Thursday, August 30, 2007

The Satisfied Writer

“The taking up of the cross of Christ is no great action done once for all; it consists in the
continual practice of small duties which are distasteful to us.”
John Henry Newman

Today I was salivating over a job that would take me away from home for several weeks, a writer’s residency in another state. The writer-in-residence would teach one class a week and then spend the rest of her time doing nothing but writing. It sounds heavenly except for the fact that during those weeks away from home my duties as a wife, mom, and ministry leader would fall into neglect. But the thought of it lured my thoughts into a tranquil reverie.

Seriously, do you ever daydream about a life where all you have to do is write? No taking care of children or spouses or church duties. No answering emails or telephone calls. No strain or stress of the responsibilities to hold body and soul together. Morning and night, writing and more writing.

In the middle of my daydream, reality broke through. I imagined that hour in the afternoon where my youngest son comes lugging his book bag up the stairs, grinning, telling me about his day, the prom and the girl he’s invited to escort there, or the good grade he made on a test. And then I imagined missing that or missing my oldest running in between college classes and his job to give me a kiss. I get a kiss in the morning and one at night. He never forgets me. Then there’s that spoon thing I’d miss every evening when my husband crawls into bed next to me and we talk about all that happened that day and what the Lord did and how hard it was or how amazed we were. Or excited. Or let down, but still, even that is living. Or what would I miss if I couldn’t attend my small group? Would I continue to grow and stay challenged to mature in my faith? And what of the myriad of people I meet in my life because the Lord has seen fit to place me right here in this tiny apex of the universe that is occupied only by me and God in me? How would my life be enriched without those generous souls?

Then I wondered what in the world I’d write about if all I ever did was write, write, write. Would there be another story to tell and would it be worth telling? In Jeremiah, God says, “I will satiate the soul of the priest with abundance, And My people shall be satisfied with My goodness, says the LORD.” There are times when carrying the load of wordsmith feels too heavy and I want to give it a new shape, dissatisfied with the old shape. I strain under it and fantasize about relief. I forget what goodness is poured into my life through, as John Newman once said, “the continual practice of small duties which are distasteful to us.” I have to remind myself that the load I carry is not one of words but of souls. My hope is that I’m able one day to say to God that the things I carried in life were, okay, heavy; but only with humans.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

. . . and don't forget to take off that capo

Addison Road church team members apparently are not shy about posting worship bloopers on the blog. As you open this, you’ll see the audio link at the top of the blog, double click and it should open. Thought you’d appreciate this.

The audio link is posted at the top of the blog.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007


I hate it when I stand in a long line and then find out it’s the wrong line. Maybe that’s why I’m continually dissecting my words, the words on this blog, in my books, and in the things I teach.

Word and Faith Movement. Name-it-claim it. Bible Movement. Seeker Friendly. Calvinists. Arminians. Denominationalists. Non-Denominationalists. Pre-tribulationists. Mid or Post-Tribbers. Pentecostals or Cessationists. These labels, or better said, “camps,” are a result of a privileged group of faith people who have had time to debate and to gather into groups with those of like minds. Groups give us security and identity. We need to feel that we are right and justified. We’re only human. During a day of plenty, people of faith in the west have the luxury of time on our hands. We’re not out standing in bread lines or sneaking under fences to get a Bible into the hands of a neighbor who is starved for the Gospel. We have the luxury of debate, of discovering principles birthed of Spirit, and to contest those things that irk us. An evangelical virgin from the most remote corner of civilization having only watched faith debated from the sidelines might believe that Christians are saying that there are many lines that lead to Christ. But the person of Christ is Himself only One, a Fathomless and Supernatural Being who couldn’t possibly be divided. But still, as people, we divide. But there’s a positive effect too.

The natural act of his power working in and through us causes us to want to help the poor or console a stranger, to study his Word until it makes sense to us, to group up and find unity in our work together, to expect and look for him to return, to believe he can do things beyond our grasp, to fall short, to go deep, to weigh, and, because we need it ourselves, to give bucketfuls of grace when we are misunderstood. The Way is narrow, meaning that it should not be difficult to spot or figure out; we each have to line up single file to go down it, each person subjecting his or her life to Christ’s examination. We cannot by our words change how He examines us and we cannot slide him between two glasses and tell him of our findings. Not only because it isn’t our right to do that, but because it’s impossible to contain him. He said who he was plainly: the Way, the Truth, and the Life. If we start and end there, we’re in the right line.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

My Neighbor's Dog

I’m looking after my neighbors’ dog so they can go to the beach. I felt a bond with him for a long time. When I water my plants, he barks through the fence. He has me trained to bring the water hose over and let him lap the nozzle. He likes his ears massaged. He’s needy, like there’s no end to ear massaging.

