Sunday, December 13, 2009

Breaking through the "Wall"

Years ago, Pink Floyd released an album that is best known for a song about "the wall." It basically seems to be an all out attack on the educational system of Great Britain, or some caricature of that system. And the theme line was "All in all it's just another brick in the wall." As in many of Pink Floyd's songs, there's an element of despair, a playing with nihilism, as if what is, is, and there's no overcoming of it. The wall is too strong to break through it.

There's a wall in the Western Church. It is created partially by a consumeristic culture that is as strong among Christ followers as it is within people who aren't Christ followers. It is an emotional barrier that confines people to the physical walls of church buildings, majoring on comfort and safety, but avoiding the absolutely essential work of risk and adventure in going to our surrounding neighborhoods, school systems, local governments, block parties, office Christmas parties, soccer games, PTA meetings, and homeless shelters . . . to do and tell Good News to those who will NEVER enter our church buildings, EVER. . . apart from our going. It's a powerful wall that simply must be dismantled, a brick at a time if necessary, to release people into that world.

In line with that, I was reading an artful passage in Michael Frost's piercing book Exiles: Living Missionally in a Post-Christian Culture. A passage in which Michael describes some of the reality of what is going on inside "the wall." Looking through the eyes of those outside the Christian ghetto, people have what Hemingway called a "built-in, shockproof, crap detector." They can spot inauthenticity at 100 yards, and run from it. Even many inside the wall feel it and are increasingly reacting against it. Much of it arises when the primary Christian discourse within the Church concerns itself with happy Christian families, hyper-real images, unlikely expectations, sentimental glow, stunning encounters with God that most of those listening have never had. Frost says, "Perhaps there are many shiny, happy people in church, but those of us who aren't shiny and don't feel perpetually happy eventually develop a strong sense of alientation. We're not able to play the game with any sense of integrity. . . We're left with a sensation of numbness and ache, yearning for something richer, more textured, more real." (Exiles, p.97)

So, how do we get through the wall? By at least this: living as honestly, as vulnerably as we can. By asking our leaders to lead the way in authenticity, honesty, and vulnerability. By openly talking with the people we meet about cancer and fears and weaknesses and brokenness and failures. The very thing we most fear sharing with those who don't follow Christ is the thing that most has the potential to draw them. And to get us through the wall. One brick at a time.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

"We Have Cancer"

The totals thus far.. . 3 surgeries, 8 days in the hospital, a million e-mails and phone calls and cards from people all over the world, countless waves of dread, and some sightings of Aslan. (This last image taken from C.S.Lewis' lion in his Narnian Chronicles, one who had strange similarities to Jesus).

The other night in the hospital, we had a meltdown as a family, in which different ones of us heard different things from the same conversation with a doctor. In the aftermath, as we processed what had just happened and whether we could keep it from happening again, Sarah said something like this:

"If we aren't careful, this cancer will tear us apart as a family, and we can't let that happen. Because, you know, it's not just Mom who has cancer. We have cancer."

And just like that, "Aslan" showed up.

On this journey, at this kairos time, in this drama that we are living out, He spoke through Sarah to open our eyes to the fact that cancer has become OUR companion, whether we like it or not.

But Jesus is the far more important companion, in the midst of it all, opening our eyes to what it takes to overcome a grave illness. That is, to name the reality we are in, so that we can face it and, with the grace of God, to put it to rights.

As I write, Susan recovers at home, resting quietly. We are grateful for every prayer, and every pray-er. We await what the next step might be.

Monday, November 16, 2009


Interrupting the series on "the wall".

13 days ago my wife had a cyst (we thought) removed from her upper right leg. Only, it was cancer. Sarcoma, they call it. This one is rare, a spindle cell sarcoplasm, I think.

So, in a moment our lives changed. I think the genie's out of the bottle, and you can't get her back in. Cancer is the rest of our life. That is, even if the medical team wins a "cure", we will always be living with the possibility of cancer, the return of cancer, the effects of cancer, the annual visits to the doctor who treats our cancer. It's amazing what one 15 minute conversation with the surgeon who took out the sarcoma can mean. Our lives turned on a dime, and they will never be the same.

