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For most of my years in ministry, I have subscribed to the Christian Century, a biweekly publication of religious news articles, commentary, and book recommendations.  Rarely do I find the time to read the entire issue, so I set them aside for later reading.  Yet the most recent issue had me laughing at page 3 where the publisher Peter W. Marty offered his thoughts.  Peter was sharing of a time when he and his wife were listening to a presentation for park visitors at the Grand Teton National Park Visitor Center.

The presenter, a guy named Rick, was explaining how to deal with grizzlies in case of an encounter while hiking.  After the standard advice about hiking together and making plenty of noise, Rick turned to the bear spray clipped to his belt, warning his listeners that they would want to use this with care.  “Always make sure to take the wind into account.”  Peter wrote how, after hearing this warning, he imagined that if he were face to face with a grizzly, he’d be thinking more about his grave than the wind.  “But point well taken: it’s bear spray, not self-spray.”

Continuing his safety talk, Rick said, “You’ll want to spray this toward the bear, but not when the bear is too far away.  Wait until she is 30 feet away so that the cloud of mist doesn’t dissipate too soon.”  Upon this advice, Peter questioned it by writing, “I carry energy bars when I hike, not a tape measure.  And who in their right mind would actually wait for a bear to get sufficiently close?”  By now I am right there alongside of Peter in his thought processes.  But still Peter listened to Rick because he felt Rick knew more than he did about grizzlies.

“In the event that the spray fails you, you’ll want to lie face down in the ground and play dead.  Plant your face in the dirt with hands on your neck, legs spread slightly,” Rick further explained.  Peter added his thoughts to this suggestion: “…if you don’t know the definition of vulnerable, this is it.”  It was at this point that Peter might have had second thoughts on journeying out into the Grand Tetons, preferring to view the landscape from the safety of his car or view pictures of grizzlies from a magazine.   If you want to get close to nature, risk is inevitable.

Peter was struck that the same reality holds true for our relationship with God.  As he puts it: “If you want to get close to the Lord, there are risks involved.  You become part of a people who don’t look exactly like you and whose company may unsettle you.  You throw your money behind causes larger than your next Amazon purchase.  You take to heart Jesus’ mandate about feeding kids who don’t ask to be hungry.”

“If you want to avoid the risks associated with getting close to the Lord, keep your distance.  You can choose to talk about God, which is what a lot of religions and pledges of allegiance do.  If you want to get close to the Lord, prepare for some vulnerability, and be open to letting faith splay you wide open.  Risky as loving the One may be, it’s our only way of getting near to the grace and mercy we so desperately need.”  We are left to decide whether or not we are willing to take the risk.

See you Sunday,