Thursday, September 18, 2014

Church Gifts

On my vacation a few days ago (really, only a few days?), I had the chance to worship at the church where I was ordained. Because of my weird, weird churchy past, it's the last place I can actually show up at and be more at home than at not. Ordination boundaries mean I check with the current pastor before showing up for worship, of course. Still, it's home in some way, which the churches of my childhood aren't.

But that's not really the point. I had lots of angst in the weeks before, wondering if it was really ok to show up. No one wants to read all the angst-y arguments that went through my head. Finally, I decided that yes, it is truly ok to return to the church where I was ordained because if for no other reason than the fact that I was ordained there, I am forever a part of them and them of me. So I went, with the kernel of one of the angst-y head argument resolutions that I was good for them.

And I was. Songs and laughter and Bible stories and tears and Spirit-breated unbelievable times together good for them. Really, it was spectacular. Yes, there were rough times and God knows I juggled church and seminary with varying levels of competency. But at the end of the day, I was good for them. That's absolutely true. I'm pretty sure they'd mostly agree with me, too. I was good for them.

The thing is, though, they were good for me. Maybe it's because I have a vocation tied to the church that I first consider how I contributed to that place. Maybe. In general, I think people who look for church are looking for a way to contribute to church. We want a place that realizes our presence matters so it's easy to forget that often, so often, church is good for us. Church has something to offer us. Church has something to invite us into. But that church was so good for me.

When I think of this church, I think of what they put up with from me. Yeah, I was pretty good at my job, but not all the time. There were certainly some cringeworthy children's sermons and a couple horrid times leading worship. Some of their children will probably mention at least one or two Ms. Abby inflicted things in therapy one day if they haven't already. (Yeah, I accidentally spit on a germaphobic kid. Long story, but oops.)  Sometimes things fell apart when I decided to wing something I should have winged. Yeah, they put up with a lot from.

And when I think of this church, I remember that they trusted me. Really, really trusted me. Even the most protective parents, in the long run, trusted me to take their kids places overnight and listen to their kids when their kids weren't talking to them. They trusted me to have difficult conversations with their kids. They trusted me with keys and money and codes and all sorts of things. Even then, that seemed crazy. It was a holy trust, though, and one I'm pretty sure I lived into well.

When I think of this church, I know that they loved me. Maybe past tense is even wrong. They loved me in my overly nerdy, quirky self. Yes, I mostly taught kids, and the parents and kids learned together that I'm a Bible nerd and they (mostly) learned to love it, too. Someone left the Easter chocolate I really like on my desk each year. They adjusted to the ebb and flow of seminary work. Really, why on earth did the Christmas play and finals week always coincide? When I run across things that were gifts at my ordination, the names etched in book covers and on cards evoke far more than someone spending some money on me. They loved me.

Yes, I was good for the church, but they were so very good for me. They gave me space for many things, which included naming my call to ministry for sure, but much more than that. So very much more than that.

And for churches, whose numbers in the pews and in the budget are dwindling, that's easy to forget. For churches who will never be the megachurch whose shadow they live in, it's hard to believe. But it's true. Churches, never forget that. You are good for those people who walk in your doors. You are good for the people who choose to remain with you, even if you can't figure out why on earth they're staying. Church, you have something to offer. I promise. In fact, Church, you'll probably never know how very good you are for so many people. Trust that. Remember that. Take pride in that. Because yes, church, you are good for your people, even if you don't always know it.

Today, I am so thankful for how very, very good that church in the suburbs of Atlanta was for me.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

"Thy Kingdom Come:" September 11

I, like most of my friends, know where I was thirteen years ago today. On this day, we remember those who died. We remember our fear. We pray something like that never happens again. In all those things, though, there is a deeper ache within me, a feeling that something is terribly wrong with how things look thirteen years later.

You see, in the fall of 2001, I was starting my senior year of high school. That day was the birthday of one of my classmates with whom I sat watching the news unfold. I think we were in a Sociology class together that day. The guy from Jostens came to yearbook class that day, so no watching the news during that class. I missed the breaking news because I was in choir and the teacher had her television unplugged. Most of all, I remember that interminable hope of 17 and 18 year olds. We weren't sure we would conquer the world. Most of us didn't even want to save it. We were, though, about to graduate high school and start We were filled with anticipation even if we couldn't have said that at the time. Something Else was coming.

Those next years brought a great deal of change for most of us. In those thirteen years, I graduated from high school, college, and a master's degree. I was ordained. I lived five different states. I had seven different part time jobs and two different full-time jobs. Maybe more jobs than that, depending on how you like to count. I could count that passage of time in a few different ways if I so chose.

Some members of my class ended up enlisting in the military because of September 11. Honestly, I lost touch and don't know what happened to them. I imagine some are counted among the wounded and the casualties.

That day, though, I remember waiting to hear the U.S. President speak, waiting to hear what would happen as a result of the attacks. At barely seventeen, I didn't have a strong opinion, which is and was a rare thing, even at seventeen. Now, I know I wish I had heard something different, something that, somehow, echoed the notion, "Peace."

I'm now strangely conscious of the fact that the bombings and bloodshed and occupation of countries as a result of the 9/11 attacks have shaped my entire adult world. I have few words about what to do with this reality. I have few ideas about what could actually, truly make things better. So I let the words of Jesus echo around me, "Thy kingdom come." Bold, terrifying, assuring prayer that those words are, that somehow God's reign could rush in and take hold, I hope, "Thy kingdom come."

I hope it, because thirteen years ago, I never would have imagined the fear of that day would still feature so prominently in our lives. "Thy kingdom come."

He shall judge between the nations,
     and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
     and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
     neither shall they learn war any more.  
                                                           (Isaiah 2:4)