Churches need balconies. Balconies are a way for certain people to be present and not be ‘too’ present. Youth. Youth in the balcony have opportunity to be ‘there’ without being ‘there’. A balcony becomes an excellent way to distant yourself from the older set.
Climbing the Stairs – A New Perspective
To this day I recall my first passage up the stairs to the church balcony. I had arrived. It was 9th grade. The older youth welcomed me, initiating me into the ways of balcony behavior—act engaged; stand for the hymns; pass notes discreetly; pretend to listen to the sermon; save spit wads for each other.
Continuing to live there was dependent on abiding by these critical rules. No balcony members wanted the pastor’s attention during worship. Such a public shaming meant certain banishment to the main floor. At all costs, this was to be avoided.
Once in the balcony—always in the balcony. Ask anyone up there which was more important, “Where you sat or what you heard?” and balcony seating was most critical. Though unstated, this trip up 13 stairs was a more longed for life passage than confirmation.
Rites of Passage
The late Nelson Mandela in his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom recounts his tribal custom of transitioning to adulthood. In his community the boundaries for coming of age were crystal clear. Complete the tribal rites of passage and you were no longer a child. You knew it and so did everyone else.
Finding a Grace Space
In our culture, those adult rites of passage aren’t so evident. That’s why we need balconies. A balcony is a grace space. No one under/over a certain age should be allowed up there. There youth are granted a safe space to have one foot in the door and one foot outside. There you tacitly tell these ‘in between’ folks, we want you here even at a time when they are unsure about being here. They just may catch a glimpse of a future worth living, a calling that Jesus offers.
We don’t have a balcony. Since we don’t, why don’t you become a balcony? You—the one who provides needed grace space.
Yearning for such living,
David Sloop, Grace Interim Pastor
A tip of a hat, a wave, a wink—these are gestures. They carry much freight. Gestures can shape our living. A Mom and Dad’s good night kiss brings assurance of parental love. When a kiss is absent or withheld from the bedtime ritual children may wonder about that love.
Gestures Carry Much Meaning
Those of us who lived during the Vietnam War may remember a picture of American POWs sent by their captors. In this photo several soldiers held up a raised middle finger. Their captors did not understand the gesture. We did. That picture conveyed great assurance of the unbroken imprisoned.
Take note of the gesture of the third base coach. With rapid motion that coach’s arms communicate clearly to the batter. These same gestures disguise a message intended to throw off the opposing team. In no other sport is the art of gesturing so perfected.
Sharing God’s Peace
Of singular importance in Christian worship is the gesture of sharing the peace. Before we come to receive the peace of Christ through communion, we first reach out to each other in peace.
This gesture is always significant and more so when we have lived with tension or discord towards another person. Peace carries the hope of a new, different future.
The peace of the Lord be with you always…
In an increasingly casual culture gesturing is diminished. We who bear the mark of Christ are encouraged to retrieve it for the sake of Christ. When on those occasions I mark the foreheads of young children at communion with a cross, I ask if they can feel that cross on them. It is a gesture.
It is a mark of life.
May our gestures convey our heart.
I was once accused of robbing the Walmart on Glenwood Avenue. That day I was casually walking toward the store from my car when suddenly people flooded out of Walmart’s main entrance. They were all pointing and shouting,
“They are over there! There they go!!”
I looked where this crowd pointed and saw two men on foot, holding a large package, running toward the Glenwood Avenue Chick-Fil-A.
Here’s where I come in
A Raleigh Police Cruiser came next to the two men (the actual robbers), and they, instead of sticking up their hands, point the officers to me!! Then the police came speeding across the parking lot…after me!!
“Officer,” I shouted, “turn around! Those two men are the ones who robbed Walmart!” And they high tailed it after the real robbers.
I admit to being dumbfounded by those robbers. Who in their right mind would steal a large package in broad daylight, in a large parking lot, flee on foot and expect to get away? Apparently, running away was not their intended plan. They had a getaway car. Only problem, when most needed, the car failed to start!
A True Lenten Experience
This parking lot fiasco has touch points to Lent. A true Lenten experience won’t let us say, “The real problem is over there, running away.”
What can sting with these 40 days is the freight of complicity. What holds us is the firm recognition that every getaway car gets us nowhere. We participate.
The opening salvo from our mouths as Lent begins:
“We have not loved you with our whole heart, and mind and strength. We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We have not forgiven others as we have been forgiven.”
That’s Lent. Recognizing again our carrying off a package, and the burden it brings, what it exposes.
