Laundry day used to be a time for friends to get together. In fact, pretty much everything used to be a time for friends to get together. In many pre-modern or traditional societies, this is still the case.
Think about it. Washing clothes by hand used to require long periods of intentionality but relatively low brain energy and focus. Combine this with the fact that, through most of human history, the water needed for washing has come from a central source—a calm bend in the river or a neighborhood well—and you have a situation ripe for people to do what people do when they’re together: catch up on the local buzz, tell stories, pass along jokes, and generally strengthen ties.
But in the industrialized world we have laundry machines. We don’t need to bother with small talk in order to wash our jeans. This is just one example of something that has happened time and again in the industrialized world, for which we could cite a hundred more examples: we quickly adopt an invention, because it solves a very obvious convenience issue, giving little thought to the larger quality-of-life changes that might come as collateral.
Why do I get angry at the things that people slap on their bumpers? It’s embarrassing to have an emotional reaction to a plastic magnet with an even cheaper throwaway line on this or that issue. And yet, as I’m pulling up to this stoplight next to a copper minivan the other day, that’s precisely what happened.
One issue slogans plastered nearly every inch of this car, espousing what I'm tempted to call the ravings of a lunatic.
Now, I could have made this blog about all the fairly legitimate reasons why this made me think some less than generous thoughts about the driver of said minivan. I'm sure I could make a pretty solid case against the particular stance to which this person is so committed. But if I’m honest with myself, these fairly legitimate reasons are not why such a strong anti-copper-minivan bile started bubbling up inside me this day.
The truth is that I was angry for a much less impressive reason: I needed to be right. And part of needing to be right is getting others to acknowledge that you’re right. How could this copper-y, minivan-y person be so wrong!? How can't they see that I’m right!?
This is the challenge of living into the daily life-flow of Jesus. In my more honest and prayerful moments, I’m forced to admit that Jesus cares very little whether I’m right about this belief or that one. But he seems to care very much how I use my rightness over against others. Am I right with a spirit of gentleness and generosity, or do I glory in my own rightness to the degradation of others? Am I right with a spirit of warmth and softness, or do I stockpile my rightness as ammo? Does my rightness acknowledge the full humanity of others or does it reduce them to their stance on a single issue? Does it make me a walking caricature of that line from the Wendell Berry poem: “Did you finish killing everybody who was against peace?”
The thing is: I’m not wrong, at least not about this issue (which I won't name, because it's not what this blog is about). Nothing has changed on that account. If we can all agree that not dying is still kind of a big deal, then this particular minivan-ers beliefs on the subject actually are quite dangerous.
But we’re no longer talking about whether I’m right, at this point. We’re talking about the way in which I am being right—not a very helpful way, at the moment, as my face reddens idly here at this stoplight.
As far as I know, for as much as we talk about beliefs, Jesus never once tells anyone that they need to get their beliefs right. But he repeatedly says indicting things like, “Every tree is known by it’s fruit.” This is kind of a bummer, if you’re like me, and you spend a lot of time consuming books, articles, and all kinds of other media in order to get your beliefs right. This means that, assuming I even believed all the right things, if I ever went up to Jesus and tried to impress him by saying, “Yo, J, look at me—I believe in x, y, and z,” I suspect he would respond, “We’ll see about that. Go live a little bit, and we’ll see if that is the particular fruit produced by your tree.”
Infuriating, right? I did the homework. I watched all the right documentaries. I bought the right books. But instead of a big hearty pat on the back, Jesus responds with “Oh, you say you believe in making the world around you better? Go interact with people for a bit, we'll see what actions fall from your tree, and then I’ll let you know what you really believe.”
This is why people who pay attention to group dynamics will say that one of the most important things a group has to figure out for itself is whether it will be a believe, behave, belong or a belong, behave, believe community. This is true, regardless of whether the community in question is formed around religion, politics, a hobby, you name it. The group dynamics will still hinge on the same question: are we a group of like minded people, where beliefs serve as a kind of shibboleth (a meaningless code word) to determine whether you’re one of us? Or are we a group that honors your presence among us first and foremost and then finds creative ways to handle and even be enhanced by differences of belief.
The community that we are pulling together at Castle Church is decidedly belong, behave, believe. We don’t tolerate disagreement. We thrive on it. Everything else must grow out of that prior acceptance. Otherwise, we're just massaging each other's like mindedness. I already know what I believe. I don’t need you to just be a mirror for my own narcissistic ego. I want to be enhanced by how you’re different. This doesn’t mean that neither of us will ever be wrong. That’s naïve. But as a person, I am much more than the particular issue or stance on which I’m wrong. And you are too. Only together, as a community, can some of your rights fill in some of my wrongs and vice-versa.
