To be known…

 

Part of my practice of finding my way in Cape Town is to invest in the businesses around me and to walk up and down some of the streets every day. I get my haircut at the salon on the corner; I eat regularly at the restaurants right around me. I grab coffee daily from a café right near the church. Eventually something began to happen. Instead of waiting for me to order, the barista reaches for the mug I bring with me as I walk in. The servers in the restaurant run out on the street to say, “hello” when they see me. My hairdresser gave me a bottle of wine the other day because I listened to him. I find I am beginning to be known.

There was a moment a couple of months ago where I struggled with the way I was known and it has caused me to begin to shift my priorities a bit. Some pastors came together for what they call mission week. It is when they go to another area to serve to learn about life in another part of the country. We led a soccer camp with some of the kids. I was sitting with some of the younger ones talking to them when two of them said, “we know you.” I assumed they meant from church. I asked them, “do you know me from when I visited Sunday school?” “No,” they said, “Long Street.” Long Street is similar to Bourbon Street in New Orleans. The kids knew me from Long Street because that is where they spend time trying to get some extra money begging and they saw me walking every day.

I looked at the kids more closely and realized I did know them. These same kids have been asleep on the sidewalk in front of the church. I saw them at a banquet the Church had out on the street where 500 people were fed. I sat with them just the other day and asked them as many questions as I could to just be in conversation with them and before I left, they gave me a hug and I found myself at a loss. They have a place to sleep. Yet, they choose sometimes to be on their own. In the midst of conversations with them, I have been more invested in the Children’s Ministry at the Church. The gift is that CMM is invested in this as well. There are a couple of lay people who have agreed to help lead a conversation on how we can build a sustainable ministry and I believe when we get the two and three together, God will surprise us with plans.

My hope is that we can build a ministry that will last. In the midst of praying about the way forward, what was affirmed for me was hope for the future. I have always dreamed of a better day and pointed people towards it. In the midst of the pointing and the dreaming, people rise and they find their place in the building. This is what has been happening. Several lay people have sat with me to begin to plan how to strengthen the church’s ministry to young people. It is the work of this generation to build a better tomorrow for the next and so, this is my story of light from 2015—that there is a beginning and one that brings me hope not just for the children, but for those who say, “yes” to the building of a better tomorrow.

As we enter this New Year, I give thanks for those of you who hold me in God’s radiant light.  I have been in Cape Town for six months now.  In some ways this is a long time and in other ways I feel as if I am just breathing in the new life that is opening for me here.  Mainly because of answered prayer.  I asked some of you to pray that I might find people to commit to the journey with me.  People who will ask the question of how it is with my soul and care for me well.  It is what we all need.  Just last week, three people committed naming it as a need they had as well.  I have also finally found a spiritual director.  It is a gift to have someone committed to leading you into the place of rest in the Spirit and I am thankful, thankful, thankful to those of you who prayed with me as I searched to find the right one.  May this year unfolding be one where you find strength for a deeper walk and a fuller love being born in you.

With you on the journey,

Michelle

***Salary support can be received through the donation button on this blog site.  You will be directed to the United Methodist Advance–a tax deductible way of supporting mission work around the world–check it out!

Serving in Solidarity with…

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Normally, I would be writing with lots of stories to share, but I would like to ask you to wait just a bit longer for them and engage in an advent/New Year is almost here reflection of sorts…

This is the question I am living with for 2016:

             “What does it mean to serve in solidarity with?”

The picture above was taken in 2013 at Seth Mokitimi Methodist Seminary.  The chalice we are holding was a gift I brought to the seminary that year.  Painted on the chalice is the image of a hull of a boat and a cross.  It is the symbol for Duke Divinity School, but not one they hold exclusively, for the symbol represents the Church at work in the world.  The gift was to symbolise a covenantal relationship established years ago between the two institutions and I am here in South Africa because that covenant is alive in me.

