Sunday, October 18, 2020

Thin Places

A thin place is anywhere the living experience eternity.

Scenes of traffic fatalities are thin places.  Witnesses see the intersection, bridge or curve through different eyes because someone died.  When we bury loved ones, the church, road to the cemetery or emptier home become thin places.  When we see them, we are reminded of our mortality.

Daily passages from mortality to immortality make emergency room / departments thin places.  Ambulances that bring people to ED's are thin places too.  Thin places change us when we realize what they are.  Ignorance of thin places is bliss.

Blissful teddy bears, deflated balloons and melted candles litter thin places.  We set up memorials because we have to; thin places change us.  We avoid them yet feel the need to stand numbly near them.  At thin places we have to cry and hug and return involuntarily.  The world races past in blissful ignorance but when one knows the longitude and latitude of a thin place, racing seems inappropriate.

Running gives way to walking.  Speed respectfully diminishes when we approach the intersection because we know. 

Cops know.  They are called to the intersections and backyards and basements and bridges and playgrounds and rivers and homes that become thin places.  They smell the blood and see mangled remains, first.  When we're in thin places, we call 911.

Serving among those who come when we call robs of blissful ignorance.  They tell the stories of the thin places in the city; of children and women and men and how they died.  More than the lamented loss of ignorance, there is a "Dear God in heaven," when the realization of what cops do sets in.    They rush to thin places but they also rush from a thin place.

A police station is a thin place.  They carefully dress for work in the locker rooms, with the aftertaste of a warm breakfast.  Perhaps a remembered hug or kiss before leaving home still runs through their minds as they report for duty.  Officers know, however, that the start of the shift is a thin place. 

A sergeant holds a clipboard and rattles off the number of shootings from the previous night.  Blissful memories of food and family are tucked away, shooed away, chased away.  They hear of neighboring jurisdictions if there is a line of duty death.  A different cop dressed carefully, with memories of home and hearth, before being sucked into eternity.  The room in which a person hears of robberies, suicides, assaults and murders is a thin place.

The room is called the line-up room.  In line-up, officers receive instructions for the shift.  Though we have no right, clipboard clutching sergeants give us the privilege of ministering.  Chaplains enter line-up and are expected to know what to say, what to do, in a thin place.  

A page of scripture is a thin place.  In the hearing of the living, we read names and stories of the interred.  Immortality juxtaposes mortality when scripture is read in line-up; a thin place in a thin place.  The sergeant trusts us with a moment to draw attention to the God-man.

God is immortal and people are mortal but the God-man is immortality in flesh.  He is the only one able to claim intimate knowledge of the here and hereafter.  In a room full of people, thinking about their own mortality as they prepare to rush into thin places, we present the Lord.  Evangelical zeal is tempered, as we know some do not believe.  We present Christ because silence is the only other appropriate thin space intervention.

When the sergeant says, "Do you have a word for us, Chaplain?" silence would be cruel and unusual.  It's appropriate, because it feels like little we say can prepare their hearts for what they do.  When silence and mockery look alike, we open our mouths.

Nothing has worked in our open mouths like the Word of the Lord.  We read from Proverbs and God uses the reading in a thin place.  There's study and preparation beforehand, yes, but thin places have a way of withering best intentions.  Instead, we trust the prep work, pray for the Spirit's dominance in the moment, read the text and keep it simple; in and out of the text in three hundred seconds with a "Thank you Sergeant," at the end.  When the sergeant forgets to ask, the dismissed cops empty the room in thirty seconds.  A chaplain's silence, after showing up but not being asked to speak, is cruel and unusual.

Sometimes an officer will often hang back to talk.  We talk about their warm breakfasts and kisses goodbye.  We talk about no breakfasts and harsh words before they came to work.  We speak on the tip of the scriptural iceberg that just changed the room.  Sometimes they ask for a deeper explanation and the living speak of the dead: Solomon, David, Samson and Judas.  

"Who died a crueler death, Chaplain: Jesus or Judas?  Jesus was abandoned and crucified but Judas died alone and guilty.  What do you think?"  That one took a while to answer.  The cross and the noose are both thin places.  Aware they still have to go to work, we walk and talk with them as far as we're able: out of the line-up room, around the corner, down the stairs and out to the parking lot.  The deeper the conversations, the slower the walks.  When a cop stops walking, so do I and when the cop starts walking again, I match his or her pace.  Judas and Jesus was a very slow walk and talk to the parking lot. 

Police cruisers are thin places.  As they climb in, we exchange numbers and minister via text throughout the week.  Sometimes they tell friends and family about devotions in line-up.  Often, we ask permission to share with you.  

They seem sincerely thankful you are interested in reading of thin places.


  1. Thank you Alex Pickens for all that you do in serving men and women that leave their families everyday to do all that they can do to serve the communities around them. May God's hand be on them and you.

    1. We thank the Lord for the time, strength and opportunity to serve. Your words of life are a blessing.

  2. Thin is like brittle, we carry such potential places in our thoughts and feelings all our lives. Such places in our bodies, minds and spirits could give way at any moment, but God makes the difference in our lives and strengthens all of our thin places for and with us.

    1. Exactly...

      But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.
      2 Corinthians 4:7