This past Sunday I preached a sermon on “only the good stuff” in the world. Though inspired by three congregants, it was a gentle olive branch to all of us. The first, a man who lovingly offered how hard it is to come into the congregation knowing I’ll name many of the things he’s trying not to be inundated by. The second, a woman who reminds me how to find beauty in the simple but striking things in life (a yellow umbrella; a card with flare). And the third who, even in his death, perhaps now the worst irony of all, especially in his death, reminds us that Life is Good.
What a lovely way to spend an hour. What a perfect moment when I heard you all say, “yes please” when I asked if you’d like to hear some good stuff. The first collective prayer of UUCWC, perhaps. Yes, please. It could have been Jesus’s I thirst.
What we’ve come to know in the hours after that hour of good, is how quickly the coordinates shift. And the world widened, and the world got smaller again, harsher again, and we heard the news reports that another mass shooting had occurred.
Colleagues around the country are now reporting of members resigning their membership until their Black Lives Matter signs are taken down – though, we know this one had nothing to do with race. Or, not about race the way we talk about it. And others are saying the same – they’re not coming back until their wayside pulpits quiet down; until their ministers get back to the message, back to the spiritual.
We forget – ignore? – how fear is part of the spirit, don’t we? Funny how in the demand for reprieve we speak so clearly of our heart’s overwhelm.
When I called Tara on my way home from church I said, “There’s been another church shooting.” “Another?” she asked. I knew what had happened in the translation, so I slowed down; I reoriented. “There’s been another shooting. This one in a church.”
But I do think I meant “There’s been another church shooting.” I do think I meant, “My love, I just locked up the church. The place where our child and you sit in the nursery, the first room to be seen upon entry. The place where I have fallen in love with a whole community of people, whose lives I have memorized as they look back at me on Sundays, and therefore who unnerve me when they switch seats (so many switched seats this past Sunday). I’ve asked some of these, (whom I love, did I mention this?), to sit in the lobby to greet, to oversee, to be watchful. This place where I ask so much of them. Where we’ve hung this banner that I check on each morning and each afternoon and on the way home at dark some evenings as if to make sure the world is still mostly as I believe it can be. I’ve just left the church. There was another church shooting.”
I wonder what Jesus would say of such a thing as locking the doors of the church. He’d laugh, I’m sure, of it. The dust in his beard would crack and a small smile would turn into something raucous. He’d grab his skinny belly and his eyes would tear. And then, off to the next preacher, marking me off the list. Or at least, I hope he’d laugh. For I fear he’d cry. He or King or Berrigan or Rich or hooks; a small tear, shake of the head, and moving on. That’s probably more of what I should expect though I can’t stomach the thought.
I should be honest with the cloud of witnesses – as if they don’t already know – I don’t want active shooter trainings. Hell, I don’t want a fire drill to take away from that one precious hour together. I want to lock the doors and trust my people and preach a good message about vulnerability and hope. A quote from a Womanist here, and a parable of a savior there. All with the door locked, please. There’s been another church shooting.
I preached that good stuff sermon so as to not harbor only on the harsh and fear. I preached that sermon so as to say, together, we need not be afraid, stuck, worn down. Not when together. I don’t want this congregation to stay away; to be afraid; to harbor anywhere but together. And still, I find my anchor today down in the shallow waters; in the fear of being exposed.
And then, just like that, I remember why church.
I remember why we unlock the doors. So that we may be exposed.
Yes, it’s true, to the ugly parts, and the overwhelm, and to the way we can build our spirits to charge at the terror with love. But also to be exposed to the beauty of the world, too. The sweet singing of people who can’t sing; the echo of silence when invited to breathe; the wail of a baby rushed into the bouncing cradle of a caregiver; the flowers that adorn the sacred wood of sanctuaries past; the living history of sanctuaries where hearts are made stronger, and then broken again and then stronger still. All of us, all parts of us, more and more and more exposed.
Yes. Please. This is why we don’t lock the doors.