When I look at this picture of myself and Luba, the student holding the chalice, I am thankful for the gifts of opportunity that have brought me back to the seminary time and again, for I have been able to witness great leaders like Luba who will serve this country and this world that belongs to all of us well.  I am extremely passionate about work that rises up not just leaders, but great leaders and not just here, but all around the world!

This passion was birthed around the time the millennium development goals were released through the United Nations.  I was part of a young adult leadership program training us in how to work towards the goals that were set.  I was to work on Education and there was a guy from the Congo sitting next to me.  He has taught me so much over the years.  Yet, this would not have been possible without the work of that program in building a platform of trust between the two of us for he really hated Americans.  He had this way of expressing disgust in a french accent that still makes me laugh!

I have been reflecting on that time because I am learning so much here about the realities for pastors in South Africa.  It is a hard reality that there are pastors in South Africa who have so many congregations that they might see one of them only four times a year.   What does it mean for me to be in solidarity with them?  I want the sweat of these days I am here to live on the pages of my life and so I wanted to share with you how important it is for us to understand the long and sometimes laborious work of building trust.  My hope is that the pastors here will trust me with their stories and trust me to serve among them.

Trust was important enough to God that the skin of  life was taken on, in order that we might trust in the way that leads to life.

I hope you will reflect on the issue of TRUST this advent season and work to bridge the divides wherever you experience them.  It might be in your relationship with God, a family member, or one that crosses a divide that feels to you like an ocean.  What does it mean for us to serve with one another wherever we are in solidarity?  

With you on the journey,

Michelle

Donations towards my salary support can be made through the donations link on this blog.  

Meeting Relatives

There are moments in life that are so beautiful that they bring tears to your eyes. This past Friday evening I attended a lecture put on by the Healing of Memories Institute that was held in the District Six Homecoming Centre. The Institute was starteFather Lapsleyd by a man named Father Lapsley, whose work I have followed for years. During the apartheid years here in South Africa, he would have been a voice speaking against the regime. He received a letter bomb that blew off both his hands and damaged his eyes.  Later, his work began to focus on bringing people in South Africa together to tell their stories and share their trauma.

When Bishop McDonald, the presenter for the evening, greeted us he used the language of the Cree people.  I had never heard that language spoken aloud, but that is the language of my grandfather’s and therefore my people.  My grandfather’s family migrated from Canada to Montana.  The story is told that my grandfather was riding cross country by train and stopped off at a small North Carolina town named Pembroke.  He met my grandmother, a Lumbee Indian, fell in love instantly and never got back on the train.  So, in my veins runs the blood of both the Lumbee and Cree.

Bishop McDonald shared the stories of the Indian residential schools for Native American children in CanadaBishop Mark McDonald. They have been charged with actually being extermination camps because of the high mortality rate. They had a 69% death rate and children reported sexual and physical abuse. “The schools had graveyards, not playgrounds,” shared Bishop McDonald. As I listened to the stories, memories of my grandfather who died when I was six years old were flooding my mind. These stories were stories of wrongs done to his people.  Yet, I knew him well enough to know that he lived making sure wrongs were done to no people.

It was a very strange moment to be a US citizen sitting in the District Six Museum listening to stories of my roots being traced right before me. Tears literally welled up in my eyes. I had arranged for a taxi to pick me up after the event and they went to a different location, so I was waiting out on the street as the crowd began to die down.  A group from inside came to stand with me as I waited for the Taxi. They were some of the Khoi Chiefs of South Africa who had been participating in a healing of memories retreat prior to the lecture. I shared with them that my grandfather was one of the Cree people and they told me they learned a practice of the Cree that was to make a relative of everyone you meet. They invited me to attend an event they were having later in the year and when we parted ways, I felt overwhelmed by the gift of being in the right place at the right time.

