a confessional lament

Another assignment from my Psalms class.

Oh, Lord, my God
I approach your throne with a heavy heart and tears on my cheeks
You are the protector of the land, you love the people you created.

I repent for my ancestors, who stepped off the Mayflower on to Wampanoag land.
I weep that while they explored, they desecrated a burial ground;
they stole corn buried safely for spring planting.
They extended a hand of smallpox instead of a gesture of peace.

My ancestors took the land, reviled the sacred, and polluted creation.
Greed, and war, and rape, and torture became the standard,
and slowly genocide was enacted.
I am ashamed that my ancestors created reservations.

My people stole their children, discredited their spirituality.
We enforced their poverty, we spend millions of dollars with businesses who
make their living by exploiting caricature,
Exploiting their culture because we are addicted to colonization and power.

And now they rise, and they stand in prayer and we beat them with clubs.
We burn their eyes with gas and spray and force them into kennels.
we shoot them with guns that leave them alive and traumatized.
I repent for my ancestors. I cannot scrub colonizer privilege from my skin.

Creator, they are oppressed, and yet they remain peaceful,
and yet we beat them back, and yet they remain.
Protect the ones who would protect your work.
Protect the ones who love the land you made,
The ones who are your true children, who honor you by honoring your creation.

You have punished armies, ended conflicts.
You take power from oppressors; you restore the oppressed.
You heal the brokenhearted; you set prisoners free.
You bring suffering to those who do not love;
Lord God, make us pay for we know exactly what we do.

possibilities for the people of god

My Bonhoeffer classmates coordinated the worship service at CRCDS on Wednesday, November 2, 2016. The scripture reading was 1 John 4:11-21. I had the opportunity to offer the sermon. Here it is.

My oldest child is almost 14, and has very particular tastes and strong opinions. Because APPLE — TREE. I put a lot of time and effort into gifts for this kid because of these opinions and interests, and I find it rewarding to deeply engage my creativity, resources, and this child’s perspective. Driving home from class one night in September, I had a true light bulb moment. I decided that for Christmas, I would give my child two tickets to see Hamilton in NYC. My light bulb quickly shorted out with the realization that there were only a handful of tickets available for one matinee sometime at the end of June, and that two tickets to Hamilton cost about the same as seven months of mortgage payments. We now console ourselves by listening to the soundtrack once a day, reading/watching any media coverage and performances by the musical’s stars, and by learning more about the real life people upon whom the musical is based.

There are a few central themes to this telling of Alexander Hamilton’s life that I feel are relevant or even parallel to the current sociopolitical situation in the United States today, and are also relevant to the Church’s response. The first theme is introduced early on in the musical; Hamilton asks his new friend, Aaron Burr, “If you stand for nothing, Burr, what will you fall for?” This discussion of ethics and values happens a number of times throughout the course of the musical, and the tension between the two characters rises until [SPOILER ALERT] they duel and Burr shoots and kills Hamilton. The End. I’ve now saved you $4000 and a trip to NYC. You’re welcome. The second theme is Hamilton’s sense of urgency and purpose, and is expressed in the lyric, “I am not throwing away my shot;” a line that returns with every new opportunity that Hamilton faces. The final theme, woven through both acts of the show, is that we don’t know who is going to tell our story after we are gone, and we don’t know how our actions will be interpreted by future generations.

I’m sure I don’t have to remind you that the Presidential Election is looming, and that the current social and political situation in our nation is at best, tense. And don’t worry — I’m not going to tell you to not vote for the hatemongering, xenophobic, racist bigot. I’m going to talk about love. First John 4 tells us that God sent Jesus to the world as the manifestation of his love, and because God so loved us, we ought to love each other. The early church loved each other by sharing all they had, and making sure all community members’ needs were met. Verse seventeen is a promise full of hope:

By this, is love perfected with us, so that that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is, so also are we in this world.

