calls us Higher,” by Deidra Riggs;

“The Wake up Call That is ISIS: Who in the Church is Answering,” by Ann Voskamp.

 

PODCASTS:

I’m growing into a huge podcast fan, and I’d like to share two of my favorites with you.

Neighbors: Jakob Lewis is a master story teller and Nashville resident, and he takes the phrase “get to know your neighbors” literally. The result is the “Neighbors” podcast, which is sometimes poignant, sometimes humorous, but always fresh. Listen to his episode, “Bringing Wes Home” (warning: it will have you in tears).

Something Rather Than Nothing: Preston Yancey has been testing his chops at the podcast medium, and the result is something special. Listen to his episode, “Cover Your Privates (Or, Maybe Modesty Isn’t About That.)” I think you’ll find it thought provoking.

 

FACEBOOK PAGE:

Did you catch this photo of my friend Chris Marlow on my Facebook page? Check it out. His statement on the role of women in ministry in relation to his daughters is beautiful. (Oh, and by the way, have you given my page the old thumbs up yet?)

 

VIDEO:

Let’s jump in the way-back machine; shall we? Here’s to the Traveling Wilburys! This video only gets better with age.

*****

In this month’s Tiny Letter (my once-a-month, insider newsletter delivered straight to your email), I’m discussing the Lenten season, the darkness of my heart, and the discipline of quiet reflection. If you sign up today, you’ll receive a FREE DOWNLOAD of the song “Train Wreck.” It’s a song I wrote about pain, loss, and the love of God.

*powered by TinyLetter

 

Want to receive my updates in your inbox? Click here. Also, follow along on Twitter and Facebook.

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