I’m sure you can picture the scene; the Sunday morning church service has been going for about 15 minutes and, seconds after the service leader has said “We’re going to have a few moments of reflective silence now…”, a child who has additional needs succumbs to the overwhelming feelings and sensory overload she/he is experiencing and starts having a meltdown… VERY loudly. As you struggle to try to help them, thinking of all the coping strategies that have worked in the past (for your child AND you!), pulling out a range of sensory toys, food, your mobile phone, ANYTHING that might help calm them, you suddenly notice something…
The reflective silence has now long gone (who, in their right mind, would introduce that during a part of the service when most of the children and young people are still in the service anyway! But still they do!!) and the congregation has neatly split into two groups, the ‘Meerkats’ and the ‘Lions’.
During the first nano-second of your child’s outburst, sometimes almost beating the speed of sound, a forest of heads shoot up and, as if part of some strangely choreographed Serengeti based synchronised dance team, the heads then swivel round in perfect unison to glare in your direction. I’ve written before about the ‘Unholy Trinity’ of what happens next in my blog post about the ‘Tut’s’, ‘Harsh Looks’ and ‘Stage Whispered Comments’ (usually about bad parenting, or naughty children, both of which are completely wrong in the circumstances), sometimes extended by the added bonus of the ‘Smug Look’ as you drag your distressed child out of church… These are the Meerkats…
But sometimes there is a different end to the story; sometimes it doesn’t conclude with the family escaping from the bullying of the Meerkats and fleeing the church building, never to return again. Sometimes we see an alternative ending… and this is where the additional needs lions come in.
Lions are very protective of their pride, they defend their pride, they fight for their pride. If there is danger around, the lions will group together and see it off. Lions aren’t afraid of much (people with guns, rampaging elephants, maybe an angry bull buffalo, that’s about it), and they aren’t afraid to have a go at anything or anyone who threatens their own.
There are additional needs lions in our churches… We need more of them, families with children with additional needs definitely need more of them, but they are there and their influence is growing. Additional needs lions who, when a meerkat is starting to launch into the ‘Unholy Trinity’, calls them out for it and tells them that they clearly have no idea how hurtful their response is to a family who are already struggling. Lions who remind the meerkats that for this family, actually making it to church at all that morning was a huge achievement, that instead of showing irritation and displeasure they should stop thinking about themselves for a moment and imagine what it is like to walk the journey this family walks, shaming the meerkat into pulling their neck and their comments back in. Lions who get alongside the family that is trying to cope and asks that all important question… “How can I be of help?”
Lion’s feature in the Bible, and I especially like the reference to a lion in the blessing given to Judah by Jacob in Genesis, “You are a lion’s cub, Judah; you return from the prey, my son. Like a lion he crouches and lies down, like a lioness — who dares to rouse him?” Genesis 49:9. Let the meerkats beware! These lions are fierce when roused, filled with a righteous anger!
And there is another, greater, lion who is with us… The new ‘Lion of Judah’, Jesus Christ. As John writes in the book of Revelation, “Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed.”” Revelation 5:5a. When Jesus was on earth he spent most of his time with the disadvantaged, the struggling, people who society looked down on. He challenged those who thought they were righteous and who did little to help those in need. He reminded everyone that his kingdom “…belongs to people like them.” Matthew 19:14b… and our lion has a mighty roar!
So, which are we? Are we the purse lipped, critical, selfish, glaring meerkat’s? Or are we part of the lion pride, standing up for those in our ‘family’ who need our help? Roaring in defence of those who are being picked on, bullied by members of our congregations that should know better, that if they actually understood what Jesus was saying would know that it’s all about love, grace and forgiveness, not harsh looks, unpleasant comments and judgement.
Let’s not be afraid, channeling our inner lion, to challenge poor attitudes in our churches, to stand up for those who are struggling, to be Jesus to the families who need us.
Let’s all be lions in church this weekend, shall we? Let our roar be heard!
30th November 2018
Bible passages used in this blog post: New International Reader’s Version (NIRV)
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Image rights: Header, unknown (Meerkats) © Chris McLennan (lions). Body, © Southland Post (lions walking)