i went to planned parenthood and i liked it

Hi. I’m Pamela. I’m a person with two theological educations who believes in Jesus. I went to Planned Parenthood last Thursday, and it was a fantastic experience.

I was due (ahem… overdue) for an annual exam BECAUSE REASONS. I have a couple responsible friends who believe in the meaning of ANNUAL, and who have lady docs who they love, to mind their lady bits, and I thought about calling them up for contact info.

I thought about it for a long, long time, BECAUSE REASONS.

But. With all the news about all the old white men manhandling women’s healthcare issues, and as I happen to be an Official Liberal Snowflake™️, and as I happen to believe in the life-giving services provided by Planned Parenthood, I went online and scheduled an appointment. I consulted the Googles on Monday and had an appointment Thursday. I could have scheduled the visit for the Tuesday or Wednesday in between. Never in my life have I been able to call my gynecologist and get a same week visit. I had a miscarriage and I couldn’t get seen by the OB-GYN in the same week.

As a card-carrying member of the Introvert Squad, I love being able to schedule appointments without actually talking.

There was a very earnest twenty-something woman beside the parking lot entrance who begged me to please not go in there and do what I was going to do. Sweet thing had no idea how long it had been, otherwise I’m certain she’d have waved me right through.

We all know I love a good story, but y’all just do not need to read about my exam. Some of you know exactly what an exam is like already, and some of you probably don’t want to know anything about it. Instead, I will offer you this:

a brief list of things I especially appreciated about my visit to Planned Parenthood.

  • No assumptions and no judgment. I was asked my legal name and my preferred name. I was asked my gender identity. I was asked if I had sex with people with a penis, a vagina, or both. I was asked if I’d ever been pregnant, and how many births. I was asked if I was safe in my home, and if anyone abused me. I told the nurse when I’d last had an appointment, and her response was, “You’re here now.”
  • Access to birth control. That place had baskets of condoms EVERYWHERE. Also, prior to the appointment I did some research on a particular kind of birth control that addresses a particular issue I have (not pregnancy, jokers). I asked if I could get the thing installed, and the NP did it ten minutes later. No “come back later,” no “please make an appointment,” no “are you really sure this is what you want???”
  • Everybody was incredibly kind. The woman who checked me in, the security guard, the other people in the waiting room, the nurse, the NP. The office was quiet and peaceful and pleasant. The staff was even kind when they talked about the protesters on the sidewalk. The NP was interested in me as a human being, and even suggested that I check out their employment opportunities because there was an opening that matches my skills set.

It’s not every day (or year) that you lay down with your feet in the stirrups and feel (mostly) comfortable. I mean, YES it has been a little teensy bit longer than that for me, but you know what I mean.

Here’s what you should know about Planned Parenthood:

  • They treat every person who walks through the door, regardless of gender identity, religious background, ethnicity, race, ability/disability, insured/uninsured. EVERYONE.
  • Not only do they treat every person who walks through the door, each person is treated with compassion and dignity.

I went to Planned Parenthood and I liked it.

 

 

eyes wide open

(Revised Common Lectionary readings can be found here.)

The Gospel reading is John 13: 21 – 32.

After saying this Jesus was troubled in spirit, and declared, “Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me.” The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he was speaking.

One of his disciples–the one whom Jesus loved–was reclining next to him; Simon Peter therefore motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking. So while reclining next to Jesus, he asked him, “Lord, who is it?”

Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.” So when he had dipped the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas son of Simon Iscariot. After he received the piece of bread, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “Do quickly what you are going to do.” Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. Some thought that, because Judas had the common purse, Jesus was telling him, “Buy what we need for the festival”; or, that he should give something to the poor. So, after receiving the piece of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night.

When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once.

The Black Christ. Charles Cullen

it’s holy week.

This is Holy Week, capital H, capital W. It’s the week where we slowly trace the last bit of Jesus’ journey to the cross. We shouted “Hosanna” on Sunday, and if you are like me, you may have wrestled with the bit about the donkey the disciples stole, or perhaps you are tending conflicted feelings about the foreboding imminence of Good Friday and the expectation of an Easter Sunday celebration. Regardless of our level of discomfort with the events that culminated with the torture and death of Jesus, and the day of mourning before the resurrection, it’s important to sit with the tension of the following statement: The events of the Passion Week were necessary and intentional.

The Passion of Christ was not a giant cosmic whoops, or a story that took a wrong turn somewhere, or a random mistake. The Creator of the Universe would not accidentally become a created being. Jesus’ eyes were wide open and he was fully aware of how this whole thing was gonna go before he traded in his place on the mercy seat for the discomfort of the womb of a Palestinian Jewish girl. Jesus knew what it would mean for him to become incarnate: fully God and fully human.

The Passion of Christ was not a giant cosmic whoops.

The Lectionary offers us a Gospel lesson today that brings us in near the end of the communal Passover meal. In other Gospels, the authors tell of the way Jesus blessed the bread and broke it, and shared it with his friends. There is bread and wine in John’s account, but instead of focusing on the meal part of the Last Supper, John tells us that Jesus washed his disciples’ feet. Most of the chapter our reading is from is about the foot washing, and the resulting conversation. OF COURSE Peter is completely extra and simultaneously refuses to be washed by Jesus and begs Jesus to wash him from head to toe.

We’ve heard this story before, and we know by now what happens after the meal. Judas betrays Jesus to the chief priests and the Pharisees, and he is arrested by the Roman soldiers, tortured and murdered. And this was the plan the entire time. This sequence of events is exactly what Jesus signed up for — does it hurt your brain? IT HURTS MY BRAIN.

 

Judas Kissing Jesus. Chris Cook Art. 

See the church has done a bad, bad thing when it talks about the Passion of Christ. We have been trained that Jesus’ pain and death is our fault, that we are responsible for killing the son of God. It would be cruel, emotional extortion and manipulation if I was to tell you that you are so completely horrible that someone needed to die to make up for all of your garbage behaviour. This is so often the message of the Church: guilt, shame, wretchedness. It hurts my heart. Does it hurt your heart, too?

The Church inflicts trauma on her people when she blames us for killing Christ. This is a wholly unnecessary, theologically troubling, cruel and unusual treatment of beloved community.

AND YET.

There is nothing in any story of Jesus that is cruel. There is nothing manipulative about Jesus. There is only love. Now, yes, sometimes that love comes Jeopardy! style, in the form of a question, but time and time again Jesus commands us to love. Jesus says, “Love one another as I have loved you,” at least once a chapter between John 13-16. He tells us the greatest commandment is to love God with all our hearts and minds and spirits, and that loving our neighbor is like loving God. Jesus loved with intention and forethought. Jesus took on a human existence with intention and forethought and love. For him, healing was love. Feeding the hungry is love. Standing with the disenfranchised is love. Sharing a meal with sex workers is love. Protecting the vulnerable is love. Teaching people to read is love. Welcoming refugees and asylum seekers is love.

