Category Archives: “Quiet Demons & Screaming Peter Pan” a new book

Judy’s Terrible Wonderful Afternoon

“The beauty and order of nature are not gratuitous. The tapestry does not exist for its own sake, just to be admired. Its grit and grandeur has a purpose. The
prettiness has a point. Nature is, as Psalm 19 says in
the King James Version, God’s ‘handiwork.’ It has
God’s fingerprints all over it. John Calvin called
creation ‘the theater of God’s glory.’ It is a place
where, and a way that, God performs.”
                                                                              Nathan Bierma
                                             Bringing Heaven Down to Earth

A dear family friend stopped by. I’ll call her Judy. She said, “Want to hear about my day yesterday?” We said yes, and she warned us that she was still tired and weepy, so she might not do very well. Then she plunged ahead.

Judy had driven to meet her son and his girlfriend. Her son was transferring colleges, and his girlfriend, who had recently graduated from college, was also planning to find an apartment in this new college town.

Together the three of them toured the campus. They stopped at the housing office and learned that it was campus policy for students who were not yet seniors to live on campus. The son’s face fell. They stepped outside the office carrying a housing application to complete. The young man told his mother that he was about to cause great disappointment to two other guys who were hoping to live together with him and his girlfriend in a rented house near campus-in fact, they already had a house on hold with a realtor. This arrangement was new to Judy. She bit her tongue, aware that her relationship with her son was at that universally dangerous moment of passage from childhood into adulthood. While her son was considering what to do, she suggested that they stop and say hello to a friend of their family: the college president.

The president was in his office, and he greeted them with warmth, rejoicing that Judy’s son would be attending his college. “Are you here looking for an apartment?” asked the president. Judy explained that they had just discovered the housing policy. The president said, “Well, we have a lot more men than usual attending this fall, maybe there’s room for an exception to the housing policy.” Judy told him no, that they hadn’t come there to secure his intervention. When they left, she gave the president a hug and again told him that she wasn’t expecting him to intervene regarding the housing. Outside the president’s office, the girlfriend said, “What a wonderful man. He’s the kind of person that you wouldn’t ever want to do anything to disappoint.”

Judy took a breath and asked her son and his girlfriend if she could treat them to a late lunch. “Pick a place that you couldn’t otherwise afford,” she said. They chose a lovely Italian bistro in the center of town. After they’d ordered, Judy said, “We need to talk about the elephant in the room.” She paused. Then she said, “Are you two sexually active?” Without looking at one another, the two young people immediately told the truth. Yes.

Judy did not tell us all the details of the next two hours. What she told us was that the young woman cried through most of it. And so did Judy. Judy told them, “Sex is not something that is just yours. It happens in the context of your life in a community and what you do as a sexual couple impacts the community.” Ultimately, Judy’s son made her proud with his own tears and respectfulness. “I don’t want to disappoint you,” he said. “And I don’t want to set a bad example.”

But make no mistake. It wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t neat, and it wasn’t done by the end of two hours. Her son argued that sex was natural, a part of a healthy relationship. His girlfriend admitted that her parents didn’t know and would be very disappointed if they ever found out.

I asked if this all happened at the restaurant. Yep, said Judy, waiters were stopping by with their usual questions, “How is everything? Anything I can get you?” Judy said their food was great, and they even ate some of it. Outside the restaurant, Judy looked them each in the eye and told them that she loved them. And she left. Her son was on his own.

Judy was supposed to meet another young couple who lived in that town. She was late, but she called and asked if she could still come over. When she got there, her friends could tell she had been crying. They led her into the dining room where there were places set, and there was fruit cut and laid out in the middle of the table. “Oh, I’m so sorry,” said Judy, “You’re expecting guests.” The wife of the young couple laughed and said, “We’re expecting you.”

For the next hour Judy gently revealed her mother’s heart to this younger couple who did not yet have children. They listened. She was struck that they told her she was very unusual. This is not the sort of thing that parents talk about with their children. “Yes, but I don’t know if I’ve done it right,” sobbed Judy.

“You’re doing it,” said the young husband. He reminded Judy that her son would never forget this day. He said, “Now if your son and his girlfriend have sex again, his mother will be in the room.” And the young couple told Judy that she was helping them prepare to talk to their own children about sex someday.

