moving in so closely
while His music plays.
while His music plays.
The Church That Had Too Much
Once upon a time,
there was a church
that Had Too Much.
Now the members of this church worked very hard
with great rectitude, and they had a good reputation
with believer and townsman alike,
and the work of their hands was blessed,
and they grew very rich.
And whenever the members of the church saw each other,
they said, “Oh, we must have you over.”
And then those who heard this
smiled a tight little smile,
and said, “Yes, and we must too.”
And each went away sad,
because they knew it would probably never be.
Because the lovely couches from Liberty
with toy helicopters from Hamley’s which really flew,
and dolls which laughed and wetted themselves,
and handheld computers and Nintendo, and their living rooms
had toy cars which moved and beeped,
and toy kitchens with ovens which lit up and nearly cooked,
and intricate monster doll houses,
and if other little children came,
their children would cry if their toys were touched,
or, heaven forbid, broken.
And in the study,
the shelves overflowed
with books bought which had been read,
or had been meant to be read,
but interests had changed,
and besides, with the demands of life and maintenance,
there was simply no time to read.
And littered in the family room,
were dvds which had been watched once,
and probably never would be again:
grimly educational documentaries and silly soaps,
still shrink-wrapped; VHS cassettes, but the VCR was broken,
and few stores sold one, and old cassettes and cds
listened to once, whose sound one no longer liked.
And scattered lay iPod Shuffles,
unused because the kids had bought iPod Touches
because everyone else had them,
and then upgraded to the sleek
iPod Nano for the video camera,
and then an iPhone 4,
and finally, an iPad to stand-out,
be distinguished, and the envy of their form,
in a way far more easily accomplished
by kids whose parents have more than enough
than by the hard slog of swooping up all the prizes
(though with a status just as hollow–
but better a cool kid than a geek!)
And in little piles lay
old mobile phones (wasn’t there was a charity
which recycled them) and old laptops, ditto,
and coins in currencies no longer legal tender,
and gold watches which merely needed a new battery.
And in the kitchen,
the counters were cluttered–
visual stress, visual stress–
because the cabinets had ice cream makers and fondue sets,
and candyfloss makers and chocolate fountains,
and the shelves were cluttered with
low fat cookbooks and French cookbooks,
and dessert cookbooks and Weight Watchers
and barbecue and vegetarian and Atkins cookbooks,
and Indian, Thai, Chinese and Italian.
And then, just when you were nearly organized
With sweaters and books and toys and games,
There was simply no room to store
And if after a dozen “We must have you overs,”
you finally did,
you felt you should produce a meal worthy
of this protracted invitation,
and where did you find the energy to do that?
And guests meant stress,
stuffing stuff into closets
from which the stuffing fell out if they were opened,
And one couldn’t put them in the garage
Which was cluttered with mulchers and jigsaws
and strimmers and shredders and mowers.
And at the end, just before your guests came,
you could never find anything to wear
because clothes, outgrown, or too expensive
to just give away, or too worn and stained to give away,
but not worn and stained enough to toss
cluttered the closets so that
the elegant clothes could never be found,
and you felt that you had simply nothing to wear
and so bought some more, which were somewhere,
(but where?) And were always late while you extricated
Something which matched from your disorganized abundance.
* * *
* * *
Mrs. Hadenough had had enough and more than enough.
Her big house with its crystal and chandeliers and cuckoo clocks;
its antique furniture, original paintings,
Pietre dure marble chests,
Murano paperweights and vases
brought her no peace,
but ruined her rest–
just brought her stress,
because it was simply too much.
And when she went to her women’s Bible study,
her friends talked about things–
things on sale, things on Freecycle,
things they had bought, or wanted to buy,
and how busy and overwhelmed they were,
sorting out their houses full of things,
trying to make time to take them to the charity shops
to make room for more things,
and about where to find nifty little organizing boxes,
clothes boxes, tool boxes and craft boxes to store
the simply too many things.
And then she read what the native Americans
of the Pacific Northwest did
when they had simply too much.
They had a potlatch,
grandly sharing their amassed possessions,
and then resumed their simple happy lives,
tidepooling on the Oregon Coast,
enjoying salmon, oysters, mussels and crab.
But how does one have a potlatch
like the North American Indians?
And in the bulletin, that Sunday,
she put an announcement
about a kitchen gadget exchange.
The next Sunday, along with the tithe
each family was to bring something
they never used: cappuccino makers
and coffee grinders, in newly decaffeinated families;
yoghurt makers, omelette pans, electric spice graters,
asparagus or fish steamers to give and to take.
And when after the service, impatient queues formed,
she was sad to spot the acquisitive eyes of the hunter,
when what she wanted to learn and to teach was
that it is in giving that we receive.
she suggested that to force themselves to become givers,
people first offer each item they really wanted
to a couple of others before accepting it.
