Reach and Stretch

"The Years" will return after this brief station identification...I promise.  But sometimes you feel like you have to say something, write something.  I'm sure this is more for me than you, but then again, it could be for you too. If it is for you, or you have thoughts about it, I'd love to hear from you.  Or maybe you forward this along to someone you believe agrees or disagrees...I'd love to hear from them too.
An allergy to thought, an allergy to complexity, nuance...I heard this phrase, these words, from the lips of John Sexton, president of New York University. He was lamenting this collapse, this developing pattern in our country, a country Sexton dearly loves.

Put the cookies on the bottom shelf…I heard this phrase, these words, yet again this week in relation to the writing of books both traditionally bound and e-imprisoned. They have become almost a mantra in publishing books for believers, Christians, followers of Jesus, whatever the label of choice may be these days. I lament this, for the country of believers I dearly love.

I believe putting the cookies on the bottom shelf is dangerous for while accessible to anyone, the dogs’ll also sneak in and scarf the whole shebang ala the Bumpus hounds in A Christmas Story. However, putting the cookies on the top shelf, entirely out of reach to most, seems the opposite but equal error. It fosters prideful bakers who can’t stand their hillbilly neighbors.

What if our mantra became reach and stretch before take and eat?  We want our children to grow, learn, be challenged, but for some reason we grow up and put away those childish notions of needing to become more, see farther, think deeper.  Even that New Testament madman Paul longed for folks to wean off the milk for Christ's sake.  

Who is to blame here?  We could spend all day trying to pin that tail on some donkey, but I’ve never been a fan of that game for it assumes there’s only one donkey in the room and we all know that’s horsefeathers.  No, I would rather plead with the saviors of our possible future: the artists - those to whom much has been given, those from whom much is needed, now maybe more than ever. Yes, the poets and singers and dreamers and filmmakers and schoolteachers and dancers and preachers and writers and homeschooling moms and cantankerous uncles and coaches and bloggers and publishers.  My plea? Place the piping hot cookies within reach; not locked in ivory towers or pitched to the lowest bidder, but rather gingerly placed on the cooling rack of the glorious middle, that realm where Emerson said all true greatness comes from.

I don't know what to do with all these thoughts...I realize I'm a part of the problem as much as I might hope to be a sliver of the solution.  But I see this allergy to thought, this sloth.  Pastor John Buchanan contends that sloth means "not living up to the full potential of our humanity, playing it safe, investing nothing..."



  1. I'm not leaving a comment yet, because I want to bring some people to the party.

    Hopefully we'll have dialogue soon, but I can't promise. Otherwise, I'll be back and will talk to myself.

  2. Is this where the party is? So here's my thought...

    I tend to believe our culture has access to the "piping hot cookies" in the middle, but somewhere along the road they heard from someone else that said the cookies are too hot and will hurt you.

    A tragedy? Yes. In our culture we believe people who tell us no. We've ceased to believe that God's desire for us is abundance. Not abundance materially, but abundance in Him. We just don't know what that looks like any longer.

    I pray that the God of creation reawakens the hands that need to push beyond the naysayers and enjoy the abundance of "piping hot cookies".

  3. John,

    That's why you invite Rusch to a party. He brings the good cookies.

    I like your thoughts here, and I'd be interested to hear the *real* artists speak.

    This morning, I was talking with a good friend about John Coltrane. I know, this is a different conversation. In any event, we were talking about Coltrane's genius, how he took what came before him to a completely different level. He did it in a way that indicated his genius, in a way that made you stop and think. But it was still enjoyable. It was exactly what you are talking about, John. You had to stretch and reach, but it was (and is) so worth the effort.

    I agree with your plea. I would also like to know, who's doing this these days? Give me some names. I'll listen, read, and watch.


  4. Mike and Seth,

    Thanks for stopping in where two or three are gathered...these are sweeping statements I know, but sometimes the sweep holds true...I'm just not hearing any of the major christian voices out there suggest we listen to, for example, John Coltrane...and my question is 'why not?' It sounds like I'm bitching and I probably am, but I believe there is a flat-earth theory that exists among the faithful and if you should sail past the borders, well, then you'd fall off the edge of orthodoxy or something...and the reality is a whole nuther world exists out there but only a few are seeking out such locales...maybe that's the way it is with pioneers and trailblazers, but for a people who talk of freedom and liberation, there sure seems to be a climate of fear that's palpable these days...does any of this make sense? Rusch? Haines? Bueller?

