Finding our Sanctuary

I serve as an usher at church on a rotating schedule, not because my heart is so full of hospitality that I must throw open the doors of the sanctuary and joyously invite folks in. Rather, Plum and Chef both attend Sunday school at the same time so I am left hanging, nothing to do but chit chat and I am not a great “chit-chat” er. Might as well make myself useful, grab some bulletins to hand out, show up on my designated shift and put on a smile. I pull extra shifts given that I am there every week anyway, same time, hovering about. I am convinced that much of my spirituality is just showing up. This week was the first Sunday after the election, I was ambivalent about the showing up part. I was scheduled to be at the door and smile, I felt entirely too needy for such a job. I went anyway, mostly because Plum and Chef were also going and I couldn’t find a way out.

I stood at the door, hands full of bulletins and looked at eyes that teared up, eyes that smiled deeply. I realized that my fears and faith were merged right there, amongst my friends, my fellow believers. I could guess which way many had voted, others I had no clue. I wasn’t asking before I opened the doors. In this space, it didn’t matter. The great scripture in Romans flooded my mind.

14-16 Bless your enemies; no cursing under your breath. Laugh with your happy friends when they’re happy; share tears when they’re down. Get along with each other; don’t be stuck-up. Make friends with nobodies; don’t be the great somebody. (Romans 12)

I came to church to mourn, to throw my fears around amongst others who would see them, know them, understand them. Social media was still showing division, I found others who mourned but many who mocked my pain and told me to get over it. I wanted a safe place to grieve. I realized many of my fellow congregants wanted a safe place to celebrate. We were joining in the sanctuary, seeking unity and healing, regardless of political affiliation. I handed out bulletins and hugs, gentle hand squeezes and warm smiles. I ushered in all who were needing, welcomed all who came.

The music broke open my soul, it often does. Voices lifted begging for clean hands, pure hearts, I could no longer stand, those unified voices sent me to the kneeler to pour out my tears and gift my grief to the One who can turn it into dancing. I listened to the sermon but really heard the message of the Holy Spirit telling me that all is not lost. I know Trump supporters. I know them intimately, they are my friends. These people are not all filled with hate, they don’t advocate rape and want to take away the ability of our mutual friends to love each other. They don’t want our Muslim friends to cower in fear. They just want jobs. They want a different economic picture. These people were sitting next to me, around me in the seats of my church and they were listening to the same music and they were not rejoicing in anyones fears. They were not gloating in winning, they were not telling me to get over it. They hugged me back, they smiled with warm eyes. They are believers in the Ultimate Leader, they are trusting a different path and are asking me to have a little faith in them as well. I got it.

I am not sure what all the pastor said, I am sure it was powerful and healing. What I am sure of is that God was working hard in my church, probably in churches all over the country, inviting us to join and trust and see beyond the labels. After all, that is what we have asked the other side to do, to see the people, not just the category of who they love or what they believe. It is harder to hate when you see individual people, realize they are God’s children. He is inviting us to make room for mourning and rejoicing and then dance together, join together, get back to our ministries from pre- November 8th.   I’m not sure my grieving is over, headlines are full of reasons to fear, I am barely peeking out of my cocoon. Yet the memory of my sweet friends hugging me, all of us hugging and welcoming and worshiping the same God, shines light where darkness seeks to reign. Hanging out at church more may just be the beginning of all of our healing. There are always more people to usher in, to feed, to clothe. Maybe there is a master plan after all.

Dirty Word

I’ve been hearing a dirty word a great deal lately, in our church, even in the worship service.  A word that makes many of us so uncomfortable we look down, away, maybe chuckle nervously, seek out our coffee, something to do with our hands. We don’t want to meet anyone’s eyes. I attend a wonderful Methodist church in a university town, the members are skewed towards the highly educated and self-aware. We have been looking at our personal gifts, what we have been given by God to share with the world to build His Kingdom and bring glory to His name. But this word is cropping up and we don’t really like it. We can give money, make food for potlucks, teach Sunday school, but seriously, please don’t ask a bunch of introverts to become EVANGELISTS.  Yikes.  Might as well be cussing.

The concept of evangelism has been taken over in my mind to include the pushy judgey Christians who leave a card telling how to find salvation instead of a tip for the waitress who brought them their Sunday lunch and 20 sweet tea refills. It conjures up the image of the men on street corners telling passersby they are going to hell if they don’t repent. It makes me think of the elders who interviewed a young couple to see if they were worthy of attending that church, elders who said no and left these two young people so hurt they didn’t attend church for many many years. Evangelism feels like hurting others. I would rather cook for the potluck.

What I am learning is that the word has been coopted by a movement, twisted, distorted, surely the devil’s hand is in this. What greater delight could Satan have than to take the very tool to bring believers to God and make it so ugly and distasteful that God’s people recoil?  If I really dig into what it means to become an evangelist, I know that I am already fulfilling that role, I can’t escape it. My very life and actions are either bringing people to or away from God, my words can heal or do damage. This is not a choice, rather the very essence of every child of Christ. The fact that some push others away just makes my job more critical. I won’t be picking up any bullhorns, I am not printing up cards for restaurant distribution. I am becoming more aware of opportunities to invite others to meet my friends who worship with me, great people who are sinners and accept that there is room in the church for those who are struggling and seeking answers. We have space in my row for others who mess up every day and just keep trying.

While I have been inspired by the stories of John Wesley and the true evangelical nature of his faith, it is really a witness much closer to home that has convinced me to act. This week my Plum chose not to attend Sunday school, feeling shy again. He took up his place in the front row with me instead of working at the art table in the back. He declined my offer of one of the wonderful bags assembled for children full of coloring pages, books and crayons. He just wanted to fiddle with his Play-doh and hang out with gran. Pastor Joseph’s sermon on reaching out to our friends, inviting them to our church, didn’t fall on deaf ears.