My grandfather was someone who never knew a stranger.  He lived with love for all people.  I am thankful that my roots trace back to him and challenged in my own life to mirror the Cree Practice that sounds so much like Jesus’ call to love our neighbor.

walter_pinchbeck

Walter Pinchbeck

My Grandfather

Fault Lines

Seismologists are those who study the quakes that occur in the earth — earthquakes. There are many reasons for the occurrence of earthquakes, but one of them is movement along a fault line — or crack underneath the earth’s surface.

Seismologists work to predict earthquakes by tracing the activity of seismic waves or pings of energy that vibrate out as the plates begin to shift along a fault line or crack in the rocky ground beneath us. Throughout the course of human history, prophets have served in this same capacity for the people of God. The voices of the prophets name for us the places in our life together where there are cracks.
2015-08-09-Womens-Day-ProtestersOn August 9, 1956, 20,000 women marched in opposition to the pass laws in South Africa. The pass laws were an internal passport system limiting the movement of black Africans.  As the women marched, they held in their hands over 100,000 signatures opposing this law that was one of the evils of the apartheid system that was the fault line of the day — the crack that was killing true community. As the women protested, they sang a song and the words translated to, “Now you have touched the women, you have struck a rock.” This phrase now represents the courage and strength of women in South Africa. Today and tomorrow, South Africans will honour all women as we celebrate National Women’s Day.

There are fault lines beneath us in our life together still today. What might the women of 1956 and the prophets of old have to say to the reality that 1 in 3 women worldwide will suffer some sort of violence in their lifetime and that more than 57% of the women in South Africa who are murdered are murdered by a loved one?  What might they have to say about the racial violence in my own country?

The women of 1956 demonstrated with their march the need for us to gather around the places where there areLydia Women's Day March cracks in our life together as children of God. Injustices need to be named and work must be done to make right the fault lines that shift beneath our feet.  This afternoon I found myself in a sea of women marching the streets of Cape Town naming the injustices of the day.  As I looked around me, I found myself encouraged by the strength of the women as they marched together.  I found hope rising as I listened to the young people singing songs calling out for change.  God convicted me once again of the ways in which God’s people can indeed sing a new song together that transcends our divides! For real change to occur, we must actually reach across the divides in this world and find ourselves bridging those seismic gaps–not just with our words, but in the way we choose to live our lives!

Question for reflection: Take some time to name the fault lines or cracks in the world where injustice exists. What might you do to stand and name these injustices like the women of 1956?  How might your life change because of what is stirring inside of you?

*To support my ministry, please see the link for giving on the home page of my blog.

With you on the journey,

Michelle

Home…

Home for me for the next three years is a land called South Africa—a city called Cape Town. It is a stunning city with beautiful people and landscape and at the same time a place where the divide between the rich and the poor is one of the greatest in the world. Though it is a place I have visited regularly, there is so much for me to learn.  There is an area of Cape Town named District Six. The residents of District Six were forcibly removed from their homes during the Apartheid years and the District Six museum tells the story of these people.

District 6

Hanging on the wall of the museum is Noor Ebrahim’s story. He talks about releasing his prized racing pigeons when he and his family found their way to their new neighborhood. When the pigeons did not return he went to check their old home. This is what he shares, “As I drove past the now empty plot that used to be my home in Caledon Street, I saw a sight which shook me to my core: my pigeons, all 50 of them, were congregated on the empty plot where our home had stood. Getting out of my car, I walked over to where the pigeons were. Very surprisingly, they did not fly away, but looked into my eyes as if to ask: “Where is our home?” Apartheid displaced even the pigeons…

There are pigeons that have built a nest in the ceiling of Central Methodist Mission where I serve in Cape Town.  They can be pests flying around in the middle of sermons and such, but they bring a smile to my face mainly because they remind me of our call to love all God’s creatures.  I will love them more now knowing the story of the District Six pigeons–for many of our members worshipped in the church that is now the District Six Museum during the Apartheid years.  I pigeonam thankful there is a God that beckons us all to come home just as Noor Ebrahim beckoned his pigeon’s home.  I am finding my way with God in Cape Town and soon will have more stories to share, but wanted you to know I am thankful to all of you who travel so faithfully with me in life.