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  6. John,

    Rusch and I were recently talking about this fear, albeit in a different context. I recently heard broadcast on a fairly credible Christian Radio station (in national syndication) discussing the Glen Beck "social justice" statement. Although they took a little less hardline position, the slant was clear--let's be careful how much we talk about economic and social justice because that's the road to socialism. The argument was, unfortunately, not thoughtful and was based in fear.

    That being said, if the true writer (or artist) begins to discuss issues of justice and mercy, and if the discussion steps a little too close to the line of the wrong political ideology, the talking heads shoot it down (and generally with a bazooka).

    I think the discussion also applies to "sin" issues. I recently heard that story sharing can be too "titillating." If your story of rescue and redemption involves one of the 7 deadlies (especiall after you became a believer), you might encourage other believers to engage in the same behavior "so that grace may abound" (may it never be). The argument came from a well respected father of the faith, who clearly will never read any such Ragamuffin writings. I think the argument is myopic at best. Again, there is a fear issue at the root.

    All that to say, I agree. It seems as though a vast portion of the body is afraid. But in reality, and this might be a whole different topic, I *think* that these bodies might be afraid of being exposed. Holy Spirit breathed art does this (see David Platt, Timothy Keller, Manning, D. Webb, Mullins, Peterson, *John Coltrane*). It makes people uncomfortable because it exposes them. It makes *me* uncomfortable because it exposes *me*.

    But, in the words of a new and dear brother Greg Russinger, "how can the Holy Spirit comfort you if you never live an uncomfortable life."

  7. Thanks for the invitation, Seth.

    I've come to find out that the cookies on the bottom shelf just don't make me feel all that good after I eat them. They're easy to grab and munch, but they're empty calories...they lack any sustaining energy.

    I love the imagery of reaching for truth...when we reach, we're sticking our necks out...there's risk involved, which means there's a real *desire* for truth. When truth is spoon-fed, it tastes a lot like cough medicine...just get it down and get on with life. When we go after it, truth becomes valuable...a treasure...a reward. I want truth to be precious. I want to value it. I want to reach for it, so that I find it fulfilling, life-giving, sustaining.

    Thanks for your insight, John.

  8. Seth P,

    Yes, I agree...those bottom cookies don't really satisfy...a quick fade...I feel you've really tapped into something using the word 'desire'...a true desire brings with it the willingness to reach and stretch...good thoughts...thanks for stopping by.


  9. Seth H (several Seths on here ain't there?)

    Yes, its fear...and fear's kissing cousin is control, so there's all kinds of issues going on here, kinda like turning a rock over to reveal 1000s of bugs underneath (that happens in NWA, right?)...yeah, the Beck statement was a real pooper, but I'm betting his book sales won't miss a beat...strange days, these days...strange indeed...

    Thanks for inviting some of your friends over...they seem like good fellas.

  10. I feel a little like the 7-year-old interrupting the grown ups while they're talking and I may not even be talking about the same subject, but while I was reading your post I thought how our culture even emphasizes this "cookies on the bottom shelf" model with the education of our children.

    C is the average passing grade, right? B is above average and A? Well, A it should mean above and beyond. But because it's more important that everyone feel good about himself/herself than receive an education, we've dumbed everything down so that average gets an A these days.

    Thinking has become overrated. Could somebody please just tell us what to think? And then let's pick our side. Piper People? Over here. Social Justice Claiborne & McLaren-ites? You're on this side. And the other side is always wrong. I've noticed that the kids in our student group at church are always reading the newest latest Christian "it" book of the minute. Hey, I'm glad they're reading. But whomever they're reading dictates their theology for the minute because they don't know what the Bible says and don't believe they have the tools to bake their own cookies.

    I want to teach my kids how to think logically, reason, and wrestle through the tough stuff. When they've learned their tools, I want them to be able to distinguish truth by what they know God's Word says and as the Holy Spirit prompts their hearts towards what's really real.

    Is that what you guys were talking about?

  11. I think I should have said "but whoever they're reading." I was nervous. Sorry.

  12. Whimzie,

    Glad you pulled up a're right on target...yes, the christian culture revolves around a group of all-stars...they've got incredible power and influence, and we're the ones who give it to them.

    Thanks again for stopping by!