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Leading and Longing

Like most Sundays, I’m at the piano leading my congregation in worship. The lights are lowered in the gym-turned-sanctuary where we worship.

Like most Sundays, I’m at the piano leading my congregation in worship.

It’s Advent, and I haven’t been able to push the image out of my mind of Mary and Joseph fleeing for their lives to Egypt as refugees. I imagine what stress and hardships brown-skinned Mary and Joseph felt fleeing King Herod’s murderous impulses. It wasn’t the first time they were on the road and urgently looking for a place to stay, but it seemed that every time they were in desperate need of emergency housing, it was because of their son.

It’s been on my mind all week because last Sunday while I was leading worship, fellow Christian refugees on the border of my country were being sprayed with tear-gas to try to prevent them from legally requesting protection from the death-clouds looming on the horizons of their native lands. Instead, our country was breaking our own laws, based on suspicions and rumors, and not allowing families like María, José, and their son Jesús to safely cross the border to make their request for protection.

Instead, they were greeted by a military force acting as if they were trying to disperse an unlawfully-assembled crowd, instead of offering to help process the many people legally requesting asylum. These tear-gas grenades were fired at the migrants during our worship time. I couldn’t cry out to God about this last week, because I didn’t know this had happened until I had gotten home, and I desperately wanted to cry out to God during worship this Sunday about this inhumanity.

These tear-gas grenades were fired at the migrants during our worship time.

I’m thinking this while we begin to sing:

This is the air I breathe

This is the air I breathe

Your holy presence living in me

I remember how so many around the world protesting injustice are so often sprayed with tear gas. In recent years from the Umbrella Revolution in Hong Kong to the Black Lives Matter protests in the United States, those marching in the streets cry out with their presence “How long, O Lord!”

Yet, so many Sundays we barely speak of these things, unless the problems are very far away. Because too often, our privileges are bought with the currency of injustice, and we would rather stay blindly comfortable than have Jesus place muddy spit on our eyes to help us see.

This is the air I breathe...

Or maybe we actually do see quite clearly. Maybe we avoid talking about our role in perpetuating injustice for the very reason that doing so could cost us as church staff in the offering plate. In many of our churches, we modern-day priests and Levites too often choose to cross to the other side of the road, ignoring our neighbors who have been beaten and left for dead, instead of doing what we can to help the hurting. It makes it all the more complicated that these same congregants aren’t my enemies - they are my friends. I tell myself that the church needs to stay afloat financially in order to be salt and light in the world, but perhaps trusting offerings more than Jesus means that we already have lost our saltiness.

This is my daily bread

This is my daily bread

Your very word spoken to me

The thing is, if I am totally honest, I’m scared to speak. Scared that I’ll get more angry emails from congregants accusing me of bringing politics into worship spaces where it “doesn’t belong,” taking their upper-middle-class and dual-income tithes with them. I’m scared that I’ll get talked to or even fired by those higher up from me (who also fear financially up-ending the church) who will essentially tell me to focus on serving God by singing and playing the piano, instead of speaking potentially dangerous words in to the microphone.

Perhaps trusting offerings more than Jesus means that we already have lost our saltiness.

I want to keep my job, but I’m wondering if my financial security is the idol I worship more than God. I know the power of this false god - I lost my job during the recession, and I never want to experience that again… but perhaps I need to place my cherished idol as an offering on the altar and give my security back to God. Fortunately, the prophet Isaiah, whom Jesus quotes more often than any other prophet, didn’t weigh his message using my arithmetic. When he heard God’s voice, he spoke the words given to him. No second guessing.  

And I … I'm desperate for you

And I… I'm lost without you, Jesus.

I feel hopeless, lost. I’m sitting in the dark, playing line after line of the worship song, a microphone six inches from my mouth, making no mention of any of these thoughts.

And I…I'm desperate for you...

To paraphrase Christina Cleveland, the paralysis I experience from my sense of hopelessness is itself a privilege. I feel this conflict all the time. On the one hand is my desire to beat back injustice. It is bubbling in my heart and boiling in my veins. But on the other hand, I pause, second guessing whether this is from God, and then the moment passes. It is as if I’m simultaneously flooring the gas pedal of conviction while pressing down the brake-pedal of my fear, revving my engine but going nowhere. Because I said nothing, I am behaving like the priest and Levite, crossing to the other side of the road on my way to the next song in the worship set.

Jesus, I need you to come into my world and save me from myself. I want to be more like you, and I absolutely know that if I’m left to my own devices I will not live like you want me to live in my own power. To be more like you, I need to be filled by you, replacing my fear-filled heart with compassion and righteousness--the twin chambers of your heart. Light our dark world, Jesus, and show us the way to follow you one step at a time.    

I'm lost without you

I'm desperate for you

I'm desperate for you

I'm lost without you

I'm lost without you

I'm lost without you

I'm lost without you

I'm desperate for you…Jesus

[Photo by Dolo Iglesias on Unsplash]

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