KOH2RVA: Day 69

I had to leave Grace Fellowship early last night to get to my next event, but that’s a shame, because there was some very gracious fellowship going on in the dining hall at First Baptist Church.

Vicky Nicholau, who has been doing this for years, welcomed everybody and asked for prayer concerns and praises. I was impressed by how she was able to call almost everybody by name in a room with more than a hundred of our homeless neighbors present. And I was impressed by the diversity of that group: there were black people and white people, old people and young people, men and women and a few I wasn’t sure about, but when I stood to pray I said, “God, there isn’t a person in this room who isn’t precious to you,” and I believed it.

I got the feeling that everybody who was volunteering last night believed it, and that made it possible for our guests to believe it, too. Again, I was impressed by how many people were able to call each other by name, just like they do at Wednesday night church suppers. But this was a Thursday night, and the people in the room didn’t look much like the ones who come on Wednesday. They looked happier, if that’s possible. More grateful. If you had been in that room I think you would have agreed that the Kingdom of Heaven came to Richmond, Virginia, at least for a little while.

I slipped out in time to get to the University of Richmond to hear John Kinney and Ben Campbell speak at the annual Weinstein-Rosenthal Forum on Faith, Ethics, and Global Society. Their topic was: “From Hurt to Healing: Forgiveness and Hope in Metropolitan Richmond.”

Ben talked about the hurt; John talked about the healing.

The way Ben tells the story Richmond has been deeply divided by the issues of race and class almost from the beginning. He talks about Jefferson proclaiming that all men are created equal and Henry saying “Give me liberty or give me death” while Richmond was becoming the largest slave market on the eastern seaboard. He talks about how decisions made in the latter half of the last century bulldozed some of Richmond’s traditionally black neighborhoods and pushed its poorest citizens into ghettos on the other side of the new Interstate.

There was plenty of hurt to talk about last night.

But when John Kinney spoke he said what would get us from hurt to healing was forgiveness of the past and hope for the future. I’ll probably need to save that for my next post because those are huge topics, but I hope you will pause and say a prayer for Richmond today, asking God to forgive us for some of the atrocities committed in the past (and there were atrocities), and to give us hope for a different kind of future.

The prayer itself might be a first step on the road to healing.

The Sneetches

My friend Jane, who has commented on this blog in recent days, shared with me Dr. Seuss’s story of the Sneetches, which I had never heard before.  I think it’s a perfect parable of unity, and one that is especially helpful in these days when the congregation of Richmond’s First Baptist Church is feeling somewhat divided by our September 19 vote on membership.

I’d like to add to this story my own appreciation for those who are able to voice their views and vote their conscience even when their views are different from mine.  One of those came by my office this week to tell me he’d been hurt by some who said he wasn’t supporting the pastor just because he didn’t agree with him.  “Poppycock!” I said (or something like it).  You don’t have to agree with the pastor to be a good and faithful member of the church.  In fact, you probably ought to disagree from time to time as a matter of principle.  As the Sneeches will teach us, it’s not wrong to be different;

It’s only wrong to think it is.

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Now the Star-bellied Sneetches had bellies with stars.
The Plain-bellied Sneetches had none upon thars.
The stars weren’t so big; they were really quite small.
You would think such a thing wouldn’t matter at all.
But because they had stars, all the Star-bellied Sneetches
would brag, “We’re the best kind of Sneetch on the beaches.”

With their snoots in the air, they would sniff and they’d snort, ”
We’ll have nothing to do with the plain-bellied sort.”
And whenever they met some, when they were out walking,
they’d hike right on past them without even talking.

When the Star-bellied children went out to play ball,
could the Plain-bellies join in their game? Not at all!
You could only play ball if your bellies had stars,
and the Plain-bellied children had none upon thars.

When the Star-bellied Sneetches had frankfurter roasts,
or picnics or parties or marshmallow toasts,
they never invited the Plain-bellied Sneetches.
Left them out cold in the dark of the beaches.
Kept them away; never let them come near,
and that’s how they treated them year after year.

Then one day, it seems, while the Plain-bellied Sneetches
were moping, just moping alone on the beaches,
sitting there, wishing their bellies had stars,
up zipped a stranger in the strangest of cars.

“My friends, ” he announced in a voice clear and keen,
“My name is Sylvester McMonkey McBean.
I’ve heard of your troubles; I’ve heard you’re unhappy.
But I can fix that; I’m the fix-it-up chappie.
I’ve come here to help you; I have what you need.
My prices are low, and I work with great speed,
and my work is one hundred per cent guaranteed.”