As Judy told us this story, she said that her beloved son and his girlfriend don’t have a community that they’re talking with about these things. And the few friends they have are simply reflecting the mythic ethos of a culture far from the social, medical, psychological and spiritual truths surrounding real sex. As she said this, I wondered whether her son would find a church that openly and appropriately reveals itself regarding sexuality. Are there many churches like that? When in our places of greatest learning and greatest modeling, that is our worship services, have we celebrated the beauty and order of God’s handiwork as revealed in human sexuality? Is it not the case that most worshiping communities have been silent on one of life’s most important topics, while other cultural voices and images speak loudly and clearly? As one of my favorite high school teachers used to say, “Silence is construed to be consent.”

Judy’s story continued. After she left the young couple’s house, she stopped by a local coffee shop to grab something for the long ride home. There in a corner was her son and his girlfriend. She went over and asked them if they were okay. They nodded. She said, “I don’t know if the president will do anything about that housing situation, so you’d better fill out that form.”

“I’m going to, Mom,” he said. “I’ve decided that I’m going to live in the dorm.”

“We’ve decided that we’re going to do a lot of things differently,” said his girlfriend.

Judy told us she drove home singing…

Blessed be your name
On the road marked with suffering
Though there’s pain in the offering
Blessed be your name

…worshiping the God who cares deeply about the sex life of her son.



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Praise him with the sound of the trumpet: 
    praise him with the psaltery and harp.
Praise him with the timbrel and dance: 
    praise him with stringed instruments and organs.
Praise him upon the loud cymbals: 
     praise him upon the high sounding cymbals.
Psalm 150:3-5 (KJV)

When I was in high school, it seemed as if everyone played the guitar. Except me. I was in plays, in the high school choir, and on the tennis team. I didn’t have time for a garage band. In fact, I heard sermons against rock and roll. Syncopated rhythms, they told us, would lead to “unwanted pregnancy.” Our little church wouldn’t have dreamed of allowing a guitar on the platform. One boy in our youth group played guitar in a band. His fatal error was to go public. His band cut a single which had an original ballad on one side and a cover of “Roll Over Beethoven” on the flip side. Once I was delivering newspapers near his house, and I saw the pastor going in. I heard later that the pastor told the son he could no longer be a member of the church if he continued to play in the band. After that, the whole family quit coming to church. Some people said, “See what rock and roll causes.”

I was too young and too confused to mount a response. I was busy trying to decide if dancing and going to movies were really as evil as everyone at my church said. My world was pre-cyberspace small. I hadn’t yet heard of Larry Norman and “Why Does the Devil Get All the Good Music?” I hadn’t read C.S. Lewis or seen a picture of him sitting in a pub with a pint.  

Our church had an electric organ always played by Florence Bentley and a piano always played by Mary Alice Cross. Those two instruments were used pretty much every Sunday morning. Sometimes Mr. Erickson would bring his trombone and play along with the singing, doing an occasional, showy, full-octave slide and that, for me, was a pretty exciting Sunday.

Then I went away to college and my world exploded. I learned that Christ’s church had existed before 1961 when the group that founded our church began holding prayer meetings in the old auto body shop. I learned that the King James was neither the first nor the last Bible translation. I heard speaking in tongues for the first time. I read Mere Christianity.

And I bought a guitar.   

Within three years, I would pay my final visit to my home church. My parents moved to California, so I had no reason to return. We had all moved away physically, but I also just moved away, attempting to learn respect for the wide world of worshipers. I now know that this journey will never be complete, and I also have come to realize that this journey strangely still includes that little group of believers that nurtured my childhood faith and also my narrow-mindedness.

Thirty years have gone by since I bought my first guitar. I am worship coordinator at a church that has lots of guitar stands scattered on the platform. There is room for acoustic, electric and bass. There’s a drum set and a double-rack synthesizer. There’s a sixteen-year-old sax player at our church whose riffs would leave Mr. Erickson slack-jawed. There’s cello and violin. There’s a piano. There’s a choir. There are singers galore.

There’s a pipe organ.

