My childhood Easters on Thatford Avenue were observed like all Sundays with the addition of flowery hats, lacy gloves and copious amounts of chocolate. We began with lunch at Grandma Leslie’s. (Let me back up- her Sunday lunches were NOT sandwiches. They were roasted chickens or pan fried veal or lamb chops with ladled juices onto an alp of mashed potatoes and vegetables anointed in butter). After home-made peach cobbler slabs, we were on the road ready for dinner at Grandma Rose’s.
Before supper, the children were kept quiet and out of the way by the bestowal of our Easter goodies. Wicker baskets were filled with chocolate delights in varying sizes and shades, colorful jelly beans that would shame a rainbow and peeps sparkling in their sugar jackets.
The next day, my friends and I would compare our confectionary booty. With yarns befitting fishermen’s tales, we described gargantuan chocolates and bushels of jelly beans. My Jewish friends bemoaned their matzo sandwiches. My Catholic chums lamented long Latin masses, but I savored every enjoyable morsel of my holiday. My age was in the single digits, without a faithful rudder to steer me nor a star to follow, my springtime belief was in the Easter bunny and up till then—he had always delivered.
My first Easter at Living Faith Community Church supplied a very different memory. With a Catholic husband and a son who believed in the power of himself. I was alone when young Pastor Hickman came to the podium and called out, “He is risen!” Before that Sunday, I had only seen the 3-word missive on Easter cards. Yet, hearing it aloud as it echoed through our fellowship hall was just as sweet as the treats of my childhood. Why would I worry about getting through the roiling disappointments of life when I am confident He rose? Had He not, I could just as easily put my faith in bureaucrats or bunnies, but I read Matthew 28:6 with conviction, “He is not here; He has risen, just as He said”
By then I had made church-friends; friendly faces that smiled when I entered, chatted about their children and let me slip out un-noticed. I thought of forging stronger ties, but the day of the real pastor’s return was approaching and I was lacing up the sneakers in my mind.
Pastor Steven Ro, his wife Candice and their three sons returned to church. Two of the boys were former students at my school. The eldest was part of a group of sixth grade boys I had adored teaching. It’s hard not to like a parent of a child you’re already fond of. I nestled into my folding chair and readied myself for his sermon.
If you think I was impressed by a fist pounder or honey-lipped evangelist-then you don’t know city girls. We like smarties; people who shake our brains long before they touch our hearts. Pastor Ro was and remains intelligent, articulate and charming. Yet all his attributes are both shaped and annealed by his love for Christ. His use of polysyllabic as well as Greek and Hebrew words to deliver an impassioned message had me checking Wikipedia and examining my heart simultaneously. But if I shared that image with him, he’d rebuke me. His goal is not to produce a stirring lecture, nor to win friends. What I admit is only guessing on my part, I see him as a cook who has tasted the most wonderful dish. It isn’t enough for him to know the ingredients and directions; he wants to share it with everyone who is hungry.
One of the blessings or curses of being a writer is a spidey sense when observing people. One Sunday, a small group gathered at fellowship to discuss a minor church related situation. When Pastor Ro arrived, I leaned into my friend, Josephine* and whispered, “He’s not happy about this.”
P-Ro, as he’s affectionately called at church, listened as an elder explained the group’s issues. As I predicted, Pastor Ro kiboshed the findings.
Josephine whispered back, “Ms. A, (as I’m affectionately called at church), how did you know he wouldn’t approve?”
“I saw it in his face.” I answered as I realized it gave me one more reason to like him; a covert person who’s difficult to read would be the last person I’d travel a faith journey with.
Looking back, I may have entered LFCC on a whim, but my pastor and my friendships are by careful choice. A few years ago, on a fun outing in Manhattan, my friends and I walked past a long mirrored window. One by one I clocked our images and finally noticed, I was different; years older with a gene code from a different continent. It wasn’t a how did I get here inkling-but rather, why does this road make me so happy moment.
Last year, as racial tensions hit a fevered pitch in America, it also played out in my church. Terms like white-flight, white privilege and racism (which always meant white racism over all people of color) were spoken aloud as if I wasn’t there. The comments were only from four members, but I, like other racial targets gave it all my attention. On a Sunday when P-Ro was away visiting another church, the rhetoric became so hurtful-I wondered if my time to move on had come again.
Two principles kept me from leaving.
The first isn’t biblical-it’s pure Brooklyn. I’m blessed by my church and church family, bullies can’t make me leave.
The second is a single Hebrew word; hesed. Found 253 times in the bible, hesed translates to one-way love. Writer Paul Miller explains it better than I can: “Love without an exit strategy. When you love with hesed love, you bind yourself to the object of your love, no matter what the response is... Hesed is a stubborn love.”
As a parent, hesed is easy to grasp: I raised my son from a crying-all-night infant through his surly teens and know-it-all adulthood. He is as cherished by me now as the night he was first placed in my arms. I attend LFCC, not for its perfection, but for my binding love.
That’s why you can still find me every Sunday in my usual seat-still in the back, near the door, but now it’s to smile at worshippers as they enter God’s house.
* Read more about the wise and wonderful Josephine Lam in The Daughters of Factory Girls blog at www.adrienneleslie.com