He is in the world, just as we are in the world. It doesn’t say that God’s love is only abiding in us, and it’s not just that God’s Spirit abides in our hearts—God is present and active in this world, in the midst of mudslinging, in the midst of angry words, in the protesting, and in the brokenness. Verse eighteen:

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.

The earth is groaning for want of perfect love. The lament we hear from oppressed communities is utterly heartbreaking. The images and violence from Ferguson, Miami, from overpoliced neighborhoods around the country, and even as I speak, from the landlocked sovereign Standing Rock Sioux Nation.

The election on Tuesday is not going to change this. Policy, laws, systems — none of these things will bring comfort to our souls or assuage our fears. Diettrich Bonhoeffer said in The Church and the Jewish Question, “A state that threatens the proclamation of the Christian message negates itself.” I humbly suggest a slight change in his words to make this applicable to the US: A state, or political party, that inserts itself into the proclamation of the Christian message negates itself. When people in power claim to be lovers of Jesus on Sunday, but do not love their neighbors on Monday, they negate the proclamation of the Christian message. When those same saints profess their love of God on Sunday, but on Tuesday cut Medicaid and Medicare funding for families and seniors in need, they negate the proclamation of the Christian message. And on Wednesday, when those powerful, saintly men condemn a rape victim for having a few drinks, but give the rapist a Get Out Of Jail Free card, they negate the proclamation of the Christian message. And on Thursday, when they send the National Guard to violate the civil rights of an indigenous people on their own sovereign territory, they negate the value of human dignity, and they negate the proclamation of the Christian message. That’s a lot of negation. I mean, I’m only on Thursday in my little illustration, and I haven’t even mentioned the two hundred seventy eight people of color who have been killed by police this year.

What are we standing for, my friends? If we stand for nothing, friends, what will we fall for?

In that same sermon, Bonhoeffer suggested three solutions, or “possibilities for action that the church can take:”

First, we can question the state about the character of its actions. “Governor Snyder, how do you explain as a person of faith, letting the water situation reach crisis levels in Flint?” “Mr. Trump, as a man of big faith, how do you respond to the KKK’s endorsement of you? The KKK is a notorious domestic terrorist organization, how does that fit into your faith practice?”

Next, we can embrace the victims of the state’s actions. This means we lament with the families and communities of those 278 victims of police violence. This means we stand beside the Sioux and 500 other tribes at Standing Rock—whether it is our physical presence, or making calls to your Congresspeople every day until they recognize your number on the caller ID, and until they step up. This means we find a better way to communicate to pregnant women that we believe in the sanctity of life.

And finally, Bonhoeffer says that it is not good enough to “Not just bind up the wounds of the victims beneath the wheel, but to seize the wheel itself.” This is a really drastic option that Bonhoeffer says should only be used when the church sees the state is failing. I don’t know if we are quite there yet.

Where exactly is that perfect love of God? Are we hoarding this love that is perfected with us, storing it like a commodity, putting it in the bank? Friends, we can’t sit back any more and accept the things that are happening in our country. There is no more room for neutrality. Bonhoeffer said, “The neutrals pose a special problem—in the first place, there really aren’t any; they simply belong to the other side.” Bishop Desmond Tutu said, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” Our communities of faith need to be on the side of loving our neighbor, not the side of the oppressor.

We love because He first loved us.

This is our time — let’s not throw away this shot to infuse our neighbors and our communities with the perfect love of Jesus. We cannot throw away this opportunity to acknowledge the people who are suffering, the children who are hungry, the ones who are afraid. My friend’s 15 year old son dressed up as Luke Cage for Halloween on Monday. At one house, the white woman who answered the door told him he was pathetic, and he shouldn’t have been trick-or-treating because his costume was inappropriate. My friend was not present for that interaction, and her son was hesitant to share what had happened because he had been humiliated by a person who didn’t see him as a human. She saw him as a scary Black man in a bullet-riddled hoodie. She was afraid of a child in a costume that she didn’t understand, from a television series that was not made for her. She saw him and was full of fear.

