The Church with the Boarded-Up Doors

I feel like I apologize to you every time I post now, Reader, for my erratic schedule and the lull between postings; I can tell you that I’ll post this and then be back for my usual Advent Christmas carols shtick.  This semester is taking the mickey out of me in ways I really did not see coming at all; I will be so very glad when it’s over.  To be honest, I’ll be very glad when this degree is over, which is super unfortunate.  But the upshot of being here in the Wicket Gate is that I work at a pretty amazing church.

It’s an old church, as in over a century old (which is old for Americans; I know that’s laughable for Europeans, but cut us some slack, we’re young).  Being old means that there’s a lot of repair that has to happen.  Right now our main front doors are gone because water had warped the bottoms of these thick wooden masterpieces, so there’s a beautiful Good Shepherd stained glass window hanging out over a bunch of plywood.  It looks pretty awful, and it confuses the crickets out of visitors, but I was thinking the other day about what it must look like from the street.

boarded-up-entrance-to-church-after-removal-of-doors-767x600Oh, what a shame, some driver may be thinking, another beautiful old church closed down and falling apart.  Because those boarded-up doors make it seem like we’ve thrown in the towel, for sure.  The thing of it is that they are the exact opposite—those plywood planks are the showcase of our growth, our fiscal health, our connectivity (paid for by a grant from our denomination), our stewardship of the building, our desire to make sure we are able to welcome people to this house of God.  Our boarded-up doors are symbols of our being alive, not dead, and I wonder what that looks like when speaking of the larger Church.

I have very little patience left for folks who bemoan the death of the Christian Church and even less for the people (like a classmate of mine, recently) who say that the Church should die because it’s outdated.  Nope.  The Church is not dying, not by a long shot.  Christianity is a truly global religion represented on every continent, with over two billion believers.  It is the largest organized religion on the planet.

Now I know, Christianity doesn’t necessarily equal the Church.  But the Church is its most cohesive vehicle.  The Christian Church is the community that goes out and fights for justice, that works for peace, that stands with people suffering from natural and human disasters.  The Church is the community that gathers to stay strong in faith, to challenge ourselves to live godly lives, to reach deeper into the mind-bending compassion of God to be able to see each other—and ourselves—in love.

It is also the community that is wrapped up in colonialism, racism, sexism, homophobia, a million different kinds of discrimination, power grabs, ageism, judgment, and oppression.  We, the Church, do not have clean hands.  But that does not mean God is done with us.  My church, my century+ church, definitely has things it needs to deal with about how we interact with each other and our community, and I pray mightily that we acknowledge those things and open ourselves to God’s ability to change us and speak through us to the hurt and the aching need for hope here in the Wicket Gate.  Yet I also pray mightily that we may continue the growth that we are doing, both the quantifiable and the completely unquantifiable.  We are a constant work in progress, thank God, as is the larger Church.

Certain parts of it must change.  That is undeniable, and unsurprising, because no living thing is ever permanently stagnant.  It would die.  So when folks talk about how the Church is dying because it’s changing, I wonder at their definition of death.  Do we have fewer people in American pews than there used to be?  Sure.  But Christians are gathering in Africa, in southeast Asia, in South America, and they can’t keep up with the amount of churches needed to house the communities.  A shift is not a death.  Do we have a different cultural relationship with Christianity than we used to in the West?  Sure.  But Christianity is becoming something that is owned with purpose and determination rather than to impress your boss or make sure the neighbors don’t think you’re a terrible person.  A shift is not a death.  Do the new generations have a wariness about Christianity that often manifests in us leaving the faith?  Sure.  But many are hungering after authentic grace and we millennials, for one, are becoming some of the strongest change agents in the Church.  A shift is not a death.

So look deeper when you see a church with plywood where the doors ought to be.  It may well be that that church has closed—but perhaps that’s to form a co-op with another church down the street, or to move into the city to be closer to the people who need this news of unconditional love, or to switch to a more accessible and less leaky building to keep on worshipping.  Or maybe it completely folded, and that’s okay too because the face of Christianity is changing and that church may have lived its purpose in that spot.  Or maybe it didn’t, maybe it wasn’t done yet, and that boarded-up church represents a workplace where God is calling someone to bring the message of hope back into that neighborhood.  Is it you?

