We’re never able to find underwear for our children. Truthfully, even if we bought a couple hundred pair, they’d still find places to hide. When the unthinkable happens and two clean pair of underwear surface, we lift our heads to the sky and give thanks to God.
Our oldest two children just turned 4. They are still practicing their underwear expertise. One morning, I was reminded of their lack of complete knowledge. Rushing to get in the car, I probably didn’t remind my oldest to go to the bathroom before we departed. A few miles from our home, I heard the call, “Daddy!” When I looked back, I had to remind myself that there was no need to get angry about urine exploding all over your previously clean child.
When we arrived for the service, I took some wipes and did the best I could. Thankfully, there was a pair of clean underwear in the diaper bag. I expected everything to be OK. Church is supposed to be a place of radical hospitality right? The childcare worker was on a different page and coarsely told me, “We don’t let children run around in their underwear.” With my child in arm, I proceeded into the sanctuary. I knew it was only going to get worse.
The liturgy was the same. The prayers were the same. The music was the same. The same was even the same. For half the service, I sat there and thought about how irrelevant all this was. Holding tightly to my child, I started to think about the future. “Is this what I want my children to know about God?” I started to twitch. God is hungry. God is thirsty. God is a stranger. God is naked. God is sick. God is in prison. The twitch became an itch. I knew that I was betraying everything I knew about God by remaining in the institutional church. God has never been in these spaces. God is always in the streets. I’ve never had a problem meeting God there. So, why do I feel the need to be a part of the institutional church? I guess I figured I needed a flock. When the familiar words hit I was done:
All creatures of our God and King
Lift up your voice and with us sing,
Please, make no mistake. I think the song is beautiful. The problem is that the song doesn’t speak to our reality. I got up and walked out. When I pushed through the doors, there were two words that stayed with me: “All creatures.”
For a few days, I pondered what it would all mean. How does an ordained minister leave the institutional church? In time, I realized that I walked out of the institutional doors to step into the real church. I keep finding God in my street activism and theologizing. With that said, I did miss having a flock. So, I bought some chickens.
Riding up to the feed store, I prayed. These were not the same old prayers. I prayed that God would teach me what to feed the chickens. I prayed that God would teach me to house the chickens. I prayed that God would teach me how to love the chickens. I prayed that God would help me not to kill the chickens. After praying for a moment more, I realized that some real human and humane prayers were surfacing when I started oscillating the words “people” and “chickens.” Nevertheless, I bought three red chickens, three black chickens, two white chickens and two brown chickens. Before we got in the car, one of the red ones scratched me and one of the black ones pooped through a hole in the bottom of the box. No matter what happened, I just got happier and happier. I knew that there was something very spiritual going on. To say that I fell in love is an understatement. God is love. Since I fell deeply in love with the chickens, I realized that God sometimes has a beak and feathers. From the moment I brought them home, I knew I’d found my flock.
I had no idea what to do with chickens. I just kept going through the improvised process I envisioned one step at a time. I need to house them. I need to feed them. I need to water them. I need to make sure they are healthy. I need to let them out to range. The more I went through the process, the more I realized that the chickens were teaching me. I need to house people. I need to feed people. I need to give people drink. I need to make sure people are healthy. I need to help people be free. The chickens keep teaching me. Be gentle. Watch where you’re going. We meet for church every morning. I find my flock to be so much more spiritual than the flock I used to meet at the institutional church.
To those who think I’m crazy, I really don’t give a flock.
This morning my flock and I prepared a beautiful prayer just for you:
“God, please be with all of those people too chicken to find God outside the walls of a church.”