The very first time I went to a particular writer’s retreat, I arrived with my internal arms crossed over my chest and an internal scowl on my face. On the outside, I was all smiles and I’m so happy to meet you. On the inside, I was more than a little bit tired of the whole thing.
Back home, my husband and I had been working for a few years with a little downtown church. Everything about this church was different from what I would look for, were I to find myself combing through the neighborhood in a quest for a church of my own. The architecture was dated, none of the people looked like me, the worship was stuffy, and the music was not my style.
I was like a woman stranded on a deserted island, in need of some for-real gospel music sung by Hezekiah Walker, Israel Houghton, Kirk Franklin, and The Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir. I needed a tambourine and some drums that kept time on two and four, instead of one and three.
But, I kept my peace. On the inside, of course, I was mumbling about having to, once again thank you very much, sacrifice the way I preferred to worship in order to hang out for the weekend with this lovely group of writers.
And they were a lovely group. We hiked and steered canoes along the river. We workshopped paragraphs and poems and song lyrics, and we shared stories about the writing life. It really was a beautiful place. One of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen.
We gathered together for worship in the Great Hall, where I was handed a folded program, outlining the order of service. “Seriously, God?” I whined silently as I scanned the page. “Litany? We’re going to read a litany?” I slumped back in my seat, like a child, and thought, “Boring.”
Just for once, could I not have things my way? Especially when it came to this whole Body of Christ thing. Could we not just crank up the Hammond organ and get this praise party started?
Looking back, of course, I imagine God standing just a few steps back, smiling and shaking his head. Because, I’ll tell you the truth: I talk a good talk about unity in the Body of Christ. I’m always asking, “Why, in North America, do we still divide our churches by race? What’s up with that? Surely, of all the institutions, the North American church ought to be able to figure this one out.” I’m constantly encouraging people to sit at the table until we find some common ground. Ask the tough questions. Answer with grace. Give a little, I say. Because I honestly believe we can do better. And I believe in order to do better, we each have to give up something.
It’s just that, by the time I’d reached that writer’s retreat, I was done with doing all the giving.
And then? Well then, of course, someone started reading that litany and — I kid you not — the Holy Spirit filled the room and stripped me of my stubborn, weary, wounded resolve. I was turned into a weepy, worship-y, litany-loving mess. To say God got through to me that day would be a gross understatement.
God’s not paying attention to the lines we draw to keep one another at a distance. None of these things are bigger than God. Not theology, or race, or music preference, or language differences, or political parties, or clapping on two and four instead of one and three, or litanies, or whatever else may have come to your mind just now. God is God, and God is simply waiting for us to give a little, so he can make us one.
We can do this differently. We can erase the lines. We can find the common ground. We can give a little. Really, we can.
We can be the ones who make the world stand up and take notice. We can capture their attention by the way we love, and get along with, and serve that sister who speaks a different language, sings a different tune, sits quietly, dances freely, raises her hands, folds them in her lap, reads poetry, creates rap music, marches on Washington, prays in solitude, puts her children on the yellow school bus, lives single or divorced or widowed, and on and on and on.
We can be the ones who make the world stand up and take notice.