Monday was the final day of our trip, and Darrell and I had to travel–with luggage in tow–from Staten Island to Manhattan where we met some folks at Metro Baptist Church. It required two trains and a ferry, all through a thick soupy fog that did not allow us to glimpse Mother Liberty whatsoever.
Both of us have good ties with Metro: I know the pastor from undergraduate college in Florida, and Darrell knows the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship field personnel stationed there in the Big Apple. The trip was personal and professional, and I was happy to see Pastor Alan again.
We broke bread together at a local diner and shared stories. Metro has been on the leading edge of moving supplies to Sandy victims throughout the city, as far as Brooklyn and New Jersey. No sooner did the storm hit did other CBF churches and partners contact the historic, urban church as a way to mobilize support.
We told them of our efforts over the past four days and our growing network in Staten Island. They admitted that their relief efforts had yet to extend to the island, not for lack of trying but for lack of sustainable partnerships. They were impressed with our–and Trinity’s, as small as it is–commitment to help the storm-ravished borough.
We spent the rest of the day walking the city and familiarizing ourselves with the Port Authority, where we later caught a bus to LaGuardia airport. We were disheartened, however, to hear that Southwest Airlines was having issues in Baltimore, and that our flight to Georgia was going to be delayed.
We headed to the airport and caught a flight to Baltimore where we waited for the next plane over 4 hours. I had plenty of time to reflect on our trip, and two little circumstances helped bring the trip to some sense of closure.
The first circumstance was quite mundane, but profound. I purchased Jon Meacham’s new book, Thomas Jefferson and the Art of Power to read while waiting, and the book was captivating from the start. I knew the quality of Meacham’s writing from Newsweek, (editor-in-chief for a time), and from his last Pulitzer-prize winning book on Andrew Jackson, American Lion, so I wasn’t surprised at how good the book was.
Meacham’s introduction recalls the grace and gifted leadership of Jefferson, a man well ahead of his time and passionate about politics, religion, science, and the arts. Jefferson, a founder of our country and president from 1801 to 1804, proved to be a keen leader who, in the words of Meacham, knew how to bend history and progress in the nation’s favor.
This was profound to me. Finding myself to be a citizen of a nation that’s wrestled with an anxious election season this past November and the current partisan crisis looming over the so-called “fiscal cliff,” I realized that leadership is not something to take lightly and rush. Leadership is something that requires prayer and patience, gravitas and–if Jefferson was correct–a certain amount of creative diplomacy.
I spent four days meeting with various churches and pastors, family and friends alike, and I know that the power to harness these relationships and help a community in need is what might tip the scales in our favor and once again bend history and progress towards effective ministry. Collaboration, which I am convinced is one of the few ways to move Christ’s Church forward with some efficacy and grace in the new millennium, takes some creative diplomacy! It’s lofty, for sure, but I think a little “lofty” can go a long way now and then.
The second circumstance that seemed a fitting end to our trip happened on the plane from Baltimore to Atlanta. It was a late flight, no thanks to the delay, and everyone seemed to be either sleeping or reading. I devoted time to looking at a clear midnight sky that kissed the constellations Orion and Canis Major, Canis Major being home to our solar system’s closest (and brightest) star, Sirius.
Meteors were falling around midnight, and I watched in awe at how they looked very differently when observed from 30,000 feet.
And then it happened: A long streak of blue flame and sparks billowing like a locomotive dropped past the plane. It was a meteor so close to our plane that its trajectory started above our altitude and ended well below it. I knew it was close because it passed between the plane and a well-lit city located not 20 or 30 miles away from us.
I assume that if the meteor was the size of a school bus, it may be much farther than I surmised–perhaps 10 miles off our wing. But if it was the size of something smaller, say, my Toyota hatchback, then it couldn’t have been more than a half mile to a mile off.
It happened so suddenly I didn’t have time to get anyone’s attention. Since no one else saw it, I am now officially calling it my “Man on the Wing” experience. Twilight Zone fans will appreciate the reference.
No matter how close or far it came, I was mystified with its power and concluded that it was nothing short of a miracle. Now, I know meteors are no miracles, but the fact that I saw it was indeed miraculous–that I can share in that moment, perhaps with no one other than God and the stars above, a mighty phenomenon rarely observed that closely.
After we landed, I asked a few people about it and also spoke with the captain. With weary looks, they all politely humored me, but I knew I couldn’t explain something that amazing.
God has a mission and purpose for each of us. We all try to explain it, some even try to explain it away: But God shows us what we need to do and expects us to do it. Sometimes we try and force God’s purpose for us on others; but, most often, when God calls us to something specific, we have to go it alone, with only the heavens and God along for the ride.
Upon my return to Atlanta, I will explain the need to help families rebuild in Staten Island. I realize that people did not see what Darrell and I saw; nor have they experienced the trip, with all its adventures and rich stories. So goes the life of a minister: We try to tell stories and hope people commit to be a participant in them rather than respond with a kind gesture and weary, “I’ll leave that to you” look in their eye. Leadership insights and falling stars aside, I can only do so much; God has to take care of the rest.