Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Frugality is Full of Traps

Being frugal is full of traps. Traps that are most effective on proud and ungrateful hearts: in essence mine. 

To chose frugality over spending to my heart’s content means that I must refrain in ways that no one else seems to be doing. And that chasm between my imagined reality and the truth gives opportunity for a certain someone to stick an IV in my arm and start the flow of poisonous lies. The poison takes effect immediately.

"I alone in this hedonistic America am practicing such virtues as temperance and self-discipline (Well, the nuns and monks are too but no one else). Everyone else is blind to their consumeristic waste and gluttony. Every middle-class person has NO appreciation for such simple luxuries like having their cars washed and shopping at Ralphs and buying a new shirt and and having meat at every meal and running their heaters and air conditioning at whim. If I were to have these things I would be grateful! 

"But I am grateful even without those luxuries, even though my children only wear hand-me-downs, and the blue fraying couch won’t see new upholstery for another decade, and the only vacations we take are to places where we stay in other people’s homes. Yes, indeed. I am grateful. And for shame that you don’t understand my plight, that you converse with me mindlessly referencing your dinners I can’t make and the clothes I can’t buy and the restaurants I’ll never frequent and the home improvements I shall have to wait years to do."

See. Poison.

It’s what happens when I start to think these luxuries are my rights. Then, when those luxuries go, I feel wronged and angry. It’s a sure test of where my treasures lie. And both the wealthy and the frugal can put their treasures in matter instead of eternity.

That’s not to say that a sudden lost luxury won’t smart on the heart like the loss of a friend who moves away or the loss of the autumn leaves from the trees or the loss of an athletic ability due to an aging body. Certainly, change can be quite uncomfortable, but it needn’t lead to bitterness or self-righteousness. Rather, it can give me new eyes to see the goodness in things I would otherwise see as sub-par.

The children love to hand-wash my car. It’s a welcome activity on a warm afternoon. Out go the sponges and mitts and soap. They get wet and laugh as if there were no better thing to do in all the world.

And that blue couch, a hand-me-down from my family, has seen so many years come and go. Its frayed seams are testament to the generations that have sit upon it. My grandmother, my mom, me, and now my children. People don’t own furniture like this anymore. Yes, I can feel the springs through the cushions, but it has good bones, just like Aunt Luanne’s old chair that we did reupholster a year or so ago. And that chair is so soft and clean and comfortable. We covered it in a dark gray-brown so as to hide the dirt.

And can you believe the generosity of people? I haven’t had to buy anything but underwear for my children in all their few years of life. Well, underwear and some garage-sale clothes. But the bulk of my children’s clothes have come from other generous people. Thank God, I don’t have to fret over keeping designer clothes clean. My children go through clothes like toilet paper. And yet we treasure and keep a few sweet things tidy for Sundays, new clothes bought for us by aunts and grandmothers and great-grandmothers. 

And restaurants, any restaurant is decadent. The food needn’t be exactly what I asked for and the service needn’t check up on me every 15 minutes. I don’t mind the noise or the doneness of my steak or the missing side of sweet potato fries. I didn’t have to make the food. I don’t have to clean up. And most likely, I am not paying for the meal. I am a queen. I am being waited upon by servers. This indeed is luxurious.

And my home, that sweet space where a heap o’ living takes place, and where my soul is sort ‘o wrapped ‘round everything: the white peeling paint, the windows facing every which way, the beetle eaten flooring, the kitchen as new as they come. And here those children’s laughter is saturating the walls. Their hands are smearing dirty prints into the paint, and their mouths are eating the landscape—the nasturtiums and sour grass, that is. Here they’re forming their greatest friendship. Upon this stage they act it out, and I as the audience watch it grow. 

The pink and yellow trees are blooming across the Uptown grid. Our lemon, though still laden with ripe lemons, has pushed out a confetti of new blooms interspersed among the new leaves. The avocado supplies us at least two meals a week. The renters pay their rent. The faucets run with clean water. The bread maker kneads bread dough. 

Nothing has changed. But when I find and name the little sweets throughout my home, I am rich indeed. The key is in the giving thanks, not vaguely or occasionally but daily, three times a day, specifically, again and again. 

Lee, “I like this food.”
Rose, “Tank ‘oo for dinner, Mommy.”      Blessed.