The older I become, the more I want of Lent
To welcome Lent is not to wallow in self-hatred. To live a good Lent is not to be dour and despairing. To embrace this season with passion is not about full time remorse. Rather it’s more about staying alive, about receiving and recognizing grace, about openness to the ongoing promise of Christ amidst the tragic realities of life.
Lord, have mercy,
Pastor David Sloop, Grace Interim Pastor
P.S. This year Lent begins with Ash Wednesday on Valentine’s Day
For several years a large sign by 1-85 near Hillsborough advertised the opportunity to purchase SHELL gasoline. This one word sign towered over nearby trees. However, the S was missing, so the sign read HELL.
I once came by that intersection at night and from a distance could see this illuminated announcement. One wonders how first time travelers responded:
“Do you know something I don’t know?”
“See, I told you Hell was near Chapel Hill and Durham!”
All Joking Aside
All joking aside, we might benefit from such a sign above our community. Imagine the impact on us if high above Grace Church was the sign HEAVEN, illuminated day and night. Wanting to live up to this claim just might enlarge our living!
In what sense will people see heaven through seeing us?
I do wonder what message we give. Our baptism sets us on a singular path all about life together around word, sacrament and community, around life together for this needy world. That’s enough for a life time, several. To live individually and collectively our Baptism is to live a well centered life.
In his Testament of Devotion Thomas Kelly writes:
“We are trying to be several selves at once, without all our selves being organized by a single, mastering Life within us. Each of us tends to be, not a single self, but a whole committee of selves. And each of our selves is in turn a rank individualist, not cooperative but shouting out his vote loudly for himself when the voting time comes. It is as if we have a chairman of our committee of selves within us who does not integrate the many into one but who merely counts the votes at each decision. We are not integrated. We feel honestly the pull of many obligations and try to fulfill them all…Life is meant to be lived for a Center, a living Center.”
May God give us the reorienting power of Advent to re-center us and all our selves.
HEAVEN is coming among us!
David A. Sloop, Grace Interim Pastor
Sally and I once ran a week long camp at Camp Agape where NC Lutheran youth gathered with adults with developmental delays who lived at Murdoch Center, near Butner, NC. Since the camp convened in August we regularly visited the camp pond each afternoon. This was before Camp Agape had a swimming pool.
A Man of Few Words
One of our guests from Murdoch, a young man named Brisker, did not express himself verbally. While we were at the lake, Brisker started walking on the dock toward deep water. When the dock ended, Brisker just kept on walking. He immediately sank beneath the pond surface. Several of our youth went in after Brisker and brought him to safety.
Upon gathering himself, Brisker finally spoke. “That’s cold!” Immediately many of us dove head first into that section of the pond. We hoped that Brisker spoke the truth. He did! Thanks to Brisker we were refreshed by cool stream of spring water!
That was a long time ago (1981). I don’t recall anything else said at that camp – just those two, well timed words from Brisker. They stuck. When you’ve been hungry for someone to speak and they finally do, their words resonate.
What Do Your Words Really Say?
They have staying quality. Our words are to have efficacy. They can cause others to dive in.
I’m sorry – I love you – I forgive you – Thank you
Some of the most important words we can utter. To speak them with proper intent, to embody with urgency and sincerity, to back them up with appropriate behaviors, carry a new and enhanced future. Portals. Portals for a new beginning. Amidst all the noise-incessant breaking news, distracting gibberish — there is the thoughtful gift of a well timed word.
As we head into Thanksgiving and prepare for Advent may we all be so alert, so aware. And my God give us space to offer that good word. It may be for you and for others like coming up for air!!
Eager for Such Opportunity,
Pastor David Sloop, Grace Interim
A litany for predominantly white spaces, against white supremacy
Here is the litany we shared at worship on Sunday August 20th.
Read the original post on Rev Elizabeth Rawling’s blog.
Gracious and loving God,
In the beginning, you created humanity and declared us very good
We were made in Africa, came out of Egypt.
Our beginnings, all of our beginnings, are rooted in dark skin.
We are all siblings. We are all related.
We are all your children.
We are all siblings, we are all related, we are all your children.
Violence entered creation through Cain and Abel.
Born of jealousy, rooted in fear of scarcity,
Brother turned against brother
The soil soaked with blood, Cain asked, “Am I my brother’s keeper?
We are all siblings, we are all related, we are our brothers keeper.
When your people cried out in slavery,
You heard them. You did not ignore their suffering.
You raised up leaders who would speak truth to power
And lead your people into freedom.
Let us hear your voice; grant us the courage to answer your call.
Guide us towards justice and freedom for all people.
We are all siblings, we are all related, we all deserve to be free.
