Home Again Home Again

Having moved twice in a week and slept in several different room such that I definitely woke up several times and couldn’t place where I was, I’m now back in the Land of Pilgrims for the summer.  Thanks for your patience while I traversed the country; I didn’t totally fall off the map, just shifted my vantage point on it.

I’m staying with Interpreter while I gear up to start chaplaincy, both of which are crazy adventures I most surely could never have thought up a few years ago (even last year, really).  Being here has been lovely because I’ve been able to see (briefly) Magister and Watchful and have had a few days off to unwind and start healing some of the wounds of my time at the Wicket Gate.  But it’s also a bit awful because of the truth of Heraclitus’ saying that you can never step in the same river twice.

I’m back home!  I’m with the people I know and love who know and love me, and I have my favorite coffee chain back, and I’m staying with my best friend, and I know where the best grocery stores are.  Except I don’t know these people, not as well as I did, and they don’t know me; we have all of us changed in the past year in the small ways that matter tremendously.  I haven’t yet been to my favorite coffee chain because I don’t have a car, because I live in a different part of town.  My best friend and I are negotiating the incredibly mundane intimacy of living in the same house but having wildly different schedules.  And the grocery stores are where they used to be but feel jumbled, like old transparencies laid on top of one another, making the projection two different images fighting for the same visual space.  My head maps the Wicket Gate first now.

This continuing discovery of what “home” means and how utterly complicated that is is zero fun, actually.  A fellow blogger is having some similar (but far more in-depth) issues as she cares for her post-stroke mother in her childhood home, so I know I’m not alone in this feeling of outside-and-in.  I’ve been thinking a lot about the warning Jesus delivers to the guy who wants to follow Him, that “the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.”  I wonder if He meant far more than just not having a reliable bed for the night—I wonder if this is in the same category as “the prophet is never welcome in his hometown,” as “My mother and brother are those who listen to and do God’s commandments.”

I wonder if Jesus left town because He knew He would be too changed to truly return.

I wonder if Jacob thought that when he went to meet his brother Esau; I know he also had the fear of reprisal from having totally screwed his brother over for the inheritance, a fear I don’t have being back here.  Perhaps it’s not surprising, how much the Bible thinks about what it means to go back home and how you can’t really do it—after all, it was written by and for a people who fairly regularly got kicked out of their homes by the empire of the day.  That homesickness for something that never really existed in the first place colors Christianity:  John’s Revelation talks about a city where we end up and stay, a city that last a thousand years.  Growing pains are not part of that city.  Having to re-learn each other’s stories is not part of that city.  Feeling different is not part of that city.

Is forgetting part of that city?

0b64c5f342b44bf18fd2762e6a77424bEven while I try to re-assimilate to this place that I do still very much call home, I am mindful of the friends I made back in the Wicket Gate.  I remember that they have changed me, just as the enemies I made have changed me, as the things I experienced have changed me.  It doesn’t really matter whether I am glad they changed me; that change is irrevocable.  I am not the person I was last August—I would not be the person I was last August had I stayed here in the Land of Pilgrims, and I am fooling myself mightily if I try to believe I would not have changed even here.  We are ever-changing creatures, we mortals.

I don’t have a good wrap-up for you, Reader, as I’m still navigating what it is to be back and yet not.  I will have to leave again in August, return to the Wicket Gate and change some more, re-tell my stories to the friends there of how much I changed in the chaplaincy here (boy howdy will that be a lot of change, I’m sure).  Hopefully the Land of Pilgrims will remain home as I leave again; hopefully it is still home as I sit here on Interpreter’s couch listening to the fridge hum determinedly to itself, my fingers sore from steel guitar strings as they tap on the keys to tell cyberspace that I am back, but I will never be back.

There is no back to go to.  There is no place to lay my head.  Can the unchanging God Who moves with the ever-changing me be Home enough?

 

 

“There are many rooms in my Father’s house, and I am going to prepare a place for you. I would not tell you this if it were not so.  And after I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to myself, so that you will be where I am.”  (John 14:2-3, GNT)

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Christianity in the New Reality

Oh, Reader, I could use a whole lot of Jesus right now.

