Saturday, June 30, 2012

God deliver us from having it all together

Nobody likes messing up. When you end up making a stupid decision, or you’re kicking yourself for something you said, or things just don’t go the way you had hoped because of some error you made... well, you messed up, doggone it! It’s a terrible feeling. But there is one thing that feels worse than messing up. And that’s having other people see you mess up.

Who wouldn’t prefer to be seen as someone who has it all together? Those are the people we admire, right? The ones who have it all together don’t make stupid decisions. They don’t say the wrong thing. They don’t crack under pressure. They never show their anger or their tears. They are responsible and competent. They don’t make mistakes. Their lawn is well-manicured. Their children are well-behaved. They don’t get zits. They have no body-fat. You never see them at Walmart in sweatpants with no make-up. Because they have it all together.

The whole notion of the comfort zone is, at its core, about our desire to have it all together. What falls within our comfort zone is the stuff that we know we are competent at doing. When we start a new job, it’s outside our comfort zone. It takes a lot of practice to get to the point of feeling competent but, in time, that new job becomes old hat and it falls within our comfort zone. The same can be said for any new situation. If we have to learn new skills, we're outside our comfort zone. If we have to meet new people, we're outside our comfort zone. If we have to find our way in a new place, we're outside our comfort zone. If we’re introduced to new ideas, we're outside our comfort zone. Being outside our comfort zone also means doing stuff that we don't do well. It’s why I don’t spend a whole lot of time on the tennis court; I’m a lousy tennis player. I don’t know about you, but I expend an inordinate amount of time and energy avoiding situations that are outside my comfort zone. And a big reason for this is that I want to be seen as someone who has it all together.  Living this way can be very limiting. I miss a lot when I rarely journey outside my comfort zone.

It’s always disturbing when people think they have to have it all together within their faith community. They come to church and pretend like they’re someone they’re not; God forbid other people would ever know what a mess they really are. I’ve been in so many churches where people have gone through horrendous things that they didn’t dare share with other people in their church family: their separation and divorce, a child who has a drug problem, a deep depression that sent them to the hospital, trouble with the law, financial devastation, and even homelessness. Why do people living within Christian community go through things like that and keep them to themselves? It’s always puzzled me. It would seem that, if there’s any group where you can be yourself and share your own vulnerability, a church family would be that group.

Since coming to Holy Trinity, I haven’t noticed a whole lot of that. We don’t tend to keep our struggles to ourselves; we’re pretty good about being authentic with one another and sharing our burdens. We can admit that we don’t have it all together, and we need help. And a big reason for that is found hanging on the back wall in our sanctuary where we read the words that summarize our mission, Loving Not Judging. We don’t expect people in our congregation to pretend like they have it all together. We expect them to be human. And when they show their humanity, we hope they can trust that they won’t be judged for it.

This is the way Jesus was with people. He wasn't all that impressed with those who appeared to have it all together. Instead, he was drawn to people who were real, people who messed up. And he reponded to them compassionately, without judgment. They weren’t afraid to admit that they needed help, and Jesus helped them. It still works that way.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Cheese and Little Cheese

My brother’s friends called him Cheese and they called me Little Cheese (because of our last name). When they used to come to our house for Big Time Wrestling on TV, I was afraid to enter the living room because, invariably, one of them would grab me like a battering ram and slam me into the turnbuckle, that is, the back of the couch. My brother Ken did nothing to protect me. But then, how could I expect any help from the guy who thought it was funny to pick me up by the head and lift me to the ceiling? For most of my childhood, the only words I remember him saying to me were, “What’s it to ya, punk?” It sounds like child abuse, doesn’t it? Well, with six years between us, it was just a typical brother/sister relationship.

A year ago at Christmastime, I made the trek to Cincinnati to spend time with my brother and his family. Our sister Wendy and her husband were flying in from Massachusetts so we could all be together, but a snowstorm kept them away. So, for the first time ever, I found myself alone with my brother. Every day when his wife left for work, it was just the two of us. At first I wasn’t sure how to deal with it; I felt trapped. But what a gift this was! We talked for hours on end. We laughed, and we cried. We compared notes from childhood about things we had never shared with one another before, particularly from the time when our father died. I was 6 and Ken was 12 when the event occurred that forever changed us. After our dad died, Ken was a mess. The only thing that saved him was this girl he met in a bowling league back when he was in junior high. He and Judy are still together. And in many ways, she’s still saving his life.

Last week I went back to Cincinnati and I stayed at Ken and Judy’s place. In the morning, they were both gone, so I was in their home alone. I walked from room to room, looking at the framed photos, thinking about how my brother has built his life around his family. His three children all have families of their own now, and they live nearby, so he continues to be a big part of their lives. As someone who grew up with a father who disappeared, Ken has been everything his father couldn’t be. He’s provided a stable, abiding presence in the lives of his children. I have such admiration for him. It’s hard to believe that the big brother who tormented me when I was little has grown into the man I now see in the pictures on his mantle. He’s the kind of man anyone would want for a dad, or a husband… or a brother.

Several years ago, they found a tumor in Ken’s brain. It's cancerous. Since then, he’s been doing everything he can to fight against it so he can buy himself more time with the people he loves. For a long while he held the tumor at bay, but lately it’s been advancing. This presents him with some extra challenges. He has lost the use of his left arm, and his ankles and toes conspire against him so that walking is difficult. Two of the things that are as strong as ever, though, are his mind and his sense of humor.

There are some obvious parallels with our father, who died of ALS. Once Ken told me how it bothered him that so many people only remember our dad being sick and he worried that his grandchildren would one day think of him like that. There is so much more to him than his illness. Yes, dealing with the cancer has become a big part of his life. But it is by no means the center of his life. That center continues to be his family and the people he cares about. I hope his grandchildren will always remember that about him.

It’s hard for me to know quite what to do with all this. My family has never been mushy-gushy. We were never huggers growing up, and we didn’t say things like “I love you” to one another. Fortunately, we’re learning to express such things as older adults. Still, I wish there was a way I could tell my brother how proud I am to be his sister and how blessed I have been to have him in my life. A parting hug and “I love you” seem so inadequate. But if I know my brother at all, he gets that. He has developed a deep empathy over the past few years; although his body may be fading, his sense of compassion is in full bloom. So I have to trust that he knows how much he means to me.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Trusting God enough to let him have it

I don’t remember what it was about exactly. But my mom was on my case about something and before I realized what I was saying, I popped back at her, “Shut up!”