With you on the journey,

Michelle

*On line support for my ministry in Cape Town can be received through donation button at top of blog

May God Bless you and Keep you!

Kwangathi uNkulunkulu anganibusisa futhi ikugcine means “May God bless you and keep you” in the Zulu language. It is the first line of a prayer that I have learned in the native language of every country I have visited. I learn it in order that I might bless people I meet along the way…people I might not ever see again.

May the Lord bless and keep you;
Make his face shine upon you
and be gracious to you (Numb 6:24-26)
until we meet again one day.

These words do not translate perfectly into the Zulu language, but I shared them everywhere I went while serving in South Africa for a summer years ago. I have found the words comforting on this day.

Today is Palm Sunday in the life of the Christian Church. It is the first day of Holy Week marking the day that Jesus begins what is known as his triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Today was also my last Sunday at Myers Park United Methodist Church—a place that has formed and shaped me during this last chapter of my life in ways that I hope will leave me better able to serve in the coming chapters of my life. On my last Sunday in this community,  I release the words of this blessing to any who read this, I also want to share with you the way we can be blessed by people who pass through our lives like a breeze rustling the leaves on a tree…

I had my first garage sale last weekend. I would never have imagined a garage sale could be a spiritual event, but it was. The hardestIMG_0256 things for me to release for this preparation to move to another country were things that were made for me by people from other countries. I had a basket woven for me by a woman in South Sudan. I hoped the right person would take it. Wouldn’t you know a woman from Somalia bought not just the basket, but everything I had from Africa. She shared with me that her family could not bring anything with them when they moved to this country and that her grandmother made baskets just like the one I had. She ran her fingers over it lovingly and tole me it would make her happy.

May God bless you and keep you…

There was another woman who could not believe how cheap I was selling all my stainless steel kitchen appliances. I shared with her that I hoped to bless others with the things that had been a gift to me. She purchased all of the small appliances and then she shared with me she was starting over for having been the victim of domestic violence.  She asked me if I might pray with her since I was a pastor. She returned later to help me clean my kitchen with two other ladies from the neighborhood who had shopped with me. I was amazed that they would want to help me clean, but they told me they knew that I needed help.

May God bless you and keep you…

Blessings come when we least expect it and they pour out over periods of time in ways that we can not predict or imagine.  I have been blessed during this Charlotte chapter of my life. There are things I have loved like the way the trees dip to greet each other as I drive down Providence road or how seasons all take a turn saying “hello”.  I love the seasons even though my toes are never prepared for the cold. I have loved the philanthropic nature of the community here and the welcoming spirit of everyone I have met. I have loved the opportunity to serve in ways that have left me changed and the opportunity to learn more about myself and the ways I still need to change. There has been much to love. So dear ones in Charlotte, know that as you travel through Holy week, I will be traveling quite literally on the road.  When I arrive in worship on Easter morning, know that my prayer for each of you will be…

May God bless you and keep you…

With you on the journey,

Michelle

e-mail: livinfully247@gmail.com

Donations for Mission Support: Follow link on right

South Africa Bound!

Dear Friends,

I have what I hope you will think is fantastic news!  Beginning June 16, I will be serving with Central Methodist Mission in Cape Town, South Africa with Rev. Alan Storey as a IVIM Missionary Pastor.  Central Methodist Mission is a City Church Methodist-church-Greenmarket-Sqthat has a connection to the historic District 6 museum in Cape Town and a deeply rooted presence in the community.  The church has a coffee shop called HEAVEN, which I trust will make you believe there is a GOD watching over me, should you have doubted this before.