It’s been a hell of a week for Americans—for the world at large, really, since America has had nearly 100 years to wrap its long fingers around the limbs of every other country.  I have been disappointed by my country quite a few times, but this is perhaps the first time I’ve been frightened by and for it.  The reckless foolishness, the open childishness, and the marginalizing endangerment of the new administration—in only one week!—are exhausting.  My spirit hurts, my heart hurts, my body aches from marching around Washington, D.C. to remind the world and myself that I matter because I am a woman, not in spite of it.

And I won’t lie, being in seminary is not making it easier.  I think I’ve mentioned before that I attend a pretty liberal divinity school—far more liberal than I am, in some areas.  The anger and the pain of the students here feed mine such that we all starve from them, our very souls gnawing at empty insides because we see only that which is cruel, that which is unmerciful.

I do not know how to recharge from that.

dscn2067Because I do not believe that I, as a Christian or as a faith leader, can walk away from this.  A family member called me out earlier this week in accusation that I wasn’t preaching love, kindness, and forgiveness because I went to the D.C. march and am unapologetic about my reasoning.  But what is love that does not pull the loved one away from evil?  How kind is it to avoid confrontation such that others are harmed because of my unwillingness to speak?  At the end of days, how do I ask God to forgive me if He has to say, “I was hungry and you didn’t give me food to eat. I was thirsty and you didn’t give me anything to drink. I was a stranger and you didn’t welcome me. I was naked and you didn’t give me clothes to wear. I was sick and in prison, and you didn’t visit me“?

I’ve no intention of turning this blog into an activist space in terms of recruiting you to do anything, Reader; I have other spaces for that, and I hope you do as well.  Nor do I particularly want this to become a conversational space about which politician we dislike this week, not least because I am tired of having those conversations without the benefit of looking people in the eye and saying their real names.  For me, this blog needs to remain a place in which I catalog and describe the God-shaped space in my life and how that shifts and shines.  Heaven knows I need to be more aware than ever before of God’s constant Presence.

But I challenge you and I challenge myself to bring faith into all of our conversations in this new era.  Who is starving, physically and spiritually?  Are we contributing to their inability to be filled?  Are we ourselves, we God-made vessels of the imago Dei, trying to survive on not enough?  Who is parched, and how can we offer both water and Living Water that does not drown and does not cause further thirst?  Who is strange to us, and how do we welcome them?  How do we welcome the parts of ourselves that we cannot yet face because we have bifurcated our own souls, our families, our friends who are too “other”?  Who has been stripped naked, who stands in the harsh light of this day without rights, without safety, without hope, without love, without kindness?  Who is sick, who is trapped in prisons of their own making or of ours?  Have we gone to them and called them by name as children of God?

In the least of these is God.  In the greatest of these is God.  In the average of these is God.  In us is God, for in Him we live and move and have our being.  How shall we act as though this is true?  How shall we move forward as those who have claimed and been claimed by Jesus the Christ?

From wells of worship that never run dry, though we may feel as though there is only dusty earth at the bottom.  May God stand with you in the days ahead, Reader.  May we both recognize Him as He does so.

Help me understand your orders. Then I will think about your miracles.  I am sad and tired. Make me strong again as you have promised.  Don’t let me be dishonest; have mercy on me by helping me obey your teachings.  (Psalm 119:27-29, NCV)

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)

The Thickest of Thin Places

So here’s the scoop, Reader—for one week, I was in Scotland.

In my heart of hearts, I’m British (which, I know, is a contentious thing to say at the moment when speaking of Scotland).  This is my third trip to the Isles, and it just feels like home to me in a way that my home country…doesn’t, quite.  So I was (amidst all the crazy of projects and deadlines and such) really looking forward to going back to the U.K. and also tapping into some of the “thin places”—I was deliberately set to visit a lot of churchy type settings.  Like I said a couple of weeks ago, I was ready for some mountain time.

Loch Lomond fault line hill

Yeah, I climbed that.