Jesus chose to live this human existence because being in relationship with people you love matters.

Jesus was intentionally incarnate. He had all the information when he chose to become the God-Man and he knew what it meant to go out into the far country and exist with and for the lost. Jesus made a conscious choice to be our Immanuel, our God With Us. It wasn’t like signing up for early church history class with Dr Tyson and reading the syllabus on the first day and discovering that there’s a handwritten, multiple essay final exam, and knowing there is absolutely no way to avoid that exam. Jesus chose to live this human existence because being in relationship with people you love matters. Friends, we are the people Jesus loves. Every person to draw breath on this earth, every heart that has ever beat belongs to a person Jesus loves.

invitation to an embodied faith

What would happen if we believed that Jesus was intentionally incarnate? What would our lives look like? What kind of faith would that be? The impact of the life of Jesus had political, economic, and social affect. The power of the Gospel of Christ is in the invitation to live and love like Jesus, and to practice faith that is political, economic, and social.

The power of the Gospel of Christ is in the invitation to live and love like Jesus, and to practice faith that is political, economic, and social.

It’s in the invitation to embody a political faith. Political faith is showing up with food, water, and a place to stay when ICE dumps migrant people around the corner from the bus station. Political faith rejects white supremacy and all of the ways it pollutes society. Political faith rejects the evangelical insistence for a theocracy.

It’s in the invitation to invest economically. Yes, it’s very sad that Notre Dame was on fire. But the Catholic Church has the capital to make it new again (make it old again?). How about we use our economic power to rebuild those churches in Louisiana that were burned to the ground by a racist arsonist? How about we put our money where our mouths are and get Flint some water already. How about maybe we don’t take that voluntourism trip that’s rooted in colonialism and white saviourism, and only temporarily benefits the people on the trip and instead invest in indigenous communities by giving them the money and not taking away the power to make their own decisions for their own communities. How about that?

And finally, it’s in the invitation to be socially faithful. Honestly, I think this one is more of a command due to the number of times Jesus tells us to love our neighbors, but you’re free to think about it in language that’s meaningful to you. It’s the invitation to not worry about which bathrooms people use. It’s the invitation to notice that your neighbor’s driveway hasn’t been shoveled in days. It’s the invitation for white folks to pull over and bear witness to interactions between people of colour and the police. It’s the invitation to be intentional about creating space that all members of the community can access equally.

We need to have our eyes wide open when we accept the invitation to join Jesus on this path to the cross. Because, dear ones, people still suffer for this Gospel. Suffering is part of being human. Here is how the Message expresses the verses from Hebrews: 

Do you see what this means—all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we’d better get on with it. Strip down, start running—and never quit! Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!

live the gospel into existence

Friends, the only way to bring the Gospel of Christ to the world is to live it intentionally into existence, and the only way to live it intentionally is to keep your eyes wide open and focused on Jesus. This means we need to see the hungry, the lonely, the people who are othered. To understand the life of Jesus we need to meet the gaze of the hurt, the oppressed, those who are abused, and the ones who suffer from violence. If we are going to make any sort of worthwhile contribution to this broken universe, we must walk the path of the cross for each other in love, the way Jesus walked it for us.

Amen.

benedictus

And now, community of my heart, may the Lord torment you. May the Lord keep before you the faces of the hungry, the lonely, the rejected and the despised. May the Lord afflict you with pain for the hurt, the wounded, the oppressed, the abused, the victims of violence. May God grace you with agony, a burning thirst for justice and righteousness. May the Lord give you courage and strength and compassion to make ours a better world, to make your communities a better community, to make your church a better church. And may you do your best to make it so, and after you have done your best, may the Lord grant you peace.

the king’s response

Scripture:

Esther 7:1-10; 9:20-22

James 5:13-20

Will you pray with me?

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be pleasing to you, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer.

I’ve studied quite a bit of Old Testament in the past few years: Intro to OT, a class on the Psalms, one about the book of Jeremiah, and this semester I’m taking a class that studies creation stories in Biblical-era cultures. None of these classes touched on the book of Esther, though, so it was really fun to learn more about the story and how it won a place in the Bible.

Esther was written in the 4th or 3rd century BCE, and is one of the last books to be added to the Old Testament. Depending on the religious tradition, Esther’s name is Hadassah, Esther, or Hester. There are some versions of Esther with drastic differences: for example, the Septuagint, which is the Greek version, is 100 verses shorter than in the Tanakh, or Hebrew scriptures. In Christian bibles, the extra verses are included in the Apocrypha.

It’s important to note that historians and biblical scholars can find no historical record of any of the characters in this story. There was no King Ahasuerus, no Queen Vashti, no Jewish queen of Persia, but people do speculate that King Ahasuerus represents King Xerxes I. The book of Esther, then, is effectively a fictional novella set in Persia.

There is another really interesting thing to note about Esther that stands in stark contrast to the rest of the Old Testament: there is no mention of God. Most of the Old Testament focuses on the Lord’s covenant with the Israelites and then the Jews, and the many ways the Israelites failed to hold up their end of the bargain but eventually come around to right relationship with the Lord. The question I asked myself as I read the book of Esther was this: Where is God in this story?

Our scripture lesson today comes from the climax of Esther’s story. Any storyteller worth her salt knows that she simply can’t start a tale at this point — it would be as silly as telling the punchline without sharing the joke part. So. The average person speaks 130 words a minute, so I offer you a 130 word, 60 second recap of the book of Esther up to the point where we will pick up the story.

King Ahasuerus loved him a good party. Queen Vashti declined to perform her wifely duties, so she was fired and the kin’s people held the first ever Miss Persia contest to find him a new queen. Esther was a nice Jewish orphan, raised by her uncle Mordecai. She was forced to be a Miss Persia contestant, and of course she won, because the book is named after her. Nobody even knew she was a Jew! Some bad eunuchs tried to assassinate the King, but their plan was foiled by Mordecai and Esther. Bad, Bad Haman got a promotion and also really hated the Jews. Mordecai was a man of God, and didn’t respect Bad, Bad Haman, so Haman decided to make Mordecai and the Jews pay by bribing the king to enslave them and do a genocide. But Mordecai was on to Haman and told Esther that God made her queen for such a time as this and this is where we find ourselves.

For such a time as this.

I’ve noticed that when I read the Bible, or any book, really, I tend to look at the story from only one perspective. I focus on the experience of the main character without taking the time to recognize that each of these stories is full of moving parts and complicated characters with unique perspectives.

In verse 3, Esther presents her plea to the King. “Then Queen Esther answered, ‘If I have won your favor, O king, and if it pleases the king, let my life be given me — that is my petition —- and the lives of my people — that is my request. For we have been sold, I and my people, to be destroyed, to be killed, and to be annihilated. If we had been sold merely as slaves, men and women, I would have held my peace; but no enemy can compensate for this damage to the  King.”

