Fall is here (well only by namesake here in Tennessee). But the season has arrived and with it some of my other favorite things. No, the pumpkin spice takeover is not one of them; but baseball playoffs are. And this year my beloved Boston Red Sox are in the ALDS against the dastardly, villainous, maligned, evil empire known as the New York Yankees (Even as I type that name I have a sneer on my face). And last night was beautiful! The Red Sox handed the Yankees their worst ever loss in the postseason in fifty-four playoff appearances. It’s so good when we get to see the bad guys lose, and lose bad. And my favorite thing about all of this…? It’s just a game. At the end of the day I don’t hate (actually hate) the Yankees or the Georgia Bulldogs or the Jacksonville Jaguars or any of the rivals to the sports team I claim fandom to. In fact, if I set down to a meal with C.C. Sabathia or Aaron Judge we would probably get along just fine and find more things that we have in common versus things that divide us…even if they do wear the cursed pin-stripes. All I know is it’s a good thing that this narrative of good guys vs. bad guys is only played out in sports and sports rivalries.
Okay, so I used hyperbole to prove a point. It’s amazing how our cultural and even global narrative has become accustomed to an us versus them paradigm. It’s so much easier to understand who we are as long as we know who we are not. And the conversations and divides have become so sharp that we fail to see that we are all in this together. This thing we call life, this existence that happens on our planet is a shared experience and regardless of how we want to think about the other person and their experience, we all breathe the same air. In his second letter to the Corinthian church, Paul has this to say about our shared humanity, “And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer.” – II Corinthians 5:15-16 We can’t regard each other from worldly points of view because Christ died for all. The great Catholic social activist and theologian Dorothy Day put it this way, “I really only love God as much as I love the person I love the least.” Our narrative of villains and otherness and separation and divide really has no place when we know Christ and His Kingdom.
In his essay The Weight of Glory, C.S. Lewis had this to say about our encounters with our fellow humans, “You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilization — these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit — immortal horrors or everlasting splendours…our charity must be a real and costly love …next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses.” In short, everyone we encounter is God’s image in flesh destined for eternal glory or eternal separation and this is who we interact with on a daily basis. There truly can be no villains or otherwise, but forgiveness and grace and mercy must reign over us and through us as we seek to be Christ’ ambassadors in this world. Is this easy? No. It’s much easier to write people off as Democrats or Republicans or Liberals or Fundamentalists or Progressives or Conservatives, etc. But as Christians, we don’t get to do this [full stop]. I must always strive to see every person as Christ would see them…even if they are wearing a New York Yankee’s hat. So may you and I treasure each other today. Because how we treat the creation says an awful lot about what we think of the Creator.
One of my favorite events in the life of our church here in Odessa took place last night. For one night each year we roll out the red, or should I say orange, carpet in a big way. Our annual Fall Festival is awesome! We have about 50 or so volunteers rally to host over 500 people each year. There’s food trucks, inflatables, face-painting, carnival games, pop-corn, music and costumes…so many cool costumes. I love seeing all of the kids, and “adult kids”, coming to our church in their costumes for a night of fun and festivities. In fact, it seems that more and more each year people are really getting into the Halloween spirit. And yet, sometimes we in the church struggle with what to do with this holiday full of spooks and ghosts and ghouls.
I guess we could start by taking a look at our own history, after all, Halloween began as part of Allhallowtide, a Christian feast holiday. According to HistoryChannel.com, “In the eighth century, Pope Gregory III designated November 1 as a time to honor all saints; All Saints Day…The evening before was known as All Hallows Eve, and later Halloween.” Halloween was originally part of a Religious feast intended to honor those who have gone before us. And yet so often we see all of the hullabaloo of Halloween today feeling like something different from it’s Christian roots and often become something else entirely. Even as I am writing this I am thinking about all of those who feel like Halloween is a dark holiday to be avoided at all costs…and I respect your opinion, but think with me for a moment. Try putting yourself in the place of one of the kids who got be at our Fall Festival last night or who looks forward to Trick-or-Treating this coming week. You’re telling me that for a day I get to dress up like someone else, go around to my neighbor’s houses and they give me candy? It’s almost kind of magical. And who doesn’t love another excuse to eat candy?
