Communion Sunday

Confession: I love communion. I wish we had it every Sunday like Catholics. The Lord Jesus is everywhere in our world, and touches us in a million different ways; but I like to think there are a couple of places He will never miss, a couple of intimate graces that always lead straight into His heart.

Part 1: A Recipe

unleavened bread

Unleavened Bread

  • 1 cup wheat flour
  • 1 cup bread flour
  • ¾ tsp salt
  • ½ cup sugar or honey
  • 1 egg
  • 1/3 cup milk or cream (more as needed)
  • 2 tsp oil

Mix dry ingredients together. Mix wet ingredients and stir into dry, adding a little more cream as needed. Do not over mix. Knead briefly, like biscuit dough. Roll or pat to ¼ inch thickness on a lightly greased cookie sheet. Score into squares with a pizza cutter. Prick each square with a fork. Bake at 350 for 10 minutes. Brush lightly with melted butter and bake 5 minutes more. Remove from oven and brush again lightly with butter. Cut into long rectangles while still warm.

*****

Part 2: A Song

Almost every time we take the Lord’s Supper together we sing this song, which is almost a chant.

by Christ redeemed

from Songs of Faith and Praise

I love it, especially the last verse in which we become a link in a long bright chain–uniting His dark betrayal night with His final coming. He said He wouldn’t taste the juice of grapes again until He tastes it new with us in the kingdom.

*****

Part 3: A Magic

Confession: Sometimes I am bored with church. I can be cruising along one Sunday after another, especially in the winter, thinking We are a mess. I mean really. How can God stand us? I can’t even stand myself.

And then one day, unexpectedly, the magic will come back. I don’t know why. It may be seeing a youth girl leading music up front. It may be watching my son do the same, for the first time in his life. It may be that particular worship song with almost unbearably intimate words, still falling short of describing Christ as Lover, and suddenly my face is flaming and I am feeling public worship for the first time in months.

It may be the snack afterwards, and the one really significant conversation. It might be the almond-date-coconut balls, sweet in my mouth. It might be the pretzel bark. It might be the chemistry in the group of ladies. It might be that baby who grinned at me. It might be the phase of the moon, for all I know or care.

But the magic is back and I welcome it with open arms. I finally get it: He’s here.

We can talk all we want about the glory days, the Moses days, the Paul-and-Barnabas days. We can talk about the Reformation days, the Menno Simons days, the meeting-in-secret days. We can talk about the Andrew Jantzi days, the big-tent-revival days, the hitting-the-sawdust-trail days. We can talktalktalk. But unless we know He’s here, right here—in my outskirts-of-town-half-renovated-almost-too-small-already church building on a Sunday morning—in my sisters-in-the-chairs-about-me and my brothers-with-all-their-faults-around-me and my little-children-going-to-learn-the-lessons-I-heard-years-ago—church is just another thing to do.

People, He’s happening here, in our time.

I wish there were Big Magic every Sunday; but maybe there is, and I miss it. Sometimes it takes a fresh voice to point it out. The breast cancer survivor. The wild, destructive preschooler calming down into a functional, happy first grader. The young man turning his back on a selfish, immoral life and declaring publicly, “I have decided to follow Jesus!” The 87-year-old woman losing everything in a house fire, and coming to church praising God through her tears.

His Spirit is alive and well, and there’s no place I’d rather meet Him than here.

I’ve often wondered if the unforgivable sin, blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, is nothing more or less than discounting His presence. But it’s not so. Nathanael thought He was a joke and Peter thought He was a ghost and Mary took Him for a gardener—and He loved them and led them anyway, and gave them another chance; I know He has mercy on me.

So I show up again, and watch for the fire to descend. Communion Sunday, it always does.

Lord, open my eyes.

*****

Related post: Communion

The Lost Dogs sing a song that says all I just said, better. Read the lyrics here.

Where do you find Him on Sunday?

Displacement

The main caution I have about blogging (reading or writing) is a traditional conservative-Christian concern about—well, really anything new. What is it replacing? Isn’t that a nice conservative tack?

“Not so sure about that there new-fangled tractor. What’ll I do with ma horses?”

Blogs take time, no argument there. You heard in the interviews a few different ideas for filtering them, streamlining them, evaluating them, and making them work. But there’s also the issue of displacement. Any time you add something into an already full life, something else bumps out. For me, there are several things I don’t want bumped out.

Better reading

You take a book. Any book. I’ll guarantee you it’s been written, honed, polished, fine-tooth-combed, turned inside out, and above all funded by dozens of dedicated people with a lot at stake. You take a blog. Any blog… Uh. Do you have it already? How’d you get it so quick? Oh. You just grabbed what was cooking at the moment…?

Fresh-squeezed juice has a charm all its own, but don’t go there for the mellow richness of aged wine.

