7694535The Ten Commandments . . . It isn’t usually the type of post that you imagine me getting excited about, especially when you know I'm not a person all into "hell fire and brimstone" or tons of "thou shall nots."

However, when I read famed Old Testament scholar Walter Bruggemann's take on this passage in his book Journey to the Common Good, I was so excited I hardly knew what to do with myself (which is of course letting you in on my pastor dorkiness) because his framework for the meaning of the Ten Commandments shed a whole new light on this often over quoted, frequently debated and controversy driven portion of scripture.  (Kevin can attest to this fact after I sought to give him the cliff note version of this book on the way home one afternoon in the car and wouldn’t stop talking about it to which he might or might not have stop listening . . .

So, can you name all ten?

If you only found yourself able to name a couple, you are in good company. If you are like most Americans, the number of them that you know is always less than ten.

In fact a survey several years ago reported that more Americans could name seven ingredients of a McDonald's Big Mac hamburger and members of TV's "The Brady Bunch" more easily than the Bible's Ten Commandments.

Less than half of respondents -- 45 percent -- could recall the commandment "honor thy father and mother""[i] but 62 percent knew the Big Mac has a pickle and 43% knew that Bobby and Peter were Bradies.

So even as most of us don't exactly know all of the commandments, there are some of our Christian brothers and sisters sure do get fired up about them. 29_commandments2

We've all heard and followed the news of legislative battles over placement of the ten commandments in public places over recent years.

For example in September 13 of 2011, the Huffington Post reported that "The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia sued a southwest Virginia school board for posting the Ten Commandments, contending that the display violates the Constitution's guarantee of separation of church and state. This lawsuit sought to have the Ten Commandments removed from school walls and a ban on further display of the biblical documents.[ii]

The Ten Commandment and American religious culture go hand in hand as the debate in of their appropriateness in public life is likely to go on for generations . . .

So what can we learn from them?

If we go back to the text-- Exodus 20-- at their first appearance we see the context.

Prior to this moment at the base of Mount Sinai, the nation of Israel were slaves. They were owned by the nation of Egypt. They labored hard from sun up to sun down to edify and strengthen not themselves or their families but the empire.

They were asked to perform in bondage back-breaking work simply because the Pharaoh of the land was a afraid: afraid that without oppressing others that one day he'd not have enough. 

And I believe this is most important: they were a member of a society that was build not on ever having time to rest-- because if you stopped then someone else might get ahead. It was also a society not built on caring for neighbor-- because the only way to get ahead as a nation was to put others down.

Yet, as we know, everything had changed. The nation of Israel was now FREE!

Now, no longer would they be asked to bow to Pharaoh or any other god for that matter.

They’d be asked to form their life together around this truth: "I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the land of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me."

They’d be asked to form their life together around this truth: "Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work."

They’d be asked to put neighbor above self and "honor your father and your mother," "not commit adultery" "not steal" or "bear false witness against their neighbor."

When we take a step back and look at the commandments as a unit over all (instead of reading them as so many often do in isolation) what we uncover is that God outlined for the children of Israel a NEW society

 . . . that was no longer based on scarcity, the fear of not having enough.

Instead, they would be asked live together as a people who believed as the Apostle Paul would say later on in the New Testament, "My God shall supply all of your needs."

They would be an abundant community.  

They’d be asked to become a community where no child was left behind wondering if their parents loved them because adultery broke up their parents marriage  . . .

They’d be asked to be a community where there would be no need to take another's food for everyone had their share . . .

They’d be asked to be a community where the deep breaths and moments of life reflecting silence would bring restorative healing as Sabbath, or a day from work was regularly taken. . . .

But their freedom and the abundance of provisions came with a cost. It actually was for a bigger purpose!

Remember long ago what God had said to their ancestor Abraham when he had been called by God, God said to Abraham, "all peoples of the earth will be blessed by you."2014-01-16-BelovedCommunity

Well, I believe that it is here in this moment of history that the way of life comes to be in order to make this happen.

The people of Israel are given an order to their life together so that they can use their blessing by God to bless others. Most of all this: to create a neighborhood where all would be welcomed. ALL people would be welcome.

Walter Bruggemann puts it like this, the Ten Commandments "are not rules for deep moralism. They are not commonsense rules to scold people. Rather, they are the most elemental statement of how to organize social power and social goods for the common benefit of the community."

