31 December, 2006

Engaging God: Praying Together

Have you ever played with fire? Literally?

It is very hard to keep a lone piece of wood burning. If you light the end of a piece of wood, like you would a torch, and then pull it out of the fire to wave it around like a happy adventurer, it will likely go out. It grows much cooler and dimmer without its brothers.

Christians pray best when surrounded by other Christians praying hot and heavy.

There are so many subjects for prayer, and all of them appropriate. Praying for healing, for the government, for our boys to come home (thank you, KB and Milly) or for growth in the church. Any one of these can be prayed, but all of them are prayed much hotter when each saint's heart is sparked by another's prayer.

It hurts my feelings when only one person prays for each need. If we are praying for Jane Doe's healing, and Jim Smith prays, that's good. But if Jim prays, and his prayer sparks Linda to pray more specifically, or Mark to pray more passionately, and that spark works its way around the room, it is a tremendous boon to the whole body. If our prayers are like incense, the whole body praying the same thing is like a whole censer being flung around.

We pray to demonstrate to God our desire, but we also pray to remind ourselves of our God. We pray to demonstrate our faith, but we also pray to build our faith up. When one of us prays a prayer big on faith, another can pray one big on remembering Him in Whom we place our faith. A third can pray on how the granting of this request is for the good of the kingdom, and the lifting up of the King's Name. A fourth can pray about the dearness of this child to God, and the sweet love and compassion He feels toward each child. Before long, the whole body has been lifted up.

"Prayer and supplication with thanksgiving" is more than just one person emptying his or her heart.

Just like that stick of firewood, one person praying, even with the silent support of the rest of the body, is weak. We need each other. We need to hear each other's support and encouragement.

And there is one kind of prayer in which this encouragement is most necessary.


No praise should be allowed to fall to the earth alone. It should be joined with an echo or an addition or a response. The fire of admiration for God should be kindled and banked and fanned at every opportunity. Even when nothing comes to mind, something should be declared.

If I have a small fire, maybe 3 pieces of wood, and I put 5 pieces of wood on top of it, they will not burn. But if I blow on it a little bit, shield it, and stir it up just a little bit, those sticks will eventually smoulder and light. It's a little work, but it is work well spent.

If I leave those 5 pieces of wood off the fire, and save myself that work, the fire dies and those sticks never are consumed.

We should not walk out of a prayer time with wood unburnt. (As a corollary, we should not burn more wood than we brought, either - but let's wait until we have that problem to address it.) It seems hard some times to add something to a prayer, but it really isn't. You an always lend an EAR.

Echo, Add, Respond.

David Letterman has made an entire career out of repeating failed punchlines. He tells a joke, and it falls flat. You can count on hearing the punchline to that joke 10 more times. By the 10th time, the audience is in stitches every time he says it.

There is power in significant repetition.

If there was a line in the prayer that caught you up a little, repeat it. That repetition will encourage the first person, and maybe encourage someone else, too. Show the angels listening that these things matter enough to say again. The hearer of these words was moved with love to God by them. One day, you may be lucky enough to hear one phrase repeated 10 times by 10 people, each time with more meaning and depth. It can be holy.

This one is the riskiest, and it pays great rewards.

A brother prays about the love of God, and mentions sacrifice. In your heart, you see the Lamb sacrificing Himself, so you praise the Lamb for laying Himself down. Another sister remembers that the Lamb was empowered by His sacrifice to take up the scroll, and to master all things. Each brother adds something to the beauty of the prayer that came before. Eventually, you will make it to the throne room with Isaiah.

If something inside you is sparked when a brother or sister prays, share that spark. We can spark and inspire each other to remember God's greatness, and to declare it together back to Him.

What is the risk, you ask? Sometimes, an addition is just a distraction. Sometimes, an addition is a bad idea. Who cares? Someone just bring the prayer back to the original focus with a fresh Echo of the last "on-point" prayer, and let's get back to it.

Take a chance, and try adding something.

This is really, really cool.

If someone has prayed about God's love to the church, respond with the church's love back to Him. If someone has declared the love the church for her King, respond back with praise for the King's love to His church.

By completing a cycle like this, you remind yourselves that prayer is a part of the massive two-way relationship between God and man. You praise God by reminding yourselves of the awesomeness of His love, and You praise God by reminding yourselves of His immense worthiness of our love. Complete the cycle, and either way you will declare the loveliness of God.

Take a Chance On Praise
It seems hard to pray these things out loud, especially at the beginning. We fear praying something, "wrong," but you aren't taking a chance that you might say something wrong. You are taking a chance that you might move God's heart. You might encourage another saint to take a chance, too. And that's the kind of gamble we need more of.

I hear a lot of people say that prayer should be about us coming to God as we are, and I agree, but even when we come to God as we are, we should not leave Him as we were. Pour yourself, just as you are, into a prayer. It can change you. There is something real and rich and eternal about declaring to God, in the presence of men and angels, His worth. We don't have to wait for Revelation 4. We can surround His throne now, and tell Him the Truth about Himself.

This is never easy, but it is vastly harder alone. Sure, we start out afraid of saying anything in front of the group, but it's always hard to start a fire. Once the fire starts, though, the more wood the better. The more saints risking, and pouring their hearts into prayer, the better each of us can declare God's worthiness.

I know that you will let me know what you think, and I treasure that about all of you saints who read and share here. But this time, I would like to hear the answer to two questions in addition to all the other thoughts you may offer.

1) Have you ever been in a church that practiced this? It seems rare to me, and I wonder whether it's just me.

2) Does the idea of trying this on the Timeless Prayer site appeal to you?

29 December, 2006

Tennis: A Little Thing

I know this won't be much to most of you, but it really touches me. The Lord cares about the littlest things.

My tennis racket is 13 years old. In a sport driven by technology, that really makes a difference. My backup racket is probably 10 years old, and it is 5% different from my match racket. 5% doesn't sound like much, but at 78 feet, that's 4 of them. Ever tried to adjust your play by 4 feet when your target is often 2 feet wide?

There's even a slight chance that the old materials are contributing to my continuing wrist trouble.

I've wanted a consistent set of rackets for a while.

A hitting partner of mine just bought 4 of the exact rackets I wanted, and decided he didn't like them. I get them at 2/3 the normal discount price. And the money is there. I just did the books yesterday.

I was looking for rackets 6 months ago, and these were just too new to even look for. They were exactly what I wanted, but I decided to look for something older - more reasonable. I could not be happier. I get to pay a price for them that helps a friend - I'm not ripping him off - and I get 4 rackets, which is what I really wanted, but didn't dare hope for, and they are the best racket ever for my game - for me.

I'm ashamed that something so "this worldly" means so much to me, but I wanted to say it in public.

Thank you, Lord.

28 December, 2006

Fun: You know your gender, but what's your brain's?

I don't usually like or take tests like this. They ask 20 or so typical questions, and then make a huge, sweeping assertion. Never mind that their answers are usually right. :-) It's just that it usually takes me about 2 questions to figure out how to answer to get the result I want. So, if I walk in figuring I have a male mind, I score male. Simple.

This test is provided by the BBC science dept, and is 6 sections long (about 30 minutes.) Only on one or two sections can you game the system, even if you feel like it. If you try hard on all 6 sections, I think you get a pretty good assessment of how you process the world around you. Of course, you can intentionally botch the sections you know are for the "other" side, but you cannot pretend to be better at something than you are in 4 of the sections.

It's pretty cool.

SEX I.D.: Find out how your mind works

I am a ZERO.

On a scale of 100/Female to 100/Male, I am dead in the middle. Nada. I guess I'm not even sure I'm here any more.

Did I say I liked this test? Maybe the non-entity formerly known as Codepoke liked it.


FHC: The Church of Tomorrow - Part 10, Surprise, Surprise!

"Are you kidding me?!" Brenda bit, as they climbed in the car to drive home from their first visit to Corner Church together.

No hint of the emotion in her voice showed on her face. Cars have windows, and she did not want her hurt on public display.

"Tell me," she went on with a pleasant smile, "that you know that's no church at all, but a cult."

Jim felt his face turning red, as he backed the car into the flow of traffic, and merged into the little queue to enter the street.

"We were just love-bombed in there! Don't you know cults do that? My father told me about cults all the time, and how to watch out for them. He said since I didn't know the Lord, I would be easy prey for any cult - any time." Her voice was sharp, but her face composed. Jim's face was growing redder by the second. "He said cults get people to come back by making them feel totally loved from the moment they hit the door, but it's all an act. Can't you see it's not normal for people to be that nice to us the first time they meet us?"

Brenda's words were perfectly reasonable, and she looked completely at peace with the world, but her tone said her two-second fuse was half-burnt.

The thinking centers in Jim's brain were battening the hatches. Grief, shame, loss and confusion were all flooding his mind, so his brain shut down in self-defense. He kept seeing over and again how excited he was 30 seconds ago to hear what Brenda had thought. She'd been so cheerful in there, and his excitement left him utterly unprepared for this. He didn't know how he could have missed any signs of a cult, but he guessed he must have missed a bunch.

"And what's all this about pairing me off with Shiela? And Karen's my den mother? What are they afraid I might think without their constant supervision?!"

Every exclamation point sealed another hatch in Jim's mind.

"I cannot believe you want Lacy to be raised like this!"

They were on the road now, and Brenda allowed her composure to break. She hid her face in her hands, and wept.

Jim blanched.

The car was silent, except for Brenda's sobs.

Jim kept trying to see the things he'd missed, but he just kept seeing Thom's and Bob's and Karl's smiling faces. They didn't want to hurt Lacy. But what would a cult really look like?

He didn't know. He didn't know what to think.

As they neared their driveway, Brenda whispered, "What am I supposed to tell my dad?"

