It’s been a few years since I sat down to blog. It hasn’t been for want of things to say or even time to write; it took me some time to get to the bottom of why I stopped. What came to me was that the lag-time between my posts has been the result of a bit of a feeling of futility with larger systems at play in the world. And yes, this was triggered by the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Indeed, it’s clear that across the American political and cultural spectrum that our 2016 presidential election was a jolting, electrifying, never-turning-back shock to the system. And? I do see that electing Donald Trump to the White House, while utterly debilitating to some, was incredibly freeing and even energizing to others.
And? It’s this piece that continues to really gnaw at my heart. For it’s never been clearer that there is a unfathomably deep chasm at the core of our culture, communities, families — systems — that continues to wreak devastating affects on us all.
Part of my work as a pastor lies both in deep listening to God’s people and creation as well as working to bring people together to do this listening work. Because that’s what Jesus did … all … the … time. He brought people together. And he listened. Lately, I think of the young Jesus in the temple:
“After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.” ~ Luke 2:46
And I will admit? This bringing together-listening work is taxing and full of setbacks. I’m not going to lie. (Doesn’t lying on a blog defeat the whole point of this? I mean isn’t a blog really just a modern-day personal confessions forum?) I do have days where I would truly rather just hear from, read about and engage with people who think, talk, dress, dream and act as I do. People who vote like I do. People who see the world and respond to what we see in similar ways to mine. But truth is … that? is exactly this that has landed where we are. In this unfathomably deep chasm.
And the hard truth here is … that’s not my role as a Christian leader, nor is it our collective role as disciples of Christ.
Our work together is to welcome the stranger. Yes, that does mean welcoming the immigrant seeking asylum or a safer, better way of life, yes it does mean that stranger. But it also means that stranger next door or down the hall or in the next cubicle … who voted differently than you. And the person who uses words that you don’t or makes choices that you wouldn’t. And the person who has a different educational background and is in a different income tax bracket.
I am not a social scientist. But I do see that in a world where we are seemingly evermore connected, evermore bombarded with knowledge, facts, photos, videos, sounds and tastes of the world around us … we are equally evermore at a loss engaging with the other. We are both bereft of opportunities to come together in community … and I would say … that even more importantly? We all too often neither prioritize nor value those times and places of coming together to play, eat, learn, sing, share … just to be. Because that’s how God designed us — to be together, to listen to one another, to learn about and share life with one another. With those similar and different from us.
As a pastor in a suburban east Long Beach, I truly spend as much (if not more) of my time helping people to value the gift of community and guiding people to learn practices of what that actually looks like than I do writing a sermon or reading the Bible. I spend as much of my time just meeting with people, listening, engaging, inviting … over and over again … as I do visiting folks in the hospital, officiating weddings or memorial services.
Many would say that this is not a pastor’s work. And, I beg to differ. I would say that it is likely one of the very few things that we can do to affect the transformative change — the transformative change that Jesus died on the cross for — in the world in which we live today. It is only in this work, this communal listening, getting to know one another — those similar and different — their experiences, their stories, their narratives work … building relationships across the chasm that we are ever, ever going to truly affect the transformation that God has put … at our fingertips.
Help me hear your story. Help me see a bigger picture of what God is doing with us all. Just text me and let’s meet for a cup of coffee.
And? If I have already heard your story, or you are itching to go deeper into what God is doing with us all … invite someone you don’t know that well … to coffee and just listen.
Be brave for Jesus. Be brave for the world. It’s at our fingertips.