Monday, January 11, 2010

Church Talks

Yes, it's true.  I really was asked to speak in a church every month for a few years.  I don't think I could've made that up if I tried.

I'm sorry, what was that?  "How did it come about?"  Oh, well, that's a story in itself.

Once upon a time, under the azure dome, I had gone out for coffee with my good friend Gary.  (Gary, incidentally, was such a good friend that when Marielle and I bought our house, I made sure we had an extra room on the main floor, just in case Gary needed to move in with a family during his last few years.  Alas, he passed away too suddenly, and we didn't have the bounty of his presence in our home.)

During our coffee together, he checked his watch and suddenly announced that he had to go.  He was on his way to a communion service at his church, and would I like to join him?

To his surprise, I agreed, saying it sounded like fun.

The service was about what I expected, and was, in the end, fun.  When it came time for taking communion, Gary insisted that I go up with him.  Evidently, the minister knew I was a Baha'i and was watching to see what I would do.  I later learned this, and also learned that he knew Baha'is are not supposed to drink alcohol.  I gracefully accepted the piece of bread that was offered, and then, when the wine was offered, I took the bread and touched it to the edge of the cup, with a slight bow of reverence.  I then ate the bread.

This seemed to impress him.

Over lunch, afterwards, the minister and I were sitting next to each other.  The table was laid out with paper plates and napkins, proudly displaying the logo, and an amusing image, of the World Wrestling Federation.  The poor minister seemed so embarrassed, until I said how appropriate it was.  He looked at me, with a very puzzled expression, to which I replied, "Well, it is the only sport found in the Bible."

This is another example of that wily Concourse on High setting me up, for that thought just popped into my head.

It took the minister a moment to realize that I was referring to Jacob wrestling the angel.  Now he really was impressed.  Why, I don't know, but that's just the way things work.

The phone call from that dear lady came a few days later, asking me to give a talk.  This is the lady referred to in that earlier article.

So, one month later, after rehearsing five talks hundreds of times, I entered that church again.  There I was, sitting in a pew, unknown to most, ignored by virtually all, wondering what was going to happen.  And then I was called up to speak.

Inevitable aside, number one.  The last talk I had given in public before that one was to another church group, in which they asked me to assist them in learning how to approach the poor.  Why they called me, I will never know.  They must've gotten my number from that Concourse on High, who just seem to delight in setting me up.  Well, from the way they spoke, and the way they asked me to do this, I realized that they didn't really see "the poor" as people, but as a faceless mass.  Knowing that most members of this church were fairly well off, I decided to try something unusual.

I dressed in the most ragged clothes I had.

When I got there, I was shunned by all of them, except the minister, whom I had warned.  When he introduced me, I got up and told a story from the Master about the poor man who was invited to dinner.  He was kicked out.  He came back wearing nice clothes, and was warmly welcomed.  He then put all the food in his pockets, claiming that it was his clothes that were welcome and not him.  This story was told to the group in a refined British accent (yes, I can do accents when needed).  Anyways, I spoke to them about their prejudice, and talked about meeting people as people, and not as a faceless group.  If they wanted to truly help the poor, they needed to get to know them personally.  It went over really well, and they did a lot of great work with the poor in their community.

And now, back to the blog.

I went up to the front of the church, to a microphone in front of the pulpit (Baha'is, evidently, are not supposed to use pulpits), and said a prayer.  Remember, the success of all your plans requires ample prayer.  So I said a prayer, and my mind went blank.  I looked around and saw that stained glass window of the Last Supper, referred to in that other article.

And that was what I talked about.

"Can you imagine", I asked, "being there?  At the Last Supper?  I can't.  There is no way that I would have had the spiritual insight to be able to recognize Jesus in His lifetime."

"But I can imagine being the waiter."

"And you know what?  I think there would have been a lot of joy and laughter.  I mean, they didn't know it was the 'last' supper.  All they knew was that they had done it.  They had found the Messiah, their Lord.  And they were the ones priveleged to have dinner with Him.  What a bounty!  How could they not be happy?"

For ten minutes I spoke about joy and laughter.  Then I asked the real question.

You see, the audience, oh, sorry, I mean the congregation, had looked puzzled at first, when I began speaking.  After all, what do joy and laughter have to do with church?  What kind of topic was this for a talk?

I asked them, "Why are we here?  Not why are we created, but why are we here, in this church?  Why do we come here every week?  I think it is to be happy and joyous, to become closer to our Lord.  And if we are not happy, why do we come?  When we come to church, we should be uplifted."

Then I spoke about what I meant by upliftment.  I said that it meant to me to be lifted up.

I told them about when I was a little child and my father would toss me up in the air, catching me as I giggled.  He would lift me up high and that feeling of upliftment was such a joy.  Then, when we would go to a parade, he would lift me up on his shoulders so that I could see better.

That was when I realized by being up there, on his shoulders, I had a better view than he did.  I could see further.

This is what I told the congregation.  My father had metaphorically lifted me on his shoulders when I was a child and he pointed out to me the goal of his life.  He showed me the goal he had selected when he was a child on his father's shoulders, and he wanted me to find my own goal.  By being up there and taking a look, I could see further, and was therefore able to see a better, and more distant, goal.

By lifting me up, he allowed me to find a worthy goal in my life.

And this is what I hope to do with my son.  He wasn't born at the time, but it is what I hoped to do, even then.

I also pointed out that at some point in the future, we must begin to look to the goals of our children, for they should be higher and more worthy.  If we do not work towards their goals, instead of our own, then we have admitted that we have failed to raise them properly.

All this to say that this was why I was there: to be uplifted.  To gain a better vision of the world around me.  To be raised up to become a more noble human being.

Well, dear Reader, I must have said something right, for they asked me back many times.  Those Concourse on High: they sometimes seem to know what they are doing.

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