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Church mice

I had an interesting experience today. I dropped off my son at pre-school and went to an upper scale grocery store to get a few things I can’t get at my usual lower-end franchise. As I was pushing the cart up an aisle, I saw a fat (and apparently very happy) gray mouse scurry from the shampoo side of the aisle across the tile floor to a space behind a stack of Coke boxes stacked in front of the greeting cards on the other side.

Heh, I stopped short, gasped out loud (more in delight at encountering the unexpected than anything else), and then stood there for a few seconds. Of course, there must be mice in every grocery store. How can there not be with all that food?! But I thought I should probably tell someone. So I walked back down the aisle and got the attention of the first store employee I could, a middle-aged man stacking shopping baskets by a cash register. I smiled and lowered my voice so the other shoppers wouldn’t hear me and told him what I’d just seen.

His reaction wasn’t quite what I expected. He was a bit hesitant and didn’t respond at first. I made sure he knew it wasn’t a big deal to me (I wasn’t going to make a fuss), but that I thought someone might want to know. Then as we talked and walked back up the aisle so I could show him where it went, it dawned on me that he seemed offended. Like I’d somehow insulted him by pointing out the mouse. Wanting somehow to make him more at ease and let him know that I really meant no offense, I smiled and assured him again it was no big deal to me, and then went on my way a bit bemused both by the rodent encounter as well as the gentleman's reaction.

I’ve run into this before—where we humans seem to merge the edges of our identities (sometimes more than the edges) with a physical place, career or company and tend to feel insulted by any mention of something that isn’t working right or might be improved. I must admit, I’ve been there myself. But as I finished shopping, I realized that this behavior is something I’ve also witnessed (and, to be quite frank, exhibited myself) when it comes to how we “do” church. I’ve seen it mostly in institutional church life, when someone asks a question out of curiosity or brings up a legitimate concern and the defenses of folks on the receiving end of the question go up—the offenses often shift into gear as well. But I’ve seen it happen outside institutional church life as well, among those who advocate simple or organic churches, house churches and other models.

Sometimes, that gut reaction is only natural, especially if the “questions” are actually missiles aimed in hot attack-mode. But when the questions are genuine and spoken with civility and respect—even out of concern—then that kind of gut-level defensive reaction is worth examining. Are we more concerned with making a model work than determining how or if it works? Are we more concerned with the model than what it means to be the people of God? Have we made the model sacred? When we find ourselves feeling put off or offended because someone points out an issue or problem with the way we meet together or the model with which we are working, it’s a good time to ask ourselves questions like these. Frankly, I’ve had to ask myself questions like these more often than I care to admit. But being a follower of Jesus requires this of us—that we constantly pull our motives and feelings into the Light.

Mice aren’t that big of a deal—unless you ignore them. These little almost-cute rodents show up in the best of places, but if we close our eyes to them because we are offended that someone pointed them out then they’ll just proliferate like crazy.

Even church mice.

(Image: public domain via wikipedia)

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