Dear West – 1 November 2018

Once a week I write a pastoral letter to the good people of the West Congregation of the Austin Stone Community Church. I will occasionally add some of those letters here.

Dear West Family,

Last night the Lester family experienced American trick or treating for the first time. Don’t worry, we managed to do it without selling our souls to Satan, although I do fear my previously saintly children may now worship the cruel pagan deities Skittles, Reeses and the very terrifying cosmic explosion deity Starburst. By the way, has anyone investigated the claim that this holiday was actually invented by dentists? I think it is a theory that is worth a look. The day does drive a lot of business to them, and it is the one day a year when they aren’t the scariest creatures in their neighborhoods.

Anyway, I digress. The evening was terrifying, wonderful and enlightening at the same time. It was terrifying because it was pouring with rain and your children are dressed up as something else and actively and repeatedly disobeying the command that has served us well for generations, that we shouldn’t take candy from strangers, especially strangers dressed up like zombie clowns. I feel like that is a good rule that we just annually ignore. It was absolute chaos in our neighborhood and at one point, me and a couple of other parents may have briefly detained a 6-year old Batman who was not at all the same person as their own 6-year old Batman. It must have been terrifying for young Batman to be firmly spoken to by a stranger dressed up as a middle aged suburban man, complete with slim (trying to be youthful) but stretchy (still want to be comfortable) Gap jeans (their sales are just good value), North Face jumper and sensible walking shoes. It must have been equally terrifying for the other Batman to witness his parents and friends attempt to take an altogether different child home with them. Lots of life lessons kids. Lots.

It was wonderful because I have never seen such vibrancy in our neighborhood. Everyone was out in the streets, greeting one another and enjoying the collective joy of a unifying experience. I even had a long chat with Wonder Woman, who was far less aloof that I had expected, either from the movie or from the fact that I see her walking everyday and she (and her dog for that matter) are pretty aloof ordinarily. It may have had something to do with whatever her confidence juice was that she was sipping from regularly in her Yeti cup. In fact, confidence juice was pretty common place amongst the grown ups last night.

And that brings me to why it was enlightening. It was such a reminder that people desperately desire community. We long for it. What drives it out of us though is the combination of some confidence juice and the opportunity to pretend that you are someone you are not, and that is pretty tragic. In Romans 12, Paul gives the church instructions on what it looks like to be a vibrant Christian community, and one of his primary instructions is to, “Let love be genuine”. In other words, no dress up allowed! Take off the mask, be yourself, and create the safe space for others to do the same. That is the basis of Christian community, but we really struggle to do it.

Dear friends, what if we became the kind of community that our neighbors desperately long for? The kind of place where they wouldn’t need to be Wonder Woman and wouldn’t need confidence juice to enter into, but where it would be okay to be just them, even if just them isn’t okay at all. We can be that sort of a people collectively if we start to just do it individually. Ask God to help you to be someone who promotes Christian community by giving you an opportunity to be kind, empathetic and loving towards someone new over the next little while, and ask God to help you to take off the costume and to let people see how you are really doing.

It’s scary to be sure, but not as scary as living isolated from others, and definitely not as scary as the dentist.

Much love,

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