Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Being an Honest Community

I recently read an article called Grief Hides in the Bathroom,’ about how churches too often sweep grief and pain under the rug and pretend it doesn’t exist. The article began with these words:
“A friend of mine recently lost her daughter, an 8-month-old baby who was just beginning to get to know the world around her. I saw my friend at church not long afterward, a grieving mother holding so much in and around her. As we entered the sanctuary, I could feel something in the air. It felt like grief lingered all around us. 
In the middle of worship, while the congregation was preparing to celebrate the coming of Jesus at Christmas, my friend left the room. I followed after her. We ended up on the church’s bathroom floor, weeping together, as people came and went, unsure what to say to us. We chose to grieve together in that moment instead of holding things together for the sake of others’ comfort. Church is often like that. We celebrate together in worship but grieve alone.”
 And that’s been my experience of church as well—and I have no excuse because I’m the person who primarily crafts our weekly liturgical hour. As the author says later in the article, “We cover up grief and hope that it will go away, because our sanctuaries are meant to be pristine and our services are meant to be planned and coordinated, not sloppy with tears and sadness.” I prefer my worship services to be neat and organized, happy and cheerful. It’s more fun that way.

And yet, I’m aware that those who walk through the doors of our church on a Sunday morning, myself included, enter with baggage and pain and hurt and grief. We sometimes enter the service happy and content, excited to sing God’s praise. But there are a lot of Sundays where we come to worship distracted, stressed, tired, sad, and burdened. We come with a million other things on our minds. We come with hurtful words still ringing in our ears. We come with hearts that have been ripped asunder. We come with minds that are confused and unclear about the future.

And generally, there’s no place for this range of emotions to be explored and expressed on a Sunday morning. It just gets stuffed down and ignored, too often replaced by manufactured contentment and manipulated happiness.

Now, I’m not suggesting that all our Sunday worship gatherings be transformed into slow, somber services of lament. But I am reminded of the need for all of us, myself especially, to acknowledge that all is rarely well with our soul when we show up on Sundays. Life has a way of battering and bruising ALL OF US. No one is immune. So, while we need not devote each service to the vulnerability of grief, let’s at least do away with the need to pretend that everything is always great (or even fine). Let’s be honest with one another. If someone asks how your week was, it’s okay to say “I’m struggling…would you pray with me.” That’s not weakness, but great strength. Let’s be a church of honesty and genuine community, where we truly know one another and allow ourselves to be known.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

They're Always Watching

Peyton surprised us in the best possible way recently. What happened came out of nowhere, but maybe we shouldn’t have been shocked.

Our family, like many, is pretty consistent about praying before meals. So far in our kids’ lives, however, we’ve typically said a pretty simple prayer together: thank you Jesus for this food and for this family…amen. As our kids have aged, we have begun to pray more complex prayers together, but most of the time we still say our simple family prayer.

But just the other day, when Mandy asked if we were ready to pray before our meal, Peyton spoke up and said she would pray. We both assumed she would simply lead us in our typical prayer, but instead, she prayed her own prayer. And it was awesome. Simple and juvenile, but still serious, thoughtful, and heartfelt.

We were blown away! Where did that come from?! None of us were expecting that to happen—and even Zoe was floored by Peyton’s great, spontaneously-led prayer.

But later that night, as Mandy and I processed the occasion further, we determined that maybe we shouldn’t have been so stunned. I mean, I DO pray for a living! And we are a very spiritually active family. While we have never forced our kids into spiritual practices before they are ready, they both have witnessed our spiritual practices on countless occasions.

I guess Peyton has been paying attention!

Which is the main thing we took away from this fun, spiritual moment: our kids are paying attention. They are sponges, soaking up the way we live, talk, and treat one another. They are always learning, whether we want them to or not. And to make the point more universally applicable: everyone’s always watching. We far-too-often watch each other in order to judge and condemn when someone fails, but still, we watch. And because of this voyeuristic tendency in our culture, we have the opportunity to bear witness to a watching world of a new way of being human—a life infused with the grace, peace, and love of the gospel of Jesus.

Our responsibility is to be models of right living for a watching world. We can’t make new disciples of Christ if no one actually sees us living as disciples of Christ, so let’s commit to living boldly and publicly for Christ—bearing witness to the new, alternative existence we have found through Jesus’ salvation. The world is paying attention, so let’s make sure they see Jesus in and through us.

Monday, February 11, 2019

In Opposition to Oz

Our main Christmas gifts to our kids this year were tickets to see Broadway in Bozeman’s musical production of “The Wizard of Oz,” which happened this past Monday at MSU’s Fieldhouse. Our girls love the story and music from the classic movie and were incredibly excited to see the live show—and they weren’t disappointed, as it was a fantastic performance and a great night as a family.

As we watched the play, however, I was caught off-guard by a line I had never thought about before. It is a line spoken by the Wizard of Oz at the end of the play, after he has been exposed as a fraud but is still offering gifts to each of the four main characters. When addressing the Tin Man’s quest for a heart, the Wizard states, “A heart is not judged by how much you love; but by how much you are loved by others.”

It’s a nice, sentimental comment from the Wizard, reminding the Tin Man that he is surrounded by people who love him—but I disagree with the idea completely…and I think Jesus does too.

Throughout the gospels, Jesus is clear that the goal of life is not to be loved, but to love. You can’t get much clearer than Jesus summing up the law with two love-based commandments: to love God and love others. We can live upright, godly lives and still be despised and rejected. Heck, Jesus was. We’re never guaranteed love, regardless of how we live and treat others. In Matthew 10, Jesus tells his followers, “You will be hated by everyone because of me.” Yet their hearts won’t be judged by that hatred, but by how they respond in love. When we are hated, Jesus’ call is to “love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you.” There is nothing wrong with being loved, but that should never be the goal of the Christian life. The goal is, plain and simple, to love.

So, you’ll have to forgive me for disagreeing with the great and powerful Oz, but I think it’s an important point of disagreement. And the timing of these thoughts couldn’t be more perfect. In this week of Valentine’s Day—a day of obsession over being loved—the gospels encourage us, instead, to show love.

May we be reminded and encouraged today to be people of love, no matter how we are treated. May an ethic of love guide every decision we make. And may love be the posture that rules and reigns in our lives. To borrow from the words of Paul to the Corinthian church, may we “do everything in love.”