There’s a thought that’s been floating around in my head for the last several weeks and I haven’t been able to grab it and put it into words. And then, thanks to one of my Facebook friends, today it came to me. My friend was commenting on the Oklahoma Tourism ads, revealing her skepticism about their honesty, having never experienced such beauty herself. Her comment was this: “all my drives through Oklahoma with nothing in site but tolls.....no thank you.”
I read her words and immediately it hit me. You have to leave the turnpike if you want to see the beauty. If you don’t, you’re destined to believe that all a place has to offer is gas stations, fast food, and run down casinos. For those of you who have never driven the Oklahoma Turnpike, you can pretty easily substitute I-70 from Kansas City to St. Louis in your mental image. True, if that were your only experience of the Show-Me State, you wouldn't think there was much to show. If you never left the interstate in Missouri, you would miss all the sights that look like these (and many more!):
And as much as I believe this shift in perspective is important in our geographic explorations, I think it is even more necessary in our interactions with people. I have the opportunity to decide if I’m going to view people that I meet through a ho-hum, when do I get off this road, I-70 lens, or through a knock-my-socks-off, wow that’s beautiful, thank you God lens.
I wish I could post pictures of all the people that I’ve met through Table of Grace that I have had the honor to see through lens #2. I would show you endless pictures of people whose lives may appear messed up, hopeless, and down-and-out at first glance; and who, in reality, have had the most profound, positive impacts in my own life.
They would be pictures of people who have fought and are currently fighting addictions, who have shown me more courage and authenticity in their struggles than I've ever seen anywhere else.
There would certainly be pictures of young people who struggle with self harm, suicidal thoughts, and debilitating deficits in self-esteem; who have taught me about wrestling so hard with fear, doubt and pain, that every scar tells a story of struggle and redemption.
There would be pictures of numerous people struggling to reconcile their sexual preference or gender identity with everything that society and religion has previously told them. If there were a way for the picture to show their hearts and minds, you might see the resolve, strength and compassion that comes from somebody having to go against every existing system in order to just be who they are. You might see the gift of tolerance and appreciation for diversity that takes root in a person who has truly experienced a life of being “the other”.
There would be adorable pictures of children who are crazy cute, with huge smiles, that sometimes mask the pain of troubles at home, bullying at school, and disorders that make sitting still and just communicating with others a major challenge. Yesterday at church, I leaned over one of those kids to talk to the person next to him, and as I leaned past him, he grabbed me and gave me a hug that melted my heart. I can’t begin to count the number of heart-melting hugs, notes, and smiles I've received from kids who others have seen as out of control and disruptive. I continue to be blessed to my core by these holy disruptions.
There would be pictures of straight, middle class, seemingly “normal” individuals and families who don’t struggle with the effects of exclusion, or extreme poverty, or mental illness; but have a commitment to being present with and being in relationship with others whose lives are different than theirs. If you could see inside them, you would see minds that know the truth that we are all part of one human family; and you would see hearts that have both experienced and rejected the privilege of being what the rest of the world might call “normal”. They come because they believe whole heartedly that diversity, respect, and a sense of belonging for all people really can transform our world.
I could go on forever about the hidden blessings that I've discovered in the ragtag collection of people that we have gathered at Table of Grace as a direct result of our commitment to welcoming everyone. It is, simultaneously, the most important and most challenging commitment that we have as a faith community. Today I’m thankful that I got off the proverbial turnpike, and started traveling the back roads of human interaction. I’m thankful that somewhere along the line, somebody taught me to look past the surface and into the soul of the people that I have been blessed to encounter. Each and every one of you has knocked-my-socks-off; and all I can say sometimes is “Wow, that’s beautiful! Thank you, God!”
For those of you who are still on the Turnpike, judging other people at first glance as nothing more beautiful than fast food, gas stations and run-down casinos; I would invite you to spend some time travelling the back roads of human interaction. Dismiss your judgments long enough to see the soul. You are sure to have your eyes opened, your heart changed, and your life enriched by what (and who) you will find.
Blessings my friends. May you discover some gems in your travels.