Her dad, Pete, had tried to hide how miserable he was the day they'd married, and he was beside himself the day they'd told him they were joining the Walkers. Imagining the look on his face as Brenda told him about Corner Church terrified him.

"Say something!" She shouted.

There was nothing and everything for Jim to say, and no matter what came out he was probably wrong. Jim still could not open his mouth. He looked at her through his own tears, and kept thinking. He ventured, "We don't have to go. It's OK..."

"Obviously we don't have to go!" she interrupted. "How did you not know it was a cult? How did I end up married to a man who wouldn't know that?"

To this, Jim had nothing, so he stared while he tried to see something, anything that should have been a clue.

Lacy had been very, very quiet since the fight began. Into this lull, she inserted a little whimper.

Brenda let that be her cue to go inside and start setting her up for her nap. Jim puttered around outside, and kept tugging at those sealed hatches in his head. None of them was ready to budge yet.

A half hour later, he had done everything he could in the yard without actually working, so he went inside. Brenda was already sitting on the couch, waiting for him. He did a quick coin-flip in his head, and decided to join her on the couch.

She didn't bite him. At least that wasn't a wrong call.

"Maybe I overreacted," Brenda said, but there was no grin on her face. She was still pretty tense.

Jim felt a door or two in his head loosen.

"I can see where you were coming from, now, though," Jim replied. "With Thom there, I just didn't even think that Corner Church might be dangerous. I'm glad you were thinking that way."

Brenda looked up at Jim, "Did you mean it when you said you might consider not going there?"

Jim was surprised. "If we find it's wrong, it's wrong. Why would I want to drag you some place that's wrong?" The hatches were opening. The air seeping back into his mind was letting him grab on to reality, and maybe even release his hold on his infant dreams. Corner Church might really be a cult. The air was also letting him see that Brenda could be wrong. They needed more information.

"I need to be sure that they are a cult, though, before I run away. I know cults are friendly, but I don't think that makes friendliness cultish." Jim grinned, "We could always just ask Thom whether or not they're a cult."

Brenda thought about that for half a second, and wheeled around to shoot it down. But she saw Jim's grin and started laughing. He'd gotten her. They hugged, and let some of the tension drain away.

Jim finally said, "Let's call your dad, and see what he says makes a church a cult." Pete cared more about them than about what church they attended, so she agreed.

That evening, they grabbed the tablet and put the question to Pete over the speaker-vid. Pete almost burst his shirt on the spot when he was sure they were seriously coming to him for advice. He pulled himself together, though, and the three of them started brainstorming.

"A cult is any group that cheapens the Lordship of Jesus Christ," Pete started. "And that usually means twisting the scriptures. They can affirm a lot of right doctrines, but if a man's interpretation of scripture counts for more than the scripture itself, then it's a cult. That's why cults almost always start out as personality cults. It takes a pretty charismatic man to convince a whole church that his twist on a verse is superior to what the verse says on its own."

For Brenda, this was all review. Jim had to spin it around in his head for a minute.

"But, Pete," Jim asked. "You're Reformed, right? How come people don't accuse you of twisting a bunch of verses too, and decide you're a cult?"

"It's all in what we mean when we say, 'twisting,'" Pete replied. "The Jehovah's Witnesses look at the way Jesus, 'did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,' in Philippians 2, and conclude that Jesus is not God. They misuse that verse to assault the Lordship of Jesus Christ, and then overturn the rest of the scripture with it. THAT's twisting! The Reformed Church and the Methodists both affirm Jesus as God and Head of the body, then we disagree about what He does as Head. That's a big difference. And we try to understand the scriptures, not wrest them to our destruction."

Pete stopped and asked, "What are you kids looking at, that you need to ask these questions?"

Jim looked at Brenda, and let her answer.

"It's just a little church down here, Dad. One of our brothers from the Walkers is an elder there, so it seemed like it might be safe, but they made me nervous when I visited this morning. They seriously love-bombed us when we walked in, and then they assigned each of us a 'Barney' as a partner, and a couple of 'den-mothers' to watch over us in our neighborhood, and a 'knowledge-work agenda' to start on. Before they were done, I was wondering what they were afraid I might think if they left me to my own."

Pete mulled this over.

Jim reached out to the tablet, and opened a screen-in-screen and mailed Pete a copy of the Library Packet from Corner Church. He explained to Pete, as he did so, that Corner Church built it in non-secure mode, so he would not need any Rights Management software to view their doctrinal stands.

Jim went on, "I was looking at it this afternoon before we called, and they bullet more things that are not important to them than things that are. It's really strange."

Pete promised to give it a look after they disconnected, then went on with Brenda, "I'm glad you trusted your instincts, Brenda. Good for you. But let me ask a couple questions, and see if I hear anything a little scarier. What's their leader's name?"

Brenda answered, "Tim."

"So, did the other members spend a lot of time saying, 'Tim teaches..." or "Tim says...'?"

Jim and Brenda looked at each other, and back at Pete. Neither of them could remember anyone having treated Tim's ideas like they were the final word.

Pete went on, "It's not always a bad thing, when people respect their leader, so even a, 'Yes,' answer is not the end of the world. But, if Tim had taught everyone to always see the scripture through his interpretive lenses, that would be a very bad thing, and you probably would have picked up on it. In a personality cult, the members spend a lot of time explaining to new people why it makes perfect sense for them to put so much stock in one man's opinions. They have to justify it, because deep down they know they're wrong.

"The little church you're looking at might just be authoritarian, rather than actually cultish. They might believe that the laity should be in perfect submission to the elders, and that would be very bad. But, there are a lot of authoritarian churches that are not really cults. They are still in error, and they still hurt people, so I would avoid this church if you find out they are authoritarians, but that would not make them a cult until they began to twist the Lord's Headship."

Jim and Brenda looked at each other again. They were both having a hard time imagining Corner Church micromanaging their lives. They shook their heads, and Pete went on.

"You don't have to know everything about them after one visit. Just keep your ears open, and run if anyone starts talking about blind obedience to Tim or the elders.

"Look," Pete concluded, "it would be too much for me to hope that this little church has all their doctrines straight to my way of thinking, but if they put Christ first, I might take a chance on them. Just realize that you're taking a chance. You can't know what any church you join is going to be like. The more traditional it is, the more likely they're 'normal,' but your radical little church just might give you a radical little blessing.

"I'll tell you this. If they ever say, 'We are the work of God on earth. Everyone else has fallen by the wayside, and God is working through us,' don't walk away - run! I don't care how 'right' anyone is. If they can say those words, their heart has gone rancid."

After some fond farewells, they clicked off and Jim and Brenda layed back together on the couch.

There was not much to talk about. They were in too deep already. They would have to go for at least a couple weeks, just to see what it was all about.

Each leaned over into the other, and quietly wondered what they were getting into.

26 December, 2006

FHC: The Church of Tomorrow - Part 9, Brenda

Jim composed himself on the porch for a second, before he stole through the door.

Brenda was with Lacy at the dining room table, pretending to eat cheerios. (What were they, from the '50's? And kids still went goo-goo over them. And mothers. Go figure.)

He sent up a, "Hiya, hon. How's the Cheerio battle?" to which Brenda answered, "Uh, oh."

"You're in love, aren't you?" She queried.

Jim was dumbfounded. He opened his mouth to ask the obvious, but he couldn't make the words come out.

"Well, the last two Sundays you came in cataloging pluses and minuses. This time, you want to talk about Cheerios? You must be in love with Corner Church. Nothing else could make you talk about Cheerios first.

"So, tell me all about it."

She was merciful.

Jim had a seat across from Lacy, and started eating Cheerios along with her. She giggled. He started pretending to eat her Cheerios, which made her laugh like crazy. She didn't need to know that there was no way her big, tough aerocar mechanic daddy was ever going to put a Cheerio in his mouth that had touched her fingers. And Brenda let him indulge his little weaknesses, so it was all good.

"Yeah, I'm in love," Jim admitted. "They pretty much knocked my socks off."

Jim struggled with what to say next. He remembered his dad saying that anything worth doing was worth waiting until you could do it together, but he wanted to give those people his life.

He knew the guys down at the shop would laugh him silly right now, but all the shirts his age were on 3 year child-proof civil unions. First person to leave forfeits an additional 20% over normal spousal support for remainder of term plus. They do what they please, and whatever it is, their "wives" go along and get along. One of them did have a child addendum written in, but it was a share-care situation. They could all still be nutty and get away with it.

That changed for Jim when he met the Lord. He had accepted the Lord, divorced society, and joined himself to the Walkers all in one night.

He went home that night, and told Brenda that he was going to marry her outright, and she about beaned him with a frying pan. It was only the grace of the Lord that convinced her to sleep on it 'til morning. She had almost run to the shelter for sanctuary that night. Halfway through the night, she had pulled him back in off the couch. He always figured the Spirit whispered something to her that night, and he never much cared what it was.

When they woke up that morning, he had to call in a little personal time at work. She wanted to know who these "Walkers" were, and what any of it had to do with them being married. She and Jim had experienced a devil of a time telling her father that they were going to go with the new short-term civil union for three years. He was a deeply religious man, and had tried to raise Brenda that way, though it hadn't stuck much. If she was going to change course, she needed to know exactly why, and she needed to know how - not when he got home from work.

Jim told her the whole story about the Messiah, and one flesh, and the mystery of Christ in marriage, and it was only the hardness of our hearts that ever made us separate. Brenda straightened him out on some doctrinal details her father had drilled into her, but he'd hit the highpoints right. He told her that Christianity was really about one large cosmic marriage, and that we all played our part. Civil unions were all about money, but marriage was all about sacrifice, and Christ had sacrificed everything to be joined to them. Not out of duty, but out of love. And since Jim loved Brenda more than anything, why shouldn't he promise her his whole life?