Big mistake. She grabbed my arm and escorted me into the bathroom. Then she picked up a bar of soap. As I recall, it was Dove with one quarter cleansing cream. She jammed it into my mouth and pushed up on my chin so my teeth got good and smooshed down into the soap as she said, “Don’t you ever, ever, ever talk back to me like that again!”

Although I had a temporary impression on the bar of soap that day, believe me, that bar of soap made a lasting impression on me. My mother got what she wanted. For the rest of her life, I never, ever, ever talked back to her again.

You don’t talk back to your elders. (I don’t know, do they still teach that?) So, wouldn’t you think that same truth would apply to God? You don’t talk back to God, do you?

When Jesus and his disciples are out in a boat and a great storm comes upon them, they’re scared out of their wits. And they look over and see Jesus, sound asleep on a cushion. Now, not only are they scared, but they’re ticked off as well. They grab Jesus by the shoulders and shake the living daylights out of him. “Jesus, what’s the matter with you? Can’t you see that we’re about to go under? How can you sleep at a time like this? Don’t you even care?”

It’s a common story for God’s people. The circumstances and the characters may change, but the story-line is the same. When it seems that our lives are falling apart, it’s pretty common to get angry with God, to wonder if maybe he’s asleep or not paying attention, to question his motives. What’s the matter with you? What kind of a God are you that you could let something like this happen? We shake our fist at God. We curse him. We demand that he be held accountable for his despicable actions.

This is not at all respectful behavior. In fact, it’s downright mouthy. And yet, God doesn’t send a giant bar of Dove with one quarter cleansing cream down from the sky to remind us that we’d best watch our mouths. He doesn’t tell us to never, ever, ever, ever talk back to him like that again. You can’t find that message anywhere in the Bible. In fact, the Bible is full of stories about people who back-talked God. And I’m not talking about his enemies here. The ones who back-talked God were the ones who were closest to him.

For the classic talking-back-to-God story, we turn to the book of Job. Job was the best of the best. He was a good, righteous man and things were going great for him. He had a prosperous business, a loving wife, great kids, everything a man could want. But then, he lost it all. It seemed that the only thing he had left were his friends, such that they were. They showed up to help him make sense his tragic life, and actually only ended up making him feel worse.

In the course of the story, a theology unfolds that addresses the age-old question, How can an all-powerful, all-loving God, allow such terrible things to happen to his people? Especially good, faithful people like Job.

The theology of the book of Job can be understood by considering three corners of a theological triangle. In one corner, you have the truth that God is good. Then, in the second corner, you have the truth that Job is a righteous man. And finally, in the third corner you have this belief that God will reward the righteous and punish the wicked. In other words, if good things come your way, it’s because you’re a good person and if bad things come your way, it’s because you’re a bad person. You get what you deserve. Now, the thing about this theological triangle is that only two of these truths can stand; you have to throw one of them out or it makes no sense. You can’t look at what happened to Job and say that God is good and Job is righteous and good things happen to good people. All three of these corners can’t be true.

In the book of Job, there are three main speakers and each of them resolves this dilemma by throwing out a different corner of the triangle. First, there are Job’s friends who say that since God is good and God rewards the righteous and punishes the wicked, Job must not be so righteous after all. He must have done something to deserve all that’s befallen him. So, they throw out the corner that says Job is righteous and then everything that’s happened to him makes sense. God is good, and God rewards the righteous. You just weren’t good enough, Job. Too bad for you.

Well, Job knows that just isn’t so. He knows he’s a righteous man and has no doubt about it. So, if God rewards good and punishes evil, then it stands to reason that God must be the problem. Maybe God isn’t so good after all. Job would make the theological triangle work by throwing out the corner that says God is good.

And, of course, God’s answer is to nix the simplistic idea that he rewards the righteous and punishes the wicked. That’s the corner God throws out. It’s bad theology because it just isn’t true.

Now, that’s the theology of the book of Job, in a nutshell. But what’s most significant for us as God’s people isn’t so much the solution to the theological triangle, but the way we get there.

It’s typical that, in times of tragedy, we struggle to make sense of this triangle. In the process, we can make some pretty outlandish theological statements that we know don’t hold water, but at the time, it sure feels like they do. God must have been asleep in the boat. I must have done something to deserve this. God must be testing me for some reason. Maybe God doesn’t love me after all. Perhaps God just doesn’t care.

Well, Job goes through all those feelings and then some. He goes on whining and complaining to God for chapter upon chapter. He really gives God a piece of his mind. And finally, it’s God’s turn.

Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind. "Who is it that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?" In other words, "Job, you don’t know what the heck you’re talking about."

"Gird up your loins like a man." Back when men wore long robes, if they were going to get down to business, they’d tuck the hem of their robe up into their belt so they could move freely. One seminary professor says this reminds him of his days as a camp counselor, when the campers would whine and complain, and one of the other counselors would say to them, “hike up your diaper.” Isn’t that a great way to tell someone to quit whining. “Hike up your diaper!” Well, that’s what God’s saying to Job here. “Job, quit your whining and hike up your diaper. Cuz you and I are gonna rumble. Now I’m going to be the one asking the questions.”

"Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements – surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone when all the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy? Or who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb? – when I made the clouds its garment, and thick darkness its swaddling band, and prescribed bounds for it, and set bars and doors, and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stopped?'"

He’s saying, “Job, you don’t get it. You’ll never get it. Because you try to put me in some little box. But the truth is, I’m bigger than anything you can ever imagine. You will never be able to see things the way I see them. You will never be able to understand why I do the things I do. It’s beyond your ability to comprehend.”

God is calling Job out. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. Once God gets started, he really lets Job have it. And when it’s all over, Job seems to be satisfied. Not because he understands any more than he did before, but because God didn’t dismiss him or walk away from him. God engaged him.

So, here’s the deal. In Job we have a model for a faith under fire. When it seems that life is falling apart and you’re not at all happy with God, what God wants is for you to be in relationship with him. He doesn’t mind if you yell at him, if you get angry with him, if you curse him and back-talk him. What’s important is that you stay engaged with him, that you’re in a relationship with him.