Or, maybe, it’s just getting its doors replaced so it can come out looking beautiful once more, ready to fling those doors open come Easter and let the hymns roll out over the stone steps into the neighborhood proclaiming that Christ is risen, Christ is risen indeed.  Keep looking.  There is life here, and life abundant.

 

We know that Christ has been raised from the dead and he will never die again. Death no longer has power over him.  He died to sin once and for all with his death, but he lives for God with his life.  In the same way, you also should consider yourselves dead to sin but alive for God in Christ Jesus.  (Romans 6:9-10, CEB)

 

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Lent, Week Two: Light and Dark

Right, so I know I said we were going to work with the elements of the wilderness but the Blogging Spirit says pairs.  So we’re going pairs.

It snowed this morning here in the Wicket Gate; this is remarkable because this is the American South and it doesn’t really snow all that often here.  It was warm even before global warming.

4ab51967138a6856445430523bbfce5dThis is also remarkable because I absolutely love snow.  I love it.  I love the way it slows everything down, I love the slight weight of it as it falls, I love the silence it engenders, I love the chill of it and the sting the air bites into your cheeks, I love the way snow outlines everything and makes every single twig and parapet a white exclamation point against dark tree bark and grey shingles.  I love the snow.  And it has affected me more than I realized that it doesn’t really snow here—I apparently count on winter as a breathing respite far more than I knew and I think the lack of it has contributed a lot to how overwhelmed and de-centered I’ve felt.  So the snow today was a precious gift and I literally skipped through it across one of the major roads singing My Favorite Things to myself because it was beautiful and there were so few cars it was laughable and running errands in that kind of silence was so, so wonderful.

Light in the darkness.

After getting ink (a necessary though expensive reality, especially now that printers have been programmed not to recognize the cheaper off-brand cartridges) I took myself out to brunch for a sandwich at one of the local fast-food places.  The life of the student is a glamorous flirtation with the poverty line, something I point out not to get into an appeal for money or onto my soapbox on the stupidity that we as a society feel students somehow “deserve” to be poor but to underscore that breakfast out isn’t something I do every day.  As I was sitting down at the restaurant, a man came up to me and asked if I had a dollar to spare so he could get breakfast.  It’s unusual, even here in the city, for someone to come into a place to ask like that; there’s kind of an unspoken agreement that begging as a transaction remains outside, but like I said, it was snowing.  Hunger can prompt some incredible things that we would never have thought ourselves capable of, and hunger with cold demands to be fixed.  Mindful of having recently preached a sermon on Jesus’ differentiation between the hunger of the body and of the spirit, I said come on, I’ll buy you a value meal breakfast, I can do that much.  I intended to have him eat with me since I think that giving money without even the attempt to build connection isn’t helpful to anybody.

We went up to the counter and I gestured him ahead, determined not to speak for him, trying desperately to figure out how this would work since I’m bad at small talk and I really just wanted to watch the snow.  He ordered some eight or nine things, still not an exorbitant cost because it’s a cheap place but way over what I was prepared to spend, especially after having spent so much on the ink.  I didn’t know what to do; I had not expected him to take liberty of my offer, which is perhaps woefully naive.  A manager passing by stopped and said no, he was just in here with someone else; apparently this man had been working the system all morning, waiting for new customers to cycle in and then getting them to buy him more things.  She asked if I still wanted to continue with the transaction and I said no, I couldn’t afford what he was asking, cancel it out.  He asked me when he was going to get his food and I said I can’t give you what you want, I can do this and nothing more.  He looked at me disbelievingly and left.

Darkness in the light.

