Even When The Doors Are Locked

Today is the first Sunday of Advent, the Hope Sunday. Hope is something that’s been hard to come by for me lately, both on a personal level and as I look at the world. It’s hard to hope when girls are kidnapped and forced into marriage for going to school, cops shoot young black men and diseases seem to run roughshod over entire populations. Merry Christmas!

I just got back from a 2-week vacation to Australia, which was more necessary than you can imagine. I’d gotten to a place in my life where I felt stuck and I’d let my view of my life get very small. I felt like there wasn’t a light at the end of whatever tunnel I was stuck in and I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face. I’m a person who needs to have a view of the bigger picture so I can function. It doesn’t matter if I don’t have a clear path to what’s next, as long as I know it’s there.

While I was in Australia, I attended a service at the Contemporary Church Music Mother Ship. I was in the neighborhood and as someone who’s done church music for a while, I had to go. As expected, the music was awesome and the sermon was not. I knew going in that their theology was on the health/wealth side but I wasn’t prepared for 50 minutes of it. Egads. Who preaches that long? Anyway… The marathon sermon was loosely based on John 20, specifically, Jesus appearing to the disciples while they were locked in a room. As I was trying to ignore the sermon by reading the passage, a phrase in verse 26 jumped out at me: “Though the doors were locked, Jesus came…”

There’s nothing smaller than a locked room, and there’s nothing more restrictive than a perspective of the world that is locked down by fear and darkness. I’ve had to stop watching most cable news because it messes with my ability to see beyond the bad things that are in the world. This is not to say that I ignore the existence of evil, but rather, that I choose not to make it the center of my view of the world. It’s not easy to do that. It’s much easier to hunker down, become as small as possible and try to make myself believe that I’m safe from it all.

Another thing that’s interesting about the John 20 passage is that when this phrase appears, the disciples are in a locked room for the second time. Jesus has already appeared to them once, wished them peace, and ensured them of his presence. Yet, here they are, for the second time, on lock down. In this story, Thomas is the one who gets a bad rap for lack of faith. But what about the other ones? They’ve seen Jesus and yet they still insist on the perceived safety of a locked room.

Hope is about being willing to see the world as big even though it’s often terrifying. It’s also about knowing that even though we may sometimes freak out and retreat to the safety of our locked rooms, Jesus will come and stand with us, which is all that we need.

Keep Hope Alive

As I type this I’m watching America’s Team (and also God’s favorite team), the Dallas Cowboys, play the AZ Cardinals. I have been a Cowboys fan from birth, through the good years (the 70s and 90s) and the lean years (the last few). This season I’ve had more reason to hope than ever, because they’re at 6-2 and the next few games are against pretty easy opponents (I just knocked on wood, because, football). I’m not sold on the idea that they’ll go all the way, but I do think they’ll get further into the playoffs than they have in the last few seasons.

You know those stupid internet quizzes that are supposed to predict the future or buttonhole your personality? Yeah, I’m a sucker for those, too. Yesterday I took one entitled “What Emotion Guides Your Life?” Since I’m in INTJ, I found the idea that there’s an emotion guiding my life intriguing, so I took it. Apparently the emotion guiding my life is HOPE. I LOLed at that because that the thing I’ve felt like I’m lacking most over the last couple of months.

I’m tired and in a pre-vacation malaise, so everything I say right now should be taken with a grain of salt, but I’m feeling stuck in almost every are of my life. Coupled with my coping skill of choice being CHANGE, LOTS OF CHANGE, NEED CHANGE, you can imagine how easy it is for me to lose some hope. When I’m in this place, my circumstances tend to dominate my view and I lose sight of the bigger picture of life, God, everything. I know in my head that God is bigger than my circumstances, but sometimes I need my circumstances to improve so I can be reminded of that. That doesn’t seem like an unreasonable request. I know. Shut up.

This weekend I started to get kind of sick of myself and my mopey-ness. Pretty sure that’s a word. I began to feel like God was telling me to go to church. I’ve been completely uninterested in finding a church for a long time because I feel like I’m still in the process of grieving the loss of my SF church and the idea of finding something similar seemed like trying to find a very cool needle in a very uncool haystack. But today I may have found that needle.

This morning I got my ass out of bed and visited a church downtown that I’d been intending to visit for almost the entire time I’ve lived here. God really wanted me to go, so I did. At first glance, it met most of my checklist. It’s progressive, yet biblically based, contemporary music, liturgical elements, extremely friendly, skews younger, but a mix of generations, casual, involved in the community and the preacher said “shit” during the sermon. I know! I thought the same thing. This exists? In Phoenix? I was amazed. It felt very good and home-like. I tend to rush into things, so I’m trying to measure my response, but this might be “the one.”

I always go into a new church service with a consultant hat on. Are the signs professional/helpful, does the physical environment reflect the personality and passion of the community, do they assume that I should already know what’s going on, or are they hospitable enough to explain things, etc. They met all of that. Everything I want a church to say to new people was said. I totally knew what to do at all times.

The great thing about this church is that they don’t need me at all. Not that there’s no opportunity for me to contribute, but rather, any contribution I would make would be a bonus. They’re not desperate. Desperate is so not cute. I don’t need to roll up my sleeves. I can ease in an contribute where necessary.

Today I have hope. Yeah, the Cowboys are behind the Cardinals, but they can still pull it out. I have some career stuff on the horizon. I’m about to take an amazing vacation. And I may have found a church. Everything will be alright in the end. And if it is not yet alright, it is not yet the end.