150 faces stare at me from their seats in the crowded atrium. 1000 more are staring at me from behind computer screens across Europe and North America. Some are bored. Some are eager. Some are wondering who I am and where I’ve come from. Some just find the seats with their flimsy banker blue cushions hard on the ass. All are wondering in some form “Who is this lady?”
Why is there a middle aged lady in a black dress who is so very obviously not Swedish standing in front of us? Who is she that she thinks she can tell us something new?
But tell them I do.
The microphone digs in a bit behind my ear where the mouthpiece glides along my jawline. I am Garth Brooks. Beyonce. Gaga. At least that is what I feel like every time I put on a headset mic. But I’ve asked for this. I need to gesture. I need my hands free to talk openly and freely about this thing I am so passionate about.
“Blessed are the curious, for they shall have adventures!” says the first slide in my presentation. Seems simple enough. A little meme. An easy introduction. But as I say it…as I stand before this congregation and declare over them the ultimate beatitude, I am reminded of another time. Another place.
I am 9 years old and church has ended. My daddy has given another sermon that is receiving pats on the back and earnest handshakes from his flock. He has talked about Paul or Peter or Moses or some such person. Most certainly Jesus got a mention. He always does.
He has stood in front of this crowd with his booming voice. He has rocked back on the heels of his cowboy boots and folded his hand at an awkward angle on his hip while making a point. (I will come to find out that both of these gestures are genetic. Nurture? Nature? Who knows…but I digress.)
As the crowd moves into the foyer and the gathering hall, I slip up behind the pulpit. I slide the footstool out from it’s hidden shelf. It is there so that the little boys who sometimes get to lead singing or read a scripture at Wednesday night Bible Study can be seen over the big wooden rectangle and be heard in the microphone.
It is not meant for me. But I stand on the footstool anyway. I straighten my pretend notecards (another of my father’s habits), open my green bible to my very favorite verse, and place my hands on each side of the lectern to grip it as I’ve watched him do for hundreds of sundays. The first sentence is key. It isn’t the most important, but it is key.
“Brothers and Sisters, please turn with me in your Bibles to the book of Jeremiah, chapter 29, starting in verse 11. It reads,
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.
Did you catch that Brethren? Often we focus on the promise of verse 11, and miss the importance of verse 13.”
Here I pause for effect. As I step off the footstool and walk around the pulpit, I take great care to continue to make eye contact with my pretend audience. I rest my left hand on the pulpit, though it is too high for this to be a natural gesture like it is for my tall father. In my free hand is my bible, folded in half, like a taco, as I point it at the congregation.
“Did you catch it? ‘You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all of your heart,’ I repeat.”
Dramatic pause. Rock back on heels.
“You will not find God when you seek him with a tiny bit of your heart. You will not find God when you seek him with what is left over from your heart. You will not find God when you seek him on the television. You will not find God looking for him at your job. No!”
Voice booms a little too loudly as I step to the front of the pulpit. Down two stairs. Now I am among the flock.
“You will find God. You will ONLY find God, when you seek him with ALL of your heart.”
Eyes closed. Deep breath.
“Open your Bibles again. Read it again to yourselves. Jeremiah chapter 29 verses 11 through 13. Go ahead. I’ll wait.”
Now I pause to let my audience read it again. And then, from the back of the sanctuary, I see him. He is sitting in the second to last pew on the right. He is smiling. One eyebrow slightly raised. My step falters slightly. I’m being watched.
“Hey,” he says loudly, getting my attention. I try to ignore him, but I know he won’t be ignored. “Hey, you know you can’t preach right?” he pauses to let it sink in. “Girls don’t preach,” he takes his time with each and every word, making sure he has the impact he’s looking for. “You will never be a preacher,” every word is like a slap. Every word fully known by my little girl’s heart already. Every word a reminder. “I guess you could teach little kids or ladies. But you’ll never do what Dad does. You can’t. You aren’t allowed,” my brother says with the calculation that only a sibling has. He knows the spot he’s hitting. It’s a tender spot that he has poked and prodded for years as we’ve played church. Only now he’s too old to play and his honesty is a cruelty that is meant to sting..
“You should get out of that pulpit. You’ll mess something up. Girls aren’t supposed to be up there anyway.” When I don’t make a move to come down the steps, my fragile heart hoping he’ll get bored and go away, he stands up “I’ll go get Dad.”
As he smiles and leaves the sanctuary, I move behind the pulpit and sink down, pulling my knees up to my chest and wrapping my arms around them. I know when they return, if they return, that I won’t be visible. I sit surrounded in the smell of church carpet and pulpit oak, the gurgle of the baptistry a few feet away, “This is me seeking you with all my heart,” I whisper softly to God. “This is what it looks like for me,” I say even more quietly. “I don’t know why you made me a girl if I wasn’t supposed to seek you this way, but maybe that is what you want me to find out,” my words drift off, fear and courage already learning to blend together at such a tender age.
“Blessed are the curious, for they shall have adventures,” I say with a smile and a broad gesture of welcome to the faces in front of me. Many of them smile. Some because they like me and have become my friends in these recent months. Some because the gesture is one of welcome and humans react to welcome. And many because the call for adventure is one that they cannot resist.
As I stand before this group, I am reminded that my seeking is still the adventure of my life. I am not more curious about who God is today than I was at 10. I am the same amount of curious and it is a consuming fire that burns in the center of me. Each and every hint of information I find about whatever and whoever God is, leads me on a journey.
Windy roads. Crazy paths. Unexpected twists. Stormy seas. Bright campfires.
I slide my hand onto my hip in that awkward position and I preach. I preach curiosity to a room full of young product managers and engineers. I preach exploring the edges of what you believe about everything in order to find new problems to solve, new things to build, new ways to give something to the world. I preach reading, talking, arguing, debating, studying, and getting out into the world to seek.
“You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all of your heart. So blessed are the curious, for they shall have adventures.”