I think I have figured out which season I am.
My second year of divinity school, my theology prof, Dr. Frank Tupper, delivered a lecture called, “The Seasons of Spirituality,” in which he sought to affirm the uniqueness and diversity of the spiritual journey. Beginning with Summer, Frank explained that the person who embodies summer-y spirituality lives perpetually in light and hope of the empty tomb; all is sunshine and roses. These are the kind of folks when you ask them how they are, they say, “Well, I am just so blessed!” My mom is totally a Summer person, and I love her for it because it rubbed off on me! The other side of the coin is the Christian who embodies a Spirituality of Winter. Shadowed by an old, rugged cross, these folk live lives plagued by painful questions that never seem to discover answers. Like Jacob, they spend their lives wrestling with God by the riverside, gaining only more questions (and a nasty limp). Frank gave us two warnings though: 1) no one can be exclusively summer or winter, because we are all a funny mixture of doubt and faith, and 2) the one should be very careful as to not judge the other–the summer-y is not superficial and naive and the winter-y is not consumed by their own woundedness and faithlessness.
The truth of the matter is that we need each other.
We have a tendency as humans to categorize. Boxes are helpful. They make sense. By identifying, clarifying, and naming we lay claim to things, places, peoples, and ideologies. So, I write this a bit tongue-in-cheek, because I am doing just that, but this is a helpful practice to give us a sense of location in trying to understand each other, I believe. This categorizing is often born out of the curiosity to understand–to know–and that is good and right for us to do. Nonetheless, human beings are not the sum of their theologies, ideologies, ethnicities, genders, political leanings, faith perspectives, hopes, and dreams. We are who we are–the children of God created the prismatic beauty of God’s image. So, I said that to say, I believe that I naturally gravitate towards a Spirituality of Spring. While surrounded by, “the bleak midwinter, Frosty wind made moan, Earth stood hard as iron, Water like a stone,” the reality of resurrection courses through my veins giving me the hope and courage to declare,
Vain the stone, the watch, the seal, Alleluia!
Christ hath burst the gates of hell, Alleluia!
Death in vain forbids His rise, Alleluia!
Christ hath opened paradise, Alleluia!
This is the hope that gets me out of bed in the morning and gives my life purpose and meaning. Out of the cold, dark winter, the light and hope of spring breaks forth.
Recently, my Aunt Ann died. Her death was a devastating shock for the family, and to be honest rattled me more than any death I have experienced up to this point in my life. When my cousin Rodney died, he suffered from a tragic, pugnacious form of cancer that slowly devoured his body…but could not conquer his soul. We sat with Rodney. We prayed with Rodney. We were able to say goodbye to Rodney. But, when Aunt Ann left, there was no farewell, not even a moment to share one last laughter or tear. Although, with bitter ends come sweet beginnings.
As I prepared to leave so that I might grieve with my family, I was met by waves of kindness, compassion, and love from a family I have grow to love and know over the past year of my life–South Main. After my mom called me that sunny Thursday morning to tell me what happened, I wept in my office for a good ten or fifteen minutes as our 9:00 staff meeting approached. When, I say to you that I love the people I work with, I mean with all sincerity and honesty that those seven other people with whom I sit around that conference table every Monday and Thursday are some of the finest friends I have known in my short 27 years. As if that was not enough, my youth–my sweet, precious youth–sent the kindest words of affirmation and peace, and the well wishes from all my delightful parents were absolutely breath-taking. And, sure enough, at the funeral home in Fort Smith, Arkansas, there stood a beautiful floral arrangement with the words scratched into the card, “With Love…From South Main Baptist Church.” That previous Sunday morning while I was still in Dallas with my family, I went to my home church, arrived entirely too early, and wandered the halls trying to figure out which Sunday School class I was supposed to be in and where everyone else was. I felt like a visitor. A stranger in a strange land. Then, in a moment of clarity I thought, “I miss South Main.” Don’t get me wrong, I will forever hold the most sacred love for Royal Lane, but I realized that my home was some place else now. I am a Houstonian. I am a South Mainer.
During the funeral, I watched as numerous people rose to take the microphone to speak a kind word about my Aunt Ann. With each memorial offered, my soul resonated deeper and deeper with the words, “Thanks be to God for church.” I am a churchman deep in my marrow, and I have been called to and accepted the call to live my life among the consecrated and commissioned Community of Christ, but even when all my theological chips are down and all pretense and erudition are stripped away, church is the place where I know faith still inspires, hope still stirs, and love still conquers the hardest of hearts. We don’t always get it perfect or right, but that is because none of us are perfect or right. When we do get it right though, and we learn to love each other–from the YAC to the Men’s Bible Class–and love the weary and the hungry–from Collique to Peggy’s Point–the Holy Spirit gathers the broken fragments of this world and weaves us into the People of God.
Apparently, I was just too close to the picture to see what goodness God could salvage out of the messiness and tragedy of death. Even in the winter of grief and loss, I witnessed resurrection by discovering a new sense of home, a new family, and friends with whom I might walk the journey.
Thanks be to God for church.