In 2015, I was in the midst of an existential crisis. The right livelihood I had attempted to carve out for myself as a permaculturist (see Go Golden chapter seven for an introduction to permaculture) had not worked out as planned. I was struggling to find work, living in a tiny attic bedroom we were renting from a friend, and basically felt as though I was adrift in a lifeboat with a vast expanse of empty ocean as far as my eyes could see in any direction. I was floundering, depressed, and often miserable.
I prayed, not as Christians typically pray, for I was at that time ardently post-Christian, a former fundamentalist who had walked out of the church in 2003 sick of the hypocritical militarism, judgmentalism, and the destructive views about the planet we all inhabit, but it was a prayer nonetheless. After that, I spoke to a friend of mine who is a Christian, and he said he’d pray about it. The result of his prayer and process of discernment is still resonating as I write this blog post. The Holy Spirit often moves when we are least expecting it, including at times of extreme existential crisis, and that was the case in this instance. Suddenly, I found myself reading a scholarly book about Jesus, and talking to the admissions office at Lancaster Theological Seminary. Over the course of a couple of conversations, where I did everything I could to persuade the Director of Vocations that I had no business applying, much less enrolling in seminary, the topic of church came up. She asked if I had a church that I went to. I did not and wasn’t sure where such a church could be found, such was the conflict with the embedded theology I’d grown up with and later rejected. She suggested I visit a church that was just down the road from the seminary called Wisdom’s Table which I eventually did.
I wasn’t going to walk in the door. I’d gotten up that Sunday morning with the intention of going to a Christian church for the first time in over a decade, but as I walked the half-mile or so to the church, I started to get cold feet. I’d decided that I wasn’t ready yet, so I would just enjoy a leisurely walk. God’s funny though…as I approached the church, my friend Douglas was standing outside the front door near a little “tiny library” that has free books for people to take. He’s the music minister there and had invited me to come to worship as well. I have never seen him standing outside the building before worship since that day. My plan to just walk by, incognito as it were, was foiled when Douglas saw me and smiled. I feigned enthusiasm and followed Douglas into the narthex where I was given a bulletin, and then I went into the sanctuary and sat down in a pew in the back. Just prior to the service starting, one of the pastors of the small congregation, Lance Mullins, came over to introduce himself to me. Though it was pleasant enough, I don’t think our conversation lasted even two minutes, and it seemed completely insignificant as a life event. Nothing in particular happened during the service that seemed noteworthy that day. There were perhaps 30 people in attendance, and while it was encouraging to see that though small, the congregation was diverse, I didn’t feel “my heart strangely warmed” to borrow a Wesleyan phrase.
It was two or three weeks before I went back to Wisdom’s Table. In the interim, I attended a service at a local, progressive Mennonite church that was also within walking distance. That church was bigger and the size of the congregation was a bit daunting to me and there was far less diversity. When I finally did make it back to Wisdom’s Table, I was still feeling uncomfortable about going to church (the trauma that many people experience in fundamentalist/conservative evangelical denominations is very real). Then something happened that literally astounded me. Pastor Lance walked over to greet me and to my astonishment, he had remembered my name. We’d barely spoken two to three weeks before and yet here he was greeting me with genuine happiness, as if I were a person who actually mattered to him.
This may seem like a tiny, insignificant event to you. To me, it was as if a mustard seed had been planted into the fertile soil of my soul. This small act of kindness, of truly open hospitality, of seeing me- Dillon Naber Cruz as an expression of God’s love, of simply remembering my name, was something I will always remember. In that remembering, he cleared some of that soil of weeds then turned them into compost. He turned over the soil with a trowel, crumbled some of it in his fingers, tested the tilth and found it ideal for planting. He took a seed, a tiny seed of God’s love and infinite grace, and after making a small hole with a dibble stick, placed the seed into the rich soil before gently covering it. Pure, living water, from the fount of Christ’s love was poured onto that seed and in the fullness of time it germinated. As in the parable told by Jesus, that tiny, seemingly insignificant seed planted in good soil has become a tree.
I began to attend worship at Wisdom’s Table with more frequency after that and to hear–truly hear– the Gospel of grace preached. I began to hear liberation preached in a way I’d only heard in sermons and speeches from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I began to feel the stirrings of something I couldn’t logically explain. In short, with each passing week, I was inexorably drawn towards the church again; I was drawn towards a life of faith again. Lance remembering my name has become the taproot of what is now my growing faith in God and my desire to live out my faith in practical ways. Had he not remembered, I don’t know how receptive I would have been to the words that he and Dr. Anabel Proffitt (co-pastor of Wisdom’s Table) preached during services I attended. I doubt that I would have decided to take the time to attend the membership classes, to take communion again, or to actually join the church. My seminary education would have still been meaningful, but in a different way that focused solely on academic deconstruction of bad theology (which did occur) though without a faith to live into or a community to be a part of.
Lance and his husband David are leaving our church community soon in pursuance of a new call for David. Both of these men have been important to me. As a professor in the seminary I attended, David taught spiritual formation. That class laid the foundation for a part of my faith practice that I have maintained since he taught us about contemplative prayer over two and a half years ago. I now engage in contemplative prayer for thirty minutes each day as a result of that class. He was also kind, gracious, and wise as I discerned my path forward in seminary after a deeply traumatizing, sudden, and completely unwanted split from my wife during my second year. David guided me through that difficult time in his role as the dean of the seminary, with pastoral care, grace, and sensitivity which enabled me to make the decision to switch to an academic master’s program rather than stay in the M.Div track. As was subsequently shown in my course work and the publication of my thesis as a book, this was the right decision. I am truly grateful to David for those things and for all of our interactions on campus and in worship.
Lance’s simple act of remembering my name fostered openness to new faith practices, to new ways of seeing church and Jesus, and enhanced my two years in seminary. He gave me my faith back by truly seeing me as a person loved and valued by God. He gave me my faith back by using his profound gifts for preaching the Good News. He gave me my faith back by listening when I needed an ear and reminding me that God loves me for who and how I am. I don’t have it all figured out. I have days where the doubt I feel seems too enormous to overcome. I have days where I don’t feel like going to church and so I skip worship. Despite those doubts that come, and the skipped worship services, the seed Lance planted grew exponentially larger and there is a taproot that has plunged deeply into the earth, and branches with green leaves that reach towards the sky. My life has an anchor point now. I am part of two faith communities now. Thank you for that Brother. I love you.
The kindom grows from tiny seeds…
Peace be with you,
Dillon Naber Cruz