Pitch A Tent

Pitch A Tent
On Making Room For the Holy

I posted a photo on my facebook page last week which garnered more of a response than I’d anticipated. Truthfully, I wasn’t even sure if I should share it but it seemed significant and so I did. In that photograph is a stack of paper.

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Not just any pile of paper.

I’ve been working on that stack of paper for over 14 years. In fact, I’m fairly certain that this ever growing act of blatant plagiarism is in direct violation of all the copyright laws – an irony not lost on someone who slaps a copyright on everything she produces. I figure what Zondervan doesn’t know won’t hurt them. Hopefully. Because this isn’t a journal or a thesis or some kind of opus that’ll one day blow the minds of all who ever knew me. It’s the Bible. I’ve been copying the Bible, painstakingly, for my entire adult life beginning at age 18 and having just passed the halfway point now at 32. So in fairness, this is only half the Bible.

Why? I guess I fell in love with the Word of God kind of by accident on my part. Initially I began reading it in order to prove it wrong. Like if I read it for myself, then I could bring my own arguments to the table and be able to believe in God (maybe) without all the Jesus stuff (because that would be weird) and I damn sure wasn’t interested in Ghosts, of the Holy or any other variety. (The lighbulb in my lamp exploded after I wrote that and I almost peed my pants. True story.)

It went well for me in that I failed miserably. Father, Son, Holy Spirit. What does that even mean? Who knows. I was in. Just like a crazy person. It was highly unsettling and I am still at odds with myself trying to reconcile logic and faith. So there I was. 18 and a new Christian. Like a for real one. Now what?

I didn’t know it then, but my now what was that God was helping me pitch a tent. I’d read the Word, but it was time for me to know the Word.

Now Moses used to take the tent and pitch it outside the camp, a good distance from the camp, and he called it the tent of meeting…Whenever Moses entered the tent, the pillar of cloud would descend and stand at the entrance of the tent; and the Lord would speak with Moses…Thus the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, just as a man speaks to his friend. When Moses returned to the camp, his servant Joshua, the son of Nun, a young man, would not depart from the tent.
Exodus 33:7a,9,11

Pitch a tent. For Moses this was a literal thing. An actual tent. A place where room was made for the holy. A place of meeting with God. And what is so perfect about this for me is that tents were just ordinary to those people in that place and time. Everyone lived in a tent. And perhaps God chose this way of meeting with them to demonstrate His movement with them, among them and for them. He moved where they moved. When they moved. How they moved. Not just in a pillar of cloud or fire, but in a tent. In a way that was accessible and sensible to people who were displaced, dismayed, and at some serious disadvantage.

I shared that passage of Scripture with Mateo on Sunday at his baptism. I prayed about what verse or story would be an encouragement to him as he’s made this choice to follow Jesus at such a young age. I shared with him that it’s not Moses who strikes me in this story, it’s Joshua. Joshua the man who would later be one of only two to give a good report about where they were going, and would ultimately lead Israel into her Promised Land. Yet before all of that, as a young man he did something so odd that someone made note of it at the tail end of a narrative that wasn’t yet about him.

Joshua stayed in that tent.

This is what I told Mateo matters. We don’t know how long Joshua stayed in the tent of meeting. Or why. Just that he did. Imagine being the fly on the wall to God meeting with Moses. I wouldn’t leave the tent either. I probably wouldn’t be able to get up off my face or put words into sentences after witnessing that. So that was my advice to Mateo. That he finds a way to stay – to abide – in the Presence of God. Now. While he is young. After the baptism, after the church service, after the speaker goes home, after the lesson is over, after a bad day at school, after his heart gets broken, after he succeeds and after he fails. Pitch that tent and stay there. Learn to know the Voice of God. Acquaint himself with the holy. Before he meets whatever it is that God has called his life to be about. So that he can go forward and give a good report. So that he can be confident and sure of what that still, small voice sounds like when the rest of life is a clamorous noise. Because He knows that Voice like his own best friend.

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Glenn, a worship pastor, and his Dad, a pastor here in Canada and a church planter in the Philippines, baptizing Mateo.

As for me, I felt called to start hand copying Scripture after hearing a story about a woman who’d done so for each of her children. What a thing – I was inspired. This was God calling me to the tent of meeting. It has come with me everywhere I’ve gone and through every high and low season. It is the most valuable thing I possess. It is perfectly ordinary – nothing but a stack of paper bought for 25 cents a package. So I pitched a tent and I’ve been there ever since. This abiding has anchored me in storms that should have sunk me. I know the Voice that has called me out. I can confidently give a good report, seeing potential where others see ruin.