For thousands of Sundays, the pipe organ in this Iowa church was the only instrument you would have heard. The organist was essentially the song leader. Not now. Not anymore. This is to be expected, since the local climate has changed. There is more diversity in our town than there has been since it was founded by Dutch immigrants in the 1870s. This diversity is reflected in the instruments we play and the songs we sing. Unless theologically prohibited (as my home church thought about guitars), worship leaders work with the instruments that the worshipers play. And they sing songs in a style appropriate to the people in the pew-you don’t typically hear sitars in Iowa worship services, but someday soon you may be hearing more Spanish guitars in my church. The culture is changing in many ways, and these changes have impacted the use of the organ. Our church and many similar churches across the land are asking, “What’s the role of the organ in worship?” The very fact that this question is being asked suggests change in the wind. Change always means that something will be lost as something else is gained. And loss is always accompanied by grief.  

One recent Sunday morning, I was the worship coordinator. Someone else was leading, but I was there in a supportive role. I got up at my usual pre-dawn time and walked the worship space double-checking its readiness for the sacred activity of the day. Eventually, the team gathered and checked mics, and stands, and instruments, and sheet music, and cues.

The organist was sitting quietly, waiting. She is a woman who has served worship by pressing those foot pedals for many decades of her life. She once told me that when she started attending this church, she wasn’t allowed to play because the organist slots were all taken. It took her a long time to earn a place on the bench. But she is still the church’s youngest organist today, and she’s in her late sixties.

She seemed especially still this morning, so I slid down the pew and broached the subject of her mood, “Good morning. How are you doing?” She and I have learned to trust each other, so she gave me a straight up response. She said, “This is my last Sunday playing the organ.” What? Did I hear correctly? I said, “What do you mean?” She told me that she hadn’t told anyone yet, but, she said, she’d had one too many rehearsals in which her role was unclear.  

I was having flashbacks to the tensions over music in my childhood church, only now we were playing the flip side. I also flashed back to a recent sermon tape I’d heard in which a mega-church pastor asked, “How many seekers listen to organ music in their cars?”

But this was no time for glibness. I was sitting next to a woman who represented a lifetime of service to the worshiping community and she had just said to me, “This is my last Sunday playing the organ.” This was a moment for listening.

I could see that the rehearsal runthrough of the service was about to begin. “Will you meet me back on this pew immediately after church?” I whispered. She looked at me with tears in her eyes and said, “Yes.”

After church we sat there together. I listened to her grieving heart. As she spoke, a middle-aged woman gently stepped up to the organ. “Excuse me,” she said. “I don’t mean to interrupt. But would you mind if I played the organ? I used to live here, and this is the organ I learned on. I’d love to play it again.” We nodded our heads, and she slid onto the bench. We sat silently and listened. She played beautifully. When she finished, I said, “Do you come back often?” She shook her head. “No, not anymore.” She slipped quickly away, wanting to catch up to those waiting for her. I didn’t even get her name.

I asked our organist not to quit while her emotions were running high, and she agreed that she wouldn’t. Two months later she tendered her resignation.

I once asked a friend who is a concert organist, “If you were looking for a new church, would you look for one with an organ?” She shocked me by saying no. She explained, “It’s a special congregation that can afford an organ and can support its use.”

The church is not about carpet, or pews, or pianos, or organs, or drums or guitars. These are all instruments for glorifying God. The church building itself is only a tool. One day, the tasks of all these tools will be change. All of them will change. Our current building is aging and though it contains rich memories, it can no longer be renovated, and an architect is now at work designing a new building in which our church will meet for worship and ministry. There is a serious leak in the bellows of our organ. As with the building that surrounds it, we must ask, “Can our organ be repaired?” And the even tougher question, “Should it be repaired?”

There are countless faith stories carried in the memory banks of believers. Many of these stories play back to the soundtrack of an organ. What should our churches do at this time of change? I don’t have an easy answer. I do know that it’s a time for respect, love and prayer-for rejoicing with those who rejoice and grieving with those who grieve.

On the other side of all these changes, when our grieving is finally done, we will still have each other, and we will still have the Lord. And he will have us. And I believe that there will come a day that my high school friend Tony will plug in his guitar, and my Iowa friend Bev will slide onto the organ bench, and we will sing a new song. And it will sound like heaven.


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The Shoes of a Poet’s Wife

 “In the main, Christians do not have an abstract, philosophical concept of God; rather, they understand God primarily through the stories in
the Bible….”
                                                                           Thomas Long

On a beautiful fall morning in my town, I went over to a local church that was hosting a worship workshop. I was only able to stay for awhile, because I wanted also to attend the Festival of New Music at our college.

