There isn’t anything else going on April 5-6, I checked.
So break open the piggy-bank, dig under the couch cushions and come see me in Fort Worth. Wes Magruder and I will help you figure out once and for all what missional and monastic have to do with each other. We’ll also be talking about the Missional Wisdom Foundation’s experiences with forming missional communities. I’m quite positive other people will say good things too…but mostly, you don’t want to miss Wes and me.
Find out more about TransFORM at their website.
A few weeks ago it was a red velvet cake, today it was a giant chocolate chip cookie. When The Gathering, um…gathers… for worship, there is ALWAYS food involved. If someone is having a birthday, there’s cake; maybe left over, or it might be made especially for the occasion.
And so recently we stumbled across what is rapidly becoming one of my new favorite traditions. Seeing the red velvet birthday cake near where we were preparing the communion elements, someone jokingly asked, “Are we having birthday cake for communion?”
I stopped dead in my tracks and said, “Yes. Yes we are.”
To help our children understand the meaning of the Eucharist, we have a slightly modified way of describing the bread and cup. We talk about the bread as Jesus’ body that GIVES life – as food does. And we talk about the cup as Jesus’ blood that SAVES life – just like it does in the hospital. Communion is our practice of proclaiming to one another, and recommitting to the One who gives us life and saves our life.
And the purpose of a birthday cake is to celebrate a life given and kept safe through another year. So today it was time to celebrate Rachel’s birthday. I lifted the giant chocolate chip cookie, breaking it in front of the community and proclaiming the familiar words, “On the night that Jesus was betrayed…”
Then the birthday girl, in celebration of the gift of life, shared the gift of life with others. She broke off bite sized chunks, handing them to each person in turn saying, “This is Jesus body which gives life.” After everyone else was served, I got to break off a piece for Rachel – and her cake, celebrating God’s gift of life to her became Jesus’ body….celebrating God’s gift of life to her.
The symbolism was incredible.
So I asked Conner (9) and Micah (7) what they thought about our practice of birthday cake communion.
Conner: “The cake is, well, for one thing, its yummy. And two it celebrates people’s life and you know, this is Jesus’ body that gives life. Its important for us to do this together because Jesus loves us and we love Jesus.
Me: So why do you think we involve everybody in communion and not just the adults?
Conner: Its better to have all of us take communion instead of just the grown ups because everyone should be able to share Jesus with each other. Jesus loves kids too, not just adults that have been baptized, so we should all celebrate Jesus together.
Me: Micah, what do you think?
Micah: Its really good, especially when there’s cake… Its important to let kids take communion too because it helps us keep it in our minds when someone asks us why people take communion…we’ll just know the answer right away. The juice is the blood of Jesus and the bread is the body of Jesus. Jesus’ blood saves life and Jesus’ body gives life. That’s why we do it.
The decision to incorporate our children fully into the life of the community has meant that our worship gatherings are hectic…sometimes stressfully so. Conner and Micah are two of the liturgists and worship leaders in our community. We typically use the Common Prayer liturgy in our gatherings and its often Micah or Conner who lead that time. They find people to read the scriptures, they lead us in the Lord’s prayer, they lead the responsive readings…and often they’ll lead a song or two (and so will several other people…including their little brother and the other 4-5 year olds).
The impact has been phenomenal. An intergenerational community that is truly an intergenerational COMMUNITY. My role, as “the minister,” has shifted to be one voice among many. I will often capitalize on teaching moments as they arise – for instance when we’re reading a passage from the Old Testament, I’ll follow up with some comments about the cultural setting or that particular story’s role in the larger narrative. And the others are quick to interject their own reflections on the readings or a prayer. Our times of prayer become an opportunity to lament, rejoice and wonder together. Each of us are able to share stories of God at work and frustrations for the areas in which God seems painfully absent. And it is absolutely normal for a child to respond with uncanny wisdom to a presented problem, or ask a probing question in response to a shared story.
We take time to pause and help the kids understand that the colon in the scripture reference separates the chapter from the verses; the dash tells us to read from one part through to the next and a semi-colon tells us to jump to the next passage. And these simple teaching moments have often provided unintended insight for adults as well.
And as Micah said, all this keeps our faith in our minds so that whenever someone asks, we’re ready to answer right away…even if we’re 7 years old.
I’m already on record with thoroughly researched and documented evidence that my wife, Rachel, is ridiculously amazing. She has a fully stocked art, craft and science experiment center parked in our kitchen…and bedroom…and closet…and in corners of the bathroom…and in the storage unit…
She’s way to hard on herself, often feeling like she’s missed opportunities or hasn’t done enough with one of the kids. But the truth is, and I know I’m biased (which doesn’t mean that I’m wrong), she is both naturally and intentionally awesome. Hardly a day goes by that she doesn’t come up with some creative way to teach something.