What this looks like for Mateo and our other kids, is for them to sort out. I’d hate for my project to become a monument where they get stuck. Whatever their tent of meeting is, God will show them. My husband is a music guy. That’s what speaks to him and where he sees and hears from God. I’m a word girl. Give me words, all the words. We each find our own way to encountering the Holy, whether that be in the middle of a desert, on a mountain top, in a moment of song and worship, in stillness, in prayer, over coffee with friends, in a church service, or at the kitchen table with pen and paper in hand.

This abiding thing. It is where deep calls out to deep and it’s exceptionally more difficult than I’ve made it sound here. Because really, it’s supposed to go out from us and bring this light to the world and I really don’t know how to do that right. It’s not about us at all. That was why I wasn’t sure if I should post that picture of my stack of paper Bible. Sometimes I think Jesus needs to make me invisible so that I get out of the way of people getting to Him. I’m no evangelist on account of my lack of people skills. I read Scripture and wonder at how the Gospel got spread because thank God that Paul was there and that the early church was fearless. The apostle Paul – tent maker for a living and a tent pitcher for the Kingdom, making the Gospel a mansion where there’s room for everyone and showing people how to get there. And all I have is my pen and my paper and my Bible and it feels very much ordinary and inadequate in a world that spurns the sacred and holy. So I abide, in hope that in my meeting with God, someone else follows and gets stuck in the tent like Joshua shadowing Moses, and refuses to depart from it too.

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Deep calls out to deep.

It’s all I have to give.

(Selah)

copyright (c) 2016 Jenna Pelias // all rights reserved

 

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On Halloween

I think I may actually offend many of the church going people I know with this post. I’m not sorry. Just so we’re clear, you know – in advance.

(*Edited to add that when this post was written in 2012, the only people who read it were my church going friends who really know me, and they know that when I say I might offend them, that I’m saying so in a let’s-still-be-friends-even-if-we-disagree, kind of way. I did not expect this blog to blow up the way it did the following year in 2013. I did not intend to offend the church going people everywhere, all the time. Holy smokes. But that seems to be what happened, however unintentional.)

Every Halloween it’s the same silly thing.

People getting annoyed with the gore. The focus on death. The devil. The blood.

And you know, I’m not a huge fan of all that stuff either. In fact I’m kind of a basket case with it, to the point I don’t even watch commercials for scary movies. So totally not my thing. But as I sat in my van tonight listening to Christmas music while watching Glenn and the boys knock on my parents’ neighbor’s doors, I was struck by something.

This is the only night of the entire year that most of your neighbors and mine are going to come knocking on our doors. The only night.

And what is the typical Christian response to this?

1. To go to church and hide from our neighbors at a “harvest party” with costumes and candy.
(FYI – nobody is fooled. Unless you live on a farm or have a grow op in your basement we all know that there isn’t any harvest going on. I will concede however that in some places the only viable way to participate in Halloween at all is to go to some sort of church or community party. Do your thing. It’s all good.)

or

2. To turn off the lights and ignore the door bell for the evening.

I’m sure that both of those things are going a long way toward the command to love our neighbors. Jesus didn’t know anything about blood or torture or dying a gruesome death. The devil was definitely not there when Jesus died for and saved all of humanity.

Right?

I’m not here to try to sit down and come up with something redeeming about this holiday. There is nothing redeeming about it in the Christian sense of that word. But really, so what? Are so many of us really willing to keep our lights off and our doors closed because the neighbors are coming calling for candy instead of Jesus? Are we really sitting on our couches the other 364 days of the year waiting for them to show up looking for a revival? What exactly is so redeemed about the rest of the nights of the year? Lights are out, door is locked, nobody has a clue from the outside that Jesus is home.

Before I was a Christian myself, which didn’t happen until I was nearly 18, Halloween was the most innocent, stupid fun night of the year. Whatever the historical or spiritual origins of Halloween may be, I was like most kids and families who were then and still are today just in it for the fun and candy. That’s it. The dark side of Halloween was off limits for us. My parents aren’t into that either. Those houses with the people we knew were ignoring us? We figured they were religious nuts or hated kids or both. Obviously as an adult now, I do realize that there are people new to the country who don’t have a clue what’s going on. Or people who have backgrounds of trauma or cultural reasons for not participating. Or people who don’t get kids at their door in the first place. Or communities where trick or treating doesn’t make sense so everyone goes to a big party. This is not meant to offend anyone in those or other groups who just don’t or can’t participate.

When we were kids, the houses with the really bloody, awful decorations? Skipped them. Christians aren’t the only ones who aren’t into that stuff. The houses we liked the best were the ones with cool pumpkins and friendly faces at the door. My kids are the same way now. They don’t like the front lawns with zombie arms coming out of the ground and tombstones and skeletons and some creepy guy who looks half dead at the door. A lot of kids don’t. One year one of our more zealous neighbors took apart a bunch of toy baby dolls and covered the limbs in fake blood before scattering them around his yard. Classy. My kids literally ran past his house to the one with the lights on and nothing that would give them nightmares at the door.