I tell you this not to say that all beggars are crooks (they certainly aren’t) nor that I’m a saint for having tried (goodness, no).  I wish I could tell you how to respond to those who ask for alms, I really do; I feel like, especially as a pastor, I’m supposed to have some kind of answer for how to react, when to give money and when not, what to say.  I don’t know any of that.  I’m awful and uncomfortable and conflicted as all get-out when it comes to these kinds of interactions.  I tell you this because it is so incredible to me to have it juxtaposed against the beautiful snow, the crisp clarity of the flakes nearly lost in the murky confusion of how to look another human being in the eye and say I cannot give you what you want.

Darkness, and light.

When Jesus looks Satan in the eye and says I will not give you what you want after He is starving in the wilderness, after His face has become chapped not from the cold but from the sun that burns and the wind that scratches sand across the skin, does He hesitate?  Does He wish there was a manual of how to interact with this, how to look at the darkness and still be the light?  Or is He the manual, sure-footed and strong even in His exhaustion, knowing that the light will always win out?  Here in the wilderness I wonder, aware that God is in the snow and the stranger and wishing I understood what She wants of me in either situation.

 

In him there was life. That life was light for the people of the world.  The Light shines in the darkness. And the darkness has not overpowered the Light.  (John 1:4-5, ICB)

Egypt and Other False Hopes

Why yes, I am writing this instead of the sermon and two papers I need to be writing.  Welcome to divinity school.

Just so you know, it has been a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad few weeks.  Even in Australia.  Part of it being so bad is that all the spheres of my life are currently out of whack.  My friends and I have been in some weird spaces, school is frustrating and exhausting at best, my three jobs are financially unhelpful and not terribly life-giving, my faith is a wild mess, the political scene is terrifying and sorrow-inducing, and my car now has a crunched bumper and a tail-light magnificently patched together by Interpreter and jank as all get-out.

Nearly everything is not good.

Perhaps that laundry list resonates with you, Reader—I sure hope not, but if it does know that I hate everything right now, too.  I’m weary; not just tired, but worn to strange edges that constitute no recognizable shape.  I’ve found myself wondering a lot lately why I moved here to the Wicket Gate, why I left the Land of Pilgrims, why I’m in divinity school.

In short, why I left Egypt.

I don’t pull in the metaphor to say that the Land of Pilgrims was at all comparable to slavery (far from it; part of it was home in a way I’d never experienced before, but part of it was completely unhealthy), and I know I’m not the first to connect the complaining Israelites to modern angst with God’s leadership.  But I’ve never felt so clearly that connection.  I am soul-sore, spiritually thirsty, and starving for hope.  Of course I’m going to say to Moses that we should never have left, that at least in Egypt we were fed, that selling my soul wasn’t so bad—at least it was safe.  And it was; I was by no means rich in the Land of Pilgrims, but I was stable.  I didn’t have the fanciest place to live, but it was mine and it was home.  I hated my job, but my church sustained me.  I had community.  I had a life.

And here, in this in-between place, I don’t have that.  I have a banged-up car and more student loans and disappointing professors and damn it, God, why did You make me leave Egypt?

Because God had other plans—plans to which I agreed as I sang my little self across the dry Red Sea, as a I said okay, God, I trust You so much I’ll even get a tattoo to commemorate it.  I left my Egypt because it was killing me to stay and every one of my beautiful, caring friends saw it.  I left because the wilderness was terrifying but wide open in possibility.  And I left because God said come on, we’re moving, and I said, okay.

I now have three jobs in which I regularly practice pastoral relationship even as I am learning what that even means.  I helped a friend move this morning and then we sat on his stoop in the chilly sunshine and just were with each other, which is one of the best ways I re-energize in a relationship.  I got to simply be with Interpreter last weekend while he patched up my car and patiently answered my questions about how it’s put together because I know zilch about cars.  I get to go back to Egypt this summer for an internship that will probably kill me but will definitely change me.