Lee while petting my face and hair, “I like this hair here.”      Blessed

Rose after Lee reported that we crashed our car and died. “Ummm, need a pweese (police) and Jesus.”     Blessed

Rose about the neighbor girl, “Cute gal there.”     Blessed

The children randomly giving each other hugs.     Blessed

Lee holding the lent candle for Rose to blow out, even though it was his turn today.     Blessed

Finding humor in the yelling fit the children had after Lee smashed his fingers, started to cry, and didn’t like Rose coming to see what was the matter. He yelled in her face and she started crying too, and I couldn’t help but laugh.     Blessed

Lee inviting Rose to sit in the sunlight on the sidewalk with him and then exclaiming about the sunset, “It’s so boo-iful.”     Blessed

Phil complimenting my oat/seed crumble that I made for dessert.     Blessed

Completing my bible study lesson and feeling nourished in the process.     Blessed

Quiet moments to write a blog.     Blessed

video

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Community Conundrum

Living in a community would be so much easier if it weren’t for those people. You know, the highly opinionated mom full of suggestions. The grandma continually reminding me that things were simpler in her day. The single gal who knows exactly how to mother her non-existent kids. And that elderly usher who’s so excited to see my children, that my four-year old hides beneath the church pew every Sunday. What I mean to say is I wish I could choose the people in my church. 

But I suppose I’m limiting myself to just a handful of people, the ones that make me feel competent and bold and loved. After all, isn’t that what we mean when we say that we don’t particularly like someone? That we don’t like the version of ourselves that comes out when around them? 

Yes, when teaching bible stories to three-year-olds, I feel authoritative and talented. But around those sassy high school students, I’m so outdated and silly. Some adults encourage my bravery. Still others gift me with things to worry about that I didn’t know existed. Some mothers have a talent for drawing out my rude side, and others make me feel inept with their abundant talents.

I’d really like to say it’s their fault. But I think my dislike of their company is actually an indication that all is not well inside me. Parts of my heart aren’t dancing to the right tune. Some of my gears don’t fit into the cogs next to me. And as much as I’d rather not work with those cogs, they’re part of this machine.

I’m speaking of the men and women on God’s team. The other members of this body, “united together, loving one another, helping one another, showing Him to one another” (Lewis, 165).  These are the ones that I must learn to work with, yes, and even to love. Because they together are the “one really adequate instrument for learning about God” (Lewis, 165). 

It is only when this crowd of distinct, glorious, god-like beings are knit together in love, that we uniquely reflect the glorious, immeasurable, multi-faceted person of God. “The fullness of him who fills all in all” (NASB, Eph 1:23). How else but through His image-bearers do I see God’s grace, lovingkindness, mercy, patience, and forbearance played out in the day to day? How else am I to reflect God’s greatness but through this polishing of my mirror, that is, these jostling, aggravating, and often humbling relationships?

Surrendered. Tested. And refined. Until one day they may say of me too:

“. . . She never found fault with you, never implied
Your wrong by her right; and yet men at her side
Grew nobler, girls purer, as through the whole town
The children were gladder that pulled at her gown.

None knelt at her feet confessed lovers in thrall;
They knelt more to God than they used—that was all;
If you praised her as charming, some asked what you meant,
But the charm of her presence was felt when she went.

The weak and the gentle, the ribald and rude,
She took as she found them, and did them all good . . .” (Browning, 154)

And if this becomes the case in my heart, then I think I will find my circle of friends growing larger and larger, encompassing more and more people whom I find delightful and interesting. Like God. I will find their gifts as a testimony of His abundance. And I will find their flaws as curious tales of how God will work grace in them as He has in me.


Cited Works

Browning, Elizabeth Barrett. "My Kate." One Hundred and One Famous Poems. Compiled by Roy J. Cook. Chicago: Reilley & Lee Publishers, 1958. 154. Print.


Lewis, C.S. Mere Christianity. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1972. Print.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Church Disrupting 101

PREMISE: Six laymen voice their thoughts during a pastor’s sermon. Unseen by the laymen, a senior devil gives lessons to a sub-devil as to the best ways to distract the congregation. The Holy Spirit—represented through stage lights and an ever-present mist (fog machine) seeping across the church floor—works against and sometimes in the midst of the devil’s schemes to move hearts and propel grace.


INTRO:            In 1942 C.S. Lewis wrote 31 letters from a senior devil to his underling—          
                        Wormwood—on how to best tempt a human person. He called the letters 
                        The Screwtape Letters. And in the preface of this book, he said: “There are 
                        two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. 
                        One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an 
                        excessive and unhealthy interest in them.”

                        The following play is not intended to do either. Rather it is to remind us that we are at war. All of our thoughts, actions, and desires are either allied with God or waging war against him. There is no neutral ground. Every hour of everyday whether we choose to see it or not is a battle. Even in church. Join me now, as we see what this war might look like in a Sunday morning service.

PASTOR:       (Pastor stands up between the front pews and faces the real audience as he looks up and prays.) Father God, some mornings I feel so inadequate at this profession, at pastoring these people. And this is one of those mornings. Who am I to speak to anyone? I’m not a Billy Graham or a C.H. Spurgeon. I don’t know these people’s struggles or hangups? I don’t even know all their names. (pause) But I know that this is where you’ve called me to be. And I know that your spirit is more powerful than anything I have to say. Please touch those seated here in a mighty way this morning.

(As the pastor is praying, the acting audience enters the stage, silently mingles, and takes their seats in the pews. The pastor takes a seat with the real audience. A worship leader from the front of the church leads everyone—real and acting audience—in one song. The next several songs after that are silently pantomimed as the devils speak.)

