It was not a friendship I would have expected–
She, black. Me, not black.
She, a PhD and now attending Divinity School. Me, not an academic.
She, a woman. Me, a dork.
But the friendship and the call came when I needed it most.
She called as I was driving home one day shortly after the news had come. The news was shocking to many of us: church discipline for two prominent progressives. But why?
“How are you doing, Michael?” I pulled over to talk. I was in the poorer part of town, the part of town that I drove through as I headed home from the hospital.
About two years before, a Lutheran Church in that neighborhood had burned down. It was arson and this part of town was known, not only for the poverty of its residents, but for its gang and drug activities. The church was a beautiful. Small. Stain-glass windows. The priest’s living quarters were adjacent to the chapel – small and unpretentious. There it was, or wasn’t. Burnt down. I had never attended services there, but I imagined that it provided a place of worship for the truly downtrodden.
Six months later, the church was rebuilt. Small and beautiful. Stain glass windows and two crosses. My youngest daughter always asks me about one of those crosses that sits out in front of the Lutheran Church.
“How are you doing, Michael?”
When I came to a stop at the curb and put my truck into park, I let go. I cried. No, I wept. I felt hot. I couldn’t speak.
“Well, you sound worse off than I am,” she said with surprise. We spoke for a few minutes as I sat in my truck.
“I can’t abide this Michael. I can’t abide this type of violence. I can’t allow my children to be part of an institution that does this,” she also cried.
We both drew deep breaths. And then we cried more and spoke more.
“Yes, I understand. I am sorry. I don’t know what to do.”
Somewhere in those few minutes, I looked to my right and there it was: the once burnt-down Lutheran Church. New stain glass windows. Standing where ashes once were, with its two crosses. One cross erect, the other tilted–not lying flat–just tilted. That’s the cross my daughter always asks about.
“Why is it crooked, dad?”
Why does it stand at an angle? It appears to have been done on purpose. There it was. And here we are –
Not what or where we expected to be.
Here I was. Next to this church–the church with one cross standing straight and the other crooked.
What was I to do? I looked at those two crosses and realized, I am one. Jesus is the other. I looked at that church: once burnt to ashes, now risen. A place of redemption, of new life and peace.
Was it just chance that I had parked my car there in front of the once burnt-down church, parked in front of those two crosses?
I choose to believe that God was reminding me of something I already knew: I will lean on the grace of Christ. That is what I will do.
I also choose to believe God was meaning to teach me some lessons.
One lesson was for me:
“Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
The other lesson was about how I can be for others:
“When they lifted up their eyes at a distance and did not recognize him, they raised their voices and wept. And each of them tore his robe and they threw dust over their heads toward the sky. Then they sat down on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights with no one speaking a word to him, for they saw that his pain was very great.”
These lessons came from an unexpected place and time and from an unexpected friendship. This friendship, this unexpected phone call taught me: Be present in each other’s sorrow. Be present in the pain.