Reflection: The Roads We Travel
So, yesterday, we had Summerfest 2023, our church’s annual outdoor summer celebration. This year’s theme was “Return to Joy.”
And it was beautiful.
We had our first ever outdoor baptism. And baptism is such a brilliant, spiritually meaningful, emotionally charged moment. People are publicly, symbolically identifying with Christ in his life, death, burial, and resurrection.
They are laying down old burdens.
They are picking up new hope.
They may also be confronting their fear of water.
If you are not a water person, getting dunked raises questions.
I know how to swim. I am comfortable in the water.
But I’m also 6’4”. And when I got baptized years ago, at my previous church, it was in their baptism pool, which they used once a year, early in the morning, on Resurrection Sunday. It was behind the altar. And we stood up. And it was a LONG WAY DOWN. And I just remember thinking, as my pastor, a slender lady who was perhaps 5’7”, laid hands on me and started to take me down into the water, I’m really glad I trust this woman. Because, I am identifying with Christ in his death, and this is exactly what it would look like if I was being murdered.
But I came back up joyful, relieved, and feeling new.
Memories had me reeling yesterday.
Because yesterday marked the 20 year anniversary of my first day at Christian Cultural Center (CCC), my current church, my place of work, the place that I met my wife, and many friends, and so much more.
On August 5, 2003, my mother, who lives in Vermont, ambushed me by bringing me to a church featuring a guest musical ensemble I enjoyed. It was a group called A Cappella. It is a four-man vocal group, whose membership has changed throughout generations, but whose music and ministry had been a blessing to me over the years. But they are based in Nashville, and I had never had the opportunity to see them live.
So she goes on Acappella’s website, sees they will be Ministering at CCC, for Pastor A.R. Bernard’s weeklong ministerial anniversary and birthday celebration “25 Years of Ministry, 50 Years of Purpose.”
And she proceeds to get sneaky. She wrote the group. She got in touch with CCC Member Services, headed by the late, great Linda Jenkins, and put together a whole thing, and then called me up, and LIED, and said she needed to come to New York. Was I up for a visit?
So she arrives, and at some point in the afternoon asks me if I have ever heard of Christian Cultural Center. And I said: 12020 Flatlands Avenue, Brooklyn, NY. Because I started every weekday at 5am listening to WMCA, a Christian radio station in NYC. And after Tony Evans, Greg Laurie, and J. Vernon McGee, I listened to A.R. Bernard on The Morning Show.
So we went to CCC. And It was amazing.
Linda Jenkins hooked us up.
We sat in the box, next to the late, great Hazel Robinson, who I would later come to know as the head of HR at CCC, who made us feel like honored guests. We heard some inspired music. We heard a great word from the guest speaker, the late, great Andria Hall, an emmy-award winning journalist, and author, who had been an anchor on CNN, NBS, FOX, and then hosted the show “America at Worship” on the Hallmark Channel from 2001-2005.
And we met the group, and forged some ties that continue to this day.
But I had been to many churches and heard inspired music before.
But what I was not prepared for was the word.
I had no concept of church where you took notes.
And this was pre-laptop, Ipad, and Iphone. It was just me with a pen, furiously writing till my hands started to cramp.
Which was probably the beginning of my learning to summarize on the fly, which would serve me well in years to come
But my few points of contact led me to develop an opinion of the place.
I concluded that everyone at CCC was as sweet as Hazel Robinson.
I surmised that everyone at CCC was as cool, and generous, and helpful as Linda Jenkins.
Which was almost true.
And we came back the next day, for Randy Morrison.
I came back, by myself, for the late, great Myles Monroe, and Trinity 5:7.
I came back on Saturday for a concert with Alvin Slaughter and Shirley Caesar.
And I say all that to say this.
Yesterday was the 20 year anniversary of the first day I came to Christian Cultural Center.
Which makes today the 20 year anniversary of the first day I decided to come back.
And over the next 1040 Sunday mornings, and Tuesday Nights, and eventual staff meetings, and choir rehearsals, and drama ministry moments, and special events, and ultimately, preaching and teaching, weddings and funerals, baptisms and baby dedications, worship and work, I’ve had many opportunities to choose to come back again.
Whether I felt tired or inspired.
Whether I had been welcomed or slighted.
Whether I had been blessed, or overlooked, or blessed and overlooked, or had my last nerve worked by God’s people as I was doing God’s work, I got to choose to come back.
And each time I did, God met me there, and showed me something new.
And, as is often the case in life, my memories are filled with many amazing people who I was privileged to know for a season, who are no longer with us.
I can think of other people I once saw every day, who have gone on to do other things, and I have no idea where they are.
I was guided, and molded, by many people I never imagined I would be living without, until I did.
We never know, at the beginning of an adventure, how exactly it will unfold.
We don’t know, as out team starts the race, how many will be there at the finish.
We just know that we are travelling the road together. We are doing life together. And we can choose to love with the time we have.
My pastor will often say, of the church, that membership doesn’t begin till the first time you are offended and choose to come back.
My life is so much richer for all the times, in church, or family, or community, that I have been offended, or hurt, or mistreated, and chosen to work it out, or show someone grace, rather than making them the story of why I no longer associate with those people. My life is better for every time I chose to stay on the road.
It doesn’t mean that every slight should be ignored.
It doesn’t mean that we participate in our own abuse.
It sometimes means that we need to love people enough to work it out, or confront a problem, or just address a misunderstanding.
Today, I look at an adventure that has left me older, wiser, and richer by far.
And I’m grateful for every time I chose to come back, for every time I chose to stay on the road.
My hope for you is the same.
I pray that wherever you find yourself, that you would make the effort, as much as it depends on you, to stay together, to build bridges rather than burning them.
I pray that whatever family you inherit, and choose, that you would do the hard work of love.
I pray that when you lose someone close to you, that the pain you would experience would be the pain of separation, and not the pain of regret, that you would miss no opportunity to love the people God gives you, and tell them what they mean to you.
Today, as I look back on 20 years of life in one particular community, I’m glad that I have.
And I’m glad, too, that tomorrow is another day.
And I am still on the road.
(Photo Credit: Veeterzy)