Let us Ramble: Contemplating Charcoal

Unsurprisingly, my family and I have spent a lot of time outside this week. In the rural areas around Binghamton this week has been one of the first truly nice weeks of the year. We’ve spent time grilling dinner out on the porch almost every night this week.

A few years ago I was converted to charcoal grilling after a few years flirting with propane grills. Are charcoal grills somewhat inconvenient? They require a little bit of extra work but I adore the smokey taste they impart to the food I grill.

A few weeks ago (in this particular blogpost) I noted that a particular passage stuck out to me from a book I was reading for the upcoming session of the Academy for Spiritual Formation. The excerpt was from the book Spiritual Disciplines Handbook by Adele Calhoun. In particular, this was the passage that attracted my attention from the section entitled “Practicing the Presence” (pg. 72):

“Practicing the presence is a way of living into a deeper awareness of God’s activity in our lives. Through many small pauses we begin a habit of turning our heart toward God.”

I was sitting on my porch while waiting for the charcoal to warm up when I was drawn into a spirit of contemplation. I use a chimney charcoal starter to ignite my charcoal before grilling. I was drawn into a spirit of contemplation as I watched the charcoal begin to burn (with the help of a little lighter fluid–I was cheating when I took this picture).

My rusty but trusty chimney charcoal starter!

The idea of the charcoal chimney is a simple concept. You light paper underneath the charcoal and that begins to heat up the bottom layer of charcoal. As that layer begins to burn, it sets the charcoal above on fire. In time, the whole of the charcoal catches on fire and it is time to spread the coals and grill.

As I watched the excessive and unnecessary flames pour out the top, I stopped to think about how the charcoal chimney is supposed to work. All it takes to function properly is patience, a little bit of newspaper, and a match. The chimney starter is simple and effective when the charcoal is in good condition, the breeze is low, and the match actually lights the paper on fire.

I have spent a lot of time working with churches that desire to grow. Some churches are always looking for a great new idea which will bring young families into the church. Some churches are seeking to figure out why certain families or individuals have stopped attending church regularly. A lot of churches are always trying to find that silver bullet which will get them where they want to go as a church.

I have also spent a lot of time working with individuals who are facing struggles in their lives. Families have struggles, coworkers are aggressive, and sometimes the neighbor just will not act neighborly. People seek help and look for a silver bullet to fix their problems. I know this is true because I have been also guilty of seeking silver bullets for my own problems.

As I stared at the excessive and unnecessary flames pour out of the charcoal starter I came to a realization. Just like the flames were unnecessary on the charcoal starter, we often unnecessarily look for big solutions to problems. One of my favorite passages is Micah 6:8. In that passage the Lord tells Micah what is required of people like you and me. People need to seek justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God.

How many times would a culture of kindness defuse the huge problems which seem to require silver bullets in the church? My experience tells me that kindness can often defuse situations very quickly.

How many times would a little humility fix problems in the lives of individuals? Well, I can tell you that my life would have fewer problems if I decided to have a bit more humility and followed through with that decision.

How much better would our charcoal start if we were to stop pouring excessive amounts of solution into challenges that just require patient faithfulness? When we set ourselves about the tasks of life, would things taste more like the grill and less like lighter fluid if we were to focus on real solutions instead of quick solutions?

I really have to hand it to this idea of intentionally focusing on God in quiet moments. I am grateful that I have begun to find more quiet moments to turn towards God. I also need to get more newspaper. There is going to be a lot more grilling to do this summer and I am going to try to cut down on the lighter fluid.

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