I was trying to snap myself out of it on the way home, so I flipped on the radio (my less expensive Ipod of choice) and the Darkness on the Edge of Town was just ending. In case you didn’t know this, the end of that classic Boss tune sounds exactly like the beginning. So, if you're anything like me and you grew up on radio, there was always an anticipation with songs like these. Maybe, just maybe, on a good day, the song was just getting started. But then, on the not so good days, it wasn’t. It was the end.
So, getting a brief taste of this Boss song and the end of it, I knew I needed to hear it all. I searched deep within that CD changer and I found it, and I listened to it from the beginning, in all of its glorious entirety, with Chloe peering out the now closed windows at passing clouds and trees beneath them.
Well, if she wants to see me, You can tell her that I'm easily found, Tell her there's a spot out 'neath Abram's Bridge, And tell her, there's a darkness on the edge of town.
Truth be told, that’s what happening with us in this story, as these chapters draw to a close. If anything has developed in us, I hope it’s that we've learned how to belt it out like the Boss with our gravelly voices: hey, if anyone wants to see us, you can tell ‘em that we’re easily found!
Where? Right here in the margins. Find us loving and serving with open arms and an easy grace in the darkness on the edge of town.
And yes, the end of this wildly meandering novel looks and sounds very much like the beginning, where, as you may recall, I climbed up and over the crest of that hill and I found their number was simply too large to count. Like before, what I had just witnessed was an amazing picture of unity and array. They had organized, seemingly with a communal destination in mind. They rode together, side by side as apparent followers by no other name.
Where were these men and women riding to on this beautiful Saturday morning and why was their destination not mine, again? I really don’t know for sure, but what matters most is where I take them in my imagination because you and I, this Church we are, well, we need a model. And unless I’m missing it, we’ve been sorely lacking in the church model department for too many years.
Of course, we’ve already imagined a modern day Rider. But here we are again, needing a steady reminder of who we are as His followers, whether two by two or in large processions. Not just any reminder, but one that will spring to life in the reality of our waking moments. I don’t know about you, but I can barely go a day without the thundering sound and imposing sight of Harley riders finding their way into my personal space.
So, let’s analyze this. We need a collective passion for one thing that will call us together on beautiful mornings -- you know, to congregate. This one thing is simple, and in reality, it’s not a thing at all. He is a person, and from what I’ve learned of this journey, it seems like, lately, He’s all we have in common anymore. His name is Jesus.
Putting our differences to rest, we need to follow him en masse and embark at once upon a journey, together, with a destination of great consequence. Yet, at the same time, we need to acknowledge that we’re actually excited about the destination because of the journey itself. One of comradery and like-mindedness; one where I believe God indelibly leaves his very fingerprints upon us, if I can be so bold to presume such a thing.
With our hair dancing with wild gusts of wind, we’ll put our arms out like we’re flying and it will be very beautiful. The sun will shine upon us and we’ll resemble our Father, wherein fate has blessed us.
The destination? Perhaps it won’t always be the edge of town. Maybe it'll be smack dab in the middle. Regardless, wherever it is, there will likely be a darkness there, where the last and the least can easily be found.
You know your own town. Where is the edge? Yes, it is that simple and yes, the Word (who is the truth) backs it up. Trust me.
And it can be confusing, no doubt, because churches are everywhere, competing like marching bands and cheerleaders in their popularity contest, beckoning us to stake a claim in their congregation. So sometimes we'll have to ride past the car washes, with signs and marquees everywhere, each with some witty phrase, screaming out from the shoulder of the road “Come into our building! Please, pretty please!” Extroverts greeting us and begging us to choose them over the next one. But we’ll smile and wave at what we once called church as if to say we believe in your passion, but if all you want is for us to come in and get our souls washed for heaven, to raise money for this or that, well, we can’t stop right now. We'll keep riding because in the darkness on the edge of town we know, we just know that we’ll get a taste of it, that special “it”, when we've reached the end of the tire tracks, where Jesus actually parks his ride and we'll realize we're at the beginning!
And that we want it all.
There’s a reason we've imagined the Bride throwing off her veil. It was because she wanted to be seen full in the face, and she wanted to let her hair down so she could freely celebrate the love of her Groom and reveal just how contagious that love really is.
