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?”

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.

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.

 

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.

.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.