Wednesday, December 10, 2014


Recent events have many of us thinking, pondering, meditating on the state of relations among the diverse individuals who make up our nation. This evening, I'll be attending a meeting at my Atlanta church, Renovation, to discuss just that. Praying toward that end, I've reflected on my early days at Renovation, back in January 2011. I wrote the following after one of my first times there.

Continuing our orchestral performance, we haven't heard yet from the Communion section. Yesterday's communion at Renovation Church brought me to my knees, but not at a rail.

The pastor of this unusual church is a Louisiana-bred (read African, Cajun, French, Cherokee) former pro football player and trained lawyer who went to seminary and moved to Atlanta without a job because God told him to plant a church here.

My kind of guy. Eclectic. Not to mention passionate.

Communion there is more in the line of the liturgical churches where the communicants go to receive the sacraments, rather than passing them to one another in the pews. (Or opening up a pre-packaged wafer and grape juice from a bucket. Gag.) At Renovation, the pastors (or celebrants or I don't know what they call them here yet) stand around the perimeter of the room, each holding a tray with a cup and a loaf. We tear the bread ourselves (very visceral, very meaningful) and dip it into the cup and then partake. It grabbed my heart the first time. His body broken for me (by me), His blood shed for the remission of my sin (and I stain the body with His blood). Almost a swoon, but not quite.

Yesterday we sat on the second row, so instead of going to an assistant on the side, we were to go forward to receive communion from Leonce, the pastor mentioned above. As he began the celebration, I knew something special was coming. I could not take my eyes away, first from his face, then from his hands. Huge, powerful, beautiful, smooth, black hands, dwarfing the loaf he held. I wondered about the color of Jesus' strong hands, holding the loaf that night in the upper room, preparing to allow Himself to be broken. I wondered if His hands were large or small, rough or smooth. I knew they were beautiful.

And the next section of the orchestra joined in. I read last summer, for the first time, Uncle Tom's Cabin. The character of Tom so embodied the love of Christ, so inspired me anew to faithful following. The story in all its pain and ugliness and darkness still had light throughout because of Tom's unwavering faith in Christ Who ultimately must triumph. And the music of that story, and of that terrible period of our nation's history, joined the song of communion.

So suddenly Leonce was not just a man, any more than I am just a woman. We were both standing in the stream of history, of His story (as the Christian curriculum providers like to say), and we were both fully aware of all that has gone before and of where God wants to take us. This is a church founded specifically for the purpose of reconciliation, of renewal and renovation in the relations between and among all races in the city. We lost power during the last service and found out yesterday that it was because a man had stolen a car in an adjoining county, and running from police he had run into a phone pole and knocked out power for a several-block area. "Welcome to church in the city," Leonce said with a smile. "This is why we're here."

I braced myself to walk down the steps to the Table, grateful for a rail to hold along the way. I concentrated on not letting my tears fall before the Meal. I determined to look in Leonce's face, into his eyes, after receiving the sacraments. And so I did.

I made it back to my seat as my vision blurred, and I fell to my knees in front of the folding chair, letting the tears flow freely as I thanked the Almighty Who preserved a people who were beaten and torn and degraded and debased, and in His mercy also preserved those who brought down the whips and forged the chains that kept them there. It meant the world to me, as I told Leonce at lunch, to be able to bow and receive communion from this brother, this man whose history is so very different from mine, who is now willing to give what was withheld from his people for so long, even at the cost of receiving more of the same treatment.

Humility. Meekness. Power under control. In Christ's name and for His sake. Amen.

 This post is included in my forthcoming book, From Fortress to Freedom, due out December 2014. 

Monday, December 8, 2014

Open the Gates

In the months since January 2011, when God released me from a self-imposed fortress of rules and restrictions, I have come to understand more of the truth which makes us free, as promised by Christ when He walked among us. I have run and danced and imagined myself flying; I have played and rejoiced and celebrated in myriad ways. I have never lost the awareness, though, that not everyone is living free.
Our bondage is sometimes personal, but there are cultural bonds as well, walls built of old hurts as well as new ideas, education as well as ignorance, good intentions as well as wrong motivations. They combine to construct nearly invisible fortresses that protect us from the unknown or misunderstood. Those fortresses also become prisons that keep us from being free to become what we are created to be: joyful creatures at peace with God and one another. 

The walls of some of those fortresses have become quite visible in recent days, in the harsh lights of events in Ferguson, MO, and Tompkinsville, Staten Island, NY, among others. Within our fortresses, it is impossible to find lasting meaning and peace in these situations, but it is exactly these kinds of circumstances that make us want to retreat to safety. I don't believe retreat is the best course, though. I think it's long past time to lay down arms (defensive and offensive), open the gates, and advance onto the field of battle not as warriors, but as peacemakers. To end the conflict, we all need to do the grueling work of finding, acknowledging, and releasing our own biases and fears.

My friend Judy Wu Dominick writes: "We need to come to terms with the truth that anti-any-kind-of-person bias is ultimately an act of violence against the image of God in them." Her essay is a long but very worthy read. If you are troubled by any part of the recent events in Ferguson, MO, I join Judy in her challenge that you "prayerfully ask the Lord to help you divest yourself of your assumptions and pursue understanding through earnest questions, with the eyes of a child who is learning something for the first time."

Be blessed.