From House to Shack

I attended the National House Church conference this weekend. One of the authors I work with was speaking and it's always good to support someone like that in the flesh. So, I flew out of DIA Friday morning along with all the folks coming off the Obama Rocky Mountain high.

I flew into Dallas/Foat Wuth; home of The Cowboys and the seminary I graduated from and folks who say "thaynks" and endless sunsets. The conference was o.k. My author friend did a good job and I could tell folks appreciated his words. However, the bulk of the conference seemed just a little off. Well, maybe a lot off.

If I heard someone say, it's about relationship, not religion once, I heard them say it a zillion times; as if it's either/or. I believe it's both/and. Trust me - I know about religion; son of a preacher man, and preached myself for quite some time. But the deep meaning of the word "religion" speaks of something being healed or restored, like a broken bone. That sounds an awful lot like the kind of "relationship" I want and need. Anyway, that soap-boxin' got old fast. I understand it's where a lot of those folks are on the path/journey/highway/rock-strewn trail, but nobody ever tempered that mindset with, well, what if it's both/and?

I also got the distinct impression that the house church folks believed they had found the promised land, freedom; this "gathering like they did in the New Testament" was the holy grail itself. I'm sure not everyone there felt that way, but I smelled it in the room.

The author I work with was one of the speakers on the ticket, but the big daddy speaker for the weekend was William Young, author of that little phenom The Shack. I'd never heard him in person; hell, I ain't even finished his book. I thought about reading it this weekend in preparation for the conference, but I found Annie Dillard's latest in paperback (The Maytrees) at the airport and sorry, Shack-man, but Annie hung the moon.

William Young did a good job. I appreciated his candor and ease. His story comes out of a truckload of pain and he's been a good steward of it. But at some point, I felt the House Church conference became The Shack Conference. All the speakers started referring to God as Papa and phrases like we all have our shacks started jumping out like Texas jackalopes and that got even older than the religion/relationship smackdown. It was fair; it's hard not to let something like that eclipse the party, such is its force right now.

This from Annie Dillard, describing her main character, Toby Maytree:
So he added his playful bits to the world perceived. How much better to heal and prevent disease; feed and inoculate and teach kids; provide sturdy breeds of animals and seeds! But poetry seemed to be his task...

I guess that's who I would have loved to have seen or heard at the conference this weekend: a poet. But I didn't. At one point, a speaker asked everyone to bow their heads and close their eyes for prayer. I pray eyes wide open, have for years now. Later, in a conversation with several folks, I mentioned looking around during the prayer, watching body language and such. One of the guys said, So you didn't close your eyes? He wasn't joshing me; he was dead serious. I said, No, that's not the way I pray. He said, Oh.

Maybe that sounds harsh. Maybe it is. It just seems we trade one thing for another, but still retain some of the other, but if there's enough people in the room we feel empowered and so we go with it and stand and raise our hands and take jabs at the folks we left and we have our gurus and we hang on their every word and this stuff is just as evident in the house church movement as it is in the institutional church movement. Sure, I've got my gurus too, like Annie Dillard; she taught me to pray eyes-wide-open.

I finished Dillard's book yesterday. Very good. I also caught the middle of Harry Potter's The Order of the Phoenix on the hotel's movie channel. Wow, I loved what I saw. I didn't get to finish it though because I had a relationship session to attend. Did you know some say it's not about religion? And then I caught those first snippets of Sarah Palin. My wife told me someone asked her about her favorite designer; she said, The North Face. Ah, a poet. I like that.

My writer friend, Winn Collier, brings another facet of the soul of this post. He does it in much more eloquent prose though. His name is in my Blogs of Note; just click and read. He's a poet too.


  1. You hater! How can you possibly pray and leave your eyes open?!! I'll bet papa doesn't even hear you.


    It drives me crazy the way we try to limit God into little parts and ways of thinking. It absolutely can and IS (I think) both. And probably more than that, as well. Reminds me of when I was in speech therapy school. Whole language was! We don't do phonics and word attack here. Guess what? Some kids didn't learn. Weren't served. Know what they needed? Both.

    I don't know about you, but I don't know how God made a tree. Really. Can't fathom the cell structure and design, etc. There's much about God I don't know. I know this, though...He wants us to read his Word, love Him, obey Him, and be in relationship with Him and others. But I wouldn't presume to know the rest. Hell, I don't even get most of this stuff right.

  2. John, I can't tell you how much I dig this post. I've swam a bit in the house church / anti-church / "it's just relationship, dude" / hate liturgy / gotta have liturgy / go-mega / go mini / world. It wears me out.

    What is it about us that we are so prone to take some truth, some leader who has something good to say, some point in time - and codify it, turn it to stone, beat the bloody life out of it by our demand that it be something it was never meant to be - the answer?

    I need to read some Annie Dillard fiction. Writing Life is my favorite work on the art of writing, and I've had some tastes of Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

  3. Hi John... Like your comment on prayer posture. I concentrate better with my eyes closed that is unless it prompts me to sleep. At which point, I recall Scott Duvall teaching his students that sleep is spirtual. One of my favorite authors on prayer, Dr. Richard Pratt, titled his work: "Praying wtih your eyes open". My Pakistani friend says in his country eyes are wide open and gazing heavenward. Closed eyes and bowed head is a sign of shame over there. Soooo Oh well couldn't help responding to this most excellent post.

  4. Gretchen,

    Annie Dillard, one of my gurus, said, "I don't know beans about God."


  5. Winn,

    Thanks. This latest Dillard fiction is about love and marriage. It's pretty good. However, best fiction on marriage, hands down, is Wallace Stegner's Crossing to Safety.

  6. Lindsay,

    Thanks for the comment. Yeah, it's hard for me to pray without ceasing with my eyes closed, especially when I'm operating large machinery and such.