Jason C. Stanley

ponderings of a dad walking humbly & seeking justice

Tag: central america

The Doorbell

When I was growing up, it was rare that doors were locked. I can remember as a kid roaming around and randomly going into my grandparents’ home next door. No knocking, and certainly no ringing of a doorbell. We would just walk in. But now that I think about, we haven’t asked my grandparents how they felt about any of us randomly walking in their house.

Then, at some point, the world changed. And doors were locked. It was strange. In order to go into someone’s house, we had to use the doorbell.

The Doorbell - dog rings bellIt was a little creepy at first. You didn’t know what was going to happen. The doorbell was a strange object. “We’re just suppose to push it?” we wondered. “That’s all?” We would push the button and wait to hear if anything happened. In some cases, the “bell” would be so loud it would freak us out a little bit. Others we wouldn’t be able to hear it ourselves, which meant we had to push the button again, right? Because if we couldn’t hear it, how could the people inside hear it?

It also seemed so formal. Like we had to wear our Sunday best to visit someone. We were not formal people. We were country, where everyone knew everyone. Honestly, though, everyone was related to everyone – which is a whole other blog post.

Doors were no longer open. Being invited in was no longer taken for granted. We had to ask to be invited in.

When the doorbell rings, we have been trained to go to the door. We may peek through the window first to see who is out there. Maybe we are expecting guests or a delivery, and we wait with anticipation for the doorbell to ring. The power of who comes in is on us, we who are inside the house. If it is a salesperson, we do not have to let them in. If it is some annoying grandchildren, we do not have to let them in.

When I lived in an apartment in the West End of Richmond, a group of Mormons from Central America were making the rounds in the apartment building. I knew when my doorbell rang that it was this group of people. I knew what they were selling, and decided that I needed to bury my  head into my textbooks instead. I figured after they rang the bell and no one came to the door, they would move on to the next door.

However, the bell kept ringing. After awhile I finally got up from the table where I was studying, and answered the door. The elder member began chatting me up in a quick pace of Spanish that I did not understand. I finally realized that they had the wrong apartment. They were looking for my neighbor, who was a relative they were looking for.

About the same time that Dad got sick with prostate cancer, I brought home  a black lab. Dad named her Lady. She had been left on the side of the road near the church I worked at at the time. She was malnourished, to the say the least. And as a result, she spent the first few months inside the house.

As we got better, she would spend most of her days outside. At some point Lady learned that if she jumped up and pushed the doorbell, one of us would come and answer the door. And I don’t mean a neat little trick where she uses her nose to push the bell. No, she would jump up and lean on the door. Once “standing,” she would use her paw to ring the bell. It looked a little bit like this:

www.catster.com

www.catster.com

And because we had been trained to response to the doorbell, we would always check to see who it was. Imagine our surprise the first time we realized it was not a person, but the dog!

Lady was not surprised. And once we started answering when she rang, she would continue this habit. Especially when she sensed a storm coming. Lady was deathly afraid of storms. On these evenings, she would ring the doorbell at the front door, and if no one came soon enough, she would run and ring the bell on the back door. This would continue for awhile until my Mom would wait patiently for her at one of the doors to let her in.

One evening while Dad was in the hospital, I was home with my two younger brothers. Lady had gone outside. Not long afterwards, the doorbell started ringing. I – the older brother – told my brothers, “Don’t answer the door. It’s just Lady, and she needs to learn to stop doing that.”

The doorbell did not stop ringing.

Finally I got up, annoyed with the lab, to let her in. Only, there was no black lab waiting at the back door. Instead, it was one of our neighbors bringing us a casserole. I was only slightly embarrassed.

“I’m sorry,” I said, “I thought you were the dog.”

Young Leaders in the Church(*)

“Be the change you wanna see!” the Newsboys rocked out at a Christian Rock Festival one summer.  The church youth groups were spread out through the stadium seating around the green lawn, and yelled and cheered with excitement.  This is how they felt.  This band understood how they think about the church.  Their energy was around being the change, not talking about the change.

Of course, Newsboys wasn’t the first to say we should “be the change.”  Gandhi is most often quoted saying, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”  And we’ve done with that what we do with most quotes we think are truly awesome: we plaster it everywhere imaginable.  Bumper stickers: check.  T-shirts: check.  Mugs: check.  Magnets: check.

But are we really being the change?

One of the greatest complaints that young people have about the church is that the church does not walk its talk.  The church, through the eyes of many young people, is not faithfully being the change.  The reality is that the church is situated on prime real estate for not just being the change, but for nurturing young people to be leaders of change in the world.

Nurturing young people to be leaders of change involves empowering them to be themselves. Whether is it adolescents or college students, they are on a journey of self-discovery developmentally.  They are doing the same spiritually, and the church needs to be a safe place for them to be who they are, when they are, because they are.  This means that we in the church need to receive each young person with open hearts and open minds.  We need to accept them for who they are.  We need to look pass the flip-flops in church, holey jeans, and random pop culture t-shirts, and hear their voices.

By hearing their voices, I mean listening deeply to what young people have to say, because they have a lot to say about a lot of things they see around them.  Dori Baker and Joyce Ann Mercer remind us in their book Lives to Offer that “young people today are concerned about the deep wounds of the world” (page 25).  Young people have insights and opinions that are worth listening to and worth taking the risk of putting these opinions into action.  It means being flexible with our own ideas, giving up some of the decision-making that we in the church tend to hold on to, and giving it over to the young people.

There is a saying that the young people are the church of tomorrow.  Friends, young people are the church of right now.  Leadership development of young people is not for the church to exist in the future.  Rather, developing young leaders is a partnership for the church today; a partnership that nurtures change in the world. The church learns just as much from young people as young people learn from the church.  This kind of partnership opens the door for intentional intergenerational opportunities, where mentoring happens.

About fifteen years ago, while working in children’s ministry, the third to fifth graders were pen pals with older adults in the congregation.  One of the third grade boys and one of the older men formed a close mentoring relationship that resulted in them working together in leading others in the children’s ministry to plant a community garden.  The harvest from that small garden was used to make a difference to the hungry families in the community.  This act of mission succeeded all because a third grader saw a need.

A high school student returned from a mission trip to Central America with a heavy heart as she remembered the children she had met who had so little to eat.  As she transitioned back into normal high school life of school, dance practices, exams, and lunch tables, she could not shake the image of children sitting alone in dusty shacks waiting for a few pieces of rice and bread at the end of the day.  She pulled a number of people from the mission trip together and she spear-headed a project called Feed Diques.  Now over fifty children get at least one hot, nurtritious meal a week because this high schooler saw a need.

Why is this kind of partnership so important to the church?  Because the way in which young people vision the church is a new and hopeful vision compared to the way we have always done church.

(*) Originally published in the Virginia United Methodist Advocate, June 2013 issue.

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