by James Bowman Harris
Member in Discernment, Kirkwood UCC, Atlanta, GA
Today is our nation’s birthday. A day of celebration across our country. A day of fun, picnics, gatherings with family and friends, and fireworks. Today we celebrate our freedom — or our assumed freedom. As the 31st United Church of Christ comes to an end, I find myself on this day of supposed Independence pondering the question: are we really free? Even as I propose this question, my own answer now is not the answer I would have given a few years back. Growing up, more often than not, I would hear how I was born and being raised in a country where we are all free to become whoever and whatever we dreamed of being. Yet as an adult, I have found that this is not really the truth. The reality is that unless one is of a certain gender, ethnic race, and sexual orientation, your freedom is limited or even non-existent.
The 31st UCC General Synod for me has been a time of fellowship with friends, the making of new friends, amazing worship, but it has also been a time of discernment, a time of reflection, and a time of growth. As the keynote speaker Glennon Doyle reminded us, with growth comes pain. In our culture, we are taught that pain is bad. Pain is something we all try to avoid with all cost. Yet without pain, we miss the many ways that we can learn and grow spiritually, emotionally, and mentally. Pain does not feel good, yet it is not always bad. As a culture, Doyle pointed out in a comedic yet thought provoking way that we often are quick to reach for the “easy button.” That invisible button that once we push it we can take the easy way out. Far too often hitting that easy button does a lot more harm than good. As she spoke, I began to reflect on just how often I have hit the easy button. It is the Buddhist understanding that in order for one to find enlightenment, one must learn from their mistakes in the hopes to not repeat them. In listening to the message Doyle was offering, I have come to understand that it is during my time of pain that I can become still to hear that still speaking voice of God.
From my own reflection of living into my own personal pain to find growth and healing. In the amazing sermon given by Rev. Dr. David Vasquez-Levy, the President of the Pacific School of Religion, my reflections turned from my own personal pain to that of the pain that our nation is in. Yet it is not just our nation. The message came from 2 Kings 5:1-15, “Get into the Water Nathan.” This was the resounding theme of Rev. Dr. Vasquez-Levy’s sermon. As a native of Florida, my life has been surrounded by water yet I often avoid getting wet. As much as water is refreshing and needed for survival. Water can also be scary, dangerous, and ever changing. The same goes for the work we are called to do as the church. Yet it takes getting wet to truly do the work that we are called to do. Like Nathan, our healing — our nation’s healing — will only come from the church getting into the water.
One final thought: Glennon Doyle was sitting with her children. As they looked at pictures from the civil rights march, one of her children remarked on them being absent from the photo. To the much hurtful reply of the younger child, “We don’t march.” To be in the photo, you have to march. My friends, it is time for US, the church of the still speaking God, to get in the water, not just to get our feet wet, but like Nathan, we need to fully wash ourselves, submerge ourselves in the water to help heal the pain of our nation.
“GET INTO THE WATER, CHURCH.”