Seeing Beauty in the Broken Body of Christ

World Vision wants the whole world to have access to clean water.

How beautiful is the body of Christ. Over the years–particularly in the past few weeks–I’m reminded of the multifaceted meaning of this statement. For me, to hit the pause button on this busy life and ponder the beauty of the holiest man to ever live and how he sacrificed his life that all may live… how beautiful. And to bear witness to the body of Christ–the church–living as Jesus lived; sacrificially, intentionally, with love, mercy, tenderness and grace… how beautiful.

When the hubs and I were about to embark on a cross-country move 20 years ago, far away from all family ties and childhood friends, we asked another couple who’d done the same for advice. They said, “Find a church and jump in with both feet. Get connected. Get involved and immersed. Even if you believe you’ll live in a place for only a short time.”

So after driving from Michigan to Washington, unloading our furniture, dishes and our freshly minted wedding album, we went on a hunt for a church home. There is no magic formula for finding the “right” church. The hubs and I have Lutheran backgrounds and so that helped us narrow our search. We found a place that felt right, and by “felt right” all I can say is, we wanted to return each Sunday. So we followed our friends’ advice and jumped in. We joined bible studies, attended potlucks, offered requested input on staffing decisions and even warily joined with the choir on an Easter Sunday when they summoned the congregation to the front to sing the Halleluiah chorus. The singing that day sounded truly awful. Only the choir knew all the words and most of them were Q-tip haired octogenarians whose singing voices had already gone on to heaven ahead of their feeble bodies. But nobody cared about that. A beautiful sound wasn’t the point. The beautiful body of Christ was the point. And it was SO beautiful. In that place, people we hardly knew cared for us for two years. They invited us to barbecues and Christmas dinners. We celebrated the births of their children and mourned the deaths of their loved ones. We helped raised money for a leaking roof and for needy families. It felt like home. Like family. I’m so glad we jumped in even though we would only live in Washington a short time.

Two years later, we relocated to Minnesota, and began again. We attended Sunday services at a few local Lutheran churches and discovered one that kept drawing us back, and so, we “jumped in with both feet” again. We’ve now been members at Woodbury Lutheran Church for 17 years. We’ve seen pastors and members come and go. We’ve watched toddlers become teenagers, celebrated weddings and attended funerals. We’ve seen self-sacrificing, Godly people bring comfort to the infirm, offer endless prayers for the lost and lonely, feed the hungry, fix leaky roofs, care for disabled children, adopt orphans, house the homeless, support struggling families and bring praises to a loving and forgiving Creator each and every day no matter what that day may bring. How beautiful.

Kirk Ingram suffers a spinal cord injury.

Kirk Ingram suffers a spinal cord injury.

Going to worship on Sunday morning is like going to a family function–only so much better. Because despite all of our combined dysfunction, deficiencies and occasional despair, together we find joy and delight in the presence of the Almighty–and in community with each other. This is our family. And it is beautiful.

A generation ago, the church played a central role in American community life. Today, for far too many folks, church is viewed to be either an outdated ritual to be shrugged off or shunned or a strange and mysterious club that intimidates with its cliques and secret handshakes. Trust me. The “right” place is neither of these things.

I have found church to be a safe place to learn a moral language and develop a strength of character steeped in ancient biblical wisdom. I’ve found church to be a place to discover who created me and for what purpose. It is a community of believers (and some skeptics) who are journeying together in this life toward the next. And when I get distracted by all that needs to be done Monday through Saturday, the church points me toward the cross every Sunday. And it is beautiful.

I’ve found church to be the place to find perpetual renewal and to be surrounded by people who love each other despite personal failure and where people support one another through the struggles of this life. We rock each other’s babies. We comfort each other’s sick. We dine together. We drink together. We laugh together. We cry together. How beautiful is the body of Christ.

 

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What I Wish I’d Known Before Going to College

Credit: Google Images

Credit: Google Images

Soon, young people across America will graduate from high school. And many will head off to college in a few short months. I have no grandiose thoughts to share when it comes to one of life’s great transitions. No lofty commencement style speeches to make. But I do know a few things now that I wish I’d known back then. So strap in. Cause I guess I do have some grandiose thoughts to share!

1) A willingness to work hard is more valuable than above average intelligence. As an 18-year-old high school honor student, I presumed my aptitude would carry me through college as well as it had in high school. It did not. And the ensuing frustration I experienced when discovering I wasn’t the smartest person in the room occasionally led me to question my ability and worth. So brace yourself. College can be hard. But life is hard. Egos be damned. A strong work ethic prevails.

