from the descendants of Frederick Douglas.
My son attends a multi cultural urban school in Grand Rapids (shameless plug – www.tphgr.org) and he sings in the Gospel Choir there. Recently, they were invited to sing at the Christmas dinner for one “section” of one of the largest retirement communities in West Michigan. Some of us parents came along as chauffeurs (sounds more important than taxi driver – doesn’t it?)
We got to sit in the back and listen to them. They did a wonderful job and these kids and their love of music and the way Mr. Nate leads them is truly amazing to hear.
But I got to see something more.
As I looked around the room, there were maybe 10 to 12 tables with maybe 10 to 12 people sitting at each one. They were obviously just finishing dinner and enjoying dessert. As The Potter’s House Gospel Choir was introduced, you could see they were looking forward to hearing the choir. Many pushed their chairs back so they could drink their coffee and see and hear the kids better.
Now I’m totally guessing, but I believe that, based on what I saw, that many of the residents expected to see and hear a traditional choir singing traditional Christmas songs.
The PH Gospel Choir is a traditional Choir.
It’s just not the same tradition that the audience was used to.
And that’s where it was really a privilege to not only hear these kids but to see the change in the reactions in the audience. It very quickly went from expecting the traditional “Caucasian” Christmas concert to a sense of curiousity.
“Who are these kids?”
“I think I recognize that song”
“Oh, I like this.”
“This is something special”
“These kids are something special.”
“God is up to something special at that school.”
Okay, I have to admit I wasn’t the most excited about being a chauffeur to the other side of Grand Rapids wasn’t high on my list of “things to do” on that Monday night.
But I saw a scene that rarely gets seen.
I saw 10 high school students use their God given gifts to share with another generation.
And God made a difference.
And it was good.
(This was originally written for the “Reaching Out” newsletter at my church, Madison Square Church in Grand Rapids, MI.)
It all started with a bulletin announcement…..
Soul Food Sunday will be held on July 29…….. It sounded like a good thing – some good food, a chance to talk to friends, a little bit of worship, a little bit of wisdom from Pastor Darrell. Yeah, I think I might like this……
We came early. You see, my teenagers are interns at church this summer and they had jobs to do. So, we had plenty of time. I think we showed up 45 minutes early – and for Madison, that’s early!
As I walked in the back door, something strange happened. There were people sitting down at the tables already! They were waiting patiently and were talking to each other and greeting others and all seemed very friendly and happy to be there. Comfortable, yeah, that’s the word – they seemed comfortable. I didn’t recognize any of them.
As it got closer and closer to 5:30, more and more people showed up. The noise level grew but there was something really cool about the noise – it was all upbeat, all positive, all happy to be there. As you looked around, you couldn’t tell who knew each other for a long time and who just met. Who have been members of Madison for years and who was living at Mel Trotter? They all just blended together.
And the people kept coming. And coming. You remember the story in the Bible about the king who threw a party and many of his “friends” were too busy to come? And so he sent his servants out into the “highways and the by-ways” urging anyone and everyone to come. Remember that story? Well, it turns out that Madison Church’s efforts on Wednesday nights brought them in.
And the people kept coming. And coming. And the tables were all filled – no problem, we’ll get more tables out. And those tables were filled – and there was no more room on the floor – no problem – we’ll put tables up on the stage.
And the people kept coming. “I hope we don’t run out of food,” said one. “I hope we don’t run out of plates,” said another. And we didn’t. And many many people enjoyed good old fashioned soul food – ribs, cornbread, greens, you name it, it was good!
But that was only the beginning. The Gospel choir led us in songs that are still resonating through my subconscious. And then God opened the doors and handed Mrs. Kia (Pastor Darrell’s wife) the microphone. Was it an amazing story? (If I were reading this to you, I’d be asking for “Amens!”). Yes, it was. But it wasn’t amazing because Mrs. Kia is amazing. It was amazing because God is amazing and God uses broken people and tough situations for His purpose. God spoke through His servant and I know that many lives were touched. Many people who might not feel comfortable in a regular church setting came, enjoyed the food but also were touched by God’s hand through it all.
