Sheep.

There is the parable of the lost sheep. Jesus as the shepherd goes after the one. Every one is important. This lesson is used to remind us of how much God loves us. He cares for us personally, intimately, wholeheartedly.

There is a concern I’m hearing about me leaving church. It is the concern that I am the lost sheep. The only problem with that is that I’m not a sheep. Or maybe I am – it depends on your definition of sheep.

Most people feel that sheep are very docile. They are seen as soft and sweet. In the cartoons they are depicted with big smiles. Sheep need a shepherd because they aren’t smart enough to get where they should be on their own.

In that sense, of course people should worry about me. In that sense, I’m a danger to myself if I wander. I could get lost. I could get hurt. I could fall into a ravine. Or worse, I could wander around aimlessly and never return.

This image of sheep is a false image. Have you ever gotten face to face with a sheep? They are not fluffy and sweet. They are fierce. They will face you down if you dare to get in their area. Sheep are not what you think. They are so much more.

When I went to Great Britain with my aunt we spent a lot of time in the country. We saw sheep from afar mostly, but one time I wanted to see a Roman ruin that was in the middle of a pasture. Those sheep were not happy with me being there. They faced me off. Sheep don’t smile. They glower. That was a terrifying experience. And an enlightening one. It let me know from personal experience that everything I’d been told about sheep wasn’t true, in the least.

Sheep need a shepherd? No. Sheep are able to get by just fine on their own, thank you very much. It is more honest to say that the shepherd needs the sheep. The sheep are his livelihood. He trains them to be dependent on him so that they don’t get ideas about wandering.

Jesus says that his sheep know his voice. They come to him when he calls. Have you ever thought that when a person leaves a church it is for that very reason? They don’t hear their master’s voice in that church. They leave because they want to follow Jesus, and they realize they aren’t hearing him while stuck inside a building, going through the same old rituals that have been performed for 2000 years.

I’m not saying that folks in my old church aren’t getting what they need there. I’m saying that I’m not. I’m saying that the closer I get to Jesus, the further I want to run from church. All church. The entire idea of church. But I don’t want church as it is. Church as it is feels dead. The Body is on life support. It isn’t alive.

I want community. I want sharing. I want natural growth and support. I want there to be no leader. I want everybody to participate. I want no money to be used for this. I want people to work hard on their faith and their life. I want people to listen to each other honestly and with caring. I want dialogue. I want people to feel free to share their different viewpoints.

Hurray for sheep. They aren’t what you think they are. They are much more.

Handshake

Have you ever listened to the odd sound that a fax machine makes when it is trying to connect with another fax machine? There is a weird series of sounds and whirs and chirps and whistles. This series of sounds is called a handshake. Machine number one is trying to figure out what frequency machine number two is on so it can send the fax correctly. When they are able to properly connect it is the same as two people shaking hands.

When people shake hands they are communicating in a basic way. At a primal level they are saying they don’t have any weapons in their hands. Simply to touch another person is a big deal. We have a lot of rules about personal space. It is seen as rude to get too close to someone. People stand about a foot and a half away from each other in line. But to shake hands you have to get within that space.

Just offering to shake someone’s hand is a big deal. They can refuse. They could want a hug instead. There is a bit of jostling about to figure out where the other person is coming from, and what they want out of that interaction.

What about a wave, or a smile? Have you ever noticed that if you wave “hello” to a stranger they will invariably wave back? The same is true for a smile. The saying is “laugh, and the world laughs with you, cry, and you cry alone.” Substitute “smile” for “laugh” and you are on to something.

When I was at Cursillo I cried a lot. It was overwhelming. Symbolically it was Christmas and Easter and my birthday and my wedding day all together. It was a lot to a take in. I cried out of surprise and joy and relief. Towards the end I knew that we were going to be standing in front of a huge crowd of friends and strangers and we were going to be welcomed into the Cursillo family. We were going to have to stand up in front of them and answer the line “Christ is counting on you” with “and I am counting on Christ.” I had a pretty strong feeling I was going to cry, because I’d cried the whole weekend anyway. I prayed that I wouldn’t cry, but while I prayed I heard the answer.

Sometimes it is important to cry, because it lets other people know it is ok to cry.

It is as if we need permission to have feelings. By leading the way with a difficult emotion, it frees up others to have that emotion too. There is a sense of relief. Nobody wants to be the first to cry, but they definitely need to and want to.

It is very healing to let others know they can have feelings, that it is OK for them to let them out. Our society is really heavily into the idea of keeping a stiff upper lip. “Boys don’t cry” – yes, and then they grow up to be abusive and have heart attacks. Boys should cry. Girls should get angry and yell. When girls get angry, they are told they aren’t “ladylike.” Our society tries to shape our emotions as to what is OK and what isn’t. And then we have huge rates of depression and addiction and emotional disorders.

Let them out. Let others know it is OK too. If you stuff emotions in you get out of shape. Pressure builds up. Go ahead. Cry. Yell. You’ll feel better. Then go for a walk and maybe some yoga and a nap and have some decaf tea with your teddy bear.

No.

Think of those “no” signs. You know, the ones that have a picture of the thing that is not allowed and a big red diagonal line through it. No smoking. No guns. No food or drink. They don’t really tell you what is allowed, so much as what is not allowed.

The only problem with that is that we humans are programmed very oddly. If you tell someone to not think about something, the only thing they can think about is that thing. Remember the old chestnut about pink elephants?

The same works with children. I used to work in a craft store and parents would drag their children in while they looked at the wares. Everything was handmade and expensive. Not exactly the best place to be bringing your children, but there you go. The parents would invariably say “don’t touch” and the children would invariably touch everything there. It was comical and sad at the same time.

Then there was one day where a mom said something different. She said “put your hands in your pockets.” Instead of a negative command she gave a positive one. And it worked. She explained to me that they can only handle so much information, and they forget what they are told to not do. So telling them what to do helps them. Instead of saying “no running” in the library, it is better to say “walk, please.”

I remember a friend who was anti-Christianity. He wore an upside down cross. Something struck me about that. Even wearing a cross upside down, he was still wearing a cross. So he was still referring to Christianity. It seemed like it would make more sense to wear a yin-yang or a Buddha pendant, or nothing at all.

The best way to erase something is to not talk about it at all.

So I’m going to try from now on only to talk about what I think worshiping and serving God should be, not what it shouldn’t be. I’ll probably have to dip into the “not” world every now and then just to give an illustration, but I’m going to try to not stay there.