Friday, June 20, 2008

The Gospel of Flowers

I was doing a bit of housecleaning and realized that I needed to discard some flowers that had passed their prime. This lovely grouping had been given to me by some special friends on the day of my long-awaited ordination, June 10, 2008. I had been enjoying them daily each morning as I sat at my dining table and enjoyed breakfast. But, as happens for all live things, decay was setting in. Time for them to land in the compost pile; there to more fully decompose and eventually give life to something else.

This action prompted me to reflect a moment on my ordination. I have often said that I worked for ten years to get to this point, but it is really much, much longer. Really since my first discovery of a life alive to God when I was a student at Rice University—and that is MANY more than ten years ago. There, in the gentle embrace of a small Baptist church, I experienced powerful, redemptive love. We Rice students were their life, their ministry. They gave themselves away for us. They fed us, drove us places, kept us overnight, offered their wisdom and friendship and time and energy for us. All who came through that ministry were touched for life; some of us went into the life of vocational Christian ministry.

About 15 years ago, I contacted that church to let them know the power of their ministry in my life. With great graciousness, they invited me into their pulpit, and I was able to see familiar faces and again sense the power of their love. Just a small, obscure Baptist church, knowing their call: care for those Rice students. They had no idea how all this would turn out. They just knew what they were supposed to do at that point in their lives.

Surely it must have been frustrating to them. I so well remember the choir director working vainly to teach me to sing harmony. I never did catch on, despite multiple private lessons. And our Sunday School teacher, a man of enormous learning (he himself had a Ph.D. in chemistry from Rice University), wondering if he could ever pound into our heads even the basics of Christian faith and how to integrate our faith into our academic and personal lives.

Work with university students is so transient—we come, we learn what we can, we graduate, we move away. Never are we contributing members; never can we support the church financially, or with many acts of service. Barely surviving academically, still highly immature socially and emotionally, living financially precarious lives, we turn to them for comfort and support. Just a bunch of takers, really.

Yet for those fellow “takers” that I have remained in contact with, I notice that we have all eventually turned into a bunch of givers. We are living out the pattern set for us—serve where we are planted, give all we’ve got, don’t worry about ensuring the outcome, but know this is the path of real joy. Very much like those flowers now in the compost pile: give away the joy of their color and brightness, represent the love of my friends, and then die in a way to bring even more nourishment and life to others.

The gospel of flowers. The gospel of Jesus.


Angie Hammond said...

Wow what a wonderful way of stating it! And I'd like to thank you for putting into such beautiful words what sharing Jesus is really about. Your reflection on your days as a student also brought comfort to me as a teacher. You helped me to see that what I do really does make a difference even if I can't see it immediately.
Thanks for sharing such a wonderful story!

bill said...

I see by my alumni directory that we were at Rice near the same time. I visited a Baptist church a few times my freshman year. It may have been a different one. I didn't fit in - I felt very uncomfortable in fact. I don't know how it is now but I've always thought that churches did a very poor job in those days of including students and young people. But it seems your experience was different. Probably it was just not the right church for me.