She gave him that, "and.....," look.

After a moment's fuddling it dawned on him, and he beamed, "But for me, it's no sacrifice at all!"

She read his eyes for just another moment, saw the absolute love and sincerity, and melted toward everything - him, the Walkers, and Jesus Himself. They upgraded their union a mere month later, and began their new life of effortless bliss.

[Yeah, yeah, of course you're right, dear reader.]

Jim was in love with everything. Brenda, the Walkers and Jesus all filled his heart beyond capacity depending upon whom he was with at the time. Usually, that was the Walkers. 7 mornings and 3 evenings a week, he was with one, some or all of them. Brenda was busy too, of course, and she was with Jim for at least half of those meetings, but with the end of the "child-proof" civil union came pregnancy. And with pregnancy came nesting. With nesting came conflict.

Jim experienced several months of conflict, as he pit his loves against each other. The Walkers and Brenda found themselves vying for the free time he wanted both to have. Neither side was a constant winner, and Jim was burning the candle at both ends, and a couple places in the middle, trying to have everything. He spent an awful lot of time fighting micro-naps.

Eventually, he noticed that Brenda was hurt by his absence, and the Walkers were just fine without him. This was finally his clue that Brenda had to come first on his priority list.

It had been a stroke of grace, because just a couple weeks later the anti-proselytizing laws were repealed, and the Walkers' days became numbered. He was deeply grateful to the Lord for the grace to choose wisely before he had been left with no choice. It had probably saved his young marriage, and more importantly, it saved his young relationship with Brenda. He was in luck, because Brenda knew how to forgive.

But all that was almost a year ago. Now, Brenda saw that old look back in Jim's eye again. He had found another, "Walkers," to love. And it wasn't even another, because Thom had been one of the Walkers back then, and he was a big part of Corner Church.

Jim knew all this was scary to her. But this time, he reminded himself, Karen would play a bigger role. Jim secretly wondered why Karen's role was so much bigger, but he sure hoped it would help. He was not sure whether this was a lesson from the previous Walker mistakes, or just the way Corner Church was run? Either way, he was sure that Karen would balance Thom's enthusiasms, and give Brenda more strength to defend herself against his own.

"You know," Thom said, "when I get excited about something, I can talk about it for hours. Let's don't do that this time. How's about we take Lacy for some ice cream, and I'll let you see it for yourself next Sunday. I'm expecting a phone call Thursday night to prepare for a Sunday class, but other than that I have nothing planned with Corner Church until you see it next week. How does that sound?"

Brenda looked at him closely yet again.

"I know I'm excited, but if it's really worth doing, you'll want to do it too. And if you don't want to do it, you'll have a good reason why not, and I'm sure I'll agree."

The words sounded wise, and Jim wondered where they came from. Whether Spirit-led or plain lucky, Jim was glad they were out there.

He said a quick thank you to the Lord, when Brenda smiled and said, "Let's go get some ice cream!"

25 December, 2006

Christmas: Isaiah 9 - A Light in Our Desperation

We were walking in darkness
But in the distance, You hinted a light.
We wept, feeling our way to nowhere
Then You came, and shone full on us

You made Your church a nation of the living
You turned our tears to joy
We rejoice in Your Light
As wage-slaves rejoice in a year-end bonus
As day traders party
After a big kill.

Like the victory at Appomattox
Your birth shattered
The shackles that enslaved us
The chains that bound us
The whips of those who oppressed us.

Every device that deceived us
Every false hope for which we bled
You will save for burning
With them You fuel the fires of hell

Your brightness put on flesh
When to us the Son was given
All government descended upon Your shoulders
We learned to call Mary's Son
Wonderful Advisor, God Over All
Everlasting Sire, Warlord of Peace.

Your government grows, century after century, in power and quietness
You reign from the eternal Throne
Lord of Your Father's kingdom
Indwelling us and supplying us
Forgiving us and making us true
From the day You rose until the day You return
Your righteous ambition
Accomplishes all this.

23 December, 2006

Life: The Last Week


I have been fighting a stomach flu my son brought home two weeks ago. I was winning, too. Then I got to bed at 12:30 Wednesday night, received a phone call at 2:00 to do 2 hours of work, and had to get up again at 7:00 to go to work.

I lost.

All day Thursday and Friday sleeping, being sick, and working on the Corner Church post seems to have been good for me, though. Except that I seem to be well rested, and when I get well rested, a little of the persnickety makes it into my writing. I need to avoid that. I guess I'd better stay up late tonight, and get up early tomorrow.

I wouldn't want to be in too good a mood for Christmas. Nobody would recognize me. ;-)

Watch out for today's FHC posts, they are parts 7 & 8, but they are kind of out of order.

FHC: The Church of Tomorrow - Part 8, Why Corner Church?

I can't say I'm really sure whether Jim and Brenda decided to attend Corner Church. I can guarantee you Brenda sees things a little differently than her goal-oriented husband, but I have not written anything on that yet.

It's pretty obvious, though, that Jim is sold on Corner Church.

I would like to venture a word about why.

It's not the gimmicks. The seats in a circle, and there not being an offering taken during the meeting won't make anyone change churches. Letting the congregation choose songs just by starting them is pretty tough to do right (it takes some strong worship leadership to teach everyone to do that well,) and so is having a worship service without anyone watching the clock to make sure everything happens on time.

I've done every single one of those things and more in a church of 30 people, and I know they can be done over the long haul. I've seen them all done at weekend retreats of 150 people, by people who have no clue what they're doing when the weekend begins. By the end of a single weekend, everyone has the hang of it. We Christians are really pretty smart people, when given the chance to show it.

But none of those things are why Jim picked Corner Church.

I quote from Part 1 of this series:

GenY and [the Millenium Generation] want some things very badly.
1) Something important to do.
2) Someone to hold their hands.
3) The right to define their own schedule.

Allow me to take them in order.

Something Important To Do

The moment Jim walked in the door, he was told that his skills as a mechanic would be put to respectable use. He was told that he would not be allowed to go long without knowing his bible, too. When he got to the Philippians class, he was given verse 12 to study and share on next week.

Jim got homework.

GenX, GenY and the Millenium Generation hate busy work, but they love meaningful work. We have to get over our fear of working the young generation. They hate our fill-in-the-blank busy sheets, but they love to be stretching themselves about anything they care about. At my place of business, my youngest workers do the most after-hours work. Plain and simple. But they don't do any stupid work, no matter what time it is. They surf the Web instead. We need to give out real work, with real meaning, and be amazed when it comes back done perfectly.

Someone to Hold Their Hands.

Every bit of the homework Jim received came with someone to help him. Thom would teach him the bible. Bob and Karl would work with him on Phil 2:12. Thom and Karen would make sure his nose was wiped.

Rugged individualism is over.

We can stop preaching against that now.

Rugged individualism is so passe as to make us sound clueless when we preach against it. Our churches are losing people, yes, but not to a go-it-alone Christianity. We are losing them to sleeping in on Sunday. We are losing them to trying to figure out how to find a decent mate when there's no such thing as a pleasant social activity any more. Mostly, though, we are losing them to boredom.

Remember Corner Church's "library packet?" Our youth don't have to learn details the way we did. We had to memorize the speed of light in a vacuum, because if we didn't know it, it might mean a trip to the library after they'd closed. Our youth can pull something like that up on their cellphones while driving to work. We needed to learn all the verses that paved the Romans Road. They just need to learn where it is on Wikipedia.

And they know it.

They can put their hands on any information they need, when they need it, without any fuss or hesitation. We just need to give them a good reason to do it, and we need to be there to help them.

The Right to Define Their Own Schedule

This one is tough.

At Corner Church, Sunday morning happens on time every week. The den meetings, though, happen on all the den mothers' schedules. Everyone has input into when the den meetings happen, and the Barny meetings happen whenever.

There's nothing holy in my mind about Sunday morning, but it's the single most likely time in America to find everyone free and available. So, everyone has to play on Sunday morning. Plain and simple. The seniors will like this, of course, but that's only one good reason. The main reason for doing it is because it works. And in my experience, GenX, etc respond well to, "it works."

As long as they know how much work they have to do, and how long they have to get it done, they'll make their schedules work on their own. Believe me. I was some kind of freaked out when I saw some of the schedules my GenY'ers wanted to keep in a Fortune 500 company, but when I saw how well they performed, I zipped my lips and got happy.

Codepoke's Take

You all know that I would go to the Corner Church, but honestly, I would probably be wishing for the Walkers to come back the whole time. I was saved as a munchkin during the Jesus Movement, and I'm still wishing those days would come back. :-)

What matters is love. Love to God, love to each other, and love to our neighbors.

I just think we need to size that love appropriately. We tend to either love as individuals or as a faceless organization. We need to love at a size that will mean something to humans. When we reach out, the people to whom we reach need to know "us" not "it." I believe that means small to middlin' churches. It certainly means small outreach - neighbors to neighbors.

Aren't you sick to death of having flyers hung on your door? Don't you know 100 churches you could attend if you felt like giving up your only free morning listening to some guy drone on? Can't you create your own wonderful atmosphere in Starbucks? Why go to a large outreach church?

Our problem in America is that we are isolated from each other, and the church is trying to solve it with advertising. We need to quit advertising, cold turkey. We need to get into the business of getting close to each other. We need to start confessing sin and success to each other. We need to start confessing that we don't know how to make our lawns stay green, and we need some help. We need to confess that if we had neighbors who loved the Lord, we could break our addiction to Lost, Desparate Housewives and Monday Night Football. We really need each other, much more than any sermon.

Jim is soon going to be having friends over every week, and he is going to be over at Thom's and Bob's at least monthly. And Thom is going to volunteer Jim to look at his neighbor's wife's car before they send it to a shop. They are going to make a difference.

