Friday, March 16, 2012

Of Fernando and lab coats

So this week I was walking through the mall and I walked through Macy’s (if you walk into one of the stores it doesn’t look like you are “mall-walking” for exercise!) anyway. As I walked into the store there were several women wearing white lab coats walking the aisles of the store. Were these women medical personnel? Maybe they were scientists taking a break from some important research to cure some terrible disease. My next clue as to who these women were was the fact that they all seemed to have on very tall high heels and dangly earrings. I’m not positive but I’m sure that both of these accessories would hinder a certain amount of productivity in scientific lab research and/or medical field practice. Of course we all know that these were Macy employees who were working at the make up counter, but it struck me that the lab coat they were required to wear as part of their position was meant to send a certain message. I’m not certain what the message was but it seemed to me that it was supposed to inspire a certain confidence in the product as a “healthy product” if someone in a lab coat sold it to me. I’m not trying to impugn the quality of the make up in Macy’s or the ability of their employees but it illustrated to me how much appearances determine our feelings or how we can mask our insecurities or fears by “looking good”

When it comes to faith I don’t think it is much different. I know that in my own situation there have been times that I felt like I needed to look like I had it all together, when the reality was that I was struggling spiritually and emotionally. It is especially true for those of us who serve in ordained ministry. I think most of us like to know that our pastors and priests are human, but we don’t want to know that they have issues and problems like the rest of us. As one of my favorite SNL characters Fernando of Fernando’s Hideaway used to say “It’s better to look good than to feel good.” I’m afraid we have all bought into that thinking.

I have been teaching a very basic overview of the Bible at Salmon Creek United Methodist Church. As with most of the events or classes I lead I put a lot of effort in creating safe places for people to ask honest questions. What I have found is that for many of us church-goers we don’t really understand the story or themes of scripture. They are confusing for us and seem to be unrelated. We realize that they are important, after all we hear sermons about them every Sunday don’t we? So we tend to cover up our confusion or doubt, and smile and nod our heads when we talk about faith and scripture. I am so happy that the class has been a place where there are no stupid questions and the friends that are participating feel safe enough to ask questions that they may not otherwise, because we may see under their white lab coat. It also dawned on me that many of us don’t feel as though communities of faith are places where we can find the support or help when we are struggling with issues of faith and life. We talk a lot about unconditional love, but most of us are afraid to expose our struggles because we aren’t sure whether or not churches and other communities really mean it when it comes to us.

During Lent Christians for centuries have set aside 40 days to wrestle with exactly these issues. The problem I find myself and others, struggling with is that we interpret Lent as a purely individual effort. “it’s time for me to hunker down and ‘get right’ with God.” Although that is not a bad idea for most of us. I hope that we realize that a huge aspect of faith is living as part of a community and that we can find help, support and life in when we come across those dry, confusing and challenging times in our faith. I hope that this season of Lent is not only a time for you to deepen your relationship with God, but also a time where you can connect with a community of faith that fosters growth, joy and hope in you.

I pray this is a wonderful season of Lent for you!


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