Saturday, February 28, 2015

Pimple Theology

There was a timespan when I was in high school that I had acne. Bad acne. "Not wanting to get out of bed and go to school" bad acne. "Feeling embarrassed, ashamed, and extremely ugly" bad acne. "Praying to the dear Lord above that my face would clear up at least a little bit for school picture day" bad acne. Now granted, I know there were folks at HCHS whose complexion may have been worse than mine, but as far as I was concerned, there were days during my adolescence where I felt like the "Creature from the Black Lagoon" would have destroyed me in a beauty contest. (If you are under 40 years of age you will have to google that one) I remember a few occasions where some pretty hurtful things were said about me because of the less than clear surface of my skin. Yes, 30 years later I still remember what was said. I remember who said it. I remember where it was said. In my mind I can go back to the mid-80's just like it was yesterday. You know what else I remember? I remember wanting to be anyone else other than me. I would have traded places with so many people if I had been given the chance. And you know what else? It wasn't the richer kids that I wanted to trade places with or the more athletic kids that I wanted to trade places with or the smarter kids that I wanted to trade places, I wanted to trade places with the kids who didn't have to go through a whole tube of Clearasil in a day. I wanted to trade places with the kids who didn't have to daily dread facing the world with red splotches all over their face. I wanted to trade places with the kids who didn't feel out of place because of stupid pimples on their face. I hated it. I hated it. I hated it. I felt ugly, unacceptable, and unloveable. I seriously felt like a leper. Repulsive. Grotesque. Almost monster-ish. You may think that I am over blowing this a bit. Let me tell you, I'm being very conservative with my words here. Just ask anyone else who walked in the same Chuck Taylors that I did. They will tell you some of the same things. They will tell you there were days that they too wished they could be anyone other than the one they were.

Now 3 decades later my complexion is much clearer, but alas my hair is much grayer. (I'm not sure if that's an even trade or not) I will tell you what else has changed since my teenage years.....I don't want to change places in life with anybody. Seriously. There is not one person who I would trade lives with even if I could. Sure there are richer, more successful, more talented, more "everything" people out there but I don't want their life....I want mine....The one God has laid out for me.....With the people God has sent to me. Now I would be lying if I didn't say that I might would like to live the lives of some other people for a day or two, but to completely change lives altogether? No thanks. I will keep the one I have. You know why I feel that way? Because I now like being me. The me that's not perfect. The me that still says things I shouldn't say. The me that sometimes thinks things I shouldn't think. The me that every now and then makes some really bone-headed and stupid decisions. The me who I've become because of the experiences that 45 years of living life have brought me. You know why else I like me? Because God has blessed me with an abundance of people who seem to like me in spite of me being me. They are the unconditional people who encircle me. They are the people who love me as I am which gives me permission to do the same. 

As one of my buddies says about himself, I have been a "pew baby" pretty much my entire life. In other words, there have not been many Sundays during my earthly existence where I have not been in a worship service somewhere. I have learned many, many things in 45 years worth of Sundays in church. I would not hesitate to say that most of those things that I learned were very positive and have helped to influence who I am as an adult today. That being said, if "most" of those things were positive, that would leave a little room for a few things that were not so positive. It has always interested me that in some (probably most) churches/fellowships there are certain unspoken rules. You know, rules that aren't posted anywhere on the pages of the tracts in the foyer or in some special box in the weekly bulletin. I am satisfied that even though I haven't visited them all, that most all religious tribes have their own set of unspoken rules, and in fact, many of the same rules cross denominational lines and are found in a host of different religious bodies. In other words, I guess as seasoned followers of Christ we all have our own "sacred cows" that we are ultra passionate about. 

One of those sacred slabs of beef is seemingly the expectation from the religious folk that all desired church goers have to have their lives in tip-top shape before they can cross the holy threshold of the front door of a house of worship. In other words, you have to have it all together before you can come worship with people who appear to have it all together. To my shame, in my preaching past, I'm sure there have been times where, in all sincerity, I have made folks feel such an amount of shame about the sin in their lives that they felt they wouldn't be welcome in any worship service until they and God were on better terms. I'm sure that I, and other preachers/elders/deacons/leaders/teachers/members, assisted people in falsely believing that God expected them to completely clean up their language, their thoughts, their past, their heart, their mind, their decision making, their theology, their "everything that had anything unGodly about it" before they would be allowed to fellowship with the righteous of this world. In essence, we have told them or at the very least lead them to believe that we want them to become somebody else before they can worship with us. We want them to remove all the worldly-pimples of their lives before they sit on a pew/chair beside of us. Then, once all their baggage has been tossed to the side, all their problems solved, all their addictions cured, all their mistakes corrected....then and only then will they be made to feel that they belong amongst those of us who have completely and totally left sin behind. As if.....

