Tuesday, February 21, 2012

On followers and following

Recently I've had a number of new followers on Twitter. I'm not sure why those people chose to follow me. I haven't been especially active lately although I have posted links to a couple of my sermons and blog entries. Maybe they read those things and wanted to read more. Maybe they simply clicked on one of the suggestions Twitter loves to list on our pages. You know the ones "this person is like you so you should follow them."

In some of the cases, I suspect some of them follow me because my Twitter name is @revmariat and I describe myself as pastor of an open and affirming multicultural Disciples of Christ church. It seems to me, however, that the only similar point in our bios is a reference to Christ. And I am quite sure that many of them miss the meaning of "open and affirming" altogether.

My newest follower has a bio that includes phrases like "giver of hope" and "conduit of God's love." I don't quite get it. Mind you, I have nothing against giving hope or sharing God's love with the world. That is what I preach every Sunday and it is what I try to do. As far as I can tell, this is what Jesus calls all of us to do. I just wonder whether such a self-description might not be hubris.

I quickly checked the Twitter bios of my other followers. It didn't take long as I only have 423 right this minute. Many of the preacher/teacher folks describe themselves with words and phrases like follower of Jesus, loves God, reaching out to the untouchable, smart aleck, curmudgeon. A large number of them name their work - pastor, teacher, advisor, blogger, author. Some speak of being a seeker or a person on a journey to know themselves and God better. Those words and phrases are in the bios of most of the preacher/teacher folks I follow as well.

This newest of my followers is not the first whose bio reads this way. Most of those, however, have unfollowed me within a few days or weeks. Again, I don't know whether that's because I don't tweet a lot or because they have read my tweets, sermons and blog entries and finally figured out what open and affirming means. I understand them unfollowing however, because I have noticed that in most cases I did not follow them back.

Don't get me wrong. I get a little thrill when I get a new follower even if it's a robo-follow because I said "massage" or "car." But I don't follow spas or car dealers or other commercial enterprises. Likewise, I don't see the point in following people with whom I disagree on the basics of Christ's message which was always one of radical inclusion, never one of rejection or exclusion. I don't see the point in following people who think their particular belief system makes them somehow superior to any other human in the world or that they have a right to try to impose that belief system on other people. I don't see the point in following anyone who thinks "loving" the other means trying to change the very fabric of that person's being.

On the other hand, I do choose to follow anyone who speaks of serving the other, loving the unlovely, unloved and unloveable, welcoming the outcaste, caring for the earth as if our lives depended on it, reminding others of God's unconditional love and forgiveness. In other words, people who speak as the gospels tell me Jesus did and try to act as Jesus directed us to act.

And, just in case you were wondering - Open and Affirming means that our congregation welcomes and affirms people of every age, race, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, physical and mental ability, economic status, legal status and family structure into the full membership, leadership, ministry and sacramental life of the congregation.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

It just makes me happy!

One day last week I was making a pastoral call at a local private hospital. I didn't know the patient. I only knew that her name was Elizabeth and that her family had asked the hospital social worker to call a minister to pray with her. I get quite a few of those calls. Elizabeth was comatose, as they almost always are by the time I get called. She was alone, as they have always been when I get the call. Sometimes I don't get there in time. I've learned to ask whether or not I need to come immediately.

I nearly always walk through the front door slightly dreading what I will find when I get to the patient's room. I know I'm doing a good thing and I feel blessed by the opportunity to bring comfort to a person in their last days, hours, or minutes of life. But I still experience a bit of apprehension when I walk through the front door.

But this visit would prove to be different. As I approached the reception desk I was greeted by a young lady with bright orange hair and a bright red smile. She greeted me as if I was an expected, well known and beloved guest. She seemed genuinely happy to see me. She made me feel as though nothing she had to do was nearly as important as directing me to the patient's room. When I was on my way out a little while later I had to stop by the desk simply for the joy of interacting with that young lady again.

I suspect I stood a little straighter when I left the hospital than when I arrived. I know I left humming a praise song. My day had suddenly become filled with joy. Even the prospect of driving on the freeway for 30 minutes to another hospital visit couldn't dampen my spirits.

Experiences like this come to everyone. A greeting or a smile from a stranger can lift anyone's spirits, no matter how low. The strange thing about this experience is that it hasn't stopped yet. It's been exactly a week since I walked into that hospital lobby and I still experience joy every time I think about it. When I drive past the hospital (which is on my way to St. Arbucks), when I see a store display with brightly coiffed mannequins, even just randomly throughout the day for no good reason - whenever I think about it I straighten my back and makes me smile. Sometimes I even LOL as I relive the experience.

The joy I received from a young woman behaving exactly like herself has been so much a part of the past seven days that a few minutes ago I called the hospital to thank her. I asked the receptionist if a young lady with bright orange hair was working today. She wasn't in yet, so I told the receptionist who I was and when I was there. I told her that I was calling to thank the young lady with the bright orange hair for making me happy that day and every day since then. The receptionist said that it would give her great pleasure to pass on the message to her co-worker, Joanna.

Wow. I couldn't make up "coincidences" like this even if I wanted to. Joanna means God is gracious.

In my encounter with Joanna God's grace entered my life, lifted my spirits, and allowed me to be fully present at Elizabeth's bedside. Because of my encounter with Joanna, I have felt God's graciousness in my life every day since last Tuesday. For the past seven days I have felt the joy and awesomeness of God's unceasing, unconditional, steadfast love so strongly that it keeps moving me to shed tears of joy, randomly and for no apparent reason.

I hope that this feeling of joy-filled-ness lasts. I hope my memory of meeting Joanna maintains the power to fill my heart with love. But even if the feeling and the memory fade with time,as feelings and memories tend to do, in the meantime . . . it just makes me happy.

Cross-posted by Tuesday's Child on disciplesinstersection.org