H and I took a much-needed vacation last week. We went to Denver, where we were both registered to attend the Festival of Homiletics. I know, I know. It sounds spectacular, right? Well, it actually was. It was good to get away together—sans laptop and smartphone—and spend a few days in the thin air with the Rockies reminding us that we are small, small, small.
My first night at the Festival of Homiletics began in the morning in Denver at the car rental counter with a rude and grumpy associate who got to me, and I carried her grumpiness with me down the highway for a ways.
That evening, in the hotel restaurant, we met up with online friends and talked — albeit inadvertently— about the car rental lady. Patricia and Dan, David and Lisa, H and me; online friends meeting in real life around plates of shrimp tacos and green chile chili. We talked about people and trolls and how we can turn on each other without even knowing or realizing we are turning on ourselves.
After dinner in the restaurant, we hugged our friends who headed home, and H and I hopped in the car for the opening service of the festival. We went to Bluegrass worship in the Denver Colliseum and my feet hurt because I wore my cute, tall, strappy sandals, even though the festival organizers told us in multiple ways to wear our walking shoes because Denver is a walking town. But I assumed I’d get dropped off at the door.
In the worship service (I am trying hard to call it that), there was Bluegrass music poorly performed (I am snotty here, I know), and sensory overload for me, and there was manspreading from the guy in the seat next to me (doesn’t he see/know/care? I blame him; he’s an adult who has sat in these venues before; he should know better, so I crossed my left leg over my right and let my foot cross over into his personal space. He didn’t notice. Or care.). Two rows ahead of us a woman kept clearing her throat—over and over and over again. The music kept going, and in my head my grandfather was saying, “Why do they keep messing with the hymns?”
In the middle of it all, a thought bubble rose up inside of me and settled right behind my nose or at the back of my throat and it was this: “I don’t want to go to heaven with these people.”
Normally, I would not have considered I had any option other than to think such a terrible thought. I would have run with it — counting all the reasons I am superior to these Bluegrass-singing-manspreading-throat-clearing people. But, for some reason — God, I am guessing — I leaned into that terrible thought of mine.
I saw that it was a terrible thought, and that it felt a lot like what I’d been carrying around after talking to that car rental lady who probably had something going on in her life that was weighing her down. Turning her in on herself, the same way I was slowly turning on my own weary heart and soul.
So, I confessed the wrongness of the thought and pressed in to see where it came from and what it meant. I didn’t get as far as I’d hoped, but it was something. Thanks be to God.
That night, when Sara Miles spoke, she said, “God’s stories are mysteries, meant to undo us so we can be remade.” I was living that sentence, right there in the Denver Colliseum. Senses overloaded. Surrounded by people and music and everything feeling very far outside my comfort zone. Undone, and praying I wasn’t too far gone to be remade.
So I made a deal with me. I will give myself to this experience to see what might come of it. That is the deal I made with myself, in my seat, just before we were sent forth into the night and I stood up, made my way across the manspreader (I whispered, “Excuse me,” to him) and to the end of the aisle, where I looked down just in time to see a mouse scamper right past my sandaled toes.
My friend, Helen will tell you we grow the most when we’re around people and in environments that are different from what we’re used to. I hope she’s right. I imagine I grew at least a smidgen while we were at the festival. Only time will tell.
What I know is that my view of heaven shapes the way I live on earth. It does. If I think my rescue lies in getting swept up into heaven so I can get away from you, then that changes the way I interact (or don’t) with you, right here in Lincoln or in Denver or at the car rental counter, doesn’t it? But, what if Jesus meant it when he instructed us to pray, “…thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven…”?
What if Jesus was serious about that?
What if the manspreaders and the throat clearers and the Bluegrass music (and here, you can fill in your own different person or thing) make it to heaven, too? And what if heaven is doing its darndest to press its way through the darkness, right in the place where you live? What if being salt and light means leaning in to the dark places right in the center of our very own souls?
What if walking shoes really are the better the option for the journey we are on?
What if God really is counting on us?