We have an opportunity right now to take the love that has been perfected in us and use it to reshape and rewrite the social narrative of the United States. In the same way that a mama gathers up her child who is shaking and cry-talking from a nightmare, we need to grab a box of tissues, pour a glass of water, and embrace the people who are hurting and oppressed and afraid. And we need to hold on to them, and lift them up, and honor them.

Right before the Battle of Yorktown, according to Lin-Manuel Miranda, George Washington sings a very short but powerful song,

I’ll tell you what I wish I’d known,
when I was young and fully of glory:
You have no control
who lives who dies who tells your story.
I know that we can win,
I know that greatness lies in you.
But remember from here on in,
History has its eyes on you.

History has its eyes on us. History always tells what we’ve done, from the Early Church to the Crusades, to the Religious Right, and I promise you that History is making a detailed record of our comings and goings as a people of faith. What will our children and grandchildren say about us when we are no longer here? More importantly, what will the children and grandchildren of the people who are oppressed right now, say about us?

Let us move forward with the confidence of a people full of perfect love. May we grasp Bonhoeffer’s possibilities and question the character of the state and the people who represent us. Let us lift the wheel off of the oppressed, and not only bandage their physical wounds, but work to heal their emotional trauma. Let us not throw away a single opportunity to embrace our neighbor and to love our brother, so that the story of the people of God in this time and place becomes the story of how God’s perfect love brought healing and reconciliation to this land. Amen.

a psalm of praise

It has been so long since I have posted my writing.
Here is my first assignment for the Psalms class I am taking this semester, a psalm of praise.
*****

O God, it is you who I praise.
You are the one who creates,
you reached into the depths and brought forth all that is
You breathed life into my lungs and with that, I sing to you.

What was there, what substance did you find in those depths
that you should see it and think of humanity?
You spoke the sun, moon, and stars into being,
From the inside of nothing you set apart the water and the land.

Again and again you dipped your hands in the deep
and again and again you brought forth all we could ever need—
Food, water, creatures to walk beside us, and soar overhead.
Your every action overflows with love for what you have made.

You placed your hands in the dirt and shaped us
You formed us to be your image-bearers so that every
time we look at one another we see
your face, your love, your gentleness and mercy.

With every breath that crosses my lips, I sing your praises,
My heart overflows with gratitude and amazement
that the beauty I see was created for me.
My great God, it is you who I praise.

participant, not author

I had one goal for this summer, and one homework assignment from my academic advisor. The goal: to get active, and hopefully walk/bike/whatever my way to shedding the extra softness I’ve acquired from all the sitting, reading, typing, and snacking I did as I worked my way through my Master’s degree. I did a somewhat mediocre job at activity in June, and at the beginning of July, I caught the germs that keep on germing. Some kind of respiratory-plus-fever nonsense rendered me completely useless for a week, and since then I’ve been working super hard to cough up a lung. Which lung? Depends on the day.

So that’s been completely awesome.

My homework assignment was to decide which denomination I wanted to join. I did a lot of reading about what each branch believes, and if I’m being honest, there’s not a lot of variation within the Protestant sector. I have been a member of the United Methodist Church for my entire adult life, and as I get older, I find I’m a bit more left-leaning than the official church policy. I started out looking at the denominations that met my qualifications, which isn’t the best possible way to look for jobs when you work for God.

I’m not going into ministry because it’s an especially attractive or exciting line of work, I’m pursuing this because I feel drawn to it. Perhaps drawn isn’t the most accurate word to use; I feel like this is a unique opportunity that has been set in front of me, and I need to honor the opportunity and the giver of opportunity. Right now is a completely terrible time to enter the ministry on a whim. People are full of fear, racism’s ugly heads and claws are tearing into people of colour, into immigrants, into followers of Islam; the evangelical church has positioned itself as a supporter of the Only Pro-Life If You’re An Unborn Baby Party.

