How John Lewis ended up at our screening of Selma, a.k.a. A Go(o)d Step

 

 

I was standing by the entrance of the cinema when I recognized him — John Lewis, long-serving congressman from Georgia, civil rights champion, and personal hero.

I was at the theater because The District Church was hosting an advance screening of the new movie, Selma, together with two other churches — Restoration Arlington and The Pennsylvania Avenue Baptist Church. David Hanke (rector of Restoration), Kendrick Curry (pastor of PABC) and I had met in October as part of a Micah Group (designed by Fuller Seminary to help local pastors engage and grow in the intersection of worship, justice, and preaching). And as events in Ferguson, Staten Island, and more had hit the national headlines, bringing widespread attention to issues of race and justice, we’d naturally been talking about what our response was as local churches and as the Church.

IMG_8741Through a connection with Values Partnerships (thanks, Scott!), the organization started and led by Joshua Dubois (the former head of President Obama’s Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships), the opportunity arose to jointly host a screening of this new movie, centered around the civil rights movement and the significant events that took place in Alabama. The event was designed to bring different congregations together, to begin a conversation our role and responsibility as followers of Christ seeking the kingdom of God together.

So there we were, waiting for the event to start, checking people in, getting folks seated. And in walks John Lewis, who lived through the events portrayed in the film, together with a few other members of the Congressional Black Caucus.

My first thought was, I’m pretty sure he doesn’t go to our church! Is he coming to our screening?!

My second thought was, What are the odds? On the night you’ve scheduled a joint screening of Selma with two other churches seeking to work together toward racial reconciliation, a hero of the civil rights movement walks into the same theater?

IMG_4991It was absolutely a God thing. Josh asked if the congressman would be able to take a few moments to speak to our gathered congregations, and he graciously agreed, sharing for a few minutes about being beaten on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, about walking with Dr. King and meeting Rosa Parks, and then speaking of the work of justice and reconciliation that continues today. He said:

We had faith. We kept our eyes on the prize. We were ready to die.

It was a challenging word, an inspiring word, a providential word.

Selma is an intense, moving, and at times overwhelming film. To know that this is part of the fabric of the history of the United States is both heart-breaking and hope-filled. Heart-breaking because of the depth of sin. Hope-filled because of the power of God working through faithful men and women.

After the movie, we set aside time to talk and to pray together, because the purpose of gathering was to begin a conversation, not just about a movie, not just about something that happened 50 years ago, but about what we’re called to as Christians, which is to see the kingdom of God come on earth, to see more of up there come down here. We want to see in the here-and-now what Dr. King called “the Beloved Community,” where “our loyalties … transcend our race, our tribe, our class, and our nation.”

In Revelation 7, the apostle John sees “a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.” And they were worshiping God. That’s the future we’re moving toward.

So we broke up into small groups, got to know each other, and prayed together: three churches, from different locations in the DC metro area, with different demographics and different pastors, but “one body, one Spirit,one hope,one Lord,one faith,one baptism,one God and Father of all” (Ephesians 4:4-6).

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David and Kendrick and I are continuing to talk about next steps, ways in which we can continue to partner together for the cause of the gospel. But last night was a good first step.

All thanks be to God.

God at work: $100,000

This past year, I’ve had a front row seat–indeed, I’ve been fortunate to be in the thick of the action–as God’s been at work: in my life, in the lives of those around me, and in The District Church. Here are some examples:

  • God’s been at work through prayer in my small group, where we’ve prayed for jobs for four guys (including myself)–each of them is now employed; and we’ve prayed for housing for four more (including myself)–each of them now has a place to live.
  • God’s been at work in my small group period, where today we commissioned three new small groups out of the one I’d been leading. I felt blessed to have so many servant leaders in my group, and am so excited to see all of them stepping into what God has for them.
  • God’s been at work in our church, growing our small community until we’re now stretching the space we’ve been meeting in. We wanted to find a larger space but none of those options worked out, so starting on September 25, we’ll begin having two services on Sunday morning! This is such an exciting time and we believe this is a time God is calling us, to use an analogy from 2 Kings 3, to build ditches in preparation for the rain.

And most exciting of all …

Last Sunday, we commemorated the 10th anniversary of 9/11 at our church, and in his message, Aaron spoke about how “True Awakening Leads to Reform” (we’re currently doing a sermon series drawn from Habakkuk and Acts, entitled “Awaken”). He expanded on the op-ed he’d written in the Washington Post to mark the occasion, in which he’d written to the Muslim community to apologize for the ways that we as Christians had allowed our pride and prejudices to cloud our witness. And so on Sunday, as a small act of reconciliation, we took up an offering for our Muslim brothers and sisters who are suffering from the famine in the Horn of Africa–Somalia, hardest hit, is 99% Muslim. Through various other movements of the Holy Spirit, we had offers to match whatever we raised by up to 7 times. Still, we were conscious of our size–we’re only about 150–and so we were ready to be thrilled regardless of the amount raised.

I suppose I should have left this email untitled to maintain the surprise. But when all was said and done, we as a church raised almost $15,000, and with the matching donations, we were able to raise $100,000 for famine relief efforts.

$100,000!!

This was such humbling and spine-tinglingly exciting news, such an encouragement for me as a leader of a community of such amazingly generous people, and such a reminder that God is at work, doing great things even in the face of great suffering and tragedy.

May we all (continue to) see God at work in all things.