Wednesday, October 12, 2005
I decided that I need to be a little more peaceful. After all, here I am in the wilderness surrounded by trees and birds with quiet dirt roads leading to nowhere. What better setting for a peaceful life? So I bought a bunch of books about being peaceful and began to read up. I decided I’d be peaceful, dammit, if it killed me. Somehow that didn’t work.
A couple of weeks ago I was mad at everything because Chad Kueser got hurt in the war. I went to church to pray for his healing but I forgot to pray for myself. Chad is doing fine. But I was still mad.
Then World Communion happened.
We don’t always have a worship service as great as we had this year. Some years and in some churches World Communion Sunday is just a footnote to worship as usual. The year of 2001 certainly wasn’t a good year for World Communion anywhere. On that date in 2001 the United States began the invasion of Afghanistan. Think about that one for a sec. Our country began a war on World Communion Sunday.
But this year was different. All you had to do was visit my church that day.
I can’t imagine any church ever had as much diversity in one sanctuary as we had in Garland, Texas that morning. We had a panoply of colors: colors of clothing and colors of skin. It was a living stained glass window.
About a year ago we committed to share our sanctuary on Sunday evenings with the South Asian Presbyterian Church. This is a congregation of about 40 people who live all over the metroplex but who want to be Presbyterians together and needed a building for worship. It was just the most natural thing in the world to let them use ours. We discovered them to be mostly from Pakistan. And one of the first things we decided was that we would share world communion Sunday together.
So on October 2nd we had a bunch of people from Pakistan in the sanctuary with us. They dressed in the traditional dress of their country: gorgeous saris for the women and flowing robes for the men. Their pastor had been installed the week before and our church gave him a very decorative stole with bright colors. But it was our pastor who “stole” the show, wearing an elegant shimmering aqua sari they had given her in return. You just have to feel sorry for male pastors at times like this; women pastors really have more options when dressing up.
Another international touch came from the Mbaku family who were born every bit as Presbyterian as I was but in French Cameroon. They wore their traditional African robes, with matching robes for married couples. Gwen and Geoffrey wore emerald green with intricate gold embroidery; another couple was dressed alike in orange. Gwen’s mother, Martha Domanju was in a bright blue robe with matching hair wrap. The Mbaku boys had matching robes of gold. Other friends of ours who came were Esther Nkwenti and Mercy Tatang in bright robes and head wraps. And there were another assortment of about 4 relatives I didn’t recognize who were wearing African robes.
We were still hosting a few relatives from the Hurricane Rita affected areas so even among the wasp-y looking folks you couldn’t tell who were “family” and who were just in town visiting because they had been evacuated. That was the part I liked: you couldn’t tell who was a refuge and who was somebody’s sister so we just treated everyone like family.
On top of it all, we were going to renew our covenant of friendship with the churches in the Norte Presbytery of Guatemala. So the communion table was covered in a bright woven fabric in Guatemalan style. The liturgy for the day was a group effort that included the Guatemalan churches and the South Asian church. We had songs in Spanish and one in Urdu, which is basically unpronounceable except for “Hallelujah.” Everybody could sing Hallelujah.
I looked around while we were singing in Urdu to see this gorgeous mosiac of faces and colors with some slightly bewildered gray haired white folks doing their best to take it all in. And, bewildered or not, they were making it.
At the end of worship our pastor ask for Mrs. Domanju to come forward and we presented her with a peace candle for her to take home to her church in Cameroon when she leaves next week. It originally came to us from Russia.
Funny, isn't it? When I was a kid we spent a lot of time worrying that Russia was going to blow us up. Now they're sending us peace candles.
All of this left me thinking maybe we might figure this peace thing out. I have lived long enough now to have seen a lot of changes in the world. Certainly when I was growing up my church never had worship like this.
Two generations ago Martha Domanju couldn’t have come to spend a couple of months with her daughter because there was no airline service between our countries. Maybe even two generations ago Gwen and Geoffrey couldn’t have come to live here and raise their boys here. Certainly two generations ago we never would have shared our sanctuary with a group of Pakistani Presbyterians. And two generations ago we wouldn’t have had members of our congregation with solid personal friendships in Guatemala. My grandmother had a lot of friends in her church but she never had any friends whose last name was Nkwenti or Tatang or Velasquez or Rodriguez.
I’m still mad about this war and I still disagree with it. But every once in a while I noticed the progress we’ve made. At these times it seems like we’re getting a little closer to finding the Kingdom of God right here under our noses. I constantly struggle with the idea that God has eternity to continue the vast creation God has envisioned for us while I only have just this one lifetime. I get in a hurry and forget to be peace-full.
Every Sunday we pass the Peace of Christ. On October 2, 2005 we lived inside of it.