Sometimes I forget what it means to live gratefully. I get caught up in difficult details and painful tasks and hear polarizing news and voices on every side that are frightened of losing something and the strident cries about winning hit my ears like fingernails on a chalkboard. That’s probably why dry erase boards were actually invented, to erase *snort* that sound that sets your teeth on edge. The difficult and the painful and the polarizing must be attended to sometimes for us to care about one another and the world in which we live; I get that. I simply want to make certain I don’t forget in the process what it means and is to live gratefully.
I leave for Arizona on Wednesday to officiate my cousin’s celebration of life service. Through a set of unexpected circumstances, I was not going to be allowed to participate in an “official” capacity at my aunt and uncle’s church because well, I’m a woman. Honestly, while I was a bit angry, I was more heartbroken for my cousin’s family. This is their community of faith, it has been and still is the place where they’ve been fed spiritually and which supports them in their journey. And this is not a bad church filled with bad people – it’s a church that believes differently about some essential human doctrines. And in the midst of all that is complex, my aunt and uncle and cousin and I are very clear, that finally this is about celebrating my cousin’s life in God’s grace. It’s not about doctrinal stances, theological differences, biblical interpretation, OR about winning and losing. It’s about God’s grace in the middle of horrible circumstances that bring all of us to our knees.
So you know what? This Aunt and Uncle of mine decide not to be driven by anger, but simply to keep Susan in focus and find another place. Just to find another place, how brave are these people? And do you know what else? There’s a church in Tucson called St. Paul’s United Methodist Church who, when receiving a call from out of the blue from people they’ve never met who tell them their daughter has died unexpectedly and they have this weird (okay, they didn’t say that) niece who’s a United Methodist pastor who loves Jesus and them and Susan who they want to officiate the service, and the person on the other end of the line simply says, yes. Yes, we’ll care about you. Yes, we’ll open our doors and our hearts to you. Yes, we’ll be the place where you can celebrate your daughter going home.
When my aunt let me know yesterday evening that they’d found this place, I immediately got online to take a look. They had a seven minute video where they shared about a ministry in which their music minister teaches kids to play the harp and they have a harp choir. I know, right? And then they have two women who lead a sewing club. And they showed this hand-full of kids all coming in after school and learning to sew and sewing items they donate to mission centers in the area. And they have physical stretching classes. It’s a primarily older adult congregation and a physical therapist comes in and leads no-impact stretching and strengthening classes. There are people from all walks of life at all stages of physical ability and they laugh and stretch and well, have a place where they are known and can call home.
I called them this morning, after my aunt and uncle let me know, after I watched the video and read the pastor’s welcome. I called the St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in Tucson to thank them, to tell them simply how grateful I am to them for opening their hearts without knowing us. And the staff person on the end of the line told me how pleased they are to get to serve us in this most difficult time and that she was already working on the service and the pianist has already said he’s available. My aunt and uncle haven’t even been there yet, and they’re already making space for us in their home.
True confessions? Other than once on the phone with my uncle, I haven’t cried. This morning on the phone with this woman who doesn’t know me and whom I don’t know yet, I cried. Unexpectedly, without being prepared intellectually or professionally, I simply cried and she held space for me. She held space for me to not be the Pastor in charge at that moment. She didn’t get nervous, she didn’t say, “well if you’re this upset, how will you lead the service.” She simply held space for me from 2,000 miles away. When I got it together and began to apologize she gently asked me not to, because that’s what love does, because that’s what love is.
I’m grateful this morning. I’m ever so grateful for connections in grace. And do you know what else? Two of the elders of my aunt and uncle’s church, whose perspective on women in ministry is still vastly different than ours, called them last night and asked if it would still be okay for them to bring a meal for our family on Saturday afternoon after the services are over at the other church. Simply because we believe differently, doesn’t mean we can’t fundamentally still care about and want to serve one another.
My guess is that if you put my aunt and uncle’s current Senior Pastor and me in a room together to have a discussion about doctrinal understandings, it would be nothing if not entertaining. My goodness, there would be Bible verses flying all over the place and theological references from the few hundred years after Jesus death and resurrection all the way up to now. There would be discussions on the complexities of Greek and Latin translations from Hebrew and Aramaic and finally into English. There would be talk of the sociological, economical, historical, political, as well as spiritual contexts of ancient eras and oral traditions making their way into written and how we understand history written by the winners and therefore the idea of “hermeneutical suspicion” as a perspective of those who didn’t win the gender or race or class or economic or political battles. I know, right? It sorta gets my juices pumping to think about the opportunity. And you know what that’s about? It’s about winning and losing and being right and separation and polarization.
And neither of our minds would be changed.
But what if love and kindness and generosity and building relationship comes first? What if we can BOTH a) have a celebration of life service in a place that welcomes and invites us to be part of their family as we are; AND b) later there’s a meal served by the spiritual community and place that has always been my aunt and uncle’s home? Could that be how it’s supposed to work? Is there a way, sometimes, not to have winners and losers? I clearly have so much left to learn in this span of life, and I have so much of God’s grace yet to receive and also give more and more generously each day.
Today I live gratefully in the midst of hurt and complexities – I hope that for you as well and that together we know that it’s enough. And tomorrow, perhaps we can wake up and do the same, and maybe the day after tomorrow and the day after that as well. And maybe one day we wake up and that’s all we know how to do – in God’s grace, living gratefully will be all we know how to do and that will be enough.
I hope you’ll watch the following video clear til the end – don’t let the rap scare you, there’s vocal music in it as well – and it captures what it is to be grateful for a world filled with beautiful people!