As I write this Monday morning, I am still buoyed by Sunday’s church picnic at Jimmy’s and Gina’s. It was good for my heart to see well over 100 parishioners, new and established of all ages, there to enjoy a beautiful day, to celebrate their connection to Saint James’, and to show their appreciation and affection for Gina.
While pleasantly distracted, much of me feels compelled to use this medium to express my heartache, solidarity, and prayers for the victims of Hurricane Harvey and to discuss the divisive events that unfolded two weeks earlier in Charlottesville. In fact, many times on Sunday, I was struck with the difficult dichotomy between the absolutely perfect weather and beautiful bucolic setting in Virginia and the grey skies, torrential rains, downed limbs and power lines, and rising waters in Texas.
As I reflect on the tragic events of the last couple of weeks, I come back again and again to the picnic. It was more than the people who were able to attend, as many of you were not able to be with us. Yesterday represented a way forward, the kind of community that can incubate goodness, acceptance, healing, and care. As I looked around, I was struck by how many instances captured the robust spirit of Saint James’, the remarkable bonds we share, and the opportunity we have to be even more.
The same spirit that I see and cherish in our community was also on display in Houston. Following clergy friends via social media, I witnessed their faith communities seeking word on their most vulnerable members, offering shelter and prayers, and trying desperately to get out of their homes so they could help others. The bonds of affection, the deepening investment in one another, the sharing of our unique stories becomes the chords that tug and move us beyond ourselves. The love and investment cultivated and experienced at picnics, dinner tables, and aisles of the church and in the parish hall draws us to drop off a meal, visit a hospital room, lend a hand, lift each other up in prayer, and stand beside as the torrent of life rises around them.
And as I think about how we stand up to racism, bigotry, and hate (often rooted in fear, anxiety, isolation, and what a person’s culture reinforces or condones), I pay particular attention to our young people. I watched the slew of children and youth playing in the pool, running around, boating and splashing in the pond, enjoying the hayride. I think about the longitudinal effects of that love, security, and joy. How expansive does our understanding of God’s family become when we have a palpable sense of growing up as part of a deeply invested parish community? The community does not just care for one another but also “support(s) these persons in their lives in Christ”, nurtures them to “seek and serve Christ in all people”, and to “respect the dignity of every human being”.
Regarding how we wrestle with complicated differences of opinions, I have been pondering the difference between “tension” and “creative tension”. According to its very definition, tension diminishes the ability to think clearly and causes strain and discord. Our innate response to this tension is often to pull harder, which only exacerbates the effects. Now creative tension is described as a means to facilitating creativity and change. It seeks to identify the space between vision and reality. Creative tension invites disagreement and even discord to foster better ideas and outcomes. When we foster community and trust, we can engage in dialogue that often reframes the very tension we feel. We may find that we share the same disconnect between our vision and current reality, especially given our common rootedness in the teachings of Jesus. And when we stop holding on so tightly to that rope, we can let the remaining differences spark imaginative and substantive change.
So yes, this may be lofty hopes to pin on a parish picnic no matter how delicious the fried chicken. But the point is that a picnic is not always just a picnic, and fellowship is not just the down time before we head home on Sunday. It is a critical element of becoming the community we claim to be in worship, a body in communion with one another, centered around and bound by the grace and love of Christ. And the fried chicken really was pretty good as well!