“I thirst…”(John 19:28)
This month the giving message is more extended and has a way of expanding. It is one of those times in my own life, where I see all the seemingly unrelated pieces link together. To eventually see the whole picture as it is right now. There have been several times in my life, that I have experienced this and each time it is profoundly moving.
For some of those of us outcasts we have felt we are an outcast from an early age. Perhaps it was not something that we could identify, but was felt. I have heard it expressed in different ways, but each time in some way there is the awareness of disconnect from others or possibly felt unseen. This is heard from outcasts of all ages.
There are all sorts of ways we are outcasts, whether self identified or publicly recognized. Each of us having our own, yet similar experience as an outcast. However, we arrive at the awareness of being an outcast, we can choose to be empowered by this reality, instead of fulfilling the desire of those trying to exclude us in some way.
In many of our churches there is even a part of the building designed to keep people out, it called the Narthex. The Narthex is part of the church building, but not the primary worship space. It is the opposite end of the altar, as if to symbolically demonstrate what the outcast is not able to partake of. For example some that have been in the narthex would be infants before Baptism, penitents and in the American pre-civil rights-era-South black people. This is including people into the worship, but kept them just slightly removed. This is a similar experience those of us who are outcasts might feel of being close, but still feel as though something is missing.
The connection I feel to urban areas of experiencing the grace of God and of seeing fellow outcast there, might be attributed with my enjoyment of watching Mr. Rogers and Sesame Street as a child. Every time one of those shows were on, I felt a connection to something greater than myself, a sense of community. Last summer, I was reconnected with the joy I felt when watching Mr. Rogers while in Pittsburgh, stopping by the Mr. Rogers Memorial and the larger than life statue. There were songs from the show playing, peppered with bits of wisdom that was imparted to each of us viewers. This was just as the documentary was coming out about Fred Rogers (AKA Mr. Rogers) “Won’t you be my neighbor?”. I had within me the same bubbling up of absolute joy and peace standing there (which can be seen in the selfie), as I did as a child.
I experienced what a friend calls, “my cup was full”, with tears of joy flowing. That feeling has repeatedly returning to the forethought of my mind since last summer. The idea crossed my mind is that the feeling we felt from Mr. Rogers is what we should feel in our churches. For some of us outcasts it maybe, but as outcasts we might have radically different experiences than the majority within our spiritual home. Those different experiences almost give us a different language making it hard to connect to a message that does not match our lives, but still holds an element of recognition.
It is in knowing we may hear something we connect to as Christ, but still not fully connect, that keeps us going. There is nothing wrong with us, we speak different languages in a way, because of our different experiences. Those experiences that others have, with feeling nourished are still real and still a deepening in their relationship with God, but with our diverse experiences we connect with the the Crucified Christ in different ways.
Much like at the end of Romper Room (for us older outcasts) when the teacher peeking through the magic mirror would name off all the names, at the end including “you”, created a connection. It is such a connection Mr. Rogers made in the different ways of saying “you are special”, that we were reached, each of us experiencing we are special.
Just as if we are not still feeling the thirst for spiritual community, it might mean we have to change some of the ways we do things or even our schedule. Just as the words “I thirst”, were spoken as Jesus was recognizing his human existence was coming to an end, we begin to feel a thirst when it is time to become comfortable with the idea of being uncomfortable for a while. This is what it is like to be like new wine skins and not trying to use the old wine skins as new ways of thinking begin to form. (Mark 2:18-22) Then take the new ideas, find one or more fellow outcasts and/or a spiritual director to connect, to further develop this common way of thinking. It is in those connections, we can find ways to connect within our church homes, allowing the flow to continue outward.
Just as when our cup is full, the contents flows out to others, so too can the different ways we are spiritually nourished and also the ways we allow our connections. This month, the donation is not specifically spiritual, but a place where many of us may have had our first experience having our spiritual selves validated. It is Mr. Rogers who was like Jesus cooling his feet in a pool with a black man to begin dissolving the separation from anyone treated as “the other”. It could also be when Mr. Rogers met a young man where they were in a wheelchair, sitting beside him learning to speak the language of life in a wheelchair. Mr. Rogers taught us we are special without exception. Mr. Rogers also taught us how to be like Christ in the world, by seeing Christ in the world within the diversity of people. Mr. Rogers lived by example, while teaching us to bring everyone into the worship space.
The worship space this month is the Fred Rogers Center, which continues his life’s work of connecting us together. Fred Rogers said, “It takes one letter to say I and four letters to say love and three letters to say you. One hundred and forty-three”, which is the origin of the 143 Club. To join the club they ask for a donation of $143. They even mention it can be done in 10 monthly payments of $14.30. Still if that is too much, then think of sending $1.43 for ten months, which would come out to $14.30. (Please note, it will not be what they ask for for the 143 Club) This month I am doing the monthly donation differently, by encouraging fellow outcasts to join me in donating to the Fred Rogers Center for the next 10 months, which in a way carries love into 2020, with January of next year being the tenth month.
Always remember, anything we share, whether it is compassion, kindness or cash, is continuing the flow. That is the thirst we are called to quench, within connecting with one another. The more we are together learning how to speak our different ways, the more we grow spiritually. That flow is what enables us to move beyond needing rooms to keep people out of the merciful flow Jesus taught us to live in and to live by.