Life can get unusual and bizarre at times. I thought I was in for a great Fall day decorating pumpkins and crunching apples and suddenly I found myself dodging knuckles. Then, when all had settled, I’m face-to-face with a Palestinian from the West Bank talking about refugees and pipe bombs. Yeah, life can be quite strange - strangely connected.
Grab a cuppa and sit back and absorb the next few minutes. If we’re acute in our listening to what life is saying, we can learn more than a few lessons from pumpkins, fist fights and a Palestinian - because they’re all saying the same thing!
Each year our town hosts a Fall Festival. It’s completely free to the residents. Seventy-one pizzas, boxes of hot pretzels, chicken fingers, hot cider, apples, candy, water and a host of other food items were freely passed out. A scarecrow making station, farm wagon hay rides and mini train rides filled the hours for hundreds. For the past few years I’ve been volunteering and taking some students along to help. A group of them were stationed at the “pumpkin patch”. Plump, orange globes were piled beneath a tree as children could freely select the one they wanted and then decorate them with markers, stencils and stickers. I watched as child after child, with a parent tossed in here and there, happily trotted off with their squash.
Then, I became the meat in the sandwich.
I walked up to the train depot where the mini was chugging along. As I was admiring the rumble of the engine and the view of the festival, I heard shouts and screams from the blind side of the station. A fight had broken out and two men were rolling around in the weeds. Quickly sizing up the guys, who appeared two times taller than me, in my best authoritarian voice I bellowed commands for them to break it up. To my absolute shock, they separated and others quickly came between them. The scuffle seemed to be over as the police raced to engaged - simply to calm the scene. Having chaplaincy training, I engaged as well. As onlookers dispersed, I continued to talk with one grappler as he panted heavily and we looked for his composer - it was lost in the weeds somewhere. Then, I became the meat in the sandwich.
Not having found the composure I was hoping for, the assailant walked passed, a verbal banter of the highest caliber of language erupted as a third guy decided to toss his unwanted 2-cents in. As if things weren’t bad enough! And before I knew it I was unpleasantly squished between the first and the third. Again, as the men crashed to the pavement and teeth were dislodged, the police descended, but this time with arm holds and handcuffs. My glasses were bent and my low back pulled, but the pain I felt was nothing compared to that which I saw in the horrified eyes of a seven-year-old girl as she helplessly watched her father being arrested.
The only way that we will successfully engage people with any message, especially the message of the Gospel of Jesus, is through relationship and love.
Fifteen hours later I sipped coffee and nursed my back as I absorbed a story of what seemed like a commentary from hell. A well spoken man explained how a simple 10 mile trip to work could take four hours due to checkpoints and armed security. How generation after generation grow up in refugee camps surrounded by hostility beyond my comprehension. How political regimes use next door people to fight ancestral grudges. As the Palestinian man spoke, I wasn’t thinking of the last 24 hours, my low back yes, but not how everything was resonating the same message. Suddenly it all pulled together when the words from the West Bank came crashing through: The only way that we will successfully engage people with any message, especially the message of the Gospel of Jesus, is through relationship and love.
Relationships matter. People matter. People want to be honored, not like the Academy Awards, but for simply being human. They want to be respected, listened to, heard. When we approach people with biblical humility, even a pumpkin can help in softening a person’s heart. When we take time to understand the soul pain of refugees, seven-year-old girls and the marginalized, we express the love of God in ways that simple talk can’t. And the fight? That was two people wanting respect and defending their dignity. I got a call the other day from one of the guys. He apologized. I accepted.
Do you see it? Do you see the thread that connects the three? A deep desire to be loved. And love is simply just four letters until we put actions to it! We say, “God loves you” but often miss the expression of that love in Jesus’ death. We get clouded over and jaded with the anger and deception so common around us, when we actually have the power to touch hearts, even with something as simple as a pumpkin or a listening ear. I have to say, this weekend will remain with me for a long time. Not just in my low back, but in my soul as I try to fully grasp and then display the power of love.
Here’s a challenge you: First, find a person who is burdened by something and find a way to engage them. Listen. Ask questions but don’t offer an opinion unless asked. Next, live in humility. As this world shows less and less from leaders, athletes and the elite, live in humility, considering others better than yourself. And finally, learn about Jesus’ love for you. It will make all the difference in the world! Keep your eyes wide open for God speaking, sometimes it comes in pumpkins, fist fights and Palestinians.