I read yesterday’s blog post on relocating my appetite to my wife on the drive to church. I read my writing to her all the time, mostly to see if she laughs.
She suggested that it might make a nice newspaper column, and I stuck that in the back of my head while I went about a very busy Sunday. This morning I took a look and dove in, but something felt off and I knew what it was.
I write to a secular audience, which is to say I can’t assume anything. I have no problem writing about church, or my faith, or my lack of faith for that matter. I just think about appropriateness and interest, and what it is exactly that I’m doing.
So I punted, or at least veered off in a different direction, a humorous one but not dishonest or without merit. I gave credit to the Girl Scouts, and credit is deserved. I’ve eaten more Girl Scout cookies in the past week than in my entire life, and that isn’t dishonest either.
It feels tricky. I’ve written about religion and related news before, including personal information, but it’s been rare. There are lots of things I think about, and mostly I’m just trying to entertain, not enlighten. I don’t feel guilty about anything, that’s not the point. It’s just curious how reluctant I am.
Particularly given my history. My late friend and teacher, Sue Ellen Page, once described to me her husband’s journey, how he went all the way through seminary and graduated as an agnostic. He went into family counseling.
It’s an old story, one I’ve heard before. We’re all on journeys, and people lose their way sometimes, including their faith. I’ve been all over the map myself. I completely understand, as I said, and I also told her my secret.
“I write better when I believe in God,” I said. I meant it.
There’s a bunch of irony these days, as I noted yesterday. This personal crisis with my friend happened at the busiest time of the church calendar, which is mostly my wife’s busyness but I get some, too. Yesterday, in fact, I was scheduled to lead our Aftertalk, sort of an adult class following worship. We’re concentrating on several words from scripture during our Lenten season this year, and I took the first one, Shelter, and was supposed to run with it. Get the conversation moving.
A surprising thing happened. I began to sort of dissociate from the word, in that way that words sometimes begin to look weird, not spelled correctly or something. It wasn’t that, exactly, as much as comparing it to the other words (abound, secure, welcome, celebrate). It struck me that the two ways we use the word, as a verb or a noun, are distinct and very different, and I was mostly interested in the verb form.
Because a shelter can be anything, and it feels temporary. It can be what you look for when it’s raining and you’re waiting for the bus. It can be a poncho. It can be a rest stop.
But to shelter something, or someone...that verb began to fascinate me. The possibilities seemed to expand the more I thought about it. A synonym for shelter is protect, for one thing. Substitute that word and see what the world would look like if we held it in our minds, right there in the front. If we prioritized it. If we sheltered as an act of compassion, of kindness. Of humanness.
Or love. It’s not hard to imagine someone, particularly someone who’s engaged with community and has formed some sort of moral code, to consider strangers met on the street as just other humans to be loved. Happens all the time, regardless of the sincerity involved. We are all children of God, or so they say, and we should love one another.
So change it to shelter, and see how it feels.
It’s what we say when we bring a child into the world, after all. Not in those words, maybe, but that’s what we mean. We will shelter you. We love you, so we will protect you from the elements, from harm, from danger.
Now just extend that to strangers. It’s hard. It may be impossible. But yesterday, in a moment, I realized that it might be worth trying. That’s Lent for you. All sorts of things seem worthy of effort when you think about it.