Now that we have officially launched our #castlechurchselfie bumper magnet promotion, as a way to raise money for the startup, my hope is that these magnets will become known around central Florida as a gentle counter to the often rude and contemptuous ways that our society has come to use car bumpers, of all things, to write-off and dehumanize the people who disagree with us.
I'm not persuaded by the assertions on the copper minivan, and I'm not about to swap camps on this issue anytime soon. But I also know that there is probably far more to the woman driving this vehicle, her hopes and desires, the people she cares about, the people that care about her, than what is proclaimed on her bumper. It’s my own failing if I assume anything less.
Maybe, one day, I can buy her a beer and talk it out.
Grace and peace,
My good friend, Justin Stone, who teaches philosophy at Valencia college, has a really profound way of saying it: “I try to own a few really nice things.” Now, here is the context in which I find that so profound.
My wife, Nikki, and I are trying to be more intentional and faithful about how we use our money.
As three steps forward, two steps back followers of the Way of Jesus, we’re trying to live up to these core commitments:
Sounds simple enough even as I write it out like that. But I find that it was so much easier to be an idealist about how we walk this walk back in seminary and college, when we had no spending money beyond what paid the bills and kept us in Ramen. It was so much easier to be a moral absolutist back then. I remember somewhat obnoxiously pronouncing to my friends in college that I was a minimalist. I might have even told them that they had license to shoot me, if I ever ended up spending my weekends at Lowe’s, buying tools that I don’t want in order to fix up more house than what I need.
Well…guess where I sit right now, as I’m writing this, and guess where I spent last weekend.
It’s not that we’ve totally compromised our ideals about money. But, at some point, we were faced with a choice between renting our money into a bottomless pit, month after month, or seeing a small (surprisingly small!) part of it become that percentage of the house which we actually own (two closets and half the garage, at time of writing). At some point, we were faced with a choice between buying a frame for the guest bed, or letting guests sleep on the floor. At some point we were faced with a choice between actually fixing the leak in the roof or having a Red Alert Class 4 mold storm in our attic.
None of these contingencies are mentioned when Jesus tells the rich young man, “Go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor” (Mark 10:21).
I don’t want to make it sound like we’re just at the mercy of these life transitions, and we’ve had no say in the matter. And I kind of want to punch myself for writing such a WASP-y sounding blog. But I’m trying to tell the truth about my life right now—or as we say it in the Castle Church Faith Community, I’m confessing. So there you have it, college me. I said it. I’m a sellout.
Given that I’m a sellout, the question then becomes, Is being a sellout an all or nothing deal? Do our things just own us now, if we can’t fully divest ourselves of them? Or can we partly sellout and partly be devoted to taking the power back in small ways? Do Nikki and I throw our hands up and quit striving for faithfulness, if we know we’ll never get it 100 percent right? In the Lutheran way of seeing the world, the answer is no.
Luther was a moral realist. He wasn’t crazy about moral absolutism, because it never seems to make people any better. It just keeps setting an impossibly high bar for them until they give up entirely. Or they just start lying to themselves. For instance, a moral absolutist, who is aware of the global food crisis, says, “Welp, I don’t think I could ever be a full fledged vegan, so I’m just going to eat steak three times a day. In fact, I think the scientists are just making it all up. There is no food crisis.” Or they go the other direction and say, “Welp, I ate some quinoa for dinner last night, so that pretty much solves it.” Both of these avenues are what Lutherans call “self-justification.” So, every week, we start telling the truth about our lives by reminding each other, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”
For Lutherans, having confessed this, it becomes possible, in small ways, to fight back against the torrent of compromises that life rushes upon us. If perfectionism is a lie, the pressure to be perfect is a nonissue. So do something, at least.
When my friend, Justin says, “I try to own a few really nice things,” it’s profound what he’s not saying. He’s not saying, “a lot of really nice things.” There is a limit to how much we need to indulge ourselves to enjoy God’s good gifts, and surpassing that limit always complicates our lives; it never improves them (my understanding of the “tree of knowledge” story in Genesis). He is also not saying, “a few pieces of junk.” There is a certain thoughtfulness and self-awareness that goes into indulging in those couple of things that actually do bring us a bit of happiness versus just “Supermarket Sweep”-ing the store shelves like some kind of ravenous animal. He is being a Lutheran. He is making a bold and liberating pronouncement that it is possible to strive for a life of faithfulness and intentionality, albeit far short of perfection.
