I go to a text study on Wednesday mornings. It's at a little Irish coffee cafe so beautiful you'd never guess it used to be a porn shop in its previous life. It's all the way on West 7th in St. Paul, which means I must really like these colleagues if I'm willing to wander that far east before a long day at work. And I do.
I've been pretty hit and miss with text study this summer. But Wednesday I showed up on time ready to be fed by a perfect latte and really smart friends. Every time I show up they fill me with Spirit words I can't get out of my head and heart. I need those words this week because this work has been extra raw. Good, but raw. And these preachers are in the thick of it, too.
The texts for this Sunday are about clean and unclean laws. Why do we do what we do? Why do we bitch and moan and judge other people for what they do? What is the point of getting together and being the Church if we look goofy while we do it and confuse more than we clarify?
In the reading from Mark's gospel, Jesus and his disciples are eating without first washing their hands. The Pharisees get grossed out and offended, so they bring it up. Jesus gets crabby, quotes Isaiah, calls them hypocrites, and tells them to back off.
You could stop right there and decide the morale is, "Be pious about not being so pious", but that's a lame sermon. So we wandered a bit further and noticed Jesus says 'Evil comes from the human heart'.
Weird. Super weird. Because we live in a culture where people say, "Follow your heart"...as if that's a map that makes sense...and here Jesus is saying evil lives there.
This is where things usually derail at text study and derailing is my favorite part.
We talked about the divisive political culture - the horrible slander and violent assumptions groups make about each other. The mudslinging is exhausting and there's nothing substantive about this season in American life. People in the pews are hungry from something more honest and communal...even if it turns out to be complicated.
We talked about helicopter parents sending their kids to school this week. So many of them have baptized their children into this crazy faith and yet the last thing they want is for their kids to need saving. They try all day and all night for decades to ensure that their kids will never, ever need saving. Like the candle that was once slid back in the box and packed in a keepsake trunk, they tuck away God's promises for sweet memories or extreme emergencies. They try to handle the rest themselves.
We talked about our love of infant baptism and all got a little bit jealous of Marc, who has one on Sunday. He can talk about this reckless world and all the hard things that might befall that baby girl someday. He can hold her in his arms and be honest about what's she's up against...but that she's not alone.
Then we wrote our own mock-baptism liturgy. "As a sponsor hands her a candle you should say, 'Welcome to the shitstorm, little one. Here's your flashlight. It can get pretty dark out there.'" (And then we sang Welcome to the Shitstorm to the tune of Welcome to the Jungle by Guns n' Roses. Duh.)
"Welcome to the shitstorm. Here's your flashlight." That's the truth! When we come around someone at the font, we don't pat them on the back and say, "Follow your heart". No. That would be dangerous and lonely living.
Instead we give them a small flame and speak words of welcome. We promise that we're all in this together - no matter how weird and hard life gets. Baptism drenches you in waters that refresh for a lifetime. They are enough to carry you through every evil - every division, every disagreement, every judgement, every trial. They are enough because they call us together so our light grows brighter and breaks through the storm.
I drove west later that morning convinced that I am not alone and I am guided by much more than my own heart. I rolled the windows down and smiled with gratitude. I am in the thick of it with all the right people, a very faithful God, and a trusty flashlight that breaks through the storm.