Monday, September 26, 2005

Honest Appraisal

This is important reading. While Mr. Fountain's appraisal applies directly to the culturally Black church, the problems he unveils apply equally to the white church.

He suggests that materialism is at the core of the problem within black congregations. I believe that materialism is at the core of the problem in white congregations, too.

By materialism, I do not mean money, the acquiring of it or the spending of it. Nor do I mean the stuff we accumulate.

Materialism, according to Webster's second definition (which is the right one in this context), is: a preoccupation with or stress upon material rather than intellectual or spiritual things. Using that definition, let me list some areas of materialism in white congregations:
  • Buildings and property
  • Programs
  • Administration/bureaucracy
  • Politics
  • Styles

Like teenagers, people outside the faith see right through this stuff. If we offer spiritual sustenance - living water - we will attract the spiritually thirsty. If we offer earthy, transitional fast-food, we will repel the spiritually thirsty; they'll go find another source for water, mucky and foul and environmentally hazardous as it may be.

People are looking for grace. Offer it in any container, but make sure it is pure. Make sure the container isn't the preoccupation. Make sure that the container holds the real thing.

Sunday, September 18, 2005


What is it about an island?

A mystique hangs around an island like fog. The islands of my life have been escapes from normal. They have been super-charged romantic. They have been adventurous. They have been places to come to the end of yourself; to stretch, feel, learn. To confront life.

Islands in books feature the same stimulating setting. Treasure Island. Swiss Family Robinson. Lord of the Flies. Life of Pi.

Movie Islands: Castaway. Peter Pan. (Hook). Jurrasic Park. Pirates of the Caribbean. The Gallapagos in Master and Commander.

TV Shows: Gilligan's Island. Fantasy Island. The Prisoner.

Even media that don't have islands have islands: The planet Degoba in Empire Strikes Back. The Wilderness in The Gopel of Luke. The Emerald City. K-Pax.

Here are the islands I have visited:
  • Catalina Island off the California Coast in the Pacific. When I was a young teen, my parents went for a four-day trip. We stayed in an inn before they were called Bed and Breakfasts. After the island tour (islands often have tours), my younger brother and I had the run of the place, without my parents dogging our steps. This was amazing to us.
  • Lake Perris Island. For a while when we lived in S. Cal. we owned a little power boat. We'd head out to this tiny little island in this man-made reservoir and picnic, swim, be exotic.
  • North Manitou Island. This is my favorite island. When the kids were younger, we'd go to North Manitou to backpack. Since it is wilderness, that's all you can do there; no restaurants, hotels, fudge shops. Just quiet and trails and water and mud and rain and mac and cheese with tuna and us and no one else except the racoons and chipmunks, which were enough company for anybody. The boat company drops you off on a dock and tells you they'll be back in two days. If they don't come back in two days, then they'll be back in four. If they don't get there in four, it will be six, and so on. That alone is adventure.
  • South Manitou Island. Ship wrecks. Light house. Sand dunes. Long stretches of beach with not one other person within sight or sound.
  • Three Island Lake Island (Lake Island Lake Isl...) Just a few two-track miles from Stuben, MI. in the heart of the Upper Pennisula, where our family spent two wonderful vacations. April and CA friend Alicia swam to the island, feeling grown up and independent. We took a row boat over to explore. The kids had a picnic there. It was a scrub island that will never know the importance it had in the formative years of our children.
  • Mackinac Island. Ah! Romance and love and the accomplishment of riding the perimiter at 50 years old. Fudge. Carmel corn. Ice cream. Horse poop. The brunch at the Grand Hotel: seal-tight memories in a bottle of cherry juice.

When I want to get away, run from normal, sniff around for solace, I'm looking for an island. Get me to an island. Boat, jet ski, swim fins, jet spray catamaran - whatever. Just get me there.

Heaven is an island. Adventure, romance, story, growing and stretching, love, family. Until then I'll have to settle for the earthy simulations.

What's your island?

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Finding Refuge

I've heard the guardians of political correctness castigate users of the word refugee to describe the victims of Katrina. As if refugee was a derogatory term. As if a refugee was an undesirable acquaintance. As if being a refugee was being less than, downgraded, labeled with the low.

Count me in.

The literal definition is: "one that flees; especially: a person who flees to a foreign country or power to escape danger or persecution." The fleeing part, in this case, may not be especially true. (Not fleeing appears to the the problem, either by choice or by circumstance).

The root of the word comes from Latin: refugium; a person who seeks refuge.

I do not diminish the suffering of hurricane survivors, but I count myself as a refugee, running for safety. Would that we all would determine to seek refuge - to be refuge hounds, sniffing around for the safe place, the safest place.

If you are not a refugee, why not? Have you found it? I haven't. Yet.

There are places, mostly people, where refuge is close; I can feel it deep, like a puzzle piece almost fitting. My marriage, my kids, some friends. When I am with these people I feel safe and protected; refuge is close.

When I worship, I can feel it. Swirling around touching my deep places, prompting laughter and tears and love. Refuge is close.

These are the prophecies and promises of another place: heaven, paradise, the Bosom of Abraham. I'm looking for that place, and one day I'll find it.

Until then, I run.