Thursday, March 09, 2017

Thankful Thursday - A Day in My Life

Is it me or is this year absolutely flying by? How can we already be in March?
I have no idea how, but here we are.

I wanna share with you a story about my Tuesday, this past Tuesday.

My terrific Tuesday began at my kitchen counter, sipping warm lemon water (delicious), and hot sweet coffee (delicious). Both mugs were at precisely the right distance from my computer so that when I picked either one up, I could steady my tired hand before the mug passed over said computer. I neither wanted nor needed to fill in any "lemon water/coffee meets computer keyboard" incident forms.

From my computer came the sound of the voice of Rob Bell, a long time, long distance pastor and mentor of mine. His Nooma videos introduced me to entirely new ways of reading and understanding the Bible. His books, especially Love Wins, changed the way I think about God and love and hope and those of us who claim to be followers of Christ. And I am looking forward to the imminent release of his next book, What is the Bible? Recently, my daughter discovered his "Robcasts" - his podcasts. Not long before her discovery, a dear and wise friend of mine recommended that I listen to his podcasts. I'm a firm believer that if a message comes to me several different times from several different people who don't know about what someone else has recommended, then I need to take the hint and check out whatever is being suggested. So there I sat at my kitchen counter on Tuesday morning, sipping and listening, taking furious notes, and rejoicing that I had rediscovered someone who has taught me so much in the past ten years.

After losing track of time listening to Rob, I leapt up from my seat, and ran upstairs to get dressed and ready to go meet up with a friend I hadn't seen in more than seven years. A hairdressing friend who had come to our home years ago when my daughter was sick and had done her hair here at the house. No extra charge. Nothing but joy and tenderness, hospitality and kindness. A mutual friend recently re-introduced me to her via Facebook - and we met up at a bakery at 10 am this past Tuesday. Three hours later, we hugged each other, bid farewell, and promised that it won't be seven years before our next get together.

As we sat together there, we talked about parenting, food stamps, pediatricians who overstep their bounds, marriage, learning to love our mothers-in-law, healthy eating, her podcasts, money, prayer, meditation, and yoga (she's an African American yoga teacher whose classes I cannot wait to start attending. Care to join me?) for starters. She is a beacon of beauty and light, of hope and determination, of power and messiness. She is aglow with joy and grace and dignity and love. She is exactly what I want to be when I grow up - and she's at least ten years younger than I am. What a gift!

After saying good-bye to her, I drove a few blocks to my favorite prayer space - 24-7. I was only there for half an hour, but it was long enough to eat the soup I had brought from home for lunch, to finish a green juice I had made, and to take several deep breaths, all while giving thanks to God for the wonder-filled day I had already experienced... and it was only 1:15 or so in the afternoon.

Then it was off to an upper floor of an upper crust office building in uptown Charlotte, where I sat for an hour with a friend who is waking up.  Waking up to injustice and fear, to racism and privilege, to powerlessness and vulnerability. Waking up to his own dreams, his hopes for himself and his family and his city and his world. Waking up to the justice work that has been happening for centuries and the justice work that still needs to be done. He is waking up to his own misunderstandings and blind spots. He is full of questions and doubts, despair and sorrow.

What he doesn't yet see is how far he has already come. How much of an influence he already has on the people around him. He doesn't yet see how much of an encouragement he is to me, how much his questions challenge me and others to think more deeply about how to respond, how to welcome, how to encourage, and how to push people like him deeper into the darkness, into the pain, into the suffering of others - all in order to work together and walk together towards the Light, towards the future, towards peace, liberty, and justice for all.

Sitting with him, I was reminded that there is good coming out of the Tr*mp fiasco.
There are hearts that are being broken.
Eyes being opened.
Fears being unearthed.
Injustice being exposed.
And there's a lot of new energy in the arena.
New participants in the long march to wholeness and healing,
folks who had no idea just how sick we are as a nation and as a community
and had no idea just how much healing we need to do.

We sat there for an hour, asking questions, encouraging each other.
Fighting despair, pleading with God and each other for new direction and new hope.
We hugged one another and said our farewells -
once again, promising that it wouldn't be our last conversation.
There is so much work to do -
but the only way forward, the only way out, the only way up
is together.

I literally ran from that office building to my church, just one block away, for a 3 pm meeting.
For the next hour, I sat with someone I deeply respect and thank God for on a regular basis -
and we dreamed together.
We dreamed about hope and a future. A next step.
The body of Christ growing. Expanding.
Something new. Something daring. Something beautiful.
Something hard. Something painful. Something dangerous.
But we kept coming back to the question - "What if?"
But what if this dream is possible?
What if a few of us really can work together to create a community that looks different than anything any of us has experienced before?
What if God really is in the resurrecting business - and things that look dead or dormant, can be raised to new and abundant life?
What if this seminary journey I'm on is all about preparing me for this new thing,
this new place, this new adventure, this new life journey?
What if my whole life, all the challenges, all the trips, all the joys, all the brokenness,
all the failures, all the dreams come true -
what if all of it has been leading me to this moment in time?
For such a time as this?
What if?
Do I dare dream this big?
Do I dare not dream this big???
How dare we not dream in big ways?
Do we or don't we serve a huge God, one who is able to do over, above,
and beyond all that we can ask or imagine?

I am reminded of the passage in John 11 where Jesus is standing with Martha four days after the death of Martha's brother, Lazarus. She said to Jesus, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died." What huge faith. What a challenge to the one in whom she had placed her faith. She believed Jesus could have prevented the death of her brother - and she told him so. Jesus can handle the truth. Jesus responded, "Your brother will rise again." To that Martha consented: "I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day." In other words, I get it, but that's way down the line at some unknown and unpredictable moment. Jesus quashes that thought with: "I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?"