I don't believe that our experience is really any different than pretty much everyone who lives on the planet. Like the radio broadcast on Sunday, December 7th, 1941. Or the announcement at 1:30 PM, November 22nd, 1963, that the President had been shot. Or the phone call to Susan on Friday, September 28th, at about 5:30 PM, that my brother was dead. These moments show up unexpectedly, and we are not only wrenched from our boredom, or lethargy, or illusions.

We are forced to lay down our belief that we are in control.

That only God is in control.


Has this ever happened to you?

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Getting through "the Wall" - Confession

So, how do we get through "the wall"? I guess the amazing thing to me is that, in spite of being exposed to missional thinking now for several years, and in spite of having job description that calls on me to lead 5000 parishioners into missional lifestyles, I am facing that I am not through the wall myself. I find myself clinging to certain comforts. I am confused about where outside the safe confines of the church I should get involved, since there are so many choices - which is the right one? Will it really matter? Is it the best use of my energy? I love the ideas, but in my inertia I find myself wanting to read just one more book, go to just one more website, study the universe of missionality just a little longer. . . all of which perpetuate my entrapment in the comfort of the way it is.

So, how do we get the wall? By confessing to God and to others that we're not there. The word for "confession" in Greek is homologeia, which means "the same words." I am agreeing with God, using the same words as He does, about my condition. Just admitting that there IS a wall changes things. Admitting that it's not about all of "them", and that it's first and foremost about "me," that's a good start.

I once heard it said that you can't really help your neighbor to get the irritating speck out of their eye until you get the stinking log out of your own.

That's where I'm headed. Stay with me.

U2 Part 2

A few additional thoughts about what I see in U2 that calls me out to a missional lifestyle. . .

They major on mystery. You seldom know immediately what they're talking about. Their lyrics are like Jesus going up to the Feast of Tabernacles cryptically (in krypto, in Greek), John 7:10. It often takes months before the light bulb goes on, and you realize, for example, that The End of the World is sung by Judas to Jesus at the Last Supper, just before he betrays him. Or it requires someone actually telling you what you couldn't see. Their work is apocalytic - the exact word in Greek which means "unveiling." It is no coincidence that they do this in a postmoderm realm that craves mystery, and despises anyone coming as if they have all the answers.

They distanced themselves long ago from the Christian "ghetto." That is, in 1981, as they prepared to cut their second album, they almost split up because of the pressure their home church was putting on them to concentrate on doing Christian music, which would primarily minister to Christians. In the end, they decided to play on a bigger stage, that of the whole world. In focusing on all of humanity's needs over just those of Christians, they became "the mission of God" in ways that most Christians have refused to, caught up in the safety of the walls of church buildings. In some ways, it is one of the biggest examples of being missional in our entire era.

They did and do this where the world is comfortable, on their turf, and where the Church has not been comfortable - in this case, in the realm of rock music.

They did and do this creatively. Do you hear many other groups doing "covers" of U2 songs? Not many. Because U2 has a unique sound, one that is very hard to reproduce. And a lot of their music is hard to sing, as a result, because even if you can remember the words (which are purposefully obtuse at times - try singing Vertigo's verses without the words in front of you), they sound hollow without the U2music playing in the background. Creativity attracts.

They enjoy what they're doing. Maybe that's what millions of dollars will do for you, but I suspect that it hasn't been about the money for a long time now. Their faces tell a story. They're having a lot of fun on stage. They're happy. They love the people who are in front of them. They give to their fans. It's magnetic.

Their concerts are participatory. In spite of long sections of many of their songs which are hard to memorize and sing, they have choruses that extract participation, and they encourage it. You can't go to one of their concerts and NOT scream out, "EL-E-VA-TION" as Bono holds his microphone out towards you! Or stand singing "How long to sing this song" for 15, 20, 30 minutes after the group has left the stage! They invite you and me in, to do it with them.

And finally, they have a message of hope and love. It is actually the message of the love of God for the whole world, including the physical creation but focusing on the crown of creation, human beings. It is a message that, if you listen carefully, cannot be divested from the Jesus story, as Bono tells it. It is his grace, his mercy, his sacrifice, his undying love that saturates their music even more now than in the early days.

