My heart is an idol factory. I am blissfully blind to them, for the most part, because idols are usually good things that I bank on to satisfy my deepest needs and hopes. My idol worship pursues “counterfeit gods” because they promise me safety, peace, and happiness if only I base my life on them. I say in my heart of hearts, “If I have that, then I’ll feel my life has meaning, then I’ll know I have value, then I’ll feel significant and secure.” Having that kind of relationship to something is best called worship.
I don’t want my identity to be shaped by my worship of counterfeit gods. By God’s mercy, the core identity that comes from God and God alone is made attractive and possible to me inside the encounter with Him during Liturgy. His light exposes the destructive disappointment I feel as my counterfeit gods let me down. He’s a jealous God! Warning! Inside God’s Liturgy you can expect bombshells and bloodshed. He calls us to worship Him. Him Alone!
That’s easy for me on Sunday. In Barnyard Liturgy, all hell can break loose. The Trinity comes “locked and loaded” to shape me; to create the identity I glimpsed on Sunday and said, “I long for that.” The Trinity comes with fire and a hammer. When I say God’s Liturgy is something done to you, it’s because we love our counterfeit gods too much to relinquish them without supernatural, gospel-beauty, will-breaking intervention. God is out to save us to the uttermost. Save us from our counterfeit gods. Sometimes that feels like a dance. Sometimes it feels like a trip to the woodshed.
Sparrows in the Milking Parlor
The milking parlor at the dairy I work at is big enough to allow 16 cows to be milked at a time. The stanchions are located 8 per side along a 3 foot deep pit. This arrangement brings me eyeball-to-udder. Very efficient for the mundane, extremely repetitive actions I must perform to sanitize and clean each teat, attach a milking head, and finally dip with a solution of skin conditioners and iodine. As the 8 cows on one side are finished, I open an air-gate so they can meander their way back to the loafing shed to eat, rest in a free-stall, or rehydrate at the water trough. On average, each cow has given 30-40 pounds of milk and will do it all over in 12 hours. That’s 60-80 pounds of milk a day. They’re thirsty. They’re hungry.
The efficiency of being in a pit has its downside. Milk is not the only thing that comes out of a cow. I will delicately call this cow pies-a ’plenty. During a milking shift of 6 hours shuffling 250 cows through the parlor, I get splattered-a ‘plenty. About a decade ago, I scanned the want ads; “Don’t mind getting dirty? Come milk cows.” I’ve always loved cows. I’m good at getting dirty.
I’ve had a variety of career pursuits and they’ve all involved animals, both wild and domestic, to some degree. But I never aspired to work at a dairy, in a 3-foot deep pit. At age 17, I wanted to be a large animal Veterinarian. Seven years and 3 Veterinary College failed interviews later, the dream died. Inadequate grades? Or thwarted by God? I raised my fist to the heavens.
Next, I hired on as cowboy on a beef ranch for 3 years, then, ironically got hired at the research branch of the Veterinary College I’d been rejected by. I excelled, climbed academic ladders, won student research awards, and obtained advanced degrees. The crescendo of a 25-year career led to the apex of a research/teaching position in Montana. Upward mobility. I had two years to prove myself and secure my own grant funding. The result, “Don’t mind getting dirty? Come milk cows.”
Flashback to a week after I answered that ad, it’s 3 A.M. I’ve milked enough cows in the past hour to get splattered-a ‘plenty. I’d also been kicked a’ plenty by cows not used to the ‘new guys’ touch. I was frustrated and keenly aware of another one of God’s thwarting’s. Downward mobility. In the pit stood a disappointed, empty, broken, scared, angry man with my fist raised to the heavens.
And then, it happened. Epiphany!
Turns out, when you’re in a pit, it’s a good thing to look up. I watched a sparrow, feathers preened out to make him look twice as big as he really was to insulate against the cold, chirp out a bird song that sounded a lot like praise. Then, he fluttered down to the parlor runway where cows returning from their milking left the gift of cow pies-a’ plenty. He deftly plucked out a kernel of barley from the muck, ascended back to the rafters, and resumed his praise chirp. I witnessed a creature deemed worthless, descend into the realities of a wilderness to gather his daily bread, then soar heavenward to offer his provider thanksgiving with praise. My fist loosened and dropped to my side. I felt the hot tears of repentance and deep joy trace down my cheeks.
My brain, my heart, my gut, all my deep places were flooded with the revelation of a creature remembered by God. A creature cared for, loved, accepted and valued by God. For a moment, I knew that I too was remembered, cared for, loved, accepted and valued by my Creator. For a moment, I tasted my core identity.
I added my pitiful, squeaky praises to the community of birdsong wafting like incense to heaven. I was doing worship. Or rather, Barnyard Liturgy was doing me.
 Adapted from Timothy Keller, Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex and Power, and the Only Hope That Matters. 2009.