(Lieutenant Steve Mayes at Manhattan Citadel)
Got on the subway this morning to head up to Harlem for some Salvation Army church.
Way up. Though I suffer from “high math anxiety” – from my calculations it was about 200 blocks to Manhattan Citadel; in what Santana called “Spanish Harlem.” 200 blocks of hearing tourists ask if the 4 line was going local or express.
The subway smelled. Like peanut M&M’s. The guy next to me kept chomping down on his yellow bag and wouldn’t share. I mean, if you’re gonna be weird and crazy on the subway, yelling at all of us that we’re going to hell – you could at least share some of your M&M loot.
Cause some of us haven’t gotten the flu yet.
To avoid answering all the questions about whether the 4 was running local or express, I read my magazine. How a gov’t agency determines the optimal temperature for office buildings based on men wearing suits. As long as they’re comfortable…
I then read about people running up stairs in famous buildings – the new marathoning. Seriously. New York Times Magazine today. This I just don’t get. Why can’t people just sit on the couch, eat pizza, and watch Seinfeld like normal people?
At 125th street I got off the subway. I wasn’t sure where to go until I heard a brass band on the corner and saw a guy about 10 feet tall wearing a Salvation Army hat.
Call me Madame Poirot.
The tall guy is named Steve Mayes. About 5 minutes into our conversation, a man comes up and asks Steve about a winter coat, cause it’s freezing cold in NYC. Like Ice, Ice Baby cold. It was at that moment that I knew this Sunday would be different. Steve’s not here just to preach, he’s here to minister to the practical needs in the neighborhood.
And that, to borrow from Miley Cyrus, is pretty cool.
Next step was church, where junior officers, cadets, or a brigade (someone in the Army will need to help me with this lingo) – were being initiated. Cadet Brennen Hinzman preached and the others sang and read Scripture.
This might be the equivalent of hazing, although I didn’t see Steve shoving anyone’s head into a toilet. This is like spiritual hazing, or better yet, baptism – where these cadets show their stuff and start to experience life as a minister in The Salvation Army.
The service was warm. It was simple. It was like a throwback Sunday to the basics of faith before trendy watered down Chrisitian-lite came into being.
Hymns loaded with theology (“Great is thy Faithfulness). Zero pretension. No robots reading pre-screened thoughts. One guy thanked God for getting him up this morning. Another thanked the Lord for protecting him from a slide down the subway stairs. One lady (who I’m calling Captain Sass) exhorted us to stop thinking about ourselves and focus on the Lord. The drummer was kickin’. There was a mission moment that did not involve a slick marketing video (thank you!!). We sang “I Surrender All” and Brennan gave an altar call. Jim Guest talked about training future leaders equipped with the Gospel. Someone even referenced stuff I heard at Vacation Bible School about “read your Bible, pray everyday, and you’ll grow, grow, grow.”
That’s when I got to thinking. Every board meeting I learn about people suffering from addiction, domestic abuse, homelessness – the Army is for the 30 million Americans in need and the millions more across the oceans. Like the people in Ghana we visited last July.
But the Army’s for me too.
Because I may not need a meal, a safe house, a shelter.
But I desperately need spiritual nourishment in a prayer from Evan Hickman, a note from Dave Hudson, a reminder of 1 Thessalonians 4:13 from Steve during church today, a safe place to find spiritual refuge in the family of God.
The Gospel tells me I need to be rescued.
Resuscitated by Emergency Disaster Services that isn’t physical but very much about life & death.
Cause I’ll be honest. It’s been a terrible week. Terrible in a way that a piece of chocolate, a good workout, Seinfeld re-run marathons, and lots of caffeine can’t fix. Terrible in a “God, why are you silent?” kind of way, with deeper questions with deeper hurts.
In these times philosophical ideas and theological musings are of no comfort. In these times the prayer is simply, “Lord, help me believe” and “help me get through today” and “draw me close into Your presence.”
If you’ve never been there you probably don’t know God. Because God gets in your face, messes with your circumstances, strips things away, and lets us wrestle him (like Jacob), freak out (like Hannah), and try and work around him until we fall flat on our faces (like Sarah).
When we’re on the floor, face to the ground, nothing more to give – we remember that God is made strong in our weakness. That He truly is all we’ve got. And all we need.
That was the message I heard this morning. The message that God’s grace is bigger, His patience stronger…than our failures. Which is why I need the Army too.