The Five People You Meet In Crisis

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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

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Elastigirl

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 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

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Making Believe

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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

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MASK

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“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,

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The Recommendation

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A woman I didn’t even know changed the course of my life today.

Okay, that’s probably overstating things.  Let’s just say she changed the course of my lunch. Staff lunch today was at the Old Mill Tasty Shop in downtown Wichita.  It’s a small soda fountain from back in the 30’s, with a surprisingly tasty menu.

I was heartened to see several vegetarian items on the list, and set my sites on The cheese crisp, which sounded rather nacho-ish.  Our cheerful waitress approached, and I decided to ask her if it was any good.  I’m glad I did.

“It’s small–more of an appetizer,” she waved me off and put an arm around my shoulder. “You really should get the vegetarian burrito.  It’s my favorite, and you’ll love it.”

And I did. I’d give it 4 stars.

Now, before you think I’ve posted my Trip Adviser review on the wrong page, here’s what my waitress got me thinking.  Could I as convincingly offer a recommendation for my church, as she did for that burrito?

I don’t know.  A burrito is an easy sell.  But my church?  I really really like my church, and I really really want new people to come.  But…maybe it’s not for everybody.  Maybe my church’s praise band isn’t contemporary enough.  Maybe the pastor (me) doesn’t preach on enough justice issues…or too many?

Maybe our church only fits for people who are farmers, or in the airplane industry, or school teachers?  Maybe our church doesn’t do enough immersive baptisms, or study enough theology.  Maybe our building feels old to some folks.  Maybe we expect people to do too much.  Or allow others to do very little.

You see?  Whereas my burrito today was a slam dunk recommendation, my church may not be for everybody.  And so my recommendation might be a little halting.  People can hear a hesitation like that and question the sincerity behind it.

May I make a recommendation for all of us Christians longing to connect with people searching for a church home?  I recommend sharing unqualified enthusiasm for your church without having to oversell it, either.

“My Church has helped my children know God, and I’m so proud to watch them grow up. I highly recommend it.”

“My Church has a weekly food ministry, where I’ve learned about serving as a spiritual gift. I highly recommend it.”

“My Church has a small group I’m a part of that studies the scriptures and shares our faith with each other.  I highly recommend it.”

You get the idea.  The waitress didn’t have to tell me everything about that delicious burrito.  I believed in her recommendation because she clearly believed, too

Psalm 34:8a says “Taste and see that the Lord is good”.  Your words, attitudes, and enthusiasm can offer a taste of the kingdom to others.  Remember, you’re not selling your church.  You’re recommending a life in the Spirit, Who is at the very center of it.

I’ve tasted, my friends, and I’ve seen…

And I was filled.

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Have a great week,

Mitch

 

 

Not the holiest, but holier than thou.

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But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do;  for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” –1 Peter 1:15-16 

Let’s gather up all the members of our church.  The ones who come every Sunday and the ones who stay home.  Let’s all get together and line up in a straight line.

Line up!  In order from most holy to least holy!

Now clearly, Margaret should be the most holy.  She’s made cookies for everyone in the hospital for the past 50 years.  After that, we should put Jason in.  He’s 15 years old, and he never gets in trouble.  He sings in the adult choir and speaks up in Sunday School, and he’s even nice to his younger sisters.

There will be arguments, and some contentious voting, about who goes where.   Who is the most holy?  Is it the church member who has the most scripture memorized, or the one out in the community, loving their neighbor? One way or another, we’ll figure it out.

As we near the end of the line, there’s some predictable grumbling. Nobody wants to be thought of as less holy than everybody else.  Just the same, we assign numbers for all folks in line, including ourselves.  You got #234.  I got a more respectable  #211.  If you’d like any tips on how to be a little bit holier, just ask me.

As we look up towards Margaret and Jason in front, we see them waving their number cards at the rest of us.  It takes a moment to see that Jason’s number is a #3, and Margaret carries a #2.

Wait–where is #1?

#19 has some high powered binoculars.  Looking far in the distance past Margaret, she sees the vaguest dot of a figure.   #4 and #26 are long distant runners, so they volunteer to scout ahead.

They return, out of breath, with some news you’ve already guessed.  #1, the Most Holy of all, is Jesus.  His holiness is so far beyond every one of us that the numbers we carry seem silly.  When it comes to being holy, we’re all at the back of the pack, together.

#310, last in line, throws down his number, and begins to walk toward Jesus.  “I’ve got a long way to go.  Who’s with me?”

And so, we all head towards Jesus.  Little groups made up all kinds of numbers.  Different paces, different obstacles, but one communal goal:  Not to be holier than the folks next in line to us.

Just to be holier.

Have a great week,

Mitch

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Bad Deal. Good God.

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Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank, and rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright. –Genesis 25:34

Esau walked into the house and there was his brother, Jacob, making a delicious smelling lentil stew.  His brother said, “I’ll give you a bowl of this stew if you give me your birthright.”  Jacob was always trying to make deals like this.

Esau laughed and said, “I’m hungry, Jacob, but not THAT hungry!”

No wait, that’s what he should have done.  Instead, he raised his fork, and forked over his dad’s inheritance, his leadership and position in the family, all for a bowl of steaming lentil goodness.

Bad deal.

What are some of the bad deals you’ve made?

  • Jan and I bought a used car from a high school kid without taking it to a mechanic.  7 minutes into taking possession of it, flames began to pour out underneath the hood.  Jan got our money back, but that’s a deal I wish we’d never made.
  • When I lived in Kansas City, some guy was going door to door selling alarm system contracts.  We signed up for a 6 year monthly plan, which they held us to…even though we moved after 4 years.   Man oh man I wish we hadn’t agreed to that deal!
  • And more than once upon a time, I’ve given up my birthright, just like Esau.  I’ve turned my back on the blessings God’s given me to do something…stupid.  Self-destructive.  Selfish.  Or even just because I craved something else.

Yep.  I’ve made some bad deals.  I’ll bet you have too.  Well the Good News is that Esau recovered, as can we.  It wasn’t like God was out to get Esau, but more that Jacob was willing to move his life in a direction Esau wasn’t yet ready or willing to take. Bad deal or not, God never gave up on Esau.

Years later, the two brothers unite on a field.  Jacob is ready for bloodshed from his angry brother, but Esau is gracious and forgiving and beautiful.  I don’t know if God so much as helped Jacob steal his brother’s birthright, as he helped set these two young men on faithful courses with their lives.

Bad deal. Good God.

There are many lessons to be learned from the story of Jacob and Esau, but one of those lessons should NOT be that God is some kind of a used-car salesmen looking to take advantage of our shallowness.

Rather, God can work through us even when we’re gullible, shallow, and impulsive.  It was a bad deal, to be sure, but Esau came out alright.  As did Jacob.

The next time you agree to a bad deal, (and there will be a next time) don’t let it eat your lunch.

You’ll likely be hungrier for Good News next time,

so don’t stew in your juices about it.

(if you have a good pun using the word ‘lentil’, I’d love to hear it)

Have a great week,

Mitch

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