The big question to me is "what can WE do, in these same ways, translated into our corners of the world?"

Susan and I will soon travel with our daughter Sarah to Haiti, asking God if that's part of our "corner". If so, I'm thinking all of these U2 ways may have something to teach us in how we go about interfacing here in the U.S. about what we see and experience there.

I'll let you know.

In the meantime I'd love to hear what you're doing. Or thinking.

Monday, October 26, 2009

U2 and The Wall

Just got home from a road trip of a lifetime. From Colorado Springs, through Montrose, CO, to Las Vegas. With a best friend and an old friend and two new friends in a station wagon, across the astonishing Utah desert to sin city. And there to fulfill a "bucket list" dream, to see U2 in concert.

It was stunning, emotional, moving, happy, beloved, and filled with the presence of God. I can't wait to tell you about it.

But right now, I'm thinking about "the wall" that separates most of us in the American Church from the full-out life that God has called us to live, and from contributing wholeheartedly to the glory of a restored creation. And what I saw in U2 that gives me hope and inspiration about how to get through the wall.

You see, the four guys in U2 seem to have blasted a way through the wall a long time ago. Maybe that's because they come from part of the world where the post-Christian reality set in a long time ago, and Christ-followers in such places have to figure out how to live subversively, sometimes cryptically, posing the right (hard) questions that sow seeds in people about faith and Jesus and truth and what really matters. We find people like U2 in Australia and New Zealand, and all across Europe in little bands, pockets of creativity, and thinking communities. They have so much to teach us, because they got there a long time before us.

But now it's our turn, as our culture makes the big sweeping turn into the postmodern, post-Christian, and post-denominational world, marginalizing the Church, writing us off as irrelevant, and moving steadily into an amoral reality.

So, just what was U2 "selling" in Las Vegas on Friday night? For one thing, Bono makes himself vulnerable to this increasingly secularized world by inviting us to watch him in conversation with God, to even listen in (in songs and in posture and in words spoken out to God in the midst of the concert), and to join him. Even if one doesn't believe. He is believing what he believes and he does what a believer does and he leaves it out there for others to "come and see." But he does it ON THEIR TURF. He makes the quiet invitation respectfully. Bono doesn't bully. He doesn't even try that hard to persuade. He simply bears witness. He throws a big party and invites anyone to come who will, and he points.

And by simply communing with God in a concert, Bono gives people hope that there really is Someone listening. He penetrates defences, I think, and calls out that deep down wonderment and longing that there is Someone who cares.

But hand in hand with that, the band leads with active, hands-on deeds kind of faith. You know, the Biblical kind: the "faith without works is dead" kind. The "I'll show you my faith by how I live" kind. Deeds are about the only way to win a hearing these days. And whether it's God's heart for those in extreme poverty, or for the President of the U.S., or for those unjustly jailed, or those desperately in need of HIV drugs to fight against the disease in Africa, U2 is in the fray and inviting you and me to get on board with it. And believe me, that calls forth a huge amount of trust "capital" in the world we're living in.

If I really want to get through the wall, I think it means actually risking out in the world as part of my therapy, part of the breakthrough. Waiting until I am free won't work. Working on the world's turf is the only way to get free.

That's what I think. I hate fads. i hate celebrity worship. I HATE the herd mentality. But I think U2 is on a pilgrimage that I am late in joining. And I think they have a lot to teach me. That's where I'm going, and I hope you will, too.

Monday, October 5, 2009

So, What's "The Wall"?

What's the "wall"?

What are Christians bouncing off of, that keeps them from being Kingdom of God believers, all out for Jesus and believing that their lives don't belong to them anymore but to the One who bought them with a price?

What is confining Christ followers to a comfort-focused, "me" centered, "I just need one more Bible study before I'm ready" mentality?

What is it that keeps Christians, in the U.S. at least, staying within what can only be called the Christian ghetto, while too often the world shrivels and dies and chokes and suffocates untouched by the Gospel?