At the worship workshop, Howard Vanderwell from the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship was talking about the relationship of theme and worship. He said, “Worship has a beginning, a central portion, and an end.” Ah ha-story structure-I said to myself. Norma de Waal Malefyt, his colleague, added, “If you want an image for the thematic shape of worship, think of worship more like a novel than a magazine.” There it is again, simple and sweet. Then I slipped out the door to the college.

At the college, the concert was already in progress. I picked up a program, concentrated on the music, and took the program home with me. Standing in my kitchen, I read that one piece of vocal music had been based entirely on brief stories. The composer wrote that he prefers working from prose rather than poetry. He uses stories gleaned from many sources. Reading through the stories, it seemed immediately clear to me that someone had pared the stories down to their bare essential actions. They have “a beginning, a central portion, and an end”-little else. Here’s one of the stories, taken directly from the program that I picked up at the concert:

Osip Mandelshtam, Russia’s great poet, wrote a poem, privately circulated, critical of Stalin. He was sentenced to forced labor. He died as a result, and his widow was forced to travel from one province to another, till her shoes got so worn they barely hung to her feet. She found a cobbler in one small city where she was hiding. She told him the story of her love, her fear and her sorrow. He looked at her and said, “You’ll never go without shoes again.”

Standing there in my kitchen, I started singing, “Lord, I want to be a Christian in my heart.” Then the worship leader in me imagined that sequence in a worship service: someone tells that story of Osip’s wife, and then we sing that song, “Lord I want to be….” There is no more comment than that. The sequence makes us ask, “Who is the Christian in that story? Is it Osip? His wife? The cobbler?” We don’t have to be told the answer. In fact, the story’s evocation of the question helps us apply the song to our own experience and our own longing toward Christ-likeness. Something inside us makes us say, “Yes, Lord, count me in!” in a way that is deeper and more long-lasting than singing the song by itself. This linking takes us one step toward the structure that Howard and Norma were talking about.

If the above sequence of a story followed by a worship song is simply dropped into a worship service, we still have “magazine worship.” But if it is dropped into a service in which the scripture text is Jesus sending his disciples from town to town, taking nothing with them, then we are getting closer to Norma’s image of “novel worship.” It all gets connected together, but in an evocative rather than explicit manner.

A story by itself is still good. A song by itself is still good. A scripture by itself is still good. But if a worship planner can choose to include a little story in support of a larger story that connects to the larger story, might that not be a beautiful thing?  

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No Water in the Lake

 “When, a few years later, I stumbled across that Benedictine monastery, I found worship that was far more accessible and refreshing. The monks, it
seemed, were in less of a hurry, less frantic to fill
the air with a quantity of words.”
                                                                      Kathleen Norris
                                                                      Amazing Grace

 “How does one keep on being creative?” That was the first question. Three senior seminary students were sitting in the backyard of our rented cottage on Lake Michigan. They had given up their Saturday night to be with Karen and me. They had invited themselves. We were honored that they cared to nose around in the cluttered storeroom of our experience. And the first question of the night was, “How does one keep on being creative?”

I suddenly felt childish. What contribution could I make in the face of such a mystery? How often hadn’t I wondered this very thing myself? Although I may have grown creative in the past, the latest ripe apple picked from that tree was the last one there. And if I could manage to find another apple, that one would surely be the last. I never had a promise that the tree would bear more fruit. I expected that Karen felt the same. I expected that all of us sat there feeling the same unspoken fear.

I glanced toward the west. I stared. Something had happened while I wasn’t looking. A gray wash of clouds had blown in from the Chicago side of the lake. The sun had settled just below the horizon, leaving only reflected light behind. The clouds, the light and the water were a seamless image. The horizon was gone. It was gone. The clouds washed up on our shore. The lake swept up and away over our heads. I knew this water had so many personalities, but this was new. For awhile, I was gone.  How long?  A heartbeat?  A couple of years?  I forgot the company and the conversation. I saw the sky. It was eternity.

What is the correct answer to the seminary students’ first question? What would you have said? I wish you had been there.

