I love hearing stories. Stories about people’s lives. Stories about congregations. Stories about towns or other communities.
This morning I got to listen in as older members of a congregation told stories. Most of them began: “Remember when. . . .”
One of those members also told me about recent conversations she and her siblings have shared. Those conversations also focused on remembering as a way of processing their experiences during the pandemic and identifying the things that really matter to them.
As we all seek ways to move forward following a time of upheaval and uncertainty, perhaps remembering is what we need to do.
Remembering can help us identify what’s important to us. It can ground us—reminding of us of where we’ve been and providing perspective on where we want to go. It also can provide us with reasons for gratitude and hope—both of which help us treasure what’s really important in our lives as we move forward.
Perhaps even more powerfully, remembering can join us to others. It can link us to others in transformative ways.
My birthday was earlier this month, and I heard from a number of friends from across the country. Each call, text, card, and post reminded me how fortunate I am to have people in my life who see the best in me and believe the best will unfold for me.
But how many of us have had the opposite experience? A time in our life when someone assumed the worst about us. Perhaps even reached that assumption without really knowing us.
It’s funny how such an assumption can lead to so many dead ends. Having someone assume the worst about us can stop us from exploring new possibilities, from trying new paths, from being our authentic selves. Someone else’s negative assumption can cast a shadow over how we see ourselves, shrink what we believe about our potential, and limit what we’re willing to risk.
After divinity school I moved to central Kentucky to serve on my first church staff. It didn’t take long to discover that my new neighbors were less than thrilled to have a “preacher” living next door. Despite their politeness, the message was pretty clear: We’re not interested in getting to know you.
I found myself feeling self-conscious when we would run into each other. In fact, sometimes if I saw one of my neighbors getting into his or her car in front of our houses, I would wait a few minutes before heading out to my car to avoid the awkwardness.
Fortunately, things changed over the months that followed. My neighbors and I got to know each other and became great friends.
At some point one of those neighbors told me she’d had all kinds of negative assumptions about me. Because of bad experiences she’s had with the church, she assumed that she knew what I believed, how I viewed the world, and how I would treat her. Even to this day, she admits that she can be surprised by how I view a given issue or make sense of a certain situation.
Several years ago as I was standing in line for a rental car, I heard the agent tell the person in front of me, “You’ll be able to find every kind of restaurant here that you can imagine.”
The rental car desk was in the airport in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
There are many things to appreciate about my hometown, but I can’t agree with the rental-car agent. Unless you’re looking for really good chicken-fried steak, BBQ, or Tex-Mex, there are limits in Tulsa’s restaurant options.
That experience reminds me how often a lack of imagination can limit us. I’m also reminded of that each time I hear someone say, “I could never imagine. . . .”
So what limits our imaginations? I think expectations may be one of those things.
Expectations can be positive. They can spur us to strive for excellence or inspire us to continue to grow and discover who we are.
But expectations also can have negative effects. They can diminish our sense of self-worth or belonging. They can make us feel less worthy, less capable, less adequate because who we are or what we do seems to fall short of what’s expected.
That word was front and center during American Baptists' recent virtual Biennial Mission Summit. It was not only the theme for this online gathering, but in many ways
it defined the event.
Two years ago when American Baptists gathered in Virginia Beach, who could have imagined that the next Biennial would take place virtually rather than in Puerto Rico as was planned? Who could have imagined the challenges and changes that would be sparked by a global pandemic? The anxiety and loss? The weariness and uncertainty?
But the opportunities for worship, learning, sharing, and reconnecting offered as part of the virtual Biennial remind us about another aspect of imagination.
Two years ago few if any in our denomination would have imagined being able to make the current Biennial a reality. But rather than allowing COVID’s countless challenges to become roadblocks, American Baptists have used them as springboards from which imagination has soared. We have imagined new ways to worship and learn together in meaningful ways; to care for one another and reach out to others; and to create opportunities for authentic community.
Associate Executive Minister