Esther puts herself out there. The King doesn’t know she’s a Jew. The King doesn’t allow random requests from people. Esther actually expects to be killed for asking the King to spare the lives of the Jews, but she makes the request anyway. Can you imagine the tension in that moment? Heart pounding in her chest nauseated with the thought that this was how her story was going to end, that she was going to end up a cautionary tale to Ahasuerus’ other wives.

Facing certain death, she asks anyway. And the king listens.

Not only that, the king BELIEVES HER, and takes action.

King Ahasuerus is shocked, SHOCKED I tell you. So shocked that he gets up from the meal and goes into the garden. This is a guy who, in chapter one, we are told loves to eat and drink and lives a truly hedonistic lifestyle. Esther interrupted him doing his favourite things, and to everyone’s surprise, he didn’t order Esther’s death, but instead got up and went for a walk in the garden to think.

When he comes back, he sees that Haman has literally thrown himself on the Queen for mercy, and takes even greater offense at Haman’s choices. King Ahasuerus orders Haman’s death.

So where is God in this story, where God is not named?

The way I’ve always heard this story told is that Esther is the hero of the story. After all, she uses her proximity to the king to help protect her people. But I want to suggest to you that within our context, as people who know and believe the Gospel of Christ, that perhaps the king is our hero.

In Matthew 5, we are told the greatest commandment is to love the Lord our God with all our hear, mind, and strength, and to love our neighbor as we love ourself. It’s unlikely that Ahasuerus loved the Lord, but in this moment, he loved his neighbor.

In Micah 6, we are told that what the Lord requires of us is to love mercy, seek justice, and walk humbly with God. King Ahasuerus was merciful to the Jews, enacted retributive justice on their behalf, and humbly walked back his previous orders to bring the Jews to harm.

King Ahasuerus uses his power for good, and protects and preserves the historically oppressed Jews. These people have been enslaved to the Egyptians, to the Babylonians, and were about to be enslaved by the Persians. He reaches out to the far edges of his sphere of influence, and prevents the destruction of the Jews because a woman spoke truth.

Historically, women in Western culture are not often believed. We are doubted, called, “too emotional,” and dismissed. Women in the Bible were not always believed, either. Luke 24:10-11 says, “Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.” The fear of not being believed didn’t stop these brave women from speaking the truth.

How often do we listen only to the people in power? How often do we get caught up in the he said-she said, or its twin sister, Partisan Politics? How often do we give the benefit of the doubt to the powerful, and cast blame or aspersion on the weak, simply for being weak?

The Gospel of Christ calls us to a higher standard. It’s in our rule book that we extend compassion and mercy to people who are suffering. It’s written right there in our rule book that we extend compassion and mercy to people who are suffering. It’s right there in black and white that we are called to pursue justice. It’s in our syllabus that we need to be clothed in humility — and that means sometimes we have to stop talking, and stop defending our positions, and simply listen to another perspective.

Let’s follow the example of King Ahasuerus in today’s scripture, and really begin to practice listening and loving the people around us.

we have blood on our hands

a meditation for 09/11/2018

scripture

Old Testament Reading: Lamentations 3:22-51

Reading from the Psalms: Psalm 51: 1-6, 10-12, 15-19

New Testament Reading: Romans 12:9-21

prayer

Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be pleasing to you, oh God, our Rock and our Redeemer.

on that day

I had just finished teaching my first class of the day — eighth grade math — and wandered next door to say good morning to Laurie, my colleague and the history and 7th grade homeroom teacher at the tiny Catholic school where we worked. She was on the phone, which was unusual for that time of day, and suddenly clambered around desks and over a table to turn the television on. A skyscraper was on fire. Before either of us could process what was going on, an airplane crashed into an adjacent building. You’ve all probably seen the footage by now: smoke, flames, mangled steel; and perhaps the muscle memory in your abdomen can summon the clench and the nausea and the horrified disbelief that clawed on our spirits when the towers collapsed on themselves, burying thousands of victims.

It wasn’t just New York, of course, there was a plane that crashed through a wall of the Pentagon, and another headed that way which was diverted by its brave passengers, and crashed in a field in Pennsylvania. My brother had been scheduled to work in the Pentagon that day, but like so many others, something prevented him from arriving at his destination in a timely fashion. It was a very long day waiting to hear the news that, no, he wasn’t there, and yes, he was safe.

Our Romans scripture says “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God.”

What happened on September 11, 2001, was tragic, but let us create space for the thought that the events that led up to the terrorist response and and things that happened as a result of September 11 are equally as tragic and painful to God.

****

One of the questions that was voiced frequently in the time following the attack on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon was, “Why would anyone do this to us?” I admit that back in 2001, I didn’t know the answer to that question. It was about five years ago that I began to learn about the way United States foreign policy, and overt actions from our government impacted the Middle East and surrounding areas, and realized that the bed we have made for ourselves as a nation is a dangerous one with blood-stained sheets.

And it’s not just the United States that has been violent and othering. Christianity itself adopted the sword as its venerated symbol when Constantine had his miraculous vision the night before the Battle of Milvian Bridge. Slash and burn doesn’t sound much like “Vengeance is mine, says the Lord.”

Pastor Brian McClaren was quoted in a book we read for Kairos class. He said,

“Instead of a gold-plated, bejeweled spear-cross with the words “Threaten and kill by this,” imagine that Constantine had seen a vision of a basin and a towel with the words, “Serve by this,” or a vision of a simple table of bread and wine with “Reconcile by this,” or a vision of Christ’s outstretched arms with “Embrace by this,” or a vision of the birds of the air and the flowers of the field with “Trust like this,” or a vision of a mother hen gathering her chicks with “Love like this,” or a vision of a dove descending from heaven with the words, “Be as kind as this.” But it was not so.”

It was not so.

blood on our hands

In this country, it has always been more important to own land than it has been to give to the least of these. It was more important to be capitalist than it was to free the enslaved.   It was more important for white women to get the vote than it was to get the Civil Rights Act passed. It is more important to be a patriot than it is to closely read history and think critically about how the United States has engaged the world.

It was more important to hang our flag on the oil rigs out in the Iraqi desert than it was to take the time to learn that the country the West named Iraq was really composed of three distinct people groups who did not all reside within the border we drew due to their nomadic culture.

In this country it was more important to one-up the Soviet Union in Afghanistan by enlisting the help of a Saudi businessman than it was to embrace or reconcile. It was more important to cast aside the Afghani people, Afghanistan, the mujahideen, and the businessman and pursue better opportunities than it was to make a legitimate effort to stabilize the area. It was more important to fuel the war machines than it was to cultivate peace.

