Saturday, July 25, 2009

What Happened in Wayne's Basement

When Wayne Shuart was designing his new construction home, the Spirit inspired him to include a large basement meeting room in the design. It was the 1960's and Wayne and his wife, Mary, were committed to doing what they could to reach college students for Christ. I was no college student -- I was maybe 16 when I visited their home those several times. But Wayne's willingness to listen to his inspiration and act upon it allowed that basement to become a sort of holy place in the lives of literally hundreds of people -- both young and old.

Last night, I sat in a living room with Wayne and Mary and some other friends from my long ago days in Phoenix. Decades have flown by since we first became part of each others lives and stories. So many years have past since I first descended those steps leading down to the Shuart's basement meeting room for their Sunday night gathering known simply as "Fellowship in Jesus", but memories of what I experienced there remain crisp and alive. And not just for me. As our little group swapped stories full of agony and ecstasy, it was eminently clear that our various simple commitments to open our lives to whatever God had for us back then had taken each of us places we could have never imagined.

Fellowship in Jesus was not a big part of my early Christian experience, but my visits there allowed me to see what happened when an eminently "straight" couple openend their home to "whosoever will". When things first began in the Shuart's home, they were highly involved in Campus Crusade for Christ with a mission to reach local college students. But both the Shuarts and their dear friends the Selbys were committed to opening their lives to anyone God sent. This meant that there were many nights when drug-toting hippies would be seated next to scrubbed down cheerleaders while the lights were dimmed low and the praise, worship, prophecy and spontaneous prayers bubbled up. Last night, Wayne said he can still remember the sound of the toilet flushing upstairs as person after person concluded they didn't need to hold on to their precious stash of drugs any longer.

The Shuart's and Selby's were not "ministry professionals". Fellowship in Jesus was not their "job". It was their avocation -- the simple gift of their lives and household square footage offered back to God to use as He would in the lives of people He sent there. And, over the years, He sent hundreds. Wayne and Mary say they still meet people who, upon finding out who they are, tearfully tell them: "you won't remember me, but being in your basement changed my life". At one point, Fellowship had grown to a network of nine house churches informally knit together by the role the Selbys and Shuarts played in the lives of the couples who were launched out from their home to start meetings of their own.

Wayne says that he and Mary and Herb and Helen, though clearly responsible as "leaders", refused to call themselves by that title. "We didn't call ourselves leaders", Wayne said last night. "We called ourselves 'servants'". And they insisted that other "leaders" they raised up -- and there were dozens of them -- do the same.

When Wayne heard I was coming to town and that he and Mary were invited to join a few of us for a casual evening of fellowship, he did not remember me. This was no surprise to me since the meetings were quite large -- at times perhaps as many as 100 squeezed into that subterranean rec room. But, for some reason, Mary did recall my name and, to my delight, brought Wayne to our little get together. But oh how I remember them and the wonderful way they facilitated Spirit-transformed lives.

Before the evening was over, I was on my knees before Wayne and Mary and before my other friends asking for the Shuart's blessing. Those who know me understand that this is a very deliberate request that I have made of a select few people in my life. But there are times when I sense the Spirit inspiring me to ask for the blessing of particularly great Christians. Wayne and Mary are such people -- servants indeed -- and examples of those who has lived their lives in a simple, dedicated and continuing state of openess to the Lord and to the people God sends their way. Last night, I was more glad than ever to have been one of them.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Truth About In 'N Out

I have no illusions about the fact that what I am about to say could cost me friends and even close family relationships. I fear it could even incite violence, civil war and mass pandemonium. But I can hold back no longer. I must speak out. What I have to say is this:

In 'N Out Burger is overrated.

Okay, I'm not saying it's bad. The burgers are decent and the fries fine. But it mystifies me the way people hyperventilate about how great In 'N Out is, how they wish they had one in their back yard. I am staggered at how long the lines can be. For what? For a hamburger that -- while fresh -- is on the small side and, well, unremarkable. Most hamburger cooked at a back yard BBQ are WAY more tasty, if you ask me. And...dare I say it...I think that if I had to choose between an In 'N Out and a Carl's $6 hamburger... well, you can see where this is going.

So, go ahead. Leave me your nasty comments. Threaten my well being. Do your worst you poor, brainwashed In 'N Out minions. But it won't change my honest appraisal of the In 'N Out phenomena as one of those that is right up there with the slinky and the hulu hoop -- fun, but not all that satisfying.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

My Shortest Post Yet

Dan Tocchini on Facebook: "I think following Jesus is much easier than being a Christian". That little statement has really gotten under my skin.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Turns Out, It Really DOES Matter

So, when you work -- as I do -- for an outfit called "Marriage and Family Matters", you come out-of-the-box with certain attitudes toward marriage and marriages. That's why I was fascinated by the TIME magazine (July 13th edition) with a cover story about how "infidelity is eroding our most sacred institution" and how we can "make marriage matter again". Naturally, I swiped the mag and snuck it home for a read.