We are that Bride, and our journey and the destination that follows is a celebration. We won’t shush and shoo away the uninvited. We won’t hide behind the bridal table during the reception -- no, we’ll get up and reveal the full length of our beauty and we'll kick off our shoes, open the doors to the hall and bring out our tables of food and our wine. We’ll beckon the outsiders to come -- the hungry, the hopeless and the homeless to eat from the bounty. We’ll dance with the tattered in the streets, the crisp white shoulders of our bridal gown smudged with grime because the tears of the lonely and the downtrodden have been shed during an embrace.
We won’t exist merely to draw others into some building. Instead, we’ll love deep and true so that everyone will be drawn to the fullness and the magnificence of our marriage to the Groom.
And yes, it's true. We’re all broken, so very broken. But we know deep inside our messiness that One has made us whole. Just like my Saturday morning with Chloe, the simple addition of a special something turns us into an altogether perfect and pure Church. It’s Him, and He’s calling us to an adventure. We won’t accomplish much of anything in our sitting down and in the staking of our territorial borders. We’ll finally get, once and for all, that this Church we are is a living breathing thing, one of motion and kinesis. We'll actually find our beauty in our forward momentum, our movement together, like a clumsy flock of birds that floats through the air with grace, but only after we’ve truly taken flight.
And so, while this is indeed the end of this volume, let's search deep inside and begin again and live this open air concept of church in all of its glorious entirety. Will you join the procession of the passionate, and if so, how far away will the collective rumble of your resolve be felt? Will you find other like-minded congregants who join you, those who are given wide berth and those who find power inherent in the mere mass of their number?
Come and join the sanctuary of the ones who have been saved from the depths of the too far gone, where founding members congregate not as conquering heroes on white horses of privilege but as unassuming brothers and sisters who ride low to the ground. Come and know enough of the true Rider to be forever at odds with the ones who are more prepared than they are willing. Leave behind pews of indifference and altars of apathy. Bid farewell to men and women with agendas who revel with clean hands and distant hearts behind closed doors.
In my way of thinking, it’s really not up for debate.
Come and lean with humility into dusty street corners and join in worship as the alleys echo with rapping evangelists of song. Come watch as all cultures, color and creed rise up and multiply while their pulpits are filled by merely the rescued and the redeemed!
That, my friends, is a new kind of church.
Stay tuned for So I Go Now ~ Volume III!
*** If you've stopped by for the first time, or if you've been along for the ride quite a while, please drop me a note -- I'd love to hear from you! If you're shy about leaving comments, that's fine too! You can e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org
A HUGE thanks to all of you for your ever steady encouragement throughout these chapters.
It was a nearly perfect Saturday, one with cooler temperatures and a crystal, blue diamond sky. I was with Chloe, my four year old brown-eyed girl, and we were off to Krispy Kreme in the trusty Jacobson minivan. She was in the back, singing along quite confidently with Chris Tomlin, who was, unbeknownst to him, leading us in worship that day.
It's pretty early in my story, but for the record, I find myself quite drawn to Chris Tomlin’s music. If I have six CDs in the minivan's six-CD-changer, with five slots reserved for the legendary Boss, who is, of course, Bruce Springsteen, then it is no small accomplishment to be occupying the sixth slot. Mr. Tomlin should be proud to be among such company; you know, rubbing discs and all with the Boss. Anyhow, Chris Tomlin writes and sings with a childlike simplicity and passion that I think God likes, and through his music, and our subsequent worship, I believe God indelibly leaves his very fingerprints upon us, if I can be so bold to presume such a thing. So, as I was saying, we were off to get breakfast. While waiting at our first traffic light, we noticed the local high school marching band was set up for their big car wash, to raise funds for this or that, a usual late summer tradition. The extroverts of the bunch were out on the shoulder of the road with big signs trying desperately to draw us in. Across the street and down a little were the cheerleaders, all of whom are extroverts, and they were up to the same thing. It was a popularity contest, one not lost on me (some 25 years later), because unfortunately, some things never change. I wondered fleetingly where I'd get a better car wash, but really, right about then, I wandered deep into thought about what group Chloe would belong to when she was older, and I secretly hoped she’d find a way to be welcome and welcoming wherever she was, and that maybe there wouldn't be any groups at all by then. Or, if there were still groups, that maybe she could navigate easily between perceived lines, like crossing from Indiana to Ohio on a country road. No fanfare, no suspicion, no border patrol.
We pressed on and decided to pass by both of our fund raising options, not because the minivan wasn’t in need of a wash, but rather because I didn’t have any cash. I never have any cash, it seems, and this particular morning was no exception.
