I know that wasn’t everyone’s experience. Joey Hurd, a CPS teacher and friend of Unity, emailed about his journey. He dutifully finished class on the south side, hopped on Lake Shore Drive to head back to Edgewater, as he always does, and the rest is history. He was one of the thousand or so, whose cars got stuck. He was having it towed to his mechanic on Friday because it was frozen solid with ice, even under the hood of the car, he said.
Where were you in the blizzard of 2011? There are any number of ways to view a storm, depending on your perspective: it could be a beautiful gift of God– something to share with your neighbors. Or a diabolical act of God– that has you running to check your insurance coverage. It could be an opportunity to get outside and sled, or make a snow-angel. Or for someone with a medical emergency, it could be a dangerous obstacle, in getting to the hospital. It could be the workings of Mother Nature, or an angry god’s punishment.
But despite our varied experiences and interpretations, it also unites us, gives us focus, and it surfaces our creativity and persistence. City of Chicago road crews, police, and Illinois National Guard, all coordinated to clear roads and rescue stranded passengers. Neighbors and block clubs worked together to dig out cars and walks, and even cleared allies. While I sat comfortably inside all Wednesday, a few of my neighbors had banded together to do just that. I guess they had one snow blower too, but according to my next-store neighbor, a Brian Urlacher sized guy, it was mostly him and a friend who got the bulk of the job done, with only shovels.
In chapter 2 of 1st Corinthians, Paul is demonstrating his focus, persistence and creativity, as a leader in their church. Paul says it in a variety of ways, but he always comes back to his main focus, to paraphrase a politician, “It’s the cross, stupid!” In Paul’s words, “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” Paul is battling the messages of other preachers and their much more lofty, and wise words, who have come through Corinth after him! Paul, contrary to how we usually think of him, seems to have been a very ordinary preacher. Not all that eloquent, at least compared to the rhetoricians of the day, those trained in Greek Philosophy. “Brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom,” he writes, “I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling,” says Paul. But, Paul was persistent and focused on his message of the cross: I did it “so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom, but on the power of God.”
I can’t help thinking that behind Paul’s focus on the cross, is his famous image of, “the Body of Christ.” It is so much easier to picture what Paul is saying to them here, if we remember that portrait, Paul’s snowman if you will, that he paints in chapter 12: “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.” And Paul goes on to describe the individual parts of the body, and how each one is necessary to make it function properly. The eye, the hand, the stomach, the nose, each one contributes its unique gift for the good of the whole body. The church are its people, the Body of Christ. When we’re healthy, up-and-adam and taking fluids – the Spirit of God is alive and well too.
There’s nothing like a blizzard to focus the efforts of a city. And there’s nothing like the blizzard that has blanketed and changed the urban church in recent years, to focus our attention on mission! As I read yet another article on the changing urban church in America this week, I skimmed over the opening paragraph, the one that invariably has some startling statistic about change and decline. In this case the pastor described her Methodist church in MA as having had a membership of nearly 1,000 back in 1953, but now only 25. We’ve heard those stories from all around us here in Chicago, too. “It is estimated,” she continued, “that a whole bunch of the churches across America today are in some kind of crisis that will involve change. It behooves all of us to understand the process of change.” I stopped. What was the amount? Not just a whole bunch, but 70%! Can it be, that 70% of American churches are in some kind of crisis that will involve change? Her congregation had embarked in a Turnaround Ministry, a specific plan, in this case, to share a Pastoral Residency program that was gaining traction: “As one member of her church put it, ‘Change is not killing us. It is bringing us back to life!’”
Without a focused Vision and mission, Christ has a hard time enlivening our Body, nothing to give it life, nothing to give it legs to get up and walk and be a witness to the neighborhood and world around us – we’d be stuck in the snow. But using our creativity, as we are doing, to share our spaces with our neighbors, is giving us a focus, and has called us to get ready to be a kind of Community Center, a new being in Christ. Each of us, individually, by our faith and our calling, participate in the whole Body of Christ. We share the Life and the Light that is being revealed to us in this Epiphany season. It gives us ‘vision,’ and we can see how our spiritual bodies have been, holed up and hunkered down, in this urban blizzard, long enough. The body of Christ is not rooted in the ground like a snowman, but with all its parts working together we get up and find that we are, ready to go.