Special Effects Without a Story!

Cindy and I had date night on Friday and went out to eat and took in a movie. The movie, “How Does She Do It?” with Sarah Jessica Parker was good in every way. It has a message for all women and men who try to hold down a job and stay connected to their families. A key line at the end of the movie was when Greg Kinnear, playing the husband, was asked what his wife did for a living. His response: “She’s a juggler!” How true in this day and age! Females and males alike have to juggle to make ends meet and get everything done. It’s a tough life. As I think about Cindy and my daughter Narcie I know how true it is that they feel extra pressure as women to do it all. They feel the need to be mother, spouse, cruise director for the family, disciplinarian, list makers, and house cleaners, PLUS bring home a paycheck and have a stellar career. It’s almost an impossible task. It’s a job description that few men can fulfill, except maybe for my son-in-law Mike who along with Narcie are the most adept jugglers that I have ever seen. He is the best “Mr. Mom” imaginable. When I hear what they do in an average week it’s more than a mere mortal can do.

People all over the world are struggling every day to juggle life’s responsibilities. I worry about the toll this is taking on everyone and society in general. I wonder what the church can do to help. Is the Gospel relevant to the working Moms and Dads who are frantically trying to make it through another day? I worry about the answer to that question when I see churches that have Mother’s Morning Out programs that cater to people who want free time away from their kids to play a tennis match when there are countless parents who need the church to provide an all-day ministry in a Christian environment. The movie raised all sorts of questions for me.

Some of the pondering even started before the movie began. As we were sitting there waiting the usual snippets of “Who said it?” flashed across the screen, all before any previews were shown. One caught my attention and has been intersecting with the movie in my head for the past few days. The saying came from George Lucas of Star Wars fame: “A special effect without a story is boring!” That line got me to thinking. Due to a boring story has the church lost its relevancy to our society, a society that is working itself to death trying to find work and/or find meaning? I know the right answer, but is it our culture’s answer or its experience with Christianity? The right answer, of course, is “No!” We do have a special effect called Jesus’ resurrection that certainly isn’t boring. We have a Gospel that creates fireworks of redemptive transformative power. However, are we offering the Gospel in a way that people aren’t bored stiff with our stale answers and outdated worship?

This generation of young parents needs the church’s best efforts in special effects: Children’s programs, youth programs, parenting classes, financial peace seminars, Bible Studies, vibrant worship experiences, mission experiences, and the list is endless! We can prove George Lucas is wrong about us. Thanks to Jesus we have the most special of effects and a great story – the Gospel! What’s our narrative? Does it lift up Christ in a relevant way to the culture? We have to answer these questions, and fast!

It’s Good to be Home

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As I reflect on the rescue of the Chilean miners trapped for months below ground, the lines of Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz keep ringing in my ears, “There’s no place like home!” I cannot imagine the joy of families reunited after these desperate months. Just as it is true that home is where the heart is, there is also a need for a place to call home. Home is more than a heart-feeling, though it is often that. It is also something tangible.

This past week I was reminded of this in several ways. One was through an offer that someone made to buy our two-tenths of an acre at Lake Junaluska. We just got finished paying for that tiny parcel. There are only rocks and trees and a few stray golf balls, but it is also a vision, a hope. It is a tangible place for our family to call home – a family that has lived in someone else’s house/parsonage forever. Will we sell it? Only if we decide that I can’t stand living in retirement around a bunch of “My-church-was-bigger-than-yours-preachers,” or it finally sinks in that we can’t afford what we want to build.

However, it is our land for the time being and there is great comfort in having a home even if it is still invisible. But, the other “homely” thought came this week through remembering an October day spent with my Dad. We did our usual fall circuit. We cleaned off my mother’s grave, sprayed a weed and grass-killer to finish things off before the first-frost, and purchased a new season’s array of her favorite flowers. We traveled out to Barr’s Chapel, a closed United Methodist Church near Modoc, South Carolina. My great-great grandparents are buried there and Daddy, though only semi-ambulatory as a double amputee, was one of its trustees through the Edgefield UMC. Then we traveled a few short miles down a winding familiar road to Red Hill. This is the road that I remember traveling while sitting in Daddy’s lap angled between him and the steering wheel pretending to drive. We visited the Red Hill church where we ate on the grounds every year and reverently paid homage at Papa Mac and Ma Mac’s grave, plus the tombs of more great-grandparents, cousins and the like.

We had our usual visit, replaced flowers, saw the old homeplace of Daddy’s mother, reminisced about Grandfather Thomas’ old store and turned around. However, there is a part of me that never leaves because this trek reminds me of another home. Part of this other home is in my memory and part of it is in my future. It sneaks into my present more every day as I get older; ponder mortality, and the upcoming All Saint’s Day. It is a home called heaven by some, but in my mind’s eye it is Paradise – maybe more so because we live in a parsonage, however beautiful, but not ours. Nonetheless, heaven looks pretty inviting when my memory is overwhelmed by the carefree days of yesteryear where I can see my family alive and well with no worries to speak of. I am reminded that my longing for a place to call home on earth is far surpassed by the one waiting in heaven. There I will see the cloudy mist between the saints evaporated. Church Militant and Church Triumphant will be together again. There’ll be a reunion so fulfilling that I cry now to know it. As much as having a home here seems so attractive, there is a better one there.