What Keeps You Up at Night?
Maia is a young woman who, for the past two years, was our music leader at the Church Beyond the Walls, an outside street church in Burnside Park, downtown, Providence, RI. At just 16 years old, week after week, every Saturday at 2:00 PM, Maia drove from her suburban home to downtown Providence, found parking, walked alone through the city streets carrying a large djembe drum, found her way to Burnside Park, and served as our music leader, our Songbird, as CBW named her. CBW is a beloved community of people from every walk of life, and to me a glimpse of the kingdom of God. But CBW can also be a rowdy and rambunctious crowd. CBW is a community of people of every race and ethnicity; of every economic and educational level; of young and old, gay and straight; some housed, many not; most sober, some not. One day a guy OD’d during our worship, so we had to call 911. After Maia had been our music leader for a few weeks, I asked her how she felt about it. She thought deeply for a moment, then responded, “I like it a lot.” Long pause. “It makes me feel so…uncomfortable.”
Maia did not mean “uncomfortable” in a “bad” way. Maia has heard me quote the words that were written on a huge banner in the chapel at Harvard Divinity School years ago when I was a student there – words which continue to spur me on:
“Jesus Christ came to comfort the disturbed, and to disturb the comfortable.”
This past Sunday at church I gave everyone an index card. I asked them to write down one action they took in the last couple of days that made them feel really uncomfortable, but they did it anyway, because as a follower of Jesus, they believed it was the right thing to do. Some people really had to think about it. Some people’s index cards were blank. They REALLY need to think about THAT.
How about YOU? What is ONE ACTION you did this week as a follower of Jesus, that made you really uncomfortable, but you did it anyway because you knew it was the right thing to do? Or maybe you are not a follower of Jesus, but you did something that made you feel really uncomfortable because you knew it was the right thing to do. In this week’s Gospel Jesus challenges us: “take up our cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save your life will lose it; but whoever loses your life for my sake and for the sake of the Gospel will find it.” (Matthew 16: 24-25) I ask you, does that sound “comfortable”?
A month ago I went to Gamaliel Community Organizer Training. It was a grueling, challenging week-long class, the same community organizing program done by President Obama. Throughout that challenging week, we were asked to identify our “Self Interest.” I still do not like that name. I think of it instead as our “Passion,” or in Hinduism, our “Dharma.” Our life path or life purpose. The thing we were put on this earth to do. Another way Gamaliel described it is, “What keeps you up at night? What keeps you from sleeping? What is going on in this world that is so disturbing, so challenging to you that it burns you up inside?” The prophet Jeremiah said, “I want to keep silent, but there is a fire burning in my bones, and I cannot keep silent.” (Jer. 20:9) What keeps YOU up at night?
At Gamaliel training, I knew instantly: for me it is INEQUALITY. Sexism, racism, homophobia, every form of inequality that says to another “you are LESS THAN…” I grew up in the Church. I grew up hearing that God created every human being in God’s own image and likeness. I grew up learning that God loves EVERYONE God created, and so should we. But was that the reality I saw all around me as a little kid growing up during the 1960’s? Was that the reality I saw even in my church? HELL NO! So I have spent my life trying to do something about it.
All these years later, is that the reality we see in our world today? HELL NO. And I’ll tell you, it has been keeping me up at night.
So it is time. It is TIME for all of us who can’t sleep at night because of the horrific inequalities we see all around us, to get out of our comfort zones, and TAKE ACTION. TO DO SOMETHING about it.
At Gamaliel, one of the kick-ass instructors went over to a quiet member of the class, got in his face, and asked him, “What keeps YOU up at night?” He told her his anger about the treatment of LBGTQ persons in the world, and in the church. She said, “Yeah, well what are you doing with all of that anger you feel?” He said, “Well, I’m mostly stuffing it down inside.” She said, “How’s that working for you?” He said, “Not very well. It has turned into deep depression and frustration.” Then she said something I will never forget. She said, “We forget that there are a LOT of people who feel like we do, and that if we all got together TO DO SOMETHING about it, we could bust out of this jail! But instead we quietly stuff it down inside.”
Here in RI, over the next couple of months, the RI State Council of Churches is hosting a five week anti-racism facilitators training called “Merciful Conversations: Let’s Talk about Race.” Then those people will train others, and those people will train others, and those people will train others. And there will be a grass root, ripple effect. We will move a step or two closer toward becoming the Beloved Community. If you are in RI, you can register at the RISCC website.
One thing is for sure. We will ALL feel very “uncomfortable.” There will be many many sleepless nights. But at least we’ll be DOING SOMETHING about it!
If in the last few days you have not done anything that has made you feel uncomfortable, you need to be a big enough person to own that. You are not serving God and this world by being “comfortable.”
Jesus Christ came to comfort the disturbed, and to DISTURB THE COMFORTABLE.
This day, may you see God in all you encounter,
And may you reflect God to all you encounter!
Linda Forsberg, Copyright September 5, 2017