America is a patchwork quilt... and stories are its stitching.
Let's change that
Sunday morning is the most segregated time of the week
Even racially integrated communities break off into their separate churches on Sunday mornings.
In Richmond, there's a First Baptist Church north of the river that's 100% white. And there's a First Baptist Church south of the river that's 100% black. I started attending the southernmost church, as the guest of one of its ministers. I remarked to her how curious it was that these two churches both claimed to be the first. I also told her it was a bit sad that they didn't mingle, given that they were both Baptist.
"It's OK," she said. "We don't mix here. But we'll be together in heaven."
I thought about that, and then said, "Why wait?"
1. Shine a light on the surprising people who are making a difference.
2. Catalyze brotherhood. Get folks to go to churches they'd never expect to.
I've done it for years. And something amazing happens, every time...
Looking to get our church on, and curious to see how folks seek the divine in
what some consider the belly of the beast, my friend and I double-dipped on Sunday, visiting a Hollywood uber-church in the morning and then One Church LA on La Brea in the afternoon.
I like that One Church LA believes in "relentless love." I felt it. Ethnically, I was the exception. But it meant nothing. Which is what it should mean.
A spirited young pastor stoked his internal flame, and ours, and then turned it over to Sarah for the sermon.
Sarah is what the church calls its First Lady. I love churches where the distaff half of the lead pastoral married couple is called the First Lady. I've seen it in big Baptist churches down south. And now this one, too.
Sarah has wit. She grew up in the church, as the daughter of mega-pastor TD Jakes. And she mentioned that because she spent her youth going to three services on Sundays, she felt that during her wayward years she could skip Sundays because she had a ton of "credit" built up.
Sarah talked about Hagar and having the guts to go back into situations that are unfair or hostile, but to recognize that we can carry our love into those ecosystems, and must trust in what can be on the other side of these trials. For Hagar, it meant going back to her mistress Sarai, whose husband Hagar had slept with. Going back meant discomfort, but it also meant the foundation of the line of Ishmael and the catalyzing of the process that got Abraham into a new phase where he could start spawning his various lines, one of which would one day include a fairly important carpenter.
After the sermon, the young pastor re-took the reins, and made the offer that many churches make: any of us auditors who felt the message was speaking to us, come down and basically admit it publicly. Are there those among us who feel like we've faced challenges we can't surmount? Like we don't know how to break through, and need help? Like we've doubted that there is something on the other side of pain?
I did what I often do in those moments. I thought "yeah, well it kinda spoke to me, but I'm not sure I'm one of the folks that needs to go up front and make a proclamation." Maybe it's vanity: "I'm not necessarily great, but thanks, I'm good." Maybe it's anxiety about admitting weakness in public. Or punctiliousness about the propriety of acting publicly on something as private as faith.
But this internal dialogue all sounded pretty pathetic. So I slapped myself, psychically, and said "Christian, the man is asking a question. He's asking if you've ever felt broken and ever felt like, if left to face them solo, the giants you face are actually pretty daunting." And the answer to that question, despite my robust self-confidence, was yes. So I faced facts about the giants I faced, and walked down.
And it was really something.
I was in a small sea of about 35 people. Hip. Tattoos. Muscled dudes in trendy down-tempo duds. And dreadlocks aplenty. The woman in front of me was in a pretty red dress, arms heavily tattooed in cursive, with red streaks in her treated and straightened hair. Her head was dipping, and as the pastor continued his appeal for folks to come down and admit that they need hope and help, her head would bounce. You don't often see an illustration of the expression "wracked with grief," but this woman's body shook with it.
The woman to her left had mostly cropped hair with a funky tuft in the center-back. Her look was aggressively gender-neutral. She wasn't wracked with sobs, but the ushers bearing tissue went to her three times.
And that was another cool thing about this service. You know a church is prepared to bring the power and the emotion - and accustomed to being able to do it -- when beforehand they deputize three ushers to focus on deploying tissues during the service.
The ushers were busy down front.
We joined hands and bowed our heads in prayer. It was nice, in a town like LA that can make even proximate people feel like strangers, to hold those strangers' hands.
And moving through this gathering of hand-holding former strangers, I saw a wonderful thing...
Life may be a war. But many of us misidentify the combatants. We think it's this tribe or that. It's not. I think it's love vs. hate. And love needs its warriors, too. At One Church LA, down front, there was a strong, bountiful woman, making the rounds, and she was very clearly a weapon in this war. A weapon of love.
She gave huge enveloping hugs to the sobbing, and comforted them. She squeezed the shoulders and put her head in the crook of the neck of the lady in the red dress whose body was shaking. She was sharing the pain, wrapping her in an embrace that looked like it felt probably a bit like motherhood.
And then she looked up and searched for the next one. Searching for the pain. So she could hug it right between the eyes.
A weapon of Love.
Thanks, One Church LA, for unleashing her.