Through the prophets you told us the worship you want is for us
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke;
Yet we continue to serve our own interest,
To oppress our workers, to crush our siblings by the neck because we are afraid.
Because they don’t look like us, act like us, talk like us.
Yet, they are us. And we are them.
We are all siblings, we are all related, we are not free unless all are free
In great love you sent to us Jesus, your Son,
Born in poverty, living under the rule of a foreign empire,
Brown-skinned, dark-haired, middle-Eastern.
They called him Yeshua, your Son,
Who welcomed the unwelcome, accepted the unacceptable—
The foreigners, the radicals, the illiterate, the poor,
The agents of empire and the ones who sought to overthrow it,
The men and women who were deemed unclean because of their maladies.
We are all siblings, we are all related, we are all disciples.
The faith of Christ spread from region to region, culture to culture.
You delight in the many voices, many languages, raised to you.
You teach us that in Christ, “There is no Jew or Greek, there is no slave or free, there is no male and female.”
In Christ, we are all one.
Not in spite of our differences, but in them.
Black, brown, and white; female, non-binary, and male; citizen and immigrant,
In Christ we are all one.
We are all siblings, we are all related, we are all one in Christ.
Written by Revs. Elizabeth Rawlings and Jennifer Chrien
Years ago I attached a welcome home sign on the exterior siding outside our kitchen door. I intended the sign to be a singular event. The sign expressed our glee that our son was returning home from Boston for Thanksgiving.
Now some 15 years later every visiting family member looks for a welcome home sign.
Several attendant rituals have emerged:
- The sign includes some loving jab at the new arrival
- They pretend not to read it
- I have to ask if it’s been read
- They begrudgingly acknowledge
Where is MY Sign?
I once decided to break ranks and didn’t create the usual sign. All I heard was, “Where is my sign!”
This family ritual has had great staying power… with one change: I no longer pen the intended message onto the exterior wooden surface. Why? That board is now so peppered with pen holes you’d think a wood pecker has attacked it. (Those messages now are gently taped to the window sill.)
I love seeing that holed board. Its dotted surface bends my heart. At times I’m even overcome beholding the breadth, length, and depth of loving connections represented there. If I ever move away that board comes along. Well, at least the tradition it embodies.
The Church With A Welcome!
All Are Welcome Here!
Find A Loving Welcome Inside!
What is Grace’s Church Slogan?
Church Slogans: Attempts to define the shape and substance of engaging the new.
Let’s hope that Grace Church is a community like that hole riddled board. That we never ever tire of welcoming those God is sending to us/we are reaching. Someone once defined church as ‘Grace Space.’ Therein, the shape of the community is so welcoming that people are set free; an expansive, burgeoning with love-and-grace-spirit pervades.
Imagine the quality and character of our welcome mirroring the very one we worship. Where I’d gladly want to become a signpost — my heart a hole peppered board!
Hoping to Be a Living Welcome,
Use the following yardstick to judge between two statements: One is more childlike; one is more childish.
1. In the midst of watering with a hose all adults run under it and get soaked.
2. At work a rubber band is placed around the sink hose spray handle insuring that the next person using the sink will, unknowingly, get drenched.
I’d vote for #1 as childlike and #2 as childish.
Voluntary Participation is Preferable
In one case the participation is voluntary; in the other case participation came without consent. Voluntary participation may not be the primary definer of childlikeness. It sure helps. Other markers for childlikeness include a trusting spirit, an openness to explore, a self-forgetfulness. These draw us closer to childlikeness.
I watched a toddler at the beach. He fell into his baby pool. In great delight, he got up and did it again. His father held him by his ankles and flipped this babe over his shoulder. The little fellow chased a seagull. He rolled in the sand. He splashed water wearing a two teeth smile. This youngster was being himself, demonstrating something of childlikeness.
“Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.”
Where do we find Jesus?
Jesus will be found among children and those who humble themselves and become like children. So often our tendency with children is to focus on their growing—growing their intellects, their values, their faith. We want to direct the young and nurture them.
That is all good. Is it possible that we should hang with children because they open us to the presence of Jesus? Children are a doorway into the company of our Lord? Welcoming a child is welcoming Jesus?
It’s tantalizing. It’s kind of hilarious. Here’s a group of children playing in a sandbox (hopefully without cell phones in hand!). One is building a castle. Another is filling a dump truck. Two others are holding hands watching a bird fly over. They giggle. They get sand in their eyes.
Welcome Jesus! I hope to avoid the temptations that come with being childish! I want more of childlikeness and Jesus!
Still a Child,