Sunday, October 31, 2010

Screaming in the Trees

It was a long and tiring Sunday, but in a good way.  I awoke at 6 am, with the deep awareness that the malaise I felt about my sermon was because it wasn't right.  It's hard for a stewardship sermon to be right in a congregation that's running hundreds of thousands of dollars in the red, and heading towards financial collapse.  What I had was too dull, too dismal, too doom and gloom.

So I went for a walk early in the crisp Virginia morning, my pup snuffing and wagging at my side.  The sky was clear and speckled with the morning pink of clouds.  The solution to my sermon struggle was shown to me almost immediately.  Rest and time with the First Book usually does that for me.  But Ellie still needed to walk, so on we went.

As we walked, I heard a ruckus up ahead in the trees.  A small band of fierce brave crows were cawing and carrying on, driving before them a single young hawk.  The hawk was a threat, a threat to them and their babies, and they would have none of it.  They bullied and harassed it into a tree.

They were suddenly joined by some impromptu allies.  A pair of bluejays materialized, ferociously sounding their hawk alarm and joining the fray.  As I walked, and the air filled with birds shouting their territorial alarms and threats, I mulled over how little difference there is between the feathered remnants of the dinosaurs and the bipedal hominids who have taken their place at the top of the food chain.
After the worship, and the bible study, and some long and hard conversations with church members about the daunting challenges facing my community, I was getting ready to hit my office to wrap some things up.  One of the elders of the Korean church...a particularly difficult human being...suddenly materialized. He seemed angry, which is not much of a surprise, given that he almost always seems angry.   "There is a stranger in the sanctuary," he said, clearly annoyed at this invasion.  "You need to deal with them."

So I raised an eyebrow, sighed, and went in.  I could see a shadowy figure in the back of the sanctuary, wearing what appeared to be a multicolored hat.  I thought to myself that it might be the young man who barricaded the building a while back, but he and I have talked and prayed together since then.  And he's not really into that sort of hat.  As I got closer, and the face became clear through the darkness of the half-lit sanctuary, I realized three things.  1)  It was a woman.  2)  She was African American.  3) I knew her.  She was the former associate pastor of my home church, who'd served my current congregation as an interim pastor years and years before.

She'd just popped in to see what had happened to the old place, only to be confronted with hostility and challenge.  She was, you know, black and a woman.   For a certain kind of Korean, this isn't just two strikes.  She might want to steal something.

I told the difficult gentleman that I knew her, and I would take care of it, and after she had let him know precisely what she thought of him (such deliciously pungent language!  In a sanctuary! Hee hee!)  I settled in with my fierce sister for a long lovely chat.

Such a strange, strange place, my church is.