Friday, June 29, 2007

Let's Have Church at Bonnaroo

Time for confession.

I went to Bonnaroo. Yes, THE Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival, held on a 700 acre farm outside Manchester, Tennessee. With my good friend and music mogul Al B. Who drove us down in his turbocharged Mini Cooper. Yes, it was cool. Very, very cool.

An estimated 85,000 people were there I heard. Lots and lots and lots of people.

Let me tell you first of all, Bonnaroo was not as wild and crazy as we are led to believe. Is there wildness? Sure, in spots. Is it crazy? Not quite. Then again, I was there on Saturday night only and just for a few hours. The draw for myself and many of my middle aged peers was simply to witness this stop on the reunion tour of that aging rock trio from our collective past known as the Police.

The Police concert was excellent, though a close observer might have noted a distinct lack of passion in the band's performance. Our passes got us very close to the stage, so close in fact after their third song I began to wonder if I would be able to hear my beloved children arguing with each other ever again. Midway through the show, Al and I left the front of the stage for the posh digs of a luxurious tour bus, enabling us to sit in wondrous air conditioned comfort, courtesy of Al's producer friend. Not the usual 'roonie' experience, I suppose, but a lucky break for an ex-hippie pastor and his aching ears. Being able to leave behind the dust and the smoke was a bonus.

But I digress, as my intent is not to review the show nor talk about great it was to hang out with Al and his music biz friends. I want to know why there was no church at Bonnaroo. Specifically no church from my denomination. Please understand that I did not walk every square inch of the farm down in Manchester looking for someone from a church. I'm simply betting we had no presence there at all other than myself pumping my fist in the air during 'Message In A Bottle'. Friends, I believe that having no church presence at Bonnaroo is a mistake.

Now before someone calls the bishop and attempts to have me defrocked for posting heresy on the 'net, let me tell you what my first person experience there taught me. Bonnaroo attracts the very demographic that the mainline church can't seem to reach no matter how hard we try. The young people we are constantly wringing our hands over because they do not come to our churches were at this festival in droves. At first I believed they came because of the music. Maybe that was not the true reason. On the way home, deep in thought, it came to me.

While music and arts are obvious draws, maybe what these young people sought the most was the feeling of being a part of something bigger than themselves. To join a community of like minded people united in a common goal, sharing a common experience. Leaving behind a life that doesn't have much going on in it and coming to Bonnaroo for a few days.

Doesn't this sound very similar to the description of the church as it is written in the biblical book of Acts? A group of people united around a common experience (the death and resurrection of Christ), sharing a common experience together (gathered at the table for communion), so they could ultimately be a part of something bigger than themselves (the redemption of the world). Leaving a life that was not much to brag about so that they could instead be filled with the Spirit and life of Jesus. Wow.

I want to go back to the farm in Manchester. Not to hear the umpteenth inevitable reunion concert put on by a band from my generation. I want to go back and represent Christ there. Rent a booth. Give away lots of bottles of water. Silently pray for people as they pass by. Assist those who need help. Mix, mingle, and meet. No Christian t-shirts or giving away Bibles or asking for donations or anything like that. Instead go there with the express purpose of being salt and light and yeast and all those other metaphors Jesus gave us to help us understand our mission to the world. A mission to love people unconditionally, while being the church, the very presence of the living Jesus Christ. Right smack in the middle of the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival.

Of course there will be an outcry from those who think they know better. I hear their rumblings in the distance--"Going to Bonnaroo is a disaster in the making! You'll ruin your witness for the Lord!" they could say, or maybe warn "you might fail a drug test from all the secondhand, um, smoke that will get into your system" or "you'll end up being tempted to do something really awful that might make the news, embarrassing us all" or "Don't you know there will be strange new age practices going on, even those Wiccans will be there.' And on and on it could go. Someone might even question our motives by saying, "Why would you want to hang around with such scum?"

