Friday, June 17, 2005

Shhh! Don't Tell!

Listening to the radio this week, I was surprised to hear this story about a 4 year old boy dying during a ride at Disney World in Florida. And I was surprised on two counts. First, I was taken aback by a young child passing away while riding a normally-operating ride. Granted it may have been a bit too intense for him, but there was likely something wrong with the boy before getting on. But second, I was surprised that news of a death at The Happiest Place on Earth made the national news. I don't spend my life sitting next to a TV with a 24 hour news station blaring, but I try to keep up. Generally I would think news like this wouldn't escape me, yet the story says that this is the second death of the year at the park. A 77 year old woman in very poor health died there earlier this year. This is the first I've heard about it.

The major theme parks in Florida agreed a few years ago to report any serious injuries to the state. Aside from that agreement, there is no guarantee that we'd hear about a tragedy. Now I won't accuse any theme park of covering up any incidents, but I know it can happen. About 15 years ago, there were two shopping malls in a city near me -- one on the more popular side of town and the other on the less desirable part of town. I worked at each of these malls during the early 1990's, so I became familiar with what happened there. The local news was always reporting about crimes committed at the mall on the wrong side of the tracks, but the incidents at the higher class mall never seemed to make the news. Conspiracy? Perhaps. I knew of some nasty happenings which went on in the parking lot of the popular mall, and when I watched the local news to see the coverage... it wasn't there. Yet every purse snatcher and shoplifter at the lower class mall made the 6 o'clock report.

It's only natural to want to cover up the bad things that happen in our neighborhood or in our lives. We don't like to have our dirty laundry aired in public. In business, we don't want loud complaints. Socially we don't like to talk about the fights we have with our spouses. And to a certain extent we cover it all up until we cannot cover it up any more.

Years back, it was a practice in certain retail stores to use the old "bait and switch" to drive up sales. They would offer a cheap washer at an amazing price to bring in customers, then when they come to buy the salesman would tell them, "No, you don't want this $199 piece of junk. What you want is the beautiful deluxe model for only $549." The cheapie was used as bait to get the customer in the store. Then they lowered the boom.

There are some verses in Scripture which we Christians tend to treat as something to keep quiet. Jesus said things like "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me." And "Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me." Or even, "In this world you will have trouble..." Paul and Peter go on and on about the persecution and the hardships of the Christian life. But all of this tends to get shoved under the rug, especially if we're trying to bring someone to Christ.

There are so many people who fall for the whole Prosperity Gospel. It's hard to miss the televangelists who claim that "God loves you and He wants you to be rich!" They're all over my TV. I think there are some Christians who here that nonsense enough times to think that any perceived lack of stuff means that God doesn't love them, or that they aren't praying enough or correctly. People walk away from Christ because they cannot reconcile Christianity with anything less than upper middle class happiness.

But beyond that, we tend to cover up the whole persecution and hardship notion to potential converts. "Don't want to scare 'em off!" Yet if we ignore the tough parts, we help a new Christian to build a house on sand instead of solid rock. Because the storm's a-comin', my friend.

And sometimes we all tend to forget all that cross bearing. We fool ourselves into thinking that our comfort is king. We want it our way. Our style of music. Our preferred schedule. We want our free time and we don't want Christ or the Church infringing on it. And we don't want the people at work to ridicule us for our beliefs, so we don't talk about it and try to cover it up. We may declare our faith as a semi-anonymous poster on the Internet, but in the real world we keep our mouths shut.

But the beauty of the Christian life is not that we won't experience trouble, but that when we do experience it we have the strength of the Holy Spirit to see us through. We have the assurance that this world is not all there is. We don't need to cover up the hard part of Christianity -- not to others and certainly not to ourselves. Because as Jesus told us, the hard burden of life becomes easier, not harder if we follow Him.

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