Monday, September 26, 2016


This weekend marked the second time I've been honored to participate in the APEX UMC ALL FAMILY SERVE weekend.  
Our motto is to 'Welcome All.  Love All. Serve All'.
On this Sunday, once every other year, there is no service in the church buildings where we normally meet.  
Our church family has a list of service projects both large and small that we sign up for during this weekend.
The goal is to go out of our safe community and be the church with our acts.

This Saturday, our family joined with a small militia of folks to make 1500 lunches for The Brown Bag Ministry.  This work was essentially a relay race to create and bag lunches as fast as possible with lots of unskilled labor.  Dedicated, unpaid volunteers directed each of us in our appointed tasks.  It was easy; it was useful; it was a box checked in a slurry of fun. Apparently they do it every week like sandwich making Ninjas.

I recommend doing it.

I don't want any part of my story to diminish the value of what you can get out of coming together with a crew of willing hands to create comfort.
If this is how you are called to serve, this service is ENOUGH.
More than enough.

If we had stopped there, we would have been comfortable and would know we had been of service.  

Instead..out of sheer dumb luck, we raised our hands when asked who (if anyone) was planning to go downtown to Oak City Outreach to help distribute the goods.  
We accepted the invitation to wade deeper out in the water.
What follows is my recollection of an hour distributing supplies at Oak City Outreach in downtown Raleigh.
I recommend that too.

As we walk into Oak City Outreach, I am reminded of a playground at a school.  
Chain link fence surrounds a kind of courtyard/parking lot between two buildings.
People are everywhere.  
Sitting on blankets with a friend on the ground.
Leaning on the wall.
Fanning themselves, playing with their hair.

Doing what people do when they have time to kill.  
Smoking.  Heckling.

There are people from every age group and race here.  
Children with a parent or grandparent.
Men standing like soldiers waiting for orders.
Women in groups or alone.
  There are definitely more brown faces than cream faces.
There is a swirling mix of humanity in this tight space.
Everyone is waiting.
There is a quiet, silent hum of tension.

It's a hot, muggy day.
Most people are wearing more clothes than the temperature would dictate.
Some are wearing coats.
Many are in all black.
But others are in a riot of colors and styles.
One is holding a white oriental parasol.
She looks like a queen.
It is hard to get a feel for what is happening- 
where we are supposed to be.
Every time you get a sense of the pattern, people seem to shift.
Is there a line or a queue?

As we walk into the main area, a group of young men is walking out.
One smiles broadly and spits  these words at us:  
It don't matter.
The work you don't matter.
There's a race war coming.
Look at Charlotte.
We are coming for ya'll.

This young man circles out of and through the courtyard for a little while longer. 

He's hunting for something.

Practically begging someone to take the bait.
Someone to incite.
Something to ignite.

He wants to be heard.
He is sincere in his conviction.
He radiates animosity.
He is so sure of his belief and his righteousness.
He smiles the whole time.

It feels like a slap.

It is a bullet.
Remember bullets from last week's post?
Bullets are aimed at you, meant for you but...they are never about you.
They are about the pain of the one shooting.
It is this young man's pain wrapped in shrapnel with a charge attached for big impact.

I've been working with bullets.
I know to let it pass through me.
So I did.

I also let it inform me.
I feel all the defensive responses that want to come up.
I feel the fear lurking right under the water.
We don't belong here.
This place is not safe.
These people hate us.
Let the people who know how to do this, do it.

I feel the pull
 to forget that these people are US;
To forget that the people who know how 
to welcome 
and serve
our brothers and sisters
right now
are also 
The same.
Love they neighbor.
As thyself.
Broken as you are right now.
Imperfect as this moment may seem.

For the next hour, we do what we are invited to do.
We serve.
Even that angry young man.

We set up tables.
A line has already formed before we have offerings out.
There are sandwiches and water.
There are also boxes of produce that need to be gifted.
Kale, squash, peppers, watermelons.
We do our best to make everyone welcome.
My daughter uses a cardboard fan to try and cool off our guests.
The sun and the humidity are brutal.
A lady named D. leans in close for extra fanning.
The queenly lady with the parasol, also has a Chinese fan.  
It is red with black lace and is like a humming bird.
I can't take the heat AT ALL she says.
A man with tired eyes and a black cap asks:
How much can we have?
Take whatever you need.
You can have as much as you need.

We greet and meet.
We bag corn for a lady with broken fingers who says she has 13 mouths to feed.
We see the same faces come back through the line again-and we smile like old friends.
One whippet thin lady runs up as the line thins and says
Oh good!  you're still here!  I almost didn't come because I was too late.
You're right on time we say...we've got some saved just for you.
and then we laugh with her.

Another lady asks about the painted shirt my friend's son is wearing.
He looks like an angel she says.
Maybe he is I say.
What is puff paint?  I need a craft for my Sunday school kids and that shirt is fly!
This angel boy explains what puff paint is, where you get it, and how to use it.
With the seriousness of a doctor explaining medicine to a new parent.
We laugh with gorgeous, bright eyed children.
We trade recipes for collards and okra with an elderly woman.
And then we trade recipes with each other.
How do you like to make that?
I hate okra my friend says.
Too slimy.
We explain again and again what the lavender orbs are (eggplant) 
and how you could cook them. is done.

We were so honored to serve our people.
We are so blessed by the gift of the service.
We are so grateful to have accepted the invitation.

It may not matter what we do.
The point is to do the work...not to worry about whether it will be received or valued.
Maybe nothing is changed by what we do.
Except US.

We are not out there trying to change the world.
Or trying to resolve a political or socio-economic entanglement.
We aren't trying to cure addiction, mental illness or FIX anything.
We aren't out there to take bullets, or return fire.

We are just showing up.
To serve.

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