Man plans, God laughs, is that the saying?  I did get a lot of mountain time, in that I was literally around mountains and climbed some smallish ones.  (Man, am I out of shape.)  And I was just flattened by how desperately beautiful Scotland is, especially the highlands; it’s fierce up there, and is a much different kind of landscape than most of the ones I’ve seen.  But I didn’t find the thin places—at least, not in the places I expected them.  You see, what I found instead was God saying no, you don’t get to set up appointments with Me.  I have nothing to say to you right now.

I mentioned this to a friend of mine when I was back home and he laughed and said, “Funny how you’re still finding out that you’re not the one in control.”

And it’s true.  A huge part of it was that a lot of the “thin places” I visited are squarely in my academic wheelhouse; sure thing, as a medievalist going to an 8th century abbey or a 12th century cathedral, it’s not terribly surprising that I found myself in head space rather than heart space.  And they were awesome, don’t get me wrong; I am so very glad I went, and the medievalist in me was delighted to delve into these places, but they were not the place of the Spirit for me.

That was in a restaurant with some of the best damn duck I’ve ever eaten.  It was walking down Merchant Street in Glasgow and noticing that I don’t know how to act around Scottish beggars any more than I do American ones.  It was walking around the twilight-touched crags of a tiny island against the looming Atlantic Ocean and realizing my God is so big, I mean so big and yet still knows my name.  It was in successfully navigating no fewer than six different types of transportation mostly on my own, which is a very big deal for somebody as uncomfortable around people and the unknown as I am.  It was in a tiny Episcopalian chapel for compline services with a kindly, rotund priest who greeted me and heard that my thin places were showing up in the “wrong” places and told me a story about a pilgrim to Rome who was disappointed in the emperor he found and was told that the emperor he was actually seeking was the one he’d brought with him in his pocket (on a coin).

Iona Scottish Episcopal Church“Go home,” the priest said.  “The King you’re looking for is in America, too.”

What a curious notion!  Again, I’m glad I went on the trip, and I found out a lot of things that it is good to know about myself, and also did I mention it was beautiful?  But it was necessary to be reminded that God isn’t only in the church sanctuaries or the windblown stone abbeys standing watch over the sea.  God is wherever I am, and also in plenty of places I am not.  He is not bound to the houses we build for Him, the genie lamps that we construct so we can rub the metal and be uplifted.  He is far more wild than that, and it was good to be reminded of it, if only so that I remember which of us is actually the Creator and which the created.

I miss Scotland, for sure.  I miss the rhythm there, where you can get where you’re getting when you get there as opposed to the hustle of American life that demands you get where you’re getting five minutes ago.  I miss the weather (I am not a summer fan).  I miss the accent (we all know Americans are suckers for accents other than our own.)  I miss the tea, and the scones, and the haggis (yes, even that).  I miss the vastness of it, which is a funny thing to say considering I live in one of the geographically largest countries on the planet.

But I do not miss God.  He came back with me on the plane.  He went with me on the plane.  He went to choir with me last night, and came to work with me this morning, and will go with me tomorrow to get my hair cut.  And most of those outings will be normal and mundane, and perhaps even unfortunate.  But some will be thin places, where the Spirit breaks through not because the distance to heaven is shortened by the elevation of a mountain but because I take the moment to say I am here with You, deliberately and fully.  The air is different here.

Breathe deeply.

 

Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?
 If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
 If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,
 even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast.  (Psalm 139:7-10, GNT)

Retreat, retreat!

I’ve always been amused that, in English, the same word means both a time away for reflection and/or spiritual growth as well as a running away with varying degrees of dignity from scary/dangerous things.  I think that’s a rather perfect pairing for this past weekend (wow, look at that alliteration; it really is Friday, my brain is done).

So off we went to the land of Difficulty, three vans of adults who had just gotten out of work and a gaggle or three of girls and two boys who had just gotten out of school.  No really.  Fewer than 15% of the group was boys.  And these are 7th and 8th graders, mind.  If I didn’t know better, I’d think God had devised a gauntlet especially for me.

