Another set of (rambling) thoughts about the fall GBCS meeting.
GBCS is blessed to have a really great set (and fairly sizeable set) of young board members. Currently, one youth and a few college students, and a few seminarians, and a couple of "old" young adults like myself. We had a handful of young people last quadrennium too, but no organized time together, and I don't think I knew more than one of the other young adults in any meaningful way. This quadrennium, we always set aside at least one meal time to eat together. Sometimes we're working toward a specific purpose - talking about the Global Young People's Convocation and Legislative Assembly - sometimes just for time together. I really appreciate this group, this time.
It is at these gatherings, though, and in some other places in my ministry lately, that I feel most like I have a split personality when it comes to the Church - the UMC specifically, but the Church as a whole. I don't know where to fit myself. On the one hand, I feel tired. Tired, at 27, when I hear the energy and ideas that are coming from some of these young adults. Tired, because though I am young, though I am part of this missing demographic, though I am in the age group of those who usually stay away, who don't find meaning in the Church, I did stay, and I love, live, breathe the institution of the UMC. I love the hierarchy, the organization, the structure, I'll gladly admit. There is part of me that is totally satisfied with worship how I've known it most of my life - I enjoy learning new songs, but I love the old hymns. In fact, I don't usually enjoy praise bands or 'contemporary' music. I like hearing a good sermon. I like parts of the liturgy. I like a Sunday schedule of Sunday School, worship, coffee hour, or some combination like that.
But the other part of me finds voice with those who are increasingly critical of a church that seems to them completely irrelevant, even as they strive for spiritual meaning, spiritual lives. I wonder why we are unwilling to say "we need to start over and try again" if we really want to reach people with Jesus' message of the kingdom of God. I feel excited about the possibilities, the prospects, of doing a new thing, a new something a new way. I feel like there is something else I ought to be doing, and like sometimes I am even on the brink of going there. But...
How do these two parts go together, though? It takes some boldness, some bravery, to do these new things, to put these two parts together in a real way. And instead of bold, I often feel like I have to compromise one part for the other, compromise one part of me in order to speak with the other part. And that doesn't feel very bold to me. It feels like I'm not getting anywhere. Frustrated. Stalled. Unwilling to take the risky steps to move where I think I might need to move for fear that the other part of me won't come along too, and then maybe I'll end up with neither part. I feel a little stuck.
One of these young adults who just impresses me with her energy, her vision, her boldness, is Kristina Gebhard. She blogs, though not recently, here, and has written in particular about her experiences travelling to Kenya this summer. Kristina preached at our closing worship, and when we were preparing the service, she talked about her dislike of sermons. Sermons, preaching, she said, doesn't do much for her. She can't remember many sermons that really meant something to her, moved her. She doesn't find herself really challenged by them, and doesn't like being told what to do. Instead, she'd rather be challenged and pushed and moved by relationships - by people, and being with people, learning from and about people, and learning about herself and who she is from others, and because of relationships, be changed, challenged, moved. She's also technically an institutional UMCer, but she's asking more frequently: Can the church still be an agent of the kingdom? Or, to build the kingdom, must she be outside of the church?
At any rate, she still graciously prepared a sermon - a poem - a slam poem - that was fabulous. I was going to include just excerpts here, but it is just all too good, so I've included it, and part of her intro, whole. Of course, printed, you miss the cadence of the spoken performance aspect, and also the sung chorus (the 'na watoto je' part) but you get the idea. The irony - as we stood and applauded her message - is that her message is about us - we, the church, unable to get beyond ourselves to be ourselves and let others be part of us and us part of them. Here it is:
God’s kingdom in a child - by Kristina Gebhard
I wanted to share a poem with you. I wrote it when I was thinking about all the things in our lives we have commodified, all the things that we have allowed to come between us and kingdom building. Specifically I was reflecting on how poverty, especially in the developing world, has become an industry. I was thinking about how we throw around words like malnourished, and starving, because we have had to completely externalize their meaning in order to go on with our daily lives. The idea that we have plenty to eat while millions of children die lacking basic nutrition is too harsh to internalize. Why? Because if we internalized it, we’d be like that rich man—Jesus would be telling us to change. Jesus would be saying, kingdom building isn’t something you can do on your days off. Kingdom building is something you live. This poem is about the struggle to live in the process of kingdom building, amidst so much privilege.
God’s kingdom in a child
As I hold your malnourished head in my hand
And think about the malnourished souls in my land
I wonder how long we’ll keep telling you, you can do it, yes you can
Just buck up, there’s so much life to live
After all its not the greatest to receive, but to give
We say work, child, work,
If you put your mind to, we promise you can do it
Work, child, work
That’s what we did, we say,
We went to school, we earned our A’s,
We started small and climbed the corporate ladder
Who we stepped on, it doesn’t really matter
And now we’ve got our nine to fives,
And our long commuter drives
And our perfect happy families
Waiting oh so patiently
For a Disneyworld vacation
Or a Fourth of July celebration
Hoping they can cover up
Praying so to smother up
The penetrating mediocrity
And hibernating desire to be
A part of something greater than ourselves
But with our family portraits on our shelves
Our SUVs and boats and extra beds
It’s much easier to say we should see the hungry fed
And say privately, we’ve earned this and we deserve this
So work, child work
Na watoto je?
What about the children?
And I pay $40,000 in tuition,
To bring my goals to fruition
I learn to talk intellectual
My walk becomes ineffectual
As I insulate myself by criticizing theories
And joining clubs that motivate my liberal fury
So I can feel somehow my academia
Is connected to my life,
my life is disconnected from the mania
That is globalization’s new world order
My generation has the world on our shoulders
And it’s so damn heavy we’d rather lift chemistry books, ipods, a few shots of expresso
Sure, we’ll help to fix the broken levies
But we just don’t have the energy or the naivety
To see that this country acknowledges exposed poverty
As personal responsibility
Look, we feel for them, but we’ve got our problems too
My paper on global inequality is three days overdue
They say my maladjustment is extreme
and they’re not trying to be mean,
But how bad can it be to stand in the middle
Will anything ever change if we don’t each change a little?
Na watoto je?
What about the children?
And as I hold your malnourished head in my hand
And think about the malnourished souls in my land
I’d like to hope or even chance to reason
That our leaders in the midst of their treason
Could learn so much by listening to your story for an hour
If politicians, with their political claims to a higher power
Might spend ten days with you and your likeness
Maybe they’d learn to see Christ in your faces
Or maybe they’re too full of their own Christ given graces
Jesus, here we are your children dying
And we talk about your saving and your sanctifying
Love falls so short of its destination
We go to church and praise this nation
We go to work and praise a God who’s saved us from the hell that we’re creating
But child, so beautiful, you just smile at my gyrating
Laugh at the anger I’m generating
And remind me I’m not better than those of us who did this to you
If I speak in liberal tongues of hate and from my place of “consciousness” spew
Pretentious rhymes about the state of the world that convict the complicit crew--
God there are some bastards out there, but you want them to be human too.
And as I hold your beautiful head in my hand
And think about the beauty in the souls in my land
I dare to dream, like the idealistic fool that I am,
That maybe, one day, we will bring forth God’s kingdom for every child
For now, I’ll glimpse God’s kingdom in your smile, and live my life to feed us both.