is it too much to ask?

Larger Story’s book of the month is  Becoming a True Spiritual Community, my favorite Larry Crabb book and the one I have probably read most often. His honest wrestling was one of my favorite things about Larry. In BTSC, he wrestled with what genuine spiritual connection looks like.

One of the traits I share with Larry is that of a restless spirit. He was rarely satisfied with accepting the status quo when it came to Christianity, a truism that resounds through his books. He pressed into his challenging questions, always from a desire to know the true God more completely.

I, too, have wrestled for a long time with seeking to know God better. The battle has intensified in the last few years. I am dissatisfied with the church in America. If I am honest, I don’t want to go to “church.” In many cases, we Christians don’t represent Jesus very well. I have no doubt some consider me a bitter cynic, maybe even an apostate. You may be right. God knows.

Here’s the thing: We talk about the importance of church attendance, but can we honestly say that our church rhythms model those things that Jesus valued? We gather in groups of tens or hundreds or thousands, all facing forward to listen to an “expert” in the Bible tell us what we need to know, which leaves little room to listen for God’s Spirit or share what is happening in us. Numbers of bodies, volunteer hours, and dollars determine success. Nevertheless, not a week goes by without another story of how some pastor or religious group has abused power.

I long for something more profound, but I find myself in the unfamiliar place of not knowing precisely how to put words to my longings. Still, here are some fragments:

I want to gather with people who are trying to understand and live an integrated life. A few years ago, I was involved in a weekly “integration” meeting. People from multiple backgrounds would gather for lunch and have lively conversations that mattered. Sadly, they are no longer scheduled when I can attend, and it is a considerable loss. I want to hear from people who think as I do and those who do not about how we live in a world that feels increasingly fragmented. What does it mean to live whole and holy lives?

I want to know and be known by the God of steadfast love, the one who is reconciling all broken things. I want to hear from others how they experience God and to know where they meet God. I want to share my doubt and confusion with others who are willing to share in return. I am not interested in neatly packaged answers but in acknowledging that the world is a muddled mess and that God is still bigger.

I want a community that fosters self-awareness, self-acceptance, and self-compassion. Too often, well-meaning Christians reject these ideas, but healthy spirituality does not neglect loving ourselves. I want to be reminded that there is a God who loves me “without condition or reservation,” as Brennan Manning would say.

I want a community that practices love for others, especially those who are often on the fringes or even outside neatly labeled biblical boxes. I want them to know, as I want myself to know, that God loves them and to demonstrate that truth not only in word but in deed. I long for a place of radical welcome and acceptance. I want to feast around a table where people of different worldviews and mindsets aren’t trying to fix or convert one another but celebrate their shared humanity and belovedness.

I want to honor and celebrate all of God’s good creation, to look for and celebrate beauty and goodness wherever it may be found: in late-blooming flowers and early falling leaves, in gently falling snow and torrential rains, in the warmth of the sun in a blue sky and the cool of a cloudless night. God called creation very good, but sometimes I think we’ve lost sight of that truth. God invited us to be creation’s caretakers, but we have instead abused it for our own ends.

I long for wholeness. I desire goodness, truth, and beauty. I want to honor each person’s unique journey and remember that we, the human race, are traveling together, and every one of us brings something needed by the whole group. I long for fellowship with those who long for integration, wholeness, and reconciliation.

Is that too much to ask? 

A Prescription for Wholeness

Spread kindness like wildfire. Ask questions. Cross bridges. Pick up a piece of trash. Say hello. Say thank you, to God and others. Go for a walk. Make eye contact. Consider the lilies. Mend fences. Plant wildflowers. Sit in the grass and watch a bumblebee—it will teach you there is no need to rush. Pay for someone’s coffee. Bake two loaves of bread. Give one away. Pray for those who belittle you. Be kind to yourself. Shed tears when you are sad. Sing show tunes, preferably with someone else. Draw a tree; even a stick tree will do. Savor an orange. When you are angry, breathe deeply and exhale mercy. Listen to “the gift of a thistle” by James Horner. Visit somewhere new. Light a candle; in fact, light three, or a hundred. Play with a toddler. Drink a cup of tea. Read a poem by Mary Oliver, or perhaps Rumi. Write a letter to someone, with real paper and ink. Send it through the mail. Look for goodness. Celebrate beauty—it is everywhere. Listen with curiosity. Sing loudly in your car. Hold someone’s hand. Pet a dog. Bike to work. Buy original art, anyone local will do. Always stop at a lemonade stand and always overpay. Breathe. Do it again. Do you realize what a miracle it is that you are alive?

Birdsong

I leave my window open
just a crack
just enough to hear
the birds singing in the day.

Their chorus begins in the dark.
Like me,
the sun loves their song
and rises to listen.

Too soon, their melodies
will be silenced
by discordant tones
as the rest of the world gets up
beginning not in song,
but getting their daily briefing
on what to be mad about
who to fear and
who’s to blame.

The birds’ midday silence
makes me sad.
It seems they know my sadness;
they feel it too.

At dusk, as another day closes
the gay melodies
that woke the sun
are quiet.
I hear only
a lone dove mourning
yet another day
when fear and hate prevailed.

Tomorrow
Tomorrow we will do it again,
for we choose not to live
as those who have no hope.

Speak to us of clothes

And the weaver said, speak to us of Clothes:

And he answered:

Your clothes conceal much of your beauty, yet they hide not the unbeautiful.

And though you seek in garments the freedom of privacy you may find in them a harness and a chain.

Would that you could meet the sun and the wind with more of your skin and less of your raiment,

For the breath of life is in the sunlight and the hand of life is in the wind.

Some of you say, “It is the north wind who has woven the clothes we wear.”

And I say, Ay, it was the north wind,

But shame was his loom, and the softening of the sinews was his thread.

And when his work was done he laughed in the forest.

Forget not that modesty is for a shield against the eye of the unclean.

And when the unclean shall be no more, what were modesty but a fetter and a fouling of the mind?

And forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair.

-Khalil Gibran

Speaking About the Sun

Joy is contagious, just as sorrow is. I have a friend who radiates joy, not because his life is easy, but because he habitually recognizes God’s presence in the midst of all human suffering, his own as well as others’. Wherever he goes, whomever he meets, he is able to see and hear something beautiful, something for which to be grateful. He doesn’t deny the great sorrow that surrounds him nor is he blind or deaf to the agonizing sights and sounds of his fellow human beings, but his spirit gravitates toward the light in the darkness and the prayers in the midst of the cries of despair. His eyes are gentle; his voice is soft. There is nothing sentimental about him. He is a realist, but his deep faith allows him to know that hope is more real than despair, faith more real than distrust, and love more real than fear. It is this spiritual realism that makes him such a joyful man.

Whenever I meet him, I am tempted to draw his attention to the wars between nations, the starvation among children, the corruption in politics, and the deceit among people, thus trying to impress him with the ultimate brokenness of the human race. But every time I try something like this, he looks at me with his gentle and compassionate eyes and says: “I saw two children sharing their bread with one another, and I heard a woman say ‘thank you’ and smile when someone covered her with a blanket. These simple poor people gave me new courage to live my life.”

My friend’s joy is contagious. The more I am with him, the more I catch glimpses of the sun shining through the clouds. Yes, I know there is a sun, even though the skies are covered with clouds. While my friend always spoke about the sun, I kept speaking about the clouds, until one day I realized that it was the sun that allowed me to see the clouds.

Those who keep speaking about the sun while walking under a cloudy sky are messengers of hope, the true saints of our day.

-Henri Nouwen, Here and Now