Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Easter Relief

I’ve been hungry lately.  Not physically, of course, but spiritually.  Maybe it’s an after effect of Lent- I’ve been trying to empty myself, so naturally I might feel a few pangs.  Lent isn’t the easiest time, but I’ve been reminding myself that some of the most growing spiritual times in our lives come after, or through, a period of wilderness. 

During an early season practice of cross country one year (this was awhile ago!), I expressed to my friend during a run that ‘this isn’t as easy as some of my runs this summer.’  She quickly reminded me that, ‘it’s not supposed to be easy.’  Good friends tell you the truth.  

I’ve been thinking, though, that Lent might have been harder for me this year because I made an effort to reflect.  Usually it’s easier not to think about our lives- it tends to get messy and difficult when we ask ourselves hard questions (kind of like when you have a coach pushing you to run harder than you did during the off season).  But I did it this year.  And one of the things I think I discovered was this: I’m not always sure what I need.  I can’t always pinpoint where my hunger lies.  

Some of my friends who work in churches that are financially struggling, or in more urban settings, often have a very obvious sense of where the hunger is- they can see it right in front of their faces and it tells them how to get to work.  But for those of us who have everything, we often feel empty and don’t know why.  How could we feel empty when we have so much?

Barbara Brown Taylor hits the nail on the head with the same struggle: “Perhaps there is no proof a famine exists except the fact that people are hungry. In the land of plenty, the sourse of that hunger can be difficult to diagnose. It is often not until we have tried to ease it with everything else we know that we discover by process of elimination our hunger for God.” 

I often do try to assuage my hunger with other things besides God.  Food helps for about a minute.  Shopping tends to make me feel good a little longer.  But the hunger always comes back.

Thankfully, like a magic bullet of pure light, Easter came this year with it’s warm, sunny weather and in-laws bringing me Easter brunch to eat after a long morning of services.  And now that Spring has (finally) arrived I’ve started to feel some fullness.  Maybe the weather is a coincidence- to be celebrated at the same time as the resurrection.  

I did a graveside service on Good Friday, which seemed most appropriate.  Jesus had been dying in front of me for all of Lent, this year, but I was reminded that, as we buried her, he never left my side.  

And then, as it always does, Easter came.  Jesus (finally) rose.  I was fed.  And I had this sense that that was all I needed.  Jesus- imagine that.  He was what I was hungry for.  I just had to die with him a bit to realize it.  Christ is risen, indeed.

Monday, January 14, 2013

the e-word

This is my most recent letter in the church newsletter.  It generated a little commotion... which means it actually got peoples' blood pumping! 

Here you go.

On the rare occasion my whole family is together we almost inevitably end up talking about church.  We’re a churchy family.  We are SO COOL in my family (note sarcasm, here).

The thing is, church isn’t cool anymore.  No one my age goes to church.  In fact, most people of most ages don’t go to church- it’s just not the thing to do.  Granted, most folks in this country believe in something, but you can get that thing in nature (apparently, I’m more of an indoor girl, myself).

But I’m not here to barrage you with woes about church  attendance.  I want to offer a few  ideas, though, on how to get your friends to church.  It’s called… wait for it… evangelism.  And the most important thing about evangelism is building relationships.

Like I said, though, church isn’t cool anymore.  And frankly, relationships are hard.  People spend all their time dealing with relationships elsewhere, and they’re sick of doing it come Sunday.  They deal with relationships in business, with family, friends, children, colleagues, and they don’t want to do more of it in a place that isn’t going to move them, change them, transform them.

So here’s our dilemma: no one’s coming to church because church isn’t cool, but, those of us who are here, who are not cool, are called to evangelize.  Evangelism, I think, is best done in relationships with others.  But, who wants to be friends with uncool people?

Here’s what I think: I think people are craving community- real, authentic community with folks who care about them, and show them the Gospel.  But, they don’t have time to figure us out.  They think we’re weird with our rituals, our stories and our judgmental stuff, and they can’t see past all that muckity muck to the heart of the Christian life.  People don’t and won’t know what we are all about and how wonderful it is unless we build relationships with them.

There are a few people in this church who are darn good at relationships.  They remember your name, they call you up and ask you to lunch, invite you to sit with them in church, they ask about your kids, and, they even do the follow-up work- they tell you how good it was to see you there the other week.  They make you feel welcome, even when you only get here once in a while.  And they do it in a supremely uncool way- they do it because they love Jesus, so they love you, so that you can love Jesus and begin to know and love this community.  It’s beautiful.  It’s church.

There are some downsides to this process, though.  As an uncool person, you can tend to feel rejection easily.  I get it, but trust me, it’s not personal.  People do get busy.  They won’t come to stuff.  But, I beg you, please don’t write these people off.  Show them some grace.  They’ll come around eventually.  Trust that God is working on them.

Evangelism through relationships is hard work.  But knowing that you were  responsible for showing them the beauty of being in community and finding Christ?  That’s reward enough right there. 

So, go out you uncool church people!  Go pursue those people on the margins- write them emails, Facebook them, call them, tell them you want to SEE them, and do it in Jesus’ name.  They’ll think you’re weird, but they’ll love you (and Jesus) for it in the end.