Sam and Gwen’s marriage was all but over and they had asked to meet with me. I had spoken with each of them and I knew that they had different reasons for wanting to see me. Sam was hoping that he could still convince Gwen to give their marriage another chance. Gwen just wanted closure so that they could both move on. In the course of our conversation, Sam kept pushing hard, making accusations and calling Gwen out. He was clearly trying to provoke her. But she wasn’t even remotely interested in arguing with him; she had already psychologically checked out. Finally, an exasperated Sam asked, “What’s wrong with you? Why won’t you fight with me any more?”

I’ve spent a lot of time through the years with couples who are on the verge of splitting up and when they won’t even fight with each other, that’s a sure sign that the relationship is over. There’s nothing left.

When you’re in the middle of a raging storm and it looks like your boat’s about to sink, it’s only natural to have words with God. It might not make a whole lot of rational sense, and it might not be good theology, but when you’re in a relationship with God, it’s what you do. Can you imagine what it would have been like if the disciples would have pretended like Jesus wasn’t even in the boat with them and dealt with the storm without even bothering to wake him up? That would have meant that they had no real relationship with him at all.

At the very end of the book of Job, after God has words with Job, then he lambasts his three friends. The bottom line is that they didn’t engage God in the conversation. They had all kinds of things to say about Job and to Job, but nothing to God. God tells them that they should have been more like Job in that regard. He didn’t walk away from God when he could have. But he stayed in relationship with God, and he hung in there. He yelled at God. He whined and complained. He talked back to God. But he remained in relationship with God. And that relationship was honest. He didn’t just brush it off as if it were nothing. He didn’t deny his anger. He let it fly. And God praised him for it.

The way to honor God in such a situation is not to walk away, but to stay in relationship with him. It’s not to pretend like everything is all right when it isn’t, but to tell God how you feel.

Of course, that’s where our human relationships can’t compare to our relationship with God. Because when you’re really honest like that with another human being, you end up saying things that are hurtful, or things that are misunderstood, things that can irreparably damage the relationship. You might even get your mouth washed out with soap! But you never have to worry about that with God. God loves you unconditionally. There’s nothing you can ever do that will make God love you any more than he already does. And there’s nothing you can ever do that will make God love you less. He can take whatever you dish out, and then some. You don’t have to worry about bruising his ego.

God doesn’t want your sugar-coated flattery doled out in an attempt to gain his favor. He doesn’t want you to pretend like everything is cool between you when it isn’t. He certainly doesn’t want you to leave him out of the conversation when you’re struggling. He wants a relationship with you. An honest relationship. You can trust God enough to let him have it.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Why is it so hard to go home?

This week I’m driving to Hamilton, Ohio for a Kraft family reunion. I’m a child of the oldest Kraft boy, Bob,  who had two brothers, Jack and Gordon. All three of them are gone now, but their children and their children’s children and their children’s children’s children will be gathering Saturday under a picnic shelter at a park where I attended day camp as a little girl. Back in those days, we had no need for family reunions. We saw one another regularly for picnics. But we are a family in diaspora now, scattered all over the country. So this reunion is a really big freaking deal. It’s the first one I can remember. Ever.

People who never move away from their hometown don’t quite understand how it feels for those of us who have moved away to return to the place which once was our home. They have something that I have grown to envy – a sense of place. They have the assurance that there is someplace in this world where they belong. I lost that somewhere along the way. I’m a homeless person; I’ve lived a nomadic lifestyle as an adult and there is no place I call home. It leaves me feeling restless. With retirement looming before me, it’s been on my mind quite a bit. I would love to end my days in a place I can call home, but I don’t know where that is.

I can’t remember when I was in Hamilton last. It’s been a lot of years. I tend to avoid it. There have been times when a simple trip to my hometown provided limitless fodder for me to chew on with my therapist. Why is it so hard for me? I’ve struggled to get my head around it. Nothing traumatic happened to me in my childhood, no more than childhood itself tends to be somewhat traumatic for all of us. In fact, I have fond memories of my life at 435 Edwards Avenue. But it was so long ago that sometimes I wonder if it was only something that I dreamt about. Whenever I return, it becomes one of those dreams where nothing is quite the way it should be. Some of this is because I have distorted the truth in my memory, and some of it is because it has literally changed. The railroad tracks that always held us up in the middle of town are gone. My shiny new elementary school looks like it should be condemned. The restaurant where I hung out with my friends has been replaced with a discount store. It’s disorienting because I wasn’t there to see the transition. So, when I go back to Hamilton, I feel a lot like Rip Van Winkle confronted by all the changes that happened while I was sleeping.

I’ve come to realize, though, that what bothers me the most, when I return to the place of my childhood, is not the way Hamilton has changed. It’s the way I have changed. I am no longer the skinny little kid who climbed the mulberry tree in the backyard. I’m not the girl who played her piccolo in the marching band at Taft High School. I’m not the young woman who necked with her boyfriend on the front porch. I’m an adult. I can stay out as late as I want now. I clean my room without being told. Hell, I even have money in a pension plan, for God’s sake. There are two amazing adults in the world who call me Mom. I stand in a pulpit and preach every Sunday to people who take me seriously and care about what I have to say. How does the person I’ve become fit into a place where she never lived? There is a disconnect that is hard to explain to people who never moved away. They became adults in the same place where they had been children. I didn’t do that. I left the place of my childhood and became an adult somewhere else. I’m not sure who I am when I’m in Hamilton, Ohio. And I suspect that’s why it’s so hard for me to go back.

Well, I’ve been working on this for a long time, and here’s what I think I’ve figured out. It’s not healthy to leave behind the person you once were so that you can become someone new. That’s what I’ve tried to do. Of course, it’s been unsettling. It has left me feeling unsure of who I am. Yes, I’ve grown through the years. I’ve experienced many transformative moments, large and small. I’m not a child anymore. But I didn’t just toss that child aside when I moved away from Hamilton. It’s been dishonest for me to pretend that I have. I brought her with me. She’s not just someone I used to be. She’s still very much a part of the person I am. And I can’t move away from myself. Not if I really want to be myself, my authentic self, my complete self. I can’t look at my life journey and say, that was then and this is now. Then is a part of now. There would be no person I am now without the person I was then. Yes, I’ve moved on from Hamilton, Ohio. But I carried the little girl from Hamilton with me. This weekend, I’m bringing her home.