My role will be to help bridge the church closer in their connection with the nearby Kaleche community.  I will help Alan with organizational leadership systems to strengthen the church’s outreach ministry to a large homeless population, ministries with at risk children, and preach/teach so that there is additional pastoral support for Alan to continue to grow his Manna & Mercy teaching ministry.  Bishop Michele Hansrod hopes to explore ways that my experience with mission and passion for leadership development might be a gift to the wider District as well.  Certainly, I will be happy to serve as an ambassador of sorts, helping to make connections for incoming pilgrims too.  Yes, this is indeed an invitation to come visit!!!  South Africa is a beautiful country with deeply meaningful history.

I mIMG_0065et Alan Storey 15 years ago while he was preaching at my church–Hyde Park UMC in Tampa, Florida.  I have helped connect Alan’s Manna & Mercy teaching ministry with communities here in the US for the past 10 years.  While serving in Mississippi, I led two Ubuntu cross racial clergy peer groups in pilgrimage to South Africa, connecting both times with Pinetown Methodist Church near Durban (where my summer internship was at Duke Div) and Alan’s community in Cape Town.  It is a humbling thing to be winding back to a country that served as my first window to the world.  My heart for global missions began years ago after hearing Alan talk about the disparities between the wealthy and the poor around the world.  My curiosity to learn more about the people that live across the ocean’s divide has never ceased.

How can you help?

  1. Prayer:  Please pray that all my logistics to get me from here to there fall into place and that this ministry will be a blessing to the back and forth partnership between the United Methodist Church and the Methodist Church of Southern Africa.
  2. Partnership:  IVIM Missionaries raise their own salary support and so I am hoping some of you might consider donating to my online giving through the United Methodist Advance.  There is a link to giving on my blog page on the right.  Be sure to find my name on the drop down list or it will go to a general pool of monies.  I will be sharing short 90 second videos that will inform you about what life is like for the people in South Africa, what the Church there is celebrating and struggling with, and will be blogging regularly to keep all who join the journey with me informed. I am hoping that I can forge deep partnerships with at least seven church communities that will enter into a 3 year relational and financial covenant with me and Central Methodist Mission in this ministry.
  3. Pilgrimage:  It is my hope that many of you will consider making a pilgrimage to South Africa either on your own or with a team from your local church.

I am so thankful for this opportunity and thankful to all of you who support me at every turn on this wonderful thing called life!

Sharing with you on the journey,

Rev. Michelle Shrader

Collecting

If someone would have asked me if I was a collector, I would have said, “no.” Yet, I am learning this is actually not true. I am in the process of letting go of things…things that I have been collecting unbeknownst to me. The act of collecting shares little secrets of who we are. The things we pick up and cling to share the story of what we hold dear and what we find beautiful in the world. Maybe these things start out as gems—treasures, but it is important to strip ourselves of our collecting from time to time literally and figuratively, so that our lives can become free of the things that keep us cluttered in our space, in our hearts, and in our minds.

There is a picture that has hung on the wall in every home I have lived in for the past nine years. I purchased it at a street market in South Africa. It is a painting of a woman who was pregnant. I believed she was pregnant with possibility. The artist who painted this picture was painting a self portrait. I felt compelled to learn more about her and learned during our conversation that she was sick with HIV AIDS. It is unlikely that she is alive today, but then I remember thinking that her life was pregnant with a possibility that she might not ever realize and so I purchased two paintings of hers, both of pregnant women. I gave one away to a friend who was struggling to give birth to a book. It has since been written and in the book, she named the painting as a source of inspiration.

The paintingIMG_0798_2 I kept was an icon of sorts in my life. I would sip coffee in the morning and pray that my life too might be inspirational, that I might give birth to the dream of life God had in store for me. Just last week I took the painting off the wall and packed it up with me on a trip. I gave the painting away to a friend who long ago gave birth to a boy who inspires me every day to live my life more faithfully. My friend did not want to bring the boy into the world when he was born because she feared what kind of life he would have, for her boy was born with skin that was black. I remember crying that night after her story. I cried for her, for her son, and for the children I might not ever have. When the tears withdrew from my eyes, I made a promise to that little boy that I would not give up. I wanted his mother to have the painting so she would remember how important she and he have been to me.