In his magnificent book, The Dangerous Act of Worship, Mark Labberton describes the wall as the experience of being asleep to God's heart for a world filled with injustice. We are "absorbed with our own inner life, wrestling with our own dreams and traumas. . .busy with life, preoccupied with ministry, absorbed with what is personal, local, immediate. . .liv[ing] quite contentedly inside the bubble of my middle-class American life." (p.15)

Michael Frost talks about our being mesmerized by the prevailing culture (Exiles:Living Missionally in a Post-Christian Culture, p.53). This is seen in various ways. The insistence on privitization of faith matters permeates the very air we breathe in this culture, leading us to cocoon ourselves within the physical, social, and emotional safety of what we call "church." The marginalization of the church is becoming a reality, with the message being regularly communicated that the church is irrelevant. It is all too easy for Christians to simply withdraw from the traumatic shift that this represents.

Edwin Friedeman, a Jewish rabbi, revealed the same reality through a different lens. He spoke of the surrounding emotional climate as something that could only be broken through by the clear self-differentiation of leaders. One needs the capacity, he said, "to separate myself from the surrounding emotional climate so we can break through the barriers that are keeping everyone from going the other way." (A Failure of Nerve, p. 33). The wall, he says, is an emotional reality.

I would add that the wall is consumerism-fed. The omnipresent cultural phenomenon we call consumerism blows like a mighty wind, such that we are like flies - without the ability to fly in its face, at best we hug whatever is stable, to keep from being blown away. And just the exposure to this unstoppable force has not filled us with revulsion but rather resignation at best and passionate embrace at worst. The wall is built by human hearts in love with "what I want": comfort, happiness, my way, experiences I want, relationships I want, being a "success," having money, whatever. And it is personal choice that has replaced the Lordship of Jesus. No wonder there's a wall.

Oh, yeh, there's a wall, all right. And not many Christ followers here in the states are getting through it or over it these days.

But consider this: this could be the most awesome adventure of our times.

"Adventures are funny things. They offer dark, uncertain times, forks in the road and choices between comfort and peril. And in such times, heroes can be made or undone."

Wayne Thomas Batson, The Rise of Wyrm Lord.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Hitting the Wall

Have you ever "hit the wall"?

I did in mid May, just two weeks after entering into a new call in a new church. The worship director of the church asked me if I wanted to go rock climbing with him. And even though I am not hugely into rock climbing, the thought of, spending a day with this fabulous man made the decision easy. Jim is a dedicated climber, and he wanted to show/share with me a spot very special to him - Eleven Mile Canyon.

The granite in Eleven Mile Canyon is amazing. On both sides of the gravel road and Eleven Mile Creek, the rock rises straight up in great, bulbous, hard granite, actually beckoning to climbers to come, give it all up for the sake of discovering what may lie at the end of the day. Jim had in mind a route called "'The Staircase," which is known to the locals as a"classic" route. It is a 2 and 1/2 pitch climb of about 300 feet in elevation, with a degree of difficulty that is graded as 5.6 to 5.7. I had done 2 pitches on the Kiener's route up Long's Peak that were between 5.3 and 5.4. But The Staircase went beyond my comfort level, beyond the familiar. It scared me, how straight up it all was.

But after Jim took the time to orient me, teach me, retrain me, and moved up as the lead climber, I was ready to follow him. And as I moved up the crack we were climbing, I had two competing awarenesses: I was capable of what this climb required, and I was hoping it would soon be over. The cost of climbing in this much fear, with the potential for failing, was high. And for all the exhilaration I was feeling, it was at least offset by the sense that the unknown that lay above me might expose some desperate weakness and lack in me.

When we reached the end of the first pitch, and Jim prepared to move on up above, he asked me if I was up for it. And everything in me screamed "I've had enough." Enough bottled up fear, enough risk of failure, enough exposure to airiness and to my weaknesses. Enough. I hit the wall. Enough.

But as Jim encouraged me to take the second pitch, I reluctantly relented. Against my feelings, I started up after him, wishing we were going back to safety. More on that in a subsequent blog.

