Splenic Ambitions

“Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ.” (1 Corinthians 12:12)

I’ve always been the oddball in the various churches I’ve belonged to over the years, I don’t quite fit in, yet I have my uses. That has always been my story, even outside of church. You can look at my church and name the big players: you know who is the liver, brain, lungs, eyes, heart, hands, and feet. They’re all good and function well in their roles as we carry out the mission of Christ. I’m not a major organ. My existence on the margins wouldn’t make me a good eye, an effective liver, or a well tuned brain. I would not excel in those capacities. It’s not to demean; I know myself well enough that my strengths are not there.

In the body of Christ, I am the spleen.

You know, that small organ squished over by the stomach. The spleen takes out blood cells that have passed their shelf life and recycles their parts for other things. It’s basically a giant filter that sometimes goes rouge and starts collecting all the platelets, and when that happens, the spleen is removed. No worries though, the liver will pick up the spleen’s job without being asked. It also helps out the immune system, being part of the lymphatic system. It’s a nice thing to have, but its not essential for life. And that’s exactly what I am. 

It has perks, I have my own blood supply, hence why I can cause problems if there is trauma. I’m basically left alone unless theres an issue, no one pays me much mind. I send out help when it is needed (like fighting infections). I do my job quietly, and make sure the recycled cell components get used by other organs.

In a fetus, the spleen makes all the blood cells until the bone marrow is capable. At the beginning of projects, I find myself making sure it has a good running start. I’ve launched anthologies, hosted an intern, instituted a year long bible study, and take the initiative on things. Major decisions made in the church are never run by me, I don’t even know half of the inside information. I hear about conferences and retreats after they happen. Church life for me has always been like this.

Some people look at me weird. “A spleen?” they say. “But you’d make a great ear! Then you’d be visable and noticed!” Nope. I’m a spleen. I’d prefer to stay deep in the body cavity, thanks. “Well, then, maybe a gallbladder or bone marrow! Bone marrow makes blood cells, just like you did!” I’ve tried that, too. I was an ignored member of a team at a megachurch where no one spoke to me or bothered to get to know me. I smiled, I did my best at small talk, but they made it very clear I was not part of their body system. Looking back, it makes sense. I am a spleen.

Not many people get me.

I shine in the background, as the one behind the curtain.

I’m unique enough that you only need one of me.

I’m proud to serve in the capacity I was made to do.

I am honored to be the spleen in the body of Christ. And happy to serve a church that was in dire need of one.

Frankensteining

“Don’t step there!”

I stopped in my tracks at my pastor’s sharp words.

“There’s a hole in the floor, step around the board or you’ll fall through.”

Duly noted, I stepped carefully around the board.

This is not typical church talk, but I don’t go to a typical church. We recently acquired a decrepit abandoned building. I’m sure building inspectors have nightmares about buildings like this. Even I had a difficult time wrapping my head around what I saw.

The roof stopped being a roof quite some time ago and the water damage was catastrophic; mold and decay were everywhere. Animals had taken up residence and my body reminded me after working in the building that I should probably wear a mask: the intense migraine and the black stuff coming out of my nose wasn’t good.

The building sat vacant for several years, according to the utility company. It was as if these people just up and left; everything was still left in its place. Haunting, really. Nothing was packed up, nothing was put away. If you sat in the main office and ignored the inches of dust on everything and the mid-90’s computer monitor, you’d think whoever was there would be back in just a moment.

It was something straight out of a horror movie set, a church member commented. I agreed.

Like an old woman falling into dementia, this building’s demise had started well before complete abandonment. I threw out unopened junk mail post marked from 1987, school supplies, church items, children’s toys, random junk, obsolete books, rejects from a defunct rummage sale – it was all here – covered in dirt, mold, and bits of ceiling that caved in from the moisture. And that’s only the stuff I’ve found. My favorite find was the pristine box of audio reels from the 1970’s, yet I have no way of playing them.

In the end, the dementia won, ravaging this once beautiful building; it now belonged to the rats and the fungi. Her decline probably happened slowly, her condition chronic for years, before she drew her last breath when the lock turned for the last time. What was once a wellspring of life 100 years ago, had become an encased tomb filled with things no one would ever need in Heaven…or on earth for that matter.

There’s no electricity, so the hot Carolina summer is really felt in there. There’s no running water either. I’m pretty sure I missed my calling as a dramaturg, so I’m making up for that by going through all the things. I am in search of history of the building and any information I can find about its former inhabitants. I’ve found a few pieces, but I’m sure there’s more under the mire. I went into full genealogy mode and found its historical references online, but I want more than names. I want stories, and if I can find them, personal accounts.

