Being a downtown church gives us a front row seat to the many human stories that happen in our community, every day. Some days are difficult: we have a seemingly endless parade of people whose lives are in chaos: they need help paying rent, they need money for gas, they don’t have food to feed their family. Many times, we have to say, “We can’t help you with that.”
And it hurts.
We can’t help everyone.
We can see the pain, the fear, the hopelessness in their eyes. Trinity has “assistance hours” twice a week, and even at that, there are times that schedules conflict and we can’t be there at the usual times. It hurts to send people out without helping them. Our receptionist and cheerful people-greeter, Laura, has times when she gets choked up because she knows how much the person in front of her is needing some help. We have each had a chance to talk with folks in our parking lot, on the sidewalk, in the lobby, whose story is so challenging, we just want to help them find the solution. Our first and strongest advice is to encourage people to call 2-1-1. United Way’s “first call for help” has the deepest list of community resources and can be helpful in the face of a number of challenges.
Not to be too “Pollyanna” but I can’t help but think how much could be accomplished if we each just decided to try to help someone, in some way. If we could start by being decent with one another, by apologizing when we’ve hurt someone---that might help. If we could slow our pace just enough to smile, to lend a hand, to greet someone. Even those little things have been enough to turn around my day on more than one occasion. We won’t always be able to help in a material way, but all of us can add good energy and a positive spirit to our interactions with others. If you need a moment to re-center, to calm, to fill up your own cup so you can offer more to the world, I invite you to come sit in our garden at Trinity. Take a break during the day, pull up a bench. Bring a book. Enjoy the stillness. You’re welcome here.
Are we finally emerging from what I think of as The Winter That Would Not Stop? As friends and colleagues head to sand, sun and warmer weather, I feel like this is a good time to contemplate where I live, and WHY.
I didn’t grow up in Fort Wayne, I have no relatives here. I never intended to make Indiana my home; I thought it would be a 2-3 year stopover on my television news career. That was 1989. My math may be dusty, but I’m pretty sure I missed that 2-3 year mark. So, as the cute little plaque in the crafts store advises, I try to bloom where I am planted. As much as I want to say, ”I’m not really from here; I’m focused on my home, three states away,” that sounds pretty lame. I ought to have some sense of responsibility and caring for this place, as this is where I am and there is no way to know if life will ever be any different. I have to stop waiting for “life” to begin, for life to change, when I move away.
During the week here at Trinity we meet a lot of people who may not be where they thought they’d be, literally, physically, spiritually or geographically. It makes one wonder, when you hear some of the stories, why not roll the dice, pick up and move, give another town a shot? I suspect some of them have danced around the same conclusion I have: that it isn’t really about where we are, it’s about who we are. Looking at who we are in this place is an intriguing question for me. Pastor Erdos often references that Trinity English is in the location God selected. Since that means we’re downtown, we think that means God must want us to be a part of this neighborhood: this community. If our charge is to be involved, then this is where it’s supposed to happen. Trinity can’t say,” Oh, hey, I know it looks like I am rooted here, but actually, I’m focused on that other place, that place in a different neighborhood.” Legitimately, our neighbors here could say, “then why are you here?”
We (Trinity) exist here to interact and to love and to connect with the people who are also here. We offer hot coffee or a quiet space or a chance to talk with someone, or a chance to listen to what God is telling you to do. We are always inviting people to join us, to learn, to grow, to meet, to connect, to know Jesus. We’re here to “do life” with the people God set us near. If we’re so intently focused on wherever the “other” place is, or where the “next” place is, we miss the beauty and the gifts of where we are, right now. We miss the chance to make a difference in the lives of these neighbors. And we miss the chance to allow them to make a difference in our lives. I’m constantly reminded how the unexpected, “Good morning,” or the kind smile from an unfamiliar face can turned someone’s day around.
We who live in Fort Wayne are hardy souls: there’s no ocean, no mountain vista, no easy, temperate climate. What we have is each other. So for as long we can, in as many ways as we can, let’s work on building connections with and for each other. Home is where you find yourself, after all. We’re each here for a reason. I’m beginning to suspect God wanted us to figure out that we are each other’s reasons.
As I stare at the weather app on my phone, my brain is physically incapable of comprehending what a “high” of ‘Negative Eight’ is going to feel like this week. Eight degrees below zero. Forty degrees below freezing. For the HIGH that day. The apex of the thermometer’s reach that day will still be eight degrees below zero.
Knowing that is in my (near) future is kind of freaking me out. I am planning when to put gasoline in my car so that I won’t have to deal with that during the deep freeze days. I am packing a yoga bag with fleece-lined tights and fur-lines boots, a long scarf and earmuffs, and an extra pair of gloves, for that unlikely scenario in which I am stuck someplace cold. (There may also be a few protein bars and a pack of gum in there, too.)
