Scenes from the Kingdom

Scene 1

A children’s minister from the local Baptist church puts his hands up. “Hold on!” he said, “we’ve run out of Episcopal brochures.” The assembly line stops.

“Oh man,” said the Episcopal youth minister. “I thought we were making 500 bags. How many were we supposed to bring?”

“I printed 600 brochures,” said the community minister from the Church of Christ.

“Yeah, we have 600 bags,” said the Baptist minister. He was only one of three Baptists in the room. It was their church we had been meeting in, and they had done the lion’s share of the legwork organizing the community Easter Egg Festival. The other four churches were contributing as we could, but everyone knew that the Baptist church—who had hosted such events in the past—knew what they were doing. “We’ll finish stuffing the bags with the brochures from the other churches and set them aside. If you can bring 100 more to the building tomorrow, we’ll put them in.”

Someone chucked. “You know, every now and then we have these big ecumenical gatherings. How often does the World Council of Churches meet? And at these gatherings, they make a big show of everyone taking communion together. It’s all wonderful and symbolic of Christian unity. But you know what I think? I think Christian unity looks like this: a brochure stuffing line. The Baptists concerned that the Episcopalians won’t have their church brochure in the gift bags for the local Easter Egg Festival. All in the name of Jesus.”

“Hmph,” said the Presbyterian children’s minister, nodding her head. And then everyone got back to work. There were bags to stuff.

Scene 2

In the third-floor multipurpose room of an upscale retirement home, senior women gathered and took their seats. Over half of the facilities residents were Jewish, the retirement home being one the outskirts of Meyerland. The sign on the door said, “Women’s Bible Study,” and the elderly Jewish women slowly taking their seats around the conference table outnumbered the Christians. They were studying Job, so what did it matter exactly what was meant by the word “Bible”? The teacher’s Christian faith didn’t mean much to them. Or rather, it meant a great deal to them; if she was not a sister in the faith, she was at least a distant cousin. Besides, Mrs. Beverly was a competent teacher of the Hebrew scriptures, and she never made anyone feel like an outsider on account of their religion.

This was most clearly evidenced this morning, for she had invited a young Muslim woman—a sitter for a particularly aged and rather testy German resident. Beverly commented on the young woman’s headscarf, telling her how beautiful it was. “I’ve invited her here so that you could meet her, and because I heard a rumor. You got married over the weekend, didn’t you?”

“Yes, I did!” She beamed. She pulled her phone out and passed it around, so that the other women could see pictures. I–the only man and therefore the real outsider–held the phone for one woman, zooming in so that she could get a better look at the dress. The young lady then described the wedding. She told of the difficult cultural negotiations she and her husband had to navigate for the sake of their families. He was Persian, and she was born in Mexico and raised in the States as a Mexican-American and Muslim. She then shared a very touching moment from the wedding day: the private moment she removed her hijab and showed her hair to her groom. They were walking along a semi-secluded stretch of beach, and she instructed her husband to turn away from her, so that she could stage her reveal. She signaled for him to turn and look, and just as he did a gust picked up and threw her hair in disarray. His first gaze upon his bride’s unveiled hair revealed he’d married Medusa.

The room erupted in girlish giggles.

Mrs. Beverly, still grinning, hugged the girl. And then she turned to the classroom, and everyone quieted down. It was time for class to begin. And all the sudden, I grasped what was happening. Christian, Jewish, and Muslim women sat around a table, my friend Beverly presiding at its head, and their eyes were gazing upon open Bibles, their hearts ready to hear the word of God.

Scene 3

Miss Lea sat up in her motorized chair, looked at me with eyes still damp from the tears she’d wiped away, pointed her rhumatoidal finger to my chest and declared, “You know what, Pastor Roy? You need me more than I need you! I’ve been alive 89 years, and I’ve handled a lot, and God’s been good to me. I trust him. You need to see that. I do need help, but I’m not a wimp, see?

When I was a little girl, I was one of only two kids in the entire county that got polio. I was two years old, just a toddler running around in diapers. One time, my uncle sees me and I’ve got crutches and everything. He says to my dad, ‘You’ve got six kids, and that little Leatha one is the prettiest and the sweetest of all of them. Isn’t it a shame that she, of all people, got polio?’

‘No,’ my dad replied. ‘God knows what he’s doing. Lea’s the only one of them that can handle it!’”

I smiled.

“Do you believe me, Pastor Roy?”

“Of course I believe you, Miss Lea.”

“I’m not a wimp. You see that, don’t you?”

“Yes, ma’am. I see that.”

“So you see, you need me more than I need you. Do you believe that?” She grinned.

I took her hand. “I believe that, Ms. Oliver.”

And I did.

 

“The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” – John 3:8

Sometimes, I don’t have a clue what God is up to. I guess I don’t have to understand. It’s enough to know that God is here. It is enough to see glimpses of the Divine emerge from the mundanities of life. We make a grave mistake when we assume that ordinary means that nothing special is taking place.

The last few weeks have been filled with such moments for me, moments so infused with grace that even a blind person could see and recognize them for what they are: The Kingdom of God. It’s alright if we don’t get it or can’t explain it. Truth be told, I feel silly trying to describe to people how stuffing church brochures into bags for an Easter Egg hunt felt like a spiritual experience. But that’s alright. It’s enough that we point and exclaim, “Look and see!”