13This wilderness is not accidental.  Do I need to change some things to make it healthier?  Yes.  Moses had to pull water from rocks and the Israelites ate raining bread; the wilderness isn’t mean to be experienced without change.  And it isn’t meant to be itself a destination; the Israelites were looking for the Promised Land.  I am looking to be ordained (which sometimes feels as far from a Promised Land as possible, but hey).  And sometimes, the wilderness lasts longer than intended—it took the Israelites forty years to go a distance that should have taken a month at most.  But even on the worst days when you are freaking sick of bread and your feet hurt and your throat is parched and you have run out of travelling jokes completely, going back to Egypt is not a helpful choice.  I could indeed go back to the Land of Pilgrims and, I’m sure, settle into a lovely and comfortable life.  But it would be turning my back on all that God is asking of and offering to me, all of the ways that I am growing and changing and learning, all of the impact I’m having on others even as they are impacting me.

This coming Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, the day that kicks off Lent.  In the Lenten season Christians remember the forty days in the wilderness that Jesus spent, itself an echo of the forty years of the Israelites.  We hold all of who we are to the Light in preparation for the incredible celebration of Easter, the central point of our faith in which we proclaim a risen Christ Whose love overturns even Death.  Easter is a party—but the wilderness is my current reality, even as it itself is shot through with Easters.

Walk the wilderness with me, Reader.  If you feel comfortable, let me know some of what your desert looks like.  Slough off the idea that going back to Egypt is going to help.  And please; remind me to do the same.

 

 And they said unto Moses, Because there were no graves in Egypt, hast thou taken us away to die in the wilderness? Why hast thou dealt thus with us, to bring us forth out of Egypt?   Is this not what we told thee in Egypt, saying, Let us alone that we may serve the Egyptians? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than that we should die in the wilderness.  (Exodus 14:11-12, JUB)

The Liability of Mobility

Happy New Year, Reader!  I hope your holiday went well, or at least was tolerable.  I didn’t get into any fistfights with family this year, so I’m counting that as a win.

The bar is low in my life.

But while I’m sitting at my desk waiting until a concert tonight (the centerpiece of which is Holst’s Planets suite, which is one of my favorites), I keep looking over my shoulder at the parking lot behind my building and worrying.  The thing is that I live in a city and, in cities, parking is an incredibly tricky concept:  there are lots of cars, but not lots of spaces.  And they’re currently resurfacing my parking lot, which means I had to find somewhere else to put my car.

First world problems, I know; you may even be wondering why I have a car, living in the city.  I don’t use it much here—I walk to anywhere within about a mile and a half radius, which is the vast majority of the pieces of my life.  But I have it so that I can leave here.  My friends are several states away and I can’t afford to buy a plane ticket when I want to go home to see them; I sometimes have people or places I need to visit that are definitely not within walking distance and aren’t on any of the bus lines, either.  (Sadly, my city doesn’t have a subway or el system.)  I also have it so that I, as an up-and-coming pastor, don’t have to rely on the vagaries of public transit (rather less reliable and far-reaching here than in, say, NYC) to be able to get to my church or the hospital or one of my parishioners’ houses.

I also, to be perfectly honest, still have my car because of the freedom in it.  When my grandfather finally had to give up his driver’s license because he simply couldn’t see anymore to drive safely, he didn’t give it up voluntarily.  His sons had to wrest it from him because it was his last link to not having to depend on the rest of the family to get him around; it was his way of telling himself he wasn’t being a burden.  I get that, at a visceral level.  As a hella independent woman, I love that my car affords me the opportunity to leave if I must and go wherever I want (provided, of course, she holds together; she is almost 15 now, but I can’t even handle the idea of her demise and so refuse to acknowledge it).

In America, a car is a ticket to anywhere you have enough gas to go.  A car is a home—literally, for some, and I admit to having spent some nights in my car when I was travelling and couldn’t afford another option.  And my car is currently sitting in a lot where it might be towed.