The point is that most of the Western Church, most of American Christianity, in fact, has hit the wall. It is a powerful, persuasive, hidden, formidable, confusing, dominant. It is partly the product of a consumerism that so infects the whole culture, including the Church, that EVERYTHING is about our comfort. It is so pervasive and impenetrable that very few even seem to know it's there. And when we hit it, we all almost universally want only one thing. . . to turn back to what makes us feel better.

Thursday, August 13, 2009


There are those moments when people crossover from one way of living to another. Some Celtic Christians refer to the membrane that seems to separate us from the Kingdom of God, which seems thinner in some places than in others. Some today speak of a "breakthrough." But whatever language one might use, it is describing an experience of movement from one reality to another, the result of which, quite often, is a life that is never the same.

In comparison to the Kingdom of God, mountain climbing is small potatoes, even mundane fare. However, it is in climbing that I often watch movement occurring in people, movement that is like what happens in relationship with God. And it is breathtaking when it comes.

For example, two weeks ago, a group of men came out from Kansas City, where I used to live. They came as an extension of a ministry I helped form in our six years out there, in which we pursued the summits of mountains as the environment in which to build closer relationships between men, teach mountaineering skills, help men get into better physical lifestyles of exercize and eating, and to encounter God. So, nineteen men arrived in Georgetown, CO, where I joined them for a day, in order to climb Mt.Evans, a 14er (summit above 14,000 feet). And as we made our way up a winsome route that goes up over Mt. Spalding (13,850), we came to a "fork in the road." One way traverses across to the summit, mostly staying low and safe. The other way is actually a Class 3 rock scramble without markers (cairns), with some exposure off the north side, and with a few places where it's no longer about walking - it's actually about finding the right hand and foot holds.

Well, a man and his two grown sons went up the Class 3 direction, and two men who have had no real experience with this sort of route turned to the team leader and asked if they could go that way, too. I chimed in, "I'll go with them." And so, off we went, picking our way up and through granite rock formations. . . until we got to this one slab that would have to be scaled. It was about 15 feet long, sloping fairly precipitously, with a few limited toeholds and handholds, and with the reality of a major dropoff to our left a few feet away. The two men for whom this was new territory did not hesitate. They threw themselves at the slab, leveraging their bodies up and over the top in a matter of minutes.

And when I got to the top of it myself, I heard in their voices and then I saw in their eyes that something had changed. There was a gleam in their eyes, like what has happened in my eyes on more than one occasion. They were excited and thrilled, filled with a surge of confidence that drives fear back. They had started to believe in their ability to not only use their bodies in ways they had never done before, but also to manage fear. It was electric, and the other three of us could feel it from them.

A breakthrough.

They had moved from one way of seeing things to another.

And as they surged across that 1/4 mile long ridge, with big air to their left and the world at their feet, their joy sang in all of us. And I knew right then, even as I remember so well when it first hit me on September 28th, 1991, on Wetterhorn Peak, that they will never be the same again.

Dear God, how I love climbing. Thank You, thank You, THANK YOU to let me see men and women, boys and girls "get it."

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Why One Cruise Is Enough

My mother-in-law is an awesome lady. She decided that for her 75th birthday present, she would take all of her family on a cruise to Alaska. Because I am married to her daughter Susan, I got to go, as did our four kids, our daughter-in-law, and our grandkids. We were joined by all the cousins. 19 of us total. A 7 day cruise from Seattle to Juneau to Glacier Bay to Sitka to Ketchikan to Victoria. It was awesome in so many ways. I loved cruising. The dining room experience was like being royalty every night. There was no end to the discovery of the boat. The Indonesian and Filipino wait staff were awesome, the best, salt of the earth kind of people.

But one cruise is enough. I won't need to ever go on another.

Because cruises cater to the "I'm the center of the universe" nonsense that the Enlightenment injected into life 250 years ago. People elbow and push their way to the front of lines to get exactly what they feel they must have in the short order cook line. No one much pays attention to anyone around them, so preoccupied as they are with getting to where they desire to be. People gain a lot of weight because the food they don't need but crave anyway is everywhere all the time. Everything centers on "me." It's a consumer's paradise.

And it's hard to watch, and to see it creeping into oneself.