A special event was held Sunday evening, Holy Halloween in which kids trick-or-treat to biblical characters. My plum had been returned to mama, we met up at church for the dinner before the fun stuff began. Once we began the tour of the rooms, mama pointed out a little girl from their apartment complex.  I was surprised to see her there, they do not attend our church.  When I asked how they knew of the event, she said Plum invited her.  I leaned down and whispered in Plum’s ear that I was proud of him, it was so nice of him to invite his friend. He looked at me a bit oddly and replied, “Pastor Joseph said to do that.” It was just that simple.

Maybe I have too many years of negative connotations with this one word, maybe I can’t overcome the anxiety that builds as I imagine some door-to-door preaching. What I do know is I can follow the example of an almost 6 year old and simply INVITE. I don’t have to make it harder than it is. Listen to the Pastor, do it. So, umm, err, hey, what are you doing next Sunday? I have room in my row. Come as you are, I’ll meet you there, as will the love of Jesus.

Practice, I need practice. Like anything, the more I invest in this the better I will get at it. Hope to see you Sunday, any Sunday. Also, Jesus and little kids rock. Just ask my Plum.

On the Path

I’m in this study at church called Disciples Path. I signed up because our pastor asked for full congregational participation and I like him, believe in him, trust his requests. Having joined many of these kinds of groups in the past, I didn’t have grand expectations for new knowledge. I am not so arrogant as to assume I knew it all, just figured it would be more of a refresher, which I can always use. Plus I knew it would be enriching to meet together with the wider group each week for a meal and fellowship. I am accepting accountability on two fronts: I was wrong about the material and I am discovering what it truly means to be on this path.

Gaining a true understanding of the Methodist movement has been an eye-opener. I joined this denomination after traveling through Catholicism and a stint in Episcopal churches and then wandering away from regular attendance. Many years ago, on my daily hour commute I listened to Christian radio, I tried to be a good person but didn’t spend Sunday mornings with my butt in any pew. One particular program, just a quick blurb really, always caught my attention. A local female pastor who led an alternate worship at the local theater house spoke directly to me each week. I listened to her faithfully for a year but still wasn’t motivated to attend her gathering, until 9/11. Like much of the country, I needed a place to safely mourn with others, seek understanding, find peace. I went to her church, drug my family along.  Thus began our choice of Methodism. It wasn’t about the principles of the religion, it was about how the group worshiped, accepted, welcomed. We found a church home. As the kids grew, we moved from the aging congregation to one with more programing geared to youth, across town. We have been members for years now, without really looking at what that means. Fifteen years later, I can admit that I am finally grasping the basis of the practice I chose, the place I am sure God led me. Thankfully, what I am discovering still fits me and my values, my faith grows deeper each week in mining the rich history of the disciple John Wesley began in the 18th century.  I was wrong, I had much to learn.

I am really comfortable in my faith, my beliefs are rock solid. I thought that was enough. This class, the material and discussions, is challenging me to act out those ideas in a deeper more intentional manner, one that is requiring more of my emotional energy and inner peace than I anticipated.  Fully aware that I am not Mother Teresa, I knew I had more to give but didn’t consider how far off I was. While I am wrestling with how to get on the path, it occurs to me that my resistance is that the path is littered with others who are just as bad off as me. It would be infinitely more fun to travel with Mother Teresa or Ghandi or Mister Rogers. The people in my life are not so selfless, wise or sweet. They don’t wear cardigans and invite me in, they often are actually quite hurtful in their rejection. Rather than share great knowledge after thoughtful meditation, I get text after text of utter nonsense in the midst of emotional upheaval. Instead of living a minimalist existence to care for others, I am surrounded by people who want more and more of what I have for their own gain. How can I be a disciple outside of Wednesday night class, Sunday morning church?  I would have more confidence in my abilities if I could just stay in close proximity to my fellow congregants.

Trying to maintain and/or establish healthy boundaries to protect my well being seems at times to be in direct conflict with the call to rub elbows with the needy when those very same people are family. If only we were all walking the path, how much easier it would be. Yet I know all about that plank in my eye, I am certain others wonder about traveling the path with me. Realizing that boundaries are not walls, that emotional distance doesn’t mean exile, I am exploring what that means from a Jesus based perspective rather than the psychology fueled concepts I am more attuned to.  In a culture that is rife with labeling people as toxic and assuring us we have every right to banish people who don’t agree with us, I believe the intent of self-preservation in the face of danger has been hijacked into selfishness and self-centeredness at any cost.  A culture of reconciliation, room for healthy disagreement and respect for differences, has no room in this “my feelings are paramount, me-first” society. Where does that leave me and my desire for s smooth path? Out of luck.

I am being called to pray more, give more, act more, attend more, all with intention. I can’t find acceptance of knee jerk reactions and comfort zones anywhere in the material. Being a disciple is life encompassing, it wants all of me. Wednesday night and Sunday morning aren’t going to be enough anymore. I am being called to pray even for those who are building the bumps in my path, those who throw obstacles in the way. I know I can’t get anywhere unless I am willing to take a few souls with me, especially the ones who God just keeps putting alongside me. I hear you God, I am seeing what you want. I commit to trying harder to walk the path with the difficult ones and not just those who feel more like saints. I wonder if He is telling them the same thing, “Please child, just give Lisa a chance. I know she drives you crazy but there is something really special hidden inside. Take her hand, I will walk with you both.”

The class is almost over, I admit to being completely wrong about it. I can honestly say that I will also be bit more wary the next time my pastor asks something of me. He is not just after my time, he wants my soul.