SCREWTAPE: Wormwood! Wake-up!

WORMWOOD: (Wormwood who has been sleeping in the choir loft leaps up.) What? I’m right here. I wasn’t sleeping.

SCREWTAPE: Liar. Though how anyone can sleep through this howling is beyond me. Are you ready to have another go at your lessons?

WORMWOOD: I’m always ready for Church Disrupting. And you’ll be happy to know that I’ve done a bit of research this time. (Pulls out a clip board)

SCREWTAPE: Good. I don’t want anymore choice morsels slipping out of our hands. Tell me what you’ve got.

WORMWOOD: Right. (Stands behind each character in the pews as he introduces them left to right.) Let me begin by introducing you to Eugene the Intellect. He’s from UC Davis and only in town for the holiday. Visiting his mother. No need to worry about the state of his heart. He regards everything with a healthy dose of skepticism and mocks anyone who throws himself headlong into religion.

SCREWTAPE: But he’s here. How did this happen?

WORMWOOD: I told you. He’s visiting his mother. He means to make her happy by attending the service and pretending like he’s soaking up the gospel truth.

SCREWTAPE: Then be sure to keep him pretending and not accidentally listening to the sermon. Focus his attention on anything slightly outdated . . . like those scrolly-bits on the lights. What are those from? The 1980’s?

WORMWOOD: 70’s.

SCREWTAPE: I thought so. Use anything to give him the sense that Christians are entirely behind the times.

WORMWOOD: Should be easy in this place.

SCREWTAPE: And his mother?

WORMWOOD: Another dear soul. This is Mrs. Bates, the Superior. 

SCREWTAPE: Oooo, I like the sound of that. Tell me more.

WORMWOOD: She is everything that we could hope for in a human. She thinks that because she made some moral progression in her early Christian days, she has now reached a level of spiritual superiority. She has taken to whistle-blowing and dispensing unwanted advice. Why, she even thinks she’s doing God a service by sitting in that hard-back pew and passing judgement on everyone she sees.

SCREWTAPE: A proper pharisee. I do love them. Just keep her from contemplating the real state of her soul, and she’ll never notice that she has put herself on God’s own throne. Next.

WORMWOOD: Ahem . . . yes, well . . . after that I’m afraid the buffet isn’t quite as tantalizing. This is Stan the Sinner brought to church by his devoted friend, Dianne Distracted. He’s been to church once or twice but only for youth sports nights. Unfortunately, this week he has discovered a great blackness in his heart.

SCREWTAPE: A moment of self-realization?

WORMWOOD: Yes. It was at a school basketball game last week. There was a brawl between two of the players’ parents. The police showed up. A friend’s father was arrested. After the game Stan and his teammates got their revenge by vandalizing the opposing team-captain’s truck. Just the sort of thing we love, and what does the Lord God do with it? He uses it to show Stan his depravity.

SCREWTAPE: How unfortunate. And what about his affectionate friend there? Can she keep Stan’s mind off the sermon?

WORMWOOD: I doubt it. The affections only run one direction. And as devoted as Dianne is, she wouldn’t dream of dating a young man unless he were a Christian. That’s why she’s brought him here today.

SCREWTAPE: And what’s the condition of her faith?

WORMWOOD: Solid, unfortunately. Though her appetites do get the better of her sometimes.

SCREWTAPE: Is she hungry?

WORMWOOD: As a matter of fact she is.

SCREWTAPE: Excellent. Give her a grumbling stomach. Oh, and make Stan’s muscular arms particularly interesting this morning.

WORMWOOD: I like your way of thinking.

SCREWTAPE: Next.

WORMWOOD: Our last two are also a difficult case study. This is Grace and when I say Grace, I mean she is the personification of grace through and through. She is daily aware of her failings and thus daily invites the Lord God to abide in her. 

SCREWTAPE: Despicable. There’s only one way to get at those kind.

WORMWOOD: What’s that?

SCREWTAPE: By drawing her attention away from God and onto the failings of the church. Make church a foreign experience for her. Certainly this ruckus perturbs her (referring to the worship leader silently playing a guitar). She doesn’t seem capable of following along.

WORMWOOD: She tries, but her failings frustrate her. 

SCREWTAPE: You see? Continue flustering and confusing her. Focus her primarily on her inability to feel worshipful in these songs. Never for a moment suggest that she is in fact pleasing the Lord God through all her feeble attempts. No. Best not to let her think about God at all during this din but rather the loud drums or the technicolored slides. Understand?

WORMWOOD: Certainly.
SCREWTAPE: Next.

WORMWOOD: Yes, next to her is Penny Pain who is in dire straights. Penny’s father is losing the fight to cancer, and she is in a job where no one seems to recognize how much harder she is working than everyone else. She’s living alone, her cat just died, and she’s worried sick over her check-engine light. I just made it turn on for the fourth time this year.