Three days later, I was back in Chicago. I went to the Garfield Conservatory to see the Chihuly blown glass exhibit. It was amazing. But the plants and trees were more amazing still. Hundreds, huge and tiny. One plant had little leaves that folded together into the shape of a small shrimp, and when fully mature, a little, colorful shrimp’s tail appears. Dale Chihuly had been inspired by a visit to this world class conservatory. His strange glass shapes now nestled among God’s own weird and wonderful creations.

Out a side door, I turned the corner and there was a gravel path that circled around and around seven times. A small sign told me it was a labyrinth. A labyrinth is different than a maze. There is no puzzle in the path itself. The path simply folds around on itself, leading to a center point. The traveler is invited to walk in, pause, and walk out. It is, historically, a spiritual activity. The investment is time, and the product is unknown. I took the bait. I walked slowly. A couple joined me on the path. They chattered the whole time, laughing and enjoying one another. When they got to the center, they giggled, cut across the grass and disappeared. I made it to the center, paused and headed back out the way I had come in. I walked past a River Birch that stood by the outer ring. There were birch trees in my yard when I was growing up. I used to mow around them. They are eccentric trees that re-ignite my childhood memories, so I’m always on the lookout for them. I had not seen this River Birch on the way in, but now it was there. Where had it come from? I continued to loop around and around. I decided to pause on the path and look around while standing still. Perhaps there would be another River Birch I had not noticed. I looked up. Suddenly there was a hummingbird feeding among the tall orange flowers not ten feet away. I had never before seen a humming bird so close and for so long. I stood there for several minutes. His back was green and shining. I continued down the path. On the last loop around, I saw a dainty fountain hidden among the flowers across from the labyrinth. It was obvious. How had I missed it?

I don’t know the answer to the seminary students’ question. I suppose there are answers, but I don’t know them. There are people who teach creativity theory, but I don’t. All I know is how it seems to work out for me. I pause on the path. I look around. I wait.  

So many times, creative activity (“creativity”) is simply picking beauties from God’s garden. 


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Introduction – Dr. Bastian’s Heaven

“Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”
                                                              I Corinthians 13:12

When I was in graduate school, I traveled to northern Wisconsin and met the great American theatre director Paul Sills. Sills was the founding director of Chicago’s improvisational theatre, The Second City. Even though Sills is unknown outside the profession, he has directed and taught so many who have become luminaries. He also developed the theatrical form known as “story theatre.”

I was writing my thesis about Paul’s career, and I had come to revere him so much that I was terrified to meet him. In fact, a few people I interviewed told me that Paul would never talk to me, or if he did, he might respond petulantly. I pulled my car up next to the barn where Paul for decades led classes on improvisational acting. I got out. I looked toward the house, and there he was, the icon, standing in the doorway. I stumbled up to him and stood there, speechless.     

I figured he would at least throw a chair at me.     

He reached out a gracious hand and said, “I’m Paul.” Then he pulled me up the steps into his kitchen where he said, “I’ll make you a sandwich.” He saved my life. We ultimately had a lovely conversation, sans petulance. At one point, he said, “I’m applying for a teaching job. Give me your response to the way I’ve done my resume. I haven’t done one of these before.”     

He was the cliché artistic personality—an alien in a capitalist society. This became clearer to me a year later when I finished my first year of teaching at Geneva College, a small Christian liberal arts college in Pennsylvania. Karen and I traveled back to Chicago to visit family and see some plays. I discovered that Paul had returned to the city, and a play of his was running in the little theatre off the alley behind The Second City. Here was my chance to see the great man’s work. We made reservations, and when we arrived at the box office, there, selling the tickets, was Paul himself. I re-introduced myself. He asked me what I was doing now. I told him I’d just finished my first year of teaching college theatre. I felt ashamed in the face of his significance. But when I looked at him, he had a shy grin on his face, and he said, “I wish I had a job like that.”     

Soon after I saw Paul in that little box office, the final draft of my thesis was accepted, and I sent a copy of it to the special theatre collection in the Harold Washington Library downtown Chicago. That was that. Paul and I took separate paths. I noted from afar that Paul finally got a job teaching. Mike Nichols, an old friend of Paul’s, joined with him and one other teacher to found an actor’s conservatory in New York.      

