The other day, after days of pulling and packing (yet again) we lugged too many boxes over to a good and growing local church who was hosting a conference for Sunday school teachers, child-care workers and children’s ministry folks. Setting up rows and rows of craft books, pre-school lesson plans, brightly colored children’s picture books, and, yes, some theology and worldviewish stuff (the foundations of thinking faithfully about children, education and church) took about 7 hours. Exhausted from the stress of that, we hustled off to pull and pack the next gig, getting to another church late at night for the next day’s seminar with white-haired, silver-tongued pneuma-naut (his word), Leonard Sweet. After the exhilarating day with Len at which I sold books, and the terrific and busy Christian ed conference over at Living Word Community Church, which Beth and her sister worked, I scooted back, helping them tear down, bringing everything from both shows back to the H&M garage. We are, as is often the case, thrilled that folks buy our books, happy for the positive feedback, and always just a little sad that more people don’t take in learning events such as these, that the very best books don’t always sell as much as we would wish, and wonder how best to get the word out that there are amazing resources to be found, good books that can enhance one’s life, deepen one’s discipleship, and move us towards more faithful living in God’s good world. Jesus called disciples, which, you know, means learners. Life-long learners grow and mature in many ways, but surely reading widely and deeply, is part of that. Some churches become communities of bookish discourse, and some, sadly, do not. Some people have a curiosity and eagerness to want to learn and grow, but some do not. Thanks to those who help us get set up at these gigs, and thanks to those who pray and care, and thanks, especially, to those who purchased books from us. We really hope it helps.
A custodian winked at us slyly late at night as we were slowly pushing the heavy carts full of boxes of unsold stuff back to our van. He, too, was working the night shift and happy to be there, after the crowds left. He said, “Beats cleaning up after macaroni salad.” My blank stare tipped him off that I had no idea what he was talking about.
“Macaroni salad in the church basement,” he said (as if that cleared it up.) He explained that in previous churches where he worked as janitor he had to clean up after events that, well, just didn’t seem to him to be that urgent. Just light little lunches. “What war are they going to fight,” he asked, “after sitting around eating macaroni salad?”
I am a pacifist and rarely use such militaristic language, but he’s right that spiritual warfare is a theme of the Bible. Or, we could say, using Blues Brother’s phrasing, that “We are on a mission from God!” What battle, what race, what mission, what endeavors, emerge from low-expectation, boring church meetings, from gathering with little passion or point? Of course, eating together is a hugely important Christian practice, and Jesus’ himself ate, if not macaroni salad, something like it, often with others, and the on-lookers complained. But my late-night janitor buddy had seen what I am sure you have seen: a whole lot of church activity that doesn’t seem to motivate anyone to do much of anything. He was right to observe that he and Beth and Debi and I were cleaning up after a day which mattered, equipping caring Sunday school leaders with passion and excellence, to care for babies and kids, children and youth. All the work, before and after, is, we pray, a contribution to greater faithfulness, serious learning, equipping saints for making a difference.
Len Sweet said that as a theologically-interested bookseller, I am like a dinosaur, like the last living turtle on Galapacos Island. I don’t know about that, but I do know that we were the very first store in the world to get his brand spanking new book—shipped to us directly from the book bindery thanks to some magic worked by my friends at Abingdon Press. The Church of the Perfect Storm is a Sweetly edited anthology of chapters on the rough waters of our times, the ways in which the church should and can ride into the storm, how to not only ride out the waves, but do effective ministry in these raging waters. Sweet has played with this analogy often before (although it is out of print, we have some of his fascinating Aqua Church left) and his first chapter is wonderful introduction to his take on the times.) The last chapter, by the way, is a great sermon on ways to react to wild waters of postmodernity and post-Christendom, chart notes for stormy seas. As he often reminds us, the most dangerous place for boats during a storm is in the harbor. We are called to launch out into the deep, knowing Christ is with us helping us enjoy the ride.
What battles are you equipped to fight, what races to run, what vocations to take up, what storms to chase, after you gather with others? What conversations of what consequence occur? What books will help you move towards your goals? How do you trust the Spirit more fully as you are called forth to deep and raging waters, and what resources may help you through it all? The busy crowds buying kids books this weekend at Living Word, and the exciting time with Len at Grace United Methodist, wore us out, but, as the late-night custodian reminded us, such events are as important as any war.
The Church of the Perfect Storm is edited by Leonard Sweet (Abingdon; $16.) This includes essays from around the world—from the likes of Alan Jamieson (New Zealand), Greg Glatz (Canada) a South African, a South Korean, Bill Easum, Peter Walker and Mark Matterson, from the U.S., and Tom Bandy is Canadian. This international view gives this collection a very broad weather report, although they all share Sweet’s penchant for the storm metaphor, for the urgency of taking up the 21st century hot-wired culture, and they each offer insight about how to do ministry in the world of complex and converging social trends. Want to reorient your thinking into the new social context? Want to leave “terra nova” behind and move out into stormy seas? This new title could help. He ends his acknowledgments with these lines from William Cowper (1731-1800.)
the clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and will break
In blessings on your head
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust him for his grace;
Behind a frowning providence