Life shows me this again and again:
If we extend ourselves, even the tiniest bit, we open ourselves to connection. It’s like a magnetic force drawing us to one another.
I wasn’t supposed to find myself standing in the shadow of Alfred Street Baptist Church in Alexandria, Virginia, the charming city I was visiting. In fact, I had planned on walking in the opposite direction. But my traveling companions, the girl dogs, must have known that was where I needed to be because they led and, fortunately, I followed.
I stood on the sidewalk in front of the 200 year old church, admiring the spring flowers near the entrance where the lost and faithful would soon come for Holy Friday services. The heaviness of this day was weighing on me.
Off to the side, a lone, gray-haired man holding fast to a cane, limped up the ramp leading to the same entrance. He wore a fedora and a Sunday-best suit, and appeared every bit an old-school gentleman, except for the single earring that resided in his left lobe, an oddity for a man who looked to be closing in on seventy.
“Beautiful, aren’t they?” he asked with a smile, his light brown skin creasing, showing his age.
“Gorgeous,” I answered, the dogs standing unusually still by my side. “The flowers remind me what this sad, dark day is all about. Beauty rising from the cold, barren earth.”
He nodded and the two of us talked our way into a lengthy conversation about God, his family, the world, and the brutality of humanity, so poignant on this day for Christians everywhere. He came back down the ramp and walked toward me, then looked down at my companions and asked if they were friendly. With my assurance, he stepped closer and shook my hand and we exchanged names.
“The problem is, we look to judge instead of understand,” Randall said.
I paused and let his words take hold.
“We look to judge instead of understand,” I repeated. I told him I needed to let that sink in and paused for a moment before continuing. “That’s why it happened, isn’t it?” I said. “Holy Friday. That’s why there was no tolerance for Jesus. They judged without understanding.”
He nodded. “I believe so.”
I thought of every other type of intolerance in this struggling world of ours. Every judgement without understanding.
“As an African American man, do you think that’s why there’s racism?”
“I do,” he answered. “That and ignorance. And hatred.”
I nodded, thinking about it. “Yeah, we tend to look at one another and see differences, but there is always common ground. Look at you and I here. We've definitely found common ground."
“That’s right. What we’re doing here,” he said motioning between the two of us, “is the opposite." Then a broad smile crossed his face. "We can’t hide our light under a bushel. We got to shine.”
“Amen,” I said, smiling back. “We got to shine.”
We continued talking, lingering longer than either of us had expected and then I finally bid Randall farewell, saying I’d let him get on his way to church.
“You and I have just had church,” he said, nodding. “You and I are church.”
My smile held as I thought about this:
An old black man heading to a service near his home.
A not -so-old white woman just passing through.
A "chance" encounter.
A conversation that connects
about a God who loves.
A service with no schedule,
but you do have to show up.
God bless you, Randall. And thank you for holding service with me. Church is all of us. Everywhere.
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