SCREWTAPE: Wormwood! Don’t you understand the meaning of over-doing it?

WORMWOOD: But it wasn’t me—well, not entirely. I didn’t let that stray dog kill her cat.

SCREWTAPE: I don’t know what you’re suggesting, but watch out on this one. If she begins to see God’s hand in the midst of her pain, she’ll start calling “solitary living” a mercy and “no recognition” a mercy and heaven forbid, “cancer” a mercy. And if she goes down that road, there’s no getting them back. Keep her away from that sort of trust. Make her angry or weary.

WORMWOOD: Yes sir. I can do that. Should be easy . . . just so long as the Holy Spirit doesn’t interfere, but this is a church. And look! (Pointing at the fog on the ground.) The Holy Spirit himself is already here. Infiltrating these people’s hearts with his mist. Ugh! And the light. (Squinting up at the stage lights.) Unfortunately, I wouldn’t be able to operate without it, but his light is always here. Shining, revealing, piercing. How I hate it!

SCREWTAPE: Enough griping. You know as well as I that our craft is light bending. Take those simple piercing truths of God’s and bend them to our advantage.

WORMWOOD: I’m on the job.

PASTOR: (Stands up facing the acting audience.) Good morning. Would you turn in your bibles to Romans 3. (Allow for a moment of page turning from GRACE and SUPERIOR. PAIN uses her phone as a bible. DISTRACTED offers to share her bible with SINNER. They scoot closer together on their pew.)

I was sitting on my front porch the other day and a neighbor-friend came up to me and asks, “John, what’s the gospel?” 

I was somewhat taken aback. Most of my neighbors aren’t so direct. And this question was asked with no introduction. But this woman is from Kenya and and often uses me as an American-English dictionary. So I tried to keep it simple. I said, “Well, it’s the good news of how God has saved us.” 

And she says, “What does that mean?”

And I said, “Well, I’m sure you’ve noticed that our human race needs saving.”

She says, “Saving? From what?”

I said, “Well, from ourselves. God made us and put us here in order to be in relationship with him. And what do we do but go and ruin the whole project. We behave as if we could manage without him, as if we created ourselves, and can be our own masters, our own gods, so to speak. That’s the trouble we’ve gotten ourselves into. Every man, woman, child, Muslim, Christian, atheist, Jew. None of us acts fairly towards God.” (Pastor pantomimes the continuation of his message as the laymen voice their thoughts.)

GRACE:          It’s true. I fail everyday. Today most especially in the singing.

SINNER: t’s true. There was nothing fair about what happened last night at the game. I can’t believe Matt’s dad got arrested. I can’t believe we didn’t get caught trashing that guy’s truck. He didn’t even take part in the fight. We were just angry. We belong in jail, but somehow we got away with it. I can’t believe we got away with it. I’ve gotten away with so much crap. I’m surprised God doesn’t just blow me to pieces.

(WORMWOOD taps the following 2 actors on the shoulder just before they deliver their lines.)

INTELLECT: Fairness is just a part of a person’s moral matrix. Haven’t any of these people read Jonathan Haidt? What am I thinking? Of course not. This is a church. They probably don’t even know what a moral matrix is.

SUPERIOR: The pastor must be talking about persons prior to conversion because heaven knows that I try to be as fair as I can.

PAIN: Tell me how it’s fair that my dad is wasting away to cancer when he’s been faithful to God his whole life. Tell me how it’s fair that no one sees how hard I’m working at my job. Tell me how it’s fair that some stray dog kills my cat.

(WORMWOOD nods his approval of PAIN from afar)

DISTRACTED: Ooo, look at that nice watch that Stan is wearing. It makes his arms look soooo fine.

PASTOR: That is man’s situation, the hole we have fallen into. While trying to live apart from God, we’ve become these pathetic, self-centered creatures that want to be admired and petted, that take advantage of others and exploit the whole world. We’ve become a ruined twisted little mess.

SINNER: I am a mess. And God knows it. He’s gonna get me. The police will be waiting at my house after this. I’m sure of it.

SUPERIOR: Yes, I can hardly wait until God shows some of these deceived persons how backwards they’ve been living. 

WORMWOOD: (Standing behind SUPERIOR and INTELLECT.) Then they’ll see that you were right all along.

SUPERIOR: Won’t that be nice.

INTELLECT: What a guilt trip he’s laying on these poor people. If they would merely learn to laugh a little about their moral constructs, they’d stop thinking themselves so unfair and get on with their lives free of guilt.

WORMWOOD: Like you do.

INTELLECT: Like I do. Of course.

PAIN: But I’m not that bad. I’m much better than most of my co-workers, and they don’t have as many problems as I do. 

WORMWOOD: (Ambling across the stage leisurely in PAIN’s direction.) Yes, they all get promoted for their ill behavior.

PAIN: It’s so unfair.
  
