The Communion of Apprentice Jugglers

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Over the course of 34 years on the Internet (that’s no typo, either), I’ve acquired a set of Internet friends, people with whom I’ve interacted regularly but I’ve also never met in person. It’s a phenomenon of our age.

A common thread among those folks is their contrarian natures. They don’t think like the crowd. They plunge deeper than others into deep topics. They ask harder questions. They don’t settle for simple. By being  this way, they rankle the complacent. As a result, the majority of them have struggled to fit in, whether in their local church or in what we consider “normal” life. Their work lives are almost always more challenging than the norm, and almost all have fought for years to find a place that suits their differentness.

The Apprentice Juggler, from _Tales of the Kingdom_ by David and Karen Mains, illustration by Jack StockmanMany years ago, I was asked to read a children’s book, Tales of the Kingdom by David and Karen Mains, as part of a job I had taken working with children. The book consists of a series of vignettes in the life of a young teen who flees a dystopian city of fire to find refuge among a rebel group living in the forest outside the city’s gates. Along the way, he meets a series of unusual people who are preparing for a great feast.

Based on The Story, Tales of the Kingdom is filled with biblical allusions and continues the tradition of Christian books such as Pilgrim’s Progress. My task was not only to read the book, but to find myself in it. Not surprisingly, I identified with the apprentice juggler.

Part of a troupe that entertained the king in the forest kingdom, the apprentice juggler hid a secret: his inner juggling count was off. He would throw at the wrong time. Tense catches didn’t happen according to expectations. When he performed the way that felt natural to him, his act teetered on disaster because it wasn’t smooth and didn’t conform to the standards of the troupe.

As a result, the apprentice juggler fell into despair and exhaustion at trying to hide his “broken” inner count and to please others.

In a performance before the king one day, fighting to act like his fellow performers, the apprentice juggler succumbed to his off-ness. Instead of jeering, though, both the king and the troupe master recognized him for having an unusual and rare gift as a clown juggler. He indeed lost his place within the troupe, but he took on another, more specialized role, one only he could fill.

At the time, I figured I was one of the few on staff who identified with the apprentice juggler. At almost 30 years later, I now understand that most people will see themselves in him. We all have our ways in which we fight to appear normal. We all have an inner count that’s offbeat, even if only by a fraction.

For some people, though, that unusual inner count comes by them naturally and defines them.  The square peg in the round hole, no matter where they are or what they do, their lives–in thought, emotion, and soul–are not like the crowd. And despite the truth that all of us have a count that doesn’t perfectly conform, for these folks the difference is all the more glaring, especially when they are on the stage of life, beanbags in hand, ready to throw.

But it is one thing to be the contrarian in the human. Being one in spirit is quite another.

In the story, the king recognized the distinctiveness of the apprentice juggler’s inner count. He could because he does not conform either.

Jesus Christ came to us with an inner count we could not recognize in any way. It manifested in a manner we could not comprehend. For this, and for how He made us feel about our own inner count, we nailed Him to a cross. Even the apprentice jugglers of that age, who had waved palms at his arrival, stood among the crowd later that same week and demanded death.

The way of Christ means taking on His inner count. Not simply by being a contrarian in natural practice or thought, but in the way we engage Christ’s life and manifest it in our spirits. To be one with this King–and to be for His Kingdom–our inner spiritual count must be at odds with the world. By necessity. To try to be normal by the standards of the world is to concede. To force the traditional inner count of the rest of the jugglers is to deny the King.

Some of us are apprentice jugglers by the very nature of who God made us. In truth, though, His remaking us by His Spirit should always lead to an inner count that causes tension in the complacent, joy in those expecting the unexpected, and peace for all who struggle to find what is true and who long to see it reign. For this reason grace exists, that we can walk in that Kingdom count without fear, to be the men and women Christ is making us, without a care as to what the world thinks or what it might costs us to be like Him in His inner count.

Some apprentice jugglers are born, but all who desire to be in the Kingdom must be born again to experience the natural rhythm of living in Christ. In this, we all must be apprentice jugglers in the Spirit.

Hmm, I Wonder What My Father’s House Shall Be Called?

