I was in a Zoom meeting with our team of affordable housing activists and we were in a tense situation, the ever-present dialogue between how radical and gradual our proposals should be, not uncommon for passionate activists, but we had gotten through it. I actually got to practice some pastoral skill in helping bring some peace and humor to our dialogue. At the end of our meeting, our loving organizer asked us: How do you endure difficulty? How do you survive in the face of despair?
It’s a great question for 2020, which has been a horrible year, and that’s putting it lightly. And it was a great moment for me to share about my faith. I told them that we were all especially attuned to suffering and even discouragement. That we feel these things because we love, because we have compassion, because we want justice. If you feel good during this time, you might be missing the suffering. In our faith tradition, we fast in order to practice suffering, and that prepares us for our moments of captivity and our moments of crucifixion, even. Learning how to suffer is learning how to endure.
But I also told them that God was with us and that faith in God gave me hope. But I have to admit that sharing about my faith in a group of secular activists (they aren’t hostile to faith, but that isn’t their main thing) can be daunting, but it was actually a blessing to them. It reminded me that people need hope, and even metaphysical hope in difficult times. And when we can ground our hope in reality—like when our faith helps us fight for affordable housing—heaven and earth kiss in a way that I think spawns more faith.
And I will be honest, my utterance to the team also grew my faith. Not just because it comforted me that this generally secular group wasn’t hostile toward my response, but also because speaking it out loud made a difference. Saying the words matter. Praying out loud, singing out loud, speaking something into existence makes it more manifest.
The beauty of the “thin place” created in that Zoom meeting, that is a place where heaven and earth meet, is that it wonderfully expresses our faith. We connect the immanent with the transcendent. The material with the immaterial. The physical with the metaphysical. This marriage that makes our faith both tangible and transformational.
For Christians, this marriage is found in no better place than in Jesus, who was God, but also human. And who endured suffering as a model for all of us, even to the point of dying on the cross. God sent Godself to the world and died. And when God resurrected, what followed, was a beautiful egalitarian community full of God’s spirit. That’s the church. Full of something more than they are, and ready to do something greater than they are, but also tangible, material, and real. And though the struggle is painful, just like the fight for affordable housing can be, in order to achieve material results, we may need to look for metaphysical hope to endure the journey.