I grew up with two parents - mom and dad - and a little sister. We went to church every Sunday. We did youth group and Sunday school. We went on choir tours and mission trips. We did service projects and went on retreats. We sang in the chancel choir. It kept us busy. It was our community.
Now I work in church every Sunday. And when I've not been working in a church? I've still been going to one.
God isn't an optional thing in my life - really never has been. He is there. It's so simple - for me, God has just always been there.
And nobody particularly close has ever threatened me with separation from God. Nobody important to me has told me that God doesn't love me or that God can't see me . . . or that God isn't at work in my life.
Only twice have I experienced this sort of confrontation. Both events took place during high school.
You guys know about my day job - elementary school music teacher. You know about my other job - music minister in a United Methodist Church. And my other job - singer/songwriter of weird Christian-type music. I didn't always want to be doing these things. I used to have other thoughts.
When I was about 15 years old I thought I knew exactly what God wanted me to do. And I guess I sort of did, but I've always wanted things to be more specific than they should be. I was so excited about this sense of calling - a calling into ordained ministry - that I didn't stop to think about the fact that in other denominations people thought it was sinful and evil for a woman to be preaching. That was a totally foreign concept to me.
I went to a big church. People had become accepting of female pastors there years before I became interested in it. So I was shocked when one of my classmates at school told me that I'd go to Hell for preaching.
Not long after the encounter at school I was at the doctors office with my mom and little sister. It was the same pediatrician I'd gone to as a kid. The Dr. was a familiar person to all of us, kind, and always asking how we were and what we were up to. He asked if I'd thought about college. I proudly announced that I was thinking about seminary! He lost all humor and said, "Well, Miss Sarah, we will only hope that God sees fit to send the Rapture in time to save you from making such a dangerous decision."
Why are you writing about this?
Why am I writing about this?
Stay with me here - don't get scared. Don't get angry. If we know each other, you and I, and if we've been good friends? I'm the same person I was before I wrote any of this down. I'm the same person you've talked with or laughed with - or prayed with. If you have long loved Jesus Christ and have sought after the presence of God the Father, then you and I have that in common, also.
So don't worry - try not to be upset with me. And remember that conversations we have should be loving - especially if they concern God.
I'm just about to share with you a little bit of the love that I have for some of my own family and friends.
Rev. Frank Trotter is my uncle, on my dad's side, and I love him. Dr. Frank Trotter (also a reverend) was his father (my grandfather) - a United Methodist Minister, like my uncle has been. This week my Uncle Frank is going to share something deeply personal and brave during a Lyceum event at Emory & Henry College. I have been covering thoughts of this event in prayer for weeks. Because I know that God loves him and all other people . . . and because I have a lot of hope for peace and understanding.
When my sister and I were little kids our Uncle Frank would come and visit us for holidays. We could not wait until he got there. He took us out for movies and to go shopping. He would act silly for us - just to see us laugh. When he visited, he was intentional about making time for us. And we loved him. We still love him. We would swing from his arms and play silly games. From the time we were very young, he was one of our beloved relatives.
When I was in middle school I understood part of who he was that I'd not been aware of as a young child - about the same time that I understood the same thing about a few of my friends at school.
My parents are such good people this way - they really wanted us to love other people. They encouraged us to accept others and to treat them the same . . . and to trust God about love. That God was good. That God had a way for all things. And for years I only heard murmurs at school about what was a good thing to be and what wasn't.
Nobody talked about it at church, not to a middle schooler. I disregarded what people said at school sometimes. Because I knew that God made people. I knew that God loved me and loved other people. And I knew that my friends and my family were beloved. They were my beloved and God's beloved. That was very clear to me.
I was in high school when I realized that this was an issue for some church going people.
About the time I had my two unfortunate encounters concerning ordained ministry, I became aware of the controversy surrounding people who were like some of my own beloved.
And what frame of reference did I have to deal with the way that some of my own peers were feeling? Tearful conversations about names they'd been called. And none of them were really behaving any differently than I was. We all planned to be abstinent until marriage. We all went to church. It made me angry and sad all at the same time. Disappointed. Even more than I'd been when people told me that maybe God didn't love me so much.
What comfort do you offer to somebody who loves God as much as you do, but people are telling them that God doesn't love them? That God doesn't recognize them? That God didn't create them? That their future is damnation? That their humanity is incomplete? No promise. No light. No Jesus. Empty talk from the dark.
I have known for years that I can't tell another person what to think. I've been on the receiving end of one too many one-sided arguments. I can count on one hand the number of times somebody who disagreed with me about this has talked with me about it in a loving and logical way. I love those friends - they disagree with me and others, but their hearts are so good. Those are people who know how to talk with words driven by love and their own life experience . . . and those are people who have listened to me earnestly when I've shared my life experience, different from theirs.
Those few blessed conversations have ended the same way.
What can we agree on?
"God is the One Creator of life."
"God so loved the world . . ." you know the rest of that one. Jesus.
and this . . . "I don't get to know what God knows about somebody else's heart. Only God knows about that. My job is to live in my own community and be a loving, learning, helping, giver where I'm planted."
Other conversations have not been so sweet. They've turned my heart hard. And I'm sorry for that. I'm sorry to have lost a corner of myself that way.
I won't share about them. They hurt me. They hurt my loved ones. They hurt themselves, too. It doesn't give them any new life or light . . . . to be so taken up with anger at something they've never seen a human face from.
"So what?" you're thinking, "Why are you sharing all of this?"
There are very few things I feel passionate about this way. It's not that I need you to think just like I do. It's more that . . . I want you to know another human being who is different from yourself. And I want you to look at them and really think about the fact that their life came from the same place as yours. And then I want you to think about God (if God is someone you Trust right now) . . . and think about God's biggest Gift . . . and know that the Gift is for everyone and anyone. And then know that my beloved, who I've shared about today, have accepted this same gift and are living in its Light. Or at least consider it.
Why walk through the world with fists?
Open hands may give.
Open hands may receive.
Open hands can learn and teach.
Open hands convey all of the things we really want - peace, care, surrender to the grace of somebody who opened their hands to live and die for us . . . us . . . people with hard hearts and incomplete knowledge.
I didn't share any scripture with you today. Because if you are looking for an argument, it's one I've already had before. And you've probably had it, too, if you're ready with the words. It's ok. I love your Bible, too. And it confuses and confounds and teaches me. But I won't draw it like a sword against you. God loves you so much. God loves you just as much as He loves my own beloved. And God is working on you just like God's working on me . . . "He will break our hearts of stone. Give us hearts for love alone."
Somebody I love is going to be really brave this week. And I'm just praying that God would be in the hearts of the people who hear him . . . just like I already know God is in his own heart.
God is good all the time.