Updated: Feb 27, 2020
A year ago I submitted a grant proposal to the Lilly Foundation’s Clergy Renewal program. My proposal was all about traveling the Mediterranean and exploring how people form community, particularly at table. As strangers in strange lands where we knew we wouldn’t speak the language or know the customs, we wanted to see what practices of hospitality and community rituals would make us feel at home, rooted to a place, tethered to others we met along the way, and reconnected with one another as a family. I thought it might teach us something about building beloved community, Good Samaritan’s mission statement, and that I would bring back experiences that would enrich our congregation’s ministry and practices of hospitality.
It sounded great on paper – still does. That is until my wife Julie and I started to talk seriously about it and plan for our departure.
A sabbatical, while a time of study, is also meant to be a time of rest. Yet I had proposed to Lilly that we, two introverts – admittedly with 3 extroverted children, would spend our sabbatical meeting strangers, essentially, as my wife so aptly pointed out, an introvert’s hell.
What were we thinking?
Not only that, but we are two mom family. Some of the places we are traveling to are very LGBT friendly, but some are not. Some places we will go we will be judged, discriminated against, whispered about, mocked, or turned aside. To top it off, we have three very young kids, one with special needs and medical conditions, making travel complicated and nerve-wracking, and simple things like trying to talk to other adults – even in our own language – near impossible. Our children will certainly out us wherever we go, as they refer to both of us as mom. There will be no passing as straight friends or sisters, much less Canadians – as Americans are often advised to do abroad. Our kids will distract us and demand our attention in the middle of our trying to get to know people we meet.
What were we thinking?
Why didn’t I propose a trip where we hulled up the whole time in villas or spent our time focused on architecture, history or art – something non-people related?
What were we thinking?
I was thinking that God loves people and so do I, even though they drain my energy. My whole life I have struggled as a socially-awkward introvert to make community – to get over my own barriers and limitations and make connections with others. Much of my life, I have felt lonely. As much as I have needed and craved alone time and silence as an introvert, I have also craved community. I need it to feel whole and healthy. I think we all do.
As I wrote in my original grant proposal:
"As a same-sex couple, my wife and I have experienced the pain of having family relationships, church relationships, and friendships implode due to our identity. So, we know what it is like to lose community and hence how vital community is to a person’s health, soul, and well-being. We have also experienced the ways in which radically inclusive faith communities practicing extravagant hospitality have the power to restore a sense of home, rootedness, and God’s love for those who have lost community. Good Samaritan is certainly one of those communities and I feel truly blessed and called to be their Pastor. I hope this time of renewal equips our congregation and me to be even better at facilitating that sense of belonging and connection in God’s kin-dom."
Yes, our explorations of community-building will be draining. Yes, we will need breaks and rests from people time. And yes, there are a few villas built into our trip as well as some time viewing architecture, art and history. How can a trip to Europe not include some of that? Yet I truly believe the kin-dom of God, the shalom of humanity – our survival, salvation, and well-being as a species, my own included – is tied up in our ability to build beloved community. If we can learn how to do it as introverts and tired, distracted parents, then anyone can. So, we're off to sit at the table of the world, eat with others, stay in the homes of strangers, get out of our comfort zones, and learn some of the Mediterranean’s best practices in community-building!
A few days from our departure and Coronavirus appears to be spreading like wildfire in Europe -- another reason to be fearful and nervous, another reason to avoid people. While trying to be wise and make good decisions for our family, we are also trying not to lean too hard into fear. We are managing expectations, recognizing that we may not be able to follow the entire itinerary we have planned, but also that wherever this adventure takes us, we will have opportunities to learn about beloved community, grow closer to one another, get out of our comfort zone, and experience something new.