(RNS) At a church workshop last week, I set aside my carefully planned teaching and just let people talk.
It became clear that everyone had an old story they needed to tell. Until it was heard, no one in the room could or would move on to thinking about the future. And even when it was heard, half of them would keep cycling back to the old story.
I recently spent a couple of hours at the DMV; it was time to renew my driver’s license. The place was crowded with, in the words of the old prayerbook, “all sorts and conditions” of people. It was a multiracial and multigenerational melting pot. Around me, people were speaking in a variety of languages, including that version of English I associate with New Jersey. (It really is a different language, I think!) Every imaginable style of dress and undress was on display. People had done things with their hair I didn’t know could be done. Almost all of us were talking or texting or e-mailing on our smartphones.
When she knew she was dying, my grandmother took me to see the cornerstone of a small brick church in my hometown of Kansas City, Missouri. I didn’t recognize the sign outside. It was a Baptist church, I think. It was pretty rundown, but still in better shape than the neighborhood. Overgrown vacant lots were everywhere; it was like visiting an abandoned church in the jungle.
When I was growing up in D.C. in the 1980s, many of my neighbors were Salvadorans who had fled the violence of civil war. My parents and many of their colleagues were active in opposing U.S.-funded suppression of leftists in that war and others in Central America. All of them held up Archbishop Oscar Romero as an example of highest virtue (never mind the Vatican delaying his cause for sainthood until recently). And since the March 24 anniversary of Romero's assassination usually falls during Lent—next Tuesday will be 35 years—the church in which I was raised remembered his martyrdom as we pondered the sacrifices that come with discipleship.