It seems like something happens every single day that makes me have a Lorelai Gilmore conversation/monologue with God, “This is what you want me to do? Are you serious? I mean, I know you’re serious, you’re God, you invented serious. I’ve read the Old Testament. I get it that you are not playing, but how do I respond to my friend whose newborn granddaughter just died? Will a solid Ugly Cry be okay, because that’s all I have right now.”

And while I carry on, I picture God looking at me with his lips pursed like Emily Gilmore, or like Edward Herrman playing Lorelai’s dad, casually reading the newspaper, waiting for me to stop talking, so that he can ask me if I’m finished yet.

Yes. I’m finished. Kind of.

The BMI people are unhappy with me, and I’m signing up with the Methodists. None of the other choices was the right one, so here I am. It’s not really about my preference at this point, anyway. (Yes, that is a line from my Lorelai monologue.) I feel like there is a plan, and I trust that there is a plan. And I trust the author of the plan enough that I’m freed to be present, and to participate.

 

apparently i’m the big bad wolf

“People are afraid of you. Who? Oh, you know… people. Everybody. Everybody’s afraid of you.”

I am told that this is who I am, that people dislike me, that people hate me.

I’ve always expected people to dislike me, and when I was a kid I would often do things to purposely sabotage my relationships. I’ve since learned that many adoptees expect that their relationships will fail, that their friends and loved ones will abandon them, and that self-sabotage is pretty common. We view ourselves as discarded, cast offs, unlovable, and we buy into the self-fulfilling prophecy.

Relationships are really difficult to navigate when you believe your efforts are futile. I’m very lucky to have found some very tenacious and patient friends who gently, and sometimes not-so-gently, remind me that I’m worth their efforts and patience.

But then there is that one person who feeds the lie; the one person who should probably be my biggest cheerleader, who instead seems to find satisfaction in taking me down a notch or two or fifty. They know where I am most insecure, and they find the mark every.single.time.  They casually tell me I am the source of problems, I am frightening, I am too much, I am hated.

Hated? Really? I know I am flawed, but to be hated for being myself?

Hyperbole (and possible gaslighting) aside, I really do hear what this person is saying. This person says that *they* dislike me. This person finds me intimidating. This person hates who I am, and the person I am becoming. I am too much FOR THEM.  It’s a painful realization for me, and it’s difficult to understand. I have to accept that this person has a really negative opinion of me, and figure out how to go on from here.

It has been two years that this person has been telling me how the world sees me. I’m ready to be done with that.

credo

One of the final assignments for this semester’s theology class was to write my own creed, or what I believe in. When I read it aloud in class, it was met with applause, which was much more than the silence or occasional nods I anticipated. I’ve been quiet over here for a while, so I thought I’d share it for anyone who’s still checking in.

Credo

I believe in one creator God, the artistic engineer of the natural world,
who, with precision and purpose, reached into the depths and brought forth a universe exploding with colors, patterns, sounds, texture, and patterns.

I believe that the Word of God was made human in the person of Jesus Christ, and that as a human, Jesus entered into relationships with people here on earth. He was a companion who shared in the human experience, a gentle teacher, and an advocate who spoke the truth about power which led to his brutal murder.

I believe this would be a great tragedy if this was the story of a normal human, but Jesus was God as well as man. The death of Jesus the human paid for the sins of the world. And when Jesus who is also God was resurrected on the third day, he shattered the bonds that held us captive to death.

I believe in imago dei, that we are created in the image of God, and that the Spirit of God is in and around us. The Spirit is our comforter, the one who whispers the cares of our heart into the ear of God. The Spirit delivers peace and joy, reminding us to seek the beauty and promise of the world, even when we least expect it.

I believe that all humans are valuable, that war is wrong, that violence does not provide answers. I believe in taking care of one another. I believe that God can be found everywhere, including a pot of soup and a fresh-baked pie. I believe in Sabbath, in quiet, in naps; nobody can run on empty. I believe in following the internal nudge to do or say something that might be out of one’s comfort zone—the Spirit moves in mysterious ways, and always seems to nudge the right person toward the right person at the right time.

