Jesus was a great date in Washington D.C. We met at The Summit on June 18-21st. I sat and listened to experts while Jesus whispered in my ear what he wanted me to know, hear, see, think and do. Many times when Jesus speaks he does so through repeated themes or specific words and/or concepts that illuminate when mentioned.
However, that’s not what happened on our first day together.
Instead, I found myself grieving over losses in my life.
Not what I had anticipated!
My first day: Women in church leadership shared gender barriers they’ve encountered, and there I was reminded of my own. Jesus wanted to talk about some of those wounds I’d tucked away. Like how it hurt when a man wouldn’t shake my hand when he realized I was the “gal in the Dallas Morning News who had caused a stir because I preached from the pulpit.” That hurts.
At another seminar where we talked about structural and cognitive barriers (and implicit bias), a doctoral student shared how she felt invisible as an Asian woman living in America. When she said those words, to my surprise, I found myself recalling a traumatic event in my life where my voice was silenced – I choked up.
Later in the afternoon, I heard a panel discussion on domestic violence. The woman introducing the panelist opened by stating, “I am a child of domestic violence.” Out of nowhere, I realized I am, too. I’ve known I grew up in an abusive home, but I’ve never termed it in such forceful words. They provoked deep sadness.
At the end of the day Steve asked what I was pondering. “I can’t tell you or I’ll start crying right here in front of everyone.” My first day with Jesus was a day of grieving. Lament. It’s part of our Christian walk, yet often we ignore or repress it. God did not. Over 60% of the Psalms are Psalms of lament: Where are you God? Why did you allow this to happen? And in John 11:33 we read, “When Jesus saw her weeping … he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled.” (He groaned in the spirit means to have indignation on, to blame, to sigh with chagrin, to snort with anger.)
“Then Jesus wept.” (John 11:35)
Sometimes Jesus wants to take us on a date to bring up wounds we’ve stuffed down deep in order to grieve with us. There’s healing in that.
During the rest of my time with Jesus, he pointed out areas where I am weak and needed shoring up. The three specific areas he kept illuminating through different events and conversations were: collaboration, cleansing and conversation.
Collaboration: I had the privilege of listening to and dialoguing with several men and women who had marched with Martin Luther King during the Civil Rights Movement. Listening to their stories made me realize how crucial collaboration was for them to bring about change for blacks in America. Unity in spirit with passion put into action. I realized that the Marcella Project can’t make impact if we don’t collaborate with others speaking on issues of improving the view of women through Scriptures. I know it seems obvious, but the truth is I stink at collaboration. I have no idea who those voices are or how to bring us to the table or well –anything. I feel inadequate and unsure how to proceed, so I just keep reminding Jesus, “I have no idea how to do this!” (Just incase he was unaware!)
So far no answer from Jesus on how to proceed.
Which takes me to my second word: cleansing.
I asked a long time warrior of gender justice how she kept herself from becoming bitter or a fighter (both fears of mine). She answered, “You have to go to the mystics like Teresa of Avila or Catherine of Siena and learn how to detach.” I’m not so sure I agree with her on the idea of “detachment,” but what she said connected to what Jesus would mention through others.
Tony Campolo taught on preaching, and one thing he said was that he no longer shows up thirty minutes prior to teaching. He said people do small talk that sucks the Spirit out of you before you even get on stage; to some extent he’s right. He comes fifteen minutes before speaking. Prior to his arrival, he prepares through prayer. He doesn’t pray for transformation or power in preaching or any of those typical prayers us preachers pray. He said he sits in the quiet for 30 minutes. It takes about 20 minutes for the animals to go away. You know, those animals that enter your mind the first thing in the morning – talking to you about what worries you, what needs accomplishing, needs that need to be met etc. It takes twenty minutes for those animals to go away. And then he invites Jesus to cross through time, reach into his center and cleanse him of sin.
That was a powerful moment for me. How long has it been since I’ve asked nothing of my preaching but rather waited for the animals to go away and then invited Jesus into my core to cleanse me? Wow. I needed to hear that.
Then I sat next to Mary, an elderly woman who marched with Martin Luther King Jr. She shared a story about marching with an African American woman while people lined the streets spitting, kicking and throwing things at them. One big, white male spit on her friends’ face, and they all stopped walking. The women turned to the man, spit rolling down her cheek and said, “God bless you son, God bless you.” The most impressive part was seeing Mary’s eyes as she told the story, full of overflowing love and mercy. I thought, “how does one do that while being spit at?” The answer? Prayer. The movement was bathed in prayer. This African American woman had Jesus so intertwined in her DNA that she was able to respond in love and mercy.
I ache to be like that.
I realize as I cry out against gender injustice, there will be resistance. My tendency will be to build up resentment and bitterness and to come back at people with boxing gloves on. I don’t want to be like that – that means being bathed in prayer. Mystic kind of prayer. Cleansing kind of prayer.
Finally: conversation, which can only happen after cleansing. Throughout the conference, I heard story after story of people’s lives, lives that had been devastated by injustice, whether that be women, Native Americans, or African Americans – real stories. I realized one of the ways we bring change is through our stories, lots of stories. People matter. Their lives matter. Stories are one of the ways we bring shalom into people’s lives. But conversation also means being at the table with others, being willing to talk, to dialogue with those in whom I disagree (without the gloves or the bitterness). That’s how change happens. And that can only happen if I’m bathed in cleansing prayer and willing to collaborate with similar hearts and minds, as well as sitting at the table with those who don’t.
It was a lot – my time with Jesus. I’m still processing all he said. I have no idea how to go about it.
I think I’ll pray.
I love my dates with Jesus.