They are going to touch lives, and they are going to have faces when they do it.

Besides, it's a whole lot more fun.


FHC: The Church of Tomorrow - Part 7, Corner Church

Jim had learned from his mistakes. This time, he called Thom, and asked how he should dress. When Thom and Karen rolled around at a quarter to nine, he was Sunday casual, and relaxed.

Thom was funny, in how he was uptight about everything. The church was only about a mile from their homes, and it would only take a second to get there, but he used that minute making sure that Brenda was OK at home alone, that Jim knew he didn't know exactly when they'd be back, and Jim knew he shouldn't feel compelled to choose Corner Church. He knew that Jim had to make a good choice for his whole family, and he would be happy just as long as Jim's whole family were happy.

Fortunately, Karen called him off before he could make sure of anything else.

They were funny together. They both wanted to please more than anything, but they did it in completely different ways.

They pulled up into the parking lot a good ten minutes early, and it looked like they were not the only ones. No one greeted them at the door, but upon entering a tiny man called out, "You must be Jim," and made a direct line for him.

"I'm Tim," he said. "Really good to meet you. Thom has told us all about you and Brenda. I know you're just checking things out, so make yourself right at home. No pressure."

Jim took his hand, and gave it a good shake. "Thank you," he answered.

Tim continued. "Thom tells me you live in the same neighborhood with him, so he and Karen will be your Den Mothers. If you decide to come back, Thom will get you library packet, too. The packet gives you everyone's phone numbers and volunteer skills. I'm a finish carpenter, so I list that as my skill. That way new folk know who to call when they need a little advice. Call me if your kitchen countertop is buckling, and you wonder what to do. Whatever."

"Wow," Jim said. "That's an idea. I guess I would list car repair."

Tim went on, "Of course, we call it the library pack because it contains pointers to all our teaching. Well, really it's not all ours. We link all the resources we've found over the years by subject. So, whenever you have a question about something, you can find all our favorite links and who found them. That way you can talk to the last few people who had the same questions, and see what they came up with.

"Am I boring you, yet?" Tim asked with a grin. "I can kind of go on about things sometimes."

Jim laughed. "No, not yet. What does my 'Den Mother' do," Jim asked, feigning an anxious glance at Karen.

Tim smiled, "Oh, pretty much the same things as a Cub Scout den mother. They'll plan all the events in your neighborhood, and make sure everyone's noses have been wiped. Whenever there's a little trouble, they make sure flowers and meals get sent over. They make sure all the young parents get a little kid-free time, especially the singles. And they set the knowledge-work agenda. You won't stay long with Thom, and not know your bible.

"Thom and Karen will also make sure you have a Barnie, your 'Barnabus.' Paul never went out alone, so we don't either. You'll have a pastor, a couple den mothers, and a partner to ease you into things. And the library packet has a step-by-step guide to what we believe, and to what we believe isn't really important.

"But, hey. It's almost 9:00. I should let Thom take you down to the Philippians class, while I get ready for my Ruth class. It's good to meet you, Jim, and I hope you have a good visit today."

Thom chuckled and said, "Tim is pretty direct."

"No, that's good," Jim answered. "I like knowing up front what your church does. Obviously, Tim knew I was coming, but I can tell that he would be ready to give the same answer to anyone who visited. I'm just glad I already know my den mothers. It would be pretty weird to just be 'given' to complete strangers."

"Yeah," Thom replied. "But you know, we don't let just anyone volunteer to be a den mother. We've got a couple really smart people that would be trouble as den mothers. We let them run the library instead. All the den mothers could make Goldilocks feel at home."

Upon arriving in the Philippians class, Jim asked Thom who all there was from his den.

"Just Bob and Karl, and Sarah and Jane. Everyone shares classes with their Barnie, but each den tries to have someone in all the classes."

It was a little bit of a surprise that Karl was only about 14, but Jim adapted pretty quickly. There were 3 teenagers in the class, which would not have struck him at all, except that at neither First Evangelical nor Bliss had he really even noticed any kids. It was all good.

The class began with prayer. Again, with the heads bowed. Jim guessed he would just have to get used to that. Then, they had introductions all around. Jim got to tell a little about being a mechanic and a Walker. Everyone knew about the Walkers, so that was kind of nice. And Eric was a mechanic, so he wasn't alone there, either.

They were looking at Phil 2, but they looked at it differently. There were sixteen people in the class, and each of the pairs took a verse. Bob and Karl had the first verse. They told that there were four things listed in the verse, Christ, Love, the Spirit, and mercy, and that we need to give all four of these things to each other.

John and Jerry had verse 2. They admitted that they had not done anything with it over the last week, but that it seemed to say love would make them of one mind. The group chipped in with insights they had, and Mark, the leader, had a couple observations to add as well.

Sarah and Jane, his other possible denmates, had verse 7. They did a fine job of tying together the whole idea of making yourself of no reputation. If Christ had humbled Himself, we needed to as well, and especially toward each other.

Mark listened as each pair told what they had learned. He added a little to some of them, and corrected Brian once. They were about 40 minutes into the class when everyone had shared their bits about their verses. Mark tied it all together. He made it clear how this passage was so often used a proof-text of Christ's divinity that it was sometimes forgotten that it was really Paul reminding the brothers and sisters to serve each other in everything.

At the end of his summary, he brought out a set of bingo balls, selected numbers 9-16 and put them into a mug. One person from each of the pairs chose a bingo ball, and everyone was ready for next week's homework. Bob and Karl had gotten verse 12, and since Jim was the new guy in the den, he was a "12," too.

After the class, Bob came up to him and gave him the rundown. "Karl and I will look at the verse alone, and then on Thursday night, we will have a 20 minute phone call to decide what we want to share. If you'd like, give me your number, and I'll 3-way you in."

Jim thought that sounded pretty good, so he gave Bob his number, and they headed out to the foyer together.

"It sounds like ya'll make this church a lot of work," Jim ventured.

Bob chuckled. "Yeah, we do. It seems like that's the way love's supposed to be. This is the hardest church I've ever been a member of, but I've never been alone here. My v-skill is landscaping, so I spend a lot of time at people's houses showing how deep to plant a shrub, or why you mulch. But then come tax quarter, John is always there for me. I know other churches are more polished in their teaching. I'd have sure added a couple things on the Philippians class, myself! But when the Master returns, I want to have been working more than I was learning. I want to have been busy, busy loving."

Bob spent the next few minutes introducing Jim to some of the other people who would be his denmates if he continued with Corner Church.

When they finally threw open the doors to the auditorium, Jim's eyebrows went up. There was a round podium kind of a thing in the middle of the room, and chairs were set up in a big circle around it. And "chairs" did not necessarily mean chairs. There were pillows, sofas, folding chairs, floor chairs, and even one big exercise ball. The only consistency was that small, low chairs were in the front, and big, tall chairs were in the back.

As Jim entered, he could feel something was funny, but he could not put his finger on what it was. He followed Bob to a seat, and got comfortable. He wanted to ask Bob something, when it dawned on him what it was that felt funny. Not a word was being spoken. Everyone was smiling and gesturing. It was not like being in a funeral. But, still, no one was saying anything.

After the last person was seated, Thom raised his hands and eyes, and called on the Lord to join them together in love. They would be joined in love for each other, and their love together for Him.

And someone started singing.

About a half-line into the song, everyone was singing along. They all knew the song, so they just started singing. At the end of the second line, someone called out, "Sixty-two," and there was a rustle papers as those who didn't know the song opened their songbooks to page 62. Jim was one of those, but Bob had already noticed that, grabbed a songbook, opened it, and handed it over.

The singing continued just like that for almost a half-hour. Between songs there were prayers, and each song started with someone singing, then a number being called out. It was strange how different it felt singing "to" everyone else across the room. And it was strange how loud it was to hear everyone this way. It was pretty cool.

The singing didn't so much stop, as it got interrupted.

Six people stood up, and went to the center of the room. It was three guys and three girls. They started a kind of a lover's debate between themselves. There was a taunt and a tease, and a rebuke. Some of it was pretty funny, actually. The audience was laughing before long, and everyone was involved, cheering for their favorite to win. Bob leaned over to Jim, and explained that each den took turns giving a ten minute skit each week. Thom's and Karen's den had next week.

Jim didn't know what to make of this skit. Once he figured out that the parts were those of the Son of God and His bride, he could follow it, but it was still a stretch for him. He was not sure that the bride really ought to be teasing the King of Kings that way. But, he had to give them that it was pretty funny. And it was making him think.

When the skit was over, Tim stood up. He had been sitting in one of the low seats almost straight in front of him, so Jim had not even remembered to look for him.

Tim made a couple comments about how hard it would be for him to follow after that act. Then, he pretty much started right in.

His message was on "Your will be done."

Jesus prayed that the Father's will be done on earth. Many, or most, or even all seemed to believe that the Father's will started with, "Thou shalt not..." and they didn't even not do the things they shouldn't. Really, though, the Father's will was much, much more than a "shalt not." The Father's will was that love conquer. The Father's will was that His Child lay down His Life.

And the Father's will IS.

Nothing has changed. The Father's will is that we love. The Father's will is that His children lay down their lives. First we lay down our lives for each other, but we lay down our lives for all. When we have layed down our lives, then we can appear before Him unashamed, knowing that we lived as He lived.

But Tim was not content merely to state the truth. It was hard for Jim to explain the difference, but Tim was not lecturing for a taped audience. He was speaking to Thom and Bob and all the others. Someone was very definitely being chided, and he got the impression that most everyone knew whom it was. Tim brought up some recent anguish they had all suffered together, and made it a part of his talk. Tim was telling everyone that God brought opportunities into all their lives to lay down their lives, and that it was praiseworthy when someone gave up their hopes for another.