Then quickly, Sylvester McMonkey McBean
put together a very peculiar machine.
Then he said, “You want stars like a Star-bellied Sneetch?
My friends, you can have them . . . . for three dollars each.
Just hand me your money and climb on aboard.”

They clambered inside and the big machine roared.
It bonked. It clonked. It jerked. It berked.
It bopped them around, but the thing really worked.
When the Plain-bellied Sneetches popped out, they had stars!
They actually did, they had stars upon thars!

Then they yelled at the ones who had stars from the start,
“We’re exactly like you; you can’t tell us apart.
We’re all just the same now, you snooty old smarties.
Now we can come to your frankfurter parties!”

“Good grief!” groaned the one who had stars from the first.
“We’re still the best Sneetches, and they are the worst.
But how in the world will we know,” they all frowned,
“if which kind is what or the other way ’round?”

Then up stepped McBean with a very sly wink, and he said,
“Things are not quite as bad as you think.
You don’t know who’s who, that is perfectly true.
But come with me, friends, do you know what I’ll do?
I’ll make you again the best Sneetches on beaches,
and all it will cost you is ten dollars eaches.

Belly stars are no longer in style, ” said McBean.
“What you need is a trip through my stars-off machine.
This wondrous contraption will take off your stars,
so you won’t look like Sneetches who have them on thars.”

That handy machine, working very precisely,
removed all the stars from their bellies quite nicely.
Then, with snoots in the air, they paraded about.
They opened their beaks and proceeded to shout,
“We now know who’s who, and there isn’t a doubt,
the best kind of Sneetches are Sneetches without.”

Then, of course those with stars all got frightfully mad.
To be wearing a star now was frightfully bad.
Then, of course old Sylvester McMonkey McBean
invited them into his stars-off machine.
Then, of course from then on, you can probably guess,
things really got into a horrible mess.

All the rest of the day on those wild screaming beaches,
the Fix-it-up-Chappie was fixing up Sneetches.
Off again, on again, in again, out again,
through the machine and back round about again,
still paying money, still running through,
changing their stars every minute or two,
until neither the Plain- nor the Star-bellies knew
whether this one was that one or that one was this one
or which one was what one or what one was who!

Then, when every last cent of their money was spent,
the Fix-It-Up-Chappie packed up and he went.
And he laughed as he drove in his car up the beach,
“They never will learn; no, you can’t teach a Sneetch!”

But McBean was quite wrong, I’m quite happy to say,
the Sneetches got quite a bit smarter that day.
That day, they decided that Sneetches are Sneetches,
and no kind of Sneetch is the BEST on the beaches.
That day, all the Sneetches forgot about stars,
and whether they had one or not upon thars.
—Dr. Seuss

Welcome to Christiantown

I know a woman who doesn’t want to be part of any Christian denomination; she just wants to be a Christian.  She says, “I don’t want to be a Methodist (and you really have to hear her say it to understand just how much she doesn’t want to be one, even though she grew up in that denomination and married a Methodist minister), I want to be a Christian!”  She points to that passage in 1 Corinthians 1 where Paul says he has heard about some who are saying, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.”  And then Paul says (and you would really have to hear him say it to understand just how much he is horrified by the idea), “Is Christ divided?  Was Paul crucified for you?  Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?” (1 Cor. 1:12-13).

This is this woman’s argument precisely: that Christ is not divided, that John Wesley (the founder of Methodism) was not crucified for her, nor was she baptized in the name of John Wesley.  She was baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.  She wants to be a Christian, dadgumit.

And so I told her about Christiantown, an imaginary place where people live together in perfect Christian unity.  I said that in Christiantown the Methodist family might live next door to the Lutheran family, but both families live in Christiantown.  There are lots of streets, with lots of houses, and lots of happy families living inside.  There are Baptists, and Presbyterians, and Catholics, and Pentecostals, and every other kind of Christian you can imagine, but what they have in common is a shared commitment to Jesus Christ as Lord.  No matter how much they love their respective families they know who was crucified for them, and in whose name they were baptized.  They know what makes them one.

I tell this woman that what she doesn’t want to be in Christiantown is homeless; she doesn’t want to wander the streets forever, looking in through the windows as families are sitting down at the supper table, as they hold hands and say grace with the glow of candlelight on their faces.  She needs to become part of a family.  She needs to find some Christians with whom she can enjoy that warm, nourishing fellowship, and with whom she can worship and serve the Lord.

So, I’ve encouraged her to visit some churches, and find a good one, and join it knowing that she is not abandoning her commitment to Christ, but only finding a home in Christiantown.  I hope she will do it, and I hope that family—whatever its name might be—will take her in.

She needs a home.