Beloved St. John’s community,
Last night we held the last Wednesday night discussion of our “Six Week Introduction to a Lifelong Journey: Dismantling Racism through Jesus’ Way of Love.” (Incidentally, whether or not you participated in this journey, I’d be extremely grateful if you would take the time to provide your feedback about it using this questionnaire). The topic was “Discern: Explore what God calls us to do next to dismantle racism as followers of Jesus.” Most of us were grappling with the enormity of what we have experienced, awakened to, and of God’s calling. What God calls us to do next is an important question. How can we answer it faithfully, as individuals and as a community?
To explore that question, let’s consider the big picture. “What we are called to is nothing less than God’s Great Shalom—cultivating the holistic wellbeing of body, mind and spirit that is an essential part of what it means to be human (“The Lord God took the man, and put him in the garden of Eden, to till it and keep it.” Genesis 2:15).” As Katangole & Rice put it, “Reconciliation” is the name of the journey that leads to Shalom. As followers of Jesus, we cannot ignore systemic racism or the other aspects of sin and white supremacy that have permeated much of our common and civic life, including the church. But the vision that compels us forward is a positive one—it’s God’s Beloved Community, God’s Great Shalom, in which the lion lies down with the lamb, in which there is neither Jew nor Gentile, male nor female, slave nor free, because all are one in Christ, and in which “the leaves of the tree of life are for the healing of the nations” (Revelation 22:1-2)—in which the natural world and the human world heal together, with God’s help.
If this is a journey, then what we need are strong legs, the right provisions, companions, and a map. The question “what’s next?” is more about just making sure we are pointed in the right direction and continuing to move. But during times like these, when everything is changing and nothing is predictable, this might be harder than it seems.
Some of you know that I am a runner. I’ve run marathons, half marathons, and lots of other races. But what I’ve recently started exploring is trail running. It’s different. It’s harder, more beautiful, and requires different training and resources. When you run a road race, the asphalt is smooth so there’s little to trip on; there are lots of tables with water and smiling volunteers to hand it to you; there are signs and people at every intersection making sure you don’t go off course. By contrast, trail running and racing is an entirely different sport. The terrain is uneven, with roots and rocks, wet turf and mud, deerflies and mosquitos. There are very few, if any, volunteers. Sometimes there are signs pointing you in the right direction, but many times there are interlocking trails with no signs and also no Wifi coverage, so your GPS doesn’t work. You have to carry everything you need on your person, including water and fuel and anything else you need. There are long stretches when you don’t see another person. But you do see the beauty of the natural world, of Minnesota prairie and savannah and woods. Trail running is MUCH slower than road running. Runners can tend to get obsessed with improving their speed, but on trails, that goes out the window. You are using your whole body to run on trails, unlike in road running—many more stabilizer and core muscles in torso and legs and upper body, and you have to bob and weave to avoid rocks and fallen trees and poison ivy growing into the trail.
I could go on and on (and I already have :)), but I think you get where I’m going. We are in uncharted territory just as the Israelites were in the wilderness after liberation from Egypt, without a map, and we are being asked to follow Jesus into it. We need to cultivate the muscles—the spiritual practices—that it takes to continue this journey for the long haul. That means traveling lighter, learning what we need to let go of, slowing down, and practicing a little bit every day. It means having traveling partners who are also committed to the journey. It means learning as we go, and taking days of rest. It means making sure we have the right nourishment. And it means following Jesus, who has done this journey and is ahead of us among the marginalized peoples and ecologies of the earth and of our neighborhoods.
So right now, to answer the question “what’s next,” I submit to you that we need to be pointed in the right direction, and we need to practice a little bit every day. Don & Sondra Samuel’s “Healing Our City” Prayer Tent is concluding its 30 days today, and by coincidence or the Holy Spirit, without conscious design, our six week journey is also ending today. But does that mean we should stop? Not at all. This was just the boot camp that will prepare us for the longer journey.
Today, I ask you to set aside 20 minutes to be silent before God. Reflect on all that you have seen, heard, and experienced. Listen carefully. What is the fire that is burning within you, or the heartbeat that is sounding its rhythms in you, or the still small voice of God beckoning you forward? Where do you see the Spirit already planting seeds for new life and healing, and how can you participate in that?
Now, I ask you to do something else. What if what God is calling you to do is only one thread of a tapestry the Spirit is weaving into a new pattern of truth, justice and healing—and that you by definition cannot do your work without participating with others, sensing the Spirit’s leading? What if part of the transformation God calls us to make is to recognize that we are not primarily individuals, but part of a collective called to act together? How would this deepen your sense of what God calls you to do, alongside others at St. John’s and elsewhere?
You may or may not remember that the pledge campaign theme for this past year was “Our Way Forward: Living into God’s Purpose for Ourselves and the World.” We are living into this vision more concretely than I could ever have imagined, and I want to hear what this looks like to you. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to let me know what you sense God inviting you to do. I will collect these responses and use them to continue our conversation, prayerfully reflecting on them and sharing with you what I hear, and inviting your wisdom.