Abiding in Exile 6/01/2022

Abiding in Exile 6/01/2022

June 01, 2022

 

By Rev. Cindy Hickman

This week we are sharing another guest post from Rev. Cindy Hickman, back after her good words a couple of months ago. She wrote this essay a few weeks ago—before the tragic shootings in Buffalo, Uvalde, and so many other places. We hope her encouragement will soak deep into your spirit.
 

A pep talk for us church folk

I want to give you a pep talk. (I need to hear a pep talk, so I thought maybe you did too.)

These are wild times, for sure. Climate worries; the pandemic; political division that’s made its way into our neighborhoods and families; racial bias, conscious and unconscious, fueled by a blinding privilege that cuts into our psyche and communities; the discord and rupture in our own denomination; violence; new understandings of gender and sexuality; the constant drum beat of the media telling us what awful thing is happening in the world; the plight of refugees;  the echoes of war from Yemen and Ukraine, faraway places, but the suffering and injustice vibrates through our souls; the rising cost of hamburger in the grocery store.

Anything you would like to add to the list?

And then there is just living, raising kids, going to work every day, paying bills, tending to our health. Toss in a drought, or a tornado, or a derecho.

We have all experienced some sort of grief in the last year, a loss of a loved one, a postponement of something we had planned on, a loss of connection to friends or co-workers. All of this has taxed our mental resources. Every one of us knows someone who is struggling with mental and emotional challenges. Many of those who are struggling are children and young adults who are new to the business of living in a complicated world.

We are too often “Dis” people: discouraged, disappointed, disillusioned.

(Wait I thought this was pep talk!)

I retired a year ago after nearly 20 years as a pastor serving local churches. My husband and I have not found a church home. (No pity please, this is just a wilderness time for me. I am adapting to a new role, and I will find my way through.) 

We visit a different church every Sunday.

Every Sunday in every church I watch as people arrive carrying all of the above-mentioned and the tension it all creates. It’s like it lingers in our hair like smoke and has made its way into our lungs, ready to sabotage our good intentions, undermine our hope.

Last Sunday as we headed to church, I was hoping the pastor would talk about fear. I was thinking about fear and how it paralyzes us.  

The sermon wasn’t about fear. But the message that day was bigger than the sermon.

First, the people gathered. In a time when so many of our institutions are faltering, when we face security measures as we enter so many buildings reminding us of potential danger, when so many people are working from home and sharing coffee with a warm keyboard rather than the gang in the break room, people of the church gathered. It is such an incredibly healthy thing to gather, an act of resistance really, to be in one another’s company. It’s about the most healing thing we can do. We are social beings. Paul was right about that Body of Christ stuff. Just in the gathering there was encouragement. People waved and smiled at one another. This should not seem like revolutionary stuff, but in these times, the act of gathering for something bigger than ourselves is a courageous act.

And then, in music and word and prayer and laughter, in the sometimes-awkward way that we are church, the church shared a fresh ancient story. We went looking for a glimpse of God, reached a hand out to the redeeming Christ, watched for the movement of the Holy Spirit to guide our steps. In a very human way, the church offered up a reality that sets a path out of all of the above dilemmas. Oh, it’s a long journey and a tough one, but still the gathered church insists that it’s worth it.

Seems completely convinced that there is a future even if we can’t see it, even if our numbers are smaller than they once were, even if we are a broken people who can argue about petty things and who love a good potluck, we trust in grace.

(Sorry if my pep talk isn’t a rah-rah rally.)

I just want you to know that when I am sitting in the pews among the gathered, when the pastor stands up (just the act of standing up is a testimony), when together we say “thy kingdom come” every Sunday, there is hope in that. The tension smoke that surrounds us dissipates. We exhale and our lungs relax and the hold our troubled world has on us loosens.

In the long list of the world’s troubles, in our own emotional struggles, the church gathers, continues to gather, returns to the well of faith. “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11.1) Nope, we can’t see the future, at least I can’t. But we gather with a courage beyond our making. Stable, stubborn persistence, still looking ahead. No magic answers. No instant solutions. No miraculous cures. Just the church being the church, a steady presence in an uncertain world, a readiness to meet the future when the future becomes clearer, and serve as the world needs.

What you are doing is important.

Keep gathering.

Keep standing.

Keep the faith. 

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About the author: Cindy Hickman is a retired elder having served three amazing churches. She is now a free agent for grace. She spends her time reading and writing and is grateful for both. She resides with her husband and their hound dog Ike in West Des Moines.

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