Friday, June 7, 2013

Life and death at a picnic

There must have been at least 50 volunteers from 12 different agencies. The fire department did an emergency rescue by coming up with last minute bbqs which were pretty essential for cooking 24 dozen burgers and 12 dozen wienies. Food Not Bombs came through again with salads. The Quantum youth program put teenagers into action with the kids table, the hoola-hooping, and their purple t-shirts were everywhere. Kawartha-Fest provided their team of professional volunteers who stuck around til the end and did the heavy lifting of cleaning up and hauling our dining tables and chairs back inside. These were all our community friends made thru our partnership with the Peterborough Poverty Reduction Network via Christie Nash.

Our Fleming College student April Lauricella did an amazing job of coordinating teams of volunteers. At the heart of it all was our group of kitchen wizards – the Soul Food group - who’ve picked up in the fine United Church Women’s tradition of feeding the five thousand.

And oh yeah, we had Zumba lessons on the church steps (don’t tell your great aunt Nelly) and our resident indie-folk rockers Matt and Matt of “I the Mountain” singing to the diners sitting on the grass beside the Labyrinth.

And about 250 guests from our downtown neighbourhood. I said hi to a few folks I met at last year’s bbq. Met a bunch more and had the most bizarre conversation ever among four strangers standing in line for our dinner. 

So, What’s the story?

We're looking for the new narrative to tell the story of what’s happening at GSU. Do we need to talk in Trinitarian terms about where we saw Jesus, God, or the ever elusive Sophia at the picnic last night?
Can we simply say there was a “spirit” of community and good will at work among us? All those volunteers and neighbours didn’t show up to help us get more people in the pews. Will any of those folks show up this Sunday morning?

If somehow they get a message that to us they are god’s people – equally saints among us - and not a “project” for us to try to fix, or change into some replica of the “good church-folk” we are. Then maybe…

“Some of them took six burgers” I heard said. Seemingly rude behavior to someone who’s got a fridge full of food at home. Seemingly smart behavior to someone who doesn’t know where their next meal might come from.

If they came. If they dared to think the friendly, non-judgmental greeting they got on our lawn, they might also find inside – then how might they – by joining the Sunday morning party change who “we” are?

And this is perhaps the scariest thought to some of the non-believers inside our walls. “We” might no longer be who “we” have been. In fact, the “we” we’ve been will cease to be. A certain loss of identity will happen. A certain death will occur. And death is what we all most fear – isn’t it?

Michael Blair, Conference theme speaker at the Bay of Quinte Conference suggested that the current narrative for the UCC is “we’re dying”. He encouraged us to find a new story in the midst of that “spin” on what’s happening.

We might say “we’re dying – but we’re not dead yet!”.
We might say “we’re all about new beginnings.”
Or we could put it into a question “we believe in second chances”. Or “why not give us another chance?”

We could get theological “God is all about new beginnings – why not give us another chance?”

Personally, I’ve been playing with this nutshell:
“We love life so much that we’re not afraid to die”.

Lynn came up with:
“We take the “damn” out of dying.”

I know, I know, it’s a little bizarre – a strange thing to say if we want to invite people into the abundance of fun and work and worship that is church. But I’m having a hard time getting away from the Jesus narrative that goes from life through death into a new blossoming of possibilities.

In our popular imagination the church guards the gateway into heaven. If Saint Peter’s got the key – then all his earthly clergy counterparts have got the secret password to get you past him.

But the good news I find in that incredible Jesus story about dying and resurrection is that Jesus didn’t put a key into Peter’s hands. (Why would he? The story tells us Peter rarely got things right.) No, Jesus went and took those gates off their hinges. He crashed the holy people’s party and invited into heaven every sinner he could find. The pearly gates are gone. The key is lost. There is no more us and them. Just all god’s creatures great and small – the Lord God loves ‘em all.

That’s the good news I grew up with in church.
And it was dished out right alongside the bad news on the pot luck church tables.

The bad news is about shaping up, conforming, getting measured against some “norm” of good citizenry. Instead of being encouraged to be more of who I am – I get encouraged to be more like the people that “we” are.    

Both stories are there in the Bible.
Both stories are there in our hymns.
Both stories get told from pulpits.
Both stories get played out in Sunday school and coffee time and committees and in the confusion and debates that ensue …we forget to hear the Jesus song that invites us to pick up our cross and follow him through the gates of hell’s judgment on yesterday’s torture and into the garden where spirit dwells today – in the kin-dom of love where there’s more than enough to go around.

“Fear not, judge not, love one another.”

That’s the path we’re on. And maybe together, we can help each other, along the way.

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