The kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but power. -1 Corinthians 4:20
I recognized this scene, saw it a hundred times both in great and terrible films: small factions begin forming beneath the street lamps, confronting each other with a crescendo of discontented, indiscernible words, attracting more people, more voices, more syllables taptaptapping into some ancient nameless hatred, hardening hearts, arms raising arms, until the irrevocable bang, the scurrying, the body of the best friend left lying still, lit by indifferent and unnatural light.
There was yet no bang, but the air quivered beneath their anger, staggering like a boy bearing a weight too heavy upon his shoulders. Emerging from my car, I met friends emerging from their house, concerned about the violent shouting that shook the air. I put my shaking thumb on the nine of my cellphone, and in the moment I felt purposeful, powerful, whispering with my friends on the porch about what to do, thinking to myself whatistherightthing, the smartthing, the bravething, the christianthing. And then suddenly one turned her back upon our caucus and then the other glanced at me before she too turned her head, and I was left alone, my arm hanging impotent at my side. I did not understand. I did not know what I was supposed to do, and I did not know what they were doing. Why would they leave me without telling me where they were going? Why were they walking closer toward the angry crowd, their backs straight, jaws set? I do not want to be a part of the gawking masses, I thought. I will respond as I would a tantrum from a child; I will not give this event credence with my eyes. And yet I was the child, the one feeling abandoned, caught in my own emotions even as the world screamed its own pain at me, begging me to know suffering larger than my confusion, abandonment far deeper than a twinge.
And when I did look I saw my friends standing as statues on the skirts of conflict, different from the others in their silence and in their stillness. And then a third and then a fourth emerged onto the sidewalk, and until then, I did not know compassion could set one’s eyes like flint. And then I understood that they were standing there as witnesses, the pillars of a roof I could not see, offering protection in a way I had not yet thought to provide.
Soon after, the police arrived, and forty youth scattered into the shadows. My friends returned; we retrieved the cooler out of my car I let them borrow for a camping trip; there were goodbye hugs, and I drove home to a peaceful cul-de-sac, the kind of sack stuffed full of my dreams of ending poverty and theories of justice and the role of the church, untouched and untested, pristine in their verbiage and powerless in the fight.
I do not lie to you; the morning of this incident, I was in Norwood with two of these four friends talking about what living the gospel looks like in our neighborhood, how a core message of the good news is that we are not abandoned. I distinctly remember getting up on my high horse about a sermon I heard about how the core of the gospel is not “do the right thing” and how it feels like so many in our church view it like that. And yet, in the situation I describe, that is exactly the mindset I responded with. I did remember to pray, but part of me wonders if that is not an extension of the what-is-the-christian-thing-to-do mindset rather than allowing Christ to truly live in me. I know at times it might seem like a small difference from the outside, but I have truly felt the radically different nature in my life and have been privileged to witness it in others along the way. I think there is a time for talking about what the gospel/church is, but there is a time for leaving the caucus on the porch and learning how to watch and listen and intercede. Lord, have mercy.
As a side note, this is the sermon I referenced about how the gospel is more than doing the right thing. Most of the sermons on there are excellent including this one. It is from the Anglican church I belong/ed to in Wheaton. Anyway, perhaps something to listen to while you are cooking for your neighbors. :)