Jim felt a little knot in his stomach.

Tim was standing up there, telling everyone that someone had layed down their life for another, and that someone else still had an opportunity to do so. And he was telling them that this was what God required. This stuff was real.

Tim reminded everyone that this life was both real and an illusion. It was an illusion, because everything that seemed to matter here was only passing. In just a few years more, it would all fade away, and all the work we invested in being comfortable here would be lost forever. But it was real because everything we did here would shape who we were forever. If we laid down our lives here, we gained an eternal benefit. We learn here to serve, even as the Son of Man learned obedience here. And the better we learn it, the richer our hearts become with the true treasure: Christ-likeness.

When Tim finished, it was obvious that the whole room was as sober as he.

He sat quietly. Bob got up to talk to another man in hushed tones. Jim watched as people all over the room moved into little groups to talk over what they had heard. There was no, "closing song," to a lecture like this, and no one started one. He fingered the dollars he had brought for the offering, and noticed that there had not been one. He would ask about that later.

For now, he watched as two groups of brothers and sisters talked to themselves, and then started moving toward each other. He was hardly sure that these were the groups Tim had been talking to or about, but they both spoke for a minute then traded embraces all around. He could see them making plans to get together, as everyone pulled out their phones to check their calendars.

Thom offered him a hand up.

He was pretty deeply lost in thought, and looked at it for a second before it registered what he was doing. Then he took the offer, and gave him a pat on the shoulder. "This is some kind of different church, Thom," he said.

Thom agreed, "In some ways, yes. But really, it's just like every other church, except that we work really hard to come up with ways not to be alone. It is not good that the man should be alone. So, we study a little together, we work together a little, and we eat together as much as we can. It feels like the way things were meant to be."

"Well," Jim replied, "I don't know exactly what I'm going to tell Brenda. I think she'll have to see this for herself. It's not like joining a club here, is it? I hope she'll like the idea."

Thom said, "Not to worry. The Lord will deal with that in His own way and time. She liked the Walkers well enough, though. There are a lot of compromises between this and the Walker way, but if she liked them, she ought to like this. And who wouldn't like Karen?" he snickered.

When they made it out to the car, Jim asked Thom about the offering, and why there wasn't one.

Thom said, "We all decided the offering was a pain in the butt. Take a meeting like today's. Which part would you want to see interrupted to take up money? And do you really want the preacher trying to coax a little more money out of everyone? Nah.

"Twice a year we get together to talk about our plans and budget. At the end of each meeting, every member commits to a monthly amount, and we mail in our commitments with all our other bills. At the end of each 6 months, the treasurer tells us how many people kept their commitments, and how many dropped them. Not who, mind you, but how many. Our goals and our budget are in tension, but we do the best we can. We felt a little guilty about it at first, but it's been really nice."

Karen smiled and said, "But if you need to give a little money, I can take it right now."

Jim looked her straight in the eye. He knew she was only kidding, but he was tempted to give her the money he'd brought anyway. These people were committed, to Christ and to each other, and he wanted to declare somehow that he would be too. He knew it would be misunderstood, though, and there would be time aplenty to prove these things.

He kept his hand out of his pocket, and said, "Thank you, Karen, Thom. I will look forward to Bob's call on Thursday, and I bet I'll be seeing you on Sunday. Thanks for everything."

As he got out of the car, he kept telling himself to calm down. He could not tell Brenda everything all in one breathe, or he'd just sound insane. Don't oversell, Jim.

Just let her see it for herself.

21 December, 2006

FHC: Church of Tomorrow - Part 6, Bliss Megachurch

Randy picked Jim up to visit Bliss Megachurch at almost 10:30.

Jim had to chuckle. He had put on his best jumpsuit this time, but Randy was wearing his most comfortable 'suit - artfully torn coveralls that is. Jim always dressed in better than old coveralls, even while at work fixing aerocars, so this week he was vastly overdressed. It seemed Bliss was a little more relaxed than First Evangelical. Either way, there was no time to change.

Hopefully, Bliss was a lot more relaxed, because if the service started at 11:00, they were definitely going to be late. Randy had an old hybrid road car that had only passed the most recent emissions test because Jim detuned its gasoline engine. Bliss was well outside town, and they were not going to top 35 mph the whole way.

Randy told him not to sweat it. They were only going to miss the singing, and half the men skipped the singing anyway. The women comandeered the singing decades ago, and the men just kind of decided to gaga, (go along and get along.)

This was a strange thought to Jim. The Walkers had been all about the singing so he was confused when someone like Randy, who really walked the Lord, was intentionally skipping the singing at Bliss. He wondered what might make half the men want to miss the singing?

Jim had forgotten how little traffic was on the roads on a Sunday morning, and was pleasantly surprised when they pulled into the parking lot only 5 minutes late. As they walked in, Jim noticed just how right Randy was. There was a line to get into the building, and people still pouring in from the sidewalks. Once they were inside, the picture didn't get any better. The Bliss Buzz Shop on the left was doing a booming business selling caffienated energy drinks, while the Bliss Bible Booktable was selling jewelry, home decor and occasional books on the right.

Directly in front of them, two friendly looking men held the double doors closed as strains of, "The Rose Loved Me," wafted between the cracks. Jim looked to Randy, and drifted toward the door. Randy looked over to the Buzz Shop, longing for a little pick-me-up before entering the auditorium. He saw the line was at least a song long, though, and it was obvious Jim wanted to be in the auditorium already, so he decided to forego the bliss of Bliss juice. They joined the short queue at the double doors, just as the last chorus of the current song finished.

When the doors opened, ushers guided them directly to the closest row with two open seats. It was a pretty good walk, and they were handed off from usher to usher twice along the way, since the auditorium was really quite full. Jim could not stop looking around, taking in the size of the audience, the electronic orchesta, the amazing architecture, and the quality of the sound. The whole time that he was being seated, and being amazed, the man on the stage was filling time with a poem.

The poem seemed to be much like the song. It, too, was about a rose, and how it loved the world around it. The aromas of rose petals, fresh rain, and pungent earth teased Jim's senses as he sat, taking in the poem in its full surround-sound glory. High Def pictures of perfect roses waved on the three screens behind the speaker as Jesus approached the viewer with His arms held open. The rose loved by receiving the sunlight, and reflecting it to God's children. It drank deeply of the water in the earth, and reflected strong leaves out to the world. The rose was Christ Who had drunk deeply of God, and loved us so that we could love Him.

This really was just like a vid. The screens darkened, and switched over to weekly announcements of upcoming Bliss Events, and the clean scent of vanilla filled the air. The aroma immersion worked. Whenever he smelled vanilla, for at least the next week, he would remember that the Bliss Bible Booktable was holding its annual missional special sale next week, and that the Bliss Buzz Shop did discount catering for all registered members.

The smell of some kind incense took over from the vanilla, as a lighting change revealed a 6-piece band, and the next song began. The words scrolled on the center screen with the current word underlined. The band led the audience through the dynamic moves of the song, as the audience lighting dimmed, and a series of rapturous faces gazed upward on the outer vid screens. The song celebrated removing our veils to behold the Lord face-to-face, and the people in the vids were doing just that. As the song built up to its well-known ending, the vid screens filled with a joyous brightness, the audience lights came back up, and the audience itself responded with a delighted shout.

The leader began a spontaneous outpouring of praise, and the audience followed him with gusto. The building was filled with the simultaneously spoken love of hundreds of people for their Lord, until the power of the moment could not be ignored.

Jim struggled to keep his eyes from bulging like some security-bot's.

Jim had never seen anything remotely like this. He was a new-ish Christian, and he had been converted in a living room, to a living room church. He had never been a part of a thousand people shouting at the same time about anything, unless it was one of the local semi-pro football games. He didn't even ask whether it was right or wrong. He just assumed that a thousand followers of the Lord could not be wrong, and took it all in.

Soon enough, it ended again, and the doors were opened again to the latest wave of latecomers.

This time a man stood up to exhort everyone to give freely to the Lord, while the vid screens explained how to use the credit pad that was about to be passed around. Just thumb print the screen, and enter the amount into the keyboard that comes up. The vid screens also showed a map to the cash offertory for those who were more comfortable giving after the service. After a quick prayer of blessing on the offering, the pastor came up and began his lecture before the credit pads had even started down the aisles.

Pastor Jones was a great speaker.

It could not have been more than 5 minutes before Jim was laughing along with the vid highlights, sombering at the deeper meaning behind them, and seeing the value of a church that could speak to its culture. Jesus left us with a mission, and no one else could do it. Jesus fit in with sinners, not religion. Jesus understood failure, and spoke to people in their own language, not theo-jargon. If a Buzz Shop spoke to the culture, then they would put one downtown!

The Anti-proselytization Act had held them up for a while, but Satan could not hold the upper hand for long. They had done the grace-roots campaigning, they done the praying, and they had overturned the enemy's devices. Now, they could serve the Lord with all their hearts, and with all their means. Satan could not keep them on house arrest for long.

Yes, Bliss Megachurch was opening "Bliss Buzz" at the corner of High and 3rd. It was all part of the mission of reaching the lost, and it was a faith step since they were not yet sure where the rest of the money would come from. The initial investment would be high, but the payoff would be eternal. (The credit pads started their journey through the audience about now.)

Jim thought about his morning so far, and Pastor Jones was right. At no point, since he had entered Bliss, was he ever in unfamiliar surroundings. The little shops and the vids and the casual atmosphere really had made it easy for him to fit in. No wonder Charles' kids were more comfortable at Bliss. The buzz drinks alone would be enough to bring a man back again, if he had either arrived early enough to get one, or skipped a song or two. Aside from the long, loud group declaration of love of audience for God, the whole experience was natural for him.

