Mitchell Richards [Words]

Month: May, 2010

From The Ritz To The Welch’s

When I was little, my church had “The Lord’s Supper” four times every year. Some people call it that, or Communion, or the Eucharist, but you know what I’m talk about. Like I said though, I was little, too little to understand what it all meant and because of that I would throw little temper tantrums when the Lord’s supper was passed out because everyone at church got a snack, crackers and grape juice, except for me. Pretty soon my mom learned from my emotions and started taking Ritz crackers and a sippy cup of juice on the days that we had the Lord’s Supper so I wouldn’t complain. I remember sitting there munching on my crackers and sipping my juice while everyone else had to sit and wait for the preacher to get finished and to have the elements passed out. I didn’t understand then why their crackers and juice were any different than my crackers and juice.

We took communion yesterday at church, and for some reason these images of my childhood flashed into my mind. It had been a while since I had done it, and it again made me wonder about the difference between the crackers and juice of my youth and the bread and wine of today. I started to wonder yesterday if I had been doing this whole process wrong my entire life. I wondered why I was even doing this, what purpose does dipping a piece of bread in a glass of grape juice serve? I don’t feel any different after, I don’t have any magical powers, and on most days, I don’t feel any closer to the Jesus it all represents. Maybe it is my attitude, or maybe there is a lot of crap in the way, you know, blocking the magical powers and Jesus stuff, before it can all sink in.

Then I realized that there are a lot of ways that I take communion, many different attitudes yes, but really I take it each time with some sort of outcome in mind and in hope. Let me give a few examples:

1.)The Shot – Sometimes I take communion like an alcoholic would take a shot of alcohol, it’s just to get by. Sometimes I feel as though I need this communion not as a symbol, but as a literal way to make it through the week. I feel like it gives me some sort of strange powers or something, like all the crap I’m dealing with will be cured if I just say a little prayer before I eat the bread and drink the juice. This works for about 30 minutes until I go home and am forced to confront all of that stuff again, thus the shot has worn off and I’m back where I started.

2.)The Pill – Other times I take communion as if the bread and wine were a pill. Step 1, place bread on tongue. Step 2, chew a couple of times. Step 3, take bread with wine. Rinse, repeat if desired. Communion doesn’t work like a pill, it is not a temporary fix to our ailments. Communion is not the Advil to our headaches, rather it is the remedy to ourselves. It is not a temporary fix to pain, but an eternal declaration of Christ. There is nothing healing or magical in the bread and wine, it is a symbol of life.

3.)The Childhood – I ate Ritz crackers and drank Welch’s when I was a child because I just wanted to fit in with everyone else, I was jealous. I watched everyone else do it so I wanted to be apart of that. I suppose that in a small way, this is why I wanted to become a Christian originally, because it was all I had ever seen or known. Eventually, I grew out of that, and being a Christian wasn’t about joining the club or anything like that, it was about stepping into a relationship with Jesus.

4.)The Command – Do you ever feel like you have to do it? Like maybe all of these rituals of religion has weighed us down so much that we have forgotten why we even do them? Thankfully, communion is not like that. If you break it down, I suppose, it is a little weird. “Hey, let’s eat this bread, it symbolizes Jesus’ broken body. Now, let’s drink this juice, it symbolizes Jesus’ blood.” You want me to eat flesh and drink blood? Was Jesus a zombie too? Communion isn’t a command, not that I know of anyway, but it’s an option…

5.)The Cross – …it’s an option to take part in the Kingdom of God. An option to take up your cross and start a relationship with your Creator. By taking the elements, we are saying that we have no idea what is going on but we still choose to follow. Like the disciples in the upper room, we are a little lost on what is about to happen, but following the supper, redemption comes. After the hard times, redemption comes. When we are ready to give up, redemption comes. And when it’s all said and done, we find a home in redemption.

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For The 9:30am Sunday School Crowd

Every time the doors of the church were open, my mom, brother, and myself were inside of them…and thirty minutes early. 

