divorced from geography gets us into nothing but
trouble." (Eugene Peterson)
For some folk, December signifies
Christmas carols, nativity scenes, advent
calendars, and familiar family traditions. For the
rest of us, it's a shopping scramble - tired
children in strollers, bleary-eyed buyers, long
check-out lines, and rain-checks for out-of-stock
The license-plate frame humorously
says "Buy, Return, Exchange ... The Fun Just
Never Stops", but how many of us really share that
This shopping mentality, however, is
not exclusive to Christmas or department stores.
It pervades the church, too.
"Church shopping" can be as regular as
Christmas shopping. With so many options, why not
shop around for a bigger, better, or
cheaper model of "church" too - especially if
the sermons sound unprepared, the people
unresponsive, or the programs understaffed where
within many of us lies the assumption that a
change of place will produce a change of heart.
Different leaders will soothe our irritations. A
different community will expunge our boredom.
Another place will resolve our pain. Our response
is to flee - to join the rush of "religious
of us who have walked this path, know its folly.
Just like Groundhog Day, the scenarios repeat
themselves from one setting to another. Yes, some
places breed such unhealth that we best move
before the Grim Reaper's scythe strikes us, but
places of such danger are few and far
react to disillusionment in various ways.
Some of us hit the road and look for another
religious retailer. Others of us stay put,
but fantasize about a better time, a better
place, or a better program. And a few of us simply
withdraw within ourselves and insist that
Christian spirituality can be pursued on private,
personal, and individual terms.
fail to see that our own faith is best formed in a
fallen community. We do not grow in "other
places" or in isolation from "other people." The
greener grass is sorely tempting, but it rarely
holds more substance than a shimmering mirage to a
we read Scripture, we discover that time and place
are gifts from God. We violate them when we always
long for tomorrow or yearn for a different
location. Shopping for spiritual bargains will
always leave us empty-handed.
Christmas season reminds us powerfully that life -
the good, the bad, and the ugly - is done
together. The Babe in the manger came among
us, not searching for the ideal but immersing
Himself in the real. Perhaps we could still learn
a thing or two.