Then it happened…the dream became reality. The kindom happened in the streets of New Orleans Saturday night. How you ask?
Thirty United Methodists gathered to march in the 2016 Pride parade. We carried banners and posters with messages like “God is love!” and “Come as you are.” The posters named the reconciling churches and ministries around New Orleans, and at least one couple attended worship Sunday based on having seen those posters.
But more important was the reality of making the kindom dream come true. Haven’t you always wanted to live love as a verb? That is what it was like Saturday night. Thousands of people lining the streets saw our banner and posters and responded with an immediate mixture of surprise and joy. We repeatedly heard spontaneous phrases like “All right,” and “Yeah,” and the favorite expression of the night: “Yoohoo!” (It was obvious people did not expect to see Christians affirming God’s love in a Pride parade).
My favorite part was beyond words. The people on both sides of the street put out their hands for high-fives as an affirmation of our message, and we slapped those hands and looked into those faces and exclaimed “Happy Pride!” (In case you have never been there, to me the phrase is like a mixture of “happy birthday,” “merry Christmas,” and “be proud of who you are.” And in an age when the word church is associated with hate and exclusion for many people, we were doing our little part to join Jesus in saying: “The message is God’s love for us and our love of God and Every neighbor.”)
Among our United Methodist marchers were gay and straight members of our churches, and some friends who supported the cause. We were men and women and represented several races. We were united by the love of Christ for all people and by our common humanity, (including the fact that we were all equally tired after spending several hours on our feet in the heat).
I believe our unity expressed what Paul meant in his letter to the Galatians 3:28, (with my slight addition): “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, nor is there male or female, [or gay or straight, or Black, Latino, Asian, Caucasian], for we are all one in Christ Jesus.” That’s the thing when love is a verb and the life of Christ is lived, walls come down and barriers disappear. False separations and exclusions must end when we realize “we are all one.” And when we live in oneness, the kindom happens.
After studying the origins of monasticism through a course I am teaching for Loyola this summer, I am more convinced than ever that the earliest followers of Jesus spent the first thousand years struggling with how to love God and neighbor. They were not that different from us. Contemplative Christians sought to practice the presence of God and to love their neighbors as themselves. So what does it mean to be a contemplative Christian?
It’s simple really. There are only two parts. Our first priority each day is to practice the presence of God. Being in the presence naturally fills the reservoir of the heart with the love of God. Then that love spills over to the people we encounter each day: ALL the people.
So contemplatives let the love flow out at church and in the streets, inside buildings and outside in nature, with our voices and with our high-fives, directed to whomever is next to us at the moment. And that was the joy in the streets Saturday. We were so privileged to be part of the flowing of God’s love up Decatur street, along Canal, and down Bourbon. The message was not: “God hates you,” like the terrorists act out in America, but “God loves you.” The antidote to hate is obviously to act out love. And what a joy to experience the kindom come through the celebration of high-five slaps in a Pride parade.
Now, go practice the presence of God yourself. Fill up your heart’s reservoir. Then let love flow out in your own best way. Keep glancing over your shoulder as you do. You might catch a glimpse of Jesus alongside you.