Dying to Self to live into the Other

indonesia-2008-016Bless me Mother for I have sinned. I am not sure if I have ever confessed my latest infraction. My soul is weary and my heart weak. Grant me, a child of longing, peace and comfort in your ways, compassion, deliver me.

I want to share with y’all a bit on a gathering Presbymergent held last week. Last week 31 “Loyal Radicals” gathered in Louisville, KY [home of the hot brown & all things Presby]to hold a historical conversation. We came together to share, witness, and participate in unimaginable ways as to how the Spirit is moving in and around the people of God.

We gathered in hope that a common understanding, a unified vision would emerge to carry our community forward and connect with the larger conversation of what to do next with all of this “church stuff.”

I know I arrived with certain expectations. I had hoped that we would emerge looking and feeling like what I had visioned and structure the community to look like. I wanted Presbymergent to be the Apple Store of Presbyterian culture. I hinged the success of the gathering upon how much the end product looked like my vision.

What I discovered as we sat in a large circle witnessing to each other the moving of the Spirit was that I was full of shit. As hard as I tried to be real and honest with all there I was harboring my vision to be the pinnacle of thought.

There was a point when the Presbyterian prophet and scholar, Carol Howard Merritt, led us through an exercise to discover the who, what, how of Presbymergent desires and hopes that I realized that I was not really listening to the Spirit. I looked like I was and at times I was hearing what was being said.

It was like that scene from “White Men Can’t Jump” when Sidney and Billy are discussing the ability of Billy to “hear” Gladys Knight & the Pips. I was listening to the conversation but I was not hearing.

I listened to what folks were testifying to. I needed to hear the story behind the story. The story filled with struggle and hurt. The story of hope and joy. The story that is rooted in a deep desire to go deeper with God and demands that there be a space within the denomination to do so.

At one point I realized that my hurt, my story, my expectations, my convictions got in the way of a mutually healing dialogue. I felt the Spirit rush over me. The expectations I held, the convictions…they fell aside and a Spirit of compassion rushed to fill the empty space where I tightly held my heart. It was then and there I felt a peace.

The Spirit appeared in the room through the hearts of the gathered and we stopped. We gathered the hopes, dreams, expectations, needs, and wants that we brought with us. We placed them in a bowl and burned them. We offered up our hearts as a gift to the Spirit of God. I was overcome with emotion. I was able to hear the story of my sisters and brothers in a way that connected my story to theirs. I witnessed a renewing of spirit in the gathering. Hope spilled over the chalice onto the floor. Then hope gathered upon the floor, collecting in pools. Pools so large we could not avoid them. We began to step in the pool of hope and became soiled in Gods hope. The future of the denomination began to look brighter, lighter. Gone were the importance to tell my story, ready and available was the ability to lose myself within the story of the other. Compelled to hear by the divine presence of a people seeking understanding.

“From dust you came and to dust you shall return” perhaps we need to hear these words more often as we seek to be a church that is a vital component in the life of America today. There is no one or no thing that will escape death. We are all going to die, to perish, to fade away.  If we are lucky we may be a distant memory of footnote to what is happening in our lifetime.  It is my conviction that we must relenquish our grip upon divine and simply relish in the idea that we fade in and out of the great Creative presence.  Perhaps we never really know when we are near or far from God.

To the church  I ask, “How do we die in a way that nourishes and protects the seeds we have planted?” It is my hope that hearing each other leads to a death that nourishes and furthers the glorious works of the “Kin-dom of God”

I wonder what churches would look like if we stopped demand that others listen to us and intentionally sought to hear one another. Gone the sting of death maybe, but we are left in a time that fear, uncertainty, and doubt are held as a familiar and comfortable presence. Imagine as we hear the other we are delivered to a place beyond ourselves and rest at the foot of the cross. That place to which all are welcome, all are silent…

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