I have always looked at scripture a little differently and I hope you will amuse me here. To me, one of the saddest verses in all of scripture is found in I Corinthians 13:11 “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.” So often we think of this as the natural maturation process, but what if it is talking about the loss of the natural wonder and love that comes with childhood? I think all to often we are ready to grow up and we miss the joy and simplicity of living that can be seen through the eyes of a child. Maybe if we began to see this holiday again through the eyes of a child and all the joy I saw last night we might be able to see it a little differently. Maybe the treat is found through the trick of seeing Halloween as a child. And maybe holidays like Halloween can be enjoyed in a new light as we seek to reclaim the world yet again through childlike wonder and joy.
Last night we had a bit of a storm in Odessa…I guess that is a bit of an understatement. Last night the heavens furiously hurled huge chunks of ice at the property and possessions of the residents of Odessa, TX. Okay, maybe that was a bit too dramatic. There was hail. And lots of it. Everything from marble sized to softball sized hail made it’s impact on our community last night . On our church property alone there were windows busted out and many of the cars parked in our parking lot lost windows and windshields in like fashion. Needless to say our mid-week service was cancelled and most all of us anticipate a long day today. However, the best thing to come out of this (stay with me for a second) was what could be observed immediately following.
My first observation actually occurred during the storm. Our church all of a sudden became a haven for those who were out walking or whose cars were no longer operable. Some of our lay people even gave folks rides home afterwards. After the rain and hail subsided a few of our people even began to assist one another with glass and debris clean up. Our church Media and Arts director even helped tape up multiple windows (with trash bags and gaffer tape) and then proceeded to jerry-rig a bumper back onto a vehicle so the owner could get back home. A little later I got to see neighbors across the street from the church coming out of their homes and talking and seeing how they could help one another with what lay ahead. I was reminded of a passage from Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” – II Corinthians 1:3-4
I love the idea that the compassion we extend to others is a reflection of the compassion we have received from God. In fact, the word for comfort in the Greek in this passage is parakaleō, which is best translated as come along side of. And isn’t that what compassion is all about. It’s not so much about throwing money at a cause or sending words of encouragement from a distance, but it is actually about coming alongside one another, acknowledging one another, and embracing the humanity in each other. True compassion sees the need, but it doesn’t denigrate the humanity in the process. Last night I was able to observe compassion truly lived out in the life of my church and it made me proud to be their pastor. Actually, it left me humbled. The fact that people this awesome would allow me to come alongside them and talk about Jesus is pretty spectacular. But then again, it’s also a reminder that we are all in this together. So today may be a long day for a lot of us, but we truly are all in this together.
For those of you who don’t know, I have in the last four years become a Disney Princess aficionado. This is a position that has been rendered upon me by the birth of our now 4-yr-old daughter. Not only can I recite to you every Disney Princess story in breathtaking detail, but I can also sing every song, dance some of the dances and may have even been moved to emotion while watching one or two of the movies. Let’s be honest; having a daughter changes a man. But sometimes the lyrics in said Disney movies stick with me for all the wrong reasons. For instance, this morning the song Human Again from the second release (oh yes, there was a second release) of Beauty and the Beast began coursing its way through my synapses. I’ve often wondered why the objects in the enchanted castle were so consumed with being human again. I for one think it would be pretty cool to be a talking grandfather clock or candellabra, but they seem to be overly tired of that existence. The song even concludes with the following stanza, “I’ll be all that I was, On that glorious morn, When we’re fin’lly reborn And we’re all of us human again”.
Now I for one don’t quite relate to their elation at being human again. For instance, two days ago I was reminded in the most violent fashion of how human I was again. While attempting to better my human self at our local gym I was briefly distracted while moving a weight from a rack to the bar. And said 45lb weight thought that a nice detour between the two locales would be a five foot drop onto the top of my foot. It didn’t take long for me to remember how non-superhuman I was and how actually run of the mill human I truly am. And for the last two days I have carried/dragged that reminder around with me. Needless to say I don’t really need a reminder of what it is like to be human again.
I find it aptly timed that I received this little reminder of my mortality and fragility during the season of Lent. A season where we reflect on our condition apart from Divine intervention. The apostle Paul reflects on this same condition in his second letter to the church in Corinth saying, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” – 2 Corinthians 4:7. I guess my issue with the talking house decor from the aforementioned Disney movie is that their idea of being reborn is to simply be human again. My idea of being reborn is to be more than human. And this isn’t accomplished by my own strength and power. That usually results in me dropping heavy things on my appendages. No, this is something more. What I long for and seek to live into is the Divine miracle of the Spirit of the Eternal God making It’s dwelling inside of this fragile, flawed, decaying clay jar that I call me. And it becomes for all of us a new way to be human again as we are made into the image of God.