I can’t sleep tonight. At least not yet. I came downstairs to connect with God. Opening my mouth to pray, all I could say was, “Jesus, I want to be near you.” I say it again and again, but oh how the mind wanders. Thinking of work. Always work. Even when I open the Scriptures it’s to a portion I must read for work. My job has become my relationship with God.

So I write. I write my prayers because in speaking them I am so easily distracted. And tonight I pray for Ember, the unborn church.

The image that comes to my mind whenever I think about Ember now is of a man (probably me), yellow-checkered shirt and ratty blue jeans, walking down a street lined with old homes. I know the neighborhood. It’s Clintonville, just north of campus. But the image is far different than the one I used to have. The old image was also of a man (certainly me), but that man was preaching to a congregation of thousands. Illuminated by stage lights. Supported by rock and roll. Leading a mass movement with all humility and character, or so I hoped. Now it’s a man walking.

The funny thing is, my ecclesiology hasn’t changed all that much. What I think the church ought to be doing today is pretty much the same thing I thought the church ought to be doing five years ago. It’s me who’s changing. I don’t want to be Rob Bell anymore. (Sorry, Rob, nothing personal.) I don’t want to have a big church anymore. I don’t want to be the next evangelical rock star preacher. I don’t want to start a movement, I just want to move.

I want to go somewhere with people. I want to be a part of a community that honors God with their lips and their hearts and their deeds. I want to take the wealthy, introduce them to the poor, and speak the words of Christ to each. I want to be a part of a community where political liberals and conservatives can break bread together. I want to see young people listening to old people, and old people listening to young people. I want to be in a church where Jesus makes himself known to those who think they already know everything about him.

And yet it all seems so “yeah right.” It all seems so impossible. This isn’t the sort of thing that I know how to make happen. And even if I did, I wouldn’t want to. I don’t want this to be about me. I want this to be about God and I want this to be about us and I want this to be about a world in need of both Jesus and the Church.

So, God. It’s up to you. Too much has to happen that is beyond my control. I will walk, but you must lead. You must clear the path through the jungle. You must blaze the trail through the wilderness. You step, I step. Please, let’s move.

One of the ways that we get the Church most wrong is in the pronouns. The Church is not it. The Church is She. 
We all know that the Church (or, if you like, local church) is not the building. But there are plenty of other things that the Church is not. The Church is not an organization. The Church is not an institution. The Church is not a machine. Neither is the Church a corporation, a club, a society, a party, a lobby/pressure group, or (most of all) a business. The Church is none of these, because the Church is not it. The Church is She.
The Church is an organism. The Church is a cosmic being. She is the Bride of Christ. She is the Body of Christ. She is alive, and She never dies. All Christians who have ever lived, including those who have died, still have a voice in the Church. The saints of ages past still speak because, though She is wounded, yet She lives.
Your church, my church, the local bodies of Christ to which we belong, are microorganisms. They are microcosms. Pictures of the whole. They are she, the sum of them being She, and they are alive. Your church is a living organism. Your church is not an organization.

The implications of this are manifold. Most importantly, She is loved. Christ loves His Bride. Like all brides, the love of Her Lover gives Her life. His love breathes life into Her soul. The Church smiles and laughs when She thinks of how Her Lover loves Her. The Church weeps when She thinks of how She has abandoned Her Lover, and how He has pursued Her and restored Her. She lives. She moves. She has Her being in the One who loved Her so deeply that He died to give Her birth.
We murder the Church when we dehumanize Her. We murder Her when we call Her ‘Organization’ and ‘Institution.’ These are dead things. Inanimate. They speak only the words of the men who run them. But She speaks the words of life, because She has been given them–to keep and to guard. To speak light into darkness. To speak life into death. To speak truth to power. To speak ‘No!’ and ‘Stop!’ to evil. To shout, ‘In the name of Jesus, not here, not now, not ever!’ 
We murder the Church when we apply to Her the principles of Corporate America. We press a dagger through Her heart when we demand of Her productivity and efficiency. We send Her to the mines, we enslave Her, when we retrofit Her with the greased wheels of successful business practices. The Church, after all, does not produce. She begets.
She is alive. He is alive. He calls to Her. Does She answer? Does She hear? Who has torn out Her ears? Who has clipped Her tongue? Why are You silent, O Beloved? Why are You still? Don’t You know that You are not It? You are She.

I’ve been doing a lot of studying lately. December is an off-month for me, which means there are no classes to teach. So I’m trying to take advantage of the downtime by preparing for the classes that begin in January. I’ll be teaching Galatians, Hosea, and doing an e4 session on the Wisdom Books.

The book I chose to study in preparation for the Psalms (Just one of the five Wisdom Books) is “Praying the Psalms” by Walter Brueggemann. I chose the book mostly because it was short and appeared to be both scholarly and practical, which is the thrust of our e4 program. I should also point out that in my first e4 session I railed against Brueggemann’s awful exegesis of the book of Luke, so coming back to him is a work of redemption. 
His book hasn’t particularly blown me away, but I just finished the second chapter, “The Liberation of Language.” I appreciate the distinction he makes between language that describes things as they are and language that creates new spaces. The Psalms fall into the latter category. These poems and prayers do not describe the world as it is. Rather, they create a space of communion between hurting people and a healing God, or between celebrative people and an overjoyed Lord. They are not the language of, to use my own experience, computer engineering. They are the language of theatre.
Psalms are words which occupy a space for which there are no words. They create a bond between creature and Creator. They give breath to both inexpressible grief and joy. In the Psalms we find a depth of true expression that we did not know existed, or did not think we had permission to speak. The Psalms set our hearts free to speak to God as sons and daughters, with all the familiarity of in-the-family language. They are the inside-jokes, so to speak, of God’s household. They are our special language to him–a personal prayer language for God’s children.
They are also prayers that we can offer on behalf of others. I am not always writhing in the agony of Psalm 22, but more often than not, I know someone who is. These are our prayers for ourselves and for each other. May it be so in me.

Last night I was hanging out with Cyrus and Eisley while Breena was with friends, and the kids and I were down in the basement playing. Breena’s old megaphone from her cheerleading days was down there, and I started talking into it. Cyrus and Eisley thought it was the most hilarious thing ever! Cyrus was sticking his head right into the end of it and I would say, “Cyrus!” He laughed so hard, and then he said, “So loud. Why?” Why was it so loud? That’s hard to explain to a 2 year old, so I just said, “physics.” “Oh,” he said, “physcuits.” Yeah. Physcuits.

Every time I log into my blog I see those numbers in the right-hand column staring back at me, mocking me, telling me, “You’ve given up on this, too.” Eleven posts in September, and just three so far in October. But why?

The truth is I’ve been really busy, and blogging doesn’t make it to the top of my priority list. Perhaps if I were paid to do this…. But this week alone I have to write a sermon for the high school fall retreat (done), study the historical books for an e4 session I’m teaching next Tuesday (not done), finish reading Surprised by Hope by NT Wright (done), prepare for a preaching meeting because I’m preaching at my church the last weekend of November (half done), prepare a session on Isaiah (not done), and prepare a session on John (not started). And I’m sure I’m forgetting something. Please God, don’t call for a video this weekend!

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