by Andrew Stephens-Rennie
So the group is home. Everyone, that is, except me. I guess you gotta love it when the airlines overbook the flights, and everyone shows up at the gate. Anyhow – we promised that all the participants would get home in one piece. We forgot to include the leaders in that. Perhaps next time!
Tonight will be a night of sleep back home (for most everyone) in our own beds, and the comfort that brings. Even with the comfort of our beds, I suspect that some of us will find ourselves more uncomfortably reflecting back on the past week and each little moment that caught us from a different angle, caused us to ask questions, and to seek answers. Why is this world the way it is? What can we do about the bits that are in need of a little TLC?
This has been a week of new experiences, and all in a culture not altogether unlike our own. New Orleans may have quite the sassy reputation, and it may have a variety of differences from our home culture in the diocese of Ottawa, but at the base are people in relationship with one another, in the midst of a set of circumstances in which everyone needs help in one form or another (whether acknowledged or ignored).
This is as true of New Orleans, Louisiana as it is of our homes in and around Ottawa, Ontario.
Over the course of the week we’ve had the opportunity to ask ourselves what it’s been about this trip that’s been so different from our lives back home. Why is it that we’ve been so open to the stories around us? What is it about this place that’s connected with us at a deeper level – a soul level?
Perhaps it’s been the unfamiliarity. We don’t know this place, its streets, how to get around. We don’t talk in southern drawl (unless we have a propensity for adopting local accents), and we’re not used to such open hospitality. Perhaps that’s what’s throwing us of guard. Perhaps it’s something else.
There is something to be said about the draw of community. About the loyalty to family, no matter what. Down in New Orleans, like everywhere else, it’s impossible to choose your family. But in New Orleans, that seems to mean something more. The family is core to existence. Even if family steals from you, is thrown in prison, whatever…they’re still your blood.
I wonder what we as the church can learn about true community from this example.
Reflecting back on this strange connection to a city and people in the southern United States, I think that there might be something important about the unfamiliarity of our circumstances that has granted us new perspectives. Perhaps that’s why pilgrimages like this one are so valuable – they furnish us with the opportunity to look at life from a different angle. They provide us with new tools for understanding the world, and broaden our localized perspectives.
Unfamiliarity helps us to see that the story is much bigger than simply my story, your story, or even our story. Unfamiliarity, analogy and metaphor help us to see things from different angles. And perhaps, if we’re paying attention, this same unfamiliarity will help us to understand that this is not just about you or me, but also, and primarily, about God’s involvement in this broken/beautiful world.
And this is a world where we get to help. This is a world where we get to participate in God’s mission. A mission to care for, to be stewards of God’s good creation, to build houses, to plant gardens and to love everyone.
Those things helped us to frame our experiences here in New Orleans – the prophecy of Jeremiah 29 aided us as we came down here to help build houses, to plant new seeds of hope, and to love everyone we met in whatever way we could. That’s what we did, and that’s what we as a team hope to continue to do upon our return. What a challenge!
It may be a challenge, and yet it is all too simple. Build Houses. Plant Gardens. Love Everyone. It’s what God calls the church to do. Whether we like it or not, whether we heed it or not, this is what God is calling us to. And if we are to truly be the church, then I guess we better get out of those pews, roll up our sleeves and find ways to live this out at home, in whatever way we can.
Because if we don’t…if we refuse to be renewed by our gatherings as church in order to move out and seek the welfare of our cities, towns, and all of our neighbours, what could that possibly mean about the state of our faith?
Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.