Youthful exuberance

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The other week the house has been full of youth. Their presence has make me wonder about what Jesus means to become as a child. The granddaughters of two of the residents were visiting. I thought they would be shy, but neither of them were. Both were full of life and conversation, bright eyed and very helpful in the kitchen. Anaya helped with cooking and Celia assisted in dish washing. I enjoyed their conversation. They responded to my questions with an openness and ease that was refreshing for a 10 and 11 year old. A— shared about a recent altercation at school and C—, some of her insights on the movie Brave. Perhaps they were just outgoing, but there was an eagerness to help and learn and share to discuss and receive. Unhardened and genuine.

During the same weekend we hosted 25 Jewish teens on retreat. Their Rabbi wanted them to have some exposure to Christianity. They were a fun bunch. I sat down at the table with a few of them and they were received me well and really knew how to dialogue and express themselves. I learned a bit about their lives and hobbies, whether it was drama, playing cello and how they prepare for their Bar Mitzvah. They have to lead prayer and the service for their Bar Mitzvah and also seem to take on leadership roles with helping in the Sunday classes from k-7. Perhaps that is why they seem to have such a strong sense of self and interest in others. A few of them were even interested in my life here and my work. When I started talking about rapid transit in the Richmond region, they all got excited. One young lady, thin, braces and with long blond hair, remarked that she would like to get to the city more. Her family lives in the county and they only come into the city for Temple. She thought transit would help. Another brown haired girl with rosy cheeks said it was strange that Richmond does not have a rapid transit system like other cities. They were all hopeful that it “could” happen here. As we finished up breakfast, the 4 of them thanked me for working on transit and thought it was admirable and necessary. I was astonished by their curiosity and understanding, it gave me hope for our future. These will be the people riding transit and running the region in the next 15-20 years. I thanked them too, as their presence filled this space with a youthful exuberance. They were a grateful bunch in general, offering profuse thanks after every meal as they stood stacking their dishes at the window as I washing them.

Maybe what it means to be like a child is: to keep our hearts open, unhardened and genuine and to approach life with youthful exuberance, gratitude and an eagerness to help, learn, share, discuss and receive. I am a witness that out of the mouth of babes and youth, can come wisdom, gratitude and sheer goodness.

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Seeking the Peace of the City

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“Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” — Jeremiah 29:7

A few months ago I was at a church ministry fair sitting at a booth promoting Bus Rapid Transit. One older gentleman came up and said “what does public transportation have to do with God?” I went on to quote a few scriptures about God’s desire to redeem places as well as people and seeking the peace of the city, I pointed out how Nehemiah rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem, and how the kingdom coming in my mind was a physical, social and physical force. He seemed disinterested in any explanation. Perhaps his mind was already set about what things are spiritual and apparently, transit is not.

Similarly, in September, I was at a Regional Planning District Commission meeting. It is a quisi-governmental body that coordinates and plans for regional transportation efforts. There another gentleman, a Transportation Planner, thought it was so great that a City Planner like myself came onboard the RVA Rapid Transit staff. He said “last year you had two pastors on staff, their job is to save souls, not get involved in transportation.”

At Richmond Hill we pray for Metropolitan Richmond 21 times a week, in specific ways, for its leadership, people and institutions…we pray for its health. Above the doors of Richmond Hill is the scripture “seek the peace of the city I have sent you.” I do not interpret that to mean just peace as in the absence of conflict, but shalom, things being made right and whole. I see bringing Bus Rapid Transit (A metro system on wheels…sleek, frequent and affordable) as an instrument of shalom. Why? Corridors and streets are what connect us as a region, to one another and our shared resources. Bringing Rapid Transit to Richmond in my mind is a movement toward thriving, promoting regional collaboration and reconciliation and seeking the social, economic and environmental prosperity of the region. That’s good news!

As my boss (who is a pastor) and  I attend meetings, give presentations and coordinate Rapid Transit together, I get to see what Pastors and City Planners have in common. At the heart, it’s the love of God, manifesting itself in love for people and wanting to see our city prosper so its people can prosper. Rapid Transit could be a point of connection which leads to reconciliation. Sharing public space like a regional BRT is one way we can engage across jurisdictional boundaries as well as racial, economic and generational lines. Rapid Transit also promotes the common good, improving the health of our communities by connecting residents to jobs, educational institutions, housing and other resources. It can also be a catalyst for visible transformation by way of new development, economic revitalization and the re-design/improvement of roads, infrastructure and buildings. Lastly, it promotes good stewardship of our environmental resources, as riding transit decreases our use of cars which improves air quality and the need for gas. It also decreases traffic so our time can be better spent and accidents which are costly to our health and finances.

