Isn’t it ironic that an institution that holds transformation as its primary mission would be so resistant to change?
It occurs to me that we approach change from 2 basic standpoints.
One is that we resist it, desperately wanting to hold on to what we know and what is comfortable (even when deep down we know that things could be better).
And the second (which represents most of the people that I do ministry with) is that what we know is that we have never been comfortable to begin with and we hope and pray with all of our hearts that something, anything, will change.
I grew up in a church that taught me to love Jesus and obey God. It also taught me that God didn’t call women to be pastors. After sharing my sense of call with my pastor and being laughed at, I ventured out to another church home that was more than willing to ordain a woman, but of course, not one who loved another woman (which, by the way, was as much a surprise to me as it was to them). As God’s revelation of who I was and what I was supposed to become continued to unfold in my life over several years, I became ever more comfortable in my own skin. I became the whole person that I had never been before, and I was able to move forward, with the winds of God’s spirit blowing to guide me. I distinctly remember a conversation with God (one of millions), where I heard god’s voice loud and clear. The message was simply this. “Jesus gave everything for you, I expect you to give all of yourself for me and my people.” And so I knew in that moment, that my call was to enter into ministry with all of myself, embracing all of who I am and serving from that place of wholeness. And to the church where I was taught to listen for God’s voice and to heed God’s call, exactly the things I was finally learning to practice, I became an abomination, an outsider, a heretic, apostate. What a heartbreaking and eye opening reality that was (and is). But in the words of Sam Cooke in the great civil rights song, I believe a change is gonna come.
God called us to start Table of Grace and to extend unconditional love and grace to others, all others, without expectation or exclusion. These others are LGBT, they’re homeless, they’re without sight or hearing, they’re destitute, they’re addicted, they’re single parents raising beautiful children with autism spectrum disorders and many other challenges, and they’re the people committed to God’s love and justice for all people. They’re all hungry, some physically and all spiritually. And the thing that brings them to our table together is their common experience of not belonging in the very places where everybody should belong. And even though they’ve sworn off God and church at some point in the past, now they come, because they believe a change is gonna come.
One of those “others” came to Table of Grace, skeptical, having walked away from God and his faith when his church failed to affirm him for who he was. A 26 year old high school dropout, struggling with addiction, walked up to the piano after his first service and began to play. He immediately began to serve our church with his gift of music, even before he was convinced that we could really love him without judgment and condemnation. 3 years later, Matt became one of the first residents in the NBA Xplor program and began college this fall at Eureka College on a full Disciples Leadership scholarship. The young man who said to me not too long ago, “right now I kinda think the Bible is a bunch of BS”, is at the top of his Hebrew Scriptures class and dreaming about where he’ll go to seminary. Matt believes a change is gonna come.
Here in the Christian Church in Mid-America, we’ve seen our fair share of change over these last couple of years. Some of us have entered into this time of transition willingly and some begrudgingly. But here we are, a region transformed and transforming. Some of us, myself included, can get stuck in our desire to hold on to what we have known. But God beckons us to come see what lies beyond our view.
On a practical level, I’ve recently had this conversation with myself regarding the rather expensive purchase of school pictures. I should preface this by saying that my wife is an amazing photographer and we have no shortage of beautiful photos of our girls in our own home and that we share with our family.
I don’t have to buy the picture of my hastily posed child, who spent a grand total of 1.5 minutes with the photographer in front of the ugly grey background. But I do. Why? Well, because that’s the way we’ve always done it.
I have year after year of school and sports photos in their original envelopes, never having given a single one to a family member or friend. What a complete waste of my time, energy and resources. Meanwhile, a whole world of photographic imagination and creativity swirls around me.
When will I stop being afraid to buck the system, and just say I’m not going to play this silly game anymore? When will I open myself up to the opportunities and possibilities that come with my willingness to take a risk, or even a leap of faith?
And so it is with us, the church, presented over and over with the choice to grow or to stagnate. To stay where we are, doing what we have always done, or to give our whole selves to God’s mission in the world, granting permission to our creator to keep making us a new creation of God’s beautiful handiwork.
What if the mark of the church in the future is not that we have held so tightly onto traditions, rituals, and structures with the death grip of fear; but that we have moved boldly into unknown and unfamiliar spaces, fully willing to experience God anew in our lives, our faith communities and in the kingdom of God that surrounds us, holding on to the traditions and rituals that ground us in our faith, and learning to experience them in ways that speak to new generations of Jesus followers.
I believe a change is gonna come. I hope WE believe a change is gonna come. Thanks be to God for the invitation to be a part of it.