I am a collector. I have a statue of Moses with the Ten Commandments from Zimbabwe that I bought for $6.00 on the street. I have a serving tray made for me by women in Palestine with magnificent embroidery. I have a basket woven for me by a woman in South Sudan. I have tea cups that were used by my Great Grandmother Molly Pearson. I have a gerber daisy painting that was painted for me by an old roommate after she held me as I cried tears I could not stop for missing a brother who would never lift me high in a hug again. I have a hand crocheted quilt given to me by my grandmother and a red glass vase that was the only thing I took from her home when she died. I have a cross I wear around my neck that was given to me by a Muslim man who when he looked into my eyes spoke into my life the words of my ordination as a Pastor. I have a coffee cup that reminds me of my calling, “to make God’s love real.”

I have learned that I collect more than things over these weeks of letting go. Tied up with all the things are the emotions that get woven into them. Emotions can live with us longer than we should allow. In this season of letting go, I am also learning to let go of disappointment, anger, and grief. I am sure I will pick them back up again and again as I will pick up more things without even knowing I am doing it. Yet, disappointment, anger, and grief are not emotions to cling to, they are emotions to work through. Resting in God’s Spirit through these emotions has helped me to grow through them. On the other side of my release, I experienced a new strength and the peace that brings with it breath. Where disappointment, anger, and grief once lived, Joy now resides. I have decided to be a collector this year of Joy. It can’t be collected apart from the journey of the dance with God on the mountain top, the trudge with God in the valley, and the moments of ordinary with God in the spaces in between. I choose to be a collector of at least one thing, the Joy that comes in this life from truly living!

Sweet Nicholas

 

This past weekend, I spent time with fifty four other leaders from the Charlotte area in a program called Leadership Charlotte. It was a wonderful weekend filled with risk, adventure, moments of deep conversation, and the gift of fun with new friends. There was a question posed to us during the weekend that I have been sitting with this week. We were asked to share in small groups the story of an unlikely teacher in our lives. It was a struggle for me at first, because I am someone who naturally seeks out mentors. I love to soak up the wisdom of others. I sat for a moment juggling the possibilities, when the answer came clearly into my mind. My unlikely teacher in my life was an unborn baby boy named Nicholas.

Years ago, while a student at Duke, I was given the gift of time in a cross racial group called Ubuntu, which is a term that comes from the Bantu languages in Africa. Desmond Tutu defines Ubuntu as “the essence of being human. Ubuntu speaks particularly about the fact that you can’t exist as a human being in isolation. It speaks about our interconnectedness. You can’t be human all by yourself, and when you have this quality — Ubuntu — you are known for your generosity.” The purpose of our Ubuntu group was to share life together for a year, learn about our biases, prejudices, and the ways in which we might learn to work to break down the racial divides in this world. It was a deeply meaningful time for me. I learned so much.

During that time, one of my friends got pregnant. The day she learned that she was giving birth to a boy, she shared the news with tears streaming down her face. I just could not imagine an expectant mother experiencing anything other than pure joy. Her reaction completely threw me off guard. Through her tears, my friend shared that she did not want to bring her child who would be born a black boy into this world. Her acknowledgement was met with the shake of a head from every other African American in that room. It was as if together they held the key to a secret the rest of us did not know. How could I, a white woman of great priviledge in this world have any idea how truly difficult it is for an unborn boy to grow into a black man in this world.

Through out that year, I would learn so much from people whose experience was very different than mine. My Ubuntu group invested in me, they took risks to share their stories, and they walked with me in a grace that I believe could only come from God. After I graduated from Duke, I went to spend a year in Jackson, Mississippi to reflect specifically on religion and race. It would be another chapter of learning for me. I received so many gifts of story. I was invited to serve as the co-chair on the commission on religion and race for the Mississippi Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church and served alongside a Civil Rights veteran. I learned during that time how human we all are—both black, white, and all the races that so often get left out in between.

