Thursday, January 28, 2010

All's Fair in War and Bathrooms


It was early in the morning when I stumbled into my bathroom. I’m not much for mornings and today was no exception. As I switched on the light and blinked my eyes, it seemed they were everywhere -- moving like men on a mission -- all over my bathroom counter. Ants! Hurrying; scurrying; coming; going.

“How dare you!” I blurted out, “This is my bathroom, what do you think you’re doing here?” I lashed out in anger and squashed every one I could catch. “There, that will teach you.”

Immediately I felt guilty. I may not be a morning person, but I’m not a murderer. I had just smashed somebody’s uncles or brothers or fathers. I could hear the survivors back at the anthill, breathlessly telling the whole horrible story about the giant monster lady that had ruthlessly massacred them all in cold blood. I tried not to think about it the rest of the day.


They were back in force. It was almost as if they had called out reinforcements, because my bathroom counter was alive with the little guys. I found myself talking to them again. “What do you want? If you are looking for food, you’re in the wrong room, guys, this is the bathroom!” And then I thought maybe I should watch them for a while, just in case they knew something I didn’t -- I’m always ready for a snack, and if they had discovered food, I wanted to know about it!

“What could they possibly be looking for?” I thought to myself, for they definitely moved as if they were looking for something. I realized it had been a long time since I had taken the time to watch ants at work. They seemed to have some kind of trail they followed and they always traveled single file until each one in turn would venture off and go exploring. They seemed almost to be frantic in their searching as they ran back and forth. They always returned to “The Trail” before continuing on their way, either moving ahead or going back.

I thought I remembered reading somewhere that all ants are male, except the queen, who rules The Hill, and they all work constantly serving her. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but I couldn’t help wondering what a bunch of males were doing in my bathroom. It occurred to me that maybe this particular group of ants had a very ugly queen, and were hoping to make off with some of my cosmetics to beautify her. I’d heard that ants can carry several times their own weight and I suspiciously waited to see if they tried to make off with a tube of lipstick.

As I watched, I was reminded of the last time I looked down at the earth from an airplane and watched the little cars scurrying along the roads. I thought to myself that humans are not all that different than these ants from that perspective, following their little trails and jockeying for position. And some of the conversations I’ve heard on human trials are not nearly as polite as what I was imagining that of the ants to be.

Suddenly, I realized all that hustling and bustling had made me hungry, so I went to make myself a sandwich, which I brought with me back to the bathroom and commenced eating as I watched the little fellows some more. “Oh well,” I thought, “I might as well share a few crumbs. It will be kind of fun to see what they do.” So I carefully placed a couple of tiny breadcrumbs near The Trail.

It didn’t take long before one adventurer found the first crumb. I watched as he checked it out, lifted it a couple of times as if testing its weight, then with considerable ease, hoisted it up and headed for The Trail. “If only I could bench press like that,” I thought jealously, and considered squashing him.

I realized that he would probably take his precious cargo back to The Hill and present it proudly to his queen. This was my chance to find out where The Trail began. I carefully watched his every move as he began his journey home. First, he went the wrong way on the trail and ended up at the opposite end of the counter. “Typical male,” I thought, “they never stop to ask for directions.” Finally he turned around and started back.

It was fascinating to note that the ants returning to The Hill followed the same single file as the ants coming from the Hill. Consequently, there were more than a few head-on collisions, and definite interaction with each other as they decided who would give way to whom. I had earlier wondered how they knew where The Trail was, once they had left it. I mean, after all, if you’ve seen one bit of white Formica, haven’t you seen it all? But watching, I realized it must be the interaction with one another that gave them assurance they were on the right track. I mean, can’t you just hear the whole conversation?

“Watch where you’re going, you road hog! By the way, is this the way back to The Hill?”

“Watch where you’re going yourself, can’t you see I’m in a hurry? Yes, you’re on the right trail, just turn left when you get to that dent in the wallpaper, then it’s straight up from there.”

They all seemed to be in such a hurry, and again, I thought how much humans are the same as those ants. Everyone is in a hurry. I’m not sure why, either. We rush to pass all the other travelers on the trail, just so we can sit and wait at the next light while they catch up to us.

Anyway, I tracked the guy with the crumb all the way past the dent in the wallpaper, up the door trim to the wall above the closet, and into a hole near the ceiling. “Aha! So that’s where you broke and entered,” I said, as he disappeared into the hole.


In spite of the entertainment factor of watching ants, the next day I called the apartment manager and he agreed to send over an exterminator. I know. It was a cruel and heartless act. I mean, after all, they weren’t really hurting anything, were they? But I had to do it. “It’s my bathroom, guys,” I told them, as if they were judging me, after the exterminator had gone, leaving poisonous ant bait near the entry hole. He explained that they would unwittingly carry the poison back to their queen, not knowing they were serving her a death sentence. “Once the queen is dead, they will have no direction, and will die of frustration,” he told me. I felt bad, but I tried to make them understand that I would never come crawling around their home, and even if I tried, they would surely do their best to defend it.

The whole process seemed a little like what happens in human homes as we carry home poisonous stress from our scurrying and hurrying out on the trail. The next thing we know we lash out at the very ones we vowed to love until at some point, a part of them just shrivels up and dies.

I watched the demise of the ants with mixed emotions. I’m not really a bad person. But this was a war, and war is never a pretty sight. Everyone knows you do things in the heat of battle that you might not do under normal circumstances. I keep hoping they found it in their little hearts to forgive me -- maybe they didn’t die. Maybe they found a new queen, and maybe the new one wasn’t so ugly.