GRACE: Yes, it is rather unfair of me to think so hopelessly about our worship music, though I must admit it brings me no joy.

DISTRACTED: (Sitting up straight) A ruined twisted little mess?! What is the pastor talking about? Dangit! I’m totally missing another sermon by being totally distracted. 

WORMWOOD: (WORMWOOD puts his hands on DISTRACTED’s shoulders.) But who can blame you. Church is so full of distractions.

DISTRACTED: Yeah, but I probably shouldn’t have sat next to Stan.

WORMWOOD: But he came in all alone, poor fellow. And you’re merely leading him into the paths of truth. After all, if you don’t, who will? Do think of Stan’s poor soul.

DISTRACTED: (Sigh and sideways glance at Stan.) Yes, I should think about Stan.

PASTOR:       And so long as we’re stuck in this situation, we can’t be friends with God. We can’t even be servants of God because even God’s servants obey with perfect submission. And we, well, we just can’t stop being rebels. It’s like a disease in our blood. We can’t undo all the messes we’ve made and we can’t stop making more messes. So we have a problem. We cannot be with God.

SINNER: I’m screwed. I can’t be with God.

INTELLECT: (flippantly) That’s fine. Most of the world doesn’t want to be with your God anyways.

DISTRACTED: If only Stan could be one of God’s. Then we could go out.

SUPERIOR: Those two there obviously aren’t one of God’s elect. Otherwise, they’d have some courtesy for those around them. Do they think no one sees how close they’re sitting? How is anyone supposed to pay attention to the sermon when she’s practically sitting in his lap? 

PAIN: What’s the point of being with God if all I get is trouble?

GRACE: I thank God that we can be with him through the blood of Christ.

WORMWOOD: (WORMWOOD puts his hands on GRACE’S shoulders) Oh, do you really feel close to God in this place . . . especially after all that racket that some people call singing?

GRACE:           Well . . . they mean well.

WORMWOOD: Is that what worship has become? People who mean well? 

GRACE: It seems to be touching them.

WORMWOOD: And you?

SCREWTAPE: Don’t press your luck, Wormwood.

GRACE: Well, church isn’t all about me, is it? 

WORMWOOD: But you’re part of this church body, and if no one wants to pay you any mind, then why are you here?

SCREW TAPE: She’ll catch on.

GRACE: (Laughing) Yes, and if God thought I was too good for church, he would’ve taken me home to be with him already. It seems I’m not perfect yet.

SCREWTAPE: (Glaring at WORMWOOD) What did I say.

WORMWOOD: Shrugs) Can’t win them all.

PASTOR: But there’s good news. The gospel tells us how this seemingly impossible relationship with God is made    possible through Jesus. 

INTELLECT: And here goes the Jesus rant. That name is so overused. I bet the real historical Jesus would be turning in his grave if he heard what people have done in his name. Good thing he’s dead.

PASTOR: In Romans 3 we read how God maintained his own demands for just perfection but at the same time created a way for us to be with him. It’s in Romans 3, starting in verse 25. This is from the Message.

“God sacrificed Jesus on the altar of the world to clear that world of sin. Having faith in him sets us in the clear. God decided on this course of action in full view of the public—to set the world in the clear with himself through the sacrifice of Jesus, finally taking care of the sins he had so patiently endured. This is not only clear, but it’s now—this is current history! God sets things right. He also makes it possible for us to live in his rightness.”

GRACE: Sweet grace!

SUPERIOR: I must remind the pastor that The Message is not a translation but an interpretation and really shouldn’t be used from the pulpit.

INTELLECT: Was that the Bible? That didn’t sound like the book my mom is always beating over my head.

SINNER: What does all that mean? I hope he tells us what that means.

DISTRACTED: I hope Stan is listening to all this. I know! I’ll pray. Please, God. Pleeeeeease, help Stan understand all this.

SCREWTAPE: Wormwood! Stop that prayer!

WORMWOOD: Sorry! Didn’t see that coming. (Begins opening a candy loudly behind Distracted)

DISTRACTED: Someone has candy? Gosh, I’m hungry. I wonder if it’s a peppermint. I could use a peppermint. (Covertly breathes into her hand and smells)

PAIN: I can’t listen to this right now. Why don’t the sermons ever relate to what I’m going through? Does God know that I need help? God, do you see me? Do you care?

SCREWTAPE: There goes another prayer, Wormwood!

(WORMWOOD finds a broom and starts to sweep the mist off the stage around PAIN.)

PASTOR: What God requires of us is for us to lay down our arms and stop being a rebel. But we can’t. Like I said, it’s not in us. So God decided to do it for us. He came himself as a man living thirty plus years of intense struggle and temptation. He lived here in perfect relationship with God. And not only that, but he made the perfect penitence in our place. That penitence was to take all of humanity’s flaws and put them on his shoulders like a criminal record and willingly die for them. All the punishment from God that we should’ve received has been paid. All of humanities’ jail time was served through that one death. Gone. Paid. Off our record.

