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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Could You Handle 800 New Years?

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The days of Adam after he became the father of Seth were eight hundred years; and he had other sons and daughters. –Genesis 5:4

Somewhere between 2019 and 2020, I’m sure somebody shot off some fireworks.  Someone stupidly fired a gun in the air. The whole world celebrated.

I didn’t hear any of it.

I slept. Not out of boredom or depression or anything like that.  I was just sleepy. And not that interest in watching another ball drop.

And…I already had a good idea what I’d wake up to in 2020.  Sure enough, on the other side of a decent night’s sleep, I found the exact same guy staring at me from the mirror.

There I am.  Overweight.  Wart on my foot.  My beard is crooked.  Thus begins another year with myself.  Been there, done that.  Too much anxiety.  Too much a perfectionist and too dismissive of details.

I’ve been around this track 50 times now.  I’ve learned that crossing the Dec.31st finishing line doesn’t really change me.  I may create a few resolutions this year (2 days a week at the gym?), but I know darn well I rarely keep them.

My question is:  How in the world did Adam do it?  800 new years, and that’s only the years AFTER his Son Seth gets born.  Basically, Adam had upwards of a MILLENNIUM to live with his flaws, his idiosyncrasies, his crooked nose, and a curious predilection for low hanging fruit.

Oh, and a messed up world.

Would you even celebrate New Years if you lived to 800?  Or would the years all run together into one prolonged eye roll?  I’ve been awfully eye-rolly lately…

And so, at first I greeted New Years with a yawn, and not because I slept through it.  I felt a little bit…done with it.  Yeah, yeah, new year, new decade.  I’ve been here before.

But I clearly haven’t.  No one has.  I think sleep makes me forget, and a little time with God helps me remember:  We are on the threshold of something new.  Something unprecedented.  This is untraveled territory, this day — every day.

The notice of this week as “New Year” is totally arbitrary.  Just a date on a calendar someone picked, long ago, and we stuck with it.

But we’re not STUCK with anything!  I don’t care how old you are, 8 or 8o, or 800, each new day is for you to explore.  It’s unlike any day that has come before.  On New Year’s Eve, while I was sleeping, the exciting thing that happened was that God was claiming me for another day.

God claims me for all the days, for all the ways I change and grow, and all the ways I stay the same.  For all my bad jokes and all my brilliant ideas.  For the resolutions I make, and the ones I’ll probably break.  God is in it with me for the whole 800+ yards.

I may have slept through the ball drop, but I didn’t miss the important things.  The God of 2019 is the God of 2020, is the God of all time.  And God, through Christ, has invited you and I on the journey of our lives…however long they last, and beyond.

I don’t know why we don’t live as long as Adam did.  Maybe lifespans were measured differently.  Maybe God was still fine tuning creation.  Maybe it’s just a dramatic depiction. Since we never hear from Adam again, it’s possible he lived the rest of his life in boredom or frustration.  It’s also possible he opened himself to receive a marvelous life of challenge and growth and joy.

That’s the one I choose to believe. That’s the new year God wants for me.

I’m going to live 2020 with a little more optimism than last year. A little more faith. After all, if God can do all this while I was sleeping…

I can’t wait to see what happens when I’m wide awake.

Have a great year,

Mitch

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What’s on your mind?

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The Israelites secretly did things against the Lord their God that were not right.
-2 Kings 17:9a

I’m not a mind reader.  But I’ve thought about it. 🙂

I think it would be fun for about two minutes.  I mean, who wouldn’t want a chance to crawl around in somebody else’s brain?

But then… you’d start picking up everybody around you…

“I just stole $300, and nobody even knows it’s missing.”
-or
“I wonder what she looks like au natural?”
-or
“Can people tell I’m on meth?”
-or
“Sometimes I wish my dad would just drop dead.”
-or
“I’ve got everybody fooled that I’m a nice guy.  I’m not.”
-or
“I wonder if he suspects I’m having an affair?”
-or
“I’ve been shortchanging my employees for years.”

Okay, not every thought in every head is a sinful one, like these are.  Some of us may be filled with wholesomeness and butterflies.  (If you come across somebody with a mind like that, you’ll want to get close to them!) Many of us have our share of secret sin.  Notions we wouldn’t even want our best friend to know about.

Wait…have you been thinking you’re the only one? Heavens, no!  It happens all the time.  Indeed, today’s verse from 2 Kings comes at a time when the Israelites have blown it big time.  Their secret deeds have stacked the deck against them, and this whole group of  people are sent into exile.

The moral is pretty simple:  There are no secrets from God, and sin leads to exile.  Honestly, those Israelites weren’t just being punished by God, they had brought it upon themselves.  Sin, by its nature, creates separation between us and God.  It’s the worst consequence of sin, and we bring exile upon ourselves.

If that were the end of the story, you and I would have long since withered away.  Luckily for us, God IS a mind reader, and knows our faults, and guides us to ask for forgiveness, and regeneration, and the power of Grace.

Luckily for us, there is a future after exile.  We may not always be able to sense what it is, but as we learn to be faithful, we learn to walk healthier paths.

We learn to be more concerned about the contents of our own minds, rather than our neighbor’s.  Ultimately, we learn to take on the mind of Christ.

You’ll be happy to know that I have no idea what’s on your mind.  Unless you feel like telling me, I’ll never know those things you’re keeping to yourself.  And unless you’re willing to be open-minded with God, who already knows all about you, your sense of exile may only expand.

The Israelites went to Assyria…

Who knows?  You could end up in a situation

just as Assyrious.

Have a great week,

Mitch

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Listening To October

Today, one of my favorite songs.  Perfect for this week.

Press Play, and listen, with a few of my suggestions below.

  • Much of this song is instrumental.  The pictures above don’t really matter, but the music does.
  • As you listen, take a few deep breaths, and picture your concerns, your possessions, your obstacles as if they were leaves, falling down from a tree.
  •  Here are the lyrics Bono sings:
    • October

      And the trees are stripped bare

      Of all they wear

      What do I care?

      October

      And kingdoms rise

      And kingdoms fall

      But you go on and on

  • As the song concludes, remind yourself what (who) is most important and eternal in your life, and rededicate yourself to God through prayer.
  • Now go and have a glorious October.

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Wow.  I really needed that today.

U2?

Have a great week,

Mitch