Monday, February 09, 2015

The Clarifying Storm

For virtually all of my 40 plus years I have spent time at my favorite place in the world, along the shores of Black Lake in the northern Lower Peninsula of Michigan. As a child we went every year around the 4th of July and stayed in a small, rather rustic log cabin owned and built by a dear friend of the family, the very man I am named after. It was kind of boring as a child, with only rudimentary TV reception and just adults to hang around with. I spent a lot of time reading, which was true no matter where I was as a child, and playing quietly next to the lake. The cabin consisted of a common room combining the living room, dining room and a corner where bunk beds were kept; a small bedroom for my parents; an equally small kitchen and a tiny bathroom. Like I said there wasn't much to it but looking back it is an incredibly special place for me.

When I got older my parents bought their own place on the lake, a much larger house that soon enjoyed such amenities as a microwave, satellite TV and eventually internet. It was about this time that my soon to be wife and I began dating. We often went to the lake after we were married and started having kids. For my kids the lake house is "grandma and grandpa's house" but it is still special. For all of us, especially my siblings and I, the lake is our place of refuge as much as it is a place of relaxation. In a world that is often tumultuous the lake house has long been a constant for us, a place that has taken on far greater meaning than just somewhere to go for a week to relax. I go to the lake when I need the lake and it has always been there. It is also a link to the past. The home I grew up in has long since been sold. My grandparents are gone. The lake remains. Some day the house at the lake will be sold and that anchor will go with it, leaving behind memories and pictures but until that day it will always be there waiting for the next time I need it.

Summertime in Northern Michigan is a work of God. It seems that nowhere I have ever been is more ideal for summertime than Northern Michigan and Black Lake is just the right size to enjoy it, not so large that it never warms up but big enough that you don't feel like the rest of the Midwest is vacationing right on top of you. Being north of the 45th parallel the days are very long in the summer, with lots of bright sunshine and warm temps that are usually not too warm. The nights are usually cool and breezy and along the lake the breeze means the gentle sound of the waves rolling in. Nothing is better for a good night of sleep. While there is not a lot of rainfall up north it does occasionally rain and even storm. When it storms, it is powerful, especially when the storm rolls over
The shores of Black Lake
the lake and you can see it coming. I recall one storm as a child where the lake itself was sloshing back and forth, the water level on the dock rhythmically went up and down as the entire lake rocked like a cup of coffee. After an angry storm clouds rolled away the lake was always roiled up, the normally placid waters dirty and turbulent. It just looked unsettled.. What always seemed weird is that later on when the sun came out the lake seemed even more clear than before. The contrast of the storm tossed waters and the newly settled waters was amazing. Perhaps it is an optical illusion but the lake always seemed more clear after the storm than before it. Every stone, every ridge in the sand is in stark relief.

That is all very lovely but so what? I was thinking about the church today, as I so often seem to be doing. By any measure we are experiencing a season of storms. This season for the church in the West and especially America is not without precedent. There have always been times like this in the church, notably the Reformation but the church has survived. We will survive again. I also believe that like the lake after a storm, once the clouds roll away and the waves stop crashing we will see more clearly than before. Who the church is, what the church is and why the church is, those big questions that we face, will be more readily answered. We have gotten lost in the culture rather than being a contrast to it. Our mission has been clouded by privilege and wealth to the point that we no longer even know who we are. We are either entrenching ourselves against the culture that suddenly seems hostile or finding new opportunities to capitulate in the hopes of retaining our favorable position for a few more years. Yet we are experiencing tumultuous storms, a roiling of the waters that I hope will clear away many of the factors that have interfered with our vision.

Storms can be daunting and even scary but the storms always end. What the church desperately needs is to refocus, to simplify and even to be humbled. What is left after the storms may very be washed clean and be seen clearly, the debris of culture religion washed away. We are desperately need of clarity and simplicity. Maybe a storm is just what the Great Physician ordered? Instead of huddling in fear perhaps we ought to embrace the storm, confident of what is to come afterward. Christ said that His Church would always stand but He never said it would be easy or comfortable. History has shown that the church is often the healthiest right after things looked the most grim.

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