Nowhere To Hide

be-the-church

“…and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden.”
–Genesis 3:8

Kick the can?  Never played it.

Freeze Tag?  I’m way too slow.

But Hide and Seek?  I’m a master of it.  Been perfecting my craft since I was a little kid.

It hasn’t mattered where I’ve lived or what age I’ve been, I’ve always had a certain knack for finding the perfect place to hide:  Inside the church.

When I was young and the kids at school were mean, I could escape my troubles at the church.  As a teen, when the world seemed too big and scary, I’d hide out at the church.  When I became an adult and society threatened with its dangers and decisions and dissonances, I’d drown out all the noise — you guessed it — at church.

Funny, it’s a lifelong game I never realized I was playing, until a certain pandemic hit.  I went to my favorite hiding place…and the doors were locked.   The building was closed.  Nowhere to hide.

There are many wonderful, healthy reasons to be part of a church, but I don’t think hiding is one of them.  True, our very sanctuaries are synonymous with places of refuge, but this is different.  I’m talking about misusing the church as a place to socially and spiritually distance us from the world.

I’ve always valued church as a place where likeminded souls can come together and praise, fellowship, and even serve together.  I don’t think I realized how thick the walls of our churches can actually be–separating us from the rest of the world.

Although churches do function as holy spaces, set apart from daily life, they were not designed to keep us from full participation in that very world.  They are not meant to help us avoid the fray or rise above the tumult.  They do not exist to shelter its members from getting their hands dirty or avoiding the messiness of everyday life.

The church is not meant to be a hiding place.

Maybe you already knew that. I’m still learning.  My whole life has been spent nestled within the arms of one church building or another, and for all the good that has done me, I am coming to realize how I have abused that privilege.  Hiding out in the church is no different from Adam and Eve hiding out in the garden — it is refusing to respond to God’s voice, calling us into action.

Perhaps that’s something we’re discovering during this pandemic, the ways we may have used church as a crutch.  Well, no more.  We may still be stuck at home, but we’re learning that the church is no longer a fitting hiding place.  We’ve been pushed out into the world–(or at least on to Facebook).

Things may begin to look different now–more up front presence in our communities.  Worship that stretches well beyond its previous reach.  Evangelism that does not invite people to hide with us, but involves playing a whole new game:  Follow the leader.

In this sense, the Covid-19 craziness of 2020 may have revived Christianity for the 21st century.  We may be discovering that God, not some stone building, can be a refuge when times are tough.

Maybe, instead of hiding at all, we can poke our heads out of our houses and greet the world as a new and improved body of Christ!  Instead of kicking the can down the road to the next generation, the time for action is now.  Instead of freezing in place, we need to be moving in all kinds of new directions.

And if you want to see what church really looks like, start counting the ways. After all…

You’re it.

Have a great week,

Mitch

1200px-Gizlənqaç

The Center For Dis-ease Control

cdc-logo-2

Praise the Lord, my soul,
    and forget not all his benefits—
 who forgives all your sins
    and heals all your diseases  –Psalm 103:2-4

According to etymology online, the word disease originated in the 14th century.  Back then it meant “to make uneasy; inflict pain”.  So, the opposite of ease.  

Nowadays we think in terms of pathogens and viruses, but lately I see signs of dis-ease everywhere I look:  Uneasy people, feeling pain.

  • Stir-crazy children just longing to socialize.
  • Stir-crazy parents, just longing to let their children socialize.
  • Lonely folks without the technology to stay in touch.
  • Outraged conspiracy theorists, latching on to dubious facts that fit their feelings of oppression.
  • Outraged rule followers, shocked to find themselves the only one wearing a mask at the grocery store.
  • Finger pointers.  Blame layers.  Meme sharers.
  • Even the folks that keep their heads down, raise their kids, grill in the backyard, and struggle to bide their time.

Everybody’s feeling uneasy.  Everybody’s feeling some pain.  And I didn’t even add all the doctors and nurses and front-line workers who risk their very lives everyday.

Not everybody gets the disease, but everybody gets the dis-ease.