Soul Food Sunday – way more than just a church dinner. It was a coming together of people – the neighbors, the church members, the forgotten ones in the shelters – they were not forgotten. Everyone’s story mattered but none of the stories mattered. We were all there because God loves us – imperfect, screwed up, messed up people that we are.
And that’s what I had for dinner Sunday night.
In the previous post, we talked about how it is important to push back against confusion and misunderstanding. We talked about how it’s important to push back against those because if we can clear up confusion and misunderstanding, it’s easier to push back against evil.
Why? Because evil likes to create confusion.
Evil likes to use misunderstanding to hide from the light of day.
Now I want to make it more personal. I don’t want to talk about government policies that are confusing. I don’t want to talk about how the motives behind what so and so does are being misunderstood.
I want to talk about you. I want to talk about me.
I can’t speak for you, maybe you do. I don’t.
Don’t what? I don’t know everything.
Not even close. Actually, so far from close that it’s funny to even think about.
But I know that if I get smarter, I can make more of a difference. If I ask questions, I can learn more. If I read about things, I can learn what is going on.
Most people are more afraid of what they don’t know about than what they do. If they don’t understand what is happening or why, that can create fear. It can create contempt.
I don’t understand your music – so it must be bad music.
I don’t understand your language – so you must be talking nasty about something or someone.
I don’t understand your religion so I don’t like you.
The list can go on and on and on.
But if I do understand, then I can see you for you, not for what I didn’t understand.
If I do understand, then I can see the reason behind behaviors and not be afraid of the behaviors as evil or hostile.
If I understand your history, then I can appreciate your cultural festivals and respect them and you better.
If I understand the reason behind events in history, then I can see them for the impact they have on you and on me.
Most people are afraid of things that they don’t understand.
Many people will, when they understand things or people or traditions or habits or whatever, respond in a way that furthers communication and relationships.
And that makes the world a better place.
When I’m an adult…..
When my kids are out of school…..
When we get the house paid off……
When I get my college degree…….
Guess what – God doesn’t work that way.
God doesn’t say, “When you’re an adult, I want you to……”
“When your medical problems are gone, I want you to…..”
“When you graduate, then can you……?”
“When your kids are out of school, then……..”
“When your kids go back to school, then…….”
God says, “I am God, your God. I love you more than you deserve or can even understand. You don’t have to do anything to “earn” my love, it is given freely.”
But God also says that when we are helping the poor or the sick or the needy or those in jail, we are doing that to him and for him. So, we can help the needy and show, through our actions, how grateful we are to God for his love. Or we can ignore those in need or worse yet, support programs and policies that harm those in need and we are in direct conflict with God’s designed purpose.
“Then those ‘sheep’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?’ Then the King will say, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.’”
Matthew 25:37-40 MSG
There’s an author by the name of John Pavolvitz who makes me think. He writes a lot about the current happenings in the world and one of the reasons he makes me think is because I don’t always agree with what he says, but he is very persuasive. He’s a hard writer to just “brush off.”
He wrote a piece on Tuesday, you can read the whole piece at https://johnpavlovitz.com/2018/07/03/pick-a-hill-worth-dying-on-america/
But let me read you one paragraph…..
“So instead of lamenting how horrible it all is, accept the invitation to make it less horrible.
Instead of looking to the sky and wondering why no one is doing anything, you do something.
Step out of the cloistered place of your private despair, and into a jacked-up world that you can alter by showing up.
Use your gifts and your influence and your breath and your hands—and fix something that is badly broken before it breaks beyond repair.”
Don’t just stand there and complain about how bad things are, pick something that’s important to you and get busy trying to be the change.
Be the change for kids in foster care.
Be the change for immigrant families on the border with Mexico.
Be the change for your church.
Be the change to combat racism in your community.
Be the change to elect truly competent and wise people to run our government – at all levels.
Be the change for the kids who attend schools that are underfunded and overcrowded.
Be the change for……..
Don’t just stand there and talk about how awful things are. Don’t just stand there and say, “there’s so much that is wrong in this world, how would I even make a difference?” God doesn’t want us all to do everything.
God wants each of us to do something.
What’s your something?