Monday, June 18, 2012

The way God happens

She grew up in a family that didn’t go to church. She didn’t even know what people did when they went to church. But she had heard about God. And she had heard about heaven.

When she was six, her father died of a long, drawn out disease that turned a fun, vibrant man into a person who scared her. After his death, she imagined his corpse waiting to jump out at her in every dark place, and she was terrified. She desperately wanted to believe that her father was in heaven, but it all sounded so far-fetched to her. God seemed like a fairy tale adults had created to keep children in line, kind of like Santa Claus. If you’re a good little girl, someday God will take you to be with him in heaven. Yeah, right.

She used to cry herself to sleep at night. And she would pray to a God she really doubted was even listening. “God, please let me know if you’re real.” It was her prayer for years. She wanted to believe in God, even though she knew he probably didn’t exist. Eventually, when God didn’t respond, she felt like she was talking to a wall and gave up.

She did go to Sunday school a little bit in elementary school, when her neighbors took her. And she was carted off to Vacation Bible School with her cousin a couple of times. Then, during junior high, she had two best friends she did everything with. Together they were like the three musketeers. It just so happened that the other two went to the same church. When they attended confirmation classes on Saturday mornings, she tagged along. This was also when she learned about what people did in a worship service. At the end of three years, she was confirmed with her two friends. In fact, she was baptized on the same day because she had never been baptized before.

After that, she rarely attended worship and didn’t really believe the stuff they said in church, anyway. But a big part of her still wanted it to be true.

Then came college. She ended up rooming with three other young women she didn’t meet until the day she arrived at her dorm. As it turned out, they were all a little weird for college students back then; they went to church on Sundays. But she never went with them. By now she was convinced that religion was for people with weak minds, people who needed a crutch to help them deal with the harsh realities of life. As she became involved in late-night debates over pizza about the existence of God, she took on the role of the skeptic. 

During her sophomore year, she met a young man who was really cute. As she got to know him, she realized that he wasn’t your typical college guy. It wasn’t until she fell in love with him that she learned the reason why he was the way he was. He was a deeply committed Christian.

Suddenly, it seemed like everywhere she went, people of faith were in her face. She sat down to eat in the Student Union and the students at the next table were engaged in a discussion with their Bibles open. She went to the park, and a group of people were having a prayer meeting under a picnic shelter. She walked across campus on a Sunday morning and a young woman was being baptized in the pond beside her dorm.

Mind you, this was not a church college; this was a state university. Everywhere she turned, God was saying to her, “Here I am.” It started out as a gentle nudge, and happened more and more forcefully until,  eventually, she felt like God was giving her a smack upside the head.

She decided to give church another try and started with the flavor of Christianity she had known when the three musketeers went to confirmation classes together back in junior high -- a Lutheran church. But she also went to other churches, as well. Most Sunday mornings she worshipped twice. Once at the Lutheran church and once at some other church.

Whenever she went to the library to study, she managed to wander into the stacks of religious books and spent hours searching for answers to the questions she had been carrying around for years. By the time she graduated, she was being drawn to seminary. Completely clueless about what the church taught, she had no awareness that back then, in the ‘70s, it was a new thing for women to go to seminary.

I’m sure you’ve figured out by now that the she I’m speaking of is me.

Each of us has a faith story. Yours may be more traditional than mine. You may have grown up in a churched family and have always been a churched person. Or you may still be in a place where you’re not so sure about this guy called Jesus. But the fact is, no one would be a follower of Jesus today if those who came before us had failed to respond to the Great Commission, Jesus’ command to “go and make disciples of all nations.”

When I consider my own story of faith and how I came to adopt the Jesus Way of being in the world as my own, I know that God sent all kinds of people into my life who were evangelists to me: neighbors who took me to Sunday school, friends who brought me to confirmation classes, the people I saw reading the Bible in the Student Union, a college roommate who faithfully said her prayers every night. Not one of them ever sat me down and tried to convince me to become a Christian. But, all together, they were God making God’s self known to me. Most of them have absolutely no idea they did that and many of them don’t even know I exist. That’s the way God happens. God comes to us through other people. Not one person, but all of them together.

When you hear Jesus commanding us to go and make disciples, don’t think it has nothing to do with you. Even though you may never use the word evangelist to describe yourself, if you are a follower of Jesus, it has everything to do with you. You’re a part of the communion of saints that opens the way for other people to follow Jesus long after you’ve moved on from this earth. As preposterous as it may be, the world will come to know God through people like you and me.

“Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Table ready for Frankenstein

Lest you think I’m just drifting along without any definitive goals for my life, I hereby declare to all who read “Inside Nancy’s Noodle” that I do indeed have high aspirations for my remaining time on this earth. Recently, I’ve issued a challenge to myself and, as God is my witness (said with clenched fist raised to the sky), I will honor it.

I’m changing the way I make reservations in restaurants. Henceforth, when I go to a restaurant and they ask for my name, I will be calling forth my creative powers. (In other words… I’m going to lie.) As I recall, this concept was introduced to me by my son Ben, some years back. (I could be way off, but that’s the way I remember it.) When we went out to eat, it was his idea to choose a very ethnic name that obviously isn’t our ethnicity. So our very WASPy-looking, blue-eyed family would make a reservation for Chu or Rodriguez or Mohammed. It was good, silly fun.

After all, who says you have to give your real name when you make a dinner reservation? It’s not like an airline reservation where someone is going to check your i.d. and they won’t seat you unless you really are who you say you are. So, why not choose an alias?

The goal of this exercise is to get people’s attention when they hear the host or hostess announce that your table is ready. “Vandalay. Table ready for Vandalay.” The really challenging part comes when you get up to walk to your table. You have to act completely nonchalant about it. If you laugh, it ruins the moment.

The last time I ate out, I used the name Frankenstein, only I pronounced it Fraunkensteen. “Fraunkensteen. Table ready for Fraunkensteen.” I loved it. Now there are others I’m considering for the future. Yes, this is something I think about. Really. I keep a working list on my computer so I can refer to it before going out to eat. You have to imagine each of these aliases being announced in a restaurant to get the full effect. “________. Table ready for ________.” So how about… ?

