Monday, February 13, 2012

my "go-to" places


On Wednesday nights, I get together with a bunch of fine people who are interested in helping each other in our individual and collective spiritual journeys.  The trip there usually goes something like this:

I catch the 6:31 bus.  I play with my iPhone on the 7 minute ride to the metro station: maybe update my status, maybe just check out what's happening with my friends.  Then I say merci to the bus driver as I exit, go down 2 escalators, and grab a seat on the train - hopefully my favourite seat at the end of the car.  I pull out a fun book to read and enjoy 30 minutes of blessed riding and reading without worrying about traffic or driving or parking.  I exit the train at the appropriate station and begin the 15 minute walk to my friend's apartment where we are meeting.  On the way there, I stop in at a wee independent grocery store which carries unique organic products and pick up a ginger green tea and some chips or fruit to share.  I arrive at the apartment after a nice, brisk walk, ready to discuss the evening's topic.

Last week, we moved to a new location.  That meant I couldn't just auto-pilot my way to the gathering, so it looked kind of like this:

I caught the 6:31 bus.  I played with my iPhone for a bit, updated my status, then took in the unique personalities around me.  I thanked the bus driver, scuttled down the 2 escalators, and hopped on the metro car - yes! got my favourite seat.  I started reading a new book - not any heavy theology, just some anecdotes about being human and sincerely following God.  It also happened to be on the same topic as the discussion planned for the evening.  Cool!  I didn't get much reading in because I had to change trains after a few stops (new location means new transit route).  I exited at the appropriate station, 25 minutes to spare before the meeting started.  I checked my location on the iPhone and determined which direction to my destination.  I really wanted a ginger green tea like I usually get on Wednesdays, so I stopped in at 2 different convenience stores, but no success.  I arrived at the meeting location, still 10 minutes early, and headed on down the street.  I entered another small store:  the shelves were somewhat bare and an older gentleman was eating pizza out of a cardboard box as he stood behind the counter.  No go.  Time was running out, and I still had no drink and no snacks to share.  I decided to walk another block where I had spotted a pharmacy which I hoped had a better selection of snacks.  Just before I reached the pharmacy, I walked past a small grocery store with fresh fruit displayed outside and a wall of milk alternatives just inside the door.  Oooooohhhh!  I went inside and wedged myself down a narrow aisle which displayed all manner of bulk foods until I found the drink cooler.  Yes, they had the brand of tea I liked, but I did not see the right flavour!  Argh!  I thrust my hand into the cooler and moved a few things around:  behind a few yellow bottles I finally found a ginger green tea!  I grabbed a bag of organic chips on the way to the counter and was all set for the meeting.  Success!

Changing locations or schedules or jobs or eating habits means that I can't rely on my usual "go-to" places.  It can be uncomfortable, disorienting, time-consuming, and sometimes, a bit scary.  I don't think we realize how many habits we incorporate into our daily and weekly and even annual routines which serve to give us some sense of comfort and security.  Whether the habit is a useful and good one (working out) or a not-so-good one (5 cups of coffee a day), they are all pretty difficult to change.  A few of my friends have done or are doing a cleanse which severely restricts their diets.  These types of regimens usually prove to be quite uncomfortable and invariably challenge the person doing them not only to embrace a temporary new discipline, but to address some of the reasons why they eat what they do.  Very often in our Western culture, our eating seems to be more attached to our internal, emotional well-being instead of our physical well-being.  Changing that dynamic is no easy feat.

Our faith community changes locations fairly often, mostly out of necessity (our present location is probably short-lived as well).  It seems counter-intuitive in some ways, but it is good for us because it reminds us that our faith is not linked to a locale.  I was reading 1 Chronicles 17 a few days ago.  David is looking at his luxurious surroundings, sees the Chest of the Covenant of God in a tent, and decides that God needs a luxurious house as well.  While I admire David's generous intent, I believe he (and most of us) assumed that God wanted a house, a permanent home, a "go-to" place.  But God replies:  "Why, I haven't lived in a 'house' from the time I brought up the children of Israel from Egypt till now; I've gone from one tent and makeshift shelter to another.  In all my travels with Israel, did I ever say to any of the leaders I commanded to shepherd Israel, 'Why haven't you built me a house of cedar?;" (The Message)

God doesn't want or need a permanent physical building or house.  Instead, he offers to build David a 'house', meaning a lineage which would carry on worshiping God.  And that's what Jesus requested of his disciples as well:  people who would follow in his ways and do even greater things. God does not seem all that interested in getting some good "go-to" places where we can all settle into a comfortable faith routine.  He seems to like makeshift shelters where people come and go and where the focus remains on the one important thing: the covenant between the Creator and the created; everything else remains somewhat flexible, movable, and temporary.  And yet, we insist on building our version of stability into our lives through housing, habits, job security, favourite restaurants, 5-year plans, and annual vacation spots.  What are we really building?  What is left when my "go-to" places are taken from me?

Let God be the one I go to for stability and comfort.  Period.

the photo:  the train station in Washington DC.  A place I went to a year ago, but didn't stay for long.

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