And so, in a spirit of jollity, people offered
each other good gifts, so that everyone
who, in a moment of folly,
had bought a ravioli maker or an oyster shucker
could now give to those who always had wanted
a ravioli maker or an oyster shucker,
until they too passed it on.
And so everyone went home with something
They really wanted out of the community’s abundance.
And then it was the turn of books.
Those who had bought Money, Sex and Power,
The Freedom of Simplicity, The Mustard Seed Conspiracy,
Or Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, but realized that
That they made being simple no easier
but being complex a guiltier undertaking
put them on the table, so that those who instinctively
began a new undertaking by reading a book
could now get them for free.
And everyone went home smiling,
as they did on DVD Sunday.
And outgrown toys were shared,
so that every child had fascinating things to play with,
until they outgrew them,
and then they swapped.
And lovely expensive clothes
which no longer fitted
could be swished with other people:
cashmere sweaters in the wrong colour
or just a little too tight or too loose
and so when one’s style changed
and one began to dress up or down or bright or old,
the change could bless to someone else.
And so each Sunday, the congregation brought
a designated item along with the tithe,
blessing each other with their surplus,
and the church rented a storehouse for what wasn’t taken.
And soon, people got rid of
A shirt saved for when they painted,
or scruffy shoes to wear if they gardened,
or the Christian book you’d read when you had time,
because you could always pick one up from the storehouse.
And people began to go to the church’s storehouse first,
instead of the stores, thereby boosting their budgets,
and eventually everyone had everything they really needed
and donated the rest to the storehouse,
decluttering until everything in their houses
was both beautiful and useful.
And once a month, the doors of the storehouse
were opened to the community.
you could bring your surplus, or take
other people’s, no strings or questions,
so that the church became known as The Giving Church
And because there was always the storehouse,
where in lean seasons, you could get the beans,
quinoa, amaranth and orzo your friends had bought
in fits of healthfulness, but never ever cooked,
or the electric saw or strimmer you needed once a year,
people no longer held onto everything
for fear they might one day need it,
or worried about their budgets quite so much
because in a pinch, you could get stationery,
clothes and food—most things you needed–from the storehouse.
And there were no poor among them.
And in the newly sleek houses,
hours of maintenance were released
and people entertained their friends,
And once letting go became a habit,
people discovered to their surprise
that they were valued for the content of their characters,
that people actually liked them
even when they no longer subtly showed off
about what they had or did.
And then, having happily shed so much,
they decided to shed a little more,
and Mrs Shortnplump forgave Mrs Tallnthin
who had manipulated the Bible study they co-led
out of her dreamy hands with Machiavellian whispers,
and back-stabbing worthy of a presidential campaign.
Mrs Tallandthin had won that power struggle,
and she had lost.
And so what?
In the Upside Kingdom, schemers and manipulators
did not inherit the reward of the meek,
and those who lost the world might gain their soul,
and, in mysterious ways, inherit the world besides.
And Mrs Brown forgave Mrs Black who, working
the vicar’s wife and everyone else, swiped the leadership
Of the Friday women’s coffee group
(in formally known as sit and bitch)
from her. And so what?
And Mr Doeverything decided that since he came home
at nine, after his children were in bed, he really
did not need to run the building programme too,
that he could shed his campaign to be Someone Very
Important in the very small world of the church
and instead spend his time with those he really loved.
And Mr. Ineverypie who was away from home for about 99 days
each year, swallowed his pride, and resigned as Chair
of the Development Committee, letting go of the fear
that no one would know who he was, if he were not always
onstage (oh, they did, they did, they surely did!) and instead
rediscovered his delight in his wife
and littlest minx, whom he adored,
when he let his eyes linger on her.
And following their lead,
those who were ambitious to strut their stuff
slowly grew willing to wait for the “Friend, Come Higher,”
trusting their PR to God,
never seeking, never refusing, a position of greater influence.
And the church was no longer a seven storey mountain,
of social ascent, and when they got together
people no longer reserved their warmest smiles
and shiniest manners for those at the top of the ant-heap,
as if one could absorb significance by association.
“He that is down needs fear no fall;
He that is low, no pride;
He that is humble ever shall
Have God to be his guide.
In The Valley of Humiliation, a man shall be free from the noise and from the hurryings of this life. All states are full of noise and confusion, only the Valley of Humiliation is that empty and solitary place. Here a man shall not be so let and hindered in this contemplation as in other places he is apt to be. This is a valley that no one walks in, but those that love a pilgrim’s life. I must tell you that in former times men have met with angels here, have found pearls here, and have in this place found the words of life. John Bunyan, Pilgrim’s Progress
They surrendered their longing to belong to
the church’s inner circle: Those who knew who
was who, and what had happened,
was happening, and would happen,
and instead hung out with those they really liked,
and so in time formed their own inner circles,
not necessarily important ones in the eyes of the church
but just people who enjoyed being with each other.