Revivals, worship services, banquets, dinners, lunches, heck weddings and funerals it seemed, we were there.  But my least favorite time to be at church was Sunday School.  My mom has this uncanny ability to be everywhere 30 minutes early – I remember one time she told me she didn’t like when people wasted her time so she wasn’t going to waste anyone else’s time and so that was why she was always early an never late.  So that life lesson has paid off pretty well, even though I am late a lot of places I go (not always my fault) I feel the need of urgency to not waste time…But that is neither here nor there.

Sunday School was normally overwhelmingly boring, and by normally I mean always. There is no amount of workbook coloring handouts with stupid cartoons that could wake me up from having to be up at 9:30 in the AM. There were a few perks to being one of the five kids in Dale and Joann’s Sunday School class:

1.) First pick of Sunday morning doughnuts. Cha-ching.

2.) The occasional lesson on gossiping where we got to play the telephone/rumor game, you know the one where everyone gets in a line and one end starts a “rumor” and tells the next person, and then you see how different it is at the end of the line.

3.) The occasional substitute that would let us watch The Donut Man videos.  This is a recently found lost memory I had.  By simply searching “Donut Man” on YouTube, I have realized why I am one of the few people in the world that actually do trust men with mustaches.  Thank you Donut Man (http://www.donutman.com)

4.)The occasional pre-Sunday School trip to the convenience store where my mom would buy me some Wild Cherry Lifesavers, which I believe hold a magical power.

5.) (My favorite of these) The occasional bringing out of the felt board.  Sunday School junkies know what I’m talking about.  Take a board, cover it in furry, fuzzy felt, draw a desert landscape on it or something, and take your favorite Bible characters cut out into pieces of paper with a mystery substance on the back, and place them on the felt board, and watch them magically stick. Tell the story of the characters on the felt board and move them from time to time.

Note: Four out of the five perks were “occasional”, meaning 90% of Sunday School lessons were dumb.
Dale and Joann must have known I loved felt board more than anyone else on the planet because they would only break it out on special occasions.  Felt board is basically a magic trick and everyone knows kids with A.D.D. love magic, but as Southern Baptists, we didn’t believe in magic.

But Dale and Joann must have also known that I would have ditched Sunday School every week to play in the creek behind the church if it were not for:

1.) The frogs in the creek.  I hate frogs.

2.) The thought of the possibility of the class using the felt board. The hope of magic.

So they left the felt board up and out every week.  They never took it to a closet where it would be pulled out when needed, it Just sat there, week after week on its easel.  A dream land of fuzzy desert and a little pond hand drawn on the baby blue felt.  I can, to this day, still remember exactly what the felt board looked like, because while other students where doing the handouts, I just starred at the empty felt board.
But on the rare occasion that we did get to use the felt board it made Sunday School way more interesting.  It was like a movie, only the characters didn’t talk, and didn’t move, they just magically clung to the felt board landscape.

I’m a little older now, old enough to understand the magic that was felt board was hardly magic, but still young enough to wonder.  The stories told on the felt were stories from the Bible, stories of Joseph and his coat, Moses and his tablets, Noah and all the animals.  And sometimes there was this Jesus fellow.
It is interesting to take a step back and look at all that I learned in Sunday School and how quite frankly, sorry Dale and Joann, it is all wrong.  Felt board made me think that following the paper cut out of Jesus was going to be easy.  Sunday School made me think that the Bible was just a story that has good coloring sheets and connect the dot pages.  Sunday School took the stories of real people, who suffered and died in the hands of their own faith, and reduced them to puppet shows and talking vegetables.  

I understand that I was just a kid.  But do you know how long it took me to break the habit of thinking of Jesus as a white skinned, blue eyed, and perfectly bearded man with awesome sandals?  I wonder how much of an impact our bringing up in the faith has on our outlook of Jesus now.

The story of Joseph to a 7 year old:

“I get to color a rainbow coat on this guy?  I get to use all the crayons I want? Thank you teacher, my A.D.D. will be fine for the next five to ten minutes, depending on how worn down the red crayon is.”

