Monday, July 31, 2006

West Michigan piety

Now that we are back in West Michigan, we need to make many cultural adjustments, including to our personal piety. Out in California, expressing one's faith meant putting on a Hawaiian shirt, driving the SUV to the megachurch, and raising one's hands in praise to the amplified beat of the praise band.* Life was good, we had God to thank for it, and Jesus was our super-cool friend, kind of like a surfing buddy. But back in Michigan, we have to remember the truth: faith is about suffering.

No, actually, all of this is a caricature. California isn't all surfing and praise, and neither is Michigan all deprivation and depravity. In fact, we've been thrilled to be back at our old church, singing in harmony with our full-voiced congregation and enjoying the communion of the saints with old friends and family. God is good here, too. Overwhelmingly good.

Anyway, there's still enough truth in the following send-up of the old "Footprints in the Sand" poem to make it funny. Thanks to Marilyn Rottman of the Calvin Seminars in Christian Scholarship office for passing this along to me.

Footprints In The Snow

One night I had a dream.
I dreamed I was walking along the snow-covered beach of Lake Michigan.
As I looked back at the trail my feet left in the snow,
I saw my life clearly marked along my trek.

At all the high points of my life - when I made the church consistory,
when I completed my Precious Moments collection,
when my son chose Calvin over Dordt -
I noticed there was but one set of footprints dotting the frozen landscape.

But, at the low points - when our church had a series of seminarians for
seven months because no one would accept a call to Hudsonville,
when Zondervan’s sold out of my favorite Sandi Patti tape,
when my car broke down on Sunday in Holland, Michigan -
There were two sets of heavy footprints, marring the pristine flakes of the trail.

Puzzled, I cried to the Lord -
“Lord! Why this inconsistency?”

Suddenly, a cloud above the Grand Haven beach parted,
and John Calvin appeared in a single shaft of light.
“My child,” he said, “God sent me as your guardian theologian, to guide you
along life’s rugged pathways. When the burdens of the world plagued you,
when life’s heavy burden was almost too much to bear,
I was there beside you, holding your hand,
and whispering catechism quotations in your ear.

But, when you seemed to be enjoying yourself,
when happiness was the emotion in your soul,
it was then that I jumped on your back and made you feel guilty for having a
good time.

Remember, my precious worm,
fun is not an option for you.”

I awoke in a cold sweat, glad to know Truth.

Published in the April 8, 1991 edition of The Banter

*Yes, the ambiguous grammatical order of this sentence is intentional.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Membership Requirements

In preparation for writing a paper next week, I've been doing some thinking these days about church membership. In a previous post, I remarked -- in a tangential sort of way -- about the sorts of professions that the early church saw as incompatible with living a Christian life (prostitute, musician, soldier, etc.), and wondered what sorts of professions we might put on that list today. Lately I'm wondering if the church would have the disciplinary wherewithal to make use of such a list even if we had one. If someone of the "wrong" profession wished to join, what church would or could say "We'd love to have you, but you'll have to make these significant changes before you can be part of us, starting (but not ending) with your job."

On the one hand, the gospel seems to mandate a rather inclusive attitude about belonging to the church. Jesus' circle was drawn with the wideness of God's mercy, encompassing many people who the offical religious leaders of his day rejected. On the other hand, what sort of group is it that expects and asks nothing of its members? That doesn't comport with the gospel either. Jesus talked about laying down one's life to follow him.

Some have articulated this tension by speaking about the "low stoop" but "long aisle" on the house of the church. It doesn't take much to get in the church, but it takes a while to walk up to the front and make the life-changing promises of discipleship to Jesus. Different church traditions seem to emphasize these two sides of the coin, with infant baptizers focusing on the low stoop, and those from the anabaptist traditions emphasizing the long aisle. But of course, in whatever Christian tradition, both these elements should find some expression.

As I was thinking about all this, I uncovered a piece of paper while doing some archeological research in an old basement file cabinet. It is a list of the steps down the aisle that were once part of my home church's membership process, way back in the day when I first got married and Debra and I joined the church together. The document is entitled "Joining (CHURCH NAME HERE): Steps toward Assimilation."

It includes a checklist with the following items:
  • Attend membership inquiry class (three sessions)
  • Attend council meeting (the governing board of the church)
  • Attend committee meeting
  • Attend fellowship event
  • Meet with the pastor
  • Meet with district council member

It also provides some well-written rationale for these requirements (to be introduced to a broader segment of the church than you could come to know during worship services alone; to find ways to use your unique abilities within our congregation), and encourages potential members to see the "requirements for membership not as hurdles to be jumped, but as steps toward fuller participation in the life of the church."

