Tin Foil Hats

Andy Romstad
Cambridge Lutheran Church

When my Dad was a pastor, there was this guy who would sit in the front row during worship and read his newspaper during the sermon. As soon as Dad began preaching, this guy would open his newspaper big and wide, and begin browsing the headlines.

We think the man may have been lacking in social skills. (Just a possibility.) And no, as you may imagine, he was not from Minnesota. No real Minnesotan would ever call attention to himself like that. (We’d be way more passive-aggressive.) Nor would a real Minnesotan ever get caught in the front row.

Now I never thought Dad’s sermons were so bad that you needed to bring a newspaper. However, I saw a guy checking his email during one of my sermons, the other day. I started to feel self-righteous about it, until I remembered that I do that, too, when I visit churches.

Why did this guy read the newspaper? Apparently, God had told him he was supposed to be a worship leader at the church. But God hadn’t told my Dad. God hadn’t told the existing worship leader, either. I don’t know if God had told this to anyone else.

Now I don’t think the man realized that at some point God tells every person in church that they should be the church’s music director. All it takes is some dirge hymn or too many seven-eleven praise choruses (seven words sung eleven times) and pretty much everyone in the place thinks God is telling them this.

Near this guy in worship most Sundays sat a friendly and kind woman who’d wear hats to church. Her hats were made of tin foil. She said the tin foil was to prevent aliens from reading her brain-waves and planting thoughts, there. Apparently, this had become a problem. She did not appreciate comments suggesting she was exaggerating the situation. The truth was that the rest of us should get wise to it.

Neurologist Oliver Sacks collected stories of his patients in his book, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat.  He notes that for each noticeably odd, often dysfunctional trait, there was often some wonderful redeeming characteristic. It might be an appreciation for beauty or deeply felt emotion.

You and I are daily surrounded by such people. We are such people. Perhaps, we don’t mistake our wives for hats or wear tin foil, but we are fallen, too. Maybe we just hide it better.

I’m not sure God has given us the ability to fix other people’s dysfunctions. But God has given us the command to love dysfunctional people. Discipleship is difficult.

Sometimes its easier to sit on the front porch with a cup of coffee reading the newspaper somewhere other than in the front row at church during the sermon. Sometimes its easier to stay home and watch the smiley guy on TV.  Sometimes its easier to keep a dysfunctional world at arms length.

The greatest honor in church is not to be the worship leader but to be a worshiper. I always thought it was sad that the worship leader newspaper man and the tin foil hat lady weren’t in a small group together. She could have kindly listened. “That’s not God telling you that,” she might have said. “It’s the aliens!”

Remember that God used (and uses) the dysfunctional and the unlikely to usher in the Kingdom of God.  Meanwhile, there is someone who has shown up at church, someone who is dying for love and laughter and life, someone who is looking for someone to be Jesus to them, someone there because where two or three are gathered in his name, Jesus said he’d be there. Who will extend a hand to them? And remember, as Seth Godin’s new book is titled, We Are All Weird.

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