SINNER: Is this true? Did God do that for me?

SCREWTAPE: You’re about to lose this one, Wormwood.

WORMWOOD: (WORMWOOD puts his hands on SINNER’s shoulders. Then jerks away.) I can’t get in! I’m being blocked.

SCREWTAPE: If you don’t find a way, I will,

WORMWOOD: I got it. I got it. I got it. (WORMWOOD fiddles with his own cellphone, thus setting off INTELLECT’S cellphone.)

(Everyone looks around to see whose cellphone is ringing. INTELLECT is mortified that it is his. SUPERIOR gives him a shocked look and a shove. INTELLECT shrugs sheepishly as he turns off his phone. He silently holds up a hand to apologize to everyone looking at him. Just as everyone settles down to continue listening to the sermon, the PASTOR’s cellphone goes off. He too sheepishly takes it out and turns it off.)

PASTOR: Happens to the best of us. In fact my cellphone went off right when I was in the middle of my conversation with my Kenyan neighbor. . . (Silently continues.)

INTELLECT:    I think that man set off his own cell phone on purpose.

SINNER: It’s the call. Like my coach was telling me the other day. “One day, Stan, God’s gonna call for you.” This must be it.

(SCREWTAPE, clearing his throat and crossing his arms, glares at WORMWOOD. WORMWOOD gets on his hands and knees and tries blowing the fog away from SINNER’s feet.)
  
SUPERIOR: Of all the people . . . it had to be my son’s phone. Goodness! What must people be thinking?

PAIN: I wish my cell phone would go off. Then everyone would think it’s the hospital calling me, and I’d have an excuse to get out of here before everyone starts asking me a stupid question about how my dad is doing. I hate Sundays.

WORMWOOD: (Sitting on the arm rest beside PAIN) I don’t know why you even come.

PAIN: I don’t know why I come either. I’m better off by myself.

WORMWOOD: Perhaps a rest from the congregation . . . for a little while. Until you’re better.

PAIN: It can’t hurt. 

WORMWOOD: You’re certainly not doing any good here. 

PAIN: True.

PASTOR: So I told my neighbor that the story doesn’t end there. You must remember that this Jesus was God, that is, God in human form. And who can kill God? 

So after three days Jesus came back to life to show how he’d conquered the final barrier between us and God and that is death itself. All the chasms separating us from God have been bridged by Christ. He lived the perfect life when we couldn’t. He died the perfect penitent death in our place. And he became the forerunner of a new kind of man, an eternal, timeless, spiritual one that lives not like a rebel, but like a son of God. Christ made this kind of life possible for us. And that is the life he invites us into. That is the life that he wants us to begin today.

GRACE: I pray that all would take hold of that life. 

SINNER: But how do I get in? What do I have to do?

DISTRACTED: If Stan becomes a Christian today, then it won’t be too late for me to ask him to Sadies. 

INTELLECT: He set off his cellphone to cover up my embarrassment. Who does that?

SUPERIOR: Everyone is probably thinking that such a blatant disregard for cellphone etiquette is due to my son’s poor upbringing!

WORMWOOD: (WORMWOOD sits beside SUPERIOR.) But you’ve done the best you can.

SUPERIOR: Of course I did.
WORMWOOD: He is a grown man after all. He’s got to own up to his own poor decisions.

SUPERIOR: That’s right. 

WORMWOOD: And if he’d just followed your advice about adding church to his regular habits . . . 

SUPERIOR: Then he wouldn’t have forgotten to put his cell phone on silent.

WORMWOOD: Naturally. The dear boy still desperately needs your guidance.

SUPERIOR: And I shall be gracious enough to forgive him this time and continue to help him as I am able.

WORMWOOD: That’s the spirit.

PASTOR: So I told my neighbor, “That’s just it! We don’t have to do anything to get into God’s good graces. Christ did it already. All the heavy lifting has been done. All God tells us to do is to take it. Take what I’ve done for you. Say with your mouth and believe in your mind that what Christ did . . . was for you.”

SINNER:         It was for me.

GRACE:          It was for us.

SUPERIOR: So much would go amiss if it weren’t for me.

PAIN: God, can’t you do anything good for me?

DISTRACTED: And then finally I’ll have a boyfriend to love on me.

INTELLECT: I know professors that would’ve dropped my phone into a bucket of water for interrupting their lectures. Then this pastor, who doesn’t even know me, goes and pulls a stunt like that.

WORMWOOD: (WORMWOOD sits on the armrest beside INTELLECT.) It’s just a bit of common decency really. No need to make a fuss over it.

INTELLECT: I’m not making a fuss over it.

WORMWOOD: Are you sure? Cause it sounded like you were making a fuss over it. Sounded a little like you were developing a bit of a school-boy admiration for this poorly-dressed religious fanatic.

INTELLECT: I’m just saying that maybe he’s a decent guy.

