Bedtime theology with the 10 yo…

(Driving home from school, and passing by the Lutheran church I once served as pastor)

Me: Huh, that guy is bringing his trash to put in the church dumpster. I wonder what the church thinks about that?

10 yo: Well the sign does say “all are welcome.”

Me: Where did you see that?

10 yo: That sign out front, see? It says “all are welcome.” So, all are welcome to bring their trash.

This is an entire sermon already and this is why children are good theologians. When you come to church, you are welcome to bring your trash.

This is not what people think to bring when they come to church. People often wear their nice clothes and bring their good manners. They say "fine, good" when you ask them how they are doing. They smile during the passing of the peace or at the coffee hour. People often do not come when they feel like garbage. They don't want to sully the place with it. But maybe they should.

In a Facebook group I'm part of, someone recently asked about prayer. They said they don't get it. It doesn't always work. It feels fake to ask an invisible being to grant a wish. I can understand these feelings. But it got me thinking of one of the reasons that I do pray: it's like taking out the trash.

When I pray (in silence, journaling or spoken word), I can dump out whatever junky feelings are clogging up my brain. There's plenty of stuff I don't need: anxiety, shame, anger. But I could do that without God, so here's the hook: it's immensely comforting to place myself before God (or the universe, for those so inclined) and that I'm not in charge. The posture of placing myself before something/someone greater than myself is humbling, comforting, restorative. I don't have to fix everything. I don't have to carry all the burdens. I'm not alone in a trash heap here. I need some help, and help is available by the love of God working through the friends and family that God has placed in my life to help me sort through my junk.

On a walk this week, my toddler and I watched the big green trash truck rumble down our street. He loved seeing the robot arm extend, grasp the trash can, effortlessly lift it and then gently place it back down near each driveway. Some of the trash cans were a little full. Some of them needed an extra shake to get it all out (I can relate). And when it was over, some of them had moved a little bit from their original position. But all of them got empty, only to be filled and set back out again the next week, supplicants to the big green truck.

When we regularly place ourselves before God in prayer, worship and at the communion table, we're getting the trash out, too. I don't always feel like I've been put back in the same place when I've allowed myself to feel vulnerable before God, but that's okay. Sometimes I need a little repositioning and I can't do it alone. 

I told my 10-year-old that he was wise to think of the church as a place to bring your trash, including whatever big feelings or big questions you have. All are welcome, and may it be so. 


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