Allan Aubrey Boesak tagged a thought to McClaren’s:

Indeed, I would add just one thing. Imagine that Constantine, having seen all of the above, had a vision of Jesus on the cross, overcoming the power of violence and domination and death with the power and of love and servanthood and sacrifice, with the words, ‘Resist by this.’

The United States of America has blood on its hands. We most certainly have the blood of our own people on our own hands. This blood is the blood of Native people, of the enslaved. It is the blood of the British, the French, the Germans, the Dutch, the Russians, the Lebanese, the Saudis, the Iraqis, the citizens of Iran, the Armenians, the Kurds, the Palestinians, the Syrians, the Yemeni, the Yazidis. And that is not a complete list. According to the Googles, there are 195 countries in the world today, and I think we would be hard pressed to name one that we haven’t soiled, directly or indirectly.

 Resist by this.Image result for picture of a person standing with arms extended out to the side

wounded christ

In his book Exclusion and Embrace, scholar Miroslav Volf talks about the way Paul died to his own self, and centered his life on Christ. Volf says, “the self is never without a center; it is always engaged in the production of its own center.” Volf suggests that the self becomes de-centered and re-centered by becoming nailed to the cross in an act of becoming united with Christ. The pain of the nail drives out the attentions, desires, and relationships of the flesh while simultaneously tethering us to Christ. When our lives are constantly being re-centered on Christ, we are making a conscious decision to step back from the world and into unity with Christ.

There is a remarkable essay by Frederick Bauerschmidt called “The Wounds of Christ.” Bauerschmidt says that there is a wound at the very center of creation. The wound of God was created when God renounced being everything in order to create light and dark and land and sea and space out of Godself. Creation is defined by presence, and the wound is the place from which life flows out. He calls this wound “the free place of possibility” because nothing is present in the wound, but anything and everything can happen because of it. The presence of creation tries hard to bandage the wound, to heal it, but applying presence to absence is not a strategy that works. We are creation, and because we flow out of the wound of possibility, we are indeed co-creators in this present world. In our presentness and with our presence, we create other wounds.

Crucifixion was the worst possible death for the worst possible criminal. It was so degrading and horror-filled, that some did not dare to speak of it. But it is critically important to remember that the suffering of the powerless and the enslaved in the moment of that violent death is “a sacrament which bears witness to that form and makes it present.”

Bauerschmidt asks, “What, then, was this wound of Jesus?” How do we understand and respond if the particular wounds of Jesus are so violent, so unthinkable, and so unspeakable?  Mother Julian answers:

With a kindly countenance our good Lord looked into his side, and he gazed with joy, and with his sweet regard he drew his creature’s understanding into his side by the same wound; and there he revealed a fair and delectable place, large enough for all humankind that will be saved and will rest in peace and love. And with that he brought to mind the dear and precious blood and water which he suffered to be shed for love. And in this sweet sight he showed his blessed heart split in two, and as he rejoiced he showed my understanding a part of his blessed divinity, as much as was his will at that time, strengthening my poor soul to understand what can be said, that is the endless love which was without beginning and is and always shall be.

The wound is the blessed, sacred heart of Jesus, split in two, out of which endless love flows. And it is by this wound, and with this sacred, cleansing blood that we are able to once and for all remove these damn spots from our hands and our souls.

It is only by re-centering ourselves by being nailed to the Cross like Jesus that we will be able to begin to transform the world in which justice and injustice, goodness and evil, innocence and guilt, purity and corruption, truth and deception crisscross and intersect. It is only by re-centering ourselves that we can begin to be guided by the recognition that the economy of underserved grace has primacy of the economy of moral deserts. 

When we resist like this *ARMS OUT*, the work of reconciliation should proceed under the assumption that, though the behavior of a person may be judged as deplorable, or even demonic, no one should ever be excluded from the will to embrace, because at the deepest level, the relationship to others does not rest on their moral performance and therefore cannot be undone by the lack of it.

When we become crucified with Christ and re-centered, and when we place our hands in the wounds of Christ, and truly begin to live to God and with God and by God and through God, we create space to lament what has come before, and to plot a new course in history where we actively live the Gospel of Christ: loving our neighbors, standing with the oppressed, and becoming the living embodiment of God’s justice and mercy.


Amen.

friday morning

I sit on the sofa eating fried kimchi dumplings for breakfast because a kid abandoned a bag of frozen kimchi dumplings on the counter overnight.  Sometimes life is like this; offers of kimchi dumplings when really, the only thing you ever, ever want for breakfast is a giant mug of strong coffee with a splash of heavy cream.

You make do, and you move on.

When I’m finished writing and pinching dumplings with my chopsticks, and have enjoyed my daily mug, I’m going to pack. Sometimes life is like this; offers of incredible opportunities for growth and learning and change, and all of those things are good and right and natural and amazing. And sometimes you arrive at a place on the journey where you realize that for all the flourishing that is happening, there are some things that just can’t continue.

For the record, it’s way more pleasant to find a bag of unfrozen dumplings than to realize your marriage is over. Today I make do with fried dumplings, boxes, and a second cup of coffee. Tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet.

But why the wilderness?

(There's a link at the bottom of the post to an mp3 of this sermon.)

Hear ye, hear ye! “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” What’s this about good news? The author of the Gospel of Mark sure did know how to grab his listener’s attention. Not all the other gospel authors penned such an auspicious beginning to their version of the story.  Matthew opens up with seventeen verses of genealogy. There are a whole bunch of people who are really into genealogy, but still — that’s almost a whole Bible page of begetting. Luke starts by saying, “Look.  I know everybody and their brother has written about the life of Jesus. But. You just gotta hear this one.” And John’s gospel begins by dissecting Trinitarian theology. It’s not light reading. But Mark draws you in… his gospel is the very first account of the beginning of the good news of Jesus. Picture the listeners on the edge of their seats, leaning in with wide eyes. Tell me about this good news!

But does Mark talk about Jesus right away? Does he give the people what they want? He does not. The beginning of the good news of Jesus doesn’t start at Jesus’ conception, or  earlier when the angel came to Mary, or even earlier than that when Zechariah and Elizabeth heard the good news about their shocking pregnancy. It isn’t good storytelling to get to the good stuff straight away. No, Mark takes his listeners down memory lane and revisits the book of Isaiah, which says,  “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’”

Mark’s Jewish listeners would definitely recognize these verses. After all, they had been relying on verses like these that promised their Messiah was coming for thousands and thousands of years. It’s possible that some of the listeners were alive back when Jesus was doing ministry, and when he was crucified, and they might remember hearing the assertions that Jesus really was the Messiah, the Son of God.

A voice in the wilderness

So who was this voice in the wilderness? And what was he doing all the way out there? In the book of Isaiah, the voice belongs to a mystery prophet. He’s not identified, and it seems that the prophet’s purpose is to assure the people of Israel that God has plans to restore Zion, and to provide for them. But Mark is different. Mark knows the prophet is John the Baptist. Mark 1.4 says “John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness proclaiming repentance and forgiveness of sins.”  That’s a message of restoration for the people of God.

