A couple of weeks ago I bravely boarded Amtrak and rolled into Penn Station, New York to visit a sweet friend. I guess New York has an event called 'Spa Week' where various spas put some of their services on sale for $50.00 apiece. Well I was lured by the idea of a $50.00 spa treatment, the idea of visiting with a few friends who used to belong to our former church here and the idea of seeing the city for the first time.
I loved it. I "twittered" that if I had 9 lives to live, one of them would be lived in New York. It felt like home to me which is just crazy as I have never lived in a big city.
Here's the part though that I wanted to write about here.
No one knew that it was my first trip to the City. Because they did not know this, they did not plan the usual touristy activities. They also did not point things out as we walked around Manhattan. Therefore I was left to wander around in amazement of all that I had heard about or read. I had no idea this would be so much fun for me.
We were walking to Boarders when I turned around and suddenly, there was Madison Square Gardens! Later that night we were wandering toward Times Square and I looked down one of the streets. Again, suddenly, seemingly from out of nowhere was the Empire State Building! Over and over I "discovered" buildings and parks that I had only heard about or read in magazines. Grand Central Station, The New York Times building, Central Park and others were simply 'stumbled upon' while we walked, talked and laughed with each other.
Now, there is another way to see the sites in New York. I saw these big open buses filled with people with tennis shoes, shorts and cameras around their necks. The driver's voice would boom out over the loud speaker, "If you look to your left, we are now approaching the Empire State Building" or other sites that he wanted the people to see.
I was so glad to not be on one of those buses and instead to be seeing New York the way I was.
It was not scripted. It was not sterile. It left everything to chance and serendipity. It was not the same experience that everyone else had. It was precious to me because I felt that I was discovering New York. It was not a pre-packaged, heard mentality, tourist experience.
As I pondered this on my way home on the train I realized that I had had the very same experience in being outside the institutional church walls these past two years. Nothing had been scripted. It was my own experience. What I have found out about God was mine. I went through it on my own timeline. There was no group mentality about it. When I ran into God it was not because he had "fallen" on the whole lot of us. No one told me to expect it, anticipate it or watch for it. Therefore, I have constantly been surprised, delighted and amazed when it happened. Frankly, I have loved it.
So many people would say that the way I saw New York was crazy. They would point out all the things I missed. They would be fearful that I would have gone to New York and not found the Empire State Building.
The church says the same things to those following Jesus outside of the normal way of doing things. They assure us that we will miss something. That God will be here or there and we will not see him. They are sure we should be on the bus with the rest of everyone so as to assure us the perfect experiences that we should all have.
But let me tell you what happened to me. When I turned that evening and looked down one of the beautifully crowded streets filled with the most amazing architecture and actually saw and then recognized the Empire State Building, something in my heart was stirred. I actually got tears in my eyes. It was wonderful and surprising and beautiful and serendipitous. It took my breath away.
Somehow I don't think the experience would have been the same on the bus with the announcers voice alerting me to the fact that it was up ahead and on my left.
And that is how I have experienced God these past few years. It has been wonderful,, surprising, beautiful and serendipitous. I have chaffed at how random and un-planned it has been. I thought I really liked order and buses, and tourist guides and pastors and bulletins and plans. But I guess that in the end, maybe I really did not know what I liked.
Maybe, just maybe, this will have something to do with what I believe about discipleship.
Saturday, May 2, 2009
at 8:30 AM