We had this great tree in my front yard when I was a kid. It was taller than our two story house and every fall it would litter our yard with these black bean pods that served as weapons. We had brutalized that tree in a myriad of ways. We had cut branches, nailed steps to climb in it, hung swings from it. We even tied a rope at the highest sturdy branch and strung it out 200 feet to the other side of our property and made a zip line with an old set of handle bars. It was universally accepted as the tree in our neighborhood. Kids would hang out in its shade. It was always base when we played hide and seek. It was the neighborhood Giving Tree.
I was maybe 8 or 9 and we were playing hide and seek again. We played that a lot in my neighborhood. There were 20 or so kids playing. As I said, the tree was always base. So when you felt the coast was clear, you ran to the tree and gleefully taunted the seeker with a chorus of “Free.” This time was different. Someone invented a new rule. It had to have been my brother. He is the kind of guy that invents games at every gathering and then changes the rules to make it more fun. MY brother’s new rule was that a previously freed individual could hold on to the tree and stretch out his hand. Grabbing that hand was akin to touching the tree yourself. I had a particularly good hiding spot that day and remained hidden for a long time. This sounds like an easy task, but I am a bit hyperactive and staying still was not my strong suit. He was closing in on me, I could feel him getting closer. I looked up and ran right into the outstretched hand. As my nose bled and tears welled up in my eyes, the seeker said, “You forgot to say Free,” and tagged me.
This scene flashed in my mind at church this morning. The pastor mentioned a movement in churches in the 70’s, called seeker safety. The idea was to figure out how to welcome the un-churched into the community. How do you teach people what church is about when they have never been? The movement was to build a welcoming community to receive these people. It is a nice thing to make people feel welcome into an unfamiliar setting. There is a thrill and a joy that happens when you see people stretched out to greet you. When you can see the earnestness in wanting you to belong. To feel safety by touching another person is a glorious thing. But what of the legalism that says you didn’t say the right words to be truly safe? What of the person so intent on stretching that they don’t move their hand or call out a warning? What of the line members who encourage you and say it is good enough to be safe and that you really don’t need to touch the tree?
I wonder if many of those seekers had a spiritual experience? Did they get to feel touched by God? Did they learn of God and not just about church? Did they get to feel the freedom that was there all along?