Be that as it may, we merged onto the highway, due North, and it was open and clear, with big wide lanes, the kind of lanes that would have made Kramer proud. I pushed the outside boundaries of the suggested speed limit, and Chloe shouted over Tomlin that she wanted all of the windows down, and that the sunroof should be opened to boot. I acquiesced and watched as her fine strands of hair danced in and out with wild gusts of wind. She closed her eyes and put her arms out like she was flying, and it was very beautiful. The sun was shining through the open roof onto her little face and she looked like her mother, wherein fate has blessed her. I was a little disappointed when she eventually said she was done with all of the wind, and that I should close at least two of the windows. Maybe the sun roof too.
We slowed for our exit, and while leaning into the off ramp, we came upon our town's huge Harley dealership, and the parking lot was already bustling with activity. This particular location hosts numerous gatherings of the Harley faithful throughout the year, and this morning, again, was no exception. I watched with curiosity as we drove by because there was an insanely long line of riders–hundreds arranged two by two–apparently waiting in queue to embark upon some journey of great consequence.
We kept on going, though, toward our prized destination of sinfully baked confections and we pulled through the convenient donut drive-through. (They take credit cards, just in case you're wondering.) We chose the usual suspects: ones with multicolored sprinkles, thick sugar glazes, creme filled centers, and the like. And dietary complications notwithstanding, it should be stated here and now that nearly perfect Saturdays are converted into altogether perfect Saturdays with the simple addition of Krispy Kremes to the morning. It’s really not up for debate.
A dozen donuts-to-go later, we were driving back the very same way we had come. Pretty soon we noticed that a good number of police cars were blocking one of the intersections, each with their lights flashing, and it was all very official looking and a bit threatening, like the officers were shielding us from some horrific accident. All the same, we strained our necks to see what was beyond them–and within seconds of our stopping, it began. We heard them first, and then, a seemingly endless flow of Harley riders started moving in front of us, in slow motion, two by two, right on through the intersection, their bikes adorned with riveted saddlebags, tasseled handlebars, mufflers and metal parts shining in the sun. Helmets were optional for these riders as they embarked on a journey, like some large, clumsy flock of birds that floats through the air with grace, but only after they've truly taken flight.
It seemed like forever until it was our turn to go. I followed them, and just up ahead they were given the same luxury at yet another intersection by a whole new gaggle of policemen. This group of riders would not be separated under the watch of these officers; no, they were given wide berth and found their power in the mere mass of their number. The noise of their procession was nearly overwhelming and I wondered how far away the rumble could be felt. Something about their unity was palpable, this simple gathering with a destination in mind.
And so I kept in their wake for a mile or two, the first non-Harley at the end of the line. It took me a moment to come to my senses and I eventually veered off toward home, feeling a little silly. And it was right about then that I realized their destination wasn't mine at all. In fact, where they were going, I think, wasn't even as important as the journey itself.
The sky is healing from the heat of the day as curled scoops of raspberry sherbet clouds dominate the horizon. While I wait to exhale, an expectation fills the air and it belies the coming night. Deep within this dusk is a vivid space to discover, where hope lasts until morning and defenses are down; where possibilities are endless and colorful. It is a place where dreams dance and gravity exists merely as an option.
The remaining blush of the sun will soon be setting with it, so I must be vigilant. My time is limited, for the darkness will usher in doubt and fear and before long I'll reduce this faith to some architect’s design -- a destination of brick and mortar, of stained glass and empty promises. It is regrettably there where I'll mandate a shrinking of humanity into some manageable, fleeting charity.
Somewhere amidst this bated breath and vivid changing of the horizon He waits, for this beauty finds no other source. There must be a doorway, some portal, and I will enter in -- eagerly, quickly, before I miss it altogether.
Arriving there, I suspect I'll have no religion. I won't cocoon myself with tidy rules nor silence the voices of the neglected and the modern day lepers, the very ones who cry from the alleyways in my town and yours, in need of a simple touch. There, I’ll check no bylaws before I act, nor will I seek some territorial, denominational advantage. My only affiliation will be with the one true Christ.
It is deep within that sunset where earthly prospect will be sustained by the supernatural and the Divine, where the die of anticipation and limitless opportunity will be cast -- yes, for He will turn and lower His ear to hear the cries of the beloved, the rhythm of the weak and the weary, audible even from this soil upon which we tramp.
