According to family legend, in the weeks before my father’s mother died, she had a conversation with my mother that changed the course of our lives. At that time, my parents did not attend church. I was still a baby so you know how long ago this was. “Find a church,” my Grandma said, “Any church, I don’t care what denomination, but find a church and become a part of it.”
And in the months after her passing, my parents did just that. They found a church. As long as I can remember, church was always a central part of our spiritual and social lives.
When I was in my twenties, I left the church and in my forties, I returned. A very long in the tooth prodigal son.
Last night I wrote about the events of the last week. As I published the post and ran out the door to my friend’s party, I felt a lightness. Eloquent or fumbling, I put into words what I had been feeling. I tried to approach it with kindness, not always the easiest task when talking about polarizing subjects.
This morning, I looked forward to church. I got there early and sat in my pew. There is a thirty minute organ concert that precedes every Sunday’s worship service. You can judge me, you probably should judge me, but I tend to spend that time on my phone, checking Instagram, texting and emailing. As the prelude began it’s final chords and the organ began to swell, I put my phone away. In the time that I had been looking down on my phone, the sanctuary filled up. This morning, it wasn’t average Sunday in November full, it was practically Easter full.
We stood to sing the opening hymn, A Mighty Fortress is Our God. The oft-mentioned beauty of my church comforted me and yes, even surprised me a little. Every Sunday, I can’t believe how at home I feel on my little pew in this grand, old sanctuary. I was grateful to have a place where I could bring the sadnesses of the last week.
I touched on it in my last blog, this complicated navigation many of us are attempting with family members who did not vote the same way we did. Like I said, my parents voted for Trump. I voted for Hillary. And for the last week, I’ve tried to figure out what these opposing positions mean about our relationship. How can we see life so differently?
Big surprise, I cried in church. Believe it or not, it was my first cry this week that was about the election. Yes, I am disappointed that Hillary lost, but my tears were not really sad ones. Well, maybe melancholy.
See, I cried this morning when I realized here I was in church again, after a twenty year break, because my parents showed me the value of it. That church is a place to bring your heartache. That church is a place to look at your heart and see what you need to change. That church is where you have a moment to acknowledge what you are grateful for.
I thought about my ailing Grandma Avis who asked my Mom to find a church, any church, 46 years ago. And maybe the ANY part is what I was thinking about in February, when I attended a worship service solely on the basis that I thought the church looked pretty when I drove by. And when I walked into the church courtyard, I saw a poster that read, “Inclusive.”
The Scripture reading today was David’s Psalm 23. When the man read, “I will fear no evil for you are with me,” I thought about how, like God, my parents are always with me, even when I feel there is a distance.
On Friday, when I spoke to my parents, my Dad stated that if someone ever asked him to deny Jesus, he would let them kill him. He would die defending Christ. I assured him that that would never happen. “You never know,” he insisted. “If I die tonight, I have no regrets.”
Today was the first day that I prayed for Donald Trump and his impending presidency. I prayed that God would give him wisdom and compassion and guidance. With my head bowed and my eyes closed, it struck me that I have more in common with Trump than I’d like to admit. I sometimes say cruel things. I sometimes make bad decisions. I can be self-serving. I grow my hair longer than what is ideal for my age/weight.
I loved that my church was packed today. I looked around and saw faces I’d never seen before. I imagined that maybe, like me, they had grown up in conservative churches in the Midwest or the South. Maybe they had left the church in a huff or snuck out a side door. But maybe, this week, this crazy week, affected them in a way that they said to themselves, I’d like to go somewhere to find comfort, healing. Maybe they thought the church looked pretty. Maybe they had a Grandma who begged, “Find a church, any church.”
That parable of the prodigal son, maybe it resonates because some of us feel like we’ve squandered riches and long to return home to a father that welcomes us with open arms. Today, I thought about the time when my own Dad was a prodigal and the events that drove him back to church. Surely there are differences, big differences, but for now, maybe it’s best to hold to what we have in common, to cherish what we share.