There is a LIGHT in this world. A healing spirit more powerful than any darkness we may encounter. We sometime lose sight of this force when there is suffering, and too much pain. Then suddenly, the spirit will emerge through the lives of ordinary people who hear a call and answer in extraordinary ways.
― Richard Attenborough
Earlier this month I spent three days at the OPEN Faith conference in Indianapolis. OPEN Faith is a gathering for Progressive Evangelicals to learn and network with a growing contingent of Christians seeking ways to be a just and generous expression of Christ’s love in the world.
Many of us have wondered if there were others out there. Many of us have felt alone with our unanswered questions. Many of us were involved in churches that offered no loving language or expression for the LGBTQ population, or Black Lives Matter, or Muslims or Refugees or Guns or Women Preachers or Immigration or Poverty or any number of weighty concerns pressing for a just response from Christians.
For years, as I shifted closer to the political center, before gingerly straddling the fence and crossing over to the Left, my heart and spirit yearned for the Church’s foremost expression of grace and mercy. My church attendance clouded with concern for the inevitable souls who were not safe. My Sunday afternoons, wrecked, body and voice oozing with frustration and questions and disbelief and anger.
So, I had to quit going to church. I had to surrender this oh-so-important piece of my life. I had to say good-bye. I was toxic, I was angry, I was capable of damage.
The Church didn’t let me go for long, for she knew I needed her, she knew I loved her and she knew I was made for her. So she retrieved me in my despair, as the gracious and life-giving form of Highlands Church in Denver. My family and I have been attending now for 18 months and will be planting a new congregation, Lord willing, within the next twelve.
During our introductory session at OPEN we were invited to share one word with another person, one word that captured our feeling at that moment. My first word was happy. I was thrilled to be present, in that place, with safe and likeminded folks, eager to expand this movement. The next, grateful, to be chosen, to be able to learn and grow in this space after so much thirst and unease. My final word, however, the one that still I inhale and cradle and nurture is relief.
Relief from the pressures of prescribed doctrine and dogma. Relief from the antagonism borne from the belief and practice that some are in and some are not. Relief to release the us versus them fear-filled rhetoric. Relief to be myself without need to hide my allegiances, to love and be loved with freedom and abandon, to serve and be served without condition. Relief to be myself, as a woman, a mother, a feeler and nurturer, to know I have a place, too. A place to give that welcomes my softness and my ferocity in equal measure. A place that will invite a woman to lead.
Relief. Isn’t this the premier work of our Christian faith? To reveal this beauty of the life of Jesus? The list of rules, the shall’s and shall not’s, the burdens and checkboxes – powerless and inconsequential outside of the weight and light and relentless power of love.
Love brings relief. God’s love is relief, a sigh, a renewal, a weight removed. Grace.
We, the followers of Christ are relief, in our homes, our places of patronage, in our hobbies and conversations, in our bodies, to be the people who carry the burdens, who find the hope, who bring the light. This relief work is for all of us to do and to receive.
The voice of God is relief. I am enough, you are enough, the voice of God affirms our dignity and worth. Here. Now. Not as some far off, pinpoint in the future. Just as we are, we come, we find relief. Sometimes the voice of God can be a kick in the pants, sometimes the voice of God tells us to get off our rumps and do something, but the voice is always couched in worth and dignity and grace and rest and renewal. If the voice of God does not bring relief, we are listening to the wrong voice.
Church is relief, a place that dwells in the mess, holds the tension, carries the burden and the grace in generous and equal measures. This church seeks to sacrifice comfort by noticing and tending to the weary, road worn traveler. Through befriending and a listening ear, through a shared meal and understanding, oppressive systems which keep our powerful wealthy and the powerless poor and sick can be overturned and renovated.
The time is now, the needs are great, the world wants our listening ears, our voices of justice and kindness, and our hearts of boundless love.
Relief is Grace.