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PrayerThe fashion today finds some churches talking smack about how long the worship portion of their Sunday meeting persists.

“We open with 20 minutes of nonstop praise to the Lord!”

“Well, we spend 40 minutes lifting up His name!”

Meanwhile, churches continue to build or renovate so that the altar area is more like the stage at a KISS concert. It used to be that a church could drop $50,000 easily on sound equipment. How 2005! Now they spend that much on stage lighting.

Can I ask a simple question?

What did Jesus say His Father’s house shall be called? A house of a 45-minute worship set with lasers?

When was the last time you heard anyone brag, “We open our meeting with a half hour of prayer”?

Something is monstrously wrong in American Christianity when a church of believers can sing some bad rock songs interminably  and then brag about it, yet you can’t get the assembled Body of Christ at that same church to spend five minutes in shared prayer.

I wonder if we’ve reached a stage where we can say that our Father’s house has become one of misplaced priorities.

He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers.”
–Matthew 21:13

You see, there is more than one holy thing such robbers can steal.

Empty Faith: When Manliness, Quiverfull, and Christian Principles Add Up to Nothing

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Many people are lamenting the loss of church membership in the U.S., though I’m not convinced those loss numbers are anything but statistical anomalies.

Still, I think something is happening to the quality of Christian practice in this country. In addition, there’s a loss of understanding about what it means to be a Christian, what the Gospel is, how the Church should act, and what the whole point of being a Christian is.

The disintegration of a Christian family is at the core of this article:

“How Playing Good Christian Housewife Almost Killed Me

The author talks about being in the Quiverfull Movement, made famous by the Duggar family. Quiverfull practitioners believe that large families are a blessing from God, so they adhere to a set of Christian principles based around Psalm 127.

While the term fundamentalist comes out in the article, it’s clear to me that Quiverfull is not relegated to old school Baptist churches in line with Jack Hyles and Bob Jones. It’s far more evangelical than some evangelicals care to admit.

And frankly, I see nothing wrong with having a large family. If God blesses you with a large family, fantastic!

But what does trouble me is that despite the author’s protests that she indeed had a great relationship with Jesus, what comes out in the article shows she had a deeper relationship with someone’s idea of core Quiverfull Christian principles.

Sometimes it’s hard to be a woman, laments Tammy Wynette, but being a dad is just as hard. Over at the Familyman podcast with Todd Wilson, we find out that the “Buck Stops with Dad,” and if you’re a man without a job (that section starts at 15:00 into the podcast), well…

The answer? Pick yourself up by your own bootstraps, knuckle down, put your nose to the grindstone, work harder, take three menial jobs, and do it by yourself. Man up. Abide by Christian principles of manliness and fatherhood, read a couple John Eldredge books, and good luck. Because you’re on your own, buddy. Every godly man for himself.

It makes me wonder what the point of being a Christian is.

Nothing in that podcast said anything about what a man should expect from his church when he’s out of a job. It’s likely that this overt omission is because we have churches built on Christian principles, but not a whole of evidence of being those churches being built on Christ.

Amid all that loneliness and despair, someone gets it right…

Over at the Brant & Sherri Podcast, Brant Hansen talks about what happens when churches play church and fail to be the Church (starts at 10:11)…

It seems to me that people aren’t going to the American Church for answers anymore because the Church gave them Christian principles rather than what they showed up to receive. People came looking for a family and for Jesus, and they got a list of disconnected, out-of-context Bible verses instead.

Desperate people walked into church on Sunday, and they got a lesson on how to be a perfect wife/husband/student/employee/taxpayer/American, when every part of their life was falling apart, and they just needed someone to care, to listen, to be Jesus in the flesh for them.

Hurting, needy, broken people do not need Christian principles; they need a community of believers who will do anything necessary to help. But most of all, they need Jesus. Hell is filled with people who lived by Christian principles and yet had no relationship with Jesus.

It staggers me that we can’t get this right.

I’m sure people will listen to Hansen’s podcast and tear up at some point, because what he talks about is what people are dying for. They want to know that someone–anyone–cares enough to make them a part of a “forever family.” They keep looking for that kind of love, acceptance, and support, with Jesus at the center of that caring community, yet they can’t find it anywhere.