On Wednesday evening, Brian and I and a friend went to see the Minor League All Star game. It was a beautiful night for a game, and the International League won handily. I paid less attention to the game than usual, because I hadn’t seen my friend in awhile, and there was lots to catch up on.

But all conversation stopped when the fireworks began. None of us had realized that there would be fireworks after the game, but we all became excited when the post-game show was first announced, sometime around the 6th inning. Without much discussion, we all agreed we would stay. Why would anyone miss fireworks?

There are few things that delight me so much, that fill me with such joy, as fireworks exploding color in the night sky. The noise which scared me so much as a small child became part of the delight as I grew older. “Boom! Boom!” I feel the vibrations in my chest as the flower of color unfolds high above, hundreds of meters wide.

As my self-conscious brain came back online – as I shifted from watching fireworks to watching myself watch fireworks – I realized another time that I have been transported so far outside of myself: in worship. The connection became clear: why do we celebrate sports and national holidays with fireworks, but churches do not set off fireworks on high holy days?

Wouldn’t it be great if Christians held fireworks shows  on Easter, on Pentecost, on Christmas: “This is how excited we are! This is what a big deal this is for us! He is Risen – Boom! The Spirit has been poured out upon us – Boom! God is with us – Boom! Boom! Boom!”

Yeah, fireworks are expensive. Which means that one congregation wouldn’t get to take credit for it. We would have to work together, across congregations, even across denominations. For instance, figure $15,000 for a mid-sized show – that sounds like a lot, right? But in my town, Durham, NC, there are dozens of churches. Get 40 churches in on it, and the average contribution per church is now down to $375. Which is a great deal, and an opportunity for people from all over the community to get together and celebrate Jesus. And since your average fireworks show only lasts 15-20 minutes, we should probably throw in a hymn sing, or gospel music concert, or something like that. Christmas carols and fireworks! Sponsored by (list of 40 churches here.)

Sadly, churches seem to have confused evangelism with church growth. We are more concerned with reproducing ourselves (“does Main Street Methbyterian have a future?”) than we are with sharing Jesus. Maybe because we don’t have enough faith in Jesus, and we think that we are needing to redeem ourselves (our only shot at eternal life is a name in a stained glass window)… or maybe because we live immersed in a culture of fear-induced self-reproduction, and living in the world but not of it is so very very difficult. Whatever the reason, when we stop to consider it, being the lone stranger at a cookout on the church lawn is more akin to the terror of transferring mid-year to a new elementary school than it is to the joy of believing that God really did love the world enough to live among us in a particular body at a particular time in a particular community. It is hard to say what the Incarnation has to do with a cheap hot dog, and the barely concealed anxious hope that one day you too will join us, and grill cheap hot dogs for the few souls brave enough to endure the onslaught of interrogators that is the average local congregation.

Instead, the combined immensity and particularity of God’s love for us is surprising and painfully bright and loud and beautiful, and I can feel it in my chest and my throat, and I cannot keep myself from gasping outloud, “Oh!” and my smile is so big and unironic that I am a little afraid that someone will see me and realize that I am not cool enough to be above this spectacle, but then I realize that I don’t care, because I don’t want to be so cynical that I refuse to be moved by the truly moving. The love of Jesus swells and bursts me like a firework. Alleluia Alleluia! Boom Boom Boom!

Best laid plans

The lemonade post is forthcoming – as is the post on guidelines for children’s sermons. This week has been more emotionally difficult than anticipated for me and mine, and it has seemed best to spend my time simply being in the presence of other people. You know – in the flesh, as opposed to in cyberspace.

This has been a continual theme of mine – the need we humans have for physical / full sensory contact. God coming in the flesh is not odd but inevitable when viewed from this perspective:  in order to understand / to really believe that God loves us (each one of us!) fully and particularly, it was necessary for us to see that work itself out in a person we could feel / see / hear / smell – and now, through the Eucharist, a person we can taste.

In the church’s calendar, this is the Sunday when we celebrate Christ’s ascension – the day his physical human presence was removed from us. No wonder his followers were all holed up in one room together on Pentecost – before the extraordinary gift of the Spirit, and after the Ascension, they must have felt bereft of the loving presence they had come to rely on. They found their solace in the physical presence of as many people as they could gather around who had had the same experiences, who had been loved by the same Jesus.

We are physical beings. We need to step away from our computers from time to time and into the arms of friends and family and to reach out to those we do not know – people who could, with enough time and nearness, become close kin.

So, as “Dr. Scott the paleontologist” encourages on the PBS show Dinosaur Train: “Go outside, get into nature [or – embrace your human nature], and make your own discoveries!”

Tough Questions

Riding home from evening Vacation Bible School with my four year old:

– Mom?  How did God make everything if you can’t see her?

[Her? That’s interesting!] – Well, umm, I don’t know how God made everything, but…

– We can’t see God, Mom, but God is there!

– Yes, God is everywhere, and made everything, and God knows that it is hard for us to understand God, since we can’t see God, so that is why God came as a person.  Jesus was a real person, an ordinary person like us, but he was God, too.  And so we can learn about who God is from Jesus.

– Okay, Mom.  I have another hard question.

– [Deep breath] Okay?

– Is it okay to use the windshield wipers, even when we are on the highway?