The air is hovering thick and wet here today and I’m feeling dense and heavy, like moss or ground cover; I'm deep in a forest that knows the sun as some distant cousin.
I’m looking up at you from the shadow of a mountainous ancestral tree and I’m getting philosophical about what it means to have you in my life. Oddly enough, the sunlight is still trying to break through -- an unwavering beam of intention bouncing off of random limbs. It’s dancing just above your hair and every so often it looks like you might be the source of it.
As I stare at you, I know that you’re my Savior, but I sense that you're asking if I would, in fact, choose you as a friend. If I'd hang out with you.
It's funny, but I feel as if the choice has already been made for me, from as early as I can remember -- like you’ve always been around. You're a member of the family. My brother, so to speak.
I didn't choose a lot of things growing up, like, for example, the way I look or the color of my eyes; my smile or how tall I am. I’ve always wanted to be taller, just so you know. And to tan better, too, because I always burn first. I do have good and very straight teeth, without the help of braces, thank you very much. Those were the luck of the hereditary draw, I suppose.
And speaking of family, I didn't get much of a choice there either. Although I’d probably still pick them if it was up to me. Well, maybe not all of them. Like my Uncle Ed, for example.
Yet, despite the shadow of this family tree, my upbringing and my genetics, I can choose you. Or not. You’ve always told me I can take you or leave you, in so many words. I’ve never stopped to think about it, though, because you just keep showing up on your own.
So, back to the woods and the floor of it, and you’re standing here and I feel like you’re forcing me to make a decision. You’re hovering over me, a silhouette with that unwavering light behind you, reminding me that I have a free will.
I could carry a piece of you, I suppose. A cross around my neck or a fish on my bumper. Perhaps I could whip out a card from my wallet that says I can keep my promises. Or that I’m wild at heart. I’m sure if I looked hard enough I could find that bracelet with the acronym on it. Something, anything to signify our friendship. Our bond.
That’s not enough, you whisper. You seem jealous. You simply need to know if I’d want you around. In the flesh. Just you. And you won’t leave until you’ve heard my answer.
Well, OK, let me think about this. You know that I like to laugh with my friends, but it's often at the expense of others. So, I guess right off the bat you won’t like that. Could I give up my biting, sarcastic humor for you? I’d have to, because you always see the good in people. No, you see the great. You prefer that I laugh and poke fun at myself instead. It’s a practice in humility and I know how much you love that.
I can be judgmental, too, though I hide it well. Could you handle that? I know you have nothing to hide because there’s not a judgmental bone in your body. You just move with an easy pace and your grace is wide. Everyone is mysteriously equal in your eyes, and I still don't get that.
You’re more than alright with the concept of shocking people to get your point across, and you’re comfortable going in and out of places they’d least expect. I like that about you. I’m the same way, though probably not for the same reasons. I'd need to get a better grasp on your reasons before we do that together.
I also think it’s pretty cool the way you dance around useless banter and meaningless arguments to get right at the heart of the issue. You’re not avoiding the tough questions; no, you just don’t waste your words. You keep coming back to the truth like you’re fighting off some invisible lie. Maybe you really are.
Maybe the lie isn’t so invisible to you.
Not sure I need to bring this up, but I’m a friend of margaritas, which I suppose you already know. It's not a prerequisite for our friendship, obviously, but would you join me in that indulgence? I think you’d ask me first if I need one or if I want one. And the difference would be of utmost importance to you.
I’m in a rush too, most of the time, so I need quick sound bytes of information. If we’re going to do lunch and stuff like other friends do, please remember that I’ve only got a short window of time. Would you try to slow me down? I think you would.
I’m pretty selfish. Painfully so at times. You’d probably tell me to get my eyes off of myself. That could get pretty annoying.
I guess that’s it for now, though I’m sure I could go on. Would I choose you? I don’t mean to answer one of your questions with another question, but that’s something you taught me.
The sweat on his brow reminds me, all at once, of his humanity. We’re sitting together on the edge of a curb, and he actually looks tired, this Savior of mine. I’m freshly aware that he doesn’t have a place to lay his head. I guess I’ve always thought he was somehow above or beyond sleep.
And the need for a home.
But really, he is very much a man, and I suppose fully capable of exhaustion, my imagination notwithstanding. And on top of that, he’s earthy, poor, perhaps even unrefined by our savvy standards; this very whimsy of a modern day Rider, inspired to put flesh to my historical and geographical detachment. He’s right here in my town, and most certainly my day.