You might already know that they said the same thing to Jesus many years ago when he was at a dinner party with some unsavory, un-church-worthy folks (Mark 2:16 NLT). What a magnificent response he uttered to the snide comments made about the company he dined with. It's worth reading when you get a chance. Good stuff. God stuff.

I think we need to have church at Bonnaroo next year. Who's going with me?

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Obey Your Thirst

“O God, you are my God,
earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you,
my body longs for you,
in a dry and weary land
where there is no water.” Psalm 63:1

Weeks without any rain have made our backyard look like the Judean desert. What little grass we have, in between the rocks and the weeds, is brown and lifeless. In some places the ground is so parched that it has become cracked and even walking around stirs up clouds of dust. Seeing my yard in this state reminded me of Psalm 63, where the Psalmist compares his search for God with being in a dry, weary land that has no water.
Sometimes our spiritual lives can feel desert-like, dry and weary. God’s presence seems to have gone from us and we long to hear from God, to feel God’s love again, to be reassured of God’s grace. And just like the summer rains returned this week, nourishing lawns, gardens, and flowerbeds, suddenly and unexpectedly God’s mercy flows over us like rain. We are drenched in love and feel rejuvenated and fresh again in our faith.
In our faith journey desert like times will come, where we feel dry, disconnected, wondering where God is and why we can’t sense the presence of our Creator. The Psalmist reminds us that even in these times of spiritual drought we must continue to seek God out, longing and thirsting for nothing else. Just when we think we can’t go any further, God shows up—washing us tenderly in the waters of mercy, allowing us again to drink from his love.
If you are having a dry time spiritually, do not despair. Keep seeking God out and don’t give up. Sometimes we foolishly try to satisfy ourselves with things that cannot quench our thirst for God. Remember that the One who has the living water is faithful and desires to give your weary soul exactly what it most thirsts for. “Let anyone who is thirsty come,” is the invitation found in Revelation 22. And just like the surprising summer rains came, so will God come and nourish us again.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Good Grief

Grief is a funny thing in human beings. I had so much to do preparing last year to leave my former pastorate and getting ready to come to a new church that I did not give myself either time or permission to grieve all the things I lost in the move. Not the loss of physical things, though I'm sure some of my stuff might still be missing. I'm thinking instead of the loss of relationships, some that had been nurtured and sustained for years. Pastors have difficulty with grief in general. We are so used to helping others grieve, being strong and supportive, that we forget sometimes that we need to grieve as well. It took some time and some work, but I have recently been able to acknowledge a lot of my own grief about the massive change that took place in my life, and the lives of my family, over the last year.

Change causes us to grieve because we like stability. We like things to stay the same. But they almost never do. Some changes are good—indoor plumbing is one thing I really appreciate, for example. Some changes are not so good—the fact that food, mostly fast food, is available on nearly every corner is not a good change for me. Some changes are both good and bad—cell phones enable us to call someone in the event of an emergency but also can keep us tied down 24 hours a day, seven days a week, unable to take Sabbath time.

One of the things I had to learn this past year was that it is OK to grieve when things change. We need to learn to express our grief in healthy ways by acknowledging it and working through it. Grief, like other emotions, only becomes problematic when either we deny how we feel or when we hold on to our grief for so long we refuse to see the future God has planned for us. A lesson that I have spent the last year learning is that spending too much time in grief keeps us from being able to see God’s good future.

When I left Kroger for the ministry one of my employees gave me a paperweight with this verse on it:
“For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a good future.” Jeremiah 29:11

The verse has remained on my desk and in my heart since then. While we don’t always understand why things happen the way they do, what we can be sure of is that God wants for us to be hopeful of the future that is being prepared for us. Jeremiah wrote this verse in the time of the Exile, when Babylon had begun taking Jews as captives from Israel, culminating in the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC. So these words were not written in happy times, but instead when times were bleak and the Jewish people were experiencing a lot of grief.

Jeremiah reminds us that God always has a good future planned for us. While sometimes we might not really understand what God is doing, we always can trust that our God is good. Grief over change can lead to joy about the future, if we are willing to let go our grief and instead grab God's hand as he leads us on.