"So what if we both go as unicorns?" That was my question to fourteen year-old Aleksandra the week before I left for isolated Allen, South Dakota to act as a temporary caretaker for a mission deep in Lakota territory. I was feeling a little guilty about leaving my family again, so soon.
Her "Yes" was immediate and emphatic. That sealed my fate. Last year we were Batman and Batgirl together. This year we would be unicorns.
Tonight I marched all around our neighborhood in my unicorn onesie, thinking to myself that with my goatee and cloaked face, I looked like the "Uni(corn) Bomber." The kind folks of Sidney seemed to have one of two polarized responses... I was either a loving father sharing a moment with his daughter, or I was a creepy middle-aged man prancing around on trick-or-treat... hide your children.
The truth is... we put a lot of stock in the perceptions of others, don't we?
Yes, I am a father who tries to do admirable things. But I am more than that, I'm also a pastor. As my friend and the Senior Pastor of our church put it this past Sunday, I'm probably not "your typical sort of pastor." I'd wager good money that I'm the only pastor in North America wearing a teal unicorn onesie this evening. Add that to my pierced ears, tattoos, questionable acquaintances, and less than perfect past... and you'll see the accuracy of his assessment.
But this life has taught me a sort of dogged determination that shoves aside the judgment of others in a fierce pursuit of authentic meaning and a death-grip pursuit of a Jewish carpenter. There is nothing that compares to my pursuit of Jesus Christ. There is nothing that can be allowed to inhibit my intimate knowledge of God.
Enough distance has happened from a few conversations that I feel now free to write about them. They've been chewing at the place where my soul intersects my intellect. I'm going to combine conversations into a single hypothetical conversation that is based off of the real encounters. It goes like this...
The person says to me in a lowered tone of voice, holding a concerned expression on the face, "Well... you know, I've heard things about that person. Maybe you should be careful. That person may not know Jesus Christ. That person may be living a double life... and maybe you should be careful with your trust.
This makes me angry. I am a pastor.
I do not run a day spa for the healthy to come and be pampered. I run a triage unit where people who are bleeding, ugly, screaming, scarred, and abused can come.
I run a place with bandages for those who come in suffering from their own bad choices seeking refuge, asylum, and love. How is it that sometimes I feel like a unicorn... on the fringes of reality, seldom believed in, and rarely trusted?
Is it so hard to find those who follow Christ so nakedly that they are willing to suffer personal ridicule, danger, or just risk a little comfort to love? How is it that we pull the blanket over our own eyes to somehow believe that we are better?
Let me be clear... I'd rather sit at a table with an honest atheist than someone who professes Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior but is unwilling to embrace a seeking life.
I'd rather pastor a church full of drunks and prostitutes than a group of people who strive to protect their white-washed walls.
I am thankful that God has placed me in a congregation that allows me to do exactly this... reach out to those who are hurting, who are seeking, and who can limp alongside me... as I turn their eyes towards an impossible belief...
... no, not in unicorns. But, in the truth that there is a God who loves us beyond our comprehension and has risked everything to walk beside us... even though we're messy.
I don't have all the answers, but I can tell you this... I'll walk beside you... and the church that I pastor will walk beside you. We are not perfect. We make mistakes. We have habits, hurts, and hang-ups. But we're following the one that gives us hope, that makes us right with God, that fills us with His Spirit, and that purifies us a little more each step of the way.
So... I can tell you two things: (1) unicorns exist because tonight I was one, and (2) real Christians are still walking this earth as well.
Don't give up.