In the readings we hear in this Easter Season, we read that “the community was of one mind and one heart. No one claimed anything as their own but put their resources at the feet of the disciples to be used for all according to need.” (Acts 4:32). That sounds like such an idealist view, one wonders if it was really like that. Or for that matter, how did the people become of “one mind and heart.” I have often talked about Jesus inviting all of us to lean into the journey of our life. Simply put, that’s what it means to grow up in our faith. Jesus says it in other ways. He invites the disciples to “cast their nets into the deep,” and he invites us “to try to enter through the narrow gate.” Now all of these are nice words, but just how does this happen?
Far too often in our church, we have equated growing up in faith with learning information about the church or with doing holy actions. All these are good, of course, and they have their place. But words and outward actions don’t necessarily change our hearts. Believing in doctrines doesn’t really ask us to change our attitudes. Doing holy actions does not necessarily cause us to change the way we act. Growing up in our faith has to do with changing attitudes in our heart and changing the way we relate to the world. And that get’s us back to our question: “So how does a person lean into the journey of life? How does a person grow up in faith?”
The starting point is that growing up in faith is not so much what we do as much as what is done to us. God is the one who initiates and our role is to respond to this. And God
uses the ordinary events of our life and the people in our lives to be this invitation. God comes to us disguised as our life.
Recently some one told me about a book I needed to read. It was called “The Newspaper Boy”, written by Chervis Isom who grow up in Birmingham, Alabama in the 1950’s. He described his story as “coming of age during the Civil Rights era.” Chervis grew up in a racially segregated community with all the accompanying stereotypes of blacks. At one level this story is about how he came to understand that black people were just as real and human as white people. I don’t know that he intended his memoir to be a story about growing up in faith, but that is certainly what happened.
Growing up in faith only happens when there is a desire to change or an understanding that the way I have come to see the world is not all there is to know. If we are happy being where we are, there is no need for us to change. I think God keeps inviting us to change and these invitations come to us disguised in the ordinary events of our life.
For Chervis, the first invitation came from an encounter with a young black boy who had built a go-cart. At first glance all that interested him was the chance to drive the go cart real fast down the hill. Nothing here about growing up in faith. But the seed was planted.
Then there was the strange attraction Chervis had toward a lawyer in town who wrote letters to the editor about how blacks and whites should learn how to get along. He only knew this person as someone who wrote letters to the editor in the newspaper. What cause him to read the letters in the first place? What was it about these letters that somehow spoke to his heart, even at a young age? He did not know, but God knew and another seed was planted.
And then there was the invitation that came to know a young couple, Gene and Helen Miller, who had a whole different experience of life and a different way of looking at the world of blacks and whites. He did not seek this out, but it came to him because they were on his newspaper route. His goal was to sell newspapers and then be able to buy a new motorcycle and have some extra money. This was the driving force in his life. He was not looking to see the world of race relations in a different way.
He met them for the first time when he went to collect money for the newspaper. They invited him in and took an interest in what was happening in his life. He was eager to share the views he had about blacks and whites, all of which he had heard at home and from talks he had heard about proponents of the Ku Klux Klan. The Millers don’t agree with any of this and told him so. Even though they disagree with him, he is strangely attracted to them, so much so that he rearranges his Saturday paper collection route so they would be his last visit. He does not know why he is attracted to what they have to say, but he finds himself wanting to talk to them more and more. And another seed was planted. Nothing overt about growing up in faith, it’s just ordinary life unfolding. But his heart was open to this invitation.
Growing up in faith means being willing to take ourselves out of our world, our comfort zone and be planted in a place that is unfamiliar and even scary to be. Many times these events are forced upon us—things like pain and suffering that cause us to rethink the way we understand life. But sometimes God is so good about planting seeds that we are often invited on this journey without always knowing it. For Chervis this occurred when he wanted to win the top prize that the Birmingham News was offering to the paper carrier who sold the most subscriptions. The prize was a new car. For Chervis, new car would be just the thing that would made him a cool dude and big man on campus, not to mention being the very thing that would have all the girls attracted to him.
Chervis only had one problem. He knew all the people on his paper routes and so there wasn’t much chance he would get any new customers. His friends, the Miller’s suggest he try selling in another section of town—a section that none of the other carriers went. No one went there because it was the black section of town. Chervis had never been in this section. He didn’t know any black families. But he took up the challenge. In the process he gets to know people who were black and he finds himself rethinking all the things he has been told about black people. And change happened.
Because he paid attention to the stirrings in his heart, Chervis’ life was changed. And that’s how it happens for all of us. And that’s what it means to lean into the journey of life.