The story of Joseph in real life:

Shortly after than rainbow coat was torn to shreds, take a man who was sold into slavery by his own brothers, put him in jail for a few years because a chick accused him of trying to sleep with her, only to almost give up on the dreams he and God had wrote and dreamed together, and then finally reunite with his brothers only to have them not recognize him. Click. (That was the sound of a camera going off to capture this Kodak moment for the coloring sheet.)  But it also tells this story that God loves his followers and would stop at nothing to have them follow him whole heartily, even in prison, and that He is always there.

The Story of Noah to a 7 year old:

“Animals!!! Two by two!!!”

The story of Noah in real life:

How about the end of all humanity save one family.  The killing off of entire generations and creations that God had built up.  But somehow everything is set right again, a promise from God that he takes care of his followers and would stop at nothing for relationship with His creation.

The Story of Jonah to a 7 year old:

“A whale eats a guy? And then throws him up? Can we talk about this in church?”

The story of Jonah in real life:

Take a man who says one thing to God but then does another, and all of a sudden he finds himself tossed overboard because his crew thinks he is a curse to the ship.   He then gets swallowed by a fish and has to hang in his belly for a few days, only to be spewed onto the beach.  But you learn that somehow God takes care of His followers, and that people who don’t follow Him when they say they will end up in some pretty deep water, no pun intended, or in this case, they find themselves in some pretty deep water dwelling animals.  Or also in this case, pretty deep projectile vomit.  However, we learn that God will stop at nothing to bless His children, even when we turn our backs on Him.

And the stories continue: Moses, Samson, David, Daniel and so on and so forth.  All with fun Bible time warm fuzzies for children, but in reality all terrifying stories of heart break and sin and near death.  But what shines through in all the stories is that God takes care of His followers.  He never says this will be easy, He never says He will get you to your destination just as planned, but that there will be lay overs and delays all throughout your journey.  He never hands us a coloring sheet and a box of crayons to distract us, rather he offers a chance to enter into the stories themselves, to get dirty. God will stop at nothing to bless His creation, to let us know that he is always there and that He will still be there even when we turn our backs and screw up.
And then Jesus gets put on the felt board.

Jesus. 

This beautiful bearded man, with a lamb tucked under His arm and children on His lap.

Jesus.

The most tame and domestic of all Bible characters.

At least to a 7 year old anyway.

Jesus. Doesn’t his name just soothe your soul?

And then they take Him away because He was being defiant to the kingdom at the time, because He was claiming to be the son of God, and then they stripped Him down, beat Him and hung Him on a cross and left Him to die.

Blood…

Guts…

Pretty little lambs…

Children…

Wait, omit the last two.

And somehow, even through this story, we learn that God takes care of His kids.  How much so? He sent His own kid to die this way.  In this grand picture of God setting all things right, all the messed up stories and characters, God has delivered us from this.  He has delivered us from being the stupid characters in the story, He has delivered us from following a color sheet copy of Jesus and following a real tangible Savior who has sent us grace instead of puppets.  Redemption instead of connect the dots.  Hope instead of colorful coats.  Dreams instead of animals marching two by two.  A sacrificial Lamb instead of a cuddly sheep.  A promise.  A covenant.  A Savior.

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An Open Letter To You

Dear Friend,

The world is a pretty crazy place, getting crazier don’t you think? I’m not talking about a bad crazy either, sometimes the world is ironic and clever, but it can be crazy in the bad way as well. Sometimes I lie in bed and think of the exact measures I have taken to end up in this exact place in life. I haven’t traveled the world much, or seen the seven wonders, and yet I’ve come upon a place I like to call home. But enough about that, this letter is for you.

I could fill this letter with all sorts of cliches and advice about how to never give up when things get hard, but I’d be lying to you if I didn’t admit that the reason I am here is because I gave up once. You can sacrifice a million different desires in hopes of gaining something, but you’ll often find yourself right back where you started. I used to think that success was equal to getting the hell away from wherever you were from, but I’ve found that success is actually getting away from the world and from yourself and somehow finding the world and yourself at the same time. See what I mean when I say the world is crazy?

