Always trying to figure out how to love two wildly different places…
Some parts of my summer in the USA were fabulous and some parts were incredibly hard. Looking in at America, as an American who has been absent for a long time, I see a lot of hurting people. There are hurting people everywhere, there always has been. The current level and onslaught of interpersonal pain is taking a toll on all of us. I sensed people are bone deep weary, some barely keeping it together. Some of us aren’t keeping together and some of our cherished institutions aren’t staying together.
In Djibouti there are three public churches: Catholic, Protestant, and Ethiopian Orthodox. I’ve written about this before, about the spot on the corniche across from the port where I can see all three churches and a mosque. I’ve written about how unique it is to worship here as a Christian and how I’m thankful for that ability, we don’t take it for granted.
I haven’t written much specifically about our church here, though. It is a small and complicated place. For example, the parish council is made up of 8 members. They come from 5 different countries and 8 different denominational backgrounds. We don’t share a common native language. We differ on how to partake of the Lord’s Supper, on baptism, on music choices, on how long a service should go. We come and go, a transient and eclectic group from all over the world.
It isn’t always easy to worship together, but it is deeply good. I’m working on a longer essay about it for a magazine, but feel compelled to share this week how I am continually struck by this paradox.
It is hard. It is good.
Every single member of the church has to set aside our preference, has to put forth effort to understand each other both in terms of language and in terms of perspective, has to die to self. This gets very practical every Sunday (or Friday, some gather on Fridays). It is not theory or a simplistic romanticized, “Our church is diverse and it is like a slice of heaven.”
No. It is hard. It is good.
We choose to let go of judgment, to give each other the benefit of the doubt, to make space for diversity of thought and practice. We have to. Where else could we go?! There is one Protestant church in the country. If we want to worship in a public building as part of a public body, where else could we go?
Oh sure, we could worship at home, and sometimes we do. Or we could worship with other Christians who do gather in homes, and sometimes we do. But lately, more and more, I am struck by the weightiness of the public gathering of believers in Jesus.
The country has given Christians three places in which to gather. I don’t speak Amharic, I’m not Catholic. So I go to the Protestant space. There, I find people from Korea, Congo, Senegal, Madagascar, India, Burundi, the USA, France, Germany, Egypt, Djibouti, Ethiopia…Together, we proclaim that we believe that Jesus Christ, son of the living God will have mercy on us, sinners. Together, stumbling through our different languages, styles, and theologies, we proclaim that it matters to gather, to participate in the act of One Body.
We can’t let our differences divide us. We don’t have that option here.
It is hard. It is good.
There is grace for our little community here. There is grace for the hurting and weary in the USA. There is grace for everyone.
Know there is grace for all of us. We are going to need it as we head into another school year of uncertainty with Covid and other tensions unique to each location, as our churches around the world face challenge and division.
What does that mean, “grace”? What is grace?
There are many definitions and I liked this one, actually from Wikipedia: “the divine influence which operates in humans to regenerate and sanctify, to inspire virtuous impulses, and to impart strength to endure trial and resist temptation.”
John Stott also said this, “Grace is love that cares and stoops and rescues.”
So grace is divine Love influencing humans toward regeneration, virtuous impulses, strength in trials, and resisting temptation. That sounds exactly like something I could use this upcoming year.
May you experience grace in your time of need even before you know you need it.
May you experience grace in the broken places
grace in the ache
grace in the loss
grace in the celebration
grace in the beauty
grace for healing
grace for anger
grace when divided and grace when put back together
grace to say goodbye well and grace to welcome home again.
May your churches and families and places of work and education and neighborhoods experience grace even in difference. Especially in difference.
My youngest daughter waited for me and my husband during a looooong meeting this summer. I noticed she was reading Pillars and I asked her what part she was on.
“I just got born!” she said, and grinned. “Its a good book.”
Best review ever.
And here are some other great reviews of Pillars that came out in August:
“…Lesser writers and more amateurish theologians might flatten Jones’ experiences and those of her cohorts, arriving at the conclusion that all world religions share the same essence. Instead, Jones writes a more complicated—and rewarding—story, clinging to the person of Christ while celebrating the beauty in particular practices of a particular faith….”
Bob On Books
“…I so appreciated this narrative. It was earthy and incarnational. Jones adopts an open and learning posture, both with her Muslim friends and toward what the Lord Jesus would teach her. She can recognize difference without “othering.” She’s as open about Jesus as she is to learning from her friends, like Amaal, her spirited maid. And over time she is able to distinguish what is American Christianity and what is the core of the gospel of Jesus…”
Would you consider leaving a review on Amazon? Doesn’t need to be long. I just reviewed a book last week and wrote, “A great book!” Thank you!