Just Thinking with Jasper

Jasper, my first grandchild, had a stunning insight recently. We were driving from a movie (Kungfu Panda) at a downtown cinema in Vancouver. We saw some obviously poor people on the sidewalk and I said to him that the church tries to help poor people. He asked me, “How does all the singing we do at church help the poor people?”

Interesting.

I was thinking of trying to answer Jasper’s question and then I remembered what I have taught for years; that an unanswered question can open a relationship for a lifetime. Answers often close down conversations. They certainly close down thinking.

Jasper surprises me how intelligent he is. He is 6 years old and has superpowers like his dad, who is really smart. Brent is not from our side of the family. We are more attachers-emoters than thinkers. (Christine, if you read this, you are really smart and have superpowers too.)

I have come to think that the church is great for attachers-emoters that need to believe something or lots of things, to keep their attachments in check. Otherwise, they would jump on their high horses and ride in all directions at once.

But thinkers are in trouble at church. Most preachers work to have you believe stuff, not think stuff through. This has resulted (humble opinion only) in a paucity of thinkers and a plethora of believers.

Seminaries train their seminarians in how to believe and to convince others on what to believe. Sermons might take 5 hours a week or 20 hours a week to prepare, depending on whether we are more OCD or less. Sermon prep is a thinking process. But then sermonaters preach it like like listeners are to believe it. Not think it.

I have a yearning to preach a sermon or many sermons first saying, “I don’t think I believe what I am about to say, but I am thinking it. Will you think with me?”

I would like to call my churchly friends “thinkers,” rather than “believers” as in “I love being at church with fellow thinkers.” Jasper Patrick McLaren would probably like this kind of church more. So would his dad.

And I don’t think there is a connection between singing and helping.

It is Where I Belong

Someone asked me the other day why church is important to me. For me, it is sort of like asking why my family is important to me. It is where I belong.

I know lots of people and many I know well. Some of these people I may tell my story to and I listen to their experience too. But in church, like in my family, there is so much I don’t have to say to be known and know that my belonging is not questioned.

This is probably obvious but psychological research finds that a sense of belonging increases meaningfulness of life. We feel our lives are meaningful when we feel we belong. I think that this is one of the reasons why people marry (rather than “live together”) and why they marry when they discover they are pregnant. “I want my child to know she belongs” is what is often said.

Here is an idea: close your eyes for a minute and think of two people or groups to which you really belong. Now consider how much meaning you feel in your life. (I just did this with the thought of my two grandsons – our granddaughter is due any day now – and “out of the blue” I feel my life has meaning.)

Note: this is not about what others give me (recognition say) or provide for me (a place to be known); it is what I am when I am with them. Now I can clearly see this with Jasper and Lucas – I am Poppa. I know who I am, where I belong, and in the mystery of our shared “us,” I have meaning.

Some people don’t know they belong. I had 2 clients yesterday who basically said that to me. One was married (and she with 2 kids) and one was single, 37 years old and into weekend hooking up when what he really wants is to be married with kids and to belong.

I want them to have family, I want them to have church.

Done (or “Disposable Art” as a friend once said)

July 1, 2013 and it is the hottest Canada Day on record and I have spent the day dumping old sermons into yellow plastic recycling bags.

Now please take this blog in the spirit with which it is written – total self-pity. I think that sometimes a little public pouting is good for the soul, in spite of what psychology claims, especially when one feels that “life as I have known it is over” (I have been muttering this a lot lately as I approach my 65th).

So, as I have said, it is a sweltering day, 30 degrees upstairs in our house, and Carole decides to go for a swim in the ocean but I mope downstairs where it is 10 degrees cooler and shuffle through 40 years of my paper life. For those who don’t know, preachers used to write sermons on 8.5×11 inch paper and drew outlines on acetate sheets for projection, way before PowerPoint and laptops but way after flannel graph.

Into the yellow recycling bag went all my Biblical brilliance. Sermon series entitled “Questions God Asks of Ordinary People,” “LAF, It’s Only the Church” and “Some Things I Learned Since I Knew it All,” were interspersed with less colorful topics such as “Romans in a Week,” or “When God Comes Down,” which sounds a bit frightening if I didn’t have a decent theology about who God is. He probably won’t incarnate again just to rebuke me for pouting.

In dumping my theological history, my occasional rants and revelations, my hope for a truth that can be walked in, my compulsions to see the church be what it can be, as well as some wisdom along the way, I feel relieved, finished finally. Done.

Seeing my soiled and written-on outlines, I can also see my anxious delusions as well as worthy hopes and good intentions and I am content that both get dumped together, slumming side-by-side in my yellow recycling bag. This seems fitting and the yellow tinge makes them look more antiquated, more special than they are.

It occurs to me that the best preaching that I could muster is to be recycled into Starbucks cups. So if you see the word “grace” or “hope” or “heaven” prisoned inside your paper latte cup, it might have been written by me.

You’re welcome.