But off we went.  Fortunately, I was in the van with another adult whom I know well (actually, one of the angels who dragged me through camp last year), so that was half the battle.  He’s phenomenal, and I’m so glad that I was his copilot.  It wasn’t a bad drive; we got our caravan rather switched around and we really were just making things up on the fly, but that happens, right?  I’m pretty sure Interpreter spent the entire weekend with an amused/exasperated expression, but that seems to be how this sort of thing works.

Saturday was the Day of Things, which became the Day of Fewer Things because one of our vans got towed.  (Seriously.  From a strong contender for Shadiest Parking Lots of Big Cities.)  So that was a mess.  But before and after and even during that, it was amazing how much grace there was.  Yes, that’s annoying, and expensive, and frustrating, and sneaky, but it was a totally unlooked for opportunity (?!) for us as adults to model patience and such to the kids, and it also created a whole different type of close-knit for those who came on the trip.  Working together was awesome (and I sacrificed a grand number of brain cells to the painting of a basement bathroom, which I was totally happy to do considering I’ve sacrificed brain cells to far less worthy causes), and going to this one particular chapel downtown was great, but we won’t forget that towed-van business, no matter how we spent the intervening time.

And I must take a moment to say, Reader, that this is a great batch of kids.  Yes, there are a few who make me sad about life because they’re bossy and impetuous and really quite ignorant about things, but they were right there with us the whole weekend.  They rolled with the punches, and I am very painfully aware of how much harder this whole affair could have been if they had been annoying jerks.  And they responded to the chapels and such to which we took them, really beginning to dig into the places where faith is weird and hard and much bigger than we give it credit for (even if class Sunday morning was like pulling teeth).

They’ve also taken a shine to me, somehow, and I don’t quite know what to do with that.  Kids make me nervous, although this is the bottom end of the age range with which I can actually work.  But for them to really seek my approval in their awkward ways, to want to tell me the jokes they find funny (which were mostly not in any real sense; timing is one of the things we’re definitely going to have to work on), to give me a hug, to share their ideas and reactions with me—that’s a gift, and one that I never expected I’d want.  Reader, my heart grew three sizes, and you better believe it hurt like hell—still hurts, really, because I don’t live in that world and so am unsure about this odd visitor’s pass.

So it will be an interesting journey with these confirmands, I can promise that.  And I’m sure I’ll keep you sort of updated, because this is one of the glaringly obvous places God is ridiculously present in my life right now; there are no implications in this, it is very clearly stated.  And it swirls around all of the other things going on—still plugging away at a job that doesn’t seem to matter much but is nice, having an abstract accepted for an academic conference in May, travelling every #($)! weekend because relationships matter but I’m an introvert and very very tired and I would love to stay home for once.

Ahem.

It was a retreat in both senses; it was a time of spiritual growth and reflection, but that reflection freaked me the eff out and now I am running and tripping and stumbling away with very little dignity from how scary this kind of relationship is.  I’ll be honest about that, sure, because I have the feeling you know what I’m talking about—how being an adult isn’t a concept, all of a sudden, but a reality, framed in the questioning eyes that want you to explain why the world has parts where the foundations of a church are sinking and no one cares as the plaster cracks and the paint chips away.  And you hear the same question in yourself, of why there are broken things, and suddenly it is yours to answer or to own up to the valid admission that you don’t know, but that you’ll check.

In that, too, is grace.

 

Or what man is there of you, who, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone?  Or if he asks for a fish, who will give him a serpent?  If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!  (Matthew 7:9-11, WEB)

Why God Makes Us Have Families

We are each of us born into some family unit or other.  Yes, it sounds bleak, but humans and social creatures and all; even introverts like me can’t survive perpetually alone.

Yet the families given to us rather than chosen by us can be some of the most frustrating, mind-bending, soul-wrenching collections of people.  Every teenager knows this, because teenagedom seems to be the age when you realize that there are other ways to do this, and some of them are much better, which seems horrendously unfair.  As we get older, we learn to play nice, to find the good in others, to shut the dickens up when Auntie Grace asks you for the thirteenth time what you’re waiting for by still being single at your age.

Perhaps God gave us families to teach us humility.

