One of my most recent new coworkers at the restaurant is Sam(antha). Sam is a Peoria native who moved to Portland to chase the dream of the 90’s, and she has recently returned to our lowly city. We were talking about Christmas Eve and how she wanted to work even though she gave away her Wednesday night shift to someone else. I said I can’t work on Christmas Eve because I play music at church. She said something about how busy I am, and I agreed, mentioning that I am recording some music in a couple weeks…putting me yet again in the position in which I feel like I have to qualify this recording project as real music despite the nature of the project.
But I went further this time.
I told Sam that I was really proud of this music that I have written for church, and how I want to share it with people in other places in order to shape the theology of the broader church. I told her that, for most people, their theology is mostly informed by what they do on a Sunday morning, and that singing ‘good’ theology can be a shaping activity. I told her about the Lectionary and how the songs that I have written are all pulled from the texts that were to be read on a given week. At this point, I was talking without having any idea what Sam heard when I said those words. But she agreed.
Sam then shared with me about her Catholic upbringing and about how hollow her experience had been in church growing up – live however you want six days a week and put on a shiny face for Sunday mass (her words). She said her family left the church after her sister got pregnant at 15, and they never talked about church again. She said that she thinks this was ultimately negative for her sisters who would have benefited from some religious experience.
I told Sam about our ‘weird’ church, and how we make a big deal about Lent and other holy days, such as the longest night which is this Sunday, despite being non-traditional. I told her that our longest night service often looks like entering a dark room, listening to Sigur Ros, and pondering some questions that flash on projection screens. No sermon. Just darkness and reflection. Because, sometimes, the holidays bring up negative memories, and it is the church’s duty to give space for that to be normalized and acceptable. Sam said she would enjoy a service like that…especially because she likes Sigur Ros. She said its refreshing to hear that a church is doing what it can to create a space in which young people can feel like they are at home.
Sam mentioned at some point that she had studied Environmental Sciences, and as she was doing so she moved further away from the desire to participate in a religious community. But, in the last three months, she said she has felt something stirring inside of her, wanting to get re-connected to her faith in some way. I told her about our community garden, how our church is in a ‘food desert’, and how we are trying to change that through engaging with the community in ways that address their felt needs. I told her about our ‘Summer Food Program’, through which we will be partnering with the federal government to provide free meals for kids who are on free and reduced lunch programs during the school year.
Imagine – a church partnering with the government!
I then told her about the orchard that we have planted on our property, with the hope that the fruit trees planted around our building will be a place in which homeless and hungry people can walk by and grab a bite. She got really excited and asked if there is any opportunity for people to volunteer with these programs at our church.
She said, “It’s like a light is breaking through the clouds, knowing that there is a place that is trying to make a difference here in Peoria.”
She said she had heard of these things happening all over the place in Portland, but she never got an opportunity to participate in the community gardens that were doing the same things there. I’m pretty sure that Sam believes that she would find community at Imago Dei – and I believe it too.
I hope that Sam follows through and stops by sometime to visit, and that she doesn’t experience what she has in other places – namely, being treated like an outsider that doesn’t belong. She’s not. The Kingdom is for everyone, and there is a place for her. Today, instead of justifying myself, I simply shared with my coworker about the great things that are happening at Imago, and it transformed Sam’s outlook on the future.
I look forward with her to the future.