A message of restoration, delivered out in the wilderness. That is a pretty interesting juxtaposition of ideas there — restoration and wilderness. What do New Yorkers think of when we hear the word WILDERNESS? Maybe the Adirondack State Park? Rolling mountains, trees, lakes, wildlife, brushy undergrowth, beautiful colors in autumn. You can hike — or stroll — on trails, paddle a canoe, go horseback riding, and swim. There are places for rustic tent-camping, and even fancy “Adirondack camps” for those of us who require a door and a floor and indoor plumbing. Our wilderness is lush and beautiful and full of life. It’s a place to get away from the rush of real life, for quiet reflection, and relaxation.

But Mark’s Middle Eastern context of wilderness?  That wilderness is so different from our wilderness. This particular area in Mark’s narrative is thought to be between the Dead Sea and the Sinai Peninsula, which is what we know as the western Israel/eastern Egypt area. The Dead Sea is so salty nothing can survive in it, and the Sinai Peninsula and surrounding areas are basically a desert: hot, dry, sandy, prickly vegetation, that’s full of snakes, scorpions, bugs.  That’s a great big NO THANK YOU from me.

There are some of us who have experienced the wilderness of Mark’s Middle East firsthand, but even if we haven’t traveled abroad, there is something recognizable about the idea of wilderness. It’s empty. Uncomfortable. Challenging. Desolate. Alone.  So why does God use the wilderness?

We know that in the Old Testament, God used the wilderness the same way some of us have utilized “The Corner” — as a place for time out. Take the Israelites, marching to the Promised Land. They could not get their act together, and did everything from whining incessantly to building a golden calf. And finally, when they were so close to entering the Promised Land they could just about taste that milk and honey, they couldn’t get past their unbelief.  The wouldn’t trust God to continue to provide for them. God responded by giving them a forty year time out in the desert. What a merciful, kind God to be patient for such a long time before sending the Israelites to time out. I don’t know about you, but I’d have lasted for maybe five minutes with thousands of people whining before I turned that car around.

Not to spoil the end of Mark’s gospel, but Jesus fulfilled all of the prophetic scripture, and his death and resurrection restored the relationship between us and God, so God doesn’t really send people to time out any more. But. God doesn’t prevent us from going to the wilderness, either, because there are three really amazing things that can happen to us in the wilderness: revolution, revelation, and restoration.

Revolution

Wilderness is a place where people are tempted and tested. In the verses that follow today’s scripture, Mark introduces Jesus, and tells the story of Jesus’ baptism, and how a voice from heaven declared Jesus the Son, the Beloved. Right after that, the Holy Spirit drives Jesus out into the wilderness for forty days of temptation and testing. Times of hardship are wilderness experiences, too. We face conflict, struggle, and sickness on a personal level, and on even larger levels. Just this week we have seen fighting over the tax code and legislation, lawsuits about wedding cakes and discrimination, the official recognition of a nation’s capitol that has inflamed a 100 year old conflict. All of those are tests and are rife with temptation.

Revolution begins with conflict. Whether we see the conflict approaching, or whether we wake up one morning and discover that we are embedded in a campaign of shock and awe, we know that revolution is part of life. Sometimes it is sudden, and sometimes it’s so slow it seems more like evolution, but ultimately this kind of test delivers change.

It’s probably a good thing that revolution happens in the wilderness, because the wilderness is big enough for both the revolution and for our response. We can stomp our feet all we want, there aren’t any doors to slam, and if we throw rocks nobody will get hurt. We can shout and carry on and tell God how we really feel about the big, dumb, painful test. Wilderness gives us space to ask, “But why?” and space to listen to the silence when the answer doesn’t come as quickly as we hope it would.

Revelation

Wilderness is a place of revelation. Wilderness is a space created by God for us to experience meditative solitude, growth, and one-on-one interaction with God. We don’t need to create space for growth when we are in the wilderness; wilderness is full of space. It is overflowing with space. Growth happens in the wilderness.

Christians began forming monastaries in the third century. By the fifth century, there was a movement in the monastic community, where monks would journey out into the desert in an effort to intentionally cultivate an awareness of God’s presence, and to experience God in each moment of the day. This group became known as the Desert Fathers and Mothers. The Desert Fathers and Mothers lived plain and simple lives, away from the rush of the world. They intentionally stepped back and detached from worldly desires, clarified their minds, and reordered their priorities so they

were able to focus on God in every moment.

The Desert Fathers and Mothers created a desert of the spirit, in the actual desert, where they could be fully present in the face of silence, waiting, and temptation, where they could wait for revelation. A revelation demands a response, and to respond to it means some kind of inner revolution. Revelation involves being made over, made new, being born again. In the wilderness we wait, we weep, and we learn to live.”

Restoration

And finally, the result of revolution and revelation in the wilderness is restoration. As we journey through testing and temptation, through conflict and change, we arrive at a place of restoration. Restor

ation doesn’t look like a spit-shined version of ourselves before we went to the wilderness. God doesn’t spend all that time and effort with us in the wilderness to deposit us back where we were before the test or before the conflict. God’s restoration takes us beyond who and where we were. Restoration makes us better; in the vast space of the wilderness, we can draw close to God, and emerge from the wilderness at the next level.

But why wilderness? Why are we talking about wilderness in the middle of Advent? The wilderness is a place of deep spiritual encounter. Advent is a time for creating space for a deep spiritual encounter. We are making room for Jesus to be in our lives. We are waiting to hear about the good news of Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the beloved Son of God. The good news is that when Jesus was born, all the promises God made in the Old Testament became reality. The good news is that Jesus taught us about love; he taught us about doing all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can. We like to credit John Wesley for that, but I’m pretty sure he got it from Jesus. 

Friends, the good news is that even when we are deep in the wilderness, God is there, too, holding us while we storm through revolution.  God is with us, whispering truth while we wait for revelation. And God is there, arms open wide, to celebrate our restoration.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

I Will Seek Them Out

If you’ve been in class with me, or if I’ve taken one of your classes, you may have noticed that I am a knitter. Some people doodle, some people twiddle their thumbs… I make fabric by tying elaborate knots in fiber string with two sticks. This week, I’m knitting a yellow hat, but I usually work on socks. Socks are utilitarian objects, simply constructed, and crazy comfortable. You can make socks out of stuff called sock yarn, which is shockingly thin to people who don’t knit socks. You can use “regular” yarn, which is what sweaters are knit from, and you can even use really thick, bulky yarn if you want a big, cozy pair of slipper socks.  My favourite kind of yarn to knit socks is wool yarn that has a little bit of nylon twisted in for added strength and stretch.