“Do you know what trees that are deeply rooted and grounded do when the wind and rain and the storms come?

They bend.

They sway.

But the don’t break, and they don’t topple.

They are so firmly planted in the soil of grace and peace that it’s going to take more than a little wind and rain to rob them of life.” – Rob Bell

Finding grace and peace is one thing, but to capture it is another. I pray that a difficult journey is ahead of you, and I ask that you get frustrated. Stumbling upon Jesus and His ways is easy down here in the buckle of the Bible Belt where we advertise Jesus like he is the second coming of Himself. But capturing Jesus is another thing, your feet will be tired and your hands will be dirty, but your soul will be better off. Commercials and billboards rarely advertise the things they are advertising, meaning the commercial is usually selling sex and smarts in the disguise of cell phones and shampoos. The advertising of grace is no different, it is not a product.

You will have to throw yourself out there. Out there being a place where you wont want to be, a place where you can’t feel the warmth of peace. Out there being a place far from here, far from “the buckle” and far from home. I’ve found that Jesus is never in the places you’d expect Him to be, churches mostly, and that’s not a bash on churches as much as it’s a testament to His elusiveness. He is available for all at any time, but you’ll never love Him until you resent Him. You’ll never love Him until you scream at Him and shake your fist at Him and give Him the finger. You’ll never love Him until you’ve given up. You’ll never love Him until you go find Him for yourself, until you can;t sleep at night because He is talking to you too much, until you can’t spend time alone anymore because He is filling your brain with advertisements of His love and grace and peace, advertisements that actually show the product as new life.

Again, I hope your journey is difficult, and I pray that you don”t find your path to grace too easily. Life as we see it, is often lived on highways and interstates, but real life is actually found in the woods. Salvation as we see it, is often found in a product that never delivers, but real salvation is found in a Savior who is waiting for us.

I’m not saying that life is a giant hide and seek game with God, I really do believe that God is available in the most real way possible right now. I believe I could just walk into His house, sit on His couch, and tell Him my problems and breathe in His grace like it was a scented candle. I really do believe this. But I also believe that God is asking us to find Him on a different level, and it’s this level that I’m referring to.

There are almost 7 billion people in the world. That’s 7,000,000,000. Each one of us different, each on of us the same. God offers 7 billion different kinds of love for those 7 billion different/same people. I hope you go out and find the one He is offering to you.

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Buy my new book, “Definitive Blurs”.

Yes!!!

When I look back on a lot of the exciting times in my life, I realize that a lot of those moments have one thing in common: they were never the easier things to do. There are always a thousand and one reasons to not do something, but usually only one or two to do something. I’ve noticed that the things that we risk on usually have a better pay off than the things we play conservatively.

Life is not like a casino, the house doesn’t always win.

A lot of of are afraid of saying yes to things because we are afraid of rejection or failure. But it is no secret that without these moments where we want to say no that there would be no great things in life. If we always said no, we would be afraid to change and afraid of new things. I heard once that the children who came from families who ate home cooked meals on a regular basis are more likely to try new things, in terms of food, than from children from families who did not cook. This is proved true in my life having not been cooked for growing up, I have about a 2-3 entree’ selection from every restaurant that I usually stick to. I don’t like a lot of different sauces or fancier foods, this can all be traced back to never being introduced to anything newer than a flavor of Hamburger Helper.

I bring up that analogy to say that it is important for us to introduce new ideas into our brains. What if you took a class on something you weren’t familiar with? Attended a seminar in something you care little to nothing about? What if you bought a different brand of deodorant or toothpaste? Little changes in your everyday routine often lead to big time changes in your life. It may be something little like looking up a recipe for cookies online instead of buying break-and-bake, but you might discover something about yourself, baking, or some other random thing you had no clue about.  Play with toys, make skyscrapers out of Legos.  Don’t just buy a sock monkey, make your own.*

The beautiful thing about creativity is that is always changing and moving. Artists can stay put and let creativity flow through them for a season, but it they don’t pick up their sticks and move with it then in will pass them and they will spend their next season catching up. Since I am an advocate of everyone being creative, it is your job (more like a duty to yourself) to ensure that you are constantly moving with the tides of creativity.  Think of the most ridiculous thing possible, and instead of rejecting your idea, figure out a way to accomplish it.

