“The Sacred Meal” not so filling

27 01 2010

“The Sacred Meal,” written by Nora Gallagher, is part of “The Ancient Practices Series” – a collection of books meant to explore some long-held Christian disciplines that perhaps have been lost over the centuries, if not in practice, at least in meaning. Ms. Gallagher tackles the subject of Communion, one of the two most widely observed ordinances in the Christian church universal. As a worship pastor, I was excited to read “The Sacred Meal,” hoping for some new (old) insights and practices from the church fathers or church history that would put the breath of life back into that holy and mysterious practice that – to be frank – is simply ritual for too many of us. Apparently, my expectations for the book were misguided.

I was treated to a number of Ms. Gallagher’s personal experiences and stories related to taking or administering communion in different places, times, and forms. Each story led to discourse about something that we’ve lost in the practice of Communion through our history, but I felt like each chapter and story led to the SAME thing we’ve lost – a sense of community around the table of the Lord. While I agree that the church is rife with divisions of denominationalism and doctrine and traditions of men and the prejudices of our depravity, I don’t think that the only issue at stake is our lack of unity. I don’t believe that the practice of “Communion” is primarily about being together or simply sharing an experience together as such. Yes, I agree that’s a big part of it; but, while Communion is meant to be done in community (and probably not in any other way), it is the community together focused on something ELSE other than the community. It is a time to share and reflect on the atoning work of Christ that has made our particular kind of community possible. Jesus didn’t get the disciples together simply to enjoy each other’s company over a meal. He met with them for the Passover meal that he interpreted for them in real time. No longer is this bread and wine simply symbolic of God’s ancient deliverance of Israel from Egypt, but they are present symbols of God’s deliverance through the work of Christ, which they would see played out over the next few days and which we have come to hold as the object of our Christian faith.  “This is my body…this is my blood…do it to remember me,” were the words of Jesus. Paul recognizes the church’s experience in the observance of that sacred meal is “to show forth the Lord’s death until he comes.”

Community is the arena in which we partake of our sacred meal and true Christian community becomes the expression of what we have remembered in our sacred meal, but the meal is refocusing on the One who formed this community and not on the ones who comprise this community. Ms. Gallagher’s book seems to point only toward a raw existentialism and blind ecumenicalism for Communion (even seemingly inclusive in some way of non-Christian faiths such as Islam). While I appreciate and echo her passion for a Christian church which as Jesus stated is known by its love for each other (and the world) and which as Paul wrote actually looks like the workmanship of God created in Christ Jesus and carrying out the good works prepared for it in the eternal mind of God, I believe we can only find that in the BASIS of what Communion is and the REASON our community even exists – not in the existential moment of being together, but in remembering together what that moment means. Then we can live it out together to the world around us.

All in all, Ms. Gallgher has many things to say that are good, sound, and inspirational. But it’s a bit like a nice meal at an expensive restaurant where the portions are not quite as large as you might like them to be. Tasty, enjoyable, but ultimately unsatisfying simply for lack of content. Her anecdotes make for good reading, but they would have been even more effective wrapped around a treatment of Communion that also considered the emphasis of the Biblical text to help us develop a deeper understanding of her personal experiences.


Everyday Greatness For Everyone

28 10 2009

everyday_greatness_coveyI don’t know if its the mid-life crisis thing or not, but I’ve been dwelling a lot on what real impact my life is having in this world. Am I all that I should be or could be? Is “greatness” achievable for me? What is greatness, after all? In lieu of being able to afford a new sports car, I guess my crisis and the unanswered questions are all I’ve got.

We tend to over-label greatness in our world. We throw the word out on so many cheap things that the truly great things of life get ignored. Those things are, after all, the little things, the EVERYDAY things that ordinary people do when they make choices to be and do something extraordinary. These moments may or may not be immediately recognized or honored as great, because the world is often looking for other kinds of stuff on which to place the label.  In the end, however, when the smoke clears and the label-maker is broken, it is these stories that will stick with us.

