The weekend of August 11-13, I was attending the first session of licensing school for local pastors. The group I was with – thirteen students and two deans – was diverse in age, gender, race, church- and non-church-related experience, and (near as I could tell) political ideology. I think the 35 year-old young man sitting next to me was a bit surprised to find out that, at nearly twice his age, I was as or more progressive than he saw himself.
News about current events was limited to bits and bytes of information caught on TV in the dining area of the hotel each morning at breakfast, on the television late news we all went to our rooms and watched each night before falling into exhausted sleep, and/or through brief glimpses at our social media during breaks. Other than that and calls home to check in with the family, there was very little outside contact.
The deans and the guest lecturers had a packed schedule to follow. Being a student, I admit I was hesitant to say, “HEY! We need to talk about these things. I need to talk about these things! My new friend sitting next to me really needs to talk about these things because he told me his frustration.”
I hesitated … and missed an opportunity. No, I wasted that opportunity. And in doing so, I stole opportunities for everyone else in the room to voice their issues, concerns and/or questions about ministering to others in these days of tribulation and lamentation. And that’s what these days are right now – tribulation and lamentation.
Snippets from the weekend are now characters riding in the cars of a roller-coaster that races around in my mind …
From student- and clergy-delivered messages at morning worship and evening vespers comes:
- Who is in your house?
- Where is your Jerusalem, your Samaria, your “ends of the earth”, and who are your Pharisees, Sadducees and Gentiles?
- How do you keep the faith?
Guest speakers throughout the weekend added to the snippet collection:
- Connection is critical.
- History is important, memory is long.
- God uses disagreement to further the kingdom.
- Unity isn’t always immediate or possible.
- Here’s what you didn’t know about our churches during the Civil War.*
From social media and informal discussions:
- I didn’t like that graphic of 4 missiles in the visuals for today’s message.
- My previous extensive military service experience says we shouldn’t worry about being attacked by North Korea.
- Yes, but … I don’t want to be associated with a country that would fire nuclear missiles at another country.
- If your church isn’t condemning racism, it’s time to change churches.
- Too little, too late.
- Platitudes are not helping.
- Reading this, envision a finger pointing at someone …
- Please tell me she didn’t just use a verse from the Sermon on the Mount to justify torch-bearing racists.
From my family when I finally got home:
- Have you seen the news?
- (Imagine name calling I shouldn’t repeat in public.)
- (Now imagine my head nodding in agreement with most of what they had to say.)
- The guest preacher didn’t say anything this morning, but _______ talked about it.
From my own archive of past and post-weekend snippets floating in and out of roller-coaster seats:
- Barbara Brown Taylor’s message, The Right Answer.
- Steven Furtick’s post-Orlando message, It’s In Your Hands.
- Bits from 10+ podcasts by Doug Bursch on his book, Community of God.
- Numerous other podcasts by a litany of hosts and their guests.
- Bits from Scott Sauls’ book, Jesus Outside the Lines.
- If you can stand up and say that this prejudice is wrong, why can’t you stand up and say that all prejudice is wrong?
- Guilt over my own past (and present) name calling, finger pointing, scapegoating.
An odd collection of thoughts riding that high-speed roller-coaster that lives in my mind, and the not-so-amusing amusement park ride was now increasing speed to a degree of that would make roller-coaster thrill-seeker fans breathless. What more could my brain possibly add or even hold?
Cue mental looping of Track 14 on Alana Levandosky’s Behold, I Make All Things New album that says, “I’m gonna look twice at you, until I see the Christ in you, I’m gonna look twice at you, until I see the Christ in you, ’til I’m looking through the eyes of love, ’til I’m lookin’ through the eyes of love.”
Not this time, though. This time, he cued up a song in my head that I already knew. This time, I bucked, kicked, pulled against his guidance hard, and tried to block out the music.
How was I suppose to look for the Christ in racists that were overtly proud of their racism? In a president that was refusing to name the problem, in politicians whose statements of condemnation seemed like hollow vote-getters as those same politicians were supporting legislation that perpetuates racism, worse, and in messages from all fronts that seemed to carry code for actual support of the racists and/or military action? Where was Christ in two bullies chest-puffing at one another while the world’s most devastating weapons lay at their fingertips?