Pastor Jones continued.

Christianity had covered up Christ for too long. They kept cloaking the simple, loving Carpenter in religious robes and religious rules that prevented the average Joe from feeling comfortable enough to hear from Him. If, instead, His church would humble herself enough to rub shoulders with people just like themselves, then Christ Himself could be seen. We all need to be accepted, and the church is God's chosen tool on earth to teach the lost about their acceptance in Christ. We just needed to reset our priorities, learn to love our neighbor, and do all we could to help the Bliss mission in the power of the Spirit.

As the last of the credit pads was collected, Pastor Jones wrapped up his call to action.

The pastor started another time of free praise and declaration to the Lord. The audience answered back with enthusiasm. Now that he knew what was happening, Jim tried saying a couple words of praise. He could not hear himself, so he tried again a little louder. Once more, really loudly, and he felt it. It was pretty cool to shout praise, and oddly safe to do it in that large of a group. Everything was so loud, no one would hear him, so he could say what he felt. He was beginning to picture his voice as joined with everyone else's in the ear of God, when the lights began to drop, and the band quietly started playing.

They played the last song again, about beholding the Lord face-to-face. Only this time, the vids in the background were showing downtown scenes, and the people were all from the High St and 3rd Ave area. The audience looked at their faces, while they reminded themselves in song that these people all needed to see Jesus' face. They just needed a chance, and the joy of knowing the Lord in Bliss could be theirs.

When the song ended, the ushers emptied the auditorium in a surprisingly efficient manner. It probably took less than 2 minutes to get everyone out who wanted to leave.

Even more surprising was that it was still not quite 12:00 noon. It had been such a ride, that it seemed like almost two hours to him, but really it was less than one, and they were headed for the door. Randy looked at the Buzz Shop again on the way out, but the line was way too long. If he had to choose between waiting in the latte line or the parking lot line, he may as well be making forward progress.

Jim and Randy talked the whole way home about the benefits of an energy drink bar in the downtown area with Bliss's name on it. It was a shrewd move, if it would eventually be self-supporting. They talked about all the things that could happen down there. They might could even introduce the kind of singing and poetry they used to do back with the Walkers. That could be a lot of fun.

Of course, neither of them was sure how you would go about starting a Walker meeting in the middle of a bunch of downtownies getting tanked up for their afternoon meetings. Tough call.

When Randy finally dropped Jim off, it was still barely 12:30. He'd been gone for a total of 2 hours.

There was a lot to tell Brenda, of course. But as he started in, he remembered the question he asked himself about the singing. Why would half the men at Bliss decide to skip the singing? The Buzz Shop came to mind, but really that was just one thing they did instead of singing. Some of the men just decided to be late. The only thing he could figure, and Brenda thought it made sense too, was that they didn't like to be told what to feel, when to feel it, and how overpowered to be.

He thought about asking someone he'd met, but it dawned him that he had not really met anyone. Everyone was friendly, and easy to greet, but he didn't really meet anyone but ushers.

Whatever it was, it was a lot to think about.

He and Brenda talked on through lunch.

Next week he was to go with Thom to Corner Church. He wondered whether it could possibly be as different from Bliss and First Evangelical as they had been from each other.

19 December, 2006

News: Middle Eastern Converts

[Shamelessly hoping our local Middle Eastern expert, Weekend Fisher, will weigh in on this one.]

We had some missionaries from the West Bank at our church this evening. Ellen said something fascinating. (Paraphrased, condensed, and hacked, but she agreed after the talk that I had heard her right.)

The number of West Bank Muslim converts to Christianity went from approximately none to enough to start a church overnight. She asked the people who were visiting their homes, and giving them the gospel, what is different? They said the people were telling them, "The leaders of the Islamic nations are being killed, so now we wonder, where is Allah?" We tell them about Jesus.

As I understand it, Islam is a highly political religion. They measure the blessing of Allah by the blessings that are upon their government. Hence, if you shame an Islamic government, you have done much worse than that. You have either shamed Allah, or shamed the nation and its leaders for having done something to lose his blessing.

As they watched Israel successfully assasinating their leaders, it proved to them that the promises of the Imams were empty, and they began looking for truth. (The reader must remember that I consider Israel to be another secular democracy, and not the nation of God on earth. In saying these things, I am not saying that the Lord's people are assasinating these leaders, but that one political entity is making war on another. No "divine right" is implied.)

I don't know what to make of this assessment, but it seems to jive with everything I've read over the years.

Barring a great discussion starting, I will put this one in the mental crockpot, and see what stews.

FHC: The Church of Tomorrow - Part 5, First Evangelical

Charles landed to pick Jim up for church spot-on at 8:50. Jim was surprised to see Charles in a snazzy, gray jumpsuit with a white cravat. Jim had never even managed a suit like that for his job explorations. You'd think that with the job cycle index running at 27 months, and 13 months in the trades, he'd go ahead and plop for a decent 'suit, but he didn't really want to move into management anyway.

They would be alone on this trip. Jim let his wife relax while he scouted out the local churches, and Charles's wife was accompanying their children to Bliss Megachurch. Charles' kids were teens now, and they were much, much happier in Bliss than they had been in First Evangelical.

As they flew over neighborhood after neighborhood, Charles explained that he was an elder at FE, and that he would be sitting in the front row. He was surprised that they reinstated him so quickly into his eldership after his time with the Walkers, but it felt good to be back in the board meetings with his brothers again. He had been raised Evangelical, and getting back into the rhythm was a blessing. He assured Jim that he would be completely comfortable in his new church home, if he decided to stay.

As they topped the last little ridge, it was easy to see the cluster of steeples that marked the center of town from the air. All three churches were of long history in the town, and well established. First Evangelical was the nearest of the three, so there was no complex approach pattern necessary. Charles just ID'd the parking space he wanted, and engaged the GPS auto-lander.

They were greeted at the door, and several more times as they entered the building. He was surprisingly under-dressed, but nobody mentioned it. Everyone showed great delight to meet him. In fact, he began to feel like the "single guy" walking into a bevey of grandmothers with eligible granddaughters in mind. His ring was still on, so that wasn't it, but he was not comfortable at the center of attention. Most people just wanted to know whether he was enjoying himself so far, so he kept assuring them that he was.

Charles disappeared, leaving him in Frank's friendly hands.

Frank asked which Sunday School class would interest Jim. Then Frank found out he needed to explain what Sunday School was. That obstacle cleared, he recommended either the old testament class on Leviticus or the new testament class on Ephesians. Having never heard anything promising about Leviticus, Jim opted for the Ephesians class. That worked out well, because Frank usually went there, too.

The room looked like nothing he'd seen in a long time, maybe since grade school. First off, there were no computers. That was odd in a classroom, which this obviously was. Second, it was just 5 rows of six or seven chairs each, all facing a stand - was it a lecturn they used to call those? Something like that. Anyway, Frank had allowed him to go in first, so he gravitated toward the back of the room, sitting in the last row, one seat in from the aisle. It was the same place he used to sit in 6th grade algebra.

They made chit-chat for a while, then everyone bowed their heads for prayer. Jim wasn't very good at the bible yet, but he could not remember anywhere that told him to do that. The Walkers always raised their hands and faces in prayer. Whatever. He bowed his head.

When the teacher started, he was talking about Eph 4, and how teachers were given to the church for the perfecting of the perfect ones. Paul called them saints - perfect ones - and teachers made them perfect-er. It was very cool. He was blessed. Which is to say that he was gifted by God with something to add to what the teacher was saying.

It was odd, because he kept wanting to add something about how blessed he was by truth the teacher was giving out, but he could not. Maybe he could have, but it didn't seem right. He was new, so he was keying off everyone else, and everyone else was quiet unless they had a question. It seemed the teacher had a lesson plan, and if there were too many interruptions, he would not finish it. So, they handled questions quickly and moved on. Jim remembered something about how songs could play a big part in building the saints together, but he wasn't going to speak up if no one else was saying anything either.

At the appointed hour, the class ended. The teacher had rushed the last couple verses, but he made it all the way to verse 16, exactly as planned. And Jim had learned a lot that he had never heard before. It was a very profitable hour.

As they left, he got to meet a couple more saints. There were almost 30 minutes to spend somehow between the end of Sunday School, and the beginning of "worship." Fortunately, a couple of the grandmothers were happy to talk to him about the weather, and what it was like to be an aerocar mechanic, and whether his family was just lovely. And, of course, whether he liked First Evangelical so far, and whether he would be back.

When people started filing through the double doors, he followed.

He had seen one other room like that in his adult life. Jim and Brenda had once gotten a babysitter, and gone to see a live play. It was like nothing they had ever seen before. The vids they watched in their basement were perfect, with every detail of sight, sound and smell to make you feel like you were part of the vid story, but the live play was better. It was sure different! The people on stage were sweating, and missed their lines, and needed the audience to laugh and grow quiet at all the right places. Somehow, even without High Definition, Surround Sound and Immersion Aroma, it was a totally engrossing evening. They had sworn to be live theater addicts, but somehow they had never made it back.

This room looked just like a theater, except that the audience was as well lighted as the stage.

He sat down to see what kind of show they would put on.

After a few minutes, his friend Charles walked up to the lecturn. He said, "Hello," to everyone, motioning them in to the room and to silence. After a couple social announcements, he called out number 347. Everyone around Jim opened one of the books conveniently tucked into the seat ahead of them. His neighbor noticed Jim fumbling, and helped him find the hymnal, and even helped him to read the song when they started singing.