I believe in peace, shalom, reconciliation, and love.

the church loves refugees now

My heart is broken for Syria. I have been closely following the civil war since before it was a war, back in 2011 when peaceful protesters gathered to declare their desires for a better, less-oppressive Syria.

In 2013 I had the opportunity to travel to Lebanon and spend time photographing refugee life in some of the informal tented settlements.

home

no one leaves home
unless home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well*

The next two generations of Syrian leaders are homeless. Two years ago, it was estimated that more than half the population of Syria was internally displaced. More than 11 million people are homeless inside the borders of Syria.

And that is only a guess.

DSC09421

This sweet babe was born in a refugee camp in Lebanon. He is not entitled to a Lebanese birth certificate, and his mama can’t afford to return to Syria to get a birth certificate because they live in abject poverty. It is likely that he will live his entire life as a refugee: lacking food, adequate shelter, and suffering chronic health ailments related to a lack of clean water.

The Syrian Crisis did not materialize one day last week. Aylan, the precious baby found face-down on a Turkish beach, was not the first Syrian baby to drown in the Mediterranean Sea. Hundreds of Syrians have drowned escaping the war, but Aylan was the first one that people chose to see. Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have died in the war –many of them children– but none of those images or stories grabbed the Church’s heartstrings.

The Western Church is, at long last, appropriately horrified by the situation facing the Syrian people. Christians on social media are hashtagging their indignation: #BeTheChurch and #WeWelcomeRefugees are everywhere. There are petitions asking governments to resettle refugees. Much-needed money and supplies are pouring in, and that is truly a benefit that will make people’s lives better.

Why now? Why did the Church decide to “Be The Church” on a random day in August? What made that day more significant than any of the other previous 1,640-ish days since the Syrian Crisis began? Cute babies die daily in Syria. I’m not trying to be crass or to downplay the significance of those deaths; it breaks my heart that people can cause such damage to one another.

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But where have you been, Church? Where have you been for the Palestinians? Where are you for the Afghans? For Iraqis, Somalis, Congolese, Myanmarese, Colombians, or Sudanese? Because from where I stand, it looks like you aren’t here for any of these, or as Jesus called them “the least of these.”

The least of these are mostly confined to their own countries, mostly out of sight, and definitely not affecting the West or Western culture in any way. But those Syrians… they have come to Europe. There are white people carrying the bodies of their dead away in front of white media, and white people are shocked. White people are sweeping in to take care of the poor people of color, white people making decisions, white people saving.

Is the Church really interested in being the Church, in being a servant to the hurting people of the world, in housing the homeless and feeding the hungry? This newfound passion has taken the Church by storm. It looks like a fad, like Christians have discovered the next cool thing to be on fire for, that will soon be forgotten. When was the last time you heard a Christian mention any of the girls kidnapped by Boko Haram in Nigeria? Did you know that Boko Haram is still kidnapping and murdering people? Remember when all of the truly devout Christians in America changed their social media avatars to the Arabic letter that is the first letter of the Arabic word for Christian, to honor all the Christians in Mosul, Iraq who were being massacred? It was so important!

This movement to provide for the Syrian refugees is not an organically-grown movement. It is a public relations campaign that catapulted itself into existence off the body of a dead baby. It is a campaign of shock and awe– shock at the realization of the masses that babies are dying horrible deaths, and awe at the incredible spending power of Western Christianity. I do not see the “We Welcome Refugees” people coming alongside the servants who have been working to assist the Syrian refugees for the past four and a half years. I don’t see this new force even granting the benefit of a mention to the countless NGOs who started the movement to support Syrian refugees. The Church is once again using its financial power to control the lives of the less fortunate, and is steamrolling those who actually have been “being the Church.”

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“Be The Church” is giving Christians a quick and easy means to feeling good about themselves, but it lacks the relational component that is necessary to keep the short attention span of the West focused on people who don’t look or dress like them. The Western Church will show us what it means to be the church: it will burn hot and fiery for a short period of time, and then it will find something else with which to entertain itself.