Or to put it another way, as a friend said years ago about the Bay Area of California, "everything's so special that, in the end, nothing is special."

It's funny, how wonderful routine and normal life is. It's in the normal and routine, I think, that we most learn what is really real, and discover that God is best found and understood in the common and ordinary as opposed to that which caters to one's selfish side. Humility is always the occasion of the holy.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

This Old House

Yesterday, at long last, our old house at 12310 Walmer Street, in Overland Park, KS, sold. Closed. The money is in the weekend-long process of wire transfer into our checking account, or at least that's what they say. It brings a rush of thoughts and feelings.

On the one hand, it was a money pit. The climate of Kansas City demands a lot of a wood house. Wood rot is continuous; every year demanded changing sills, brickmolds and pieces of siding. The wood windows were a constant challenge. The wood deck screamed for help every few months. Spraying against termites ever coming was a part of normal life. Inside, the house had been neglected, poorly painted, poorly maintained, for years before we got into it; far more than we realized, actually, and it took years to get it to a level of respectability. The truth is that we put so much into the maintenance and bringing the house up to a reasonable level for living, that we never did do some of the projects that really would make the house marvelous. . . until we had to, to sell it. All in all, we put $10,000 a year, average, into that house for upkeep and remodeling, with about $1300 per year of that coming from insurance monies. Sigh.

Not only did that claim a lot of money from our family's life, but it also claimed a lot from Susan and me. I found myself, in looking for a new home in Colorado Springs, only willing to look at homes that are wellbuilt, reasonably kept up, and made of the kinds of materials that will mean less upkeep in years to come. I am tired of working on my home as a second fulltime job.

BUT. . . on the other hand, 12310 Walmer was a home, too. It was the home of Jeremy and Ashley and Micah and Tyler Parsons for two different seasons, and the home of Carol and Jenny Walker for two seasons. It was home to some of the most fabulous young adults we have ever met, who frequented our home for meetings, Bible studies, and parties. These are great, precious memories. It was home to a lot of Womens' climbers' meetings, and Womens' retreat meetings, and a lot of other gatherings with people who matter in all the universe. And above all else, it was the gathering place of the Parsons' family, who sat around the huge pine kitchen table and laughed and loved our way through all of life's curves and challenges for 6 years. It leaves an indelible mark on us all. It was and will always be "Grandmom's house," where the grandsons awakened to the meaning of a grandparents' home. It rang with their cries and learning to run stairs and playing in multiple rooms at once and always having enough space to fling wide their imaginations.

It was a real home.

So, on the one hand, goodbye and good riddance, Walmer house.

But on the other hand, goodbye and sweet memories, Walmer home. Above all, this will be the larger, more weighty memory for us. We will always love you and miss you. And all of you who occupied that space with us.

Saturday, June 13, 2009


A few years ago, struggling with God's call on my life to leave western Colorado and move to Kansas City, I shared the lack of peace because of "place" with a colleague. To which he immediately replied, "It's a good thing you came to KC, because otherwise you would be guilty of geographical idolatry." What he meant, I believe, was that love of a place can never be more important than one's love for God.

I agree. . . but. . .

The Celtic Christians, so many of whom were called by God as monks to abandon their beloved Ireland/Scotland and to travel to lands where, as one author named it, the "saved civilization," never got over missing their "place." They had a term for the separation: the white martyrdom. That sounds like place can be ominously important.

The Jews in exile, held captive in Babylon, never got over it. From the day they were hauled off to that foreign land, the Psalm that tells the story is Psalm 137, in which, when they remembered their "place," they wept. In fact, as N.T.Wright so marvelously unveils in The New Testament and the People of God, coming home was the only way they would ever know that their sins had been forgiven, so important to the Jews is the land they call "holy."

The question is, "What is the importance of place?"

I believe that one can never "get" the Age to Come, what awaits us, our true home, without falling in love with "place" on earth. It is always and only in the context of community, culture, and yes, geography, that we ever have the raw material to see beyond. We can't even envision the "homeland" of which the author of Hebrews 11 speaks without having been given the category by living in, and being removed from, a homeland on earth. The "place" of our life awakens in us the desire for its fulfillment. Our "place" teaches us what home could possibly begin to mean. It is all important that we are passionate about "place," or else we seek some disembodied spirit world that only the Gnostics could love.

