When I came to Richfield UMC seven years ago for my introductory meeting, I was scared and fragile feeling and grief-full. Could I really make community with these folk, and how was it possible that I could leave beloveds in Duluth? Would this crazy and audacious process of pairing pastor and congregation to live Christ together really work?
One of the people at the table that night let me know that the Senior Pastor has always led the men’s Bible study, so of course I would do the same. I asked him if that would be so, given that for the first time their Senior Pastor would be a woman. He didn’t miss a beat as he assured me that such details didn’t matter.
And so I have gathered every Wednesday at eight o’clock with a dozen or so men who bless me beyond the telling. We talk about the seemingly unmentionables in church: politics and sexuality and change and challenge. We share insights about scripture and life. We read books and The Book and we laugh plenty, pray, and hold each other when life gets scary.
Today’s epiphany was delivered by the same man who informed me that of course I would lead the men’s Bible Study. We were finishing up Karen Armstrong’s drink-of-living-water book “The Bible” in which she says over and over that the lens through which we must read scripture is that of compassion and care. Bible bullets meant to mangle are antithetical to the gifting of God’s invitation to love sung over and over again throughout scripture.
I was bemoaning the ways that hate speech in the name of the Christian movement has moved my children from the lap of church community. My fellow scholar paradigm-shifted me away from my well-worn lament.
He asked about Mary, the mother of Jesus. Didn’t I suppose that she too worried about her son challenging and walking away from the organized religious community of his parents? Look what happened to the movement of God in the world when he set out, challenged, and proclaimed a new way.
I’m still grinning. Because of course he is right. Whew. I don’t have to flop around trying to convince the next generation that we (that would be those of us who claim kin called church) really ought be trusted and joined and worked through.
Maybe, like Jesus, they are listening to a deeper voice and following a broader vision than they have heard sung through the church.
I’m hoping that we listen to them and respect them and allow ourselves to be shaped by their challenges.
Worlds are changed by those who vex their parents.