Which is a way of saying, the Israelites were being asked to order their lives in such a way-- not just to feel shame if they broke one of the commandments, not just to feel like their God was lording over them in oppressive ways (as Pharaoh had done) but journey together toward the common good of all.

Here’s the underlining point: God gave them the 10 commandments to be intentional in their inclusion.

But the question was would they create it? Will we?

________________________________

[i]  "Americans Know Big Macs Better than Ten Commandments." http://www.reuters.com/article/2007/10/12/us-bible-commandments-idUSN1223894020071012

[ii] Virginia Ten Commandments Lawsuit: Civil-Liberties Groups Sue Southwest Virginia School Board For Posting Ten Commandments. Huffington Post. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/13/virginia-ten-commandments-lawsuit_n_960447.html

Within my first couple weeks of seminary at Duke Divinity School back in 2003, I attended a weekend retreat.

It was designed for women a part of the free church tradition (i.e. Baptists, Free Methodists, AME, Pentecostals, etc).  And, coming from the Baptist tradition myself, it was a perfect match to fulfill the required spiritual formational credit for graduation.

I loved how the retreat connected me to the theological and racial diversity of the school and brought me new friends. But there was one weird part.

The closing song.

i-need-you-so-muchMy classmates and I were asked to partner up, look into one another's eyes and sing "I Need You To Survive" to a gospel anthem by Hezekiah Walker with full gusto! I have to tell you, I'm all about the feelings but such an exercise was too much for even me. These were some of the words:

I need you, you need me.
We're all a part of God's body.
Stand with me, agree with me.
We're all a part of God's body.
It is his will, that every need be supplied.
You are important to me, I need you to survive.
You are important to me, I need you to survive.
You can you can listen to the full song by clicking here

Ironically, Abby who became my best friend at Duke (and still a great friend and colleague today) was my partner. If anybody was grading us, we would have gotten an F for our participation because couldn't stop laughing! But obviously something about the experience must have stuck because here I am 11 years later writing about it.

For when I think about how God made us to relate to one another in community, it's really so true.

I need you. And you need me. 

Yet, most of us live on the sidelines, contact people just when we need a favor, or wait till a birthday or a Christmas card to say hello. But when we do potentially amazing relationships fall just in the "OK" category because we aren't willing to say:

I need you. You need me. 

There's a lot of intentionally and vulnerability involved in this process and of course rejection sucks if the other person is not all in.

But what I most want to tell you today is don't let fear of rejection keep you from showing up.

I don't know about you, but I want to live a life full of joy. I want to live a life that isn't pained with unnecessary loneliness or without the encouragement I need to stay the course.

There are so many people in my life I would love to tell right now (if you were sitting beside me as I write): I need you. You need you. I love you. I need you to survive. I'm all the better because you are in my life. I am under no pretenses that I can be all I am called to be without your help!

But what does this look like in practice?

A couple of weeks ago I was invited to a Christmas party.

It was an invitation like many we all receive this time of year. It came at the last-minute from a person I would consider a friend, but not one of my best of best friends. I waffled on whether or not to go. The traffic to get to her house would be annoying. I'd had a long week already. Why stress myself out if I didn't need to?

So when I tried to gracefully bow out, my friend said in a roundabout way, "I need you. You need me. And it would mean the world to me if you came."

Well, then. 

So, I went. Because she was right. I need this friend in my life and she needs me. And showing up for people who are in our community is no small thing. It's worth 30 minute searches for parking spaces.

This kind of living is NOT about having upper hand of "being needed" all the time or someone owing us a favor constantly. But it includes looking loved ones in the eyes and saying: "I need you" (which is MUCH harder). And letting them help us.

So these days I'm thinking that retreat leader was really on to something.  She was giving us life wisdom: "I need you. You need me."

Though it might feel weird or make us feel more vulnerable than we would like, here's the truth:

I need you. And you need me. 

"Some people see scars, and it is wounding they remember. To me they are proof of the fact that there is healing." --Linda Hogan

Last August I found myself in a situation where I needed to have emergency surgery.

I'd gotten a bacteria infection so intense that it required a major surgical procedure to remove the tumor. The doctor told me there was a chance I could have cancer. A couple hours in the operating room and a of inches of an incision later, the nightmare was over. Three days later I learned that I did not have cancer. I am happy to say that I have fully recovered and feel great now, if not better. 

But there is one thing that lingers because of the whole ordeal and that is a large scar. 

I see it every day when I dress, when I shower. It's a reminder of the horror that was August 23, 2013. 

