Monday, March 19, 2012

Lucky 13

Dear Jasper,

You are thirteen months old and all toddler. You know how to get our attention and how to keep it. You know what gets under our skin and how to make us laugh. You are expressive with your eyes and mouth and voice and hands. Even your strong thighs. You are so good at telling us what you want and need that, when you can't get your point across right away, you get frustrated. It's hard when things get lost in translation.

You are a monkey. You climb on top of things, build towers of out anything you can find and dare to stand without holding on. But no steps yet. Not just yet. Your style is careful and calculated. When you do something, it's already been researched and then you take that milestone by storm. So every morning might be the morning. God, help us.

In Florida you became a one nap man. Now you conk out for three long, uninterrupted hours every day. You're a hibernating bear at high sun. And then you dazzle us in the swimming pool. You lean into our arms from the side, let us toss you around, climb the stairs and dunk your head.

The beach was a whole new adventure. Sand on your hands is, apparently, unacceptable. But you love to sit in the shade and you shake with joy when the ocean breeze cuts through your hair. You let me take you out in to the waves and you clung to my body with joy as the water rose higher and higher. Brave, boy! And then there are the birds. You point and wave and speak serious jabber to them, in awe of their squalking and swooping. Almost concerned, certainly curious.

For a moment, the whole upstairs level of the house is Jasper proof. I can leave you alone for a few minutes here and there. You explore. You find grown up things that intrigue you. I am glad for your safety and self-sufficiency. And then I'll find you climbing a bookcase and about to topple off your homemade tower of toys and bins. Uh oh.

The weather is turning and you are a hot blooded boy. So at home you lose your clothes. You play with cords and the tape measure in just a diaper. Your left shin is covered in light dirt from your dead leg crawl around the dusty porch. You bang measuring cups together to make music and read books to yourself until I wander in and join you.

Tonight we ate dinner in the backyard where you can drop food on the floor without getting a reaction from Mom and Dad. Whatever. You had gravy in your hair, so it was time for a bath. Water again - your favorite. So maybe that's why you put gravy in your hair...

Love, Mom

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Underbelly

"So how's the new call going?"

I'm hearing that a lot. It's a good reminder that all kinds of people have my back during this new beginning at Zion. People are praying for me as I figure out what it means to be a solo pastor, as I strive to define 3/4 time my own way, as I learn the ropes in a different church and neighborhood. And that's comforting.

The truth is, I've been overwhelmed by the underbelly of "All Are Welcome". Lots of churches describe themselves as "friendly" and "welcoming" and "hospitable" these days. We all want to grow. We want to be open minded and inclusive of all kinds of people. We want be more diverse and we're hoping it's as easy as a smile, a church wide resolution, and a snazzy website.

This month I've been thinking about my biased assumptions in welcoming people to church. I've been hoping people come who are educated like me, share my sense of humor, and are able to make financial commitments like I do. I'm hoping that their differences are trendy - that something about my church community attracts someone of a different theological or cultural background. When the Nigerian immigrant is intrigued by liturgy, I feel validated. Maybe even smug. When the young couple decides to give my church a try two Sundays in a row, I pat myself on the back for nurturing an intimate environment where people are noticed. Gag.

Those things are still true at Zion. We still welcome people who, it turns out, validate my faith and practices. There are some people who are able to give financially or eager to dive in as leaders. But it's not the norm. More often than not, people show up at Zion who are wildly different from me. Their lives are more complicated or their brokenness is more explicit. They struggle with addiction or mental illness. They've run out of food stamps this month. They need diapers for their newborn. They don't have a car and can only come to church if a member gives them a lift. They live in group homes or tell the same two stories over and over.

And they are all lovely. The pensive, thoughtful, and the funny ones. Even the trouble makers and instigators. Even the ones who rub some the wrong way or need a lot of extra attention. Because I am new to inner city ministry, I am in awe of all kinds of things - especially their desire to make Zion a priority. I am struck by their commitment to community and their faithful attendance. Thanks to these saints, I am learning a lot.

Every day is hard because we are tiny. Our budget is tiny. And people come finding welcome who require great gifts. Printing braille bulletins (not the music, just the words) for one member who is blind costs about $700 per year. That's a huge chunk of our worship and music budget. How can we make him feel welcome if we can't provide a bulletin every week that suits his needs?

But there is abundance, too. When this member gets lost in the neighborhood because his cane can't distinguish the difference between sidewalk and street in the ice, our members go looking for him. They pick him up and bring him into the banquet room and heat up a heaping plate from the community dinner his just missed. And then they drive him home safely.

I am witness to this kindness day after day at Zion. It is rubbing off on me and changing my own sight so that it's more difficult for me to tell who is different from me. My categories of brokenness are crumbling and I am fed by the wonder of this hodge podge community.

Of course, I nervously pray about sustainability every now and then. I know that we will need more people and a delicate balance to keep this strange and lovely ministry afloat. People who give generously in some ways will need to come and love it and dig in their heels and make things happen.  And people who give generously in other ways will need to keep coming and feel welcome and change the whole church for the better.

"So how's the new call going?"

It's wild. It's weird. It's completely wonderful. (Thanks for asking.)