Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. — Jesus, quoted in John 14:27
When my pastoral season as a staff associate ended earlier this year, I was liberated from weekly responsibilities at my home church and allowed the liberty to visit other Services of Worship.
This is not “church shopping” as some call it. It’s been a working a sabbatical. These visitations brought with them new opportunities to commune with The Lord in assorted worship venues hearing other pastors preach, singing various styles of music.
Some places we went were just, “Where do we want to go this Sunday?” family choices. Many of the venues where we traveled were the outgrowth of presentations through our Kingdom Impact Theater Ministries.
Our nomadic Sundays included a suburban megachurch, an urban church plant in a high school cafe, an outdoor tent service on a shopping thoroughfare; our tucked-away home church; a renovated barn; an intimate suburban-city church merger with shoehorn parking; a renovated restart on a sprawling campus that added to Fitbit steps. We experienced old school Sunday jump-and-shout, a full-blown pop Christian concert, and a traditional stained-glass chapel with a friendly family instruction, “Mom, they’re Lutheran. They don’t raise their hands or move around.”
We found ourselves in the heart of a gay community; where English was a second language; where our presence virtually integrated the sanctuary; where the congregation was all-black; where it was a rainbow coalition. The pastors ran a spectrum from seasoned-and-running-the-church-for-decades to part-of-the-collection-replenishes-my-Proactive-supply. Yet, no matter where we went the Word of the Lord was solidly presented and, more often than not, we left a little beaten up from a spiritual workout.
One of those places was the Community Church of Barrington in suburban Chicago.
CCB meets in the same location in which it was founded. In 1847. The congregation is 90 percent Caucasian, and perhaps 70 percent of that is AARP-qualified although none of them was around when the church began. Their younger pastor is a well-qualified theologian in the Martin Luther King title vein — a “Reverend Doctor.” The last name has a hint of French aristocracy. Most of the congregation, however, call the Reverend Doctor by first name: Zina.
Did I say Zina is female? She is. Maybe I should also mention Zina is African-American.
If all of that seems too deep or pretentious, let me peel this back the way Zina might: She’s a big ol’ black country gal from East Chicago, Indiana, who doesn’t look black, who got a PhD in Boston, and is up here preaching to a buncha white folk in a Baptist church that was built before slave times…and they tell her she’s got 20 minutes to preach.
Ah, but what Zina does in those 20 minutes!
We first met Zina when we were co-presenting at an African-American History celebration at an African-American suburban church about four years ago. We’ve presented music and workshops at her church a few times since.
The 20 minutes we spent with Zina at Community Church this summer occurred a week after the riots in Charlottesville, VA, when a white man drove his car into a crowd of African-Americans who were protesting Confederate statues in the community. The driver, a self-described white nationalist, injured 19 people and killed one. A white female protester.
Zina’s sermon was a convicting confessional. A head-slapper. One of those that makes you just sit there and listen instead of taking notes. The notes will talk to you later. “Later” was this morning when I began reviewing my overnight newsfeed.
Two items on the feed caused a #holyspiritmoment smile of irony: back-to-back were the last YouVersion verses of the day that I had tried to post from my Kindle earlier in the morning but ran out of time before I had to be the wife’s Uber-driver to work. When I got home, I see that my verses of the day had been scooped by Ben Mitchell, an acquaintance through the Praise & Prayer Station Facebook Group I visit.
Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. — Colossians 3:13 (KJV)
But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; — Matthew 5:44 (KJV)
Just below those verses was a Trump-Putin post with a friend’s rant and like-minded thread, the kind of which I’ve chosen to ignore. My blood pressure is borderline. Our budget cannot manage BP prescriptions. I scrolled to find mellower posts. This is what next appeared on my screen:
I can recommend good blood pressure monitors.
The post-er was Aaron Freeman, a long-time friend and fellow Chicago-based actor. Aaron is a well-respected comedian, who cut his improv teeth on the mainstage at The Second City, but established himself as a premiere satirist — in the Dick Gregory mold — when Harold Washington was elected mayor of Chicago in 1983. The landmark election and subsequent battles between the city’s first African-American mayor and the predominately white city council occurred shortly after the original “Star Wars” premiered. Aaron deftly parlayed the daily headlines into a long-running solo comic tour-de-force called, “Council Wars.”