So I challenge you the next time someone asks you to do something that your immediate answer is no to, think about it before you answer. Question why you are declining. Is it because this activity is out of your comfort zone? Is it because you are being lazy? Is it because you can’t handle another activity on your plate?

I know of this one guy. I know of him because I see him everywhere. I saw him perform spoken word poetry at an art show, I’ve grappled with him at during an MMA workout, and he drives a school bus, among other things. I think that this guy gets it because he isn’t afraid of saying no. He isn’t afraid of continuing his knowledge, regardless of school knowledge he isn’t afraid of learning more about himself and pushing himself to the next level. He doesn’t see someone participating and say, “That would be cool to do.” instead he asks of himself, “How do I do that?”

So the next time you want to say no, figure out why you are saying no, and maybe say yes instead. Need a little help? Google some local classes in your area, cooking, painting, creative writing, etc. Go!

* A great resource for tinkering and DIY things is www.instructables.com

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Buy my new book, “Definitive Blurs”.

Mad At My Favorite Color

It seems that at every family gathering there are stories to be shared.  Any moment in history where a group is together for an extended period of time and conversations are started, stories will come out.  When you are a goofy child, like I was, you begin to notice the particular stories about you that your parents or other family members share.  For example, whenever I am with my dad’s side of the family, someone inevitably brings up the time when I was little and refused to eat a hamburger because it had pickles on it.  They remember me screaming and crying, throwing a hissy fit, and refusing to even touch the burger.  My dad will tell the story about when I would walk into the kitchen in the morning as a kid, half asleep and mumbling, “Eeeeeaaaat…Eeeeeaaaat…” in my little boy underwear.  My mother will probably tell the story of how one summer I sledded off the roof of my house onto our trampoline.  My brother would probably tell the story of how I accidentally hit him in the head with an aluminum baseball bat, either that or the time we almost got arrested the night before my grandmother’s funeral.

We all have memorable scenes in our lives.  Sometimes they are funny, other times they are tragic.  But we can always look back at these moments as mile markers along the way to our destination.  It is important that we remember these stories and even more important to tell these stories.

It may seem like an odd question to ask, but what stories do people tell about you?

These moments and stories are important because without these stories we are just names and shapes to the people around us.

My name is Mitchell Lee Richards.  I’m 6’3, 175 pounds, and I hate frogs.

But when a story is told, life is breathed into each character:

Yes, my name is Mitchell Lee Richards, I am 6’3, I do weigh 175 pounds, I do hate frogs, but let me tell you about the time I smashed my fingers in the door the day of my little league soccer team pictures.  Let me tell you about the time my training wheels got taken off first the first time and while trying to ride without them and tired of wrecking, I cried, “I’m so mad, I don’t even like my favorite color.”  Or about how my favorite color was hot pink at the time and I got upset when I couldn’t be on the opposing soccer team, a girl’s team, because I just wanted hot pink jerseys.  Or let me tell you about the time I couldn’t sleep one night because I stayed up late watching a “documentary” about Bigfoot and was convinced he was coming to get me.

I am more than a name and a shape — I am a story.

A story that is still being written, chapter by chapter as days go by and turn into nights.  Quadruple overtimes and hiking trips filling up blank pages in a book that never seems to end.  Today has the potential to be the best story in the book; you just have to go find the right setting and characters to compliment it.

In a world of pop culture, fake celebrities, and billboards on every corner, we are being swayed into thinking about what we could be instead of realizing who we are.  The faces and bodies on advertisements are just faces and shapes, but we are stories, and those stories and waiting to be told and waiting to be lived.  You’ll never be satisfied chasing after being a shape and a face, you’ll never be happy climbing corpo ladders, and you’ll never be content until you find your story.  You can dance the steps just the right way, but it will never be a dance until everyone backs away, makes a circle around you, and let’s you dance your own dance.  You can chase all those things or you can be a story, told in conversations around good food and drinks.  You can desire to be a shape and a name, or you can become a story that brings a smile to the faces of loved ones and God himself.