2) Education is never a waste of time, even if you change your major. Some folks in my hometown didn’t put much stock in “book smarts” and viewed college as mostly an expensive means to employment. But we can never completely know where educational exploration might lead. Take a variety of classes. Learn something about the world, not just about your chosen field. In my opinion, every college student should take at least one course in ethics, philosophy, logic and economics. Please provide your college course recommendations in the comments section.

3) Figuring out how to get things done is more important than being done. If you already knew everything, it wouldn’t be called higher learning. So stop rushing through your homework and studies in a frenzied attempt to check items from your daily to-do lists. The red Solo cups can wait. Learn to value the process of discovery. Network. Ask for help.

4) Avoid taking early morning, late evening or summer classes whenever possible. Because it sucks. Period. You’re welcome.

5) Seek community. Study groups. Lab partners. Sorority sisters. Well, I actually have no idea about sororities. But I do know it’s important to connect with people who are experiencing the same challenges and incremental successes that you are. You are not alone. Somebody out there understands what you’re going through. Find them.

6) Internships! I’m pretty sure I made the short-sighted mistake of thinking paid part-time employment waiting tables was more valuable than an unpaid internship in my field of study. Recent college grads tell me that many internships are paid and that the long-term networking, skill acquisition and work experience are priceless. Check it out. Let me know. Please share your insights in the comments section.

7) Make time to discover extracurricular athletics and the arts in your college community. Whether it’s ultimate frisbee, pick-up basketball or a trip to an art exhibition, lay the groundwork for a full life. Plus, exercise and art appreciation are good for your health. Trust me. It’s true.

8) Don’t neglect your spiritual life. Find a local church, chapel or campus ministry. Getting and/or staying connected to the Creator and Sustainer of life will center you on what’s most important. Remind you of your worth beyond a GPA. Provide a purpose beyond achievement for your own sake. Encourage you when you’re feeling lost or low. And continually point you toward the only true source of fulfillment and joy.

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A Reason to Celebrate

Photo by Sarah Dibbern

Photo by Sarah Dibbern

Our oldest son confirmed his Christian faith last weekend along with a group of thirty-some other ninth graders. Confirmation is not a path to salvation and is by no means a requirement to being a Christian. But these kids have been on a 2 ½ year journey together. A journey that at its core is a weekly foundational religion class but also so much more.

Confirmation may be familiar to some. Here on the tundra, many folks my age and older have memories of relatives traveling countless miles to congratulate this “achievement” and deliver a gift of religious meaning or cash, which most teens still appreciate.

Since I did not grow up in the Lutheran tradition, I was unsure how to properly celebrate this rite of passage. I asked around. It seems an open house with time-honored selections of buttered buns and casseroles are typical. But like many other religious traditions, the traditional confirmation party is fading in popularity.

I considered following the lower-key crowd, opting for a dinner out with just our immediate family and the grandparents. But that felt like minimizing the importance of what we want faith to be in our son’s life. A dinner out at our son’s favorite restaurant, which vacillates between the culinary mediocrity of Dairy Queen and Applebee’s, would be no different than what we do to celebrate his birthday or a random Friday night when I don’t feel like cooking.

Heck, high school sports teams have celebratory banquets at the end of every season, even less than stellar seasons. Rah, rah, some of you tried hard. Good for you!

And most high school graduates have catered parties even though attending school is the law for minors, and in most cases, obtaining a high school diploma should probably be the very minimum standard we set for our children.

So I opted to travel the old-fashioned route; a confirmation open house with abundant food and a sheet cake. Although I did use electronic invitations. Consider that my nod to current convention and admittedly, my own laziness.

DSCN1883Getting ready to host a party for 40+ people was a lot of work. My mother watched wide-eyed as I scurried around, setting out chairs and bowls of nuts, made several trips to the grocery store and chopped veggies and sliced cheese for what seemed like days. It was indeed all a bit exhausting. BUT, worth every bit of effort and here’s why…

  • It is my prayer that our son will cherish his relationship with God, lean on Him in times of trial and trust in His goodness throughout life. A memorable celebration conveys the significance of this hope.
  • Religion class can seem tedious and time consuming in a teen’s 21st century hyper-busy life. But if we’re going to hand out participation trophies for the most minor of life’s activities, a larger celebration for staying committed to something as vital as faith development is certainly in order. (BTW, our kids see our efforts to get them to certain activities and out of others, thus internalizing what we deem important. Just sayin’.)
  • People need community. We need to know we’re not alone, that we are supported by fellow believers as we attempt to live a daily life modeled after Christ the redeemer. Our son experienced a house full of people, all here for him, and all essentially saying, “We believe as you believe and we are your family committed to helping you walk in the way of truth, not just at church on Sunday mornings and during religion class, but all the time. We love you as Christ loves you and we’re in this together.”

DSCN1873I’m thinking we should celebrate that last point even more regularly. You are loved and that is something to celebrate!

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