Besides being actors, Aaron and I have a couple of other things in common. We both can be found dressed as Illinois Lottery balls in ancient commercials floating somewhere in cyberspace. We’re both African-American. We both study the Scriptures.
Did I mention Aaron is a satirist? Okay. Did I mention Aaron is Jewish? Ahhhhhh!
Actually, Aaron grew up Roman Catholic and converted to Judaism.
Aaron often comments on things of race, science, African-America and Judaism. He’s been known to irk people because of his wit. Sometimes he’s smarter than the average can bear. However, like any evocative public presenter — say, a Reverend Doctor, Aaron makes you think and if feeling an ouch occurs sometimes, so be it.
Everything from A(aron) to Z(ina)
So, let me break all of this down:
Aaron, my black-Jewish comic friend, posts a mind-blowing “photo” of Coretta Scott King kissing George Wallace, a five-term governor of Alabama, who made a national splash in the 1960s for his unavowed, eternal pledge to racial segregation. Aaron posts this photo with the heart-stopping caption, “How Alabama Negroes Came to Love ‘Their Hitler.’ ” He posts this two days after Roy Moore’s quest for a U.S. Senate seat in Alabama was denied largely because of the vote of African-American women. (If media can be trusted.)
Now, you may still be in that place I was when I saw the photo: Skip it, or bang out an immediate, vitriolic response and note really pay attention to Aaron’s comment that accompanied the photo:
Alabama black women don’t just punish racists, they forgive them!
Orrr, you can do what I did and click the Aaron’s accompanying link to get the rrrest of the story on YouTube, originally posted in 2016. I clicked from curiosity and because, knowing Aaron, I was hoping that the rest of the link didn’t have incendiary data to send me for lisinopril.
I survived. So might you. You need to watch this to make sense of the rest of this piece:
That video essay immediately shot me back to the August morning with Rev. Dr. Zina.
Her sermon is worth a sit-down listen. Remember, they only gave her 20 minutes; but it you want a quicker connection to Aaron’s essay, fast-forward to 14:04. My suggestion — request — is to listen in its entirety for full impact.
Goods for the Soul
The combination of Ben Mitchell reposting the verses on forgiveness, followed by Aaron’s video, and Zina’s extended discourse must give us pause for meditation and prayer: as a nation, certainly as Christ-followers. Or even as Americans whose faith in God is confined to the Old Testament — the Hebrew Bible — wherein The Lord intones:
If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land. — 2 Chronicles 7:14
What is the sin of America which much be confessed?
What are the sins of Americans which must be confessed?
Where must we, who follow Christ, ask forgiveness in order for our sins to be heard?
As we reflect upon the birth of Christ, we must also prepare for His Christmas yet-to- come. What does Jesus say about qualifications and responsibilities of those for whom He is returning?
For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. — Jesus, Matthew 6:14-15
A Word from Isaiah
All of which brings us to the post between Ben Mitchell’s verses and Aaron Freeman’s photo. The post about Putin and The President. Whenever Mr. Trump’s actions result in further dropping of his “approval” ratings, how do you respond? Do you get sucked into the morass of social harping, or retire to your prayer closet and pray for repentance? Do you pray for the president’s safety, recognizing far worse ramifications? Do you ask forgiveness for placing the government upon his shoulders instead of upon His Shoulders? What is the source of your peace on earth?
Admittedly, as Rev. Dr Zina says, “This is nuts. This kind of love is beyond my pay-grade!”
That’s the peace of the Prince of Peace that Paul says passes all understanding. Thus we must reflect and act upon her challenge: “We have to have confidence that our prayers and our hopes will make a difference.”
The A and Z of this is, if Aaron and Zina demonstrate how The Lord changed George Wallace, there may be hope for Donald Trump.
Let us pray.
#SDG #Shalom #AndAmen