I wonder what the membership process is like these days at my home church.

Or at yours.

And I wonder whether the requirements -- if there are any -- have more to do with the perpetuation and health of the institution, or with the steps individuals and groups need to take to become more Christlike. And whether those two things should seem like such radically different categories.

"I wouldn't belong to any club that would have me as a member" -- Groucho Marx

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Grand Garage Gin-Rummy Give-Away

How did this happen? How did we move from our house in G.R. to a smaller place in L.A., and then return to the original home only to find that all our stuff won't all fit in the house any more? I mean literally, it won't fit.

I am now in the second week of sorting through stuff and putting those items which we no longer want into a grand give-away pile in the garage. The stuff here isn't crap, it's just, well, to paraphrase the name of a local second-hand store, it's just crap to us. Two very nice sets of cross-country skis and boots, for example. Or a "vintage" Sony Walkman, circa 1984. Or a genuine vintage stereo cabinet, circa 1955. We've also got three boxes of theological books I don't want any more (Mary, want any more conversation partners?); a color TV; lots of kitchen, workbench, and babyroom stuff.

Anyone want to lay claim to the lot of it? We're giving it all away for free -- but the catch is that you have to take the whole pile. No picking and choosing. It's kinda like playing Gin Rummy and picking up a very large discard pile for the sake of a few cards you can genuinely use. If you've ever played, it's actually not a bad strategy...

Tuesday, July 11, 2006


Anyone who watched the World Cup these past weeks cannot have helped but notice that amongst the fine football competition, there was a disheartening over-abundance of fouling -- and faking. The Portuguese in particular seemed adept at the finely honed technique whereby a player barely gets brushed by an opponent, and then flops to the ground and flails about as if he'd been sideswiped on the 405 by a Hummer. Of course, it's crucial to be certain the referee is looking at you -- otherwise your thespiantics go for nought.

It got to the point where our kids found it funny. In fact, they've been practicing a bit, and now, every once in a while, if, for example, Jacob and Mia accidently bump into each other while negotiating some precious real-estate (e.g. the one square yard in front of the refrigerator), one will go down in faux agony, rolling on the ground and looking with pleading eyes and arms towards Mom or Dad for the foul call.

But the kids decided that the referee needed more than just yellow and red cards to deal with the players' variety of objectionable behavior. So they devised an entire scheme of cards to be given away for various offenses. So, for example, an orange card comes when someone makes a bone-headed play; a black card for missing an outstanding opportunity; a green card for a phantom foul. There were some colors in their system that seemed to apply more directly to themselves: a purple card is to be shown when someone exhibits extreme bossiness; a turquoise card for dissent when a foul is called. To be fair, the kids also wanted to give away gold cards for great plays, and rainbow cards for... well, for no reason at all. Just because.

I think Debra and I may take to wearing whistles and keeping some of those purple and turquoise cards in our back pockets. And maybe a few gold and rainbow ones, too.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Home Chaotic Home

We have landed. It's good to be back in Michigan, but we are still in the throes of chaos after several days and it's wearing on all of us. Even after moving six times in three years, I am still amazed by the sheer amount of work it takes to put together a household. And the emotional ups and downs of moving, for all of us.

Small problems seem overwhelming: the air conditioning blew out yesterday, we do not at present have a dining room table or chairs, Miriam found bugs in her hair, and our perpetual question: in which d*** box will I find the [fill in urgently needed item here]??

People ask, "So are you settled in yet?" Uh... never mind.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Aiding the Forces of Evil

When we got sick of mysteries (see last post), we also listened to the Prairie Home Companion joke show, which aired just after the 2004 election. Keillor's bitterness was, shall we say, palpable, but it led to a lot of great jokes.

Here's the one Miriam and Jacob adopted as their favorite. Even if you have Republican leanings, you'll have to admit this is funny:

How many Bush administration officials does it take to change a light bulb?

None. There is no reason to change anything. We made the right decision to stick with that bulb. Those who say "it was burned out" are aiding the forces of evil!

Of course, this got adapted to fit any situation on the road. To wit:

Dad: "Miriam, are you going to wear those shoes?"
Mia: "There is no reason for me to change my shoes. I made the right decision to pick these shoes. Those who say they are "impractical" are aiding the forces of evil."
Dad: (sigh).