Jim really didn't hear the first song at all, because he was too busy taking in the oddness of singing like that. He felt like a Christmas caroller. By the second song, though, he had settled in, and began hearing the words he was singing. "Bind us together, with cords of love." It was a beautiful song, and the piano plus the two hundred voices all singing with years of experience did it justice. The next song, declaring to Jesus that we were resting, resting in the joy of what "Thou art," was even better. Jim had seen a couple of Shakespeare's plays on the edu-vids back in school, so he knew what, "Thou art," meant, but it was wierd to hear it sung by people who meant it.

He decided with a chuckle that he would let the whole hymnal discussion, "rest in Jesus."

Charles next called the ushers forward to receive an "offering." Evidently, it was a collection of money, and since he was a visitor, he was not expected to participate. Still, it was amazing how many things Jim had not learned from the Walkers. He had never had to bring cash to a church meeting before. But, this was one of the big differences between the Walkers and the traditionals. The traditionals could collect money, and the government would not come after them. So, Jim guessed that he would have to think a little longer about the money stuff. No thinking today, though, because Jim had not carried cash in a very, very long time.

Charles then introduced Pastor Smith.

Pastor Smith stood up into the lecturn, and started a running monologue.

He took Col 2:7 as his text, and how we needed to be rooted and established in the faith, exactly as we have been taught. We were all here to be taught, so that we could be established, so that we could be rooted, and so that we could abound in teaching with thanksgiving. Teaching was the heart of Christianity, because knowing Christ started with knowing His character as revealed in His Word.

Jim soaked it all in like a sponge. It was wonderful to hear this man layer the Word of God like bricks one on another. He flew all around the bible, using this verse to establish that one, and those verses to explain these and making the whole thing serve the idea of teaching as central to our lives. Pastor Smith was just like those actors he had seen. He was sweating up there behind that lecturn, and he needed the audience to amen the good parts and hush for the bad ones. It was a real performance, and he played his audience well. Jim enjoyed the learning, and he enjoyed the show.

Eventually, of course, it had to end.

The pastor reached the end of his message ten minutes before the turn of the hour, and then issued a call for people to come forward to receive Christ. Jim was stunned. He instantly felt the need to get up and receive Christ, but he reminded himself that he had already done that. The doubts still nagged, though. He had never done it in a holy place. He had accepted Christ on Thom's living room floor, not in a real church. Maybe he should go forward? He sure wanted his salvation to be real. What should he do?

While he was thinking about it, the moment passed. They dismissed everyone, so the decision was made for him. Jim got up with everyone else, and started introducing himself all around again as more unknown people came up to greet him. Mercifully, Charles did not take long to find and free him. Charles needed to hurry home to start dinner, and Jim was only too happy to oblige him by leaving immediately.

It had been a good morning all around, and Jim was ready to get home to Brenda, and tell her all about it. On the flight home, Charles didn't pressure Jim to promise a return trip, but he let him know how glad he was that his first visit had gone so well. With a quick farewell, they parted ways.

Upon getting into the house, Jim did not immediately tell Brenda anything. He asked her to wait while he did a quick lookup. Picking up the vid tablet, he walked over the easy chair, and had a seat. He looked at the bible icon, and tapped the edge of the tablet. Then he looked at the search icon and said, "songs in Ephesians and Colossians," and tapped again.

Sure enough. He thought he remembered songs in both of the books he had heard about today. Ephesians and Colossians both said that everyone was supposed to speak to one another and admonish one another with different types of songs. The Walkers used to do a lot of that. They were forever making up little ditties, and long ballads, both. At times it had seemed like the Walkers should be called the Singers. Maybe he would get a chance to introduce the way the Walkers sang to First Evangelical? That would be cool.

It was a lot to think about. Brenda was going to enjoy hearing about all of this.

And next week he would get to visit Bliss Megachurch.

Life: The Usefulness of Depression

There's nothing worse than having a ready supply of muffin stumps.

There are some things in life that have no perceived value. You'd like to think there's some value, but nope. You're just stuck with this raw material for treasures no one in their right mind wants.

And so it is with me and melancholia.

But Scientific American is pleading my case!

It turns out that depression improves focus. Contrary to the stereotype of the creative, depressed artist, depression depresses creativity, but in exchange it improves focus. I think their experiment is pretty weak, and in fact, that it really proves that depressed people are more nitpicky (which is not exactly news) but I'll grasp at any straw in a storm. :-)

If they are right, then maybe I can use the gloomier moments of life to address issues that require deeper focus. It's an interesting thought.

Again with the unexpected twist at the end of the article, though.

As for the myth of the depressed but brilliant artist, Anderson speculates that creativity may be a form of self-medication, giving a gloomy artist the chance to adopt a cheerful disposition.


Almost certainly true.

I love to create things, and creating can absolutely lift me out of, "it," whatever it might be. But, it is so hard to make the brain create when it feels ineffectual.

BTW, I find that depression is not primarily a mood. It is a response. It is the response of despair in the face of insurmountable obstacles.

[OK, I'm really in "train of thought" mode here. Sorry. I love motivational posters, but one of the worst is, "Obstacles are those things you see when you take your eyes off of your goals." What vitriolic pablum! (Yes, cussing would be easier, and more to the point, but the mere idea of a poisonous, syrupy sweet paste amuses me more than saying what I was really just thinking then.) Do those addled half-wits at the poster company really not believe in insurmountable obstacles?]

Anyway, I was just say that depression was busy being a response to insurmountable obstacles, the response of despair. Grief for loss of hope, and grief for the loss of the things hoped for, followed by a general unwillingness to believe that anything else is worth having or doing. This leads to a systemic deadening. Hands, heart and spirit take on the character and weight of lead.

Creating something is the perfect answer to despair.

Remembering that I am capable of seeing something that doesn't exist, and bringing it to be, is a wellspring of joy. Creation requires faith. And faith opposes despair. So, creativity becomes an indirect tool. It's like having to do some woodwork in the basement. Step one is cleaning the workbench. That workbench needed cleaning for weeks, but it's the chance to create something that causes me to finally square it away.

Creating something doesn't clear the depression, but it gives me a reason and a little hope, and I am able to clear those cobwebs myself. If I can see something that needs to exist, then I can find the faith to attack the things keeping it from existing.

Ah well, I found it interesting.

17 December, 2006

Tennis: Ummmm. Yeah.

Well, after beating my coach last weekend, and playing him a tough, tough match yesterday, today was ... how shall we say? Not so much. :-D

You wouldn't have known it to watch me, but I loved today too.

3-6, 0-6, 5-4 (called for loss of light.)

I'm not sure, but I think my problem might have been that I was trying to bounce the ball over the net. Literally, at least 5 times I had a good setup shot, and hit it hard into the ground before it ever got to the net. Those were interspersed with the occasional shot that hit the fence before the ground. And there were some gorgeous shots gracing the edges of the game.

When the wheels come off, I still have not figured out how to get my game back on track. I stopped the choke for a while, but then the ol' mind just went away.

That's alright.

The coach finally feels like he is getting some benefit out of playing me. That means I get to play more. It's all good.

And, there were a couple good hitters in the next court, and I gave them this blog address. So maybe I'll even get to hit against someone new. One can hope.


16 December, 2006

Engaging God: Retelling a Psalm - Brief Summary

[Written for our small group, which is just taking their first steps this week.]

There are three things you have to do to retell a Psalm in a way beneficial to yourself and us.

1) Choose a theme and a Psalm

A theme is not strictly necessary, but it sure makes things easier. This theme should not be doctrinal or idealized, but warm-blooded. Your sweat or tears should be in this theme. You are not trying to write something wonderful and impressive. You are trying to write yourself, and none of us is perfect. You will find that the Spirit wants to speak something, too. He is always stirring something in your heart, so listen a little while before you start, and see whether you can find something both you and the Spirit wish to say.

Sometimes your Psalm is chosen for you, but a good choice is important. Ideally, you would choose a Psalm that sounds vaguely like your theme. Even more, though, you want a Psalm that cries or rejoices somewhat like you want to cry or rejoice. If your theme is rejoicing, you might find the mourning Psalms don't sound like you want to sound, even if you are rejoicing over forgiveness received. It's nice when you find a Psalm that really is "where you are." (If anyone knows a good summary of the Psalms, I'll buy it!)

Mostly, though, don't get stuck here. Your pick won't be perfect, but the Lord will speak to you anyway! Let's get started.

2) Retell each verse, one by one

Put away that really cool journal where all your prayers are going to be recorded. You'll want to do this on scratch paper, and throw lots of stuff away when you're done. It's cool. When you like your final product, then copy it over to that journal.

+ Think about what the Psalmist said, and what he was seeing that caused him to say it.
+ Then think about things that you have seen of Christ that are similar, but more completely revealed. If David sees God's mercies that never fail, then you might see Christ, the Mercy of God in flesh, Christ Who paid the eternal price irrevocably, and Christ Who was dedicated to seeing the Father's plan completed at all costs.
+ Finally, think about your theme. Can you see how the Spirit might be saying something that you want to say? Remember to make this real, not theological.

You might get stuck here. That's OK. Be encouraged! You are experiencing the birth pangs of all art. That's why they call it, "labor." Spend a few minutes. Pray a while. Think about and study other verses in which Christ is doing what the Psalmist is talking about, or Christ is overcoming what the Psalmist is mourning. Restate your theme. Don't dig for an answer. Keep looking at the Psalm, at Christ, and at your heart. The answer will come.

Then, write something down. Write something lame, if you have to, and move on. Even if you decide it's a good time to get up and walk away, write down where your mind was before you left. Amazing things happen when you just put something on paper. Remember, this is scratch paper. Nobody will see it, and God loves our simplest doodlings.

After you have finished all the verses (whether it takes a day or a week) put your finished version aside. Some prayers are perfect at this point, but most are not. I never trust anything I've written unless I've proofed it after at least 1 day away from it.

