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When people talk about the winds of change, they probably don’t mean precisely what happened on a recent Friday.
With wind gusting all day long, the Lutheran pastor from Rocky Mount called to ask if we had suffered any damage. I had been in and out of my office all afternoon, and though there had been quite a bit of noise, I hadn’t noticed anything.
However, just as I was getting ready to leave for the day and my wife was calling to tell me we had a canine emergency at home and she was heading to the vet, I was rushing to my car and then stopped in my tracks. There was debris all over the churchyard! And upon further examination, the absence of our normal church sign clued me in that we indeed did have wind damage in that the moniker of our church home had been plucked right out from between two posts and shattered into pieces.
We may not have had a sign, but maybe we had a sign from God (and not the one you’re thinking of).
I noted on Sunday morning that folks still found the church — even visitors. One could chalk that up to simple familiarity, tenacity or maybe something a little bit more profound. For those who love it, little distractions will not deter their devotion. And to be honest, some folks are just on autopilot and might not have even noticed it. But even for me, on the busy traffic of Nash Street, our sign always gave me a sense of navigational certitude without which — well, I’ve driven right past the church on a number of occasions!
The lack of the sign as a point of discussion brought something into focus for me this past week that I guess is at the base of many of the things that we have been about the last few years. You see, members of the church really don’t need the sign. They know where the church is. In fact, people who are determined to get to Ascension Lutheran Church can use GPS, Google Maps and all sorts of crafty ways to figure out where to go.
But the sign is really for the uninitiated or the visitor. The sign is the most basic form of evangelism to share who we are and where we are so we can hopefully tell folks about Jesus. But all this also happened to occur the week of Valentine’s Day, and it got me thinking less about the Hallmark sentimentality and more about the four-letter word on which the holiday revolves and, indeed, which my thought for this week revolves, namely “Love.”
It is most likely not an overstatement to say that everyone has love in their lives. They have people who they love, and they have interests, hobbies or passions that they wholeheartedly admit that they love. And depending on to whom you are talking, these passions can take some rather traditional formats like sports enthusiasts who can give you every stat from every year of their favorite player to those who have the occasional off-the-wall interest like someone who is really into trains, or into model building, or into building model trains.
I don’t want to denigrate the use of the word love by this comparison just because it might involve the use of a ball and a game or tracks and a train. The point is, people have passions and interests that sometimes in generous terms make them an expert, or in more colloquial terms, make them what some refer to as a “geek” for (you fill in the blank).
My one friend, Hector, always likes to point out that the word geek has become an endearing term for those who have a passion for certain parts of the culture concerning movies, comics and the like. But really, a geek is just someone who is really, really, passionate about something. Which means there are sports geeks, car geeks, food geeks, tech geeks, tool geeks, music geeks — you get the point.
And you know there are Bible geeks and church geeks, there are geeks for God and of course there are geeks who geek out on how many geeks there are!
Now, I know Valentine’s is a bit of a stretch to talk about things you love when it is supposed to be about the people you love. But my point is that the same God who gives us the people we celebrate on Valentine’s Day also gives us the stuff we are passionate about and geek out on!
So, what about that sign stuff? The whole point of the sign out front of any church is not to make a statement as such, but to point you in the right direction. The whole point that I have been trying to make through my newspaper columns for the past three years is pretty much the same.
There may be some geeky stuff, some attempts to be clever or insightful, but for the most part it has been to simply point to the God all around us talking to us in the things that grab our attention, in the things that make us laugh and smile, in the stuff we find ourselves drawn to and passionate about, and especially in all the many people who embody all the loves we find in everyday life.
And if you doubt that there are passions around, all you have to do is hit the right subject with the right person and you can find out all about the wonder of bees, how best to service a nuclear submarine and which barbecue place you need to try next, along with almost anything else you might want to know.
A good number of them can tell you how that connects to God’s love. They might even tell how you can get to the church they love. And they might explain it with such passion that you know exactly how to get there — even if it doesn’t have a sign out front!
Pastor Zach Harris has been an ordained minister for 28 years and currently serves Ascension Lutheran Church in Wilson. His column, “Through a Lutheran Lens: A Pastor’s Perspective,” appears weekly in The Wilson Times. Previous columns are available at WilsonTimes.com.