Tuesday, February 15, 2011

A good challenge

Tonight I visited with the Community of Communities, a network of small groups and interdenominational progressive churches in the city. The meeting tonight was to plan social justice activities around Lent, the idea being that we would take certain themes for the six weeks, like poverty, education, immigration reform, sex trafficking, or health issues, and try to pray, reflect and take some kind of action on those issues each week.
In truth, I felt like there were some good ideas, but overall I was tired by it, especially the introduction where each of us was asked to think about an injustice we were witnessing in the city. Maybe it was just because I hadn't eaten much dinner, but somehow hearing 30 people each talk about the injustice they were seeing was exhausting to me. I felt like there was little inspiration in what I heard.
There was one gentleman, James Macklin, a preacher and worker with the Bowery Mission, who I found inspiring. He spoke about coming out of homelessness himself, and about how homelessness can best be fought, one person at a time, one soul at a time making it whole. And I was struck by him, his attitude and conviction.
At times, the meeting scared me a bit also in how convinced people were about the power of Christ to make a difference. I know that sounds bizarre, but I guess some part of me is incredibly suspicious or guarded these days about people speaking of the power of Christ in our lives. I don't know what I'm expecting them to do, but as soon as the topic turned to abortion, I knew I was expecting for people to be saying abortions should be illegal.
Yet within the audience there were clearly those who knew that abortion was a sensitive topic for people, and they made it clear that the first priority was building bridges rather than burning them.

What was most disturbing though for me happened during the closing. As we did our closing prayers, the people praying started using that ecstatic tone that I fear. That "Father God we just open our hearts father God to you Lord yes Jesus we need you Father God to lead us Father God to the true way Lord Jesus..."that repetition, that pounding out, that emphatic pulsating rhythm that for some people is a great way to come into the spirit of the Lord, but for me leads to panic. My heart starts beating fast and I feel like I can't breathe. I've felt the same way since the first times I experienced it back in college: I can't explain why, but it's in me. I guess next time I'll just have to be ready for it if it happens again. (Or leave before they start.)

I pray that God will help me see the cynicism and jadedness within me and begin to melt it. Even though sometimes these things seem like survival skills for life in the city, I know they are tools, just like any emotional tool, that have their place, but that also must be put away at times. And I pray that God will help me sit with those whose style of prayer is so much different than mine, and who indeed scare me with their fervency. I pray that I might better understand that they are indeed looking for very much the same connection I'd like, but only seeking it in a very different way.