WORMWOOD: But wouldn’t he be even more decent if he gave up all this Jesus talk?

INTELLECT: Of course . . . Maybe I’ll introduce myself after the service.

SCREWTAPE: Bad idea. 

WORMWOOD: But what would your professors say about such a relationship?

INTELLECT: I’m not going out to lunch with him. I’m just going to thank him.

PASTOR: So I finished telling my neighbor all this and I’m wondering what she’s thinking. I know back in Kenya her family is religious, but I don’t know what that means for her. So I ask her, “Does this make sense? Does that explain what the gospel is?”
And she says, “Yes, but is that what people mean when they say that something is the gospel truth?”
I had to laugh at myself.

Here I was explaining the whole gospel and all she wanted to know was what people meant when they say “and that’s the gospel truth.” Oh well. 

We never know what God will make of our encounters with people. We never know how a word or prayer or mistake or trial will transcend everything that we see and make waves in the unseen world.

That’s what I’m looking forward to when I go to meet my maker: understanding how all these seemingly random happenstances are woven together to make a glorious Providential story that will cause us all to fall on our knees and say, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord God Almighty.”

Let’s pray. Father God . . . (pantomimes prayer)

PAIN: (Looking heavenward and sighing heavily) So it’s all supposed to make sense, hu? I’m just supposed to trust that you have a reason for making me hurt like this? That you’re working all this together for the good? But can’t you take the pain away? Can’t you numb it? It’s all I see everyday, all the time. I’m tired of crying. I’m tired of hurting.

SCREWTAPE: Wormwood, you realize that the entire house is going up in smoke right now.

WORMWOOD: Shall I set off the fire alarm?

PASTOR: In Christ’s name, amen

(People get up to mingle. GRACE pats PAIN’s shoulder. PAIN winces.)

GRACE:          Hello, Penny. How is your father, my dear?

PAIN: (Shoulders droop) Okay. 

(PAIN and GRACE pantomime a short conversation, then GRACE greets the pastor and walks down the aisle out the back of the church. INTELLECT and SUPERIOR next greet the pastor and pantomime conversation.)

DISTRACTED: (To SINNER) Hey wanna grab lunch? I’m starving.

SINNER: Do you believe what your pastor just said?

DISTRACTED: What?

SINNER: Did you hear what he said?

DISTRACTED: Yeah.

SINNER: And you believe it?

DISTRACTED: Yeah.

SINNER: I’ve never heard it like that before.

DISTRACTED: Really?

SINNER: Yeah. It’s such a relief. It’s like I’m . . . free! (laughs)

DISTRACTED: Wait, you mean—you believe it too? 

SINNER: (Nods)

DISTRACTED: A-and you’re a Christian now?

SINNER: I guess I am.

DISTRACTED: (Throws her arms around his neck.) Oh my gosh! Congratulations! I’m so excited for you. I’ve been waiting for this for forever!

SINNER: You have?

DISTRACTED: Well, yeah. It’s what I believe too. Now you’re like one of us. You’re a new person.

SINNER:         That’s what it feels like. Dude, I gotta tell Jessica.

DISTRACTED: Wait, Jessica?

SINNER: Yeah, well, we’re . . . you know, she and I . . . she’ll want to know. I’ll see you at school tomorrow. Okay? (SINNER runs off down the aisle without waiting for a response from DISTRACTED.)

(In shock, DISTRACTED sits back down in her pew, gazing after SINNER.)

PASTOR: (To INTELLECT) Well, it’s so nice to meet you, Eugene. Would you care to join me for lunch? My wife and I usually grab a bite to eat at Panera, but she’s visiting our new granddaughter this weekend down in San Diego.

INTELLECT: Thanks, but my mom and I—

SUPERIOR:     No, no, you go ahead Eugene.

(INTELLECT is hesitant.)

PASTOR: I’d love to hear what’s the latest thought at UC Davis. It was my father’s alma mater after all. Your mother is invited as well, if she wishes.

SUPERIOR: That’s kind of you, pastor. Unfortunately, I have commitments elsewhere.  But a good discussion is just the sort of thing Eugene likes. You go on without me. (Just to Eugene) It’s the least you can do.

INTELLECT: (Shrugs) Looks like I’m yours for lunch.

PASTOR: Great. Let me grab my jacket.

(They exit down the center aisle continuing in small talk. SUPERIOR follows behind with a smug smile. PAIN—who has been engrossed in her phone to avoid anymore conversations—gets up to leave. She sees DISTRACTED looking forlorn.)

PAIN: Hey, Dianne.

DISTRACTED: Oh, hi.

PAIN: Is . . . everything okay? You kinda look like you’re about to . . . cry.

(DISTRACTED bursts into tears, face in her hands. PAIN stares wide-eyed not knowing what to do. She looks right and left before sitting next to DISTRACTED and putting an arm around her shoulder.)

