hogmanay and halal

It’s hogmanay [New Year’s Eve] in Scotland and I’m sat in a stately Nazarene Church constructed in centuries past but alive with worship on this glorious morn. I’ll look across a sea of color in skin and culture in this sanctuary and meet the eyes of a new Syrian sister from Homs just as I hug a dear Scottish sister by my side.  My day will be a flurry of laughter stuffed with great Scottish delights like steak pie and yorkshire puddings and banana roulade pronounced bah-nah-na roo-lawd consumed with friendships that criss-cross seas and cultures and life experience yet refuse to be undone.  I’ll literally dance in the new year with a ceilidh and then I will look around.

And then I will look around me.

Now sat in this second Nazarene church of my day tucked into a neighborhood known for being dangerous. I’ll hear stories of a Nazarene pastor who moved his family into this very Scottish neighborhood to be the Christ candle here. I’ll dance in the new year here in this holy place that has rolled back the chairs, donned Scottish kilts, picked up a violin, and called out steps that were birthed in the highlands centuries ago. And when we glisten with sweat and the laugh lines are burned into our cheeks, the pastor blesses the food and weaves between the bodies with a tray of sandwiches calling, ‘vegetarian and halal’.

And then I will look around me, and I will see the church.

They are criss crossed amidst this sanctuary of dancing feet, a group sitting together bouncing babies of Syrian decent born here in this foreign land. The pastor has called out ‘halal’ for them. There is an 8 year old who speaks up just before the hands of the old year applaud the new, and he asks the church to pray for his mum who has had a long year. There are toddlers weaving in and out, and the elderly who have danced the ceilidh  when their legs were young. There are homeless here whose wind-whipped skin carry the maps of the city.

And I look around me – this is the Church.

The church – a sanctuary where the ones who are not like us find not only welcome but belonging with us. This is the church, where we learn to call out ‘halal’ because we know that the table with the bread and the wine is grace and peace and miracle. This is the church, where the faith of a child points us home. This is the church, where the differences of our tongues, of our age, of our culture and our religions do not shut the door to respect and to relationship.

And this is the Church – that in equal measure should find the words of Jesus both frightening and freeing.

And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven.

Peter, who spoke before he thought, who was full of drama, who was brash, and emotionally explosive. Peter, who feared for his life, who denied Life, who offended and irritated as well as blessed.

Peter, the rock, on whom Jesus built his church.

In this new year, let us resolve together to be the Church in bold ways.

Let us see women not burkas and people not enemies even if it offends those who sew the seeds of fear.

Let us be the church.

Let us speak passionately of hope, let us move into our neighborhoods,  let us be intentionally present in dangerous places.

Let us be the church.

Let us be known to our communities as a place of sanctuary where people dance and children pray, and the doors of the church are wide open in the darkest night.

Let us be the church.

Let us learn the cadences of a radical language of Jesus the Nazarene – the One whose ethos teaches us to throw open the doors and serve halal on hogmanay.

Let us be the church.

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