I’ve seen two things recently on which–I think–God wants me to reflect. These two events represent, on one hand, the paradoxical spectrum of work that we ministers do from time to time.
First off, let me say, have you ever had one of those weeks where you had like three things you HAD to get done, and by Thursday you realize, due to other metaphorical fires that need extinguishing (Tom Ehlers, a firefighter, is one of my all-star youth leaders, so I feel as though I should specify the figurative, imaginary nature of MY fires), you have not done any of those tasks? Yep. That is what I am talking about.
Armed with a cup of coffee and the best intentions, I set out to complete my task: DiscipleNOW logistics, an exhaustive email to Host Homes and Leaders, and Curriculum, Curriculum, Curriculum! In the words of the great poet, Meatloaf…two outta three ain’t bad…right?
As the morning rolled along and I crafted my emails and work, like Michelangelo if he had an Apple Laptop and was writing emails, and I received a distressing email from my beloved former church colleague, now turned city-wide colleague, the always marvelous, Chelsea Wade, who is now doing extraordinary development work over at SEARCH Homeless Service. It was the day of their GED Graduation service, and Erin Conaway was commissioned to offer the invocation. The pianist for the service canceled at the last minute, and they needed not only a keyboardist, but a keyboard itself. Fortunately, the ever-resourceful Thomas Coker had an extra electronic keyboard in his office that he allowed me to take to Chelsea. After dropping off this relic from 1994 of an instrument (Hey, it played notes at least!), I left SEARCH. A hour later, poor, sweet Chelsea discovers that her now back-up keyboardist has canceled, and asks if I can bring my guitar and play a little. Erin and I rush to my house where my trusty guitar, affectionately named Hudson by my friend Chris August, the previous owner, and I see my new accordion. “Hmm, I wonder…” I pick up my accordion and play, without a blemish the first half of pomp and circumstance, and then fumble through a few notes. Surprising as it might seem, I am not so bold and brash to carry an instrument I can barely play (I am getting there, but not quite yet!), to a graduation service and blare out tunes on my accordion (Yet to be named, btw).
We arrive to the service, and in walk the graduates. Two young men enter from the back wearing green graduation robes and hats, followed by many others who are being promoted to the next level within the program. As the teachers and also Mike Feinberg who started KIPP and Yes Prep (If you don’t know what these are, google them) rose to spoke, a sense of affirmation and pride swelled in the room. I can’t speak for everyone else in the room, but the dining area at SEARCH, for that moment at least, became holy ground…a place of second, third, fourth, possibly even seventy times seven chances…a place of resurrection and salvation. One woman rose to tell her story, a story of abuse, addiction, failure, and ultimately victory and redemption. She ended by saying, as simply as I have ever heard, yet more profoundly than all my seminary classes combine, “When I was going through recovery, my sponsor always said, ‘I know it’s hard, but with God all things are possible.'”
New chances. New life. New futures. Who could ask for more for these young men?
So as I right this on a cold evening, I took my youth bowling at Palace Bowling Lanes. To match the standard Kid’s Night Out format, we were scheduled to be at Palace Lanes from 6:30 to 10:00 bowling. In case you have not done the math, that’s 3 1/2 hours of being in the same place with a gaggle of middle schoolers and high schoolers. Now, faithful blog reader, if I’m lyin’, I’m dyin’…our group two years ago would have after about 2 hours started fussing about how bored they were or just left…but not this group. Our youth group has gone through some major maturation and evolution in the past two and a half years I have been here. It takes time to knit community, and God is doing that with us on a day to day basis. Tonight, I was absolutely floored at the camaraderie, patience, love, enthusiasm, and joy that just permeated our five lanes. Everyone being cheered for when they knocked down even one pin, and then encouraged on every gutterball.
I told some of my leaders, “Look at this. They just love each other!” The drama, cliques, and junk all left at the door…high schoolers and middle schoolers playing together and just living life and loving every second of it. I struggle a great deal to think how I can make this group closer and better.
Am I one good curriculum or night of worship away from becoming exactly who God has created us to be? I think not. I think we are, in fact, already exactly who God created us to be, but the beauty with how God sees workmanship is that the work is never complete. We are all at once whole and perfectly formed, and broken, longing for repair.
What do these stories have to do with each other. Maybe nothing at all. Maybe everything. What seems to amaze me the most about how God does whatever it is that God does is that so often the most beautiful, holy, sacred moments in life are the ones that we don’t orchestrate…we just show up with our guitar to make some music or we buy a couple of pizzas and God takes those meager offerings and before we know it, we stand in the presence of the Kingdom come on earth as it is in Heaven.