It’s An Itch You Shouldn’t Scratch.
I think that my mother must have spent a third of her time the summers I was growing up telling me that I shouldn’t scratch the mosquito bites on my legs. I’m a mosquito magnet, and it is a testament to her instruction that I don’t have a thousand scars on my legs from my childhood of itchy legs. I remember one night, as a teenager we were out in the Florida night, waiting for a Shuttle launch, and we had forgotten the bug spray. Only a couple of hours standing out in the muggy Florida darkness, but that next morning we counted a hundred bites. Just on my legs. From two hours.
Don’t scratch it, you’ll only make it worse. I perfected the backwards scratch. Only using the backs of my nails, I would manage to relieve the itch temporarily, but not irritate it more. I would hit the bites sometimes, hoping that a bracing shock would serve as a better nerve message than the unrelenting itch.
Itch. Itch. Itch.
Part of the reason you shouldn’t scratch it is because you’ll get the germs from your fingernails into the bite. And then you can get an infection that makes it a thousand times worse.
There are other summertime itches that you shouldn’t scratch, or even touch. God be praised that I haven’t gotten Poison Ivy yet. (Knock on Wood.) If you even touch it when the oils are still on your skin then it can creep into other places on your skin, or even be transferred to someone else. Now that’s just mean. I mean, what’s the point? It’s not going to be able to produce more because you are suffering from the chemical burn!
I wonder if we have itches like that in the church. Don’t poke the hornets’ nest, because all you’ll get is stung. Don’t scratch that itch, because all you’ll get is the angry past, and you’ll be sorry. Like a dysfunctional family, every church has it’s history, it’s estranged cousins, the uncle that we try to keep hidden, and the aunt that has a disgraceful past.
New pastors are told to not start poking until some trust has been built. It is inevitable that eventually we will blindly stumble into the deepest pit, without even trying. The murk will get stirred up, and folks will turn and some will even explain what is going on.
That was the itch that you should have left alone.
But was it, really? Was it going to heal all covered up like that? Or left alone and by itself was it going to continue to fester and infect the healthy parts around it? Maybe it is better that it is out in the open now, ready to be reevaluated by the surgeon and cleaned out. Maybe it will heal better now, rather than continue to seep sickness into the life around it.
When you tell a child not to do something, the very first thing they want to do is that very action. Don’t scratch: want to scratch. Don’t look: can’t wait to see. Don’t listen: where is the best place to hear.
Don’t. Don’t. Don’t.
What about a “do” for a change? Watch: see the new thing. Share: play together. Celebrate: dance and sing. Remember that your Mom and Dad love you: share the hugs together.
As a Church, if we celebrate the life that we have been promised, then we won’t get so caught up in the petty differences between us. Instead of a series of prohibitions and warnings, we are called to a greater joy and celebration. That itch is a sign of a deeper infection. It shouldn’t be ignored, rather, it needs to be tended and cared for so that it can heal.
There are some deep wounds in every church. Our greatest disservice to our community is that we claim that they do not exist. When the outsider or the newcomer is blamed for the new upheaval, it is a misdirection of the sickness of the system. Yes, a wound has been revealed, but it is much deeper than what this stranger could have caused.
I wonder if we as a church have forgotten that we are called to love the stranger, and instead have come to make the stranger our scapegoat for our own issues. Maybe like the Samaritan from the parable in Luke chapter 10, we need some strangers to come in and pour healing salve over us so that we can heal.
Don’t scratch that itch, but don’t ignore it either. It is a sign of something that needs attention, care, and healing. Take care that when you go to fix something, you do not make it worse. Or if you find that your attempted solution is causing more pain, have the integrity and courage to step back, claim your failure, and try again.
Our healing will be found in openness. The salve for our deep wounds is the love of Christ. The hope of our community is the joy found in the Spirit. I pray that we move toward the light and provide healing for others who need it so desperately.