Before you lecture me on taking risks with the possibility of towing, dear concerned Reader, let me say a) I know; there’s a story about a van in Chicago and a middle school youth group that has made me painfully aware of city towing consequences, and b) I did play by the rules for part of this.  One of the frustrating things about this parking lot makeover is that we weren’t given any avenues about what to do with our cars by the folks who own the building, simply the command last night to move them (I’m bitter about this mostly because they were supposed to do this repair over the holiday break when most of us weren’t here anyway, but nooo, now we’re all in the way…damn right I’m being petty about it).  So this morning I actually put my car in a lot, which wasn’t cheap.  But I could only leave it there so long, and besides, I had to get to work.  For the remaining hours, it’s not so much that I couldn’t afford the cost of meters or garages or whatever (I could definitely jostle other things in the budget to make it work, because even in being poor I’m pretty fortunate about the financial burdens I have; trust me, I’m aware that I could be a lot worse off and this is a tiny expense); it’s that it’s frustrating to me that I should have to simply because a company couldn’t be bothered to honor its commitments and my building super couldn’t be bothered to help a bunch of graduate students re-house their cars for a day.

sesser-pd-012Why am I complaining about so small a thing, you may well ask?  And what on earth does this have to do with God, especially as the first post of a new year?  Part of it is the simple amount of mental energy I’m putting into this.  My car has been tucked into the back of a lot that is usually half-empty for about three and a half hours now hoping against hope that the school that owns the lot won’t do a random sweep, and I tell you I have been nervous the entire time.  It’s exhausting, quite frankly, and of a far higher cost than the stupid garage would have been.  The principle of the thing is super ridiculous beside my concern that I might have to go rescue my car from the impound.

But what if I were even half as aware of God as I am currently of my car?  I don’t mean that someone could take God away from me, but how often have I considered the freedom God gives with the dedication I have to the freedom of this vehicle?  In this new year, how do I understand God’s place in my life—in relation to the car or not?  How can I live with the passion of appreciating God even more than that with which I appreciate my car?

UPDATE:  The lot is finished, my car was not towed, and she’s safely back in her spot.  I’m almost ashamed of how much my body unwound, Reader, when I saw her sitting right where I left her.  When have I ever had that intense of a reaction to realizing God is still, and always, with me, right where I walked away from Him?

 

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.  (Matthew 6:21, LEB)

People of the Books: Simple Church by Thom S. Rainer and Eric Geiger

I read this as part of a year-long look at how we do church and I must admit, it wasn’t my favorite of the nine or so books I had to read.  The concept of this book—take a good hard look at your church in the light of Clarity, Movement, Alignment (to mission), and Focus—is solid. This would have been a really great blog post or even a short series. It would make a wonderful diagram to hang in places of meeting, colorful yet stark. The message of getting rid of things that clutter your organization is useful for things that aren’t church; this encourages you to really be aware of what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and how you’re using the resources you have to do that thing.

Here, let me help you understand this book:

…the healthiest churches in America tended to have a simple process for making disciples.  They had clarity about the process.  They moved Christians intentionally through the process.  They were focused on the elements of the process.  And they aligned their entire congregations to this process.  (ix)

There.  Ignore that this completely focuses on the American church and doesn’t give any thought process to the global Church.  Ta-dah!  You literally now know the entire book; the rest of it is just data and stories to flesh out these four ideas.


But then it tries to be more than that diagram and kind of shoots itself in the foot. For starters, it’s hilarious that a book about being simple is 276 pages long (although part of that is because the font is hella big; seriously, it’s not even the large print version and yet has to be 16 point, which is just unnecessary). What’s worse is that this is trying to be an almost scientific study; much of the text length is taken up with bar graphs of their research to come up with this model. Bully for them for doing a survey and tabulating the results, but once you look at their data versus their conclusions, it’s not all that scientific. Take, for example, their graph for respondents’ level of agreement with the idea that their church limits special events (p. 217). Ignore for a second the fact that they bias their data immediately by comparing “vibrant” and “comparison” churches, which is one step short of “good” and “crap” churches and those are absolutely qualified terms with inherent connotations. Then look at the accompanying textual breakdown where they laud the “vibrant” churches for their 25% agreeing strongly compared to 6% of the “comparison.”