And so everyone looked forward to social gatherings,
even fund-raisers, for they would get to relax
with those they loved being with,
Instead of seeking out those
More important than themselves
Who, in turn, looked restlessly around, scanning the crowd,
For someone still more important.
I believe that in all men’s lives at certain periods, and in many men’s lives at all periods between infancy and extreme old age, one of the most dominant elements is the desire to be inside the local Ring and the terror of being left outside.
The quest of the Inner Ring will break your hearts unless you break it.
And if in your spare time you consort simply with the people you like, you will again find that you have come unawares to a real inside: that you are indeed snug and safe at the centre of something which, seen from without, would look exactly like an Inner Ring. But the difference is that it is only four or five people who like one another meeting to do things that they like. This is friendship. Aristotle placed it among the virtues. It causes perhaps half of all the happiness in the world, and no Inner Ringer can ever have it. The Inner Ring by C.S. Lewis
And when the church decided to close the storehouse,
because fewer and fewer people visited it,
since all had all they needed and had given away
all they did not, so that everything left in their houses
was both beautiful and useful,
people did not even notice,
for they now lived in the new way
Letting go, letting go,
of everything they no longer needed,
blessing others with it,
and, in turn, being blessed
in the mysterious divine economy
no economist can fathom.
of old grievances,
chucking people into the waterfall of grace,
letting God deal with them,
letting go of the desire to be a big deal,
accepting that they belonged to a Kingdom
which already had a King.
Pressing on, pressing on,
to know God more,
to love God more, and
to love people more.
And they were known as Christians by their love.
Mental health, like physical health, is on a continuum. When someone totally loses it, and is obviously “mad” enough to be sectioned, we say they’ve lost touch with reality.
But how few of us see reality as it really is. With a God’s eye view. As Jesus taught us to see it.
If we could train ourselves to see and think the way Jesus taught us to, what splendid mental health we’d have!!
* * *
Jesus’s teaching was strikingly positive. And here are a few ways I am trying to train myself to think the way Jesus taught us to. And better mental health will be a fringe benefit of this.
1 He taught us not to be afraid.
“Do not be afraid,” echoes through the Gospels. Most of our fears never come to pass. And even when our anxious minds help produce the very thing we most dread, God’s help is available to help us deal with it.
There is a difference between prudence (adjusting one’s actions because an adverse outcome is very probable), and fear: irrational dread!
2 Jesus told us not to worry about anything at all.
What a splendid recipe for mental health, freeing us from circular and literally sickening worry. Worry is particularly unproductive, because most of our worries (like most of our fears) don’t come to pass, and, again, God’s help is available in our worst case scenarios.
3 Jesus advises us not to judge.
Judging is like deciding on 360 degrees of someone’s personality based on 10 degrees of information. It leads to a shrivelling of the heart, of emotional intelligence, and of our life-experience because of the habit of rapidly writing people off.
And when in obedience to Jesus, we refuse to judge, but instead remain open, we learn, we learn, we learn!
4 Another startling bit of advice Jesus gives is forgiving if you have aught against any. How sweeping.
When specific grievances surface in my conscious mind, I attempt to dissolve them by thanking God for the good things about the person, by praying for the person as whole-heartedly as I can, and by praying for grace to turn the acid and claws of my feelings towards that person into sweetness.
Any hatred–towards nations, for instance–is as harmful to our mental and emotional health as hated of individuals. I recently talked to a Christian man who was consumed, to the point of mild insanity, with his hatred of the US and the harm its foreign policy has done. Releasing aught against any would require him to release his hatred of the US—not for the sake of the US, but for his own sake.
I similarly know two American Christian men who are consumed by their hatred and dislike of Barack Obama. Gosh, I have never witnessed such hatred towards a politician as many American Christian nurture towards Obama. If I hated Obama as much as these two friends of mine appear to, I would need to “forgive” him before I stood praying to keep the waterfall of grace between me and God flowing and unclogged.
Far-fetched? I remember Catherine Marshall saying she had to forgive Henry VIII for his desecration of monasteries as part of her releasing aught against any.
5 Another instruction of Jesus which is greatly conducive to mental health is “Do not let your hearts be troubled; neither let them be afraid. Trust in the Father, trust also in me.”
* * *
So many of Paul’s precepts are about following Christ in the secret place of the thoughts.
Rejoice always; in everything give thanks. Believe everything works out for good.
Paul’s life was full of extreme pressures—both glorious preaching, miracles and influence, and imprisonment, solitary confinement, floggings, slander, and disgrace.
The mental health and strength he cultivated in the secret places of his heart kept him sane, productive and creative in the very direst places of his life, such as the dreadful Mamertine Dungeon from which he wrote his most joyful and inspiring letters.