Modern science can’t bring back the dead, let alone someone who’s mind and body were destroyed years earlier. Our church is firmly planted in the resurrection business and we’re going to revive this corpse into a beautiful healthy older lady again. It’ll take a lot of time, effort, and money – but we know this Guy – and He comes through in ways you didn’t think were possible.

I can’t wait to get back into that building to uncover her secrets.

Feasting for Body and Soul

“Hey, you should come see what it’s all about,” my contact said. I agreed.

The venue was teaming with people; a lot of white folks, a lot of black folks. Some lived on the streets, some lived in houses. Others didn’t make it to high school. Some had post graduate degrees. Most were like me, somewhere in between, but none of that mattered here. We were all here to be fed.

I darted to the back of the room, as I do. My contact greeted me, while I was waiting for the line of food to go down. I saw a hand wave at me in the crowd of tables. Joe. His wife Marianne was next to him. I wandered over to their table, I hadn’t heard from them in months, despite texting them. Marianne and I hugged. “Phone got stolen,” Marianne said sadly. She gave me her new number, a 302 area code: Delaware. “I don’t know how I got that,” she says. “It’s just what they gave me.” Joe told me he’s still learning German with Duolingo. They’re getting housing soon, by month’s end. I tell them if they need help moving and cleaning to call me, I’ll help. I hope the housing isn’t a mirage this time.

I make my way to the food. It’s all the good southern cooking: chicken, bbq pork, mac ‘n cheese, baked beans, green beans, potato salad, coleslaw, the good rolls, and enough cookies to give the room diabetes. The seats at Joe and Marianne’s table filled up, so I was left to find my own table. It felt like the lunch room on the first day at a new school.

I saw an open seat at a table with strangers. “May I sit here?” I asked an old man. “Go right ahead young lady,” he said. The man was obviously on the streets, unwashed, and looked generally unhealthy. “I ain’t never seen you around here before,” he drawled in a smooth southern accent. “I’m usually behind the scenes,” I replied. He’s from here, as was the lady across the table, who was in much the same state as the old man. The lady – who must have been in her late 40’s – spoke about losing her parents two years apart. She talked about it as if it just happened – it was 25 years ago – but that pain was very recent to her. I’ve noticed that a lot among the extreme poverty stricken: there’s always unhealed trauma poking its head through the surface, like a noxious weed.

As the dinner line wound down, the service started. The Master of Ceremonies began with deep breathing exercises and a centering bell, straight out of a contemplative handbook. A woman with a guitar started playing and everyone sang Happy Birthday to someone at a near by table. He was tickled pink at the acknowledgment. The woman sang the old hymns like a soul who knew pain, which resonated with the room. And then she broke into “Hallelujah.” This group sang it like a worship song, its aching lyrics reaching out to the shattered hearts. The song is really about the ending of a sexual relationship, but its roots are in agony. They ended with “Amazing Grace,” and the singer didn’t know all the lyrics, so the crowd filled in the blanks.

All the while, people were milling about the room: using bathrooms, grabbing a last morsel of food, heading outside for a smoke break – some people got up and switched tables for seemingly no reason. The room, like much of these people’s lives, was in a constant state fluid motion.

A short sermon was preached by a woman pastor. Her thesis statement was spot on: The Word became flesh and moved into the neighborhood. Indeed it did.

There was a time for prayer which included soothing piano music and lighting a candle by the altar to honor that prayer. I nearly went up to light one for my struggling loved one, but I didn’t. The room had largely cleared out. Many had left after the meal, which is fine by this group. “Eating together is part of the worship service, it’s their decision to stay for more.”

The pastor celebrated communion. As I went up, I saw a familiar face from church. “I’m glad you’re here,” he said, patting my shoulder as he walked past.

At the end of the service, the room was nearly vacant. Even Joe and Marianne had vanished into thin air. One by one everyone had slowly melted into the night, scattering like dandelion seeds in the wind.

Just like everyone else, I left that night with a full stomach and a full soul.

The Church on a Vent

“We should go to church on Sunday,” Ruth said to me while strolling through our old college town.

We had attended a small Southern Baptist church a short walk from campus. Even Pastor Gabe was still preaching.

When we arrived, our jaws dropped. It was a large modern church. When did that happen?! It was beautifully done. It wasn’t fancy, but it was inviting with sleek lines and neutral colors on its modern architecture.