I’m not terribly much a scientist, but in terms of social constructs 1/4 isn’t usually overwhelming support. Also, the very next step down (“agree”) is equal between the two respondent types. What? Okay, that’s a way to say that yes, the “vibrant” churches lean more toward saying yes to this concept, but it’s not overwhelming and it’s not undeniable evidence.  This presents results with way more strength than they actually have and discusses this theory as though it’s obvious and entirely correct. It’s a model for how to consider the structure of one’s church (even though it says on page 3 that “[t]his book is not about another church model”), and I’m a little too much of an academic to accept their celebration over mostly average data (especially when they present it with simplified explanations to support their theory rather than acknowledging the complexity of their own responses).

It also gets really repetitive, as in “okay, now that you understand movement, here’s alignment.  Alignment comes after movement.  Movement was this, and alignment continues that with…” and on and on.  I promise, guys, I can keep themes and ideas in my head for several chapters at a time.  Although perhaps their target audience couldn’t—I was never entirely sure who their target audience, was, actually, since they were talking about being vibrant and aware and using very savvy churches as the good examples but then using completely outdated technological references.  (In two separate places [pp. 11, 173] Rainer and Geiger explain that a blog is a web log or online journal; this book was published in 2011, so hopefully someone bothering to read a how-to-be-relevant church book is at least aware of blogs and also by that time blogs were so much more than the diaries of the MySpace days anyway.)  And there were some bizarrely sexist moments that popped up, like this disclaimer about what Mary and Martha must have been like:  “At least, that is what our wives tell us.  We don’t claim to know about Martha firsthand.”  (p. 12)  And your wives do?  Do all women have an ESP link that I’ve missed?

There was a jarring mix of self-righteousness and apology from the authors; they laud themselves for this hilarious prank they pulled (during the freaking recession, mind you, when folks would have done an awful lot for a job) posting a fake church job that asked for people to hold conflicting theological styles of leadership.  The authors mock the people who applied for it, saying that they were obviously not committed to being true leaders for Christ.  What?  A) That’s a dick move, which I realize is scandalously strong language but I can’t even begin to tell you how much I hate pranks and there were certainly better ways these guys could have proved their point without lambasting unsuspecting people.  B)  Turning around and putting that in their book, making money off of the idea that they somehow have a better understanding of what it is to be a focused Christian, is just annoying.  You don’t get the Jesus prize for holding to your ideological tenets, sorry.

But up against that is an almost constant apology for being academic in the way they do their research.  Christians aren’t stupid, guys, and if you’re going to make sweeping assumptions about what church should look like, then I want all the data you can give me.  Own your work.  I’ll skim what I need to.

I appreciate the examination of a lot of business models to stress the efficacy of simplicity (Apple, Gap, and Google are all mentioned) but that’s a double-edged sword—the Church isn’t actually a business, and if you’re saying it should be then we have an entirely different conversation we need to have.  And even in the comparisons there was a lot of vagueness (who is “we?” what is “growth” for you?  How do you understand that particular anecdote in relation to your main point? When you talk about “this word translates,” from which language do you mean?).

Good to skim.  Definitely good to take with a large grain of salt.  Stick with the opening infographic.

 

Rating:  2.5/5 stars     

The Unanswered Ugliness

Happy new year, Reader!  I hope your holidays were life-giving (and if they weren’t, that your post-holidays have brought some life back to you).  Also, happy Epiphany; may we all find in this season whatever it is that that elusive star is hovering over for us.

I drove to visit friends and family on Christmas.  I usually drive on Christmas Day, reserving Christmas Eve for participating in the services at my home church before striking out to do the rounds of people on the holiday proper.  So I was driving, an audiobook in my CD player and the gifts (poorly) wrapped for my family knocking about on the passenger seat beside me.  I was nearing the end of the several-hour trip, anxious to get out of the car and eat something, to stretch and zone out for a while.  I came down the off-ramp of the interstate and there at the intersection was a woman holding a cardboard sign reading, “Please help.”

