One night near the end of our stay on Iona I met three angels.
I had already met one of them a couple of nights before. He was a tall very dark black man who reminded me of someone who might be a soccer player. He had closely cut hair around his neckline and ears until the crown of his head where it was short dreadlocks that stood up. He had an athletic build. When I found out he was from Nigeria I asked if he was married. And when he said he was I asked if it was true what I had heard that Nigerian women are very strong-willed women. His response was immediate and animated that Yes! indeed they are strong women! We had a pleasant conversation but I really don't remember much more about it. He was here to study for a while.
Then the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas happened. And then the shooting at the hospital in Oklahoma happened. And our group was far from home. So we just did what you do. We went to church that night.
And after worship I saw my Nigerian angel. He was standing with a very elegant dark- skinned woman so I asked him if this was his wife. They both looked a little embarrassed and quickly told me no, that she is another student there like he is. She is from London. Then they were joined by another woman, a freckled faced redhead who is from Scotland. And the three of us talked. They all appeared to be in their thirties. There was an earnestness and a humility about them that made them fun to talk to. But I love talking to young people, anyway.
And I poured out all of my frustrations over the shootings in the United States and our inability to stop them. I told them that my granddaughter teaches second grade. I told them my daughter works in a hospital at the registration desk and she is the first person anyone entering the building sees. I was feeling so vulnerable.
They just listened to me.
In the bible angels do all the talking but here on earth they listen a lot more.
I don't remember what they said to me. I just remember being able to get a lot of my concerns expressed. I know we talked for a while. And I think I finally think I said something to the effect that I guessed it would be alright in the end.
I remember leaving with the understanding that everything would eventually be alright. I might not live to see a solution. It's highly likely that I won't live to see solutions to these problems. But I left the Abbey that night with the assurance in my heart that it will come.
I remembered the Celtic liturgy performed every evening before worship when the children brought in the world globe, a tea towel, a candle and some stones. The stones are to remind us of the story of Jesus' triumphant entry into Jerusalem in the last week of his life when everyone was shouting Hosannah and the authorities admonished him to make them stop. His answer was "I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out."
I realized the stones in the Iona Abbey building had heard every single hymn sung in that place, every prayer uttered, every word of scripture read aloud. It had soaked in every laugh burst out, every cry stiffled, every whisper muffled and the floor had soaked up tears that no one else saw. For years they have sat in place and waited.
They sit and wait, these stones. They can be patient. They have no place to go. And now I wonder if the stones might speak for us all. I take comfort thinking the stones might speak for us if we fail.
Martin Luther King, Jr put these sentiments into memorable words in a speech in a cathedral similar to the Abbey, instead it was the National Cathedral in Washington D.C. on March 31, 1968.
"...the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice."
St. Columba landed on the island of Iona in 563 to bring Christ to a place who had never heard of him. And the changes in the world since that time are countless. If we can't grasp the spiritual growth we can look at the practical growth. The Abbey started with candles. Now they have not only electric lighting but a sound system that has a control board that runs off an iPad, none of which would have occurred to Columba. Indeed, I couldn't have imagined the wireless technology of the iPad myself 10 years ago.
The world is constantly changing and most of the changes are for the better. Maybe we pay more attention to the bad things that happen because it is not supposed to be that way. The good things are supposed to happen so we nod our head in approval and move on. When bad things happen we wring our hands, murmur disapproval and wonder what we can do to fix it. Sometimes we actually take action.
All I had to do was consider the people I was spending my time with. Twenty-seven people who intentionally had come to slow their lives down for a week to listen to God in the sounds and sights of Scotland, to listen for what God had to say to them personally that they could incorporate into their own lives and share with others, to "take the good news of Christ to the world." Colomba's work was still going on.
We weren't on a coracle, the rudderless boat that Colomba sailed from Ireland to Iona on through rough seas that had drowned countless men before him but we didn't have luxurious accommodations, either. We were a jolly group that was willing to cram themselves elbow to elbow on a bus to get where we needed to go. It was an energetic group who loved hiking for the most part but who loved God even more. Who were considerate of each other and prayed for each other. Most were church professionals for whom prayer comes easily, who can default to including God in any conversation.
