April 2, 2019
This season has been more Lent-y than most. Everywhere we turn, there are so many things to which we must attend. And, of course, circumstances are never simple. They take every ounce of our energy and attention, often breaking our metaphorical backs with their weight. On top of that, illness and hospitalization, death and its grief, broken relationships and maltreatment sneak into the fray, waving their hands during conflict like eager schoolchildren desperate to give an answer or gain attention. You and I have been through it, have we not?
Life is like an ocean, deep and relentless, filled with tumult and unforeseen situations. The crashing waves of despair and challenge are ever upon us. So again, of this season I say it has been particularly Lent-y. In transparency, I have been experiencing the impact of my own waves. Life doesn’t hold off until you are better prepared or have less on your plate. Luckily, I understand that when one ties herself to the church and her people, the seasons of the church calendar find you. Lent dares to teach and transform you while you work.
On Sunday night, after a wonderful and rich morning worship with Aneelah Afzali, I was honored to sing for the Beating Guns tour, an event with Shane Claiborne, an activist, faith leader and peacemaker. As he shared statistics of gun violence, I found myself getting more and more restless. Perhaps, I wondered, I was just nervous about singing. Then, it hit me like a crashing wave. I was reminded of how much trauma I carry with me, and I was being triggered.
As the hot forge burned the barrel of a gun outside, melting the weapon into a pruning hook and a plow, inside I was preparing to sing “A Change is Gonna Come,” a song written and performed by Sam Cooke, a brilliant man whose life, too, was cut short by gun violence. And it struck me like the sound of the metal being struck nearby. In the flurry of activity and preparation, in the ocean of holding the stories of so many others, my own story was buried. My younger brother was murdered at age 19, shot and killed before his life could begin. In the middle of the song where I ministered to others, I remembered seeing this boy who looked like me lying in a coffin, and wept as I sang, needing a ministry to my own soul. In the moment, all I had was God to hold me together, to keep me standing, to remind me as the lyrics say,
There were times when I didn’t think I would last for long,
But now I know I’m able to carry on.
It’s been a long time coming, but I know a change is gonna come—on, yes it will.
Our faith is important. What we believe is important, and you don’t truly know why until times like these. In many ways, it is about the impactful, staggering moments when all you have is who you are and who God is revealed in you. All you have it the trust that God will see you through. The words I sang soothed my soul and helped me remember that though grief looms large, God is there. My pastoral prayer is that the scripture, songs, sermons, faith formation and truth of contemporary voices used in worship flood your way when things are most difficult, and that you feel the presence of the loving and compassionate God to which they point. May you find some peace in knowing that like the story of Peter walking across the water toward Jesus, the waves don’t have the final say. Keep your eyes fixed on God when suicide and self-harm, addiction, unresolved fear and anger and swells of grief wash upon our souls, and know that everything may not resolve, but what is true and whole will remain.
With a hammer upon an anvil, I later beat the hot metal that was once a gun into a more useful tool; this is our invitation today. I remembered how faithful God has been despite (and because) of the grief and trauma. Let us use our current circumstances to fuel our lives and our right action, even when they are Lent-y. Let us vow our presence to one another and celebrate life. Celebration doesn’t ignore the hard things, but it does redirect our energy toward God and our vision for the Beloved Community. Pray anyhow. Dance anyhow. Sing anyhow, and believe that a change is gonna come. Oh, yes it will. –Rev. Dr. Kelle Brown