And he is, indeed, homeless, just like he was the first time, so he’s quite at ease with the weary and the jaded. Yet another sign that his Kingdom is all backassward and upside down in every way possible.
Who is he, some King of the broken rabble?
He tells me his pace has been frenzied in recent weeks and months. This doesn’t come as a surprise to me, because I’ve felt a certain tension in the air -- maybe you have too. He confirms this to be true, for much is afoot, quite a lot is changing. A veil is being lifted, he says, in the spaces and shadows beyond our perception.
And he also reveals that it will intensify -- we'll sense his presence more frequently, as he makes his way down our collective Courts, our wandering Ways, our aspiring Avenues and our lavish Lanes. Much like a contemporary Paul Revere, shouting:
"The Kingdom is coming! The Kingdom is coming!"
But not with a shout you'd expect, with audible tones; no, it will only be for those with willing ears to hear -- over the din of that Harley rumble, its engine humming in a low idle.
Yet, who will be willing? Who will want a Kingdom like his? Certainly it'll make more sense to ignore it.
It will be nearly impossible, though. Upon hearing it, inviting it, and letting it get under our skin, we'll move slowly to the front door of our homes, peering first through the perceived safety of a latched chain lock, then tentatively, inches more through a fastened screen door -- and then, laying down our fishing nets, our nest eggs, our diplomas and doctrines and security blankets of all sorts, we'll move our way out onto the front porch.
The wind will pick up and the chimes will clang an eerie chord. Out on the driveway or the sidewalk to the street, the pull will simply be too strong; his promise too magnetic. He'll tell us again and again that we'll die a little more today than we did yesterday, but certainly not as much as we will tomorrow. There’s a danger in this Kingdom he’s inaugurating and it won't be like anything we were led to believe in Sunday school.
And this is somehow a good thing?
Maybe it’ll be best to ride this storm out, I think -- on the inside, in a low lying room. Underneath the stairs, yes, it will be much safer. We'll hear but cover our ears to the shrill sound of the alarms and well meaning air horns carrying their piercing warnings through the wind.
But this storm won't pass, he reminds me. There he'll be, waiting, beckoning.
“The Kingdom is coming!”
What? Does he want us to become homeless too? To really, actually follow him and become earthy, poor, perhaps even unrefined by our savvy standards?
There was a haunting once that began as a subtle and benign breeze, one with feathery fingers stroking.
It swirled around my ankles, up and under my exquisite yet concealing fabric. Ever so cautiously, it started to massage the tenacious texture of my skin, this very resolve of my own making, lingering in search of some pressure point. It was coaxing me to yield, kneading against my muscles and tendons; privileged and pampered as they were.
But I ignored it, and so a chill set upon me, upsetting the warmth I enjoyed and the comfort I craved.
Surely, I thought, there would be some place to hide from this, some excuse or anxious shadow to shelter me. But the search was pointless, for it would not relent; it slithered under the door frames and sought me over the window sills, through the very crevices of my refusal.
It found me wherever I was.
For want of my surrender, it evoked a disturbance of mind, body and soul; it knew that I was merely dancing around the borders and the fringes, where instead, should I enter fully in, awaiting me was the finishing design of His new attire. It wasn’t fancy, He warned me, this wardrobe of the margins, but He promised it was just.
And it would always be enough.
Yet, I still argued, justifying to Him that at least I was dancingthere on the outskirts, which is more than most, as if that should be enough. But I knew, deep down where longings go, that I was merely flirting with the notion of real surrender.
And so this haunting continued for a lifetime.
Then, the breeze which previously teased and enticed to live and suffer and die among the least of these, transformed suddenly into a forceful gust of wind, and soon a gale was upon me, churning and shouting with a thundering voice all its own.
So, naked I stood, exposed; I couldn't ignore that I was among those who were first, but all the same I begged to be last and I pleaded some small camel to my side, to fulfill some perceived prerequisite, to shove and squeeze through the piercing eye of any needle, though none could be found.
It was folly, and much too late, for I had been rich.
~ ~ ~
So, waking now from this ever present nightmare, I implore You to relentlessly taunt me and torment me. Dress me as a pauper. Bring forth the strength of Your prevailing wind and teach me how to give these trappings away. More and more of them! And then, even more still. Until I have nothing left but You.