A Good Time for Hope

Yesterday, at church, we brought in seven college students, four of whom were not Christian and who were not attending religious services of any kind at the moment.  I suppose that I wasn’t the only one who wondered what might happen at this event.  Churches are known for their stability, their sanctuary.  In my experience, it isn’t often that much is left open to chance like this, and there are good reasons for this, but for this event it seemed as though that “chance” was actually a “holy opportunity.”

At the front of the room, at a table, were the college students and, in front of them, facing them, were members of Holy Trinity.  We started off with a few basic questions, inquiring about their history with religion, Christianity, and the church, and it wasn’t long before people from the congregation began asking some really thoughtful questions and making some notable observations.  The college students responded thoughtfully and honestly, explaining how they’ve come to their positions in relation to religion, Christianity, and the church.  I sat off to the side, between the two groups of people, letting them be themselves and trying to keep out of their way, and from where I was what was taking place looked a lot like a holy moment.  For me, it was an experience of the holy.  And how was that so?

All of our panelists, all of the college students, did a phenomenal job and I feel that each of them had a necessary voice for our somewhat-impromptu choir, but one voice in particular struck a chord within me.  There was a young man who eventually felt comfortable enough to share with us his experience of hurt with the church a number of years ago.  It struck a chord, as usual, because it seems to me that these people are caught in a paradox that they didn’t ask for or want.  The church-at-large, a place that is for belonging and experiencing the Spirit of Christ, a healing and loving Spirit, has somehow turned out for these people to be a place of ridicule, pain, and confusion.  Now, I don’t have a solution for that, but I know that being caught in such a paradox is not fun, desirable, or helpful.  And what is to be done about it?  People’s pains with the church are very real and cannot be shrugged off.  Like all wounds, these wounds need to be dressed and treated and cared for without intrusion or condescension.  But don’t let me get too complicated here – because what comes next is very important and doesn’t stem from me.

So, this young man continues on later in the forum to remark about how it is good and thoughtful for the congregation to be having an event like this, and in light of his words, it seems that the event as a whole was refreshing.  When he began remarking about this is probably about the time that I began seeing the event as a holy moment.  It really isn’t my place to speculate about this – but I have been doing such to some degree – so I’ll just be honest about it.  I wonder if this wasn’t a simple dressing for the wound, without anyone’s hand intrusively touching it directly.  To be honest, no person had really done anything – at least in terms of what a work-driven world would consider “doing something.”  There had been a welcoming, some coffee and cake, a sincere invitation to share, and some listening.  That was it.  Yet, here we were, hearing about a spiritual wound, which should have some reverence, and then hearing about how hearing is helpful.  It was very simple, but at the same time, it was profound – all of which leads me to feel the presence of the Spirit of Christ in it.  In the college students.  In the congregation.  Taking place before my eyes.

I don’t know that we’ll see this young man again.  But it’s about more than gaining his affiliation.  That’s below our point here.  The point is that there was genuine contact between two groups of people in a reverent way – and in this contact, for everyone in his or her own way, some light was shed upon God and God’s beloved people, who are all of us.  Even should he not see us again, which one would hope is not the case but which would be a reality worth respecting, I would hope that he experienced something of the holy for himself too.  I would hope for hope, peace, and continued spiritual venturing, on whichever path the Spirit may take him to it.  And I would hope the same for us – continued spiritual venturing, ever seeking after Christ, hearing his people, welcoming them, loving them as best we can while being people who are not perfect and who will not be perfect in this life, offering them the invitation for fellowship, extending the hand and the ear and perhaps a few words of solidarity.  That would be my hope.  And, as it turns out, this past Sunday was a good day for hope, thanks to the congregation and the college students.

Be well, take care, and many blessings.

One comment

  1. The wounds you describe are so difficult to overcome. It seems that people carry the negative messages for years, notwithstanding later, better experiences such as your session. Gender, race/ethnicity, orientation, and socio-economic status seem to be the source of much of it, with stereotypes and “x-ist” presuppositions and “rules”/expectations (e.g., heterosexist, mysogynist, racist) leading to clumsy (often even well-intentioned) comments that cause lasting offense. I have found that our prevailing ethos in the ELCA leans in favor of acceptance and inclusion, and I’m glad to be part of that kind of communion. Central to that ethos, it seems to me, is seeking to see the other person for who he or she is (standing face to face, as Levinas puts it), rather than through the filter of who I might wish her or him to be. From that stance, people are endlessly fascinating, with all their unique stories.

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