What we’ll look like

We watched the movie Black Nativity yesterday. It was phenomenal. Deep, dignified, filled with epic talent. The most poetic view I’ve seen of what Jesus’ birth 2000+ years ago can mean for us today. I was speechless.

Part of the movie takes place in a thriving African-American church in Harlem. After a couple of scenes, my son said, “I want to go to church at a place like that!”

“We can do that tomorrow,” Steve replied. We’d already been talking about visiting friends of ours at Pentecostal Tabernacle. We’ve always loved Bishop Greene’s preaching, and thought the kids might enjoy the worship as much as we do. But when we explained this, our son corrected his earlier comment.

“No,” he said, “I don’t want to go to a place like that. I want OUR CHURCH to be like that. Greenhouse Mission.”

We stared back at him, stunned by this, and kind of excited. Because the truth is, so do we.

Then I told him about a weird thing that happened back in 2004:

A month after Steve & I were married, we took an unusual sort of newlywed vacation, traveling to Dallas, Texas for the annual convention of Mary Kay consultants. I’d been selling lip gloss and skincare for a few months at that point, and while I wasn’t sure it was a long-term career, it was a lot of fun.

We spent the weekend attending awards banquets, singing Pink Cadillac, and hearing about the latest products. There was a strange tour of the MK museum (including a giant latch-hook rug of the founder’s face) and encouragement to build our teams and help others achieve the Mary Kay Dream. Steve had his first Starbucks coffee at this event, and after 32 ounces of caffeine, was more enthusiastic than I’d ever seen him. He raved about how my team should be called Trish’s Dishes.  “I even know your motto!” he declared. “Ladies, don’t just be a saucer… Be a PLATTER!”

That may be the hardest I laughed in the entire first year of our marriage.

On Sunday of that week, we went to church at The Potter’s House, a mega-church founded by a charismatic African-American pastor.  We walked into the huge sanctuary and were welcomed by more people than I could count. A dapper usher led us to a seat. We were WAY underdressed. As the choir started to sing I looked around and realized that we were two of approximately eight white people in a sea of black faces. This should feel weird, I thought. But it didn’t. The atmosphere was so warm, I just wanted to hug everyone. I was pretty sure they’d let me. God was THERE.

This turned out to be one of the foundational church services of my life.  The straightforward, blunt preaching, the emphatic call to prayer. The way one of the senior ladies of the church took the stage and declared this truth: when God’s FAMILY comes together, they pray over things that are wrong until THINGS GET RIGHT. I still get shivers typing that now.

At some point after that (I think it was the next day on the flight home) I sensed God talking to me. He said, “You can sell makeup and I’ll bless that. Or you can be part of building a church like that in Cambridge. But you can’t do both.”

A week later I sent back my Mary Kay inventory, and waited to see what God would do. I sort of expected it to look a certain way, but it hasn’t looked anything like that.

I told this story to my son. How I sense that Greenhouse Mission IS supposed to look and feel like the church we saw in Black Nativity. Not because we can make it that way, but because God made this strange offer eleven years ago, and He tends to do unlikely things.

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