ThoughI thought I wouldn't care if I had a scar, the more I looked at it in the months following the surgery, the more I hated it. 

Such was a reminder to me of an ugly and unexplainable chapter in my story. "Why really do I have to look at it EVERY day?" I protested to Kevin one night. 

My problem solving husband replied, "Well do something about it!"

The next day, I went to a drug store in search of scar removal creams. I talked to the pharmanist and picked out what I thought was the best one. I began using it faithfully twice a day.

But while doing research for a sermon one afternoon, I ran across the Hogan quote:

"Some people see scars, and it is wounding they remember. To me they are proof of the fact that there is healing." --Linda Hogan

Such wisdom went against everything I'd ever thought or heard about scars. 

So, then maybe my perspective needed to be altered.

What if I looked at the scar and remembered how much better I felt because of the surgery?

What if I said a prayer of thanksgiving for the doctor who diagnosed me and took care of me?

What I remembered the healing both physical and spiritual that took place in me from this ordeal?

Such was a much more helpful train of thought. Being healed, you see, is something to be celebrated, not covered up! 

The human body is quite amazing, isn't it?  And the surgery I had last August probably won't be the last one I have! Our body truly wants to get well and stay well but sometimes in the process scars remain. 

Join me today in  thanking God for healing . . . thanking  God for second chances at life . . .  and  thanking God for the fact that even in our darkest hour we can get better and have marks to remember how far we've come! 

There's been a lot of talk the past couple of weeks about the Philippines, hasn't there? From the devastating earthquake a few weeks ago to this past weekend's destructive typhoon, it seems that the people of these islands are not getting a break. They've faced so many trials. It's been almost too much to watch!

As I've caught up on the news and heard reports from the Feed The Children staff in the Philippines (many who have lost everything in one of these major events!), my mind has quickly gone back to the experience I shared in this country almost exactly a year ago last year.

largeOn our first Feed The Children trip to Asia, Kevin and I explored several islands with the staff (as seen to the right). We meet community members involved in Feed The Children's programs. And as we toured, I couldn't help but feel schooled on the fact that the perceptions I had on what "aid" looked like were all wrong.

On November 5th, I blogged this:

As I write this I find myself on a boat heading from Bohol back to Cebu (Philippines) . . . We just met a group of families on a remote island who pulled their resources together to begin a village savings and loan– where their was no bank to help give the financial resources to move the community forward.

During our visit, our delegation was allowed to observe, a shareholders meeting, a weekly occurrence, where loans were given and dividends were paid back to share holders. We learned that 10% of the money made in the project goes back to assist the children in the community. Parents said, “We want a better life for kids. We know that begins with us being good stewards of our own resources. We want to be able to do this ourselves.” Over the past year this community (where it is not commonplace to have toilets in the house or more than one pair of shoes per person) has saved over $3,500 US to reinvest in their children’s school. . . .

For now, this is what I know: most of the world is not as it seems to us from our lens of American privilege. The “have-nots” people are not less than human. Change CAN happen as resources and strong leadership are given to make it possible.

For me, I am learning that life can no longer be about “that trip” or “out there” but somehow we must find a way to integrate life in such a way that all of life is about being a member of the human family that is full of challenges, yes, but hope. We must do what we can to serve wherever we find ourselves. We must never think our privilege as an honor, but an opportunity to be in a larger community.

I've thought about these reflections again recently, especially as so many organizations are on the ground now in the Philippines seeking to help those in need.

I think it's wonderful when the world comes to the aid of the vulnerable. Some crises are indeed so bad that we need help that must come from those with more resources than we have. And the commercial in me would like to tell you to give (if you feel so compelled) to Feed The Children.

But what bothers me about the news coverage and talk of the Philippines these days is it is so easily turned into an "us vs. them" appeal.

Because what is true is this: the people of the Philippines are strong. They are resilient. They will take care of each other with whatever resources they've got. And if we choose to help them (and I hope we all will), it is good to give from the perspective of these are my brothers and sisters in need NOT those poor and sad people out there.

We've got teachers who embody saving, sharing and giving all over the world. And many of those are found in the Philippines. It's our job not only to share but to learn.

The juxtaposition of my life these past couple days has been interesting—attending a Christian conference discussing orphan ministries and global poverty in a well-to-do suburb of Nashville, TN to now being among kids in poverty in rural villages in Guatemala assisting with feeding programs with the staff of Feed The Children.

