Take Off Your Sandals

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YAV orientation 2014 @ Stony Point Conference Center in NY

Exodus 3: 1-15

Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. Then Moses said, ‘I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.’ When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, ‘Moses, Moses!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ Then he said, ‘Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.’ He said further, ‘I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.

Then the Lord said, ‘I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.’ But Moses said to God, ‘Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?’ He said, ‘I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain.’ But Moses said to God, ‘If I come to the Israelites and say to them, “The God of your ancestors has sent me to you”, and they ask me, “What is his name?” what shall I say to them?’ God said to Moses, ‘I am who I am.’ He said further, ‘Thus you shall say to the Israelites, “I am has sent me to you.” ’ God also said to Moses, ‘Thus you shall say to the Israelites, “The Lord, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you”:

This is my name for ever,
and this my title for all generations.

 

Friday, August 22 at Stony Point Conference Center with the newest Young Adult Volunteers became exactly what I needed to end my week.  Just days earlier, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) released a statement about Ferguson, MO which bore my name on it.  It took only a few minutes for concerns, comments and disappointment to come from across the Church: Were we speaking for our Church’s or on behalf of “the world”?  Were we really asking people to trust law enforcement officials and the justice system at a time when some of the same individuals participated in Michael Brown’s death and proceeding events?  Did we avoid naming “racism” and stop short from calling our denomination to hands-on, immediate action?  Was it possible for us to have used so many words to say so little?

As the only person of color named at the bottom of the letter, I felt even more responsible for what many called a lackluster response published over a week after Michael Brown was shot in Ferguson.  Others, my good friends and colleagues included, wanted more from me.  I wanted more from me.  

So I did the only thing that I could think of: I dove into the project of curating sermons, blog posts and articles from across the Church about Michael Brown’s death and the unrest in Ferguson, MO.  I wanted our denominational voice to be more than one statement published on one Tuesday afternoon.  I wanted to show that we are a connectional Church struggling in real time with the crisis unfolding right in our backyards.

In just a few short days I could do nothing except focus on the collection, receiving additions whenever they came and almost immediately adding them to the post.  I slept little and, when I did, I woke up with a mind buzzing of what might be next.  I wrote to over 60 pastors and colleagues across the country seeking their writing as well as any of those whom they encountered.  Members of my presbytery received by blurry-eyed emails for calls to action.  It both filled me up with hope while at the same time draining my ability to see clear visions of what might be next.  It was at that exact moment of teetering on either being half full or half empty that I drove up to Stony Point.  I was only able to be there for a few hours but in that short bit of time, the YAVs expressed what took me days to learn: Everywhere we go is holy ground and everything that we do is the best that we can give in that moment.  They didn’t need to say a word…I could just feel it wherever I went with them.

God tells Moses to take off his sandals because the ground beneath his toes is holy:  A man who never felt at rest.  Lands that housed him but never quite felt like home.   Communities who didn’t dare to claim him as their own.  But on that sandy mountain, in front of a burning bush and in the presence of God, was a place where he could kick off his shoes, make himself comfortable, and turn fully to the divine’s call for his life.

I met young adults who were heading off to familiar cities but with expectations of living in community and serving in new ways.  Young adults who would live in host homes: inhabiting someone else’s space until it became their own, uncovering unspoken rhythms of life, and learning about a different culture through everyday immersion.  Those filled with a mixture of uncertainty and excitement about reaching across different cultures to build bridges and create change.  Others for whom the reality of their packed bags finally meant that they would be flying off to new destinations in just a few days; the goodbyes they had said to friends and family just a few days earlier were actually the goodbyes that needed to last a year until their return.  Young adults ready to give, receive, learn, uncover, grow, explore and discern.

They had already kicked their sandals off and touched the holy ground beneath their toes.  With eagerness, they were ready to give everything that they have to the adventure ahead.

They may not have known this, but they were the encouragement I needed to pick myself up, sandals in hand, and move forward on my two-year journey as vice moderator.  Injuries (physical and emotional) will happen, toes will be stubbed, calluses worn…but we (every single one of us!) still have to feel the ground beneath our soles/souls, claim its holiness, and take another step.

Take off your sandals, because the ground beneath your feet is, indeed, holy.

 

Find the YAV blogs here and more about the program here.

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