So knowing these challenging conditions are just ahead, I prepare.
It occurred to me in church this week that I have all kinds of indicators about what else is ahead of me: I mean, I am glad I don’t know when, but I am fairly sure at some point, I will die. That weather app won’t matter a bit to me, someday. (again, hoping it’s far off in the future). Am I preparing for that ultimate reality now? Am I packing my figurative yoga bag with a lifetime of kindness and grace, patience and positive responses to the challenges that any life will bring?
Probably not enough, if I am being honest. I’ve done my best to be a good person. Most of the time. Except those times when I didn’t. When I was cranky or afraid or worried or embarrassed. Or tired or hungry. At those times, I might not have been imitating Jesus. I maybe was not even thinking about following his lead. I might have been wallowing in a self-absorbed pity-party. And I am going to guess (hope?) that other people may have a similar story. My belief is that God knows this, and understands it, but that we still need to set aside that self-focus and work a little harder to be who he needs us to be, who he knows we can be. We need to prepare, not just ourselves, but everyone we meet, that this is how it’s going to be one day: we’ll be looking out for each other and building each other up. If we get stranded, we’ll pull out our yoga bags and divvy up the scarves and protein bars---and there will be enough for everyone. We’ll really understand that we’re here for each other.
I guess Jesus never promised me that Indiana winters would not be cold. He just gave me enough sense to check with a weather app and enough compassion to think about others so that I can be ready for the challenge. I’m happy to share my protein bars.
My husband and I don’t have family nearby; his relatives are mainly in the Buffalo, New York area and mine are scattered from Kansas to Texas to Arizona. One of the unexpected bonuses of working at Trinity is that I get to meet and get to know people here. I get to connect with people who are at all different stages of life, from my friend Bella, whose sunny ten-year-old exuberance shines light into my world as we sit together on Sunday mornings; to 91-year old Sue, who is one of our multi-talented, multi-tasking volunteers whose gifts and talents enrich Trinity in a variety of ways.
One day recently I had the chance to chat with Sue about her earliest childhood memories related to gardening, one of her passions. She easily recalled her role in helping her mother plant green beans, strong beans and lima beans. She explained the process of “canning” the beans (in glass jars) and storing them in the ‘cold cellar’ across the lane so they could eat fresh vegetables even in the winter. In the ‘regular’ cellar under the house, you’d find root vegetables, like potatoes, sweet potatoes and carrots--- ready for the taking, year ‘round. She described the smokehouse where cuts of pork (butchered from her siblings’ 4-H pigs) would hang, before being wrapped in cloth and transferred to an upstairs room in their house, cold enough without electricity to keep the meat fresh. She said cheese and candy were special treats to be purchased from the store in town, about a mile and half’s walk away. Milk came from the neighbor’s cows which were allowed to ‘board’ at Sue’s parents’ property, though young Sue didn’t care for the taste of raw milk.
Sue’s eyes shone when she described to me the clothes her mother sewed for her, as a youngster and then as a young woman headed off to college. The 6-piece wardrobe her mother cut and sewed by hand “made me feel like a princess,” says Sue. She offered to show me the one piece still in existence: a corduroy jacket she still wears (!!!)
Maybe the most surprising discovery of that particular conversation was when Sue told me how she met her husband in Venezuela: Oh, he wasn’t Venezuelan, she said,” he was a good ole Kansan.” “Kansas?!?!” I asked, incredulous. “Sue,” I told her,” I AM FROM KANSAS!” She giggled. I asked where he was from, and she thought out loud, “Not Salina…” she began. “Sue,” I said,” I went to high school in Salina! We are probably related!”
And that’s how I gained an Aunt Sue.
It’s normal to feel a bit of a let-down after Christmas, right? People are gone, the house is a mess, the office is quiet, I count how many calories are in a Christmas cookie and how many cookies I ate… and stop counting…
I wonder if that isn’t an important piece of the Christmas experience? That lull after the hubbub of the holiday? We had stars and angels and wise men and a baby…So, now what? Well, not being a theologian, my take on this next part goes like this:
Now, we act.
Now, while the baby is growing and learning and preparing for his ultimate purpose, so should we.
Now, in this post-holiday blur, we tend to what’s in front of us. We clean up the mess, we get back to the gym, we reconnect with the everyday and we continue on our path leading to our ultimate purpose. We set about tidying our corner of the world to make it more heaven-like, here and now. God’s arrived on earth: now we need to clean the place up for his presence. We don’t dust and sweep and polish because he needs a clean spot: we make the effort together so we see what’s in store for us. We create God’s kingdom right here, right now, with the people around us. We honor them by putting our best foot forward; by offering to share our food and whatever we have.
