I should be sleeping. By my last tally, I've driven over 4000 miles since the end of June commuting back and forth to Louisville, including six trips in the last three days. Once in Louisville, I go one hundred miles an hour, until it is time to drive back home in the evening. I've been battling a bug for the last few days, I cracked my knee today on the railing at the new house and it now looks oddly deformed, and a surgical repair I had almost two years ago hurts so bad that I can only laugh.
I really should be sleeping. We've gone into overdrive on the preparations for the move which is exhausting in and of itself. In two days we will be moving to the big city where I can unleash the full force of energy and excitement, without having wasted three hours of it in the car every day. I should be sleeping, and maybe Louisville ought to catch a few z's as well. I can already hear a couple of my new parishioners nervously laughing (I hope laughing anyhow), "He's got even more energy!?"
I should be sleeping, but my mind is racing and my soul is soaring tonight. I keep thinking about yesterday; about the sign. I found myself all sorts of riled up this morning (in a good way) as my wife and I drove to Louisville, and it really hasn't subsided since.
The response to my "graffiti" has been overwhelmingly positive. I'm still convinced that it'll have made some upset before all is said and done, but that was a risk I was willing to take. It is at the heart of that, that my mind races and my soul soars. In the responses to my post yesterday, I've heard from friends, colleagues, and various other folks that I really respect and like, and with the positive, there does seem to be two shared concerns; "What if you have just encouraged more graffiti? What if others see it as a challenge to respond in the negative?"
Those are incredibly valid questions, as they were my own as well; "What if?" I really wrestled with that yesterday when it first occurred to me to respond. I say "occurred to me", but what I really mean to say is that I was trying to discern if what I was feeling was of God. I tend to be a very calculating person beneath all of the "craziness", I weigh and measure everything. Granted a lot of the time I do it on the fly, but very, very rarely am I ever reactionary. I credit the Marine Corps with that skill, of assessing, adapting, and responding on the fly. All of this to say, as I was driving from our new home back to the church I was really wrestling with whether to respond. What was the deciding factor? I was trying to determine if I wanted to drive out of my way to go and buy some chalk and I determined that I didn't. I just finally thought to myself, "If God wants me to do this, then I'll find some chalk at the church. After all there are chalkboards in the church." I wish I could tell you that I returned to the church to find a levitating, golden box of chalk, but I didn't. There wasn't any chalk on the chalkboards either. However, I did dig around in a bin in the old nursery to find a brand spanking, new box of unopened chalk. Divine intervention? Or my stubbornness? You decide lol. Being a man of my word, just in case it wasn't my stubbornness, I went outside and wrote my response...very nervously, but I ain't going to lie, it was awfully exhilarating too.
But I want to back up for a second; there was a reason that I mentioned my calculating nature. If I were to put a number on it, I felt that by the pastor responding to the neighborhood in their language, I stood a pretty decent chance of positively impacting someone, say, around a 70% chance. I also measured the odds of getting a negative response from graffiti, and I would put that at about a 95% chance. (I drove by today in the midst of moving and it remained untouched). In my mind there was an almost certainty that I was inviting something negative, while I only had a pretty good chance of positively impacting someone. Logic would tell you, "Don't do it." The risk outweighs the benefit, don't rock the boat, don't poke the bear, leave well enough alone, play it safe, and don't rile up the darkness. And therein lies my problem not with my friends, colleagues, and those who I respect and like a whole bunch, but with ministry and the Church in general...playing it safe and being fearful of stepping out of the box lest we invite the darkness to respond.
My response? Let's punch the darkness square in the mouth, consequences be damned. Make no mistake, I'm not trying to make something more out of yesterday than what is there. I maintain that it is plenty spectacular to begin with and it doesn't need me assigning cosmic battlefield imagery to it to make it more so. However, I cannot help but to wonder...when is the last time people in that neighborhood, my neighborhood, when was the last time they were told they were loved? Let alone by someone who ought "to know better" writing it on a wall? It may have meant nothing to anyone, including the person who wrote "I love God" on the side of my church. But what if it did? What if any of the numerous people who walk along side the church each day was reminded, "Hey you know what? God loves you. And you know what else? There just might be someone inside that church that would love you too." That is a risk worth taking and a "sign" worth leaving. Ultimately, had I not responded, I can assure you that I would not be sleeping tonight for far different reasons.
If my response had in fact reminded someone or opened a brand new door for someone to feel, or to seek love, what is a "negative response" in relation to that? Most of us take feeling loved and having value for granted, myself included at times. You know who doesn't have that problem? I would guess most of the people in my neighborhood. We all too often look for big, flashy miracles like levitating, golden boxes of chalk, when in reality we miss the real miracles of redemption, reconciliation, and love. You want to see a real, live miracle? You give people who feel that they are unlovable and worthless a reason to feel loved, worthwhile, and valuable. After all, we do believe, or at least we proclaim, that every human being was precious enough, valuable enough, and loved enough that God was willing to hang from a cross for them. What if tonight, someone else is not sleeping because they have found some sort of hope where none existed before?
To be sure, I am not writing this as a defense for what I did yesterday. In my calculations, I am always resigned to enduring the consequences of my decisions, for better or worse. But rather the purpose is to pose the question to the broader Church and Christians everywhere, a question and answer that seems to get lost and forgotten all too often. If we are doing our job as Christ followers, should not the natural response be opposition at some level? Satan could not care less about a quiet, safe Church. As a matter of fact, I think His greatest weapon is a quiet, safe, apathetic church that doesn't dare to make waves in fear of the consequences. It is useless, impotent, and maintenance free.
My neighborhood really is no different than your neighborhood or anyone else's. To reach it, to love it, to truly love it that is, it takes risk and it takes a willingness to punch the darkness square in the mouth. There are so many metrics used to measure effective ministry, but one that is rarely mentioned is the metric of opposition (John 15:18-20). And I wonder when we start paying attention to it. Odds are good that before long, you'll have the opportunity to drive by my church to see me cleaning spray paint off of her side, but do notice I'll be smiling. It will be a response to opposition earned.
I should be sleeping, but I am not.