There’s still much to process. But for now, this is what is coming together in my mind:

One of the best experiences of the Christian Alliance for Orphans Summit for me was the breakout session I attended called, “Straight Talk from Adult Adoptees.”

In the session, a packed room, three adults and one older teen led a panel discussion about growing into maturity from their experiences as adopted children.

Feelings such as “I hated my birth parents or birth country for abandoning me” to “I always knew my birth parents loved me, until they got a divorce . . . “ to “I never really understood why my birth parents would give me up” were shared openly.

But, then the discussion got complicated. We quickly learned there would be no “one sized fits all” answers or even the luxury that “being adopted” would be the defining experience of the panelists’ lives.

One of the adult adoptees shared how her trust issues were complicated by the fact that she learned her adoptive father only agreed to her adoption to save his marriage—which indeed didn’t happen as they divorced six months after her placement with family. She talked about her mother’s complicated re-marriage processes and then shared about the recent death of her adopted mom. All experiences of great loss . . .

But before our minds in the audience could single out her experience as “oh so bad” this adult adoptee stopped us saying directly to us: “Everybody in their life has pain. I have friends who have been through great losses too—deep woundedness that follows them as mine does me. . . . It just so happens that mine is more understandable than some with the label of adoption.”

It was a light bulb moment for me.

She spoke the truth: everybody has deep pain. Everybody is wounded. It's not an adoption issue. It's a human issue.

Being adopted and coming to turns with the abandonment part of it is just one of the ways that deep pain of this broken world can find a person early in life.

Pain is pain. Grief is grief. Loss is loss. And it is something we all understand, the more honest we become with our own story. Experiencing pain is a part of what it means to be human. Experiencing pain is part of what connects us to other human beings.

photoFast forward to this morning as I spent the day with the Feed The Children staff in Guatemala and several other guests at one of our feeding centers in rural Guatemala. As we visited with the kids, played games like hitting the piñata in search for candy, read stories to them, and then of course served a meal (rice with some chicken mixed in, cucumbers and radish salad, and tortillas), I couldn’t help but think about these kids’ pain.

I thought about the pain these kids may not have words to speak of right now, but pain that will follow them because of the kind of livelihood they were born into.

For, these were kids who came to the center in tattered clothing, dirty faces and shoes that didn’t seem to fit right.

These were kids who starred often at us “white people” with the cameras taking pictures of the festivities with the look of “Wow, what a nice life you have!”

These were kids who have walked to walk miles to school, many of whom depend on the donated shoes from TOMS (one of Feed The Children’s partners) in order to get there safely.

These were kids with great needs, more than I can mention in this post (though of course thanks to the generosity of FTC contributors and sponsors many of these needs are getting met).

They know pain.

Though I did not grow up in a home that struggled to provide me with basic life necessities, I can identify with them. I can identify with their loss, even if it may not be to the degree that their loss is to them.

For at the end of the day, we all just want to be loved. We all just want to know that someone cares about us in particular. We all want not to worry about where our next meal will come from or that we’ll have clean clothes to put on the next day. We want to feel secure in a family system, orphaned or not.

And I believe that when we all get to the point in our lives when we see our stories as broken, as in need, and most of all full of pain of one kind or another—we are given a great gift.

We're given the ability to more honestly look into the eyes of our brothers and sisters in humanity, knowing we’re from the same family. All of us. Because of this, we need each other more than we ever thought.

At its core, I believe that Christianity is a communal faith.

It's a committment to a lifestyle that none of us can choose to live alone.

We need exhortation, correction and support from one another not only to know God more fully, but to stay on the often difficult path we call discipleship.

Creating community is what the church is all about.

We gather together each week for worship because believe that somehow together we are much better off than alone.

We share meals together in social halls because we believe there is something about shared fellowship that makes us stronger.

We study scripture together because we trust that in reading holy texts with other ears around the table we see God more clearly.

But, I'm always interested in how faith communities are formed outside the walls of organized religion.

Lesson one-- Christian community can be built, literally.

dad and sonAt Christmas time, Kevin and I have spent the past week with family in South Georgia-- in a small town of all things Hagan.

It's a locale where my husband's family have lived for generations and everyone in his immediate family lives except us.

It's a home that includes two ponds, a pond house cabin, and homes for both my sister and brother in-law's families. It's a little piece of wonderful solitude to visit.

When first introduced to my future father-in-law when Kevin and I were dating I asked: "What are your hobbies?" It was a causal question meant to make conversation but his answer told me so much about what I would later come to love about him. "Well," he said, "I don't really have any hobbies other than the fact that I build things."