A couple years ago while at the park, Rachel and the boys saw a family catching something in the creek (its VERY shallow and perfect for stomping around in). Rachel asked what they were doing – “We’re catching tadpoles!”
That was all it took. Rachel got some tupperware from the house and off they went to catch these little metamorphosis science lessons. Well, that first round was fun…but most of the tadpoles morphed into…dead tadpoles.
Not to worry. She did some research and last spring they tried it again with much better success. We actually raised several little frogs in a fish bowl and then turned them loose in our creek behind the house. The boys learned a lot about biology, ecosystems, caring for animals…but I think Rachel and I were at least as mesmerized as the boys.
Today was the third annual Tadpole Extravaganza.
We currently have about 30 little creatures living in a fish tank by the kitchen window.
We’d only been at the creek a few minutes when other kids, and then their parents started coming by wanting to know what was going on. So we shared our sophisticated amphibian collection devices (dixie cups) and invited them to join us. Several kids jumped in and added their catches to our bucket. But one family, after a brief conversation with Rachel and I, got a large bottle from their car and started their own collection for home.
There was only one little girl who didn’t catch a single tadpole – the one who didn’t want to get her feet wet. It’s difficult to catch tadpoles without getting in the water. (And yes, that statement has multiple levels of meaning…more on that momentarily.)
However, there were a few times the “new kids” got frustrated that their “slap-the-water-with a cup” technique didn’t yield many catches. So I’d say, “Hey, wanna see how I do it?” I’d model my craft, then watch them try it once or twice and then I’d wander off. Sure enough a few minutes later: “Hey! I got one!” The best part was that after a few catches, most of them tweaked the process to suit their own latent skills and they began catching even more.
We didn’t set out to teach anybody about our home science experiments…but tonight a couple kids and their parents are looking at their own tadpole farm, simply because we shared our experience. And really, that pretty much sums up the missional-incarnational life. We simply live our faith out in the open, trusting that God is willing and able to bring us into contact with others. Of course, we have to be willing to share what we’ve learned and also be ready to learn from others. You don’t have to walk up to strangers and begin grilling them about their sinfulness – or even tell them they need to catch tadpoles. People are often so genuinely shocked and excited to see someone doing it, they’re naturally attracted to what they see.
When we commit to actually living where we already live,
we begin to see things that we missed before.
At one point today I began walking up the creek looking for actual frogs. I came to a section that had not been disturbed by the pitter-patter of dirty little feet. As I looked at the water I could tell it was moving more swiftly – actually, because it was more shallow, I could just see the current better. I noticed some plant life and the rocks along the bottom. But at first I didn’t notice anything else. I stopped for a moment and looked more closely, then I saw one tadpole – just one. That was when the curtain pulled back.
The moment my vision adjusted to that one little critter, I suddenly realized they were everywhere. There were WAY more tadpoles in this part of the creek. The weird thing was that I’d been looking at these things all day and I still needed a moment to readjust when I moved to a new area. And yet, once I saw them it was impossible NOT to - seriously, they were everywhere.
At first we may have no idea what engaging God’s mission in our neighborhood looks like. And in all honesty, I think too many of us never stick with it long enough to allow our vision to adjust. Sometimes we need another person to model this way of life for us (and then get out of our way so we can give it a shot) – think about the Ethiopian eunuch’s response to Phillip’s question of whether or not he understood what he was reading: “How can I unless someone explains it to me?”
But other times, all we really need is to slow down long enough to see what we didn’t see when we first saw what we thought we saw.
Of course, those of you who know me well are aware that I love metaphors…I will play with them until I’ve completely destroyed them. At the risk of over-extending this one, the presence of tadpoles themselves seems very significant.
This summer was the hottest on record – with so many days over 100 degrees that it actually got too hot to swim. Along with the heat came a terrible drought. Our little creek was bone-dry for months. And then in the past couple months we’ve gotten a lot of rain – several times flooding the creeks. Neither of these scenarios seem all that conducive to producing fragile critterlings. And yet, even in the midst of hardship, life finds a way (didn’t they say something like that in Jurassic Park?)
I agree with Dan Bouchelle’s recent blog post where he challenged us to reconsider what constitutes a “receptive” location where the gospel is concerned. His claim, based on Jesus’ instructions to the disciples in Luke 10, is that a context is considered receptive if there is one family that shows hospitality and openness.
Don’t assume that the place where you already live, whether due to drought or flood, is not ready to support life. It may take a few moments to adjust, but I’m guessing that if you look deeply, you’ll find a perfect context for engaging God’s mission right below the surface.