I was surprised to find (after all, this is TIME magazine) that the author of the cover piece, Caitlin Flanagan, is not "iffy" about the need for our society to hold to and maintain an high standard of marriage. After scolding Senator John Ensign of Nevada and the king of adultery TMI, Governor Mark Sanford of South Carolina, Ms. Flanagan gets to her point post haste:

"No other single force is causing as much measureable hardship in this country as the collapse of marriage". She goes on to say that the families of these two men "discover a truth as old as marriage: a lasting covenant between a man and a woman can be a vehicle for the nurture and protection of each other, the one reliable shelter in an uncaring world -- or it can be a matchless tool for the infliction of suffering on the people you supposedly love above all others, most of all on your children".

Noting the uniquely American propensity for "frequent marriage, frequent divorce" and the "high numbers of short-term co-habitating relationships", the author deconstructs the contemporary notion of marriage as "an incresingly fragile construct depending less and less on notions of sacrifice and obligation than on the ephemera of romance and happiness as defined by and for its adult principals." She continues:

"The intact, two-parent family remains our cultural ideal, but it exists under constant assault. It is buffeted by affairs and ennui, subject to the eternal American hope for greater happiness, for changing the hand you dealt yourself."

It is important to pause here and observe as a pastor and counselor that marital breakdown is not always rooted in such abject selfishness. I feel privileged when I am invited to help struggling couples, conscientious and caring single parents, and young people who are doing their best to walk through the profound issues of their lives. I respect people who invest in their marriages, parenting challenges or their quest to grow up as whole as they can. Still, there is no avoiding the fact that, as a society, we are living in days when we are being forced to rethink what marriage is, how it works, how it breaks and what its effects are (for better and for worse) -- especially on children.

Along these lines, the article quotes self-identified feminist author, sociologist and researcher Maria Kefalas admitting that a single mother cannot be both mother and father to their children. "As a feminist, I didn't want to believe it," she says. "Women always tell me, 'I can be a mother and a father to a child', but it's not true". "Growing up without a father has a deep psychological effect upon a child." Another author, single mother and sociologist quoted in the article echoes these conclusions: "Children who grow up in a household with only one biological parent are worse off, on average, than children who grow up in a household with both of their biological parents, regardless of the parents' race or educational background". These sobering words ring in our ears when we come to realize that (according to the article) "births to unmarried women have reached an astonishing 39.7%".

In a day when a not-so-conservative magazine like TIME runs with an article that asserts that the contemporary collapse of marriage "hurts children, reduces mothers' financial security, and has landed with particular devastation on those who can bear it least: the nation's underclass", it makes a guy like me take notice.

Meanwhile, the parade of civic leaders, celebrities, religious figures and other notable trendsetters in society continues to produce astounding stories of marital breakdown and failure. Bottom line: if we want something different than what we have, we are going to have to fight a lot harder for it. As I tell couples who come to me for premarital counseling: "if you want to beat the odds of a 50% average failure rate of today's marriages, you two can't settle for an average commitment to your marriage. It must be way, way above average". In other words, even TIME magazine tells me that the founders of our counseling center got it quite right: marriage and family REALLY DOES matter.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Thoughts From an Armchair Patriot

I confess that most of the time I am a somewhat quiet patriot. I know folks whose chests swell with patriotic pride quickly and often -- flag-wavers and boosters if you will. It would seem that deep and fiery feelings of admiration for America come less often to me than it does to these more robust patriots. But they do come.

I love America's history and have acquainted myself with some of her shining moments while at Arlington Cemetary and a host of other sites in and around Washington, D.C. I have read pretty extensively about the Civil War period and decently about the founders and the Revolution. In other words, I have prepared the soil of my heart for whatever patriotic feelings that may honestly arise.

The last time I was struck by patriotic lightening was not long ago. It happened to me as I enjoyed watching the new John Adams miniseries (starring Paul Giamati) on DVD.

One segment in this production depicts the Continental Congress in session as they passionately debate the question of whether or not they should declare independence from England. Once the debate comes to a close, a final vote is called for. As the tally is taken, the results become clear. At that moment, a breathless silence falls across the room. In a single stroke, these men have summarily pledged themselves, their families, and their entire futures and fortunes to the notion of standing up to the greatest superpower in the Western world and daring it to subdue them as they reach for their golden ring of liberty.

What astounds me about this it that these men are clearly not being driven to this decision by greed for personal gain, institutional arrogance or inflated ideas of their own self importance. What has brought them to their moment of truth are their convictions, their principles and even their theology. God, they assert, gives rights to men that no king or crown may tamper with or remove. Their call, therefore, is to make their stand come what may.

In the pregnant silence that follows their vote, the room is thick with the silent reverberations of: "What have we just done?" It is a stunning scene indeed.
Sitting safely in my chair, I am captured by the courage and character of my national forefathers and I am moved with awe that I am in any way a part of the country they birthed in their hearts that long ago day.

Armchair patriot? Perhaps. But I will continue to make my heart available to those shivers of inspiration that remind me of the greatness that still rises to the surface of our national story in times like these. And I pray that God will refine us as a people who will courageously live out our endowment as Americans again and again until His Kingdom breaks into this present age in ultimate consumation.