Paul’s work and words have continued to influence my life. It was at the farm that he said, almost offhandedly, “Stories contain the truth and wisdom of the ages.” That’s a truth I almost missed. I grew up in a church that taught me that the Bible contained the truth and wisdom of the ages. As a child, I understood that to mean that truth was to be found in the form of argument, proof-text and bumpersticker. It took a liberal arts education to convince me that all truth was God’s truth, wherever it may be found. It was years after that, even years after I met Paul Sills, when I came to understand that all beauty is God’s beauty, and truth is present in artistic form. It was right in front of my face all along in the stories of the Hebrew Bible and the parables of Jesus.    

I believe that one of the reasons I missed the power of story was that my worshipping tradition included reverence for Jesus through song, offering, prayer, text, and rationale. Story was for children’s Sunday School or for private devotions. Story did not earn a hearing in the most formative place of the church—its public worship.     

You will see as you read this book that I have not changed my mind about Jesus, but I have changed my mind about story.    

This is a book for those who wish to think about the place of story in worship. It’s a book about worship and story, and it’s also a book of stories. (In other words, I am trying to put my money where my mouth is. I aim to do what I say.)     

You may read the chapters in any order. Each will tell its own tale. And, as the wonderful contemporary memoirist Dennis Covington says, our lives themselves are stories. The stories of this book will add up—becoming one way of telling the story of one life’s worship journey thus far.    

Sometimes, I’ll focus on worship by itself, but usually I’ll be busy noticing the edge where worship touches story and storytelling. I am speaking of story in at least the following specific ways: Bible story, history, parable, personal story, and story as structure. This is about stories within worship as well as the story form of the whole worship service.

I am attempting to encourage those who worship and those who lead other worshippers to ask this simple question:  what should we do about story?    

Before we get on with the stories, I’d like to say something in an attempt to tone down the potential arrogance and polarizing inherent in this journey we’re about to take together. To do that, I’d like to invite you sideways to a book about writing. In “Writing Down the Bones,” Natalie Goldberg says, 

Learning to write is not a linear process. There is no logical A-to-B-to-C way to become a good writer. One neat truth about writing cannot answer it all.      

It seems to me that what Goldberg says here about writing is also immediately true of worship. This worshipful path is not straight. There is no logical way to become a good worshipper. Worship is as messy as living. Worship is, as A.W. Tozer says, the reason we are alive—our purpose on this earth—but there is no one neat truth to answer how to do worship or how to lead others into doing worship.    

In her book on writing, Goldberg explains that she is attempting to help writers access “the essential, awake speech of their minds.” The worship leader in me is reminded of the phrase “full, conscious, and active participation,” which is the goal for worshipers described in Vatican II’s “Sacrosanctum Concilum” (1963).      

Goldberg’s suggestion for the process of authentic writing is to, “Write down the bones.” A writer who is writing down the bones is putting the inner life down on the page. The inside is turned outward, and that which is written down shows the basic truth of this person.     

I suggest that our goal as worshippers is to “worship out the bones;” to bring the inner life out in our worship, all the way to the “spirit and truth” of which Jesus spoke. You may think I’m saying that true worship is from the very bones, as in “worship out [of] the bones.” That would be really passionate worship. Nothing wrong with that, but I’m trying for a more mystical image. I’m picturing a vulnerable worship, in which the worshiper becomes willing to acknowledge reality, as God knows it to be. The honest to goodness truth comes out. It is a kind of worship in which the inner, God-seen life is turned outside. The skeletons come out of the closet.     

It’s a sort of gruesome image. Think of Ezekiel’s valley of dry bones being imbued with spirit, and you’ll have permission to let your mind wander into such territory.  Think of Psalm 103, “He knows our frame. He remembers that we are dust.”     

I’m striving toward an image which no longer accepts worship all dressed up in “Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes.” This is worship that is as hospitable and honest as an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.     

How does that work? We tell our stories. “Hi my name is Jeff, and I’m a sinner. Here’s what happened…”    

Goldberg says she wants to be writing down the bones because, “I want someone to know me. We walk through so many myths of each other and ourselves; we are so thankful when someone sees us for who we are and accepts us.”    

I want someone to know me. I want God to know me. I want you to know me. I want to worship out the bones.    

“Bones-out” worship is:
and true.    

I don’t know how to get to those if we’re not telling our stories. But this book is no prescription. There is no one way to write. There is no one way to love. There is no one way to worship. Am I being relativist? I hope not. I do believe that we can say there are ways that you cannot worship God. You cannot worship God with human sacrifice. You cannot worship God with an act of injustice. You cannot worship God by worshipping God’s creation. The list goes on. True worship is true love of God and therefore has as many variations as there are lovers.         

