The Irony of God

October 25, 2013

I had to chuckle today.

I found myself sitting in a hollowed out lobby of an old movie theater. The wall in front of me painted with chalkboard paint and on one end of the room, a divider/barrier type thing made of hinged doors hiding who knows what. A big flat screen TV in front and couches so beat up you sank into them when you sat down. A movie theater turned church and this was their high school youth room. And it was a church that a few years ago I would not have dared stepped foot into.

In the parking lot at lunchtime, I ran into a new friend who works for a ministry that cares for pastors who are in crisis. I just met Wade a few months ago and we attended his church with him one Saturday night this summer. At his church, I had to chuckle. I was sitting in a church I wouldn’t have dared to enter a few years ago next to a person I wouldn’t have let myself know. And now I was hugging my new friend as I ran into him today.

I find myself in these places a lot lately. When sitting at a pastor’s meeting that hosts Lutherans, Presbyterians, Methodists, Mennonites, and Baptists- and here I am, the lone Covenanter who has to explain what “the Covenant” is whenever I meet new people since it’s such a small church movement. When sitting among my Mennonite friends each month wondering how such gracious people let an evangelical like me into their midst. When talking on the phone to a pastor miles away who’s denomination affiliation forces me to take a crash course to understand the way this pastor has been shaped to see ministry. When connecting with my own mentor/friend/coach, Dave, who lives so far away that we have only actually seen each other once, but he remains a deep influence on my life, despite his different approach to ministry that is shaped by his tradition and experience.

And today. In a church I wouldn’t have chosen to enter. There I was. Sitting beside friends who pastor a church that doesn’t include women like me who are gifted and called to pastor and preach, but these pastors welcome me anyway.

A few years ago, none of this would have happened. Back then, I was quite happy in my Covenant tribe with my Covenant colleagues, talking about Covenant things.  I loved the Covenant then. And I love the Covenant now. Deeply and dearly. But when the bottom of my world fell out, I found myself isolated from all that I had known. I found myself feeling alien to that world of colleagues. I found myself outside. Some of that was my own choosing- it’s hard to maintain the connection of networks when you are simply trying to get through the day. But it was a strange experience. To feel outside looking in for perhaps the first time in more than a decade.

I resented that initially… until I discovered its gift. This season, this time outside and away from my larger Covenant family has actually been a deep and powerful gift. It has been a gift to my mind- I have learned more about other ways of doing and being Church than I had in the years of ministry and in seminary. It has been a gift for my spirit- to see how others find Jesus in their callings and learn to articulate their faith through the lens of their unique tradition. It has been a gift for my understanding of community- that friends can happen even when there is such vast difference and in fact, those differences can enhance things more than we know, if we let it. It has been a gift to my vocation- I now know how to reach and communicate to more “cultures” and more “traditions” than I had learned before. And mostly, it has been a gift to my soul- showing me how Jesus is alive and at work even in places where I may shudder to go.

In fact, this season of interacting with all these different people in different places with different viewpoints has taught me two things:

1) I was stupid prideful before. And 2) I do not want to be that again.

Sometimes when we decide how people will react to us, when we stereotype them, when we believe that because they are the way they are they must have nothing to offer me, we reveal the condition of our hearts. My husband has learned this too, but in a completely different field. He currently works with a lot of people who are ex-military. Our view of military people prior to his job was that they all were a particular way- mainly the way they are portrayed in movies… aggressive, brash, and so macho they would readily blow anyone’s head off if they could. My husband has since learned that he was wrong. That there are people who fit that stereotype, but also that the people he has encountered are thoughtful and kind and sometimes even gentle. Funny how God turns something on its head.

How much we miss out on when we are so closed off to experiencing the other simply because we have decided the other has nothing to give us!

I have thought often of Elijah, the prophet, this past year. Ironically, as I was traveling to a conference early this year with my Evangelical Covenant Church “tribe,” I was agonizing over the experience of feeling alien to my own people, and Elijah became yet another source of consternation  in that agony. I still do not know why, but God led me to 1 Kings 17. And I have puzzled for months now over the passage about the widow he encounters who makes him bread from her last little bit of ingredients and because of that, her ingredients multiply and never run out. But what I did not notice until recently was the passage just before that. Where the list of the kings begins with short descriptions of their time as ruler in the land. And the last king mentioned in one of the kings who would cause Elijah the most trouble. The beginning of chapter 17 starts with the prediction of a drought, and immediately after that, God calls Elijah to leave and “hide away.” Rather than putting on his prophet pants and marching up to the troublesome king, rather than speaking to the people to try to turn their hearts back to the right direction, rather than doing all those prophet-y things he was supposed to be doing, he is told to leave and to hide.

And to wait in that hiding place. Elijah- the great prophet. Elijah- the voice of God to the people. Elijah- whose job description was quite impressive. Hiding? Waiting? Did he wonder why? Did he wonder what had happened that would cause God to furlough him from his job? I don’t know.

But I am struck by what happened to him in his waiting time. The scripture tells us that ravens came to feed him. Bringing him bread and meat. Morning and evening. Visited not by the mighty angels, smelling of heaven and God, but by birds, dropping their crusts of bread and whatever meat they may have scavenged. Caring for the prophet in hiding, the prophet in waiting, so he wouldn’t starve to death. Ravens. Not other humans. Ravens. Not angels. Ravens. Not God himself. Ravens.

Even as the drought settled in, the ravens brought food. Birds who would sooner be unnoticed by me, maybe by most people, sustained a prophet. We hardly expect that from birds.

And I found myself wondering… are these gifts, these people in my life, these places I would have never dared or deemed to tread before- are they like the ravens? Sent to feed a soul in waiting? Sent to provide for a spirit that has been hidden? Sent with healing gifts to strengthen and sooth? The sources of our healing may indeed come from the people and places we would not expect, and maybe from the people we would not even desire if we weren’t in such a dry place in our lives. Little bits of God who appears in ways and at times and in people we never would have even seen if life was going well.

And so I chuckle. When I look at the two pastors of the church I attend who are so radically different from the type of pastor I would normally expect. When I sit among colleagues who welcomed me in even though a few years ago I may not have done the same to them. When I realize I can learn from and do indeed grow from people I may not have given a chance before. When even those who disagree with me become the ravens to feed my hungry soul. I chuckle. I laugh at the irony of God.

And realize that I am blessed beyond the stretch of my knowledge. These ravens in my life are messengers of deeper hope than they might not even imagine.

And I am grateful.

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