“Holy cow!” I exclaimed.
Ruth smiled. “This warms my heart, the church is still doing well.”

One by one, they filed in: everyone was over the age of 65 and white. A few kids sprinted through the sanctuary. This Sunday was a small crowd, with about 25% of the seats taken.

An elderly lady introduced herself. She didn’t remember us, but managed to inquire about our marriage status and said something about the “young colored girl” that sometimes attends. Ah, to be in a yankee Baptist church again.

An old man walked in: Pastor Gabe! I couldn’t get over his gray hair and how much he had aged.

The service was just as I remembered: pastor’s wife at the piano and a young woman sang the old hymns. It warmed my heart. It had been a long, long time.

Looking around there were no families, no young people (except for the worship leader), no one our age, no one my husband’s age. Even more striking, there were no college students.

None.

I remember the days our crew would fill up 2 pews.

Ruth sighed heavily.

Maybe this church wasn’t as healthy as it looked from the parking lot. This was confirmed by the building fund, as they were short on the mortgage budget. Why would they built this huge building without the money? Typical American church. Build it, they will come. Debt is a normal part of ministry! A church isn’t a church without a building! We can’t do the Lord’s work without Sunday School classrooms and a 12 channel soundboard!

This is why I left. This is why I attend a church plant without a building who worries more about getting meals to people in poverty. We don’t track demographics. We don’t have a children’s program, the kids can be the hands and feet of Jesus too, alongside their parents and the brothers and sisters in Christ. Being part of the body means an almost sober homeless guy will shout Amen at the end of every song, babies will cry during the sermon, and you’ll sit next to people you don’t know. You’ll sweat in the summer and freeze in the winter. The American church with their underused air conditioned sanctuaries, dress codes, whitewashed Jesus, and fake smiles does not work for me.

I like my church how I like my coffee: strong, sweet, and made from quality ground beans – beans ground on site, not by an industrial grinder in a factory. None of this instant or Keurig business. I want the real deal or I’ll go without.

The sermon was the equivalent of serving stale cereal without milk. I didn’t even crack my Bible. Gabe cited passages and then glossed over them with uninspired words.

This church was on a ventilator. A ventilator – or a vent as we call it – is a machine that breathes for you. It keeps people alive until they are able to breathe on their own or the plug is pulled. The problem with a vent is it can be difficult to come off it. The body gets used to the machine doing all the work, and like a child who doesn’t want to pick up their toys, it can be a sluggish ordeal to return to normal breathing. The longer the vent is used, the harder it is.

This church was not breathing on its own, and not because the congregation was elderly. No local mission work, very limited community involvement (the customary detachment in a sterile and controlled environment), no bible studies, no other groups using the church other days of the week. Youth groups were gone. No meals served. No presence on campus. A flyer from a Baptist association was in the bulletin. Corporate had arrived, as another drug pushed into this church’s veins, hoping to cure what ailed them.

Ruth and I left sad, both agreeing we wouldn’t attend this church if we still lived in town.

I don’t see it changing without radical actions. This church is stuck in a hospital bed on life support, unable to do the work of Jesus in the world.

Pray for a revival, that this church will once again be a lighthouse for the community, the college, and we can all celebrate it at the Feast of the Lamb someday.

My Testimony

I was born into a mixed marriage: my father was Catholic, my mother was Lutheran. When my mom married my dad in a Catholic church, she agreed to raise her children in the Catholic traditions, a decision she later regretted. I was baptized into Catholicism when I was less than a month old.

My dad took my sister and I to church every Saturday night or first thing Sunday morning – Mom only came on Christmas or Easter. It was just something we did. I did the whole First Confession bit, donned a pretty white dress for my First Communion, and had oil placed on my forehead at 8th grade Confirmation.

I spent my childhood in CCD: Continuing Catholic Development. In short, it was Sunday School on Wednesday nights for an hour. I received my first Bible in 6th grade and it was then we learned how to look up passages – not that we ever read from it. The most productive thing I did in CCD was make an angel Christmas tree ornament out of pasta noodles. I still have it. It was basically an uncontrolled free for all, except one year when our class was ran by Mr. Danforth: in addition to knowing my father, he ran the class like a drill sergeant with new recruits. No one dared to breathe too loudly, let alone act out.