We can do this because Lutherans have never believed that Lutherans could save the world. Only God can do that. When we do manage to use our resources in redeeming and life-affirming ways, we’re not saving anyone. But we are saying, “We think God’s plan for the world looks something like this.”
What Aaron, myself, and hopefully you all, with us, are trying to create at Castle Church is a space for “a few nice things.” We’ll drink a couple of really quality beers rather than an 18-pack of something cheap. We’ll turn a few TVs on when there is an Orlando City SC match, but we won’t have 37 TVs playing white noise at all hours of the day. We’ll have a few food recipes born of the love and creativity of a real chef, but we won’t serve a 12 page menu of things that we don’t know how to do well.
And most importantly, we’ll try to cut out some of the white noise of our lives, so that we can really hear and build community with the person sitting across from us.
Grace and peace,
"In Orlando, something very different is going down. Castle Church Brewing Community is in the final stages of planning. It’s a brewery, of course. But it will also be a fully-functional and ordained Lutheran Church, with regular church functions. I recently spoke to Aaron Schmalzle, brewmaster and co-owner of Castle Church, about research, donations, and 95 other things..."
Joy is not an easy thing to quantify.
It cannot be easily manufactured, like entertainment can be. It’s more elusive than levity or amusement. It runs deeper than pleasure. And where mirth is a sort of self-forgetfulness, joy involves something like the opposite: fullness of presence and mindfulness. Many successful comedians can tell you how they’ve gone through long periods of frequent laughter but little joy. And most of us know that person who seems to have accessed some bottomless well of joy, regardless of what troubles occur in their lives.
In my experience, joy always involves meaningful relationship with others in some way. This is true even of the individual pursuits that bring me joy. I find joy in gardening, because it reminds me of my mother and my grandmother. Going on a hike alone gives me time to reflect on the relationships and experiences that matter most to me. Joy is never solitary, even if I am. Maybe that’s one reason why it can’t be manufactured.
At the end of a long work week, I tend to seek out levity, entertainment, distraction. The activities that promise these things tend to require little forethought. They tend to be easy come, easy go. That’s what appeals to me about them when I’m over worked. The flipside, of course, is that they have almost no lasting effect on me. They leave me no better than they found me. As a person who is trying to live faithfully, I experience a big difference between finding genuine Sabbath restfulness on the weekend and simply collapsing from exhaustion.
It takes almost no investment of energy to plan a weekend of Netflix, frozen pizza, and mindless social media scanning, compared to the energy it takes to seek out a group of friends, figure out a place and time to meet them, and make real conversation when we get there. So for a tired introvert, there is no comparison, which alternative is more attractive on the front end. But the feeling I get after a Netflix marathon is as far away from joy as Busch Light is from a wee heavy Scotch ale.
The term “recreation” (re-creation) probably came into popular usage around the 13th century, somewhere between Latin and modern day French. Back then, the term carried a much stronger weight than mindless entertainment (because there wasn’t a whole lot of mindless entertainment back then). It probably meant, much more literally than it does today: to make new, to make alive, or to make vital again.
It’s actually deeply spiritual, biblical even, to be “working for the weekend,” with the caveat—which the band, Loverboy, failed to mention—that the weekend is spent genuinely re-creating and resting as opposed to going comatose.
When I spend my weekend watching Netflix and eating frozen pizzas, I can say that I’ve been entertained, I’ve eased off, I’ve reposed, but I don’t think that I can say I’ve been made alive or made new in any significant way.
On the front end, it takes more energy and planning to gather a group of real (as opposed to digital) friends together, to commit to a time and place, and to actually contribute something to a conversation (as opposed to just consuming the script of a TV writer). But on the back end, there is an incomparably bigger payoff in terms of the re-creation of my soul. The laughter is shared laughter, as opposed to the one directional guffaws that I might direct at Kimmy Schmidt on a screen. The experiences leave a lasting impression, rather than just leading right into the countdown to the next episode.
When we’re actually with the people whom we care about, we sometimes say that we’re “creating memories.” It might be more challenging to actually make time for them than it is to just keep up with their Instagram feed. But, then, no one ever refers to their time scanning an Instagram feed as time spent “creating memories.” It’s like we know, subconsciously, in the way that we use language, that certain pastimes are not so re-creational.
The challenge we’re taking on at Castle Church is the challenge of facilitating real connectedness in our community—of creating a “third place” where meaningful relationships happen. For nearly all of recorded history, wherever there was great beer, people would gather and get to know each other better. Where people get together, free of other demands and distractions, they have an uncanny ability to start re-creating.
And that almost always results in joy.
How Castle Church is stirring up a new spirit in the church from a brewery in Orlando, FL.