Better relational connections

We all would rather get together for coffee. Me too. I have ten friends within five miles who would go with me in a heartbeat. Except that they’d first have to check with their hubbies, arrange sitters or work schedules, and haggle with me about when and where. Then we’d have to carpool, or not, and figure out who’s paying, or not, and then somebody’s kid will get sick last minute or the weather will dump snow on us.

Whew.

In the meanwhile, it’s deceptively easy and connecting to see what’s online.

Real life is messy. And better.

Better mentoring

Where do you go when you want to learn to bake bread? To grow sprouts? To sew an apron? Whom do you seek out when your child has a rash? When you disagree with your husband on an issue? When you just got hurt bad?

God can speak to you anywhere, through anything. He can absolutely use a blog to grow you, even a blog by someone like me whom you’ve never met. But I’m going to suggest argue insist that you’ll learn more with the older women in your community. For one thing, they’re smarter. They actually know more. For another, they’re stupider. They don’t say it all right and they have that annoying tick above their left eye and they show up at the darndest times. So you’re growing already, just by living through being with them. You can’t ex them and ignore the content you don’t like. They’re in your life to stay and you gotta make this work, sister.

Better occupation

You know, we can spend our lives watching other people live. All I have to say on this one is two lines from a gospel song.

“Rouse, ye Christian workers, be ye up and doing!
Must the Master’s kingdom suffer at your hands?”

Don’t get me wrong here, please… The online world is a semi-real place in which Jesus is desperately needed. So bring your blog to the Kingdom, and the Kingdom to your favorite blogs. Use them well, to the very best of your ability.

And then, as Marlene so aptly said, get up and live.

Communal living

My parents-in-law are living with us for a week: communal living at its finest. We’re remodeling our master bedroom together–‘we’ as in I’m cooking the lunches and riding along to Home Depot. And asking good questions of course. And there may be a few other things I forget, like handing a tool to someone and painting three drop ceiling tiles. It’s what I do best.

*

Confession: I pulled off a personal meltdown right before supper last night.

Of course I wasn’t the only one melting down. Child C had about five meltdowns simultaneously in that gray hour before dinner.  Child B was beside himself—in and out of the room, even after I said very firmly Now son. You are going to stay right here where I can see you until Mommy is done cooking supper. The convulsions of protest he went through would have put an eel to shame. I got him a book to read. He wept and lamented sore. I stayed calm and cheerful (the thin-stretched calm-and-cheerful-on-purpose variety). He was unmoved. I turned my back; he sneaked out. I fetched him hither; he came yon, dragging his tail behind him.

And meanwhile the supper would not get cooked. Despite my lovely mother-in-law right there helping me, helping my kids, helping the food. The quesadillas kept wanting to burn (probably because I left them for brief forays after errant sons), the corn was still frozen, and the eggs for the salad needed to be peeled.

Convulsions on the barstool. Exit plans being hatched in small brains. I felt them behind me, rising like vapor, heavier and more foreboding by the minute until a mushroom cloud ascended to the drop ceiling and I was uncertain whether the smell was burnt quesadilla or bad attitude.

I fielded a simple three-minute phone call and flipped a quesadilla while talking. Bad mistake. Some of the filling spilled out and began to blacken on the bottom of the dry skillet, an adhering from which there was no return. I hung up, pulled the pan over to the sink and began scraping desperately.

Child B threw something across the room and narrowly missed Grandma.

Nothing I do or say can fix this. What will happen if I just start to cry?

And suddenly I am, so hard I cannot breathe, my hand clamped over my mouth and my ears flaming.

My mom-in-law is right there with her arm around me. Oh Shari. I’m so sorry. Do you need to go take some time? I’ll finish frying the quesadillas; you go lie down a little. I cannot move, choking there at the sink. And then Ryan is there too, and takes my son and sits to read a story with him. I step out into the cold air and breathe, shuddering.

Sometimes I really think communal living is the way to go.

Our house has seen many suppertime meltdowns, but never has there been a woman to take the spatula from my hand and send me gently away.

There’s unspeakable comfort in knowing that if you really have to step out for a minute, life can go on. The errands can be run and the three massive loads of laundry folded, all at once. The children can be occupied and the major paint job move forward simultaneously. There are two good women to train the children and learn from each other, and two good men working upstairs.

Five or ten minutes later found me back in the kitchen, red-eyed and quieted, peeling those eggs.

What do you think? It takes a village to fry a quesadilla?

Closets and community

This summer I heard a woman strongly caution against receiving truth from flawed sources. As in other people. “Anyone we allow to speak truth to us,” she said, “becomes our god.”

With all due respect, this cannot be so. Everything good speaks truth to us, albeit imperfectly—even the sky. The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament showeth His handiwork. Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night showeth wisdom. (If the glory of God isn’t truth, what is?)

Her point was that we can unthinkingly internalize what others tell us about ourselves, particularly when they offer us condemnation, because—well, it must be true. At least part of it is true, so without going to God to see what he has to say, we just swallow it. And choke. She had a very good point, but the reaction is a ditch all its own: when I allow only God himself to teach me truth in the security of my closet.

