As I’ve mentioned in the previous three posts, I asked my church Sunday morning to participate in a time public witness and my reasons why are in this last post.
First, my brother asked me to. David Swanson serves as the lead pastor of our sister church, and he asked us to publicize what he and other leaders were doing. I have a rule in my life–one that has yet to be abused–and that rule is this: when David tells me to do something, I don’t question it. There is probably one other person who gets that treatment. It’s another way of saying that when David asks for something, I’ve already answered him.
Second, New Community is multiethnic, and I know that one specific way that people from different ethnicities do mission together is by our being invited to something specific. We have so many nuanced experiences that it becomes impossible to know when to show up. There are people in my church who would never be inclined to even consider it appropriate to come to a protest. And they’d have their good reasons. But a specific invitation would change that for them.
Third, I told the church that “some of my cousins” would be at the vigil. There would be a few Black folks. And then I said that I wanted my other family members to be there as well. I was certainly looking at particular people in the room. I even gave everyone a way out so as to soften my tone. I was feeling “very close to myself” as I spoke. But my spiritual relatives–and not just my spiritual friends–were sitting there. And before I preached the sermon, I had to bare my honesty. I wanted them to show up. My congregation is a part of me, and I wanted them to know that I valued our relationship enough to invite them into what is making a difference in my life right now.
Fourth, I know that a congregation in Logan Square, a neighborhood with about 4 Black residents, could consist without getting into things on the south side. I didn’t want that. We have people in our church who live as far south as Will County frankly. Beyond that acknowledgment, I want us to be a church that responds to the realities of a few because those realities reflect the experiences of the few. In a city where the dominant narrative and dominant culture–which tends to be the white narrative and culture–is always accepted, the church has these slight chances to underline another story, another’s story. The church that follows Jesus is always listening for the story of the crucified one, the busted one, the marginalized and misunderstood one. That search makes us followers of the splendid and maligned Christ. That search makes us Christian.
Fifth, I’ve been inviting the church for 2 years now into experiences like this. It felt good and terrible to get up Sunday wearing these same clothes and saying these same lines. To have the church attend another experience, to pray about this same type of tragedy, was heartbreaking. I’m tired of it. I was tired of it. But in that soul exhaustion was the blessing that the church had heard this before. They heard me leading in worship and sermonic form as we dialogued the day after Zimmerman further experienced the distortion of his injustice and crime. They heard me ask for their prayers the Sunday before my family joined with David’s family to travel to St. Louis County and as we prepared to participate in similar public witness as clergy. It felt good to know that I didn’t have to explain it all.
Sixth, I value presence as an outgrowth our church’s life. In general, I suspect churches that proclaim things without practicing the same. I question leaders who say one thing and do another. I question that tendency in myself. So when I have chances to pair my action with my words, I gesture toward integrity and authenticity by living the words. As one of the pastors in our church, when I exercise my gifts in the congregation, I’m offering the church an opportunity to move toward the same integrity and authenticity which I’m moving toward personally. In other words, for us to claim our mission weekly that “We exist to be a city within a city, an alternate Chicago…” leaves us open to any opportunity to go and live into that mission. That’s why we remind people of those opportunities at the benediction. Go and live it. Monday was about our corporate life living into the mission. It wasn’t the only way but it was one good way.
Seventh, the final reason behind my invitation was my personal need to, at that time, identify with a need in my life and in the lives of the Black people in our church. I (and I’ll see we) needed to ask for evidence from our multiethnic congregation that Black life, indeed, mattered to them. I knew Sunday that Blackness mattered to me. I continue to need the general, regular reassurance that what matters to me matters to the faith community. That’s part of the unfortunate reality of living in exilic conditions: you need the people of faith to remind you of what truth is. The church on Monday–from all over the city–got together to remind Black people that the persistent and sinful actions against Black kids is unjust. I invited my church into the stream of grace-filled evidence that God is working now in the midst of this present darkness. And they showed up. My small group on Sunday discussed it. Those who couldn’t come committed to praying from afar. I was emailed or texted by a few people. New Community people greeted and hugged me at the vigil. The church stepped up. May God grant us the total grace to keep at it.