The best story inside of you is the one that can be potentially lived out today, the one that keeps you awake at night, the one that you keep avoiding.  What story are you living?  What story of yours is being told?

The idea of how stories and lives go hand in hand is presented really well by Donald Miller in his book A Million Miles in a Thousand Years.  I highly advise you go read this book.  I’m not copying him on this, just passing along an idea in my own words.

It seems that at every family gathering there are stories to be shared.  Any moment in history where a group is together for an extended period of time and conversations are started, stories will come out.  When you are a goofy child, like I was, you begin to notice the particular stories about you that your parents or other family members share.  For example, whenever I am with my dad’s side of the family, someone inevitably brings up the time when I was little and refused to eat a hamburger because it had pickles on it.  They remember me screaming and crying, throwing a hissy fit, and refusing to even touch the burger.  My dad will tell the story about when I would walk into the kitchen in the morning as a kid, half asleep and mumbling, “Eeeeeaaaat…Eeeeeaaaat…” in my little boy underwear.  My mother will probably tell the story of how one summer I sledded off the roof of my house onto our trampoline.  My brother would probably tell the story of how I accidentally hit him in the head with an aluminum baseball bat, either that or the time we almost got arrested the night before my grandmother’s funeral.

We all have memorable scenes in our lives.  Sometimes they are funny, other times they are tragic.  But we can always look back at these moments as mile markers along the way to our destination.  It is important that we remember these stories and even more important to tell these stories.

It may seem like an odd question to ask, but what stories do people tell about you?

These moments and stories are important because without these stories we are just names and shapes to the people around us.

My name is Mitchell Lee Richards.  I’m 6’3, 175 pounds, and I hate frogs.

But when a story is told, life is breathed into each character:

Yes, my name is Mitchell Lee Richards, I am 6’3, I do weigh 175 pounds, I do hate frogs, but let me tell you about the time I smashed my fingers in the door the day of my little league soccer team pictures.  Let me tell you about the time my training wheels got taken off first the first time and while trying to ride without them and tired of wrecking, I cried, “I’m so mad, I don’t even like my favorite color.”  Or about how my favorite color was hot pink at the time and I got upset when I couldn’t be on the opposing soccer team, a girl’s team, because I just wanted hot pink jerseys.  Or let me tell you about the time I couldn’t sleep one night because I stayed up late watching a “documentary” about Bigfoot and was convinced he was coming to get me.

I am more than a name and a shape — I am a story.

A story that is still being written, chapter by chapter as days go by and turn into nights.  Quadruple overtimes and hiking trips filling up blank pages in a book that never seems to end.  Today has the potential to be the best story in the book; you just have to go find the right setting and characters to compliment it.

In a world of pop culture, fake celebrities, and billboards on every corner, we are being swayed into thinking about what we could be instead of realizing who we are.  The faces and bodies on advertisements are just faces and shapes, but we are stories, and those stories and waiting to be told and waiting to be lived.  You’ll never be satisfied chasing after being a shape and a face, you’ll never be happy climbing corpo ladders, and you’ll never be content until you find your story.  You can dance the steps just the right way, but it will never be a dance until everyone backs away, makes a circle around you, and let’s you dance your own dance.  You can chase all those things or you can be a story, told in conversations around good food and drinks.  You can desire to be a shape and a name, or you can become a story that brings a smile to the faces of loved ones and God himself.

The best story inside of you is the one that can be potentially lived out today, the one that keeps you awake at night, the one that you keep avoiding.  What story are you living?  What story of yours is being told?

The idea of how stories and lives go hand in hand is presented really well by Donald Miller in his book A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. I highly advise you go read this book.  I’m not copying him on this, just passing along an idea in my own words.

Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.

Buy my new book, “Definitive Blurs”.