Bond, James Bond

Restaurants that give you little electronic pagers ruin all the fun because they don’t call your name out when your table is ready. So, my quest now is to find those restaurants where you wait to hear them call your name out over a p.a. system.

Of course, this is an experience that’s best shared with friends. Friends who have a very high threshold for embarrassment. Dinner, anyone?

Monday, June 11, 2012

A perfect gift for the woman who has... feet

I was not in a good place and I did something that is always risky. I wrote a blog about it and posted it on Facebook. I’m not sure why I went public with my funk, but I think I was feeling very alone and wanted to experience a connection with other people, even in my depressed state. If you are a Facebook user, you’ve probably noticed that, should you post something that is less than cheerful, you may be inundated with comments from your “friends” who feel compelled to cheer you up. Although this kind of superficial bullshit just ends up making me feel misunderstood and even more alone, I suppose I was asking for it. But this time that didn’t happen. Nobody tried to fix me or offer me advice. Instead, my friends responded as true friends. They told me that they heard me, and it was okay to be in a funk. I was impressed.

I suspect we all have a need for community in our lives. We long for connection with others who genuinely care about us. The church is that kind of community for me. I’m sure that’s one of the reasons why I was first drawn to ordained ministry. But lately I’ve been thinking that the way I’ve always defined “church” is  far too narrow. The people at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church on The Plaza are only a small portion of my church. My family, scattered all over the country, is also a part of my church. And all the people who have ever been in congregations I have served as a pastor through the years are included in my church. So are dear friends from my past who continue to be so much a part of me. And colleagues in ministry I’ve worked alongside, sometimes within the same congregation, and other times not even of the same faith. And then there are those people God seems to place in my life for reasons that I can’t begin to understand. They’re all a part of my church.

I was reminded of this in a big way last Monday night when I went to my local contra dance. There’s a young man at the dance named Matt who has become a good friend to me since I’ve become part of the dance community in Charlotte. He is always supportive and caring. When he read on my blog that I was in a funk, he told me that, if I came to the dance that night, he had a gift for me. I thought, now that’s a clever way to get me to dance, which is probably just the medicine I need right now. So, I went to the dance, and when I saw Matt, I called his bluff. Or, so I thought. “Where’s my gift?” I asked him.

“You have to sit down and take off your socks and shoes,” he told me. Not what I was expecting, but since I asked for it, I obliged.

Matt placed my feet in a plastic basin and opened a thermos he brought that was filled with hot water. It was actually a little too hot, so he scurried off to the kitchen to get some cold water to mix with it. And I realized, Matt is going to wash my feet here. Right in the middle of a dance at Chantilly Hall, this delightfully crazy kid is going to wash my freaking feet! And so he did, as he knelt before me. He produced some soap and thoroughly scrubbed them. Then he carefully dried them. And as a finishing touch, he massaged them with lavender oil.

It was one of those rare occasions when I was speechless. Not only was I someone who could appreciate the significance of washing feet, as a pastor. But as a dancer, the symbolism of renewing my feet was not lost on me. For a long time, health issues have kept me from enjoying contra as I once did, and it's been a source of great angst for me. To have another dancer wash my feet like that, while people were dancing all around us, was an extraordinary, holy moment for me. It touched me on a visceral level and I still don’t know how to describe it with words. But this much I can tell you. After Matt finished, and I sat smiling from head to toe in the afterglow, I knew one thing, beyond a doubt. I had been to church. And I realized that I don’t always have to go to church; sometimes church has a way of finding me. And yes, Matt, that is a "gift" to be sure.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

How can you possibly eat with people like that?

Just a month ago, our state was voting on what a marriage looks like. When we heard some Christians insisting that the Bible lays it all out, many of us had fun going pointing out how ludicrous this is by citing models of marriage that are found in the Bible. Those models include juicy stuff like: polygamy, incest, rape. It's not a pretty picture. If you really read the Bible, you could never conclude that a relationship between one man and one woman is what marriage looks like.

This is just one example of how we come to the Bible with preconceived ideas about what it says, and then…guess what? It says exactly what we thought it did. Imagine that! It's what always ends up happening when we twist the words of the Bible to support our own way of thinking, including our fears and prejudices.

Mark 3:31-35 is a doozy for all those who insist that the Bible supports family values. One of Jesus’ disciples tells him that his mother and his brothers are there to see him. And, without missing a beat, Jesus replies: “Who is my mother and who are my brothers? Anyone who does my will, anyone who is a part of my mission, that’s my family.”

Family values? Hardly. And this is not an isolated instance for Jesus. He really has it in for families. In another place he says, “I’ve come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother. And he also said, “Whoever comes to me and doesn’t hate father and mother, and wife and children, and brothers and sisters, and even life itself, can’t be my disciple.”

With the words “Follow me” Jesus destroyed a family business, as fishermen abandoned their father in a boat so they could wander around the countryside with a traveling preacher. He broke the hearts of many first-century parents who were counting on their kids to help them in their old age.

And then there was the time Jesus encouraged a guy to skip out on his own father’s funeral. The man came to Jesus and said, “I’ll follow you. But first I need to go home and give my father a decent burial.” Jesus responded: “Let the dead bury the dead! Follow me and leave the funeral to somebody else.”

Jesus is not someone to lift up as a defender of family values. It’s why Bishop William Willimon calls Jesus a “home wrecker.” But to be fair, he doesn’t seem to be any more anti-family than he is anti-money or success, or government officials, or religious authorities. It seems like all the things that are really important to people, he snubs his nose at. Whatever people find to be valuable, Jesus devalues. Why is that?

For Jesus, all that stuff we become so preoccupied with is just fluff. It’s not even in the running compared to his mission, which, according to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, was all about gathering God’s people together by inviting them to participate in God’s kingdom.

Jesus walked away from the family he was born into so that he could form a new family. And what a family it was! Do you remember what one of the earliest complaints against Jesus was? Why people found him so offensive? “How can he possibly eat with people like that?!” Jesus was supposed to eat and drink with his family, not with strangers. And certainly not with unclean sinners like tax collectors and prostitutes. The way Jesus chose to live his life was absolutely shocking. And he was consistent in his mission of including the excluded right up to the very end. Dying on the cross, he invited an outcast, a thief specifically, to join him in paradise. In all of his actions, and in stories like seeking the lost sheep and seeking the lost coin and the lost son, in all of this, Jesus was forming a new family composed of those who had difficulty fitting in with their human families.