Charities all over the world experience an influx of gifts and donations during the Christmas season---we suddenly remember the poor, the homeless, the hungry and the neglected. Now that we’re moving past the intensity of the holidays, those same challenges await. People need us all year ‘round. And we need them. Our paths are different but every one of us has challenges and disappointments and barriers. Walking together and sharing the load helps all of us.
The world needs you---and me--- and our energy now. This creating a version of God’s kingdom on earth takes work, it takes the skills of all of us. A place where we can all eat well and sleep in peace, where we can find meaning in our work and satisfaction in our efforts, where we can care for our families and laugh with our friends: that’s one version of heaven on earth, and it’s the work I think Jesus calls us to do. So by all means, take a breath. Recover from the hoopla. But don’t take too long. A kingdom awaits.
Like many of you, my days this time of year are filled with activity. The workplace of Trinity is no different. We’re just coming off Candlelight, with its choral and instrumental musicians opening the season of Advent. I may not have paid a lot of attention growing up, because I am only now starting to understand what “Advent” is: a season of waiting, anticipating and hoping for the arrival of Jesus.
As we wait, we are told to keep alert, to stay awake so that we do not miss his entrance. Now, how could we miss the gigantic, spectacular, light-and-life-giving event that will be the return of Jesus Christ?? Well….. let’s think about that. The first time he came to earth, he came as a baby, born in a stable. And while there was a bright star, it doesn’t sound like the whole globe resonated with the news of his birth. No big parades or feasts were held. It was fairly easy for the baby to slip unobserved into the world and its people.
I am sure I would know how to behave if a shining , larger-than-life celebrity King appeared. But how would I react if I saw a ‘regular’ guy? If we didn’t get the cues that THIS is our Savior? What if we just acted the way we acted whenever we cross paths with a stranger? Hmmm… now that might give me pause. Am I always as friendly, kind, generous and gracious as I could be, when facing someone I don’t know? And what are the odds He arrives on my “best day?” Will I be looking sharp and feeling fine? Or might I be rushing from one meeting to another, trying to accomplish my long “to-do” list? Is there a chance I would just nod at the person approaching me, as I talked into my cell phone? Could I MISS Jesus???
These are the thoughts that glide through my mind at this time of year.
So, I am trying to remain alert and to stay awake. You never know when we might have the chance to smile into the eyes of Jesus or to offer him a Christmas cookie, or to make room for him on the pew beside us. If that baby from the manager was a tired toddler waiting in line with his mother, or a teenager in a dirty coat at Target or the slightly wild-eyed woman trying to ask you for some change in the parking lot--- would we recognize Jesus?
It’s so tempting sometimes to want to just come to a lovely church service and sit quietly and soak up the peace. But I think we are told to keep alert and to stay awake so that we don’t get too comfortable. Christianity (to me) isn’t about being comfortable. It’s about seeing Jesus, right now, in all the people he loves. He’s giving us the chance to love him through them. I hope I am up to the task.
Recently, I was part of the group who participated in a poverty simulation, sponsored by Brightpoint and held here at Trinity. Everyone was assigned a character within a family unit—some families were large, some small, some had two parents, some were staying in a homeless shelter---the scenario covered a lot of possibilities.
Throughout the morning, we were directed to different situations ---maybe a parent lost a job or a car broke down. We had to continue with the expectations of living under a roof with enough food and heat, getting kids to school or childcare, and going through all the rigmarole of applying for various benefits and assistance.
Once the simulation was finished, participants were kind of shell-shocked. “I’m exhausted,” some said. “I’m irritated and confused,” said others. “How can they expect me to get to work when I have to get kids to doctors’ appointments and a car to the shop?” said one. One of the social service agency representatives noticed that as the simulation progressed, those of us portraying family members spoke more quickly, behaved more rudely, and became more desperate in our demeanor.
That was just after SIMULATING living in poverty for one morning. We realized a little sliver of the challenge it must be to live this way, day after day, when the weekends fly by so quickly and it’s impossible to get everything done you need to do for your family. The resources you need aren’t even available at the time you could access them. And no matter how much you may want to sit and ‘bond’ as a family, there is absolutely no time to be still and read to children or, in many cases, even to have a meal together. There is simply too much that must be done, must be figured out, in order to keep life moving fairly reliably. A great “unfairness” most of us experienced was the challenge of how expensive it is to be poor. If you received a shut off notice because you hadn’t paid your gas bill, you found that you owed that amount, PLUS re-connection fees and fines---so the money you didn’t have to pay for that heat bill is now increased… which made no sense.