May I suggest that you have neighbors who just want their kids to have fun and be safe on Halloween? They aren’t biting heads off of small animals or chanting spells or making voodoo dolls out of your likeness. They are normal people. I know this because I was one. I am one for crying out loud. Your neighbors are not out to get you. They just want you to meet them. To say hello. To share some candy. To be nice to their kids.

If Jesus can go straight to hell, stare death and devil in the face, win and come back alive, why can’t we open our doors to the 6 year old in a Batman costume and his shivering mom?

Why. Can’t. We?

I’m not denying that there are some really dark and disturbing things about this holiday that we don’t need to expose ourselves or our children to. Those church events may be the best place to party like it’s 1999 on Halloween for lots of families. I’m not assuming to know what is best for every person everywhere. I’m just saying that hiding from this holiday and the opportunity to meet our neighbors and/or their awesome kids may not always be the best way to approach it. So if you’re torn or on the fence or not sure how to deal with this very polarizing day for the Christian world, here are some thoughts:

Turn your light on. Lots of lights. A city on a hill cannot be hidden right? Be a city on a hill. Halloween may not be “redeemed” but you are. So open your door and smile.

If you don’t want to give away candy, give away something else. This year my kids got packets with juice boxes, raisins and prepackaged cookies. The kids may not jump for joy (mine didn’t) but hey – Halloween is the last day of the month. That kid’s mom or dad might not have done groceries yet since being paid, and that snack pack may be the best thing in the kid’s lunch the next day. You seriously never know. I’ve lived in a neighborhood where I can guarantee you this is true for a lot of families. I’ve seen some of those kids’ lunches. It ain’t always pretty. The kids also got play dough this year, and have received little pencils and notebooks in the past. There are some very fun, creative people out there who just want to do something nice for the neighborhood. Be one of those people!

Or give away the biggest, best candy on the entire block. Be the house that every kid in your neighborhood goes to every year because you are the awesome house with the best treats and nicest people at the door. You don’t have to like Halloween to be the best thing that ever happened to it in your neighborhood. My husband’s family lives across the street from the house I lived in when I was a kid. And I happen to know that another house, just down the street, gives out the best candy in the neighborhood. When we stopped by to visit Glenn’s brother and family tonight, I sent my kids to that house down the street, and sure enough those super nice people with the good candy were still there, 19 years later. I love those people and I don’t even know them! Now my kids think they rock too. I want to be those people. Seriously.

Decorate. I saw a sign for a house near us that put up a pumpkin patch on their lawn. What a great idea! We didn’t get there because we were trick or treating at my mom and dad’s (they watched Rosalie), but I am so stealing that idea when we live in a house that gets trick or treaters.

Or throw a little carnival on your lawn. Rent a popcorn machine and haul out a portable fire pit if you have one for the moms and dads to warm their hands. Get a cooler full of water bottles. Rent a coffee urn and buy a huge bag of disposable coffee cups. Put some carnival games on your lawn and make the kids win their candy. I don’t know. Just do something fun. Something different. Something memorable.

You may still hate Halloween and avoid it at all costs. That’s fair. It’s not for everybody. But hey, it’s over now so you’ve got a whole year to mull it over. Give Halloween a chance. Be a blessing. Love your neighbor. Even if you think the whole thing is just awful. Jesus didn’t come to redeem a day. He came to redeem lives and all we have to do to be part of that is to love our neighbors. Not preach at them. Not throw Bible verses in the Halloween bag instead of candy. Just love them. It’s so easy. It’s so worth it. And seriously, it’s so much fun.

One day this world and everything in it will pass away, including Halloween. What will be left will be lives. If the only chance we have to make an impression on some of our neighbors is on Halloween, we may as well make it the best impression possible. Let Jesus handle the blood and the gore and the death. He’s done it before, after all.

***

Due to the overwhelming response to this blog, I wrote a follow up in 2014 which can be found here.

I also posted this status on my blog facebook page:

Halloween is dark and scary and gory. Yes it is. But there kids and there are families, in every neighbourhood in my country and yours, who see, hear, and experience darker, scarier, and gorier things than Halloween all the time. Halloween is not scary to them because they have experienced real horror, and real terror. And believe it or not, Halloween, for some kids, is the LEAST scary thing they’re going to experience this month or this year. For some kids, it’s the most fun and least threatening thing they will do.

And so, if Halloween is the MOST scary night you can think of, or that you’ve experienced. You are blessed, my friends. And the world needs your light. It needs it bad.

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As of November 1, 2013 comments on this post are closed.
As of 2017, comments have been REOPENED. Please be respectful.

Fall 2014 at the pumpkin patch.

Fall 2014 at the pumpkin patch.

Fall 2014, Just playing with pumpkins.

Fall 2014, Just playing with pumpkins.

copyright (c) 2012 Jenna Pelias // all rights reserved