Once in high school, I sort of continued to go to church with my dad, but was out of the CCD mess. In the meantime, I became friends with David. He had this enormous crush on me at one point, but we were firmly planted in the friend zone. David was a sensitive soul who battled bouts of depression – at one point I reported him to the counselor because he talked about killing himself. Nonetheless, our friendship continued. We had a mutual friend in our grade, who’s dad was a pastor of a well known Southern Baptist church in town. The fall of our sophomore year, David went to a youth retreat with the church; David came back a changed man.

In the Baptist church, there is a phrase for what David was: on fire for the Lord. I disagreed: he was engulfed and exploding! “On fire” just seemed too watered down for what David was experiencing. David had accepted Jesus Christ as his personal Lord and Savior and was not shy about proclaiming this fact from the rooftops. Always the introvert, I told him that it was great he found God and he gave his life to Him, but he needed to come down a few pegs and stop acting like a crazy person.

After a few weeks, David settled down in his newfound faith. While he was very eager to share with anyone who would listen, the roaring flames died down to a nice camp sized fire. “Our youth group is having a game night tonight, you should come check it out,” David said to me one day at school. “Okay,” I said.  I was curious about this new and improved lifestyle for David, who seemed to grow confidence and charisma overnight. I knew most of the kids there, as we all went to the same school. And, I had never been to a Southern Baptist church before.  How different could it be from the Catholics?

I showed up for the game night and had a lot of fun with the youth. I met Phil, an adult who was the youth leader, and he seemed like a pretty down to earth guy. Towards the end, Phil got everyone’s attention, they were going to say a quick prayer before everyone left. I thought it was weird they didn’t do the sign of the cross. He ended the prayer with one of those, “With every eye closed and head bowed, raise your hand if you’ve accepted Jesus into your heart.” Without thinking, I raised my hand. I had never heard that phrase before: Jesus in your heart? Well, I was Catholic! I was baptized, oiled, confessed, communed, all those things! Jesus in my heart? Sure! Why not? Whatever that meant.

It was in that moment something clicked. Jesus in your heart. Jesus in your heart. The phrase wouldn’t leave me alone. I finally asked David what that all meant and got a sermon for an answer. And I didn’t mind. He explained the path to salvation, confessing your sin directly to God, repenting – turning away – from that sin, and living your life for the benefit of God. Without Jesus in your heart, when you died, you would go to hell. This whole concept seemed revolutionary to me – I had never heard any of this in all the years I attended Catholic Church. Was this really true?

And so, I did what any young budding scientist would do: I researched. Next time we went to the mall, I picked up a Bible. It was a NIV and marbled blue, but it looked like a huge paperback book (David suggested the NIV flavor). I had never read the Bible before.  Of course, the Catholics followed the Bible, but how did I know that? I had no idea what was in there outside of the Christmas and Easter stories. I don’t remember what I read first — something in the New Testament, like John — but I do remember climbing into a tree that overlooked the river in town and reading parts of Isaiah. It was my first stab at a quiet time with the Lord.

The letters of Paul really stood out to me. I’d ask David questions and if he didn’t know, he’d find out and tell me. I started showing up more at the youth group on Tuesday nights, much to my mother’s chagrin. She was afraid of me becoming Baptist, which meant to her no make up, no dancing, no playing cards, long skirts, and I’d be on of those “holy rolling Bible thumpers.” I assured her I wasn’t going to be a holy roller and the pastor’s son played cards and went to school dances. My dad wasn’t too pleased either, but he didn’t seem to care one way or the other.

I finally attended a Sunday morning at this church with David and was shocked (shocked!) at how everyone talked to each other before the service. As a Catholic, when you were in church, you were silent! It was a culture shock. I knew none of the songs. No one kneeled. The shaking of hands and greeting was personal, unlike the cold “peace be with you” muttered for 10 seconds at the Catholic Church. I could take communion there, and I thought it a bit silly they used grape juice and they brought communion to you! It was beautiful. It was so different.

During this time, my parents marriage, which had been strained since the beginning of time, started to show signs of more strain. With my new church, I’m not sure if I gave my mom strength or if she was really afraid of me becoming “one of those Baptists,” so she suggested we start attending the Lutheran Church together. I was all about this Protestant stuff. I agreed. The Lutheran Church for me was a cross between the Catholics and Baptists, leaning more towards Baptists with their down to earth message, but leaning towards the Catholics with tradition. I really enjoyed the services there. It was the first time I had ever done anything remotely religious with my mom. And thus our family was divided: 2 protestants, 2 Catholics – my sister still attended Mass with my dad.