DISTRACTED: (In between sobs.) I’m sorry. It’s just that I’ve never had anything like this happen to me before and I was just hoping that he’d— that he’d— (Bursts into more tears.)

PAIN: I’m sorry. (Looking around for help.) Wanna go out to the garden here for a bit. We could talk. Come on. Are you hungry?

DISTRACTED: (Still sobbing) No.

(PAIN and DISTRACTED exit towards church garden leaving WORMWOOD and SCREWTAPE. Arms crossed, SCREWTAPE is glaring at WORMWOOD.)

WORMWOOD: What?

SCREWTAPE:  The UC Davis student is going out to lunch with the pastor.

WORMWOOD: I could give him food poisoning.

SCREWTAPE: The Sinner is saved and on his way to tell his girlfriend the good news.

WORMWOOD: The police are already waiting for him at his home.

SCREWTAPE: And Penny Pain is comforting a teen over her first heartache.

WORMWOOD: What did you expect me to do? Blow up the building? 

SCREWTAPE: (Shaking his head.) When will you learn that events do not win us souls. If war and sickness and earthquakes caused men to turn against the Lord God, you would’ve seen the Devil himself using such things against Jesus when he was walking this earth. 

But no, the Lord God always uses events—tragic or celebratory—to his own purposes. Even now as Stan the Sinner is on the verge of being questioned by the police, he will call out to God for help. When Dianne Distracted sees Jessica in the arms of Stan for the first time, she will ask God for answers. And I bet you a hundred lost souls that Penny Pain hasn’t prayed like she did today for years. 

You see, Wormwood, I have been in the deviling business for ages. And believe me when I tell you that suffering doesn’t draw them away from the Lord. It merely burns away the rubbish in their hearts, which is exactly what the Lord God desires.

No, our misguidances are most potent to those in a contended worldly state. Do not upset Mrs. Bates the Superior’s bank account. Do not remind Eugene the Intellect of this cellphone debacle. Do not suggest for a moment to anyone that life is brief or that their seemingly civil behavior to one another is merely a result of good health, food in their refrigerators, and reliable satellite TV. Let them think they are good because of their own merits. Let them believe that they have no needs at all and then they will never become like our dear Grace. Understand?

WORMWOOD: You make it all sound so simple. 

SCREWTAPE: But it is.

WORMWOOD: Then perhaps I could see the master at work and learn from your example.

SCREWTAPE: Gladly. There’s a bible study in Joyhall this afternoon. We’ll go as soon as we’ve had lunch. (They begin to walk out together)

WORMWOOD: Perfect. What are we eating?

SCREWTAPE: Un-repented souls.

WORMWOOD: Mmmm.

(Lights out.)

CLOSING: You didn’t think we were going to let the devils have the last word, did you?

Again, we do not intend to alarm you every time your check engine light turns on or a cellphone rings in church. Our job as believers is not to spot demons behind every door, but to recognize the lies in our hearts because that is where the devil works. In lies.

Lies like: (Touches the pew where each actor was sitting as he says the lies they were told.) Everyone is in need of repentance, except me (SUPERIOR). Or Christianity is only relevant if it addresses modern intellectualism (INTELLECT). (Skips SINNER’s seat) Or mental fantasy lands are harmless, just so long as they don’t lead to ungodly behavior (DISTRACTED). Or worship that pleases God must be felt (GRACE). Or if I follow God well enough, I shouldn’t encounter troubles (PAIN)

These were the lies seen in today’s congregation.

But praise God we have a weapon to combat every lie. We have the sword of truth, the bible, which tells us everything needed for living. (Again, touches the pew where each actor was sitting as he says the truths relating to each character.) It is through the bible that we know that everyone has missed God’s standard of perfection and thus everyone is in need of a daily repentance, a daily surrendering of the rebel still in our hearts (SUPERIOR). It is through the bible that we learn that God’s knowledge is beyond our own. He uses the simple to make fools of the worldly-wise (INTELLECT). It is through the bible that we see how following Christ isn’t a giving up of part of our time or part of our money, but a giving up of our entire selves, all of our heart, soul, and mind (DISTRACTED). The bible also tells us how when we give to God out of our deficiencies, as awkward or meager as it may feel, God is more pleased with that than if we were to give out of our abundance (GRACE). For when we are weak, then he is strong (PAIN).

It might have seemed unfair to you that God wasn’t physically present like the devils were in today’s skit. But something that this dramatization wasn’t able to show was how the Holy Spirit is living inside of those who have chosen to follow Christ. The Spirit prompts us like a director prompting the actors to their lines. In this case, prompting us to act like real sons and daughters of God. This Spirit is God living inside of us, lifting us out of this rebel’s body, leading us on the pathway to God, on the road that was paved by Jesus. This is the victory march we walk as Christians. This is our battle already won. This is life eternal.

It is God’s desire that all would take this gift and say both today and everyday, “It was for me and my sins that Christ came, lived, died, and rose again.”