How do you feel about your family? Do you have ambivalent feelings toward your family? Have you suffered untold damage from your family that you’re left to deal with? Or perhaps you’re one of those rare people who felt completely loved and nurtured by your family with no family baggage that you’ve carried into adulthood. (If you are, I’d like to meet you! I have yet to find a person like this anywhere, although I believe they may exist somewhere.) Well, no matter what your relationship with your family is like, Jesus would say that one thing is true about every single human family, including yours. It is entirely too small!

When we get together at Holy Trinity on Sunday mornings, we acknowledge that. The chief act of our worship is a family meal with everyone around the table, the Sunday dinner we call Holy Communion. It’s a family gathering as God intended family to be.

To be a part of God’s family, you must be willing to be adopted, by an all-new, all-inclusive, barrier-breaking family. You must be able to let go of your propensity to go it alone in the world and become connected to a family much larger and demanding than the one you were born into. As Willimon says, “You must join us at the table, addressing some of the most sinful, often difficult-to-bear rascals as ‘brother’ or ‘sister’, just because Jesus loves them to death.”

You can see why, when the Jesus movement got going, baptism, as the rite of Christian initiation, was so radical. Not only did it signify everything that water means – cleansing and birth, death and resurrection, renewal and life – but baptism also meant adoption. Becoming a Christian meant having your life taken over by Jesus, and being joined to a family bigger and even more challenging than your human family.

Family values? Well, maybe not the family values some Christians espouse. But, family values, yes. Family values, Jesus-style. And every time the family of God gathers for Holy Communion, or hot dogs and ice cream, or serves up soup to the homeless in our streets. Every time the family gathers, we’ll know we’re Jesus’ family if the world looks at us and asks: “How can you possibly eat with people like that!?”

Monday, June 4, 2012

Funky Nancy

I'm in a funk. Don't even try to talk me out of it because it's nothing anybody can fix. Generally, I'm overwhelmed with the world. Specifically, how messed up it is: poverty, war, injustice, bigotry, the pervasiveness of just plain meanness. Anyone who doesn't believe in sinful human nature hasn't been paying attention. All this stuff is of human origin. And thinking about it leaves me feeling hopeless. So, no, it's nothing that anybody can fix.

I was already in a funk over some personal issues that came to light last week that were causing me to re-live one of the darkest times of my life. I didn't want to go there, but I did. It's baggage I carry around with me all the time. Every once in a while I have to unpack and examine it before I can tuck it away again. So, this awful stuff was scattered all over the place and as the weekend approached I was still sorting through it. All that's to say that I was already down, so it wasn't going to take much for me to get downer.

My Sunday school class has a way of stirring up parts of my brain that I try to ignore. Yesterday we got into a deep discussion about how there has always been this narrow thread of people, a counter-cultural movement that follows the Jesus way of living and being in the world. This thread runs contrary to the values of the dominant culture by design. The really big difference seems to be around the whole idea of power: what it is, who has it, where it is to be found. In the time when Jesus walked this earth, the Romans had all the power. Their idea of power was based on a display of brute force. The early Christians redefined power as something that is found, not in dominating others, but in giving yourself away. They devoted themselves to serving one another in community and helping those in need: the poor, orphans, widows.

It seems that things haven't changed that much. The Romans have become us. And the fact that so many Americans see the United States as a "Christian nation" is ludicrous. When I think about it too much, it sucks the life out of me. I hope that I'm a part of that counter-cultural thread that runs through history and can only trust that it's a thread that will continue long after I'm gone. That's all I have to cling to this morning.

My life is so much easier when I don't think about such stuff, when I engage in my own version of burying my head in the sand. There are some distractions that I usually can count on to bring me out of my funk. On Friday night a friend and I walked to a neighborhood watering hole and I had two tall froo-froo drinks that left me feeling very happy. We came home and slept it off before enjoying some bonding time. Later that day I colored my curls, which enabled me to have a very good hair day on Sunday morning. Worship was fulfilling, with my Holy Trinity family surrounding me, and a few new folks to welcome. I went to lunch at my favorite Mexican restaurant with dear friends and got lost in the conversation, oblivious to the time. The afternoon was spent watching my kitten, Guido, teaching my dog, Pooky, some new tricks, until they became exhausted and cuddled with me on the couch. I had a great weekend, and really have nothing to complain about. It should have been enough for me to snap out of it. But it wasn't.

Apparently this is a serious funk. When I'm in a serious funk, I need to wallow in it for a while and trust that it's temporary. Short of a lobotomy, this is who I am. Things eat away at me and I get depressed. And then it gets better. It's nothing that can be fixed. It just has to pass. I know it will. It's just a matter of when.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Sure, God can make people out of wet clay. But can he rebirth a fossil?

Have you ever noticed how it’s easier to learn something new than it is to unlearn something you already know? For instance, it’s easier to teach someone the rules of standard English who has never learned the language at all than it is to teach standard English to someone who has already learned a non-standard dialect of English. If someone has grown up in an environment where double negatives are used, that becomes a part of the way that person speaks. “I don’t want no mustard” is normal to them. Then a teacher tries to teach them that in standard English you can’t say, “I don’t want no mustard”, instead you say, “I don’t want any mustard.” Well, it’s a lot easier to get a non-native speaker of English to apply this rule.

As we learn stuff, it becomes wired into our brain, that’s the way the circuits go. And the more that wiring is used, the more deeply the circuits run. When people learn a language, if they’re picking up bad habits, and they’re not corrected, we say they become fossilized.

Out if the work-force, companies will often hire people who have no experience over those who do. Because if you want a job done your way, it’s easier to train someone who comes to the job with no prior knowledge or experience than it is to train someone who has already had experience that they must unlearn.

This same principle hold true in every area of life that I can think of. Knowledge and experience become so much a part of our wiring that eventually that’s the only way the circuits will run. This is true for everything from what is morally acceptable to us to the way we brush our teeth. Once ideas become fossilized in our brains, it’s pretty hard to change them.

Now, I think we all know that’s true. And yet, in order to grow spiritually, God calls us to a life of transformation. So, how is that possible?

