Wax & Bottles

Two travelers walk the woods at night. Rain pours through the canopy of leaves, drenching clothes, obscuring sight. They lower their heads, determined to arrive safely at mountain homes. 

One traveler relies on the flashes of lightning to get him home. It comes in spectacular streaks of luminescent brilliance, staggered over time, their patterns matching their intermittent arrivals. The light of lightning inspires a sense of awe every time, and the traveler stands and marvels, eyes seared by the perfect image, a sending from heavenly places, unable to be controlled or explained.

Blind and groping before, the intense flash of pure energy fills his vision with swimming spheres of light, after-images accompanied only by the answering thunder.

For one brief moment, as the bolt arrived, he could see! The world of the woods, with its roots and snarls, its brush and mysteries, illuminated perfectly in searing white! Yet for all that clarity, for all that crisp detail, he now stumbles again, worse than before, the roots and the snarls, no longer framed by lightning, jump from the earth and grab his ankles.

If only he had a bottle, or some container, something to catch the perfect transcendent lightning with so he could carry it with him always, to guide him home. But alas, he does not- - he wanders, tripping, unable to see the woods and wondering, when, oh when, will lightning strike again?

The second traveler reaches into her pocket and pulls out an ugly nub of a candle, wax clumped in misshapen forms, like flooding rivers captured in still as they left their natural beds. She sits on a wet stump, striking well-worn tools with practiced hands, waiting for a sputtering spark to catch the wick of the tiny wand she holds. She does not move from her spot, but simply waits for the ritual to run its course, knowing in time it will light.

It does light, giving birth to the smallest of flames, the dark wick sheltered by cupped hands, growing into a steady but shifting brightness, one she can walk by if she holds her body protectively and does not move too swiftly. Her eyes focus not on the candle itself, but on the ground the light bathes, defining it with detail she never knew in the midnight darkness.

The roots have texture and purpose, twisting and turning like otters at play, feeding the massive trunks above them with food transformed magically from sun, soil, and water. She no longer fears the roots as enemies of her journey, but  delights in their unheralded complexity. . .as she steps over them smoothly.

She continues this pattern, traveling slowly by her faithful and flickering waxy companion, appreciating the wonder of the world as her mountain home grows steadily closer. When it fails her, she finds another stump, sits, works, and waits for the flame to appear again and then proceeds on as before. . .

Two travelers walk the woods at night. One worships the lightning strikes and wanders tripping and cursing through the forest, hoping to arrive at the place he seeks. The other walks in intentional deliberation, by the light of an imperfect but illuminating candle, seeing the woods, marveling in the detail, and approaching a place called home.

Matt O.

Jesus is Not a Rockstar

This is a blog about what Jesus is not. . .not a blog about what other preachers may or may not be (Just a brief word to those of you expecting something else. . .)

Have you ever met someone famous? Or remotely famous?

Did it go the way you imagined it?

Pretending this famous person is your favorite musician/band, I imagine it went something like this:
You bought tickets to see them, spending more than you usually do on entertainment.
Surprisingly, you saw the musician in public, completely available for fans to meet, maybe after the concert for autographs or at a restaurant before or after the show.
You gather the nerve to engage them, and you approach, words forming in your worshipful mind, as your eyes register what they really look like up close. . .
Wow they look way rougher than I thought, OK, don't mess this up, don't say anything stupid, wow, wow, I can't believe I'm actually getting to do this. . .

And out from the mental portal known as the mouth comes some combo of the following:

"Hey, I'm a big fan. I love your music."
"You're so awesome. I've followed you forever."
"I have everything you've ever done, even the hard to find live stuff. Don't worry it's all been legal."
"I still have a pick you threw into the crowd when I was in 7th grade."
"Can we get a picture with you?"
"Will you sign_____________?"
"That was a great show."
"Thanks for making great music." 
"I'm from Rhode Island too!"
"I love you I love you I love you so much!!"