I let him in his master’s house at night and then back out in the morning. I keep his water and food dishes full.
Our friends Mike and Jenny are pet sitting a golden retriever named Mattie. I noticed how Mike would go out in the yard and throw the ball for Mattie. She’s such a smart dog. She runs so fast that she catches the ball before it can hit the ground.

I thought maybe I ought to throw the ball around for the neighbor’s dog. I filled his dish again with water and then stepped out into his backyard. Before I could pick up a ball, he nosed me right in the seat of the pants. I caught my balance, turned around, and scolded him. He reared up and shoved me with his paws. I pointed down and said, “Sit!” He reared up on me again, dominating me. We were never going to have any fun throwing the ball, so I thought I’d teach him to at least sit. He refused. He kept shoving me around and nipping at my hand.

The difference between my neighbor’s dog and Mattie is the difference in how they were trained but also in how they responded. Whether indoors our outside, Mattie is a pleasure to be around. From the start, Mattie’s owner was paying attention to her. She wasn’t allowed to dominate the owner. She went from obedience to expressing her natural gifts. When she jumps in the air, tail twirling, feet poised perfectly for the landing, you think she’s flying.

I wonder which dog I’m like to God. Do I respond as soon as he calls? Do I live to sit at his feet or do I run around like mad wanting him to do things my way? Do I give him pleasure or do I trouble him? Am I using my natural gifts to serve His Body? Have I learned to fly?

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Nose Clips

A student walked up to my desk recently at the Write His Answer conference in Philly. He placed in my hand a strange plastic object, a nose clip. I put it on and then had great fun with it, especially after he handed me a whole bag of them. Faculty members seeing my roomie, Lissa Halls Johnson, and me wearing them, of course, each wanted his/her own nose clip. Soon the bag was depleted, but not before we initiated Marlene Bagnull into the nose clip cult.

I sent an email to the student thanking him for the fun gift. He emailed back, probably not nearly as amused as I, but polite and gracious. He is a scientist and performs experiments regarding human smell. He said that if I would put on the nose clip and taste of some food, say a salad with garlic croutons, that I would notice first of all the heightened discernment of the food’s texture. Then if I would take another bite and remove said clip, then my mouth would suddenly burst with flavor.

I had not thought too much of the joint effort of both tongue and nose to bring such pleasure to my eating experience. But what struck me was the burst of flavor, the heightened sense of taste that explodes when the nose is suddenly engaged.

A few years back a writer friend (Francine Rivers) talked a bunch of us into joining an inductive Bible study. We discussed spiritual themes in cyberspace and on occasion did group bible studies online. I had gone through a period of disappointment over some false teachings spreading throughout the church. I could pick out scriptures that proved the errors. But when refuted by those who insisted on feeding the flock the yuck from agenda-driven translation, I felt a little wobbly. Her suggestion was a word from God as far as I was concerned.

I found such a study (BSF) in my area and joined. After the rigors of the accountability talks it takes to be allowed to join, I then dove into the study. Inductive study is a whole different animal than thematic studies or group video series. First there are the Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How’s of dissecting scripture. Then I learned to compare scripture to scripture rather than the old way of picking through until I found a nugget that fit my theme. Suddenly the Bible was exploding in my Spirit. Revelation was coming at me rapid fire. The Spirit in me was working in conjunction with biblical text as a whole work. The nose clip was off, all spiritual tools engaged.

It’s fun now to see a woman’s eyes light up when she removes any prior notions about Bible study and engages fully in the language and meaning. The journey of faith should never grow stale and tasteless.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Lonely Planet

In the U.S., we are surrounded by 301 million people, folks living side-by-side in narrow two-story houses on small squares of property, or stacked one on top of another in condominiums or apartments. We crowd into airports, onto buses and trains, merging like ants onto interstates, in continual contact with other people, yet staring ahead,averting our eyes.

When a person lives isolated from human contact it’s called cocooning. As a reformed cocoonee, I remember the longing for connection, but once I had folded up and died relationally, it was like beating my way out of a prison.

We were created to live in community and in active life-giving groups that touch others and bring them into community. Jesus started with twelve and then each of them began bringing others into the circle of life.

I look back at how lonely the planet once was for me and now, I have to say, community is a lovely dwelling place.

Ephesians 4:11-16