Witnessing the response, excitement and possibility that is around Bus Rapid Transit has convinced me that it is actually a movement of the spirit and a sign of coming of the Kingdom. I get to participate in praying and working for the future of Metropolitan Richmond specifically in improving transportation, so we have a safe, reliable and efficient point of connection. That to me seems like Kingdom work to me, a holy calling to help save the soul of our city.

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A Child of God

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The other day, someone asked me something close to either what denomination I was or my faith tradition, I can’t remember the exact wording. Well, it’s a bit complicated. I started out in a black Baptist church, went to a white Presbyterian Church for a while, shopped around at some non-denominational churches (both black and white) and most recently I go to a church started by Virginia Baptist, that heavily leans on the Episcopal liturgy and tradition. What does that make me? I am not sure, but I begin to think about this and was reflecting how these experiences has deeply shaped me in some way, all were gifts.

In the Black Baptist Church I started out with in DC, in perhaps being around black church folk in general, I feel like I received the gift of praise and worship. The only reason I even started going to church is because a bunch of my friends were in the gospel choir on Georgetown’s campus and I went to hear them sing. I never stopped going, even on the two weekends a month they didn’t sing. There is something about black people and worship that is a total gift to the world. The music, the rhythm, the clapping, the dancing and sheer joy. Whether it’s crying out to God at times in anguish, or declaring victory in the face of trial or just singing praises to God, I love it all. In lifting up of the soul in spirit filled song to God, the soul is lifted. The previous 3.5 years were difficult at times, music was key, probably 7-8 songs got me through. I sang them when the words didn’t feel true but I wanted them to be. They spoke to my situation, lifted my soul and connected me to God like nothing else. I am glad I started there, I am glad I know how to praise my way through something.

The Presbyterian Church I went to was completely different from my previous church, in many many ways, but I feel like my time there gave me a love of truth and helped me shape a Christian worldview. Being there made me think about, who God is, who he has made me to be and what that meant for my vocation, my politics and my decisions in life. It helped me begin to work through what I really believed. I’m not a Presbyterian theologically, but I really appreciated the time, energy, and thought put into trying to understand God’s word and how to live according to it. Because it was so different, in demographics, in political views, in theology and worship, I had to learn to love people who were in most ways different from me, I had to learn to hear God’s words preached in a different manner, I had to learn (this was most difficult) to worship God another way, with different words, songs and instruments. In a sense I had to get over myself and out of my comfort zone. It was good for me though, having my identity in Christ diffused from my own racial, cultural and personal preferences. I had to see God in others that I didn’t agree with and relate to, befriend and worship with believers on the other side of the fence. It helped me to learn to love and to decipher what I did and didn’t believe for myself.

My last church experience, the church I have been in for the longest in my life was perhaps one of the most transformative…So many gifts. The other day I walked into a church and was looking for the program, but there was none. It made me think of how much I appreciated liturgy. I think All Souls gave me both a love for tradition while teaching me to open and sensitive to the ways God is moving, working and speaking right now. I appreciated having our time together shaped by the church calendar and entering into advent, epiphany, Pentecost, and even ordinary time. I liked the reading of the new and Old Testament in the worship service and reciting various creeds crafted long ago. It was restful to know that I was participating in rituals that were centuries old. I learned different ways to pray, to read scripture, to watch for God. One of the best takeaways was seeing God as a benevolent that was FOR me, inviting me into something good and beautiful. I always found myself thinking what is God saying to me in the mist of this…what is the invitation? Heaped on all the tradition was this openness, a freedom, and friendship. I don’t know if I have ever heard the word hospitality so much as I have in the past few years, the idea of being open and welcoming to God, to love, to people, to even the joys and sorrows that come with life. All Souls taught me that there is space for it all, that I can walk through and welcome it all. That felt like a relief, that I could be where I was, and that God was there too. Refreshing. I think ultimately, I learned to be more human there, more myself. What a gift!

Being here, I am among so many different kinds of Christians. I had dinner with a catholic, Methodist and Baptist the other day. I am glad I can worship with different people, and had the opportunity to receive from various traditions. This morning, Ms. Patricia one of our hospitality assistants greeted us as she walked into the kitchen, “Good morning Children of the Most High God.” Yes, that is what I am, a Child of God, a Child of the King…that seems good and right and true for us all.