After your initial contact, they say something gracious and practiced (unless you interrupt them as they bring a bite of broccoli to their mouth, in which case it goes to Awkwardsville real quick.) They give some combo of these kind of statements:

"Hey thanks. We really appreciate the support."
"Awesome. Who should I sign this to?"
"Of course. YOU are awesome."
"We have the best fans. It's why we do what we do."
"Oh yeah, Cleveland always rocks."
"Thanks for the support. We have a new record coming out soon."
"Excellent. Are you on our email list?"
"Thanks so much for coming out."
"Rhode Island. Sweet. Where at?"
"Well, I love you too."

If you're lucky and you set them up well in conversation, or wore a homemade T-shirt with flashing glowsticks, you might get a few more seconds of airtime and interaction, but inevitably, The Pause happens. . .the moment when you both know the brief collision of your worlds is over. And for the fan, it was too brief, but for them it was one more random connection in a bottomless pool of faceless interactions, an affirming moment objectively assimilated into their matrix of what it means to be adored.

Nothing particularly awesome or witty or insightful happened. No phone numbers or home addresses were exchanged. Your short dialogue didn't convert them into one of your texting buddies. Your families still never share picnics on Sunday afternoons, lying on blankets in the sun discussing the beauties of the universe. . .

But you did get a story, a moment when you met someone Famous, an anecdote you can pull out the next time someone says "Oh I love_________!"
"I got to meet them. The lead singer signed my larynx! And he was eating broccoli! With a fork!"

When I listen to the way many people talk about Jesus, particularly younger folks, they talk about Jesus like He's a Rockstar.

They describe some moment they had with Jesus (but usually they say God and not Jesus) at some event, where for one brief moment they got to see Him, and IT WAS SO AWESOME. And when God's name comes up, they pull out a story from some event and speak of the moment they got to encounter the famous God.

Fans that follow bands will debate the awesomeness of certain shows and concerts, compare band members and set lists, and dissect the legitimacy of alternate versions of tunes for hours and hours in conversations and on message boards.
"Oh, ____________'s vocals rocked so much harder at that festival in '09!"
"You had to be there. Sweet venue, great sound. Best ever."
"Since they got ____________ as a drummer, it's just not the same."

The way some of us talk about God and His awesomeness is similar to these discussions--God tied to an event and a brief encounter you had with Him, an encounter ending when the venue closes, and all you have is a story to blurt out when His name comes up.

I know there is a popular book out now called Not a Fan that stresses the idea of us being followers of Christ rather than fans. I don't think I'm re-tooting the author's horn here, nor going down the path he does. I think believers are both followers and friends of Christ. My bigger point is Jesus is not some Rockstar we only get to worship from afar, being satisfied with intermittent encounters with Him at special moments.

I don't think He died and rose again so we could have awkward moments in the autograph line with Him, not knowing what to say, but being completely satisfied we have a story for our friends which is verifiable on Facebook by a grainy pic of our arms around Him. 
"Hey thanks Jesus, you rock!"
He is the opposite of the Rockstar: you are not some faceless entity He interacts with as long as you affirm His gifts, moving you along quickly so He can meet all His fans. He is Immanuel, God with us, but we transform Him into God on stage. He doesn't exist to entertain you by giving you your latest sensational buzz--He exists in a goodness He freely shares in Christ, a goodness not contained in isolated moments on mountaintops but a Presence with you in all of Creation.

I think He died and rose again so we can know Him. Not just know about Him and not just adore Him from a distance. Not just meet Him but walk with Him. Redemption and Reconciliation mean we can discuss the beauties of the universe with Him lying on blankets but we also can walk through valleys with Him, intimate and personal, hopeful and trusting. We don't have personal trust with Rockstars, we only have a separated appreciation.

This is good news, this is great news, this is Gospel. This is what we live, sharing the eternal shine of the King who leads us from the inside-out.

If Jesus set up a table in your church to sign autographs, what would you do?
What would you say?
You know what I would do?


I already know Him.

And He knows me. I say that gratefully and as an invitation for you to experience the same.
He'd probably laugh if I asked Him to sign my bible--oh wait, I would probably get in line to do that--just so I could hear the King of the Universe laughing. . .