Where do we turn?  From whence comes our help?  Well, if you’ve got symptoms of the virus, get to the doctor pronto.  But if your symptoms are a reeling head and a stone in your gut, get to church.

Go to Church, my friends!  When have more people been in need of some revival?  Where else is there a promise of Good News?  Who is ready to help, no questions asked?

The Church.  Maybe not every church, but most of them.

We, the Church, are in the business of curing dis-ease.  Yes!  When Jesus sent out his disciples into the streets, they were filled with the power to cure dis-ease!  When the churches in your town take to Facebook or Youtube with a word of comfort, passion, and service, they are rejecting the forces of dis-ease that inflict our world!

Now, let’s take it down a couple notches.  Because, you know, there certainly are some things our churches need to be uneasy about these days.  Racism did not disappear when Covid appeared.  Economic disparity was not washed away with the arrival of coronavirus.  The hypocrisy all-too-often present in our worshipping communities has not suddenly evaporated just because we face this outward threat.  These are symptoms of sickness that have not gone away.

And still!  Still we preach the Gospel!  The story of a man named Jesus who came to convict and to comfort all at the same time.  Right now, our world needs a balm for its dis-ease, and we are uniquely qualified to offer it.

WE ARE THE CENTER FOR DIS-EASE CONTROL!!!

  • To the stir-crazy, we offer room to grow.
  • To the lonely, we call and remind them they have been called.
  • To the conspiracy theorists, we pull back the curtain on who is REALLY in charge.
  • To the outraged, we offer deep breaths of healing prayer.
  • To the finger pointers, we model what a helping hand looks like.
  • To those biding their time, we remind them what is eternal.

If, a year ago I were to tell you that all the churches would launch a singular initiative to take to the internet, reach out to their communities, and pull together in a seldom seen show of faith, you might have laughed, especially when I told you our buildings were all empty.

It’s good to know that in this time of dis-ease, the Church isn’t suffering…

from dis-use.

Have a great week,

Mitch

4447969240_724aa20f2e_z

Seeing Single

bodyofChrist4

Last night, I had a real joy.  Two girls from my confirmation class are moving next month, and they didn’t want to leave town without being baptized and confirmed.

So 9 of us gathered in the chapel to celebrate the event.  There were several iPhones and iPads broadcasting live to family members and dear friends.  It was awesome.

The girls are identical twins, by the way.  People always have trouble telling them apart. Me too.  It used to drive me crazy!  But now, I have no problem.  Isn’t that interesting? I’ve stopped seeing double.  Now I look at them and I see…single.  What’s changed?

Each girl stood up and read a creed she had written, sharing what she believed.  The creeds were completely different, but equally beautiful.  My heart swelled to hear them sharing how much they’d actually learned after two years of fun weekly classes.  (Yes, TWO YEARS of confirmation! It’s totally worth it!)

We give our confirmands stoles that they decorate.  Rainbows, crosses, crowns, waterfalls, each of them had different signs and symbols of their faith.  After their baptisms, one of the other two teachers presented them with the stole for them to proudly wear.

Certainly, these girls have a lot in common, but if you look closely, you see that they are special in their own, different ways.  I took me a while, but the more I’ve looked, the more unique things I’ve seen about each of them.

The same is true with any crowd of people.  One glance at a sanctuary of worshippers can make you think Christians are all alike.  But over time, looking through God’s eyes, you begin to see each person as “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139).  Like Paul reminds us, we’re each different parts of the body of Christ.  We’re all in it together, but in different ways.

It’s not just a Sunday morning Christian thing  either; it’s an everywhere thing.  People are special.  And unique.  I’m hesitant to say “like a snowflake”, as that has for some reason become a put down, but I believe it’s true. That’s how God made us. The more we look, the more we’ll be blessed to see:

No two people are identical.

Not even the identical ones.

Have a great week,

Mitch

11.1.0

The Five People You Meet In Crisis

helloanxiety - Copy

Hello, fellow wigged-out citizens of the world!

