Some of my friends and I are going through a book together called The Tangible Kingdom Primer. The premise of the primer is that when communion with God, community with others, and mission all come together in our lives, that’s when we’re able to see God’s glory most visibly – right there in front of us. Each day, the primer challenges us to think and act a little differently in order to make the kingdom more tangible.
Today’s challenge was to “cross a social, political, or ethnic barrier,” and considering I’m currently in a foreign country, I figured this would be quite easy for me to do. After some googling, I found a church here in Stockholm that held a service in English, and off I went. When I walked into the small basement auditorium, I immediately noticed that the majority of the congregants were black (I apologize if that’s not a politically correct term, but I don’t know what else to say – “African-Americans” isn’t exactly accurate. Afro-Swedes perhaps?). Before this point, I had seen maybe a total of 3 black people in Sweden throughout my 15 or so trips here and never did I think it possible for a white, blonde hair, blue-eyed male to be in Sweden and be in a minority. Yet there I was, and it was beautiful. They welcomed me with open arms and warm smiles, offered me coffee, and together we sang old gospel-hour hymns that I hadn’t heard in years. I praised God for giving me the opportunity to worship there, and for showing me a wonderful community of brothers and sisters in Christ in a country I thought had completely turned its back on God.
The sermon was about friendship, and how having strong friendships with fellow believers is crucial to having a relationship with God. The pastor told a story about Jackie Robinson’s first error. It was at a game in Boston, and a ball went right through his legs. The crowd must’ve taken that as some kind of confirmation of their racist views, because they began to chant in unison “White. Man’s. Game. White. Man’s. Game” – their taunts echoing off the Green Monster and piercing Jackie Robinson’s heart. At that moment, one of Robinson’s white teammates, Pee Wee Reese, walked up to Jackie, put his arm around him, and stared down the crowd. Robinson would later say that was one of the greatest moments of his career. It’s amazing how friendship can turn a time of dire agony into a memorable highlight, even amongst a stellar career filled with great moments.
Later this afternoon, I read the book of 1 John, and it sounded like the tape at an Ashlee Simpson concert – it just kept repeating. Over and over again, John harps on how important it is to love our brothers and sisters. He goes so far as to say that it is impossible to be in community with God while hating a brother or a sister. God simply refuses to associate Himself with those who hate. John doesn’t mince words: “Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or a sister is a liar.” Whoa.
I think The Tangible Kingdom Primer is right. If we really want to see God’s glory be tangible here on Earth, and live the kind of lives worth making movies about, we can’t do it alone. Life is meant to be lived in community, with relationships that cross all barriers, and with friendships that sharpen iron with iron.
There have been times when I needed to be a Pee Wee Reese for a brother or a sister, yet instead I was in the crowd at Fenway, hurling obscenities. I regret that with every fiber of my being, and I humbly ask you to forgive me. There have also been times when I have been hurt by a brother or a sister, but all has been forgiven, and I love you.