I spoke to Nicholas’ mom this week. We were sharing frustrations about the shooting of a black man in St. Lois. She hoped to get our Ubuntu group back together to reflect. As we were talking, I told her that I carry the picture of her son in the front of my bible because I made commitment to a little unborn boy one day that I would give my life to making this world a better place for him to live in. I told her that I shared the story of Nicholas with my Leadership Charlotte group naming him as my unlikely teacher. I met Nicholas when he was first born and didn’t see him again for many years. When we reconnected, he ran to me saying, “Auntie Michelle…Auntie Michelle!” The innocence of his voice and the reality of the world he would face brought tears to my eyes. I wept for the understanding of the stories that were shared to me by my friends. I learned from an unborn child what I want the world to be like for him.

Beginning again and again

There has been much conversation about Christian community over the years. “What does it mean to be in community with one another,” we have asked. “Who is on the in and who is on the out,” we have pondered. The hard thing about walking with Jesus is that we rarely catch him casting out. Mostly Jesus is circling everyone in. This means that we have to learn how to live with a circle that is ever-widening. Our tendency would be to keep those close to us that make the most sense to us. It is an actual discipline to widen the circle of embrace, for if we don’t embark upon this disciplined life of boundary breaking, we will find ourselves living in the boxes that our culture creates for us and on the side lines missing out on the great adventure Jesus calls us to.

In order to break the boundaries, we have to step outside of the boxes of our everyday routines. This makes perfect sense until we have to live into it, for routines bring with them a sense of comfort.  Just a couple of weeks ago forty six members of both the South Tryon Community Church and Myers Park United Methodist Church embarked upon a pilgrimage in which boundaries were broken. We gathered on a charter bus to set out on a tour of the City of Charlotte. Though Charlotte is one of the most beautiful cities, there is a layer of history that lies beneath. Uptown Charlotte was built over an African American neighborhood named Brooklyn. There is little evidence of this place many would have called home today. It was hard to listen to this story, but it was harder still to listen to the worries of our friends in the South Tryon community about what will happen to their community with all the development going on in Charlotte.

imageThis bus tour was the beginning of some deeper work that Pastor Tiffany Thomas and I are planning for our two communities. It was not the place we understood answers would be found, but more a place for us all to begin again. After journeying together for many years, the two communities are recognizing there is an opportunity for us to move in our relationship to a place that will require more from us. Partnership across divides requires a walking with over many years and a growing with in the midst of some of our deepest fears. Hearing these stories about the history of Charlotte unsettled some of the residue that hangs in the air and that residue took up residence among us after we stepped off the bus. Part of our ongoing journey will be learning what it means to walk together through the unsettled residue from the pages of the past towards a future that brings us closer together.

Life might have been easier if we had not stepped foot on the bus to hear the history that is hard and challenging, but we would not have been doing the work that is required of us as Christian people seeking to live in community with one another. Widening the circle of our embrace means the ground shifts beneath our feet and stories that once were theirs become ours and stories that are ours become theirs. Jesus does not make life easy for us, rather he lifts up a vision of a Kingdom that becomes a reality worth giving ones life for. A bus ride is not going to get us to the Kingdom, but it is a place to begin again and each day we find another way to begin again in our work of widening our embrace, until we recognize that we are better listeners across divides and better friends with the ones we have chosen to journey with.

God is so good and there is a goodness God calls us to find with one another. When we live in the goodness of life together, we will recognize that the goodness is found in the midst of hardship, in the midst of real struggles, and in the midst of stories we wish were not true. Building up the Kingdom here on Earth as it is in heaven will exact from us the cost of our very lives. Are we seeking to widen the circle of our embrace? Are we living within the boxes marked out by our culture or breaking down the boundaries that divide us? Are we using our voice to make a difference in the midst of stories that should not be true? The good news is within each day is the chance to begin again and again until we look around and witness the gift of God’s Kingdom being realized all around us on this place we inhabit called earth.

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