For me, God used the ecosystem above treeline in the western U.S. to teach me about place. For every time I ever have walked there, I have the unnerving sense that that place is where I belong, where I am truly who I was made to be. And, I believe, it is there best of all, where I am invited into a place in the heart and mind and reality of the Trinity that adores that part of creation, and where God assures me that I was not only made for that place, but will drink deeply of it in the Age to Come.

Where is your "place"? I am back in mine.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

What I Learned at our Party

It has been a long 3 and 1/2 months since Ben Towne died. It was in response to Ben's death that I last wrote a blog. To be quite honest, I haven't had the heart to write.

But a lot has happened since then, not the least of which has been a call away from Colonial Presbyterian Church, and a call to new position in First Presbyterian Church of Colorado Springs. And I wanted to tell you about the going away party Colonial threw for Susan and me last Sunday night, Palm Sunday. Specifically, I wanted to tell you what I learned at our party.

Most of what God opened my eyes to see was experienced in the sharing time at the end of the evening. There were about 600 people in the sanctuary, many of whom had endured a long, long receiving line, trying to say something personal to Susan and me; and many of whom did not get that opportunity because the time ran out. So, everyone moved to the sanctuary for some "toasting and roasting." Person after person came to the microphone. It was painful, wonderful, tearful, glorious, tender, affectionate, affirming, wrenching. Here's what I heard. . .

I heard that God was present, working, in specific things said in particular messages by me, in specific pieces of music Susan had chosen. People came up and gave details about hearing something they really needed just when they needed it. On the day when someone needed to "let go" and they did. When mom was dying and they needed a specific word about what they needed to do, and they got it and lived it out. The unmistakeable truth? That God is the only hero in the story. Susan and I never had a clue when we did those things.

People talked a lot about my getting down on the level of children, physically kneeling to look them in the eyes. Being accessible to people of all ages, I heard, is a really big deal. Looking people in the eye is a really big deal. Giving people one's full attention is REALLY IMPORTANT. Because everyone is basically feeling passed by, starving for a listening ear, desperate to have another's full presence. This is what we crave from God, that "My Name will be there" (I Kings 8:27-30). Which means that God has given us His undivided attention and is fully present in the moment to us.

Susan and I heard that a lot of things that seemed fairly unproductive - maybe not a waste of time, but certainly not successful in most any sense of the word - were weighty. Substantive. Rich. Life-changing. Simple things like opening our home to young adults, taking time for people in need, trying to help people grow in their faith, giving counsel to people who needed something to hang onto.

Some of them became Christians, crossing over from darkness to light, exchanging one worldview for another. One young woman said she became a follower of Christ through my preaching. I had no idea until she told me on Palm Sunday.

There were testimonies about words given in correction. . .that found a home, when I would have sworn they were blown off.

We heard loudly that friendship matters. That it is the bridge of love and friendship over which God speaks the loudest to people, at least most of the time.

And we were told by many that the gift of our family, what God was doing within our family where of course the whole church family gets to see it, that this gift was dear and powerful for goodness in so many of their lives.

Now, what do you hear in all of that?

Above all, I hear something I wrote about almost a year ago, as I tried to make sense out of the destruction that has occurred to almost everything we've tried to do in ministry. Where's the significance, I cried? What difference does my life make? And what I heard then, and what I hear again, is Paul's words to the Corinthians:

"So now, these three remain, faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love." (I Cor.13:13) Agape love is from the Age to Come, arising from the very Being of the Triune God. It penetrates into this Present Age, still plagued by the curse of sin, and here it abides in those who are in union with Christ - that's how it gets in, through Christ into us. And as we live out what this love is, it causes something to come into being which endures, remains, crosses over into the Age to Come, something we will walk in and experience the fruits of in that coming Age. We participate, in other words, in the appearance of the Kingdom of God.

It's not really about programs. It's not really about being religious. It's about acts and words of love in Christ. That's what I learned at our party.