This is a creative writing piece I recently wrote:
I observe them chatting softly between the hardwood pews, passing the peace. They seem a friendly lot, smiling and nodding. I see the men shake hands, occasionally slapping a back or two, conversing over scores and strategies. The women appear more prone to hugs and whispered conversations about family and friends. From my end of the sanctuary my heart embraces the scene. But even in the warm embrace of Christian fellowship, I feel the slight draft of winter wind.
I hear the invitation of Jesus, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” I’m weary, Jesus, but where are you? Are you here in the sanctuary? Are you here in the midst of the singing and the chatter? If I laid down right here, would I be allowed to rest? Everyone seems so busy, maybe too busy. Are they too busy to hear my story, too busy to make eye contact? Do they see me? Do they care?
I hear another invitation, “Come to the table.” I’m hungry, Lord. I’m hungry for you, but I’m also hungry for communion. I come to the table to be fed, but I fear some want to shorten the invite list. I’m a sinful man. Am I really invited to the table? Lord, only you know my heart. Only you can prepare a table for me in the presence of my enemies. Are these my enemies, Lord, or my brothers and sisters? Sometimes I’m not certain. Perhaps an invitation to their table where we dined not only on the bread and cup, but meat and potatoes, would make me feel a part of the communion of the saints.
From my vantage point, I see the congregation of beautifully broken saints covered in their Sunday best and I wonder if I belong. Am I a part of this family of faith? Do they see me from where I’m standing?
I am here, right in front of them, hiding behind the pulpit.
Every year I lead a mission trip to New York City. And every year, we have an incredible experience. We serve the Lower Manhattan Community Church in the Battery Park City/Tribeca area of Manhattan as well as help out at the World Vision Storehouse in the Bronx. Our friends at both ministries are a joy to work with. We are blessed to have such wonderful ministry partners. They are making a difference in the Kingdom work in New York City.
But I feel the need to whine share about the great challenge I face each and every year when leading this mission trip. I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase, “herding cats,” well, that’s exactly what I have to do with my team through the streets of New York.
Last week our team was invited to Ryan and Brittany Holladay’s place for dinner. Ryan is the Pastor at LMCC. We left the hotel together, walking the half block to the subway station in order to catch the R train to Brooklyn. I led the way, walking at the same pace as most of the senior citizen’s of New York. The other male in our group of eight was at my side. As I turned to head down the stairs, I looked up and saw one of the women on our team following close behind. We made eye contact, so I continued my descent into the bowels of the subway system and proceeded through the turn style. And there I waited…and waited…and waited. Finally, I saw my wife’s beautiful face appear on the subway steps. Her expression showed a sense of relief as well as a desire for revenge all at the same time. I smiled and waved. She ran and got the other wandering missionaries and then joined the rest of us on the subway platform.
I apologized, or at least I thought about it, and then we made our way to a wonderful evening of food and laughter. I realize I’m writing this at my own peril, but I thought it would be fun to theologize about it on my blog. Now I’m quite certain that some of the team members will come up with a totally different interpretation, so I invite them to share their honest, yet grace-filled thoughts in the comment section below.
Here’s my take: We are all on a journey in a strange land. We love the land but we realize we are not natives, we are aliens. And as aliens, we realize we need direction on our journey or else we will lose our way. So we must always keep our eye on our leader for we know he is just up ahead, leading us to a destination where there will be a celebration banquet filled with joy and community. BUT, if we get distracted, if we don’t pay attention, if we get too involved in our own little conversations or we become preoccupied with all the strange people and sights, we run the risk of missing the train. And that wouldn’t be good.
The two-story red brick house looked as if it could have been on the parade of homes back in the day; back before the blacks ran the white folks out of the neighborhood. Well, maybe they didn’t run them out, as much as they just moved next door. The white folks were the ones who ran. The house sat alone surrounded by acres of vacant lots and empty malt liquor bottles.
Brother Ken met me at the door. His hands were wet, or maybe sweaty, perhaps both. He welcomed me to the “hood” and laughed. His jubilance reverberated against the abandoned townhouses across the street.
“The ladies are fixin’ a spread, sure hope you’re hungry,” he said loudly with a big smile revealing a wide dark gap in his front teeth.
We stood on what used to be a front porch and got better acquainted. The gentle giant proudly proclaimed his thirty years of sobriety and his calling to this neighborhood. He turned to greet a man and his small son walking through the vacant lot next door. The lad was having a hard time keeping up with his dad as his oversized shoes kept coming off. The man set down the bottle he was carrying in a brown paper sack and bragged to us about having thirteen children. Brother Ken swooned and hollered from that revelation, then invited him to their next meeting.
Brother Ken’s ministry in the hood is in my city, but it seems light years away from my suburban sanctuary. Yet are we really that different? We both minister to broken people with addictions who struggle with broken relationships and broken dreams. The only difference is my community has more resources to live in denial longer than my brother’s.