While I was in London I spent a lot of time walking around and saw a lot of people. London is one of the most racially mixed cities I've ever seen. I saw Muslim women in traditional hijabs. I saw Asians, Africans, Dutch and Eastern Indians.
And they had a couple of posters up in the Underground promoting Anti-hate and Diversity.
Then.....I ran across this poster outside on a fence.
In addition to being diverse, London seems to be comfortable in its diversity.
The church Beaven and I belonged to for over thirty years recently installed a new pastor on Pentecost Sunday and I watched a recording of the service. This congregation is one of the most racially diverse in America. The rough breakdown would be a third Anglo, a third African (Cameroon and Nigerian mix) and a third Pakistani. There are really more Anglo and a lot less Pakistani but I'm not sure of the actual statistics. The service used about five languages because they are trying to draw in a Spanish crowd from the free breakfast they serve on Saturdays and they are building some friendships there.
And here's the deal: it works. Everybody is having fun. There may be some tension--One of my friends complained that she can't understand the Pakistani pastor when he prays. And I say she doesn't need to. "It's a prayer. He's not talking to you. He's talking to God and God speaks Urdu." But the good outweighs the bad and people want it to succeed so it works.
The Presbyterian Church started meeting for their bi-annual General Assembly this week. I watched the opening worship service and noticed that all of the leaders were black. ALL of them. The co-moderator. The preacher. The Stated Clerk. I'm not sure anybody planned it. It just worked out that way. Other leaders are white. The majority of the Presbyterian church as a whole is white. But, yeah, today we were led by a minority that historically has not been allowed to have a leadership role in America.
Once you understand that our Creator God created the entire world and all the people who live on it and loves each one of us equally you will get it. Everyone on the planet, equally. Take a minute to dwell on this part. It's important. No rush. Take your time.
Here I'll even put up a picture of the earth for you to look at while you think.
All of us. The large and tall. Small and quiet. Pale and dark skinned. Brilliant and dull. Even the people we disagree with. And that is the hard one so take a little extra time on that one. The people we can't understand because they speak a different language than we do. God understands what they are saying. And God loves us all.
A lot of people get into the habit of thinking that the whole world is only what they experience because that's all they see. Sometimes that's all they ever see because they can't get outside their neighborhood. Maybe they live in a remote location and it takes a long time to physically leave town. Or sometimes because they choose not to because they have everything they need within reach. I feel sorry for people who don't have the resources to travel but I'm mystified by people who could get out and explore the world but for some reason chose not to. The only reasons I can come up with is that they aren't curious or they are afraid or they have a physical reason they can't travel well. And for any of those reasons I feel bad for them. They are missing something so enriching.
There are ways to work around the inability to escape your neighborhood: reading is a really good one for enlarging your world. And, now with the internet, it is actually easier to embrace the larger world than it is to escape it. You just have to be deliberate about what you are choosing. I would encourage you to avoid fearmongers.
The world is constantly changing and most of the changes are for the better. Maybe we pay more attention to the bad things that happen because it is not supposed to be that way. And we notice anomalies. The good things are supposed to happen so we nod our head in approval and move on. When bad things happen we wring our hands, murmur disapproval and wonder what we can do to fix it.
The bottom line is that you get to pick your community. I was recently in a worship service at a conservative church. It was packed. I'll bet there were 600 people there. But I looked around and saw that there wasn't a person of color in the room. And all the men wore white shirts and ties. Not even a blue shirt. All were dressed exactly the same. It occurred to me that this church would probably die within a generation without some sort of radical change.
Governor Ann Richards is famous for saying that she wanted a government that looked like the people she governed. So she appointed a diverse group of well-qualified people to important positions. I went to Ann Richard's funeral and what I saw was people of every skin tone and manner of dress you could imagine.
My advice to anyone who wants to live a well-rounded life is to look around you and pick a community who does not look like you. Get an assortment pack. This is the future.