Sunday, October 25, 2009

My thoughts on "Bo's Cafe"

I have mixed feelings about this book; that's not to say I didn't like it, but still I will share some thoughts that I hope someone will benefit from.

In some ways this book reminded me so much of "So You Don't Want to Go to Church Anymore" that I had to pinch myself and remind myself it was a different book. It was kind of like eating a casserole made with Thanksgiving leftovers - tasty, while at the same time you feel like you've eaten this before.

I also had to remind myself several times that this is a work of Fiction - like a movie, where things are so nicely resolved in an unnaturally short time span. I remember the movie "Facing the Giants" which had the same producer as "Firewall" and "Flywheel." I've heard several free-believing Christians say they didn't like these movies because they were canned and unrealistic. I'm actually having some similar feelings about some of the 'out of the box' Christian novels I've read, even though I do enjoy them to some degree.

I actually liked "Facing the Giants." I took it at face value as a nice feel-good escape from reality, a movie that was safe to watch with my kids. Not one that I would look to as encouragement for difficult situations in my own life really. My feelings about "Bo's Cafe" are rather similar.

For anyone who hasn't already read it, "Bo's Cafe" is the story of a man named Stephen who has some serious relational issues. He carries unresolved anger and a sense of underlying shame that frequently spill over onto his co-workers and his family. Things blow up when he gets into a huge fight with his wife; she kicks him out and he moves into a hotel.

By this time, a mysterious friend named Andy has shown up in his life, who knew Stephen's dad and has seen Stephen around for years, riding his company's yacht from the pier where Andy works. Andy takes him under his wing and introduces him to a group of his friends who meet each Thursday at - you guessed it, Bo's Cafe. Nine months later, things are amazingly better in Stephen's life. In a safe group of friends, he has found validation, healing, transformation, and wouldn't you know it, even a great new church. It just so happens that one of the folks at Bo's is a pastor and now Stephen and his family are enjoying a wonderful place that is good for them all.

I can't fault these guys for writing the book. They make their points well in the conversations that transpire between Stephen, Andy, and the rest of the gang. They do a good job of exposing the real problems in people's hearts and the various ways that we attempt to hide and compensate for them.

I just wish they hadn't wrapped things up all nice and neat in such a short time, and a relatively short book. Again, it seemed a lot like the nice feel-good but not-so-realistic Christian movies that I've heard complaints about. The reality is, things just don't happen this way for most people.

I know I'm not alone in saying that I've struggled for years in my search for real community. I've never in my life witnessed anyone acting as badly as Stephen and still had real friends stick by and help him through. My experience has been that people often run like rabbits when you unpack the rough, raw stuff. They can't or don't want to walk through it with you.

My experience has been that healing, and the people who really share community in my life, have been few and far between, and often just for a short season. The truth is, many people have to wait for a long, long time to find this type of community, and I believe some never do. I personally would have found Stephen's story more realistic (and more encouraging) with a few changes.

Some ideas are: Stephen's friendship with Andy is off again, on again. Andy disappears without explanation (often when Stephen needs him most) for months at a time. Maybe Andy drops away altogether and Stephen waits (perhaps for a couple of years) for someone else to come along who feels like sharing a friendship. Then, that friend gets tired of him and moves on. Maybe he tries the church where Carlos the pastor presides, only to have that situation fall apart because Stephen is 'too raw.' Meanwhile, the group at Bo's begins gossiping about what a pain in the neck Stephen is, and begins meeting on Fridays without telling him. Stephen suffers and is angry. Yet he struggles to hold onto the few pieces of the puzzle that he collects from each relationship. Slowly but surely he knows God is always with him, helping him walk the lonely road, sending him a friend here and there and then helping him walk alone again. Maybe by this time his wife has gotten fed up and left him, but he is rebuilding his relationship with his now-grown daughter and even finding a peaceable relationship with his now ex-wife.

I'd really like to see someone write a novel more along these lines. There are starkly realistic movies that still leave the viewer with hope and great thoughts to chew on; why not a novel? I'm thinking that part of the problem is the fact that publishing companies are now coming out with shorter, more condensed books to accommodate the average reader, who doesn't have the time or attention span to tread through a longer book. Hmm, this is the same lack of time and patience I normally see in society these days that make communities like the one in "Bo's Cafe" seem just too story-bookish to be anything but a nice idea.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Bound and Loosed

Here is another Bible verse that I've always wondered about: "I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven." Mt. 18:18

I've seen this verse applied something like this: A person with a cold has the 'demon' of illness over them bound, and is expected to instantly be healed. Or, someone with financial trouble has a prayer binding the devourer prayed over them, with the expected result of money appearing to solve their problems. I'm not even sure what the 'loosed' part of the verse means.

The following verses, Mt. 18:19-20, is often simultaneously applied. "Again, I tell you that if the two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them."

I've seen this passage used as the 'vending machine God' approach. Supposedly if two or more people agree on any type of healing, problem solving, or blessing prayed a certain way, God just has to do it for them. They have this verse as 'proof.'

I've seen this approach fail often enough that I'm looking for better answers. I think the lack of real relationship between people and between God may be the key as to why we often see little in the way of results from our asking prayers. As if God is just someone to go to to fix your problems, not someone to walk with as a friend and Father.

What I've usually seen when Christians get together for the "two or three" prayers is to get some sort of quick fix for something, not just to hang out with each other and God out of sheer enjoyment and love. People want quick fixes because they don't necessitate the kind of relationship it takes to walk through things with each other on a more realistic, God-orchestrated timeline. That's my .02 worth.

So, what are your thoughts?