After watching the saga of the ants, I decided it was time for me to stop spending so much time traveling in a sea of white formica and veer off the trail to enjoy the beauty of all the other colors in God’s creation. Perhaps by doing so, I can avoid a premature visit from the exterminator.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

When Did the Word "Christian" Become An Adjective?

Do you ever stop to look around at today’s Christian culture and wonder why anyone who is not a believer would ever want to be part of it? We seem to have developed a whole sub-culture of Christian music, Christian schools, Christian stores, Christian concerts, Christian conferences, Christian retreats, Christian jewelry, Christian magazines, Christian books, Christian television, Christian radio, Christian movies, etc., etc., etc. We have surrounded ourselves with all things Christian. We are slowly creating an environment that minimizes our interaction with people who are not yet followers of Christ. Why? Why would we want to do that if we are really trying to become more like Christ? Did He spend all His time in the synagogues teaching religious people, or did he go through the countryside, ministering to people and showing them genuine love? Did He not go to the rejects of society and offer hope? Did He not spend His short life on earth teaching that Christianity is not about who WE are, but about who HE is?

“We need inspiration! We need training! We need encouragement!” Christian people clamor. Yes, we do, but for what purpose? What are we doing with our fresh inspiration, our expert training and our motivating encouragement? Talking about it with our Christian friends? Savoring the way it makes us feel? Thanking God for the experience? Are we really trying to provide opportunities for people to find Jesus or are we instead looking for ways to “protect” ourselves from evil and experience a spiritual “high”? Does the church offer what we need to help us be on the offensive as we go out into the world, or does it encourage us to “circle the wagons” as if we were trying to keep out the enemy?

Jesus went on the offensive against the enemy, defeating him at every turn. If His Spirit lives in us, do we have any reason to fear evil?

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:37-39, NIV).

If Jesus were to return to earth today, would He would make a tour of churches telling Christians, “Well done, you have been my salt and light in the world!” (Matthew 5:13) or would He look around at the neglected, hurting people of our world and say to us, “What have you done to share my Good News with these lost children of mine?”

The Christian environment we have created can serve to provide Christians with the tools they need to go out into the world and share Christ. Instead, our inclination seems to be to savor those experiences, to talk about them, or even debate them. We may protest what we are taught or give our support, depending on whether the teaching aligns with our understanding of scripture. We organize groups to rally behind our beliefs to “show the world” our collective voice. These are not necessarily bad pursuits if our motives are to create an environment that will show the love of Christ. However I fear that many times, while we are engaged in our passionate pursuit of making a point, people all around us are dying without Jesus and we are too busy to notice.

The people of this world don’t care whether we wear a cross around our neck. They don’t care that we can sing all the words to the songs on the Christian radio station. They don’t care that our t-shirt has a picture of nail-scarred hands or a catchy Christian phrase. They don’t even care that we can pray for hours and quote scripture. What they care about is whether we care about them. Are we willing to step out of our comfortable Christian environment and step into their world? Do we care enough to show love and kindness and forgiveness to the unlovely, the mean-spirited and the hateful?

For in Christ, neither our most conscientious religion nor disregard of religion amounts to anything. What matters is something far more interior: faith expressed in love. (Galatians 5:6, The Message)

Christians hold a precious gift that has been offered to all men – eternal life. Yet so often we hoard that gift as if it were ours to keep. Christ compels us to move out of our pews and into the streets. He commands us to stop “playing church” and “go into all the world” (Matthew 28:19-20). When we go to a Christian conference, do we take what we’ve learned and use it to build His Kingdom, or do we simply sign up for the next one “because it was so inspiring?” Does Christian music move you to compassion for your neighbor whose dog barks all night, or does it just drown out the noise and help you deal with your anger? Do the scriptures you quote come from a heart of love or condemnation? Should we not take to heart these words of Paul in Colossians?

24-25 I want you to know how glad I am that it's me sitting here in this jail and not you. There's a lot of suffering to be entered into in this world—the kind of suffering Christ takes on. I welcome the chance to take my share in the church's part of that suffering. When I became a servant in this church, I experienced this suffering as a sheer gift, God's way of helping me serve you, laying out the whole truth.

26-29This mystery has been kept in the dark for a long time, but now it's out in the open. God wanted everyone, not just Jews, to know this rich and glorious secret inside and out, regardless of their background, regardless of their religious standing. The mystery in a nutshell is just this: Christ is in you, so therefore you can look forward to sharing in God's glory. It's that simple. That is the substance of our Message. We preach Christ, warning people not to add to the Message. We teach in a spirit of profound common sense so that we can bring each person to maturity. To be mature is to be basic. Christ! No more, no less. That's what I'm working so hard at day after day, year after year, doing my best with the energy God so generously gives me. (Colossians 1:24-29, The Message)

The Church seems to be evolving into a place where those who don’t know Christ don’t feel welcome. Is that what He had in mind? The Church is Christ’s Body – a body that was broken for all men (1 Corinthians 10:15-17). As members of that broken body, we are compelled to make The Church a place where all men can find forgiveness, hope and salvation. The church must be a place that welcomes the lost and sends out the saved.

Perhaps those of us who call ourselves followers of Christ could strive to be worthy of these words Paul wrote to the Thessalonians in chapter one, verse 3 (NIV),

We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Sweetness of a Salty Treat

French fries are my favorite treat,
I’d choose them any day.
Though some say it’s a sin to eat,
They can’t be right, I pray!

Don’t give me just a small amount,
I need a mountain pile!
Who cares about the calorie count?
I need not force a smile.

Like clay between my fingers,
It’s a feeling I enjoy.
A memory sweet that lingers
Like a long lost favorite toy.

So let me take my rightful place
As leader of the flock.
Come with me as we share in grace
This thing that thin folks mock!