As the old proverb goes, “May you live in interesting times”.  The coronavirus has provided a nuisance for everybody, a challenge for many, and a life-and-death situation for some.

Although we are limiting our in person social interaction with each other these days, we’re staying in touch in smaller groups, grocery stores, and most certainly, online.

Have you noticed that everybody has a “take” on this whole thing?  Everyone is affected, so everyone has a perspective.  Below are my unscientific thoughts on 5 kinds of folks you may have encountered.  See if you recognize yourself.

1.  THE EXPERT.  Some folks are hard to talk to, even in good times.  In stressful times like these, they can become insufferable.  They have all the facts.  They don’t ask questions, or ponder philosophically, they just tell you the way it is.  Except they don’t really know any more than the rest of us.  They get their info from a TV network or news source that they have identified as the most reliable, and that info, to them, becomes law. (Listen carefully, and then go and fact check later!)

2.   THE THEORIST.  The theorist isn’t quite so interested in facts.  They’re more interested in rumors.  THEORISTS (Short for Conspiracy Theorists) look for the darkest, most sinister explanations.  They will gravitate to the most sensational, unverified news, and spew it out into the world for the rest of us to chew on.  What’s frustrating is when there’s this tiny tickle in the back our minds that wonders, “what if it’s true?”  (Enticing as some ideas may be, try not to get sucked in.)

3. THE CURATOR.   The curator has a seeming addiction to sharing.  Oversharing.  Every semi-funny meme about running out of toilet paper.  Every sentimental picture about getting through this tough time.  Every news report or blog post or YouTube video about the virus — they consider it their job to get this info out to the world. Regardless of helpful or unhelpful intentions, CURATORS overshare, and that can clog up our feeds and our brains.  (Engage where you can, but if it gets to be too much…learn how to scroll on by.)

4. THE FLAILER.  You have 6 rolls of toilet paper in your cart.  They have 60.  You’re stressed out.  They’re apoplectic. Like somebody who can’t swim, thrown into the deep end, they are clearly not handling the pressure well. There’s plenty of panic to go around these days, but FLAILERS seem unable to throttle it back.  If protecting themselves and their family gets in the way of social correctness, so be it. FLAILERS are drowning because they’ve forgotten, or never learned, how to tread water.  (Look for ways of lending a hand without being pulled under.)

5. THE NORMAL.  If you don’t firmly fit in any of the above categories, congratulations! That likely means you’re just one of the more NORMAL people dealing with this crisis. ——

Wait.  Are you kidding me?  There are NO NORMAL PEOPLE in a crisis.  There’s only you, and me, and the myriad of ways we deal with anxiety.  Every person you encounter is anxious in some way or another, like a child that wants its mother.  That emerges in different ways at different times.

The truth is, while some of the above categories might actually ring true for people you know, everybody is afraid.  The folks who deny it, the folks who analyze it, or can’t stop talking about it, or retreat from it, or thrash around in it, or do what they’re told, or lend a hand, or write devotions about it.

You’re bound to meet all kinds of people in a crisis.  All of us reacting against fear.  In different ways and in different amounts, if you begin to look and listen for it, you’ll recognize it. It’s an epidemic.

But God is bigger than coronavirus.  God is bigger than anxiety.  I’m sure you already knew that, but here’s a reminder.  Take a deep breath and read:

For this is what the Lord says:

“I will extend peace to her like a river,
    and the wealth of nations like a flooding stream;
you will nurse and be carried on her arm
    and dandled on her knees.
13 As a mother comforts her child,
    so will I comfort you;
    and you will be comforted over Jerusalem.” Isaiah 66:12-13

In a crisis, perhaps we could return to this image of God tenderly comforting, holding us, bringing us back into our right minds. That’s actually one of the most effective ways to overcome panic–to be held.  It helps our brains reengage.  Can you feel God, rocking  you gently, reminding you who you are?

Covid 19? Meet Isaiah 66.  The cure for the common coronavirus may not be readily available, but a welcome salve for all the kinds of people you’ll meet in crisis is the calming peace of God.  It is transmitted by humans in acts of compassion and kindness.  And we can all get it, directly, in prayer and moments of grace.