Here in the Land of Pilgrims there are a couple of folks who stake out the off-ramps as places to stand with their signs proclaiming homelessness, “God bless.”  I see them in the summer, standing in the sun like chipped statues of perseverance and despair.  But this past Christmas was outrageously warm for the season, warm enough that there on Christmas Day itself was this woman in a scarf and coat with her sign.

poverty-4I confess, Reader, that my first reaction was anger, not at her being there but at her sign—“Please help.”  Help how?  Help what?  If you’re going to ask me to help you, you should at least give me the courtesy of outlining what you need.  I find that I usually react with this wave of impatience at the Twitter-esque signs of the forsaken, their limited characters never telling me anything about what help looks like.  Do you want money?  A coat?  A roof for the night?  Prayer?  What do I have that you want?  What do I have that you need?

My second reaction was one of chagrin; I was driving in my own car to a house filled with food and people and heat and presents for me, even as I had a chair full of presents for others and my own backpack full of clothes and books for the visit in the backseat.  I hated that I had enough and this woman did not, and I hated it even more because it wasn’t transferable.  My clothes have been themselves gifts and hand-me-downs; the gifts for my family were mostly handmade because I’m terrible at buying gifts and I’m also not overwhelmingly wealthy myself.  I hated that I was—and am now, in retelling this—justifying my having as a shield against my assumption that she was lacking.

Because it was an assumption; again, I had no idea what help she needed.  I did not know, will never know what drove her to stand at this intersection with her cardboard sign on a warm Christmas Day.  I never know what to do about this, Reader, about these living signposts of the forgotten in our culture.  They are most often (at least here, at the edges of the city rather than downtown) at these crossroads, these places where I am on my way to something and couldn’t stop even if I had the nerve to do so, where my fellow impatient travelers are coming down the interstate behind me with their own homes to get to and their own places to be.  There is no time to stop and ask what help looks like, what is actually needed; there is no space to ask what these people’s names are and whether I truly have something they could use.

It makes me think of an episode of NCIS, a procedural drama I’ve watched since it first aired when I was in high school.  Abby Sciuto, the resident forensic scientist with a flair for Goth attire and an innocent heart of gold, reveals that she regularly visits with and helps out the homeless who camp out under an overpass in Washington, D.C.  The rest of her team applaud her reaching out and show that they do not engage this part of town, that they don’t even see it.  I am very much like them…and I wish I knew how to be like her.

Christianity makes this even more difficult, I think, because this Jesus dude was aware of His own intersection signposts.  He went to the poor, to the forgotten, to the broken and He asked their names, healed their wounds, ate at their houses.  He challenged those of us who follow after Him to do the same, and that’s hard because we are also told that the poor will always be with us and it is quite true that usually I have somewhere else to be.  I cannot stop and create a relationship with every woman holding a sign, every man standing next to a tattered old backpack.  There are other relationships that are equally as important that need attention and love and help.

But doing nothing feels so wrong.  And just giving money feels so wrong.  I’m not overly fond of simply giving things to people without spending some time with them, of handing them something and walking away, content in my own generosity.  But how to balance these, Reader?  How to be help without being patronizing, without draining myself and my other commitments?

How do I serve the poor without having to justify the life that I live that they do not?

I realize this is a bit much to be starting 2016 with, Reader, but I have the feeling it’s going to be that kind of year.  I got a phone call earlier this week telling me I’ve been accepted to seminary and that is huge and frightening and amazing and humbling and real.  So I’m going to be asking myself to see the hard questions, if not answer them.  If you have any answers, Reader, I would love to hear.

 

 

And he came to Nazareth, where he was brought up; and he entered, according to his custom, into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and stood up to read.  And [the] book of the prophet Esaias was given to him; and having unrolled the book he found the place where it was written, “[The] Spirit of [the] Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach glad tidings to [the] poor; he has sent me to preach to captives deliverance, and to [the] blind sight, to send forth [the] crushed delivered, to preach [the] acceptable year of [the] Lord.”  (Luke 4:16-19, DBY)

On My Own Four Wheels

The wind today in the Land of Pilgrims is ferocious, Reader.  The remnants of a storm that woke me with insisting fingernails of rain tapping my window at 5 this morning sweep through the valleys between buildings on this campus, whirling up the tower past my office window.  It whistles through the top notch I can never close because I can’t quite reach it.

