A League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

This week's UPI column for my friends at Anawim

So There I was...

Struggling with the hymns. You know what I mean; all I had to do was see the title after the worship leader called out the number, and a groan came up within me. “Not that old Clichéd rag! – oh spare me.” Haunted Hymns. Hymns I could only hear in voices that I no longer wanted to listen to. Voices that brought back so many fundamentalist memories that I had worked hard at putting outside the garden gate. Bloody hymns – Lambs bleeding and dying at every turn. I had long ago given up the slaughterhouse metaphors as not relevant to my life.

But I was the speaker at this Christian retreat, and walking out of the room, while it would have been tolerated, would have caused concern among the brethren. And they were brethren. I was the only woman within shouting distance.

“Blessed Assurance, Jesus is mine! …
This is my story – This is my song
Praising my Savior – all the day long.”

George Beverly Shea, Billy Graham’s worship leader always pronounced it
Stow-Ree, and drawled it out nice and slow – it rhymed with Glow-ree. I can’t hear that song without hearing George. I tried to drag myself back from the stadium of thousands to the small circle of men. I looked at the present leader. He didn’t look like George, he didn’t sound like George. He was younger and lankier, and he sported a motorcycle jacket, soulpatch and some hipster eyewear. Boy did he have a story. A story that involved pretty severe, unwanted alienation from the people who loved him and whom he loved. A story that involved a stint in the summer camp for the criminally inclined that some people call prison. A story about Jesus, whom he just couldn’t quit.

“Oh, How I Love Jesus … the sweetest name on Earth
It tells me what my father hath in store for me every day
And tho’ I tread a darksome path, Yields sunshine all the way.
Oh How I Love Jesus, because He first loved me.”

And then I am pulled from the present back to a hot summer camp meeting under the trees. Mosquitoes whining at the screens and nasal-voiced old women singing their love for their master. Those old women infected me with a virus of faith, and I caught their vision for preaching. But they didn’t prepare me for the fact that they were sending me out into a world where many people would simply deny the fact that a female could have a genuine call to preaching the Gospel. I have sat more times than I wish to count with people who looked me in the eyes and said that I did not exist - that there was no such thing as a God-ordained female minister. The choices were delusional or liar. A very weird and discouraging situation. But not one of those folks ever told me that I could not be a Christian - That there was no such thing as a female Christian. The men sitting around me had lived through that level of denial. They are all gay men. And they are all Christians, but they have been told for most of their lives that those two things are mutually exclusive. They have had their foundational reality rejected, again and again.

So I came and told them that each and every one of them was here on planet Earth on assignment from God, and that they needed all of themselves to stay on task. They needed to be integrated to do it. - that their gender, their orientation, their history, or the opinions of the world had no power to stop them. They choose to believe me, because their very own Spirits shouted that it was true. Music to their ears.

“Oh Lord, my God, when I in awesome wonder,
consider all the worlds Thy hands have made …
Then sings my soul…
How Great Thou art!”

There are lots of kinds of worlds beyond and beside planets and galaxies. There are the infinite worlds that each human child co-creates with God by treading a path from the Eternal Heart, into a womb and a body and a time and a place and through and life and eventually back to God. We come into the world all but spiritually deaf and blind. With only echoes of glory stored in our souls. We walk through our childhoods, needing to be told who we are and what our purpose is. We need acceptance, encouragement and nurture. We need example and model. We need the company of saints. We need comrades. We need a band of brothers.

But some of us get abuse and torment. Some of us get fed a steady diet of lies about who we are and our place. Some of us learn to hide rather than to shine. But against all odds, some of us believe anyway. Some of us keep looking. Some of us refuse to quit and die. Some of us keep seeking until we are found.

This is a persistent human story that causes awe among the angelic cohort who have never lived a moment without a direct connection to God, who have never been denied, never marginalized, never oppressed, never abused, never living a moment without knowing who they are and what they are supposed to do.

I looked around me and I saw 20 men – old and young, rich and poor, educated and not, white and blue collars, with challenges, with disabilities, with histories.

I saw heroes; survivors of trials, defeaters of lies, defenders of truth. Men with the superpowers of forgiveness, resilience, persistence, repentance and recovery. Men who are taking up their tasks with courage and faith, determined to judge themselves only by the simple question of whether they were obedient to their assignment today. Applying grace to their failures. Determined to do as well or better tomorrow. Leaning to judge others – not at all.

And when, after the singing, after the scripture, after a lovely Quaker silence, after all the ancient, beautiful, bloody, broken words, they came around with the bread and the wine, then the brother spoke to each brother, called each by name and said “Child of God, this is the body and blood of Christ – NEVER forget how much you are loved!” Then they came and said, “Sister Peggy, Child of God, This is the body and blood of Christ, Never forget how much you are loved.”

Once again I took Christ and Christ took me, in the presence of heroes and saints.
I won’t forget.
And I heard the voices of Angels Singing “Holy, Holy, Holy,”
and saints singing -

“Brethren we have met to worship and adore the Lord our God.
Will you pray with all your power while I try and preach the Word
All is vain unless the Spirit, Of the Holy One comes down.
Brethren pray and Holy Manna will be scattered all around.”
Holy Manna Indeed,
Thank-you brothers.

Are you still seriously considering giving up your UPI column? If so, let me implore you to continue YOUR song.

In His Love,
"A League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" - I've never heard Anawim called that before, but you have captured my brothers perfectly. Thank you.
"Oh Lord, my God, when I in awesome wonder,
consider all the worlds Thy hands have made …
Then sings my soul…
How Great Thou art!”

I have a recording of this in my brain, I don't know from where, because I don't think I ever sang it in church, but it stirs my soul every time I hear it. It's funny how the cliche for one is the revelation for another.
Sisters, will you join the tempest?
Moses' sisters aided him.
Will you help the trembling mourner
who is struggling hard with sin?
Tell them all about the savior.
Tell them that He will be found.
Sisters, pray, and holy Manna will be showered all around.


-- Chris M.
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