God can calm EXPERT anxiety, and THEORIST, and FLAILER, and CURATOR anxiety too.  And God can calm you.  Spread the word.  Be the gentle arms of Christ for all the people you meet.

Okay, you may want to maintain social distancing, but even across our self-imposed quarantines…

Love is highly contagious.

Have a great week,

Mitch

Shadow of mother holding baby

Elastigirl

reaching-for-god211

 Our hope is that, as your faith continues to grow, our sphere of activity among you will greatly expand, 16 so that we can preach the gospel in the regions beyond you. –2 Corinthians 10:15b-16a

I would fold laundry, do the dishes, and play video games.  All at the same time.

I would open the front door, pay the pizza delivery person, open the box, and eat a hot slice. All from my easy chair.

I would clean my office and — okay, let’s not get carried away.

But you get the picture.  If I had the powers of Elastigirl, from the Pixar super-family movies, I could really   s t r e t c h   myself.

She’s pretty amazing, even without her superpowers.  The way she balances raising kids with working a full time job.  She clearly knows how to stretch herself.  Then you add her rubber band flexibility, and you’ve got somebody who can go beyond your everyday living.

Would you like to be able to stretch like that?  There are other variations out there.  Plastic man, Stretch-Arm Strong.  I prefer the grace with which Elastigirl makes the miraculous seem attainable.

Actually, Elastigirl makes me think of a different kind of stretchiness.  Really, what I want is to stretch myself spiritually.  I want my faith to be adaptable.  I want my mind to be expanded.  I want to be able to reach out to God and neighbor with the confidence of a believer.

I want to stretch myself.  Not my muscles, but my soul.  I want Lent to yield something life changing, not just a month without Diet Pepsi.

I want to be a more flexible Christian, come Easter Sunday.  I want to believe in the resurrection with all of the mystery of that day.  I want to look at my Bible as less of a rigid rule book and more of an adventure anthology about faith in God.

I want to stretch my preconceived notions–not abandoning that faith I was taught to believe, but able to listen to other notions, other points of view, to see what I might learn from them.

Perhaps I’ll adopt a new way of praying.  Perhaps I’ll carefully read the Bible books I’ve thought of as “problematic”.  Perhaps I’ll find new ways of serving others, new ways to worship.

I want to stretch myself, so that I can embrace the full wideness of God’s Kingdom as it unfolds here on Earth.  I want to share the Love of Jesus Christ as far and wide as my arms can reach.

If stretching like this requires a superpower, than that power is grace, and it’s available not just for the select few.  Elastigirl has not cornered the market on flexibility, she has simply figured out how to put it to use.

Are you ready to stretch yourself?  I think I am.  Let’s reach out to each other, the way Christ is reaching for us.  Together, we’ll reach out to the world.

And the whole thing will be so very

Incredible.

Have a good week,

Mitch

maxresdefault (2)

 

 

 

Making Believe

Logo-Imagine-Make-Believe-website1

I was an imaginative kid.  At 5 I thought my parents were robots.  At 7 I wrote my first novel — a Hardy Boys book!  By the time I was 13, I’d decided aliens were visiting my neighborhood.

But then I grew up, and put away childish things.  Except, no, I haven’t.  I’m still making believe.  And so are you.

It is part of the human condition to think outside what we can see.  We believe in the U.S. Constitution —  that’s a belief that we’ve made.  We believe in not breaking mirrors or walking under ladders — clearly, those superstitions are things we’ve made.

Every once in a while, I’m confronted by a terrifying thought:  Is God make believe?

You know, Gods have been part of the human story since prehistory.  Greeks and Romans had their Gods.  Hindus have their own, even more ancient, pantheon of Gods.  In modern society, we have our own Gods, too — we just call them Marvel superheroes!

But what about THE God?  The one true God of Israel?  Is God just something of our own making?  The product of millennia of collective imagination?  I could see it happening that way, you know.  Humans look to the skies to explain why rain comes, or why people die, or why good things happen to some people but not others.  A little making believe, and we’ve concocted this God idea to give us some much needed answers.

