So. . . do you know where we’re going?

Posted on May 7, 2008
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I’m not like some men of cliche. I don’t absolutely refuse to ask for directions. Sometimes I ask for directions even when I am pretty sure I know.

Today I needed to take someone to an airport I’d never been to before. This was not planned; that is, I was asked the night before but it wasn’t in the original travel plans. I mean to ask the secretary for directions but I forgot to do it when I asked her for the key.

So we are well on the way to the airport and I say, “You know where it is, right?”

And he says, “This is my first time here, I was headed the other direction!”

Okay, so I get out my phone and start calling people back at the office. Nobody answers. Ladies and gentlemen, you may now panic.

I had fully expected to see signs for the airport, since it is associated with a small city that does not have much else to brag about. But then I started to see signs for the next city down the road, and nary a sign for the airport.

We had actually pulled over to the side of the road, tried to call some more people, and turned around when we saw the first airport sign. We had not yet gone far enough. I usually panic about my navigtional directions too soon–I think I have missed a turn when I haven’t. As we went along the signs for the aiport did appear. In fact I have driven past this airport before (although not often).

I am 95% confident he got to his flight in time, although I actually didn’t get his cell number so I couldn’t check, but I think he had to skip the lunch he planned to get at the airport. No real disaster. But embarassing.

Yes. Embarassing.

Standards

Posted on May 6, 2008
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I ought to find myself a sports team and a girlfriend, for then I shall never run out of things to talk about when someone who does not know me feels obligated to talk to me.

I had dinner tonight with a fellow employee from out of town and the poor chap spent the entire time trying desperately to come up with things to talk about. After a short night and a long day my eyes were crossing and I would have been just as happy to experience some comraderie in silence, but, partly because of my general fatigue, I did not fully realize how hard I was making this chap’s job. That is, I answered his questions amiably enough, but I did not do much asking in return or following up. Since he continued to come up with one question after another, I sort of got the idea he was very interested in me, for some reason.

But I think he was just doing is mannerly darndest to be polite and I let him do all the work. Very poor form. I ought to give him a break from thinking up questions that nobody really wants to hear the answers to.

But I don’t have a sports team. Or a girlfriend. Or a hobby. Or anything I do in my own time. Or probably any interest in your possession of any of those things.

I like talking business, and I don’t like lying, and I am not good at even “spinning”–that is, being selective in which and how much of my opinion I disclose–so mainly if we are talking business I am jeopordizing my career by blithely voicing what I think.

The least

Posted on May 4, 2008
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This Sunday and the past Sunday I drove a neighbor who is temporarily without a car to her church. It’s quite a small church and not even half full, and the attendees fit the pejoratives for backwoods hillbillies. All have the bedraggled look of uncultured rustics more used to working outside then meeting indoors, and mental handicap is overrepresented. The pastor is undistinguishable from a number of retired farmes I worked for in my younger days, without polish, without any social instinct.

If you happen on this frank description as a stranger, do not take offense. I sometimes appear at first glance to be a member of the cultured middle class, but my background is as bedraggled and uncultured as anyone in that church, and the smooth solicitations of a polished pastor sour my stomach more than the unbounded joviality that is styled hospitality by retired country boys.

I have described the social status of these churchgoers so thoroughly because it puts me in a minor quandary. If I walk out of their building with no desire to return, I immediately suspect myself of shallow motives, of snobbishly deducing that they have no bright prospects in their economic or intellectual future and wanting to find a shinier crowd who can flatter me as well as I them. I have no doubt that these are the kind of people Jesus sought out. Who am I, then, to turn away? I might seek those with whom I can discuss the complexities of theology and the subtleties of error, but this is warranted by neither the work nor word of Christ.

But when all these outward things are passed over, this church has every bit as much–that is, as little–as every other church I have visited of that crucial thing, fellowship. Here, not for the first time, we shake hands with sundry people during the middle of the service. Here, not for the first time, the pastor takes prayer requests from the congregation. But there is not fellowship, there is not meeting as equals to discuss the scripture as it is given to us, each one according to his or her gift, freely.

So they are doubly impoverished; and I imagine I could help. Could I? I have nothing but what I have been given, and have been given less than I think I posess. Rather than attempting to do what I think I could, I hope to do only what I should. Some say that seeing the need is hearing the call. Others, that seeing a need greater than you can fill is to teach humility and dependence on God.

What, then, is the least I can do?

We are gathered here today

Posted on May 3, 2008
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I’ve missed two weeks now of reporting on my sallying out into organized Christianity. Tomorrow I will go to the same church as I did last Sunday, as I am driving neighbor whose car has broken down, so I will describe that church tomorrow or later in the week.

The Sunday prior I went to the other church recommended to me by Dave D., styled Family Christian Church or something like, with a pentecostal bent but less pronounced than the Zion church. I inadvertently arrived late into the Sunday school service and before the main service, and happened to first meet the building manager, who used the intervening time to introduce me to the building. It is an old theater, still mostly in neglect but gradually being converted into a church building by this group. The building’s architecture is grand in a pleasantly old-fashioned way; broad curving staircases, chandeliers and tall sconces. The portion they have restored has some nice gilding surrounding broad round ceiling fixtures and the capitals of the pillars.

One of the patricians of the church assured me that the gilded letters on the (temporary) back wall, “Holiness to the Lord,” were not there just for show; they really meant it in this church. It may be. Nothing that transpired would indicate to me that the gathered folks were any less than sincere in their intention to honor God. But who is to say, when the only one talking is the designated preacher? What hint about the hearts and minds of the gathered could possibly escape from their polite silence?

The pastor delivered a message that was neither insightful nor heretical, but a general admonishment to moral living. His urgings would be hard for anyone to contest, having something to do with that standby, the “three Greek words for love,” and our inability to love as we should, and God as the source we should turn to for developing perfect love in our lives.

But saying what is true is not necessarily saying what is profitable; saying something good is not always saying something needed. Who profited? Who was challenged? Who learned? Any of these things might happen in the secret places of the heart. God’s work need not be plain before our eyes. But let us so order our efforts as not to obscure the needs of his flock, but bring them to light. Let us teach where their is ignorance, encourage where there is despair, admonish where there is sin; and rather than revisit a right principle of God that we heard in our youth and have heard several times a year ever since, let us seek always to learn more about God’s whole work than we knew before.

What can we say to those who have found it their life’s calling to be the sole voice of God on Sunday? What can we say to those who have contended themselves for years with sitting in silence to the same core nuggets and basic precepts, having variety only in the anecdotes that smother every sermon? Shall we oppose those who preach Christ, no matter how thin the substance? Shall we urge those content with their sparse and withered grass to hunger for green pastures?

Why do so many people gather in fancy buildings once or twice a week?