Wool yarn itself has a pretty cool story — it starts out as fuzzy curls on sheep, and goes through a giant process of being clipped off the sheep, then cleaned, washed, brushed, brushed, brushed, and eventually spun into yarn.

I am a tiny bit embarrassed to confess to you that I never really held together my affinity for all things knitting and wool with my affinity for Scripture until I spent some time with this week’s lectionary reading. I don’t know if this admission will get my either my Seminary or Pro Knitter Membership cards pulled. But I’ve learned some interesting things about sheep.

******

The sheep metaphor is strong throughout the Old and New Testaments. Back in the day, this might have been a really useful tool for teaching about God considering that shepherds and sheep were known throughout the many cultures in the Bible. Using sheep to teach about God and the church is probably the equivalent of telling a sermon story about Facebook or the many orange barrels that dot the highways in New York State. But for us today? Sheep are not super relevant.

Sheep are social animals. They stick together in groups called flocks, because sheep are prey, and there is safety in numbers. If one sheep is threatened, its only reaction is to flee the situation, and when one sheep flees, the rest of the flock follows it. When one sheep is isolated from the flock, it becomes stressed immediately. This stress can be so intense and overwhelming that the sheep will quickly become sick if the stress levels continue at a high rate. Not only can an isolated sheep not protect itself, it also is at risk of death from stress.

The flocking instinct can be positive for the group of sheep, but it can also be dangerous. In Turkey in 2006, every single sheep in a 400-member flock plunged to their deaths when one of the flock fled off the edge of a ravine. Sheep cannot be guaranteed to lead themselves well; they require a shepherd.

Shepherds can prevent unmitigated fleeing. Shepherds can guide their sheep away from land that has been thoroughly grazed, away from piles of stool infested with mites and parasites. Shepherds can lead their sheep into the shade when it is hot — sheep will not relocate to escape the heat. They will lay down and die of heatstroke. Shepherds can ward off predators, and take steps to keep their flock peaceful and stress-free. Shepherds notice when the sheep arrive back at the pen out of order. They know that there’s a problem when the sheep who is usually toward the front of the flock is walking at the back of the flock.

*******

Can you see the parallels? Humans are social animals, even those of us who identify as introverts. We stick together in groups called friends, families, and co-journeyers. Humans are predators, yes, but we are just as often prey. We have a couple more reactions to danger than just fleeing — we also fight and freeze. When humans are isolated from other humans, we become stressed, sad, and lonely. Sometimes entire groups of humans become isolated from their regular habitat, or their communities, and I think we all know how horribly damaging that can be.

Humans need shepherds, too. We need shepherds to walk with us as we travel; we need a shepherd in times of stress. We need shepherds to make sure we have adequate food and water, and to lead us into shelter in times of storm. We need shepherds when we lose our footing, or step out of line, or when we find ourselves dangerously close to the precipice.

The shepherd is concerned with the well-being of the whole flock, it’s true. But which of the flock receives the bulk of the shepherd’s energies?

The answer is in our scripture from Ezekiel 34:16, then verses 20-22: 

I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice. Therefore, thus says the Lord GOD to them: I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. Because you pushed with flank and shoulder, and butted at all the weak animals with your horns until you scattered them far and wide, I will save my flock, and they shall no longer be ravaged; and I will judge between sheep and sheep.

The lost. The strayed. The injured. The weak. The ravaged.

I WILL SEEK THE LOST. I will feed them with justice.

Friends, this is the story of the Incarnation of Christ. We are here today, teetering on the edge of the season where we celebrate the Advent of our Saviour, where we fill our time with extraneous activities that we have been conditioned to believe are meaningful, so much that we often miss the entire point of why that baby was in that filthy manger.

The magic of Christmas is that Christ came to earth as the God-Man to seek the lost. The magic of Christmas is that Christ who always is God, and had always been the Logos became a man, and existed simultaneously and fully as God and Man for one reason: to go out into that far country (to quote Karl Barth), so that all the lost would be found.

The magic of Christmas didn’t happen in a barn. It didn’t happen in that little town of Bethlehem. It really happened somewhere inside a closed-up cave outside Jerusalem, sometime between Good Friday and the Resurrection. It happened because Christ joined our flock, and became a sheep like us, and gave himself over to the Predator to pay the price for that time we used our horns to push another sheep out of the way, or used our hooves to trample one another on the way to the top of the heap. He didn’t flee, or trip one of us up so that we could be the prey. He knew his role, our loving Shepherd-Sheep-God-Man, and not only did he fix it so that we don’t have to be the prey any more, but he also showed us how to see the lost, the strayed, and the weak. He modeled how we should love our flock.

*****

What does it mean to model how we ought to love our flock? First and foremost, it means we need to know how many are in our flock and who they are, and then we need to identify the ones who are lost or lagging behind. Where are they: the lost, strayed, injured, weak, and ravaged? Not at the center of the flock. And they are definitely not the ones at the head of the flock.

They are the ones on the edges, in the margins. The ones who are hungry and need food. They are thirsty and in need of water; naked and needing clothing. They are the ones who are sick, and imprisoned, and need to be visited. And whenever we come alongside the marginalized and buoy them with deeply needed resources, we are not only shepherding well, it’s as if we are shepherding Christ. And when we shepherd like Christ, we become the hands and feet of Christ, and we tell the story of the Incarnation with our very lives.

Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.

Here’s the thing, though. Sometimes the margins seem really far away. It’s so much easier to go the same places you always go, and to leave the margins to someone else. It’s so much easier to blame the people who are on the margins, for being in the margins, than it is to help. 

Therefore, God, the Master, says: I myself am stepping in and making things right between the plump sheep and the skinny sheep.  Because you forced your way with shoulder and rump and butted at all the weaker animals with your horns till you scattered them all over the hills,  I’ll come in and save my dear flock, no longer let them be pushed around. I’ll step in and set things right between one sheep and another. Ezekiel 34:20-22 (The Message)

Just as Christ entered the wilderness alongside us, to bring us to himself, we need to go out from our comfortable places. We need to get up out of our pews, walk out the door, and meet the people who are lost, in the places where they are.  We need to come armed with food for the hungry, and drinks for the thirsty. We need to stand between the plump sheep who force their way with shoulders and rumps and horns, and the weaker ones who are getting pushed around. If we are to imitate the Shepherd, we need to get out of the barn.

This is the Gospel of Life. This is the euangelion. This is the legacy of the Jesus Way. And if we learned anything by studying the life of Jesus, we know that it is not an easy path. Jesus was on the road for the entirety of his ministry. Jesus walked that road even unto suffering, and into his death.