The Syrian Crisis is going to continue to be a crisis in October. It is going to be a crisis in 2016. It will still be a crisis in 2026, and for decades after. This isn’t a problem the Church can fix. It is one of the most complex social issues facing the world today, and it is one that will outlive my children, and possibly my grandchildren. If the Western Church is going to have any lasting effect on the lives of refugees, it needs to ditch its Saviour complex and learn from the people who have been battling this crisis since the beginning.

*excerpt from the poem “Home” by Warsan Shire,
you can find the entire poem here.

 

 

.one hundred seventy-four pages.

I have a paper due next Tuesday. I love writing papers. It’s a sickness or something. I love researching stuff, and writing my notes on little blue Post-its, and typing and footnotes.

I have no explanation for this.

But. The book that I need to read in order to write the paper, y’all, it’s like wading face-deep through a swimming pool full of words. I read and read and read and read, and then I go back and read all the stuff I just read again, except out loud this time, and then I put my finger under the words like they teach you in Kindergarten and read it AGAIN.

It goes like this for pages and pages, until the author throws a bone and writes a couple paragraphs using words in combinations that make sense to me.

I have been slogging through this book ALL DAY LONG and I am on page 46. FORTY-FLIPPING-SIX. (Full disclosure: I was on page 32 when I started this morning.) Yes, I did school with my kids, and yes, everyone has been fed today, and yes, I did play games of BS and Go Fish, but SIXTEEN PAGES??? At this rate, I will be almost done with the reading assignment when my paper is due.

Please. FOR THE LOVE. If you have a suggestion to improve my reading comprehension or to get this stuff read in a way that takes way less time with way better results, PLEASEPLEASEPLEASE help a girl out.  I will love you forever and like you for always and never climb into your bedroom in the dark of night after driving an extension ladder to your house.

that speech in congress today.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed Congress this morning. This was a very controversial appearance, because instead of receiving an invitation from his political equivalent (the President) as is customary,  Prime Minister Netanyahu was invited by House Speaker John Boehner. Boehner effectively ignored the chain of command, while at the same time ignoring the practice of not permitting foreign heads of state or foreign political candidates to speak in the United States immediately prior to an election. This avoids the appearance of an endorsement of a foreign candidate, and keeps the United States from openly influencing election results.

Netanyahu was trailing in the polls when he left Israel. His former chief of staff was interviewed following the speech (you can read the whole speech here), and said that many were eagerly anticipating the results of his speech, because they knew speaking in America to an enthusiastic crowd would drastically boost Netanyahu’s standing in the election. The Washington Post claims that more than 80% of Israeli voters are expected to view Netanyahu more positively because of his performance today.

Netanyahu was aware that his visit was in violation of American policy, that the President was not in favour of the visit, and that many people in this country– almost 50% of registered voters— disagree with how this whole thing went down. Sixty members of Congress refused to attend the speech, which caused every referee to exhaust their supplies of political red cards given for bipartisan behaviour. I have to give the Prime Minister a political BS red card, too, for his opening statement:

I want to thank you all for being here today. I know that my speech has been the subject of much controversy. I deeply regret that some perceive my being here as political. That was never my intention.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions, Sir. Or, in this case, the road to continued conflict and nuclear war is paved with “good’ intentions.

The speech was political. The talks between Iran and the United States are very complicated, and that the leader of Iran’s mortal enemy was allowed to stand before the US government and offer a scathing report of Iran’s ambitions in the Middle East, was quite possibly counterproductive to diplomatic efforts. Further, Netanyahu’s comments will not change the position of the United States, but likely will deepen the rift between Iran and Israel.

The timing of the speech was a last-ditch effort to influence voters by Netanyahu; hopefully the Israeli voters are wiser than he believes them to be.

It’s going to take more than polarizing speeches to have an effect on Middle East politics and national relations. The rhetoric only serves to deepen the conflicts and strengthen the foundation of fear and hate on which Middle Eastern politics is built.