Ah, obeying what Jesus taught us as literally as we can! Mental health flows from it, and creativity too!
So you are setting out to meet the lion at the head of the waterfall.
The waterfall of joy, which satisfies the heart’s desires. The waterfall of delight. The waterfall of refreshment.
* * *
But the way is long and sweaty, and there are temptations everywhere. You look down and see gold–fool’s gold, real gold? Should you forget the waterfall, and investigate?
You meet people whose life is working perfectly well. They don’t believe in no waterfall, they tell you.
People who started out with you are now rich and famous. They have no longer look for waterfalls; they just enjoy their life.
* * *
And as you continue climbing up to the waterfall, you see the hucksters: people who have become rich and famous and celebrated preaching about the waterfall, singing about the waterfall, writing and blogging about the waterfall, running conferences about the waterfall. Like serious money, fame, adulation.
You would kind of like the fame and money and praise too.
Have they really reached the waterfall? Drunk of it? Or is talking and writing about more rewarding?
You do not know. All you know is that at the waterfall a man once said there was life in its fullness. There was peace which the world cannot take away. You would like peace to permeate your personality. There is the joy which no one can take away. Oh, you want to live in that joy. At the waterfall, you will never thirst again. Oh, and you are restless.
And you must continue, the long, arduous, solitary, uphill slog uphill to the waterfall, to know God in his fullness instead of stopping where you are and speaking, writing, blogging and tweeting about the waterfall. Basking in all the attention and money and fuss and power and admiration.
For no one will know that you haven’t actually drunk of the waterfall of joy and peace and fullness.
No one except you, and the lion who lives at the waterfall
* * *
Forbid it, Lord.
Christian writing, blogging, speaking, song-writing which is not based in utter honesty is a waste of time.
It is telling other people about a waterfall we have heard tell of, but have not yet reached. Or of a waterfall we once drunk of, but no longer do. Worse, it is talking about tangential things, the birds, mammals, trees and flowers on the way to the waterfall, instead of the waterfall itself
We have given up walking the walk for talking the talk.
Forbid it, Lord, that we whose trade is words ever substitute writing, speaking or blogging of you for serious time spent with you at your waterfall of delight.
May our delight in using words well never compromise our delight in you, the Word who was before all things, and in whom all things hang together.
In an extraordinary passage in Exodus, after the Israelites have fashioned a golden calf, God tells Moses, (Ex. 33:1) “Leave this place, you and the people you brought up out of Egypt, and go up to the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, saying, ‘I will give it to your descendants.’ 2 I will send an angel before you and drive out the Canaanites. 3 Go up to the land flowing with milk and honey. But I will not go with you, because you are a stiff-necked people and I might destroy you on the way.”
So they were promised their hearts’ desire, but not God’s presence or protection
But Moses says: “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here.
Which pleases God who answers, 14 “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest. I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name.”
(Upon which, Moses, seizing the moment, cheekily increases his ask, “Now show me your glory.”)
* * *
I first lingered on this passage about ten years ago during a Beth Moore Bible study. I came late, and stood at the back of the room, as Beth, on the DVD, was reading out this passage.
My Promised Land then would have been literary success with the book I was then trying to write–with much difficulty as the girls were 6 and 2.
Did I want to enter my Promised Land even if God was not with me?
I had not thought about it before. I said, bravely, “Lord, I do not want to enter my Promised Land, if you do not go with me.”
And got tearful, because I was not sure if I meant it. I wanted my promised land so badly you see. Just the thought of never entering it made me tearful.
* * *
Fast forward eleven years. My promised land, I am afraid, still involves writing. It is the great love and interest of my life.
But do I want to enter any writing-related promised land without God? Absolutely not. Couldn’t contemplate it. I wouldn’t survive the work, the stress, the demands.
I would lack wisdom and direction. I might make up my own directions, and then second-guess them. How much better to get them from God!
I would miss having little rest breaks, and checking in with God. I would miss the flashes of intuition, wisdom, inspiration, guidance that come from prayer.
* * *
Ten years ago when I said, “Lord, I do not want to enter the Promised Land without you,” I felt so noble. But I wasn’t kidding God. He knew that my heart’s desire was really the Promised Land of literary success.
In fact, I didn’t even kid myself. Tears rolled down my cheeks, as I stood at the back of the room saying, “Lord, I do not want to enter the Promised Land without you,” because the thought of not entering my promised land, with or without God, was too sad to contemplate.
I clearly need more time in the desert to learn to put God first.
Now I, of course , do care more for God than for my promised land, because I know that I would not be able to do the promised land without him. The milk would curdle, the honey cloy.
But, luckily, he says to those who want his presence more than the Promised Land, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest. I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name.”