So I went to this family thing out East, and it was fine.  Legit—I have some fascinating relatives, and this was a collection of ones I’ve either never met or haven’t seen in about 15 years.  I am constantly surprised by who my grandparents really were and how they fit in the world; they were neat people, and lived fully in ways I can’t even pretend I have the guts to do.  This trip was a celebration of that, as well as a reconnecting to roots.  My mother’s family is very closed about their past, for reasons I know and reasons I don’t, so I don’t think about roots all that much.  But my grandfather’s family goes back to the early 18th century; half the mountains in a certain range out east seem to be named for some relative or other of mine.  Although I have no real interest in genealogy, I appreciate this knowing, this sense that there is a home of my people, however I choose to interpret that.  It was good to be reminded that I am not doing this alone.

And yet I was reminded how very alone I am, in some ways.  Extended family can be maddening or hilarious or interesting or strange, but immediate family is the test of our humanity.  I’m not terribly comfortable with my immediate family—never have been—and the first day or two was every bit as awkward as I had feared it would be.  You see, Reader, I am unmarried, I have no children and do not want them, I am moving from having dedicated my life to the University to dedicating it to the Church.  I am this against the backdrop of my closest siblings (age- and geography-wise) who have no truck with Church, are not quite sure why I need an esoteric degree, and are very much family people who love their children.

Kudos to them.  Seriously, I’m glad that there are differences in people.  But there is this wall (admittedly, there are many more bricks in that wall than differences in priority, because every family has its skeletons grinning blankly in the dust of closets) that effectively cuts me off from relating to them.  I don’t fit, or at least I feel like I don’t fit, which comes to the same point.

I say this to you, Reader, not so as to dredge through my issues with my family of origin.  Rather, my purpose is twofold.  One, if you also feel like the black sheep in your family, I want you to know that there are many of us in our darkened wool who graze on our own, by choice or directive; we are not the same shade of shadow, you and I, but we know we stand at a difference from the nursery-room legged clouds gathered at the other edge of the pasture (who are themselves far greyer than any of us would like to admit).

Two, I would like to inform you that God is also in the East.  This may seem obvious, but in this extended analogy of sheep, it was so good to find that even as I sat on the porch of a cabin high above sea level fending off mosquitoes and watching the sun sink behind the oldest mountain chain in the world, I was not truly alone.  The Shepherd was there, quietly admiring His work in these worn rocks slowly flattened by time, rain, snow, humans.  It was good to know that, however much I don’t feel as though I fit in my family of birth and circumstance, of experience and emotion, I am called to a different Family.

I recognize—oh, how I recognize, Reader—that often the most difficult form of address within Christianity is the one that uses family language.  God as Father or Mother or fellow believers as brothers and sisters calls forth a lot of scars for many of us, stretches wounds gone white with time, bandaged by our own self-directives to forget.  We carry much, we humans born to humans, of what has or hasn’t happened, of what we remember or what we wish.  We bring this caravan of baggage wagons to this God Who calls Himself Abba, Daddy, and we say we are not part of this.  We cannot be part of this.

familyisloving

I will be the first to admit that I don’t use Father or Mother language when addressing God.  And I am, after many years, just beginning to accept brother and sister as titles—because my family of origin does not own those.  They, too, have their caravan, of which I may know nothing at all; yet God sees each of our carefully packed bags and picks them up effortlessly, handling our pain and joy with care.  He tells us He is remaking this notion of family, in such a way that a reunion is a blessed thing, that there is no one who sits out on the porch alone, that all are as welcome and welcoming as Cousin Bill, who says you’re all right.

May you find that Family, Reader, and let it sustain you in the days when we ebony sheep feel so keenly our differences and walls.

 

For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.  (Romans 12:4-5, ESV)

All the Things We Cannot Know

I have survived my second trip to Difficulty, Reader—and I didn’t get lost this time, for which I am damned proud of myself.  It’s amazing what any degree of familiarity will do for a person.  If you have been/are praying for me in this journey, thank you so very much; even if you haven’t, thank you for reading along, for supporting my rambling, for walking this with me in your own quiet way, for even just dropping by.

