This Sunday we will celebrate six jr. youth coming of age. The scripture they have chosen to shape the worship theme is Jeremiah 1:1-14. After an initial call from the Lord to Jeremiah, and Jeremiah’s response that he is too young and cannot speak, the Lord asks him a question: “What do you see?”
Along with pondering this simple but profound question I’ve also been pondering what we don’t see – or what just goes unseen. Two weeks ago I was driving up to Bluffton for a pastor-peer meeting. As I traveled north the trees started to become covered with a thin, and then rather thick, layer of frost. I had left in good time, was driving on rural roads, and decided to pull over and get a closer look. The ice crystals were stacked over a half inch on top of every horizontal surface I could see, intricate and fragile, turning into dust and falling to the ground at the flick of a finger or wisp of breath, catching the light as it fell. It was an utterly extravagant display of beauty, and I only focused my attention on one of the many twigs on one of the many branches on one of the many trees along the way. How much beauty flashes in and out of existence in this world in places noticeable and entirely inaccessible to human view?
This week I was perusing through the January edition of Sojourners magazine and read an article by Danny Duncan Collum about things we don’t see of any entirely different nature. Collum cites an October 23, 2014 article on Wired.com (contains honest? graphic? language) reporting that there are about 100,000 people employed in the business of internet ‘content moderation,’ viewing and deleting offensive material posted to social networks such as child pornography and gruesome violence. In other words, we are spared from having these images pop up in our internet experience because there are people who, in the words of the Wired article, “soak up the worst of humanity in order to protect the rest of us.” Much of the work is done in the Philippines for salaries of about $300-$500 per month and many of the workers express symptoms of PTSD due to constant exposure to these troubling images.
I had no idea. I guess I thought tech folks had figured out some kind of screening process that was purely technological, one more algorithm to detect and block these things. Apparently not. What we don’t see gets screened by people we don’t see doing jobs we didn’t know existed.
Seeing is an intensely spiritual act as it opens our experience to a wider circle of reality. In this world we see an abundance of beauty, and violence. Or we don’t see it.
This past weekend I attended the Music and Worship Leaders Retreat at Laurelville Mennonite Church Center in western PA. The theme was PastPresentFuture, focused on bringing our whole selves into worship, and that worship itself is an act of extending our selves back into traditions we have inherited and forward into the future for which we hope.
One of the main resource persons was Lara Steinel, a cantor and leader of a progressive Jewish congregation in Kansas City. One of the lines she delivered was a quote from Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi who said something to the effect: “The mind is like tofu: it takes in the flavor of the marinades.” Which raises the question for me of What are we marinating in? For starters, it’s a positive step to see Christians reclaiming our kinship and connection with Jewish faith and marinating together in the message of the Torah and the prophets.
Another speaker, David Miller, a prof at AMBS, noted that “we borrow faith from one another.” He meant this in a congregational sense – that when we gather, and when we sing words set to music in our hymnals, we borrow the faith communicated through that song, and we are filled with a borrowing that guides us God-ward. We borrow from the past and we are informed by the vision of future toward which we believe the Holy Spirit is drawing all creation.
2014 is gone, but it’s worth considering where all we have been and what we’ve done in the past year. With fear and trembling that I may be leaving out something crucial, here are some of the highlights from the year. Some of these are things that happen every year and are part of the annual rhythm of the congregation, others are unique to 2014. All of them are the work of an active community seeking to follow Jesus Christ and be led by the Holy Spirit.
Open mic night with music and stories + serving breakfast at Community Resources Center +hosting Central District Conference regional gathering and discussing theme of “Text and Table” + hosting Pete Seeger tribute concert + Coming of Age celebration for six jr. youth: Quinn B, Grace R-W, Steven A, Micah N, Phoebe Y-T, and Jack Z Skyping in from China + group meals hosted at different homes have over 100 participants + sr. youth participate in catechism class +MCC comforter knotting party + book signing for Linda M’s Belief Without Borders + Lent theme: “New perceptions in familiar places” + Lenten daily devotionals written by CMC folks + welcome five new members: Paul R, Sharon H, Joanna S, Martha and Adam R + dedications for babies Maya B C and Nora J R + BREAD Nehemiah Action focuses on mental health access and follows up with immigration and truancy concerns + new website launch + high school graduates: Tennison G, Andrew N, Gabby + outdoor service at Highlands Metro + connecting with Ben and Beth W, Columbus folks serving with MCC Central and West Africa + Continued monthly meals at YWCA Family Center with rising numbers of families in need + Twelve Scriptures project accompanied with visual panels and color ribbon + CPT rummage sale + Expanding our Welcome conversation and affirmations of commitments to LGBTQ brothers and sisters + youth and sponsors serve with SWAP + Central District annual meeting in Madison, Wisconsin + a summer Men’s Breakfast potentially breaks record for most in attendance + calling and installing Mark R as Pastor of Christian Formation + Vacation Bible School with theme “Give and receive God’s love” + Babies born: Lillian M-M, Maisie S, Maeve Z, Oliver and TheodoreT + CDC’s decision to license Mark and articles in The Mennonite and Mennonite World Review + Rosa Wyse wedding + Bibles presented to second graders Henry W, Lily M, and Paxton B + Fall Retreat at Camp Luz includes poetry from Becca L + Hosting three women from our sister church in Armenia, Colombia + Parents’ Night out gives young kids a chance to play and parents a date + All Saints/Souls service of remembering + Thanksgiving Bountiful Table collects gifts for local ministries + Advent worship theme: “Disruption” + children perform “Bethlehem’s Best” play + Christmas Eve service + early in 2015 two significant documents have been released related to sexuality: an depth research and reporting on the abuses of Mennonite theological John Howard Yoder, and results from a survey to credentialed leaders regarding attitudes toward LGBTQ Mennonites.
The journey, the journey is long – but good and filled with blessings along the way. Peace, wisdom, and grace to us as we set out on a new year together.