I have donned the cape of Middle Aged Man for the last time. Last Sunday ended my run with the “Lesser Known Super Heroes”. I will no longer fight crime next to Poultry Man, Accordion Man andSopapilla Woman. It’s not likely I’ll be that missed. I think this crime-fighting band has come out of the shadows of secrecy only five times over the last ten years, and that was only to publicize church picnics.
None of them really have any “super powers”, although Sopapilla Woman, wearing a protective oven mitt, does throw really hot cinnamon and sugar encrusted sopapillas at criminals with pretty uncanny accuracy.
I didn’t really want this to end; but, a friend, after our most recent performance mentioned that 55 is pushing the boundaries of middle age. I realized in that moment that my season in the sun was over and that someone younger would need to take my place.
I’ve been thinking about why we’ve done this bit all these years. It gets more embarrassing each time, as the tiny super hero tee-shirts reveal more and more…well middle-agedness. We frighten both newcomers and children alike.
But I have come to understand we never existed just to publicize picnics but maybe to promote a way of life with each other. We are each leaders in our church. And so we are teaching a whole bunch of convictions every time we stumble out in front of our family. Here are just three of probably six-hundred-some:
*Dignity does not come from dressing up in formal clothing. We look silly and undignified. But we were never supposed to pretend to be any different than the people we serve. There is no clergy-laity separation in our convictions. Over the years I have discovered that I have received incredible respect, dignity, honor, permission and trust, mostly by never pretending I was someone above or apart from them. Influence is never achieved by a title or position, but only through being authentic, faithful and genuine enough to be trusted. Any time we can take off the robe of religious superiority with our own vulnerability, self-directed humor, and commonness, people flock to open their hearts and give permission.
*Church can be the most winsomely fun and enjoyable place in town. We are convinced God absolutely delights in laughter and playful joy. Joy has to be given expression. I really believe God probably gathers His angels around on occasion and says, “You gotta watch this. These guys are funny.” Reverence is not a pious voice or a solemnly quiet room. Reverence is when God is lifted up in all of who He is. We can teach a false and stupid dichotomy. We laugh and enjoy all week long and then we come to church and suddenly we can stage something melodramatically serious, piously trite or manipulatively condemning. It really is possible for there to be tears, repentance, communion, worship…andraucous laughter in the same morning. It’s all who God has made us to be. Cool God.
*An environment of health and grace celebrates. As I looked out at my friends last Sunday, it was so beautiful. We are all hurting, grieving over something. We’re afraid and concerned about twenty things. But for five minutes a family got to celebrate that love wins, that grace wins, that Jesus wins. That His life in us transcends and trumps the cynicism and despair of our culture. Everyone in that audience last Sunday was hooting and hollering and laughing in joy, shouting to us spontaneous blurts of mock offense. Even the most pious, stoic newcomer was compelled to smile, and drink in the infectious joy. The moment wonderfully models and teaches an environment of grace. Such who come under its delight, learn to no longer live a double life: one of pretend moral togetherness on Sunday and mortal inconsistencies and guilt the rest of the week.
I donned the cape for the last time Sunday. But I pray that, like the Dread Pirate Roberts of Princess Bride, anotherMiddle Aged Man is waiting in the wings. I pray that one Sunday morning, a few years from now, sitting in the audience, I will be surprised by the sudden loudness of the theme from Batman as the Super Heroes emerge from the crowd and another Middle Aged Man begins delivering lines. That’s when I’ll know my work here is done.