We quickly understood how easy it would be to feel angry and worried and unheard. And for those of us in mock-family scenarios, we saw how much stress and worry the children could see and feel, and how much the adults wanted to keep them from seeing it. The smallest kindness or moment of grace was noticed and welcomed by those of us “in the trenches.”
The Brightpoint leaders were careful not to call this “a game,” ever mindful that life is difficult for many of our neighbors and making it into a “game” demeans and disrespects their experiences. The 45 or so participants that day seemed to leave with new insight, even of just being aware that we are not all living life under the same circumstances. Pastor Erdos, who participated in the simulation, volunteered almost immediately to host another session of the simulation as soon as it is feasible, to allow more people to experience life as many of our neighbors experience it. We learned a lot, but the most meaningful aspect of the day to me was witnessing how participants inhabited the roles they were playing, and assumed families were doing their best and trying hard. We don’t often get the opportunity to live life in someone else’s shoes, but my advice would be to take the chance if you get it. You learn about other people, but you learn more about yourself.
The chilly temperatures and gray, drizzly days are a sharp reminder that seasons are changing. Time is passing. The world is turning. It doesn’t seem so long ago that I didn’t give a lot of thought to the passage of time. That must have been because it was easier to lie about my age!
Yes, I said “lie.”
Yes, I work in a church.
Oh yeah, I lie (not often). I might even slip in a swear word now and then. I sure as heck struggle with making good choices on a consistent basis.
Recently I was lucky enough to be invited to a brunch where about a dozen people were there with the intention of talking about Religion. Faith. Church. God.
Some of the folks around the table were disconnected from organized religion, and I think some had been really damaged by past experiences with church. I might have been a bit of a curiosity for them: maybe I didn’t talk or act like what they expected a “Christian” to be. I hope they saw that I know I am a flawed human being, but that I am trying to love people the way I think Jesus wants us to do. Frequently I find myself thinking (and occasionally, saying out loud), "I’m not that kind of Christian." I get it: people hear things in the news and assume all of us who call ourselves Christian think, believe and behave alike.
Well, that just isn’t true.
I’m beyond trying to tell you why someone else is doing something in the name of Jesus. That’s for them to figure out. I will say that I think Jesus wants me to listen to people, to try to understand the things they say that confuse me, and to live into the love he has for them . My understanding of his expectation is that we don’t have “excepts”….. We are to love everyone, no exception. We welcome everyone, no exception. We see each other as equals, no exceptions. Each of us is deserving of God’s love, no exceptions. Everyone gets a seat at the table, no exceptions. It gets tricky, what with politics and prejudice and misunderstandings and old hurts, and fear.
So maybe, start small. Want to try an experiment with me?
Smile at everyone, no exceptions. See how that goes for you. Look people in the eye. It’s hard to ignore our shared humanity when we look into each other’s eyes. Let me know how it goes. I’m doing the same thing.
When we thought about a “back to school” effort for Trinity, we first contemplated how we could raise funds for back to school shoes---something we know every parent has to figure out for every student at this time of year. The logistics of the challenge overwhelmed us, however, and we tried to come up with another idea.
Since we are trying to focus on building and sustaining relationships, it made sense to think about our Study Connection partner school, South Wayne Elementary. We all have heard the stories of how public school teachers use their own personal money to pay for classroom items, so we figured that would be the case at South Wayne, too. Probably bulletin board decorations, crayons and tissues, was my thought, to be perfectly honest.
We contacted the principal (a dynamo, Brenda West; just the sort of compassionate and creative soul you would want overseeing your staff or students). Brenda told us that they do try to keep a small fund for teachers to use for ‘extras’, but it’s never enough, of course. And then she shared the three top items teachers had purchased with those funds last year: shoes, underwear and socks for students.
Think on that.
Grade school children whose basic needs are unmet.
Many of the families are doing all they can, but their resources just don’t go far enough.
In the end, we created about 30 packages of items and experiences. Not sure whether this was going to work, we set up the displays and waited, hoped and prayed.
Trinity members came through in a big way. Thus far, we’re raised more than $4,300 for that teachers’ fund at South Wayne. That is going to buy a lot of socks, underwear and shoes for those students.
I truly didn’t know what to expect. I am so glad to be part of a community that supports teachers, students and families. I appreciate every one of our bidders and those who gave donations of items or cash. I am so proud to be part of a staff that pitches in and helps make things successful. I am so grateful to be reminded, almost daily, that we live in a good place where good things happen.