It's that final question from Jesus to Martha that has stumped me and stopped me and challenged me over the past few years. I have read the Bible a lot. I have prayed a lot. I have taught the Bible a lot. But the question is this: "Do you believe this?" Do I believe this? Do I believe that new life is possible here and now? Do I believe that borders can be crossed and walls broken down in the work of reconciliation in the world and in our city? Do I believe that new connections are possible, that new relationships can be forged in a world and at a time when so many are calling for rejection and expulsion? Do I believe that there is reason for hope at a time of despair and desperation for so many? Do I believe that resurrection still happens in the world - resurrection of dying marriages, of churches on the decline? Resurrection of communities that seem hellbent on destroying themselves and others? Resurrection of people with hard and calloused hearts that no longer break because of the violence that they themselves perpetuate? Do I believe in the resurrection of all that is good and beautiful, peace loving and restorative? Do I believe that resurrection is already happening, right here and right now?

Do you believe in resurrection? Do you?

From one office in the church, I walked to another office in the church. In the second office, I was given a chance to look at the church's new website - it will be launched next Monday, March 13th. It is quite a revision, a renewal, dare I say a resurrection of something that desperately needed a makeover (click here to see the old site before March 13th. If you are reading this after the13th, click over and check out the new site)?!? So much creativity and light and beauty. Information and formation. A place of welcome for newcomers and welcome back for those who are already part of the church community. I was enormously grateful to have been invited for a preview and I was enormously excited about how this new portal will be used as a point of entry into our faith community, a faith community that we hope will grow both wide and deep "for Christ in the heart of Charlotte."

From there, I staggered down to the church library where I sat in awe at the beauty of the day. After a few moments of stunned silence, I pulled out one of my seminary books and began to study, to read, to jot down notes in anticipation of a paper that is due before class on Saturday. Somehow the note taking felt different Tuesday afternoon after all the conversations I had had. Somehow studying felt like it might actually be preparation for an actual call into actual ministry of Word and Sacrament for the actual people of God here in Charlotte, NC. No longer simply abstract thought about an abstract future, what swirled in my head and heart as I pondered a book chapter entitled "The New Community" (how perfect is God's divine timing in the coordination of my theology class syllabus and my terrific Tuesday!) were deeper questions about how we move, how I move from theological discourse in a comfortable seminary classroom to getting my hands dirty and wrinkled and stained and weary in the work of community building and strengthening. I felt a clear sense of direction to and a more visible goal for my thinking and my writing that I had not experienced before in seminary.

I didn't spend a long time there in the library because I was scheduled to meet up for tea with two new friends, two African American Muslim sister friends I met a month and a half ago. One had recently returned from a trip to Mecca and she overflowed with stories and showed the us dozens of photos of her time in Saudi Arabia in Medina and Mecca and Mt Arafat. She spoke about the spiritual uplift that came from being at the religious home of the Prophet who is central to her faith. She spoke of the crowds, the prayers, the mosques, the food, the beauty, the deep and abiding peace she felt. Her joy was palpable, as was her yearning to return there sometime in the not too distant future.

What a gift it was to meet them a few weeks ago and what a gift it is to get to know them, to listen to their stories, and to tell them mine. To speak and live and grow together. To knock down the barriers that others are trying to build between people of different faith practices. To defy all calls for fear while heeding all calls for peace and for prayer.

I had the privilege of telling them about when my daughter and I stood outside of the Muslim American Society center here in Charlotte with 15 or so other people almost two weeks ago, holding up signs of support and peace and love for the several hundred Muslims who were entering their mosque space for Friday prayers. Some of our signs said - "Peace be with you" "Peace" "You are what already make America great" "Christians from The Grove love you" Some of the folks who had come for worship came over to us and hugged us, thanked us for being there, for the encouragement, and some asked if they could take pictures of us. Needless to say, I spent most of the half hour or so we were standing there as a welcome team with tears in my eyes. Such a simple act made such a profound difference for them - and for us.

Neither of my two new friends had been able to attend prayers that Friday, but they were overjoyed that we had been there for their faithful friends. Grateful that there were so many who wanted to express our love and support at a time when there is so much venom and fear and hatred being spewed in their direction and in the direction of so many other undeserving folk. Given the chance to spread a different message, a message of peace, of community, of openness of heart, we have to take the chance. We have to extend the right hand of fellowship, of shalom, of salaam. We must. How dare we not?

It was raining when we left the coffee shop on Tuesday night. But the chilly rain could not dampen or chill the warmth that had been fanned between the three of us. Nothing could stop us from planning our next tea date, from hugging each other, and from promising that we would lift one another in prayer. No fear mongering, no "alternative facts" about who is and who is not really a Muslim, no sideways stares at their colorful and regal hijabs, none of that had or has the power to defeat or diminish our newfound love one for another.

That night, as I drove home in the rain, I was reminded that, in the end, love wins.
Love has already won.
Love is winning.
Love will win.
It may not look that way at the moment;
in fact, in many corners of the world and of this nation and of this city,
even in some of the corners of my own home,
it feels like love is on the retreat.
It feels like hate and fear and despondency are winning.
Like exclusion and derision and lying are a new way of life.
But I have not, I will not, and I cannot give up hope.
Love wins.

This past Tuesday, in my little life, love won.
Over and over and over.
In one conversation and exchange after the other.
Love won.

Thanks be to God.