I’d like to hear your love story.    

What do the bones look like in your own worship? Your answer might include 
     your affection for God, 
sadness for your sins,
gratefulness for God at work,
helplessness without God,           
grief for where God is not yet,
submission to God’s assignments,
giddy celebration over God.
All of these (and more) make up the skeletal structure of our relationship with God. Can we reveal each of these “bones” every time we worship? No. Perhaps, however, we can strive for such revelations over a life of worship.    

If we are not willing to worship out the bones, may we still call it worship? Can we at least have a conversation about that? Can we at least tell each other some stories? Can at least one song move over to make room?  

Many of us in the church have been away from hearing and telling stories so long that we are confused about getting started. Perhaps believing that it should be difficult, we confess that we don’t have the slightest idea how to start.     

In my experience, getting started is actually pretty simple. You start by saying, “I’d love to hear what your life has been like.” With trust and sensitivity as our protectors, these personal stories can soon find their way into the fabric of our public life together.        

Until I was five, my parents took us eight kids to a Baptist church. There was an article in the paper which included a picture of the Barker family taking up an entire pew. But that church apparently wasn’t separatist enough, so my parents helped start a non-denominational, fundamentalist Bible church, which nurtured and nagged me until college. Somewhere in there, I learned to study the Bible and I made some private and public professions of faith and I was baptized. I went away to a Free Methodist college. My first year at college, I was a youth leader at a Presbyterian church. About this time, my sister was telling me of her experiences in the charismatic Jesus movement of southern California. Then my college art professor took us into a Catholic cathedral in St. Louis where I saw centuries-old mosaics and walked the stations of the cross for the first time. It devastated me. I didn’t have a box for Christ’s church anymore. 

It was on a Sunday night during those college years that I heard Donald Bastian preach a sermon about what heaven may be like. This was long before I became rooted in Reformed theology and long before Dr. Bastian became a Bishop of the Free Methodist Church in Canada. I was just a college student afraid that he was losing his faith, and Reverend Bastian was just the pastor of the college church. On the Sunday night in question, he said that he believes when we are in heaven, we will know everyone as we are known. In other words, our personalities will be hanging out for everyone to see. Pastor Bastian said he didn’t know how it would happen, but he believed it would be true. There would no longer be the need for secrets, and finally, we could be known. I was terrified of the idea, but I also knew that he was describing what I wanted.    

I’ve come to believe that Dr. Bastian was right, and that, as with the journey of sanctification, we should not wait for heaven. We should start now.

© 2006 Jeff Barker


Filed under "Quiet Demons & Screaming Peter Pan" a new book, Introductory Materials for "Quiet Demons and Screaming

Table of Contents – a glimpse of what’s to come

Dr. Bastian’s Heaven

    What Mother Teresa told the Actress 
    The Cut 

    Magic Hope      
    The True Story at the Back of the Bus   
    The Invisible Story 
    E-Mail: Unclaimed Diamonds
    Jeannette Says Yes  
    The Best Missionary Slide Show I Ever 
    Picturing God
    Wade Nearly Kills Himself
    The Shoes of a Poet’s Wife    
No Regard for the Deeds of the Lord            
    Real Life Dramas
    “Lindsay, want to play crack?”

    Quiet Demons and Screaming Peter Pan  
    No Water in the Lake
    Keeping Don
    Vertical Habits
    The Nairobi
    Can We Tap Dance?
    “And together we read…”
    Wear that Shirt and Look at Us
    E-mail: Julie   

    The Simple Beauty
    I, We, My, Our
    Coming Home
    E-mail: The Demons Say
    Tom and Dennis
    Sunday Morning Feelings

    Danyale’s Wedding
    Judy’s Terrible Wonderful Afternoon
    One Pastor’s Wife’s Saturday
    The Other Driver
    The Fourposter

    Appendix 1 – Advent Service: A Walk with the Shepherds
    Appendix 2 – The Bands of Syria
    Appendix 4 – The Fisherman and His Wife


Filed under "Quiet Demons & Screaming Peter Pan" a new book, Introductory Materials for "Quiet Demons and Screaming