The Bible that I read says that the Savior that I serve didn't have such an attitude about the general population of this world. Jesus didn't expect people to change overnight things that had been engrained over many years. Jesus didn't expect people to completely straighten up and fly right the moment they decided to take a shot at following the true Messiah. Jesus wanted people to just show up and give it a try.....pimples and all. I mean think about it. If most of us could have changed our lives without Jesus we would have done so a long time ago, thus not needing Jesus to begin with. So therefore, it's time we get the horse back before the cart. Let's let Jesus lead. Let's just invite folks to come to worship, warts, pimples and all. Let's tell them to "come as they are" and truly mean it. Not necessarily come to church in pajamas "come as you are" but come to church with all your baggage, problems and mistakes "come as you are". Let's invite people to come to worship "as they are" and then let the love of Jesus and his followers begin to impact them for a permanent, positive life-alteration. Slowly, but steadily. Perhaps at a snails pace but at a positive pace nonetheless. Let's let Jesus work on 'em, us love on 'em, and God save 'em. If you don't feel comfortable putting "Pimps, Prostitutes, and Pushers WELCOME HERE" on your church sign, you better check to see if Jesus is even welcome there. I can assure you....if the pimps, prostitutes, and pushers aren't welcome there, then Jesus won't be either. 

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Understanding not understanding

Sometimes you have to understand that people just aren't gonna understand. You also have to understand in that instance that it's ok for them to not understand. It doesn't make them bad people because they don't understand you.  It also doesn't make you a bad person because they don't understand you. Do you understand?

I have been a Michael Jordan fan my entire life. Growing up I collected everything that I could get my hands on that had anything to do with him......magazines, t-shirts, shoes, posters, even that awful cologne......if he was tied to it, I had to have it. There were many others in the MJ brotherhood with me who completely understood and shared my fascination with the man wearing number 23 in the Bulls uniform who would fly through the air from the free throw line with his tongue sticking out. But then there were those other folks who couldn't understand my borderline obsession with the man from Wilmington, NC. And you know what? It was OK that they didn't understand. It certainly didn't make me like them any less and I hope it didn't make them like me any less. That much, I understood. 

My future son in law has tattoos ..... lots and lots of tattoos. He also has gauges in his earlobes. Some people would look at Wes from a distance and not understand why he would have done such things to his body. Others might look at him and find a great connection with him because they too have tattoos and ear piercings. You want to know what I think about Westen's body art and the holes in his ears? I don't think a thing about it. Here is what I think about. I think about the fact that he loves my daughter and granddaughter with every fiber of his being. I think about the fact that he is a hard worker and is going to provide a decent and honorable living for his family. I think about the fact that he has a heart as good as pure gold and that he would do anything for anyone at anytime if they needed his help. That's what I think. Do I have to understand everything he does? Nope. Just take care of my babies and love em. That's all I need to understand. 

Sometimes you have to understand that people just aren't gonna understand. Several weeks ago as a small group of us began the discussions of the possibility of planting a new church in Hickman County, I understood that some people wouldn't understand our desire to do so.....and that's ok. You see I have been on the side of being misunderstood many, many times before now. Communication has not always been one of my strong suits, so therefore I have in times past said and written things that maybe didn't come across exactly as I meant for them to. I have come to realize that people can't see facial expressions, experience emotion and absorb genuine intent into many of the things that are simply typed on a keyboard and then sent out for the whole world to see. My participation in the beginning of Hope Church has brought about some of the same "I don't understand" reactions from some really, really good people.....people of whom I have great respect and love for. To this point in my journey with Hope Church I have only received one "I'm writing this letter to you in love" letter. In times past I have received such letters that were self-identified as such but were nothing of the sort. My most recent letter in this category though was absolutely one of the best letters I have ever received. It was sent from a person who I respect dearly and love wholly. And I can tell you this, every word written in that letter was written with the most sincere attitude possible and a genuine care and concern for me and my family. The person who sent me the letter sent it out of a place of their not understanding my motives and willingness to be a part of a new church start-up. There are some letters that I have learned to not respond to....but this isn't one of them, because it was written by a good person with a good motive out of a good heart. I sent a return letter trying to respond to their concerns as best and as honestly as I could. I hope that perhaps they will better understand my involvement with Hope Church after they read my letter, but you know what? Even if they don't come to any better level of understanding, that's ok cause I'm gonna love em anyway. 

It has occurred to me as I have gotten older that many times we allow our fear of being misunderstood keep us from doing things that we should be doing.....whether it be things of this world or things that pertain to the world yet to come. Who is to say how many inventions will never be invented, how many novels will never be written, how many relationships will never be initiated, how many careers will never be chosen, how many spiritual paths will never be mapped out because of the fear that others might not understand why those things were done, or at least attempted. I am a people pleaser by nature. I want folks to always understand and accept my motivations for the decisions that I make. I know though, that bar is set way too high. Folks won't always understand and accept my motivations ..... and that's ok. I understand that they won't always understand. This much I also know, God loves me and he knows what is truly in my heart. That much only he can understand. And that's ok too :)