I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the Santa Rosa area of California for a variety of reasons. My wife Regina’s folks live in the city. The surrounding area is once again suffering from devastating wildfires. And Santa Rosa was the home of Regina’s great uncle Wallace who recently died at age 99. For years, Wallace lived directly across the street from the Charles Schulz Museum. Charles lived in the area and the museum is dedicated to all things Charlie Brown.
Many people over the years have written about the philosophy, theology, and life principles to be garnered from the comic strip. I must say, I remain a big fan of a wide variety of stories, from Charlie Brown repeatedly failing at kicking a football because Lucy lifts it up at the last minute, to Linus and his dependence upon a blanket, to the Great Pumpkin Halloween story, to name just a few.
My life has been enriched by the characters of Pig Pen and his filth, Snoopy, Woodstock, Sally, Schroeder, and Peppermint Patty along with others. Indeed, there is a little of each one of us to be found in each one of them.
On one of my visits to the museum, I encountered an impactful collection. Charles used to sketch out ideas for his comic strip on lined yellow sheets of paper. When an idea was more formalized or he did not particularly like the way a concept was going, he crumpled up the yellow sheets and tossed them into the trash.
He did not know that his secretary at the time, retrieved the crumpled sheets, took them home, and then ironed and saved them. These ironed sketches are now on display and they remind me of something helpful to keep in mind these days. But before that, one more snippet.
In one Peanut’s strip, Snoopy is lying on top of his dog house. Snoopy has the following thoughts as he gazes skyward. “My life has no meaning. Everything seems empty. I search the skies but can’t find meaning. Sigh.” It is at this point in the strip that Charlie Brown arrives with a bowl of dog food. Snoopy’s next thought, “Ah. Meaning.”
A thrown away piece of paper collected by Charles’ secretary. A bowl full of dog food brought by a beloved friend. Perhaps the point is that sometimes great meaning is found in the small things in life we take for granted or tend not to notice.
Searching for meaning, the purpose of life, why we are here at this time in these circumstances are all essential questions with which to struggle. God has much to say to us as we engage the depth of such issues. That said, I believe there are times throughout each day that joy, delight, gratitude, and even simple fun, are to be found in the small things we dismiss or disregard, like a lined sheet of paper, or a source of nourishment, physical or relational, that perhaps we need to cherish a bit more.
This week, Charla talked about the way that church is changing, and how it has existed in the past. The very early Church didn’t have churches as we know them today. In 313 AD, the Emperor Constantine legalized the practice of Christianity by granting religious liberty in the Roman Empire. But for three centuries before that, Christians were persecuted by the state, and it was not safe for them to meet in large groups. Instead, early Christians gathered in homes, at established “house churches.” In 2020, it is again unsafe for us to meet in large groups (although for very different reasons!), and we have had to reassess what church means to us once more. While church means something new to all of us at this moment, it will mean something particularly new to me later this month. Earlier this year, I was surprised to feel God calling me to pursue a Masters of Divinity at Yale University. My final Sunday at the Chapel will be August 16th. I cannot begin to describe how much I have loved my time on the SMC team, and as a member of this church family. While I am excited for the future, I am also heartbroken to leave the church and youth I love so much. I will miss you all dearly.
I believe strongly in finding God wherever we are: church happens wherever we decide it does. As Charla said on Sunday, “the ground that we are standing on is sacred ground, simply when we experience the presence of the divine.” We all know people who seem to find it easy to experience the presence of the divine, but what about the rest of us? I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t call much of my day-to-day life “divine” at all. Some of you might have watched my video “Eating with a Eucharistic Mindset” back in March, in which I discussed turning meals into a Eucharist of sorts at home. For me, my experience of the divine often has to be intentional. As my parting gift to SMC, I have created Table Talk, which is designed to intentionally create divine spaces wherever we are.
The purpose of Table Talk is to prayerfully engage with scripture at home. It is not a replacement for church, but is a way to integrate church into further parts of your life. Each Table Talk includes scripture from that week’s lectionary, along with suggested questions to discuss and prayers to share with one another. The beauty of Table Talk is that you can do it in whatever context works for you: at the dinner table, during a break in a hike, on mountaintops, on beaches, in your bedroom when you can’t sleep at night. The questions are aimed towards people of all ages – it is designed to be a conversation you can have with children, grandparents, spouses, friends, or alone with a journal. Just as there is no one correct way to “do church,” there is no one correct way to engage with Table Talk. It is my hope that you will each find a way to make Table Talk your own: to intentionally invite the presence of the divine into ordinary moments in your day-to-day lives, with the knowledge that others (including me!) are doing it alongside you.
I am praying that it will be safe for us to meet in large groups again soon, but in the meantime, I am finding church where I am. I taste communion in my morning cup of tea as I stand outside with my dog. I feel the Holy Spirit as I blast music and dance around my apartment late at night. I am surrounded by fellowship when I zoom with my new cohort at Yale Divinity School. Now, I am inviting you to connect with a global family of Christians learning to “do church” in the midst of a crisis. I am inviting you to read the scripture that millions have read in their own homes for thousands of years, and feel connected to all who have come before us. I am inviting you to learn alongside your children, your roommates, or even your journal, and to encounter God in new, ordinary ways. Come to this table. Let’s talk.