It is a day in which I’m very glad I’ll be getting in my car and driving home for a little while before a concert.

This has not been the week I planned, not at all.  For the first time in a while I had several evenings in a row without meetings or obligations, evenings I planned to spend blissfully curled up with my laptop while I cursed my characters in this first week of NaNoWriMo.  I did end up getting to do some of that, but I also got to spend several days carless and worrying about repairs.

I live in a small city, Reader, where there is public transportation but it’s not the most efficient or user-friendly.  It is not an automatic assumption here like it is in New York or Chicago or London.  This is still very much car country, and as a single person who lives alone and has a pretty crazy schedule I rely very heavily on my car.  No bus gets to all the places I go, so when I don’t have a car, I lose a lot of freedom.

By freedom, I mean independence.

How American a statement!  I remember my father’s father adamantly insisting he could drive in his later years even though he was going blind and deaf and had a heart that never decided on a regular rhythm.  He knew that losing his license would make him, culturally speaking, baggage; an old leftover ferried around by his family, a burden, an afterthought.  He was an incredibly independent and stubborn man and he fought that loss until the doctors themselves said no more, we cannot allow you on the roads.  It was a point of some soreness for the rest of his life—which was a little less than a decade.

No one plans for their car to fall apart.  Mine is old (but don’t tell her) and has certainly been ill-used.  This summer alone we travelled together some 9,000 miles in about 4 1/2 months; she has been put through her paces, as have I, and it’s showing in some of the repairs I have to do.  But when they crowd together, demanding to be heard in clanking rumbles of discontent; when the repairman say we will have to do this, and this, and this, and this…Reader, I get so frustrated.

Part of it is that I am frustrated I can’t fix this myself.  I pride myself on being able to do little fix-its and delight in around-the-house type jobs.  I like knowing how things are put together; when I was a kid, I would exasperate my mother by pulling apart her pens to see if they all had the same pieces and then putting them back together with mixed success, depending on whether or not I’d lost the spring in the deconstruction process.  She started using a lot more pencils until I was old enough to be able to handle the concept of keeping all the parts.

But I don’t understand cars, and specifically I don’t understand my car.  I haven’t had the chance to pull up in a driveway and pop the hood to just explore the engine; I haven’t taken the time to crawl underneath with a book or a friend and memorize the chassis layout.  It irks me, Reader, that I fit the stereotype of the clueless female who walks into a mechanic’s shop and has no idea why there’s an upper and lower engine mount.

It’s also frustrating because, for the several days that I didn’t have my car, I had to rely on other people.  The horror!  The outrage!  The humility of it!  Oh, Reader, how amazing it is to see all the places in my life that I still stay, “No, I’ve got this, I’m okay” even when asking for help is the most logical thing to do.  One of my coworkers lives literally across the street from me; she was more than okay with ferrying me around for a few days, especially since the only places I went were work, home, and the shop.  I’ve no doubt that it would have been a bit different if I had had several meetings I needed to attend, but even that could have worked.  After all, have I not done the same for her in the many times she’s had car trouble?  I didn’t think anything of it because I understood that this was something she needed and I was in a position to help her out; no worries.

Yet when the positions are flipped, ALL THE WORRIES.

Oh, how much I want to know everything and be able to do it all by myself, to walk around on my own two feet and drive on my own four wheels and need nothing and no one.

Until the wry voice of God whispers, Even Me?  I was not created to know everything; I was not made to do all things by myself.  Even Jesus wasn’t master of all trades; He was a carpenter’s Son Who wasn’t as good at fishing as Peter or at accounting as Matthew.  And that was fine, because He was good at His thing—He was very good at His thing, thankfully.  But His thing wasn’t every thing, and if freaking Jesus didn’t do everything, what makes me think I can or should?

No, little one, it is grace to be in relationship with others.  (Even though it’s really great to have my car back.)

 

But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion.  He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him.  (Luke 10:33-34, ESV)