Wednesday, June 7, 2017

My Talking Couches

These are my talking couches.  They don’t talk … But they are where people talk to me.  Without fail.  If I sit down on these couches, I have to be prepared to get nothing I planned to do done … Except for talking to people.  I’ve written about these couches before, some nine months ago, and it still holds true.  These are my talking couches.

I’ve tried to read numerous books on these couches.  They’re comfy.  Perfect for laying back with a good book, which is how most people use them.  I’ve sat down on them when tables and chairs aren’t available, ready to write, post, or email.  I’ve chilled out on them looking for a brief break, with Netflix ready.

The thing is, though, I can’t sit on both of them.  I can’t take up that much room on my own.  Inevitably, somebody will sit down on the opposite couch, ready to get some work done for themselves.

And, inevitably, a conversation will happen.  Either the book I’m reading starts things off.  A book which might, indeed, be a Bible.  Or maybe the other persons mutters something.  Literally anything can start a conversation at Union.  For whatever reason it might be, a conversation always happens when I sit at these couches.

Every.  Time.  With.  Out.  Fail.

And whenever that conversation starts, I usually share as quickly as possible that I’m a pastor, and that I get to pastor at Union.  It’s a bit of a BS filter for me that I like to put out there for authenticity’s sake.  A lot of pastors have opinions on when to break the news that they’re a pastor when out in public, but I find it creates a quicker opportunity to get to deeper conversation.  Plus, if the conversation doesn’t continue at that point once somebody knows I’m a pastor … It’ll happen later.

To me, anything else feels like a bait and switch.  Sharing what I get to do opens up the conversation about the true nature of Union and how it builds community in it’s neighborhood and in Dallas at large.  What many of us might consider an interruption, and truth be told – initially I did, creates an opportunity to be a bit more like Jesus in the world.

Deeper conversations are what the church, at it’s best, facilitates.

The other week, sitting on my couches, a young black man from South Dallas, shared with me his story of returning home from college in the fall.  He’s looking at masters programs in public health for the next school year, but in the meantime he’s tutoring the young kids of his neighborhood for work.  He shared with me a detail that straight shook me.

He’s one of the few young men of his neighborhood that graduated from high school.

He’s also one of even fewer young men from his graduating class that’s still alive.

Violence and addiction have taken many lives in his Dallas community.  He got out, broke the cycle in his own life, but now looks around and wonders what he can do.  So, he’s answering a call to study public health.

All I could do in the moment, other than sit dumbfounded at this story that systemic racism in our community has caused, is affirm that he can demonstrate to the young boys and girls of his neighborhood that he’s mentoring and tutoring that it’s possible to transcend the history that surrounds them.  Life doesn’t have to be that way.

Yet, as I ponder that chance encounter, I wonder, is that true?  Have I participated in a system that keeps my black and brown brothers and sisters down and out of the abundant life that Christ and his representatives in the church call us to share?

We’ll often say that folks can ‘pull themselves up by their bootstraps’ and get out of their circumstances.  A trite saying.  What if society has denied whole groups of people those very boots?  What could they possibly pull themselves up by, then?

I’m thankful for the interruption that young man brought into my worldview that evening on my talking couches.  There are so many more stories that could be shared.  Stories that lead to so many more questions...

How do we allow our community to interrupt our lives?

Where is the place that you meet people and invite their stories to be shared?

As my time at Union begins to close and I prepare for a new pastoral appointment in a new community, the first thing I plan to search for is that place where my work will be interrupted and ministry can actually happen.