Is that it?  Is Christianity nothing more than made up?  Is Jesus a figment of our imagination, ranking slightly above Santa Claus?  Is the Holy Spirit nothing more than another spooky ghost story?

No, no, and no. Making believe is not just some childish distraction; it is essential to faith.  Without imagination we can never embrace a Creator beyond all comprehension.  Without creativity we can never take up what it means to live in the Imago Dei (the image of God).  Without the ability to color outside the lines and step into the mystery of the Unknown-Yet-Fully Known, God could never mean more to us than some conjectures in an ancient book.

Robots and aliens may have honed my powers of imagination, but all in the service of expanding my capacity for faith.  Isn’t that what making believe is all about? The math is easy:  Making belief = making room for faith.

Because of making believe, we can be faithier.

Make yourself believe in a world governed by radical love.  Make yourself believe in a messiah who would give up everything to reveal that love to us.  Make yourself believe in a spirit that inspires rather than scares us.

Make believe.  I heartily recommend it.  Seek more of the God yet to be fully revealed, and you’ll meet someone who

is so much more than your imaginary friend.

Have a great week,

Mitch

make-believe

MASK

Medical-Mask-On-Face

“Anyone with such a defiling disease must … cover the lower part of their face and cry out, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ — Leviticus 13:45

The things fear will make you do.

I remember in the 1980’s, there was a rumor going around my Kansas high school that somebody had contracted AIDS.  I was a little scared, shocked really that such an ominous disease was in our midst.  I have no idea if the claims were true at all, but I remember how I felt:  I felt like protecting myself.  No sympathy for who it might be, just a desire to stay away from whoever was infected.

If I could have identified that person, I’m afraid I would have gone all “Leviticus” on them.  Making them wear a mask and cry out “Unclean!”

I’ve learned a lot since then.  A lot about what can spread AIDS and what can’t.  A lot about about rumors and compassion.  And a lot about what it means to label a person unclean.

In the Bible, there were lots of ways a person could be labeled unclean.  Forgetting to wash their hands, going through menstruation, handling a dead body, a disease like leprosy, and so on.  Being unclean meant having to step outside the community until you were deemed clean again.

Today, masks aren’t just for the unclean.  There are thousands and thousands around the globe, wearing masks.  Not necessarily because they have the coronavirus, but to prevent getting it.  Some officials have begun cautiously using the word “pandemic” to describe the likely spread of this virus to the U.S.

Who knows?  In a month or so, maybe we’ll all be wearing masks like folks in China, Italy, and Iran have had to do.  Not because we are unclean — because we don’t want to be.

The things fear will make you do.

Picture riding the subway on your way to work, looking across at the other riders and seeing just the hairline, eyebrows, and eyes.  That’s it.  No ski jump noses.  No collagened lips.  No faces at all, come to think of it.  If you worked for a cosmetic company, you might be out of a job.

Can you picture it?  The whole world, hiding behind a mask.  The folks who are infected, and the folks who don’t want to be.  The clean and the unclean.  Everybody’s covered up. People say education is the great equalizer.  But apparently, a little fabric, some rubber, and a respirator can accomplish that as well.

If it ever does come to that, can I offer a suggestion?  Don’t let a mask mask who God made you to be.  As expressive and communicative as your face can be, find more ways to bring out your authentic self.

It’s not a bad idea to practice this, surgical mask or not.  It’s not about being clean or unclean, afraid or stoic. It’s about being a reflection of the One who created you.  No one and no mask can dictate that for you.  That’s a lesson it took the Israelites a long time to learn.  Actually, we’re learning it still.

If a terrible virus does come to your town, by all means take precaution.  And if you know someone who has it, by all means take them some chicken noodle soup (safely, of course!) Remember that, through Jesus Christ, we are all made clean.

But if it ever does comes time to put on that mask and say your prayers, don’t lose sight of humanity all around you.  At first, with that obstructed view, you may only be able to see people dimly,

but in God’s time

you’ll see them face to face.

Have a great week,

mask