That’s what the story of Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus was all about. Nicodemus was a guy who knew his stuff. He was a respected expert in the scriptures, a ruling member of the Pharisees. And since the Pharisees were usually in direct conflict with Jesus, Nicodemus had to sneak away to see him in the secrecy of the night, when nobody else was around. He had heard Jesus teach and he had seen him do miracles, and something about Jesus had touched him so that he had to know more. As a result, the two of them got into an extraordinary conversation about being born again.

If Nicodemus is ever going to understand the truth, he will have to unlearn everything he has been taught. He will have to be born again and start over. For a guy like Nicodemus, someone who assumed he already knew all the answers, this wasn’t going to be easy. Nicodemus already knew how to make sense of the world. He understood the ways of God. It was a part of his wiring; it had fossilized in his brain. How could he unlearn all that he had been taught so he could see who Jesus really was?

There were three things standing in the way for Nicodemus. Three obstacles were blocking him from really knowing who Jesus was and what he was about, three ways of thinking that he would have to unlearn.

First, there was a shallowness to Nicodemus’s faith. He figured Jesus must be a teacher sent by God. But why? Because he’d seen Jesus perform. As a kid, did you ever have to perform for your parents’ friends? “Show us how you can say your ABCs.” “Do that dance you learned in school.” “Play the piano for us.” And, like a good little son or daughter, we performed for them. Well, sometimes that’s the way we treat God. “Help me pass this test I didn’t study for, God.” “Give me the house I want, God.” “Cure my cancer, God.” Come on, perform for me. Show me something. Jump through this hoop. Could our faith depend upon how well God does on these command performances? It seemed to be that way for Nicodemus. His faith was shallow.

The second obstacle to knowing Jesus, for Nicodemus, was his lack of imagination. When Jesus said that he must be born from above, what does Nicodemus come back with? “Hey, I’m an old man here. How can I go back inside my mother’s womb and be born all over again?” Jesus often speaks metaphorically It’s the language of faith that transcends anything we have ever experienced on this earth, so it can only be understood with an imagination. But poor Nicodemus takes Jesus literally. It’s the only way he can hear what Jesus is saying because he has no imagination. It’s not possible for a literalist to be transformed in the faith without ceasing to be a literalist.

And that brings us to the third obstacle to knowing Jesus for Nicodemus: being unreceptive to the transformative power of the Spirit. Nicodemus seems to be closed to the testimony of others. He has the problem of having his mind already made up and he isn’t open to any information that might not fit into his way of thinking. Isn’t it interesting that he was a learned man -- someone who knew more about religion than just about anybody around – and yet, that was a problem because he already thought he knew it all.

Jesus spends a lot of time with Nicodemus. He seems to understand how hard it will be for someone like him to be transformed by God. And he explains why this is so important, why Nicodemus and all of us need to be born again so we can really see who Jesus is. “Because God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. For God didn’t send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

Shallow, closed-minded literalists like Nicodemus may have some problems seeing the real Jesus. In fact, it seems like such a thing would be impossible, like rebirthing a fossil. But we know that somehow, God manages to accomplish the impossible.

Now, my guess is that few of us are shallow, closed-minded literalists like Nicodemus was. But, no doubt, some of us are shallow, others are closed-minded, and some of us may be lacking in religious imagination. Or we may have other obstacles that stand between us and the life of transformation that God is calling us to. If our faith has become fossilized, it’s especially challenging for the Spirit to get through to us.

The song we sing in our gospel verse at Holy Trinity during the summer months is such a beautiful prayer for all of us who long to be transformed by God. “Lord, let my heart be good soil.” What we sing about our hearts might just as easily apply to our minds and our souls – all parts of us that God wants.

“When my heart is hard, roll the stone away. When my heart is cold, warm it with the day. When my heart is lost, lead me on your way.” Give me depth in my relationship with you. Give me an imagination that I might understand you. Open my heart, and mind, and soul, that I might be born again. And again and again.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Abundantly clear about the abundant life

“I’ve come that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). It’s a favorite verse for anyone who preaches that if you do right by God, God will do right by you, and you’ll be rewarded with health, wealth and happiness. We call it the prosperity gospel.

Variations on this theme are preached every Sunday by the most popular preacher in America today. He pastors a church with 30,000 members, where an additional 7 million people tune in weekly to hear him on TV. His books have landed him at the top of the best-seller list and earned him millions of dollars. Lots and lots of people are literally buying into his message. He reinforces an over-riding belief in the culture around us that God wants us to have an abundant life, which consists of having everything we’ve ever dreamed of. I admit that it’s an appealing message. But is it true? Is that what it means to live the abundant life that Jesus talks about?

In the original Greek, the word abundant that’s used in this verse means overflowing. It reminds me of how the author Annie Dillard says that receiving God’s grace is like “filling a coffee cup underneath a waterfall.” You can’t contain it all. It overflows, and it keeps coming and coming. That’s the kind of abundance that God showers upon us.

What about that word life? There are several different words in the Greek language for life. For example, there is a word for physical life that is the root of our word biology. But that’s not the word for life that’s used in John 10:10. The word for life referred to here is a non-physical life; it’s the word for spiritual life.

And here’s the really big thing to understand about this verse. It’s not talking about the abundant life for us as individuals. "I came that they may have life..." The abundant life isn’t for individuals, it’s for the community – it’s for all of God’s people. The early church in Acts tried to practice this as a community, living together, sharing their resources with one another so everyone had enough and no one was in want. (Of course, these days, that would be dismissed as socialism, which has become synonymous with evil.)

Our current American worldview is a legacy that comes to us from the Protestant Reformation, the Enlightenment, and 18th century economic theory. It tells us that we are individuals who have the right to happiness, especially the happiness of the consumer-style abundant life. Market ideology has become like a religion for us. It tells us who we are – consumers. And it tells us what the goal of life is – making money.

In report after report from the United Nations and other global organizations, the grim results of this self-centered version of the abundant life are becoming apparent in the widening gap between rich and poor, as well as the demise of the irreplaceable life systems of our planet. Is this what it means to live the abundant life?

In our country, we’re a part of the 20% of the world’s population that uses more than 80% of the world’s energy. Even though most people in this world would like to live as we do, there’s not enough energy on the planet to support it. As the theologian Sallie McFague has said, “We middle-class North Americans are addicted to the consumer life-style, even if it means depriving others and putting the planet in jeopardy.”