Why did I feel like I was seeing Christ’s back disappearing through the about-to-slam-shut exit door when I looked at people I admired greatly – popular theologians, recognized speakers and clergy from all facets – as I read post after post that suggested anyone in a church where these issues were not addressed on Sunday was in the wrong church and should start looking around, or as I watched their online statements and articles (those parts of their ministries that I can observe from my place here in East Tennessee) seeming to devolve into secular politics with very little ministering or even shepherding Christ-like ways or at least alternatives?
Was that what I was seeing, or was I misreading several dozen people who seemed to all be going in the same direction? A direction in which I was fighting my own eagerness to follow, a path that I promised daily I wouldn’t take but that I found myself trying to walk backward on each evening.
And then the voice came again – stronger – but gentler, too … “Hush, child. You’re not listening. I was singing that to you. I’m lookin’ for the Christ in you. Who’s in your house?”
I live for those moments when the peace that passes understanding washes over me. I wish I would allow myself to have them more often. At least now I could say, “Got it. Thank you!”
It was at this point that I rewrote Alana’s song … “I’m gonna’ look twice at me, until I see the Christ in me, I’m gonna find the Christ in me, so I can be the Christ to thee, ’til I’m looking through my eyes with love, ’til I see you through eyes of love …”
It’s so easy to be swept up in visible, audible, tangible, typewritten turmoil, in the throes of publicly shared anger, outrage, emotion. God help me, I get caught in that dustpan multiple times a day, despite deleting social media apps from my phone and forcing myself to limit time spent on social media sites when I’m sitting at a computer; despite limiting morning and evening intake of news broadcasts to one hour each so as not to be an ostrich.
When I fail to do that; when I get swept up; when I surrender to the anger, outrage and emotion, I am hard-pressed to find Christ in myself and, while I know he’s always with me, I’m pretty sure I’ve shooed him out to wait on the front porch rather than inviting him into my house. If I can’t find the Christ in me, it’s nearly impossible to see the Christ in anyone that is the subject of what becomes my anger, outrage and emotion. Worse, it’s virtually impossible to minister to others also suffering through anger, outrage and emotion.
Oh, I can placate them. “I’m right there with you.” “I see your point.” “I feel your pain.” “You’re preaching to the choir.” “Preach!”
BUT … I need to be able to add “… but …” to those statements, and when I can’t find the Christ in me, that addendum can’t come. At least for me it can’t. As someone who’s been paying attention, experiencing and observing for 60 years, I feel secure in saying it can’t come for a lot of us. Sadly, it seems some of folks have given up trying to find the Christ in themselves or have outright denied access to him. They may claim a connection with him, but they don’t live out that connection fully.
I pray for them just as I pray for myself, and I blame it on the human in all of us. Thank God, it’s a redeemable mistake.
So, long story short, I’m looking for the Christ in me to be able to see the Christ in you, them, even those other folks over there. If you don’t start seeing it when you look twice at me, please say so. It means I got caught in earthly-ness again.
If you’ve never listened to Alana Levandosky’s album I mentioned above, I hope you’ll take time to look it up on YouTube. In the liner notes, she says she intended to “weave the church calendar as found in the Anglican/Catholic/Lutheran traditions into the Christ Hymn (Colossians 1:15-20 New Jerusalem Bible) and ended up with a “Christ Narrative”. It’s beautiful. It’s centering. It’s contemplative. It’s my go-to for cleaning myself up after a trip into that wretched dustpan.
Thanks for taking time to read this. God be with you and His peace be upon you. Amen.
*Thought I forgot that asterisk, didn’t you? I am in the Holston Conference of the United Methodist Church. The history of Methodism is interesting and, to me, the history of the Holston Conference is even more interesting, especially related to early American history, the Civil war, and the lingering effects within this area. If you want to know more, let me know and I’ll connect you with those that can explain it.