It only sets me up as the god or idol, speaking truth to myself. “But it’s not me, it’s the Holy Spirit,” I may object. Yes; and is it not the Holy Spirit telling that other person what to say to me too? If they might be slanting things, might not I as well? Or am I more equipped than they to hear him with clarity?

When I close my ears and eyes to all voices but the silent voice of God in my own heart, I close off at least ninety percent of his messages. The trees are saying “He made us! He’s good!” My daughter is singing, “Pwaise ye da Lord.” My husband is saying “Honey, I think you could grow in this area.” My friend is saying, “Are you sure you’re right on that?” My Sunday school teacher is saying, “God is good all the time! All the time God is good!” My neighbor is saying, “You people look like you have it together all the time. Do you struggle?”

God speaks in countless ways,

often using outside instruments to capture my attention.

If I really want to hear from God, I must open myself to hear him anywhere. From anyone.

Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. (I Thess. 5:19-21)

I am Anabaptist, so of course I’m going to say this—but I believe it with all my heart. One of my best paths to sanctification is through my brothers and sisters. I can’t say yes to God and no to his family. I must learn to hear him with them, and from them.

God’s place of energy, purpose, and passion on earth is his church.

In Ephesians, Paul says, “Be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.”

Submitting to one another? When I’m filled with the Spirit?

Yes! Particularly then!

Let’s not create this enormous divide between God’s voice in community and God’s voice in our hearts. They ought to match; they ought to work in tandem; here a little and there a little.

God’s voice is always true.

True blue, as we say. True to his name, true to himself, true through and through. God’s voice lines up with God’s voice; it cannot be otherwise. Therefore there should be no fear in opening his revelation to the input of my brothers.

If I am uncertain of his speaking, what better place than here to bring it for clarity? If I am certain of his speaking, what better place than here to bring it to fruition?

Think about a hydrangea blossom. Alone, I am a single bloom. My relationship with God is intimate, delicate, a simple picture of beauty.

hydrangea one

But together! All the blooms connected, growing together into a full-orbed majesty! (though slightly wilted in this photograph) Here the vibrancy of a single bloom is accented and cherished–as well as lost, immersed, saturated in the whole.

hydrangeas all

There is a place for me here, joy and space and vitality. There is a gap when I pull away.

I must bring my perceptions to the body

if both I and we are to be fruitful and growing.

How will Jesus speak to the church if individuals are not open, listening for him? How will he speak to individuals if we cut ourselves off from his place of focus and passion on earth?

Hear him when he speaks. Crave it. Seek it. Love it. Listen for it when you wake up and when you go to bed; when you are alone and when you sit with the congregation.

He will use me to speak to us. He will use us to speak to me.

*****

As always, I welcome your thoughts. Have you found this true in your life?

Mennonites and metaphors

Confession: Sometimes I think that being Mennonite is like being part of a big butte out west. That’s what my husband says.

West Mitten Butte

West Mitten Butte

When you look at a butte, you think—Whoa, where’d that growth come from? What subterranean forces heaved it out of the earth?

But it didn’t grow at all.

At one point the whole earth was at that level, and time changed the landscape around it, chiseled away the rest and left this formation exposed and slightly garish in the middle. It has a beauty all its own; and an oddity.

When I hear us criticize Mennonites from the inside, what I like to ask is “Are we actually talking about a Mennonite trait?” We have our share of fault lines, but I suspect that many of the issues we critique are not, in fact, Mennonite at all. Some are tendencies all Christian organizations must deal with in some way—

internalization, ingrowth

religious arrogance

naiveté about the rest of the world

cultural assumptions

protocol without passion

and still more qualities, the ones I want to talk about, are simply old-fashioned. We hung onto them while the rest of the world shifted.

There is no particular virtue in that, unless the issue is one of inherent worth; we are merely leery of change.

We Mennonites traditionally grow and preserve and cook our own food. We believe in plenty of starch and gravy. We can’t do without enormous Sunday dinners (most of us). We expect mothers to stay at home, and families to grow large. We spend our money with great caution. Our women cover their heads in public. We don’t like being in the limelight; our self-effacing decorum is our virtue and our curse. We are shy of change and suspicious of novelty. There are reasons for what we do, but we do it even when we don’t know why. We act, more than expound or cogitate or emote.

Up until 50-75 years ago, this was normal life for many Americans.

This image of the butte helps me to be at peace with who we are. I do not think there is cause for serious panic on either side—either that we’re so bizarre as to be totally inaccessible, or that we’re rapidly eroding ourselves and will soon crumble into ruin.

Constancy is a virtue, but not the only one. No formation remains forever unchanged, frozen in time and preserved from external influence. God’s goodness and presence alone will remain, not a formation but a foundation, firm and sure.

In the meantime, some things are worth hanging on to. There is no shame in being what we have been…

*****

Another metaphor tomorrow, and I’ve said my piece. What do you have to say?