One of my most treasured divine blessings is that I am a “life-long learner.” I long ago was able to put aside the obvious statement of fact that this also means that I still have a lot to learn. I am ok with sharing my deficit that I am not the “sharpest knife in the drawer.” Many of my colleagues and classmates through the years seemed to catch on faster and retain more knowledge than I am capable of doing. I suspect that this comparison does not mean that they are not also life-long learners. Instead, these observations affirm that life-long learners realize that we do not already know all that we need to or want to know and the grace is that we are aware of our situation and have the motivation to do something to change it. All the time recognizing that it is the journey towards knowledge that is so rewarding for I doubt that I am unique in saying that I may have forgotten more than I currently know.
This introduction to grace from my perspective came to me as I continued my journey of learning by reading the book that will provide a lot of the knowledge that I will want to convey in my teachings during our next worship series with the same title as the book: Leading Causes of Life. So far, I am really only as far as the author’s introduction and setting of context, but already I sense that this next chapter in the life of the Asbury neighborhood will be even more exciting than the last. Each day I learn something about our community that rips at my heart only to either witness first hand or to be given a tiny glimpse of divine will that warms my heart and heals the scar made by disappointment.
Convincing people to drop what they are doing, pay attention and try something different is a monumental task that Jesus was able to do and that I have tried over and over to do but failed. While I am in agreement with the observation that repeating the same thing over and over again while expecting different results may be a sign of insanity I am also ok with this assessment of my many deficits. Since I know that my impossible mission was and continues to be done over and over again by the One who can accomplish the impossible and I am convinced that Christ is at work in our community I do anticipate different results. Another blessing that I receive almost daily are affirmations of life-giving change that is taking place all around me, even in the midst of so much struggle.
I read with understanding based upon my own experiences and the observations of so many others the report of the uptown community of Memphis recognizing that the same thing had taken place on the Eastside of Flint. “Most of the members of most of these churches, in typical Memphis fashion, do not live in the neighborhood with their church. People here will move away from the church’s neighborhood, yet drive back to church for decades later. They may sustain the life of the congregation—pay the pastor, paint the walls—while losing all interest in, and impact on, the church’s neighborhood” (p. 54). This was certainly the case for Asbury just as it has been for most of the churches in our community leaving open the emergence of numerous small congregations meeting wherever they can find cheap space including one that meets outside on vacant lots that were at one time homes to families that chose to move out of the neighborhood.
With so many capable families moving into the suburbs, or to other cities to find jobs, the ever increasing burden of responding to the struggle made real by poverty is left to fewer willing disciples. Yet there is no shortage of churches on Flint’s Eastside just as there is no shortage of churches in the uptown area of Memphis. However, according to the Carter Interfaith Health Program only “10 percent of the congregations in any area do almost all of the heavy lifting in any community”(p. 54). Frankly, this is understandable even while it is also unacceptable. Another observation from our book offers insight into why. “The congregations that open themselves to the real needs of people stop talking at them and start talking with them—coming along beside them, becoming involved in their lives“(p. 54, underlining is my emphasis).
Busy people do not usually have the time to become involved in the lives of strangers. Particularly, strange strangers with lots of needs and what seems to be little motivation to address the needs themselves. Yet the call of Jesus Christ to the least and the lost has not gone away. Discipleship was never convenient and Jesus’ call was and still is costly. Yet we also read in both Testaments that God provides whatever we need to do the work of the Kingdom. I hope that you will journey with me as we focus our attention over the next several weeks on that which causes life.
Gary Gunderson and Larry Pray, Leading Causes of Life, Abington Press, 2010.