That is exactly what Stephen Covey is doing in his book, Everyday Greatness. He is compiling a collection of stories that reveal hidden greatness and ask us to make choices in our own lives that will push us toward the same. The stories are all compiled from that trusted pile-o’-goodness The Reader’s Digest, and each chapter has several stories that relate to one attribute/characteristic/action that Covey reminds us is a facet of true greatness in our lives. Chapter subjects include responsibility, courage, integrity, gratitude, vision, respect, empathy, perseverance, balance, and simplicity, among others. Each chapter also comes with great quotes (and I love quotes) as well as insights and commentary from Covey to draw the point for us in a practical way.

The book is not a “read-through” kind of book so much as it is a “I-have-a-quiet-moment-to-read” kind of book. The stories are short but poignant and provide us with big things to consider in a brief moment of respite. The book as a whole is humorous, sad, moving, and inspirational – a Reader’s Digest on steroids. As such, it is a great collection that reminds us (even us in our mid-life crises) that greatness is often overlooked in the actions and choices of everyday people just like us, and so we all have the opportunity to live greatly.

“Fearless” Typical Lucado

8 09 2009

Fear (and fear-mongering) is a huge business in our world. Governments, media outlets, and – yes – even a good percentage of churches peddle fear of all kinds. Into this fray steps Max Lucado with his new book, “Fearless,” with the subtitle promising a chance to “Imagine your life without fear.” Sounds like a pretty good idea.

Lucado uses specific verse references and his story-telling exposition of Biblical narrative to offer reasons we shouldn’t fear anything from the practical issues of our day such as catastrophe, violence, failing to protect our kids, and economic devastation to the philosophical fears of life that doesn’t matter, life that disappoints God, or life that ends with nothing after. His writing is always accessible, pleasant, honest, insightful, and inspirational. That is why he is such a popular author. He has a familiar kind of style, answering your questions – not with statements – but with stories and illustrations that bring you to answers alongside him. He is not preachy, and he is Biblically sound.

I must admit I’ve never been a huge Lucado-guy. It just feels in the end to be a little too sugary and trite. Like a Snickers bar for lunch, it meets the immediate need but doesn’t really have long-lasting effects. I know he did not set out to develop a theological treatise; he wants to be pastoral and inspirational. Still, if the goal of this book is to eradicate fear from your life completely, I think the answers here are little too close to the surface. There’s not much new here, not much life-altering; it’s just re-packaged in better stories.

If you’re a Lucado fan, this will be exactly what you expect, want, and love about him. If you’re not, this book probably won’t change your mind. It’s more of the same from the author. I don’t think these insights will or can accomplish something so elusive as a “life without fear;” however, if you can use these truths as stuff to help you in these battles we all face, you will have used this book well.

“Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl” quite a ride

19 08 2009

Tilt-a-Whirl cover

The Tilt-a-Whirl ride at your state fair is a thrilling, insane spinfest of glorious terror. So is the world we live in. And just like kids who discovers  the ride for the first time after a corn dog, a candied apple, 2 large cokes, and a funnel cake, our experience on earth is often a mixture of joy, fear, and that little bit of vomit in the back of your throat only held back by centrifugal force.

That seems to be the basis of N.D. Wilson’s “Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl,” the most incredible, bizarre, irreverent, poignant, poetic, and funny philosophical apologetic for the Christian worldview ever known to mankind. Wilson tackles issue such as creation/evolution, God’s existence and the problem of evil, heaven/hell, and the gospel story of Jesus Christ by talking to snowflakes, admiring the platypus, witnessing the destruction of earwigs, and eating lunch in graveyards. He takes on philosophers like Hume, Nietschze, Plato, and Marx, but not with dry rhetoric and high-sounding arguments no one understands or cares about. He simply looks around at the world, at nature, at the seasons of life, and our human experiences with an admiration that is beautiful and ghastly all at the same time. So beautiful and so ghastly that – he concludes – the worldview of Christianity is the only thing that one can rightfully come to.

On another note, I think the book could be difficult to read for some. It is NOT normal writing. “All over the place” would be a fitting description, a stream of consciousness approach with no ritalin in sight. I imagine some will find it hard to follow, but I loved it both for what it sets out to do and the unique and effective way it does it.

Finishing this book was like riding the attraction for which it is named. My head is spinning, I feel a little queasy, but I know now I would not have wanted to miss it for anything. I may even get back in line and ride it again (after another corn dog).