With this small success, this decidedly lower level of panic, comes the space to appreciate the city.  I still don’t particularly like it, but I can see that people live their lives there, bare their souls there, dream their dreams there.  I was soundly (and rightly) chastised by Interpreter this past week for forgetting what people bring to situations, for assuming that they are not doing enough without knowing what they’re doing elsewhere.  We were discussing my frustration with the Church at large and he reminded me that that many come to receive because they have nothing left to give—life has taken it all from them, and they can but whisper the prayer for God to fill them just enough to keep going.

I know this place.  Rather better than I’d like.  And in thinking of how I shouldn’t be so quick to judge others by my own standards and ideas, I’ve been very aware of these things I don’t know,  can’t know.  Even if they were to tell me their stories, I still wouldn’t know them they way they do.  I will feel the thick round stump and call it a tree because I have not seen the elephant.  In the abstract, it’s kind of lonely to realize that we can never know each other, who we truly are when the lights go out.

But we must try.

I tie these two concepts together, the conversation and the city, because I was glad to be able to note the people instead of simply hurry along yesterday.  Cities offer people-watching second only to shopping malls, and I hate malls far more.  Even though that many people wear me out, it’s still amazingly cool to see so many representations of height, hairstyle, clothing, ethnicity, personality; to hear a barrage of languages in a million snippets of conversation covering all the topics that make life a living process.  This people-watching was especially interesting for me in the light of this conversation about knowing; I will likely never know these people, their stories, their faiths, their places of refuge.

There was a woman in a smart black pantsuit in front of a glass-and-steel business building talking on a cell phone, slowly wiping away tears streaming down her face already red from the effort of crying, people flowing around her unheeding as the river.  There was a man waiting with me at a crosswalk who leaned against the light pole and whispered lightly to himself—a prayer?  I couldn’t catch the words—looking as weary as Atlas.  There was a young man in the train station as we waited for our half-hour-late ride home who was wearing a Seniors 2012 hoodie, nervously confronting this busy world within the comforting safety of his success and 80s-style headphones.

Would I tell any of them who they should be and what they should do?  Would I allow them to tell me?  Of course not.  So why then do I wrap myself around this plethora of standards, especially separating myself and others?  If you prick me, do I not bleed?  Don’t they?

My class in Difficulty continues to intellectually scare the hell out of me—surely these older, more educated people recognize me as an impostor,  an idiot in their midst.  But then I listen to my Italian classmate fight through this secondary language and get so frustrated that she can’t articulate these complex historiographical concepts in this double-jointed pack rat tongue, and I realize she is likely also worried that we won’t see her intelligence behind the barrier.  I hear myself speak and see that I have come so far in the last 10 years, academically and in many other ways (confidence not least among them).

I’ve always found it wryly hilarious that a fearful introvert like me has consistently been drawn to very people-oriented careers.  It is even more so now, no matter how I wish to understand this call to ministry.  But we, all of us, are called to this communion, this community, this frustrating mix of never understanding and constantly explaining.  God created 2 people in the beginning, Genesis tells us—I’m not interested here in the sexuality that is or isn’t in this passage, I’m interested in the fact that God did it because it was not good for man to be alone.  We were created such that we dive headfirst (side first?) into this relational mess, granting each other the room to recharge and grow—and the forgiveness to continue when we forget our differences and demand ourselves from each other.

People honk me off.  A lot.  They also frighten me, hurt me, and disappoint me.  Sometimes it is mine to call them on this, to hold them to account for their actions—as they hold me to mine.  But I must also remember how much I do not know, how much I have to wait for them to tell me, how much I have to be reminded that God is God, and I am not.

 

“Everyone who calls, ‘Help, God!’ gets help.’ But how can people call for help if they don’t know who to trust? And how can they know who to trust if they haven’t heard of the One who can be trusted? And how can they hear if nobody tells them? And how is anyone going to tell them, unless someone is sent to do it? That’s why Scripture exclaims, A sight to take your breath away! Grand processions of people telling all the good things of God! But not everybody is ready for this, ready to see and hear and act. Isaiah asked what we all ask at one time or another: ‘Does anyone care, God? Is anyone listening and believing a word of it?’ The point is, before you trust, you have to listen.”  (Romans 10:13-17a, MSG)