God’s abundant life for us never comes at the expense of others. If we want to become rich and have lots of stuff, let’s at least be honest about it and call it what it is: greed. Let’s not be deceived into believing that this is God’s desire for us.

Now, I realize that millions of people aren’t going to tune in every week to hear someone preach a message like that. The irony is that as long as we think the abundant life God wants for us is about living the high life at the expense of other people, we’re missing out on the abundant life Jesus says he came that we might have.

Friday, June 1, 2012

100 minus 1 = 99 (Why do they leave us?)

There’s a lot of talk among church people these days about reaching out to the un-churched. Those are the people who think Jesus’ last name was “Christ.” They have no idea what Christians do in a worship service. When it comes to church – they’re clueless. Lots of the new non-denominational churches, in particular, target the un-churched population as their mission field.

Occasionally we have un-churched people walk through our doors at Holy Trinity. But that’s not really the focus of the mission that God seems to have for us. Instead, our ministry is with the lost sheep that Jesus talks about in his story of the 99 + 1. The one who was lost was not an outsider to the fold. That would make her un-churched. But that one had been a part of the fold at one time. And then, either intentionally or unintentionally, the one was no longer included. That’s what happens to the de-churched.

There are lots of reasons why people become de-churched. If you spend any time listening to their stories, one thing becomes apparent. Most of the time, the one leaves because of the actions of the 99 (otherwise known as the church).

It’s interesting that the story of the 99 +1 sheep is told twice in the gospels. We get it in Luke, as Jesus explains why he dines with the wrong crowd and has such concern for those considered outsiders. And we also get it in Matthew, in a totally different context. In Matthew, we find it in chapter 18. The chapter begins with Jesus standing a child before his disciples and telling them that whoever welcomes a child like this, welcomes him. From there he talks about how harshly judged the person will be who causes one of God’s children to stumble. He says they’d be better off having a millstone tied to their neck and being thrown into the sea to drown. In that context then, he goes on to say, "Take care that you don’t despise one of these little ones." And he tells a story: “What do you think? If a shepherd has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost.” Jesus is telling us that the 99 have a responsibility to the one. And they’d best beware lest they be the reason why that one is lost.

Now I think we all realize that people who run around claiming to be followers of Jesus are setting themselves up. I mean, who can live up to such a claim? A follower of Jesus!? Of course we’re gonna mess up. And we trust in God’s grace to carry us when we fall short. That’s reality. But it becomes a problem when our actions result in driving other people away from Christian community. When because of us, one of the sheep decides he’s better off getting as far away from the 99 as possible.

Some walk away from a message that seems irrelevant . They’re searching for meaning in their lives and the church seems out of touch with reality. When folks give you the impression that if you’re a real Christian you’ll be smiling all the time, and you happen to suffer from depression, there’s a disconnect that it’s hard to get past.

Sometimes Christians are just plain dishonest about what the life of faith is really like. If they’re honest, they’ll admit that the life of faith is filled with times of doubt. For some of us it’s all about doubt with fleeting moments of faith here and there. And the reason why many of us stick around in the church is not because we have a steadfast faith in God. Just the opposite. It’s because in the midst of our doubts, we long to believe. So we hang out with other people who share that same longing. And hopefully, at any given time there are enough people having moments of faith to carry the rest of us along. I suspect that if we were really honest about that, many of the people who have walked away from the church because they thought it was only for people of great faith, might not feel so alienated when they struggle with their doubts.

Some people are bright enough to realize that the church is no place for people who use their brains, particularly when the theology they have learned in the church is shallow with pat answers and dogmatic teaching that doesn’t leave room for questions. They hear people in the church mindlessly saying things that they’re programmed to say, kindof like the Chatty Cathy doll I used to have as a kid. Trite clich├ęs that are said without really thinking: “God never gives you more than you can handle”, “The Bible says it and that settles it”, or “Whatever happens is God’s will.” Reciting creeds has the same effect on many people. Critical thinkers have problems with Chatty Cathy Christians. They can’t just blindly accept all that the church teaches and haven’t felt comfortable sharing this with people who don’t seem to be open to hearing theology expressed in unorthodox ways. In earlier times such people were burned at the stake for being heretics; now they just walk away.

Some have left the church because they have experienced a Christianity that has nothing to do with the love of God, but focuses instead on hate and judgment. We have members of Holy Trinity who came to us after feeling rejected by their former congregation because of a divorce. Others are with us because they are gay or lesbian and never felt free to be open about who they are within a Christian community.

Some de-churched people suffered from abuse at the hands of professing Christians – physical, emotional, mental or spiritual abuse. A trusted person of faith, someone they respected, abused their trust and they can never trust another Christian again. It may be a pastor or a priest who sexually abused a parishioner. It may be a parent who played at being Christian while verbally demeaning a child. It may be an entire congregation that used scare tactics to keep its members toeing the line. We’re all so paranoid these days about terrorists. If you ask me, those are the terrorists we should fear most.

Some people become disillusioned when they believe that God has let them down in a big way. They’ve been fed a diet of theological pablum instead of solid food, and when a tragedy strikes, they can’t get past it because their understanding of God is so narrow that it doesn’t address the complexities of life. When we are too quick to give easy answers to tough questions, this is bound to happen.

Those are just a few of the reasons why they leave. It's heartbreaking. But not hopeless. Because, once in a while, a de-churched person feels the spirit nudging and they decide to give the church another chance. What they experience when they do that is all important. The way they are treated by Christians, the message they hear verbally and nonverbally, makes all the difference. What they need to experience is church in a new way. They need to see the church as

• A place that nurtures creativity.

• A place where questions are valued and welcomed.

• A place where doubts are expected and thinking is encouraged.

• A place where pain is acknowledged and accepted as a reality of life.

• A place where you can be who you are without fear of being judged by others.

It’s a critical moment whenever a de-churched person decides to give the church another chance. They need desperately to experience something that tells them this is not the same church they left. This church is different.

So often when we talk about “evangelism” in the church we are talking about reaching out to the unchurched. But what about the dechurched? Most likely, the reason the one left the fold has something to do with the actions of the 99. It’s the way we do church that drives people away from the church. And it’s the way we change doing church that will welcome them back.