Join us for service at:
Meadowbrook Country Club
2149 N. Green Bay Road
Racine, WI 53405

Sunday Service at 10 a.m.
in-person at Meadowbrook,
or via Zoom!

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Better Together

The book of Acts documents some of the early development of the Jesus movement. In Acts 9:31 we hear that the small house churches the apostle Paul (still called Saul at the time) established throughout the region were at peace, building themselves up and living in reverence of God with the consolation of the Holy Spirit. It's fascinating that these small communities were living and growing peacefully while the one who established them had to flee for his life in Damascus and Jerusalem, after it was discovered that the Jewish authorities were seeking to kill him.

Perhaps this explains the comment about the consolation of the Holy Spirit. I’m more used to the Spirit being the force that stirs things up, that disrupts the status quo and brings transformation. But with Saul, their leader, constantly running for his life, perhaps the comfort and strength of the presence of the holy was just what those communities needed. 

If we’ve learned nothing else through this pandemic (and I’m not sure it’s a good thing), it’s that we hardly have to leave our home for anything – groceries, doctor’s visits, meetings, connecting with family and friends, classes, tutoring, lectures and, yes, church. I hate to even mention this, but you can go on YouTube and watch a whole bunch of spiritual talks, or TED talks about spirituality from people much smarter than I. So, there must be something more that we receive in community that we can't get watching a video or listening to a podcast.

When I asked this question in worship yesterday, the answer way that being at church in person is important because of the relationships that are built and nurtured, because the conversations are meaningful, because it is a safe, non-judgmental place to be oneself, because it is a place where you feel listened to.

There is a flip side to valuing what we receive from church on Sunday mornings. Sometimes being in community isn’t about what we get out of it, but what we have to offer. And I’m not talking about money. I’m talking about your presence, your knowledge, your compassion. Coming to this community on Sunday mornings is important because someone else may need you. They may need your smile and your hug. They may need your advice and experience. They may need your support and encouragement. We cannot underestimate the impact the smallest kindness may have on another person to build them up, to help them get through the day, to let them know they are not alone.

I was at the Southern Lights Conference about progressive Christianity last weekend. A friend asked me what the best thing I got out of the conference was, and my answer was "knowing we’re not alone." It helped me to feel encouraged and supported and renewed spiritually and energetically.

In the world of religion these days, the far right has co-opted Jesus for their own purposes. It has set churches at odds with one another, denominations have been dividing over the LGBT issues for years now, and the United Methodist Church is the latest to follow suit. But this is simply the most visible divider… we can throw in science and religion, the literal word of God versus understanding the Bible as a library of material, each book written in a certain context and culture (sometimes multiple within one book), creation vs. evolution, women vs. men as far as preaching and roles, who can receive communion, progressive vs. traditional and conservative and fundamentalist. The list goes on and on.

And yet, in that conference there was peace, a consolation of the Holy Spirit, where despite the differences in the room, we built one another up, and reverenced God/Life. I feel the same thing at Sacred Journeys. This is our sanctuary, our sacred place to regroup, to find safety, comfort, peace within, fun, grace, hope… and yet challenge at the same time. Challenge to be who we say we are, challenge to be who we want to be, challenge to grow.

Saturday afternoon we had to choose between three different breakout sessions. I went to the one for clergy, led by Brian McLaren and Grace Ji-Sun Kim. It was basically a chance for pastors to ask questions of these two leaders. I listened for a while as pastors described being afraid to bring what they’ve learned and what they know to their congregations for fear of being stabbed in the back by their congregants or losing their jobs. It quickly became clear that I was at the other end of the spectrum. Humbly, I stood up to ask a question anyway. I prefaced my question by suggesting that for every person who didn’t want to hear a progressive perspective, there were most likely people who needed permission to think something differently, people who needed to hear that everything they’d questioned for so long was right on the mark. Then I told them about Sacred Journeys and said that we have the opposite problem. We organized 11 years ago as a progressive community, but there are few models and few resources and no map, but if they could help point me in the right direction, I'd be grateful.

After I finished, Brian McLaren basically said that even though most of the folks weren’t where our community was, he trusted that he could speak for them in saying that there may be no road maps, but what we’re doing (as Sacred Journeys) is so important, especially for everyone in that room to see.

After the session, I kid you not, I had at least 7 people waiting to talk to me. Some had a resource or two to suggest, a few simply had words of support, a couple talked about how they were trying to do what we’re doing, but it was slow going. Brian McLaren stuck his hand in there and said he hoped we’d get a chance to talk later.

Here I was, a long way from home, in the Bible belt of the south, finding an unlikely community. If only for a few days. A space to share frustrations and struggles and to receive support. A space to feel less alone. A space open to new ideas, new perspectives. Together that community held space for pastors to talk about the toxic waters of the church institutions they were a part of and how it was killing them. Together that community listened to Padraig O’Tuama, an Irish poet, who shared his heart-breaking poems about the three exorcisms that were done on him as a teenager to get rid of the gay in him. Together that community held space for a frank discussion on “whiteness” and “blackness”. It was truly a beautiful experience.

How many of you have seen the new Avatar movie? Or maybe the old one? Their greeting to one another is “I see you.” One can say “hello” or “hi” or “good morning” without really seeing the other person. “I see you” is an affirmation of the beingness and sacredness of the other, it is a reminder to look past the superficial exterior.

At one of the talks I sat next to an African American woman (there were a mere handful in a room of about 500 older white folks). Before the talk started I asked her where she was from and how she came to be there, and without really looking at me she kind of gruffly launched into a story of having been a sex worker for 18 years, dragged two kids through that, had them taken away, worked hard to get away from that life, get a degree, and get them back. She felt condemned by the church and by school and so decided to become an elder in the UMC, only to continue to have them hold her past and her gender and her color against her. And, she was currently working on a Phd on something to do with the intersection between sex trafficking and Christianity.

When she asked me about myself, I felt compelled to offer as deep a dissertation on myself! I was a pastor in the UMC for 14 years, left that denomination after I discovered I was gay at the age of 42, hurt my soul by lying and hiding, hurt my children, had a group of people in my congregation who wrote a letter to the bishop to have me removed, all after having led the church to being a reconciling congregation. I’m no longer sure what else I said or didn’t say. What sticks in my head was how she suddenly looked at me as if truly seeing me. It was like I’d gone from being a nosey, privileged white person to someone who also had a story of pain that included the church. Without it being said, I felt the impact of the words, “I see you.”

Perhaps this, more than anything else is community. Us saying to each other, “I see you.” This can happen anywhere and with anyone. “I see you.” And, in that seeing we build one another up. In that seeing we create a haven of peace in the midst of a broken world. In that seeing we reverence life and reverence the Divine.

Love & Light!