And it is true: Mr. Hagan is good at building things.

Though I know my mother-in-law wonders when it will all stop...

In the past several years, he's helped his grandson build a house, added a dock and gazebos to the pond outside his home (where our wedding was held by the way), added an outdoor kitchen to the pool, built a cabin affectionately known as "the pond house" as gathering space for groups and his latest project a shed for syrup making (see pictures below).

He does so for one reason: to bring people together.

Though he'd never say it in that way. It is just what he does.

He wants to make his homeplace a place for others to find joy.

And not just for his immediate family (though these people are important to him) but anyone you needs a place to be.

At a family dinner or when a group gathers for a party on his property, watch the twinkle in Mr. Hagan's eyes. He knows his sweat, efforts and financial investment has been worth it.

Community building, for him is not a one time thing but a lifestyle I've observed over these 7 years I've been associated with this family.

For example, this week a group of men from town gathered in the syrup making shed for the 4 hour process of making gallons and gallons of syrup (to be distributed and given to others in the area).

As we all stood around the big pot, I couldn't help but take a step back and soak in the wisdom of my teacher of a father-in-law.

There is nothing that brings him more joy than building things and seeing people enjoying what he has created.

God calls us into community.

God calls us to use our gifts whatever they may be to cultivate community. God calls us to welcome others into our daily space in the mystery called Christian community.

Some of us cook meals.

Others of us write blogs or author books.

Some of us coach sports teams.

And some of us even construct shelters.

And in all of these contributions, community is built.

And I have to think God looks on and says "it is very good." I am glad to have such good teachers as I keep learning.

20121229-231059.jpg

Yesterday, Washington Plaza Baptist hosted a memorial service for the brother and brother in-law of two of our devoted church leaders, Mark. The congregation was almost full of those who came to pay their respects. It wasn't full because everyone in the room had a relationship with the deceased or even had met Mark, but many people came out of love for the family. Mark suffered much from his battle with Huntington's disease, a genetic condition and died at age 42.

Through weekly updates during Sunday prayers, our church community watched Mark's family members care for their brother with love, faithfulness and steadfastness, even in the face of ongoing frustrations with the health care system in our state that often wanted to make him someone else's problem as his functions declined. The journey had been a long one and we had been by their side all the way.

As I led the service and gazed out on the congregation, I could help but think that this is what happens when the church gets it right. We love in community. We live in community. We die in community.  And when one of us is hurting, all of us hurt too. Together we sit with side by side as we encounter some of life's most difficult life junctures.

When we came to the portion of the service when it was time to share personal tributes, my two church members got up to read this litany about their beloved brother. I can't tell you how proud I was-- not only was it a beautiful, theologically rich responsive prayer, but I know it came from the hearts of two folks I know and love much. As their pastor I've seen their spiritual journeys unfold over the past two years at a rapid pace (having recently baptized them both) and I knew this moment of being surrounded by their church family was a tangible sign of what I"ve been teaching all this time. The church is so important in our lives because when life hands us the worst we can imagine, we get to be reminded that we are NEVER alone. God meets us in the hands and feet of others.

Those who endure the greatest suffering can become our greatest teachers. This was certainly a lesson, I believe, we all gained out of the memorial service yesterday. Every life is of value. Every life has gifts to share. Every life deserves to be celebrated.  The church gets it right when we teach, and love and nurture the faith into others. I was just glad to witness it yesterday!