3) Make it flow

Read it again a day or two later. The first time through, you were working verse by verse and refering to the Psalm, the Lord's revelation and your theme. This time, just read what you've written.

If my experience is any indication, you will find redundancy, vagueness, wordiness and a general lack of communication skills when you come back to it. That's OK. There are no points deducted for editing!

Remind yourself again and again, we really want to hear your struggles and joys, and we really want to hear you giving them to God.

In our next lesson, we'll talk about how we can join in with your prayer.

News: If Anyone Missed This...

It's about the cutest story ever.

His sister in danger, 4-year-old plays hero

I don't know whether to laugh, cry or just sit back in awe.

But I would literally tip the burglars in this story cold, hard cash for leaving.

Tennis: A Fun Defeat

Yep, I played my coach again. This time his ankle was better, and my skills were no surprise to him. That "ambush factor" was pretty important last week. This time, he had me thoroughly scouted, and he knew what to try.

5-7, 4-6.

It was a good match. Early in the second set, I was up 2-0, and blinked to find I was behind 2-4. One hates to drop 4 games in a row. But, I didn't drop them so much as he took them. I only choked on maybe one shot in 50 today.

He played against my mobility. I am both fast and strong out there. He decided he could not play against my strength, so he moved me a lot. Forward, backward, and side to side. That's OK. It is my greatest joy to run balls down that no one should get. He played the old dropshot, deep passing shot, dropshot combination. The passing shot was literally beyond me before I started running for it.

He lost that point. ;-D

I love this game.

15 December, 2006

Science News: Virgin Births Lead to Transplantable Stem Cells

Nothing in particular to say. It was just a really, really wierd headline. You know, it's not like virgin births happen every day, so to hear that they lead to transplantable stem cells was oddly disturbing.

I can kind of see where they're coming from, of course, since it was Christ's coming that made it possible for as many of us as believed to become the children of God. It's like a divine stem cell is ingrafted into us. They must be amazed that it was only by one of the (thousands of?) virgin births that salvation was ever made possible. It's just odd that they think it newsworthy that all those other virgins are popping out kids, when they're not even microscopically remotely close to being of comparable worth to the triumph of the Lamb.

I for one am glad I barely wasted the time to skim the whole article, which is actually something about cloning female eggs without fertilizing them. (Maybe they don't really believe in virgin births?) They fail to point out that this is a good idea, because if there is no male human involved at any point in the process, the religious right won't feel bad about killing the living being that results. After all, we didn't mind when the first virgin birth experiment ended in a death for the good of others, right?

I'm pretty sure they think we who bother ourselves with the ethics of embryonic stem cell research will be glad to see these virgin-born non-humans sacrificed for others, because they are not even called zygotes. They're called Parthenotes, which is much less human-sounding. The new word even sounds like scientists should be dinking around with parthenotes, if only to see what god-like works might be possible on them.

The article ends on an unexpectedly ominous note, One possible hitch: Parthenotes might not grow properly, because they lack important contributions from male genes.

Nah. There's nothing to worry about. We can make ourselves stronger, faster, smarter than we were before.

The last words spoken on earth might be, "Hey, look what we invented. You just push this button, and ...."

14 December, 2006

Relationships: Male Pattern Bonding - With Women

What has gotten into me that I am even contemplating posting this?! This ain't even a little like me. Maybe Milly's and Andreia's encouragement is wearing me down. It must be a good thing. :-)

One of the implications of my first relationships post was that average men don't seek out relationships with other men. Normal men seek out worthwhile work, and then become friends with the men who join them in it.

Ah, but average men do actively seek out relationships with women. Everything is completely different in that realm.

With this post, I want to explore a recent revelation I had on this difference. I feel like I just discovered fire. This revelation feels that significant. The discovery of fire was a turning point for mankind in Greek myth, and it feels like that huge a turning point for me.

Only it would have been so much easier if I had noticed that fire had already been discovered millenia ago.


Discovering fire is not that big a deal when all your buddies have been using it their whole lives, and even have neat little stoves, heaters and hot water tanks to make it for them on demand. Kind of makes the whole discovery experience a little anti-climactic.

You see, when I say that I feel like I have discovered fire, I don't mean that I have found something ya'll need to know. Au contraire. I am realizing that I have exhausted half my given years without the most basic of knowledge, without wisdom every other 7th grader picked up by osmosis and experience. Imagine making it to middle age in America without ever seeing or using fire. Now you know what kind of a deprived idiot I feel like right now.

But, better late than never.

So, why am I posting about being an idiot? Frankly, this is the kind of thing I usually cover up assiduously. Well, really, I'm posting this because I got into this mess by covering up my problems assiduously. (Did you notice that "assiduously" sounds a lot like "insidiously?" I did. That's why I keep using the word. It's meaning is perfectly innocent, but its tone conveys the self-destructive secrecy of my perfectionism.) I am posting to shed light and get input, and because saying things out loud seems to be helping me these days.


It was on Tuesday a week ago that I got my first inkling that there might be a reason to really be friends with an eligible woman.

Queue laughter/offended reactions, but please be merciful.

I didn't think that it was wrong to be friends with a woman, but my thoughts seem to have been bringing up the caboose. With my mind I affirmed the truth, but the law of sin working in my members..., and all that. Let me tell my actions, instead of my thoughts. They're more revealing. I doubt I would have condoned my actions - but I sure did do them.

+ Respect a woman? Learn from a woman? Absolutely. I did so all the time.
+ Enjoy activities with a woman? Well, sure, I guess. Why not? But really, our interests were always completely different, so why?
+ Share deep thoughts and feelings with a woman? Not if marriage were a possibility.

... Not if marriage were a possibility.

In my mind girls were shunted into one of two categories: "Maybe she's the one," and "No, she's not the one." I shunned the No's for fear of confusing either party. From the Maybe's I hid all signs of weakness or imperfection. My lack of a social life made both these errors breathtakingly simple to fall into, of course, but I'd have done it anywhere.

And I was proud of myself.

Divorce has done this one thing for me. It has forced me to face what a complete failure I was at 7th grade. It was my second year of straight A's, and I actually thought those A's mattered. I wasn't happy, but that did not make me doubt myself. The voices in my head were pretty sure that being happy was a sign of sin, so my depression was invisibly reinterpretted as another glorious victory. There was no happiness, so I must be doing well.

We live and learn eventually.

3 decades later, I found me watching myself muddle through life using the same tactics and strategies that brought me here, and it dawned on me. Maybe I could try something different?

But trying something different means forcibly displacing what's already there.

How many times did I hear the story? My father looked at my mother and said, "I'm going to marry you." She laughed, but a couple years later she became the happiest woman on earth. Was there ever a movie that was not a variation on that story? I'm sure there are many, but my selective ears only heard the ones that reinforced my training.

It's amazing how trying something different still feels like sin. Even with obvious evidence of my need for change, I still cling to disproven strengths and strategies. I still fear the same hopes, and still hope to open my eyes and find everything I've always believed is true. My father and his father before him did the things I did. My church condoned the things I did. Good culture condoned the things I did, and bad culture rejected the things I did. It feels like sin to walk away from these things that have served me so poorly, for so long.

Over the years, I must admit that people gently probed that maybe I should try having more women for friends. When that happened, I gave them my friendliest look of blank confusion. It was the same look I would have given had they suggested that I try breathing "in" more. It was a quizzical, "I see your lips moving, but there's no sign of brain activity," look. Having lots of women for friends was sinful (because it was not what my father's father did) therefore I was obviously virtuous. And the fact that I had no clue where to begin getting such friends, if I had I even wanted to, must be my final, strongest proof.

Of course, that's just me. If you tell me how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, I will botch the job completely. I'm preternaturally gifted at botching instructions. If you can tell me why to make that pb&j, though, you usually don't need to tell me how. I'm pretty bright, and can achieve goals with the best of them. It's just getting me to reorient my goals that can be a mite touchy.

On Tuesday, I finally faced all this with a brother.

He said the simplest thing. "You're friends with my wife, and you don't look at her that way."

Uh. Yeah.

One might think that could have occurred to me somewhere over preceding decades, but... Well. Um. No. No, it didn't.

I have always had a number of ineligible women as friends. And why not? They were fun, and they offered an interesting counter-point to the opinions of my brothers. That was even part of the fun of being married. When I made those vows, I made every woman ineligible, and life became vastly more simple.

It was only eligible women that gave me fits.

And, of course, it wasn't the eligible women who gave me the fits. It was me creating all my own problems from thin air. All I might have to do is change my categories to change everything. It took about 2 minutes for me to weigh the pros and cons, and come up with the right answer. Projected benefits to this new approach to life flooded my simple little head. If I changed, I could have twice as many friends overnight. Of course, I might have to face the sin of being happier, but grace might even cover happiness with a little finagling.

Mostly, though, I might not make the same mistake of marrying the wrong girl based on what was really just a poor, uninformed guess.

For decades, I've wondered how to be friends with a woman who would never be my wife but was yet eligible to be.

For decades, I have been asking the wrong question.

On Tuesday I was asking why I would hesitate to be friends with people of acknowledged high quality?

Answer: Fear.
Answer': Get off your butt, and do what you have to do to overcome that fear.

With a whole week under my belt of getting to know the world in this new way, I won't claim to know how to do it yet, but it sure seems possible. It seems that if I just recategorize a formerly "eligible woman" as a "person," the problem vanishes. Now that I see, "why," I figure I can do it. Actually, I already do it every time a woman gets married, even in my current addled state. A year or two from now, I trust I will have found numerous improvements on this initial foray into normalcy, and even have grown a little more normal. But for now, I hope it's valuable to mark this day while it's still a work in its infancy.

I just wish I could have discovered fire a few decades ago.

And to all the friends out there I've missed, I express my deepest regrets and sincerest apologies.