When did ten years become a lifetime?
It feels like a lifetime ago we were in a different ministry setting. It was traditional with its scheduled youth programs and women’s ministry and bible study and people saying the right things in the right places. Mostly. It was predictable and safe.
The paradigm shift came that lifetime ago. Nearly 11 years now, our approach has changed and this new environment has enlarged our understanding of grace. And love.
“We have a scripture reader today?” he said from the platform this Sunday during our time of united worship. I got Will’s eye and motioned him to go up there. His face one of shock. Clearly he thought the words he read during our class on Wednesday were only for that time and not during our main meeting. Another lost in translation moment but he took to the stage, standing behind the pulpit, eyes squinting as he looked at the monitor with today’s scripture passage.
He read with boldness and clarity. He stumbled a bit over the word unswervingly, not a word in every day conversation or one that comes easily off the tongue.
Will didn’t rush the words, just like mama tried to train me. He spoke clearly, though heavily accented.
After the last verse he said ‘Amen’, raised his hands in victory while the men applauded, loudly, and one voice called out “in your face”. An affirmation not often heard in this setting but ones that were truer than perhaps the man saying it realized.
This message from God, one of having no other gods, only Him, is definitely in your face words.
And this is love. This way they applaud and call out and support and show encouragement, this way they do it all the time, not mindful of the setting. This is what teaches me, how they continue to show me all the boxes I’ve allowed and thought right.
There is love in the traditional. A quieter love that feels more personal. One that isn’t shared openly, not at this time, in this way. This is the love I’ve shown.
There is love between friends and the fierce love of a parent and the always challenging, worth-it love of marriage. But this love….this extroverted, anytime, anywhere showing of support and encouragement, yeah, this kind I’ve not seen outside of the recovery community.
It makes me think of the childlike faith Jesus talked about. Children who color outside the lines and find beauty in the colors not the lines.
An increasing number of these men are new to church. They are safe here. The are accepted and it shows when they celebrate the simplest things, like a brother stepping up when called on. A brother standing brave when fear is shaking the paper held in his hand. When nicknames are called out on sobriety awards night. When chest bumps are given and smiles are shared.
And this is love. It is always love.