And he asked us to walk with him, and to live our lives as a gift, just as Christ lived and died.  I invite you to spend some time in the wilderness this Advent season, and to take on the mantle of the Shepherd. Let’s travel out across the hills to seek the lost and live like we really believe in the miracle of Christmas.

me, too

It was a beautiful mid-August day. The Doctors Burke, brothers who shared a dental practice, returned to their office after lunch in midtown Manhattan. The word on the street was that the war with Japan might be over. Their assistant offered to walk to Times Square to get the news on her lunch break.  Like every other day, Greta Zimmer was dressed in her white nursing uniform — white dress, white stockings, white shoes — she removed her white nursing cap, and quickly walked the couple blocks from the Lexington Avenue office to investigate. The news ticker that wrapped around the Times Building at One Times Square exclaimed V-J DAY! V-J DAY! V-J DAY!!! Greta, who was 21 at the time, said she barely had time to register the cacophony around her when she was grabbed hard by a sailor — “a very strong man” is how she described him — bent backwards and kissed full on the mouth. Unbeknownst to both Greta and the sailor, this moment was preserved for all time by photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt. In a 1980 interview for the Library of Congress’s Experiencing War: Stories from the Veterans’ History Project, Greta Zimmer Friedman described it as a silent act. She said, “And the reason he grabbed someone dressed like a nurse was that he just felt very grateful to nurses who took care of the wounded.”

A young woman, all alone in a big city, was grabbed and kissed by a random man who thought that forcing himself on her was a good way to thank all the nurses who cared for the wounded in World War II. It was a silent act in the middle of a celebration in crowded Midtown Manhattan.

*****

It’s the sentence, “It was a silent act” that gave me pause. With all the noise of New York City, plus the noise of the celebration of V-J Day, where did that silence come from? How did it happen? Why is it that silence is a character in stories of abuse?  How is it that so many women and girls are assaulted in silence?

It’s not that silence is inherently bad — it’s absolutely not.  Silence, when it is used well, can create space for growth. It can stand in for the many things that need to remain unspoken. Silence can be meditative, it can accompany rest; silence can bring healing. Silence has power. John Emerich Edward Dalberg-Acton, the First Baron Acton, was an English Catholic historian and writer, and is best known for giving us the quote, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Saying that silence has absolute power is going a bit far, but I believe that silence has enough power to at least accompany corruption.

Last week the story broke about movie mogul Harvey Weinstein’s decades of sexual misconduct. I’m not going to get into the heartwrenching details — I’m certain you all know how to consult the Googles for all the news that’s been deemed fit to print — but a common element in many of the stories I’ve read is the use of silence to reinforce power. People were encouraged to not speak up or complain about Weinstein’s crimes for fear of losing their jobs or being blackballed completely from the movie industry. In addition to enforced silence, many victims were dismissed with comments that suggested this behaviour was the sort of thing one should expect from such a powerful, wealthy man, which calls to mind a phrase that’s absolutely forbidden in my home and around my sons: Boys will be boys.

Boys will be boys in the movie industry; boys will be boys on Wall Street; boys will be boys in the locker room, boys will be boys outside the locker room; boys will be boys in academia; boys will be boys in the church.

*****

Judges 19-21 tells the story of a Levite and his concubine who were traveling through Israel. They arrived in a town late one night and none of the townspeople took them in. This was a major violation of the code of hospitality that everyone was expected to adhere to. Finally a local man arrived home very late, and offered hospitality because he was embarrassed by his neighbors. You’d think that this would be a happy ending, but this is where the nightmare started. The rest of the men of the town demanded that their neighbor turn out the traveling man, but the neighbor would not. Instead he offered the crowd his daughter and the traveler’s concubine. The crowd was displeased, and the situation deteriorated. The story says that the traveller opened the door and gave his concubine to the crowd. There were no words spoken. It was a silent act. The crowd destroyed the concubine and left her on the doorstep. The next morning, the traveller speaks. Did he ask her if she needed water? If she needed help? Did he apologize for throwing her to the pack of human wolves? No. He told her to get up. The traveler was completely silent about the woman’s obvious suffering and about what had happened the night before. She was unable to even move, so he threw her over the back of his donkey, took her home, and cut her into twelve pieces, which ultimately started a very enormous intertribal war. Did he kill her? Was she already dead? It’s unclear who caused her death, but it is very clear who was responsible. The traveler used silence as a shield for himself, to preserve his own life and to assert his power over the concubine.

The last verse of Judges 21 says: In those days there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes. In second Samuel 11, we read the story of King David, who did what was right in his own eyes when he forced Bathsheba, daughter of Eliam, wife of Uriah the Hittite to have sex with him, and he did what was right in his own eyes when he created the perfect scenario in which Uriah lost his life. Silence and power worked together to allow Bathsheba to be raped and become pregnant. Nobody spoke up for Bathsheba. Nobody said to David, “This is wrong.” David did what was right in his own eyes, and it wasn’t until after the whole mess had played out and Uriah was dead, did Nathan the prophet call King David out.

*****

My friends, I hope you know these things still happen. We have a President who has been named more than 13 times as perpetrating sexual assault, and was voted into office (many thanks to my fellow white women) even after a widely circulated video clip where he proudly claims to have assaulted women by grabbing them.  You know the one. This kind of power harms, and silence intimidates, and when someone does have the courage or enough frustration to speak out, they are forced to repeat their stories again and again and again until the people with the power are satisfied that, yeah, they are probably telling the truth. But what were you wearing, and what did you have to drink, and why didn’t you say no and why didn’t you file a complaint with HR and why didn’t you call the police and why didn’t you behave differently and why do you hate men and why do you expect me to do something about this so long after it happened… why, why, why.

There was some big drama on Twitter last week. Actress Rose McGowan was put in Twitter Jail after a series of tweets condemning Weinstein’s actions, and one of the responses to this drama was the suggestion by a women’s rights non-profit to tweet #metoo if you experienced sexual assault or abuse. Perhaps you saw statuses and comments on your social media feeds that said “me, too.” The oft-quoted statistic is that one in three women are sexually assaulted in the United States. And maybe it’s true, maybe it was only a third of my Facebook friends and a third of the people I follow on Twitter and Instagram, who said “me, too;” I was too horrified to count and do the math. But I know two things: 1) Silence is powerful, and I know there are people who are not interested in sharing their pain and their shame in a public forum. And 2) NOT ONE WOMAN SAID, “This has never happened to me.”

*****

Isaiah 61 says: The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners…to provide for those who mourn in Zion – to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. They will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, to display his glory. 

This is the scripture on the scroll Jesus read to introduce himself at the synagogue. This is the scripture that Jesus declared fulfilled after it was read. As the Body of Christ, we need to acknowledge that the Spirit of the Lord is upon us, and we need to lean into the power of the Spirit and reclaim the power that oppressive silence steals from us.  It is our mandate to bring good news to the oppressed. Good news like “I believe you,” and “You didn’t deserve this,” and “There wasn’t anything you could have done to change the situation.” It is our mandate to bind up the broken-hearted, to share the oil of gladness, to wrap the broken-hearted in a mantle of praise. This means providing health care that does not consider rape a pre-existing condition. This means providing emotional and mental health support, recognizing that assault victims experience PTSD, and destigmatizing depression and mental illness. It is our mandate to love, and that love will create space for the healing and restoration of the broken and vulnerable among us.

