Monday, September 23, 2013

Lexington Perspective

A few things have happened recently that have made me think twice and wrestle with a lot in this world.

Last Sunday I was sitting in Lexington Presbyterian Church (where I go when I'm at W&L). The service was already about 15 minutes in when a man walked in the back door. He was wearing dirty jeans, old tennis shoes, and a stained hoodie. He probably hadn't showered in a few weeks. His hair was long and dirty, his beard bushy and unkempt. Even though I am a poverty studies minor, even though I have much experience working with people living in poverty, even though that is a population I want to dedicate my life to, I was still disturbed by his entry to the service. You see, I was at a nice Presbyterian service with the congregation dressed in their Sunday best sitting in nice wooden pews within a purely white sanctuary. This man's presence disrupted the image and experience. I was immediately ashamed by my initial reaction to this man. I saw a group of W&L students sitting in front of me glance over to the pew he was sitting in throughout the service. I don't want to put anything into their minds, but I got the feeling they were sizing him up, passing judgment on him. Just after the man entered, a baby started crying. Loudly. During the offering, it sounded like someone stumbled in the balcony. The entire flow of the service was off.

I watched and listened to Rev. Bill Klein as he gave a wonderful sermon on the parable of the lost sheep and the woman who lost two coins. Yes, I was paying attention, but I was also pondering what he was thinking as he preached. As someone who will probably end up in his shoes one day, what do you do in that situation? Of course I know what you should do, what you have been taught to do, what Jesus says to do. But will your congregation actually do that? Will they step up when this figure literally walks through the door? Will they treat this Jesus-looking man as they would treat Jesus Christ?

Of course I know what the answers should be. That doesn't mean that I didn't struggle with the cognitive dissonance that was running through my mind. I had the Casting Crowns lyrics for "If We Are the Body" running through my head "A traveler is far away from home. He sheds his coat and quietly sinks into the back row. The weight of their judgemental glances tells him that his chances are better out on the road." Sunday morning church services are supposed to be a certain way. I show up for an hour, hope to have some good spiritually fulfilling time with God and in a like-minded community, and go on with my life. When things are out of the ordinary, it interrupts those expectations.

The sermon was completely appropriate for this man's ears. At least that's what I tell myself as I live my incredibly blessed life. I feared that the relatively well-off wealthy white families sitting in the congregation would have the same thought. Let me help this lowly man from my place of privilege. He obviously must be one of the lost sheep. However, I guarantee that every person sitting in that sanctuary was spiritually yearning for something more. Who knows? Maybe this guy is more in tune with God's will than any of us. Bill Klein told us that we must show God's love and truth to all we meet, to all the lost sheep who may not even know they are lost.

I walked out of the service after the benediction, shook Bill's hand, complimented his sermon, and went home. That night at my small group weekly Bible study, I told this story to the group when we were taking prayer concerns. His presence really touched me. We prayed for him, whatever his circumstances may be.

This week, I went to church again. I sat in the same place I sat last week, but this man did not show up. At the beginning of his sermon, Bill gave us a little update from last week. He addressed the fact that a "drifter" (his word) joined our worship service last week. He spoke about how he was eager to talk to the man after the service, which he did. He was also pleased to see so many in the congregation approach the man, whose name is Michael, and welcome him with open, loving arms to Lex Pres. He watched Michael walk away with a family that had invited him to lunch with him. Bill said he hoped that Michael truly felt God's love, warmth, and truth from the members of our church. It warmed my heart so much to hear that members really stepped up to the plate when a "Jesus-disguised" man walked through the doors. In reality, we are all Jesus disguised as normal, everyday people. Even if we aren't, imagine how much better the world would be if we treated each other as if we were.

Even though that story had a reasonably happy ending, I wasn't done being challenged for the day. If you didn't know, a Kenyan mall in Nairobi has come under attack by a Somali militant terrorist group with Al-Qaeda connections. This has lasted over 24 hours with 68 dead and 175 injured. The mall was packed with 1,000 people when the attack started, and the group kept many hostage. Luckily, most of the hostages have been freed now. This is just the most recent atrocity to happen in the world. Syria is a mess, and absolutely nothing is happening to improve that situation as the world sits back and watches. (I don't know what the answer is for that conflict, but I know sitting around is doing no good.) Kim Jong-un murdered musicians while we have been obsessing over Miley Cyrus and her shenanigans. Twelve people were murdered at the Navy Yard last week, and blind people can buy guns. The roommate of one of my high school classmates died last weekend. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is still raging. Injustices are occurring on a daily basis in Nicaragua. Some of the children I worked with in Kentucky still don't know where their parents are. These are just a few stories that hit close to home with me.

Nevertheless, I walked out of my sorority house (read: palace) on campus today and saw the absolute beauty that is W&L's campus and Lexington on the first day of autumn. Normally, I take a deep breath to absorb as much of the natural beauty as I possibly can and allow it to make me optimistic about the day. However, today, I saw it as terrible beauty. How could I enjoy something as simple as a beautiful clear sky and sunshine when all of this tragedy is happening all over the world? It doesn't seem fair. It's not right. I shouldn't be in such a place of privilege when so many people are hurting. So much bad is all around, even near me in Rockbridge County (or on campus, for that matter). I know God is always present, but how can we live in such a bubble when everything changes for the worse outside of that? How do we deal with that cognitive dissonance? How do we truly grapple with the issues in the world? I don't know. I have a feeling I will be working to try to figure that out for a very, very long time to come.