Our brother: A sufferer and a teacher

Mark had a challenging life filled with many struggles and much pain

He taught us how to find humor and laughter in everything

HE REMAINS IN OUR HEART

Mark suffered from a genetic disease called Huntington's

He showed us how to endure and survive and never give up

HE REMAINS IN OUR HEART

Mark fought to numb life’s constant pain with alcohol

He showed us strength renewal by joining Alcoholics Anonymous

HE REMAINS IN OUR HEART

Mark never cared about material possessions or money

He taught us how to be humble and enjoy the simple things in life

HE REMAINS IN OUR HEART

Mark was hit by a car as a child and had life altering surgery

He taught us once again how to have strength and survive

HE REMAINS IN OUR HEART

Mark never had any money, but freely gave of it

He taught us the true meaning of generosity and compassion

HE REMAINS IN OUR HEART

Mark was easy to please and loved doing puzzles and playing cards

He taught us to enjoy the simple things in life

HE REMAINS IN OUR HEART

Mark had a debilitating motorcycle accident as an adult

He taught us once again to fight for life and never give up

HE REMAINS IN OUR HEART

People took advantage of Mark at times

Mark taught us forgiveness and to trust like a child

HE REMAINS IN OUR HEART

Mark had innocent eyes and a childlike stare

He taught us how to see truth and honesty and love

HE REMAINS IN OUR HEART

Mark had a very strong work ethic

Mark taught us the meaning of honor and character

HE REMAINS IN OUR HEART

Mark gave his last pack of cigarettes to a homeless person

He taught us how to always put other’s needs first

HE REMAINS IN OUR HEART

Mark had parents that hurt and disappointed him

Mark taught us to always respond with love and forgiveness no matter what

HE REMAINS IN OUR HEART

Mark lost everything when he went to jail

Mark taught us that if we trust God, HE will always provide… and God provided Effrain

MARK REMAINS IN OUR HEART

Through Mark’s challenging life of struggle and suffering, Mark finally grew weary and tired.  THE LORD SAID “Mark shall suffer no more,”  SO GOD BROUGHT MARK HOME.  And still MARK REMAINS IN OUR HEART

Mark taught us the meaning of LOVE:

Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous, it does not brag, and it is not proud. Love is not rude, it is not selfish, and does not get upset with others. Love does not count up wrongs that have been done. Love takes no pleasure in evil but rejoices over the truth.  Love patiently accepts all things.  It always trusts, always hopes, and always endures.   Love never ends.

Mark showed us how to talk like a child - think like a child - reason like a child – love like a child.   We can see Mark’s reflection, like looking onto the perfect mirror.   I pray that we can always see clearly. We must remember that of all things that continue forever:  faith, hope, and love, THE GREATEST of these is love.    Mark knew this better than anyone !

My beautiful church: family God gives us in each other!

It has been a while since I've expressed my love in a space like this for the congregation where I serve-- something I know that few pastors can actually do honestly about their parishes. But, I can and I really want to do this today.

Why? Again, recently, I was attending (sigh) a denominational meeting (I know I tend to rant about these a lot) and when I do, I always walk away from such gatherings with a newly empowering awareness of how lucky I am to be pastoring my particular congregation. Who would want to pastor the same old, same old kind of church? Not me. Though the challenges can seem overwhelming at times as we draw a population of members who often are in transition in many aspects of our lives, I feel that together we are paving a new way doing church.

Washington Plaza is not perfect. And, of course, there is a long road of growth needed ahead of us, but there is a depth of character and authenticity here that naturally flows out of how cool these people are. And, I just get to come alongside them for the ride. . .

So, why do I love my church?

1. They love me. They are so kind to me. They treat me fairly. There isn't a week that goes by when I'm not hugged and loved on by a different person. I know they do thoughtful things for me not because I just got here and they are pretending still  (because this would have long ago worn off), but because I believe this congregation and I understand each other and genuinely like each other. They treat me the way they would want to be treated. It is a good thing, a very good thing.

2. Some of the saints of God attend here. We have members who go out of their way on a weekly basis to serve in outreach ministries for the sheer sake of calling. They teach English as a second language classes. They give high school kids rides to work after morning worship, even when it means going out of their way. They collect can goods and take them to Reston Interfaith's emergency food pantry even when they are in their 80s and shouldn't be lifting things. They sit with our terminally ill members in the hospital. They give money to missions and bring food to share with our weekly community meals, even when they don't have it in their pockets to give.

3. There isn't a conversation, it seems, that they are scared of having. On this Sunday morning for example, we participated in a call to prayer for violence against transgendered persons in the DC metro area. Did anyone looked shocked? No, just nods on their faces of support saying back at me without these words, "Of course, we'll pray."

4. They are willing to try new things. Even when I have crazy idea like "let's have church in the Plaza room" as we did this past July, everyone said, "Ok, we'll try it." Not all new ideas stand the test of time, of course, but I think any reasonable idea is worth trying at least once. I see an attitude of flexibility embedded in the spirit of the people, and it makes my job so much easier.

5. They accept anybody. Really, they do, especially those who stick around and want to commit themselves to the life of the community. I never have to worry about bringing friends and folks not being nice to them. Sometimes I stand at the door on Sunday and stand alone for long periods of time because everyone is so busy talking to each other. It's so good to see that I don't mind being there alone.

I am proud to be the pastor of Washington Plaza Baptist Church for these reasons and many more-- such is my decree this Monday morning.