My dad said something one night about how he didn’t like me going to this Baptist church. I told him no. I was going to stick with it – it preached the message of Jesus, same as what he believed, it was just slightly different. I then said something to the degree of I don’t think I’d raise my children Catholic. He got really angry and yelled something I can’t recall. I walked away and hid in my room. I never disobeyed my dad to his face before. He got the last line, however. He banged on my bedroom door until I opened it and he screamed, “It’s your fault if your mom and I divorce. You divided this family by going to another church. This. Is. All. Your. Fault.” He stalked off, leaving me at the door, bewildered. My mom said nothing. I was 16.

I knew even then that I was not responsible for the unravelling of my parents marriage. I knew that was between them. Nonetheless, those words stung like freezing rain on naked skin. I had to get out. “I’m going for a quick run,” I said through tears as I ran out the door. I did not take a coat for the cold midwestern winter night I ran into and I didn’t care. I ran as fast and as hard as I could to the end of our street, bawling, trying to make sense of all this Jesus and family stuff in my head. One thing was clear: I wasn’t going to turn my back on Jesus. While I hadn’t given my life to him, like David did, I certainly wasn’t about to go back to what I was before with the Catholic church. I had come too far and read too much of the Bible for that. I also absolved, before God that night, with my lungs burning from the freezing air, that I would never punish my children for choosing a different religion than me. The pain was too real and too raw to inflict on someone I loved.

My dad didn’t speak to me again for almost 2 weeks. I chose Jesus over family. For a people pleaser like myself, that was huge. The Holy Spirit had begun Its work in my life.

I spent the rest of the spring and early summer continuing my research. I was attending Sunday morning services quite regularly now, also going on Sunday nights and Tuesdays for the youth group. In addition to reading the Bible, I joined a Bible study on Thursday nights. It was entitled “Experiencing God” and had a workbook with friends from the youth group. I learned so much about God’s character by using this Bible study and reading the scriptures. It was led by a strange couple at church who didn’t have children and eventually left under weird circumstances, but they provided the space for exploring my spiritual journey, and introduced me to journalling; for that I am forever grateful.

As time went on, David kept on me about accepting Christ. “I am not there yet,” I said. If I was going to make a commitment to Him, which appeared to be the biggest decision of my life, I wanted to make sure I was making the right decision for the right reasons with the right information. This did not appear to be something I could gracefully exit if it did not work for me. David warned me of a being a fence sitter, and the scripture that spurred me towards a decision was Revelation 3:16: “So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of my mouth.” Yikes! I needed to make a decision. And stick with it.

My family’s yearly trip to my cousin’s cottage on the shores of Lake Huron in Michigan gave me the perfect backdrop. While I was there, I fully committed my life, heart, and everything to the Lord. No reservations, no “buts.” It felt great. I have always said there was not a “moment in time” where I came to decision like so many other people’s stories go. For me, following Jesus was like a six month download, slowly creeping toward finality.  It finished in July 1998 with no memory of the day or time.

Through this, my focus in life became Christ. No longer was I living for myself or pleasing my parents: I was living for God. It also helped my depression, as I took all of that to Him and laid it as His feet. Although I never responded to an alter call, my heart was there. Soon thereafter, I wanted to be baptized by immersion. When I spoke to the pastor about it, he said he needed my parents’ permission since I was under 18. I declined. I did not have the strength to tell them and I didn’t want to fight about the subject. And so, before I left for college – at 18 – I was dunked in the church that saved my soul.

My parents still have no idea I was baptized twice.


Last month marked 20 years of walking with the Lord. I feel like I should be more mature by now in the faith than what I am.

With all the cultural changes that occurred in this century, I no longer attend a Southern Baptist church. I have always considered myself a “non-denominational” Christian since accepting Christ. I will be forever in debt to the Southern Baptists for introducing me to sweet tea and Christ. Since moving away from the SBC several years ago, I attended a mainline Christian mega-church and found a home among Methodists. I am not Methodist: I nearly lost consciousness leafing through the Table of Contents in the Book of Discipline. I’m vaguely aware of John Wesley. The message of Christ has always trumped the semantics of denomination for me.

This disillusioned Catholic became a follower of Christ by relationships with other believers who showed love and acceptance, spurring me on towards Christ. And I still hold that truth.

No one is going to come to Christ through arguments on social media, being handed a track, or showing up to the right place in the right clothes and saying the right things. It’s difficult for me to engage others with my introverted nature, as I completely suck at apologetics and hide when everyone shakes hands at church, but I am trying. Chances are you’ll have a glass of wine on my porch with me.

Also, if you come to my church, I’m the awkward person you’ll encounter. Fair warning.