My wife called to tell me the parking lot at Wal-Mart is packed this afternoon. Big sale? No, just the weather forecast.
Right now, I think they are calling for just about everything to blow into town between tonight and Saturday morning: snow, freezing rain, rain. After last weekend, most people around here have had enough of winter weather I believe. Still, the rush for bread and milk has begun. And then there are the inevitable decisions to be made: will the kids go to school? I have already had to inform one group that I was supposed to meet with tomorrow that I may not be able to get to the meeting 45 minutes away from where I am.
Still, as I read the forecast, I wondered how much of this preparation and worry is really appropriate. They really still don't know exactly what it will be like. Yes, there could be some dangerous conditions, but it is just as likely that things could just be a slushy mess. Of course, either way, does that change whether or not people want to get out in it? Even if things are not as treacherous tomorrow as they were last weekend, I still read the forecast and think to myself, "Man, it is going to be nasty. I really don't want to get out in that."
Makes me wonder ... what's the difference between dangerous and messy? I think that is sometimes a difficult line to identify. There are obvious dangerous situations that we should avoid, but I wonder if there are also messy situations that we would just rather not deal with, so we don't.
This afternoon, I delivered some food to a man who had called the church asking for help. I went to his house and he was waiting outside for me. There were several bags of food, and I offered to help him carry the food in a couple of times, but he politely refused. Instead, we stood outside talking for awhile. His clothes were dirty and it was obvious that he hadn't bathed in quite awhile. Yet his first words were to warn me to be careful tonight because of the ice. He talked about losing his job at the grocery store and not being able to find a new job. He asked how things were going at my church. He told a little bit of his own story and his struggles.
As I stood there, I found myself fighting a battle between the body and the spirit. The body wanted to run away from the smell and the dirt. The spirit wanted to stay right there as long as I could, spend time with this man, hear his story, offer at least some sense of community if I could not offer any more lasting comfort. Finally, I got back into the car and drove away, yet the battle waged on. Part of me was glad our visit was over, yet part of me was thinking about other ways to offer this man some help in the future.
It would be so easy to run away from any further interaction with this man and his family. Yet, honestly, to do so would be because I wouldn't want to get messy and not because I felt there was any threat. I don't believe that is a reason to stay way. Christ again and again walked among the people with "messy" lives. As I left his house to go back to my own church, I passed several other churches. I found myself asking, "How much do we Christians actively seek to avoid the messy? What are we missing in doing so?"
I think we confuse our fear of the dangerous and our fear of the messy, making them the same thing. I met a man today who reminded me that we may miss meeting Christ if we run from the messy.