Not who. What. This is a question that has been on my mind for a few months as we begin to slowly rebuild connections after being physically apart for two years. You may have heard (or will hear soon) that a group of us are participating in a two-year training called “Thriving Congregations.” We are the trainers’ first cohort (aka the experimental group). Thriving Congregations training begins with relationship building. We start with one-to-one relational meetings and then build to house meetings. As I write this, we are at our second training session at Montreat. I am sitting on the patio overlooking Lake Susan as the sun is starting to set behind me.
At our first training session last October, I began pondering how we are going to rebuild relationships. Not just in this congregation—in our communities and neighborhoods. The last two years have been fraught with so much division over politics, science, and lies. It feels as though we’ve been wandering in the wilderness and have forgotten how to interact with one another. What will it take for us to stop wandering? Has there been too much damage inflicted on one another to build trust? Should we even try? What am I willing to risk building something stronger, something more authentic, more honest? What are you?
Dr. Kate Bowler has been an oasis in the wilderness for me. She teaches at Duke Divinity (look her up). She has offered calm, steady reassurance, AND hilarity. I had the opportunity to hear her speak at U of R in February. Her talk was what I expected—compassionate, lovely, and filled with laughter. What touched me most, though, was a question asked after her talk was over. Someone asked what she thought was going to be the hardest thing about coming out of the pandemic. She thought for a moment, and said, “Rebuilding relationships. We are so divided. It is going to take the costliest radical kind of love to get us out of this place.” Whoa. I am risk averse. But I am called to do this work. We, who follow Christ, are all called to do this work—to extend the radical, Word made flesh love to people we may not feel so great about right now. Where do I even start?
I am starting with “What do you love?” I posted this question on Facebook. The eagerness to share answers to that question surprised me: Sunsets, sunrises, peepers, campfires, the beach, running…LAUGHTER.
I love laughter. I love laughing. Even more, I love making people laugh. Laughter connects us. This small GPPC group at Montreat, we don’t always agree. But we LAUGH. So much. We love Christ, we are flesh and bone, and we love each other. Six hours one way in a minivan makes that happen. But so does the Holy Spirit.
We have had hard conversations about the centuries of consequences created by a single lie about brown flesh. We’ve contemplated that the Word made flesh was brown flesh. We’ve built stronger relationships with one another.
We are entering Holy Week—where the Word made brown flesh triumphantly enters Jerusalem. “Hosanna!” We will quickly turn on Christ and shout, “Crucify him!” AND. We are resurrection people. Real flesh and bone. Because of Easter, we CAN rebuild relationships…maybe even into something better than before. Something more authentic. I can already feel the Holy Spirit moving in my flesh. Come walk with me for this conversation—what do you love?
Kimberly Carswell has been a faithful contributor to our blog over the years, even as she maintains her own about marathon running and life. If you would like to write a reflection for this space, please flag down Alfred Walker of email him at firstname.lastname@example.org .