And finally, to those of us who are broken-hearted, who are mourning, who feel faint in spirit, who have said “me, too,” whether it be in an act of silence or an act of defiant solidarity: The Spirit of the Lord is also upon us. There is healing and restoration available to us, and it is us who will be called oaks of righteousness and who will continue to display his glory. And for THAT, I say thanks be to God.

it’s another banner day in washington

Today, the House of Representatives pushed a shiny, new healthcare bill on through to the Senate. No hearings, little analysis. This bill has been called “a monstrous act of cruelty,” and has been denounced by pretty much every medical-related field except big pharma.

The list of pre-existing conditions includes CRIMES.

Rape is a CRIME.

Sexual assault is a CRIME.

Domestic violence is a CRIME.

And instead of offering embrace and support, victims can now be penalized for seeking medical attention for those three crimes against them. All this happened while the President of the United States made statements saying that women want to be sexually assaulted, and abusers in the entertainment industry were awarded Oscars and given multi-million dollar severance packages.

AND DO NOT GET ME STARTED ON THE JOHNSON AMENDMENT.

What today’s executive order accomplished is to make it legal for churches to tell their congregations which way God wants them to vote. Nobody’s First Amendment rights were violated by the Johnson Amendment. No pastor has been sanctioned for looking at sociopolitical current events through the lens of the Bible. No priest has been reprimanded for asking, “What would Jesus do about _______?” No pastor has been fired for preaching about how the church should interact with refugees or the poor, or about issues of race and gender.

But.

Now no pastor’s tax status will be on the line for preaching the Gospel of Trump. No church will lose its 501(c)3 status for bowing to the idol of America. No house of worship will be in hot water teaching the Doctrine of American Exceptionalism.

Because that’s why we have church, right? To hear about how great the government is, and to have someone tell us what is God’s perspective on our political climate. It’s too much work to look at the critique of government provided throughout the Bible, and compare those situations to what we face today. And besides, Revelation is so dramatic and confusing and HARD.

*****

I took Introduction to Preaching this semester, and Tuesday was my turn in the pulpit. I preached from Jeremiah about prophets, and about the responsibility we have to speak truth to power.

Here’s some truth:

This administration does not care about its constituents. It does not care about women; it does not care about children. This administration does not care about the disabled or the people suffering from mental illness. It does not care for our elders. It does not care about the land, the water, or the air. It does not take seriously nuclear war, nor does it care about the blood already on its hands. It does not care about the poor or the oppressed.

Lifting the Johnson Amendment might accomplish one of the to-do items on the Republican Evangelical’s to-do list. But more importantly, it built a pulpit that allows the rest of us to call them out.

Thanks for holding the door open for us, Mr. President.

*****

Jeremiah 5: 26-29

“My people are infiltrated by wicked men,
    unscrupulous men on the hunt.
They set traps for the unsuspecting.
    Their victims are innocent men and women.
Their houses are stuffed with ill-gotten gain,
    like a hunter’s bag full of birds.
Pretentious and powerful and rich,
    hugely obese, oily with rolls of fat.
Worse, they have no conscience.
    Right and wrong mean nothing to them.
They stand for nothing, stand up for no one,
    throw orphans to the wolves, exploit the poor.
Do you think I’ll stand by and do nothing about this?”

debacle

I turned the television to watch the election results at about 8:30 p.m. We are in the Eastern time zone, and I was looking forward to watching Hillary Clinton be declared president. An hour later, my gut told me the election was going the other way, and by 10:00, I knew the results were not going to turn out how I expected.

I thought about the people I know. I live in an extremely red town, in a red county, in a red section of a blue state. I thought about how excited many of my neighbors must be; I thought about the people I love who are not straight and white and Christian. My friends whose marriages may come under attack from a White House where the second in command believes in one-man-one-woman marriage, and advocates for electroshock therapy and conversion therapy to fix the gays. I thought about all the teenagers and twenty-somethings I know who are discovering that who they are is quite different from what their parents believe is good and correct. I thought about the Native people protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline, and the sacrifices they are making on a daily basis. I thought about Ana and the rest of the Buffalo 25, who were arrested in an ICE raid in October.

Wednesday morning I woke up, and saw a message from the parent of a Black son who was assaulted on the school bus by other children, because he was Black and because he was not born in this country. Nobody helped. Nobody stood up for this child. All day long, more and more reports of racist-fueled attacks came out via social media. A colleague of mine got a phone call from their children at school, asking to please be picked up because they were being harassed for their family’s politics. I could link every word in this blog post to separate incidents of hate-fueled crime and not run out of examples.

Last weekend I read that 66% of white women voted for Donald Trump. Sixty-six percent of white women think it is better to have a president who speaks with disdain and disrespect about women, and brags about sexually assaulting women, than it is to have a woman president. I don’t understand this, but as the days slip by I realize that the things I don’t understand are many, and that nothing is every only white or only black. I wonder if what we consider to be white is really a million different shades of grey. Or is it an asymptote? Is the path of things just a curved particularity that get closer and closer to its definition, but never quite gets all the way there, even after it exceeds infinity?

Or are things exactly the opposite? Do they begin near their definition, and then follow a trajectory up and out and away, always recreating, doubling down, becoming caricatures of what they originally were?

Two years ago, our President-Elect tweeted, “Are you allowed to impeach a president for gross incompetence?” and now he is the president, and his list of cabinet appointees is a swamp of incompetence. The latest, education secretary Betsy DeVos, has never taught, has no personal experience with public education, and appears to be a Ken Ham-level science denier. But she’s rich and white and Christian, and has fulfilled the Trump Trifecta.

“Just wait! It will work out! Everything will be fine!” Yes. Everything will be fine for the people who are CHRISTIAN, WEALTHY, and WHITE. If you meet the criteria, you could plug your nose and bury your head in the sand and completely ignore the storm that is brewing in Manhattan. You could come up for air right before the next election.

But hear this. The president-elect is already placing limits on freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of religion, and he’s not even in office yet. He’s going to make America great again by making sure nobody is around to report on his daily activities, by doubling down on the militarization of police, by closing the gap between Church and State, and by trimming the Bill of Rights. Oh, and so what if it costs a million dollars a day for his wife and child to live in Manhattan from now until June? And so what if he is making money by being the landlord to the Secret Service members who are protecting his family? And so what if he is part owner of the Dakota Access Pipeline, and has a vested interest in completing that project?

So no, I’m not going to get over this. And neither is America.