How long?

As I have sat each morning with my daily devotions it is wonderful to be immersed in one psalm for the entire week.

What I find is that each day as I read it, a different verse or sentiment speaks to my soul.

These past two weeks have included hopeful laments… the cries of the psalmist that are answered by the end of the lines with trust, joy, and the promises of God. They are the cries of people who have been broken down but refuse to give in. The cries of people holding on to their faith in spite of everything that would take it away.

 

Today, after learning that yet another black church has been destroyed by arson, I read Psalm 4, hearing the pleas of my brothers and sisters in faith who are under attack.

Some are citing statistics that show this might not be a new pattern at all… that we are simply paying attention in a targeted way.

But such explaining away does not eliminate the need to ask the question #whoisburningblackchurches ?

I read the psalm this morning and imagined the brick and mortar of churches crying out for people like me to pay attention.

Answer us when we cry out, our righteous God!

Set our churches free from those who set fire to our sanctuaries!

Have mercy on us!

Listen to our prayers!

 

How long, fellow brothers and sisters in Christ…

How long, national media…

How long, people everywhere…

How long, will our reputation be insulted and our cries go unnoticed?

 

How long, society, will you continue to love what has no worth and go after lies, with trending hashtags about our age and sports figures and facebook and pinterest posts about the most amazing diet smoothie recipe and how you, too, can make money at home.

Know this: the Lord takes personal care of the faithful.

The Lord hears our churches crying out!

So be afraid.  Be afraid next time you decide it would be funny to play with matches next to that old church building.  Be afraid next time you let your hatred spill over to action.  Be afraid next time you stand by and do nothing while the churches burn. Stop destroying the sanctuaries of our people!

Think hard about it while you sleep and weep over the hatred or indifference or foolishness in your heart.

Confess. Repent. The sacrifice acceptable to God is a contrite heart. Trust the Lord!

 

All around, people are saying,

“We can’t find a drop of goodness in this world.

God is dead.

There is no justice or hope or life to be found.”

But in spite of the persecution… even as our buildings smolder, even as we lay our dead into the ground, we find strength and joy in the Lord.

As our sister, Bree Newsome reflects, “I refuse to be ruled by fear.”

So we will welcome people to our prayer meetings and worship and we will close the buildings for the evening with peaceful hearts, because you alone, O Lord, are the source of safety. By your grace, we live.

Lord, have mercy.

'Reconciliation'. In 1995, 50 years after the end of the second world war this sculpture by Josefina de Vasconcellos has been given by Richard Brannon as a token of reconciliation. Coventry Cathedral, also known as St Michael's Cathedral, is the seat of the Bishop of Coventry and the Diocese of Coventry, in Coventry, West Midlands, England.

truth and reconciliation

I read a post earlier today that dives into the words Bree Newsome said as she was arrested this weekend:

The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?

What I loved about the author’s wrestling is that she highlighted that faith isn’t always about forgiveness.  It is also about speaking truth to power:

So Bree Newsome was a reminder to me that forgiveness is not the only thing faith can look like in public. Faith in public can look like a demand – for justice, for recognition, for grace.

Completely aside from what is happening in the world, those words hit me in the core of my being.

There are some relationships in my life that trouble me.  They tear at my heart. I feel like a divided person because of them.

And I’ve been praying for a heart to forgive.  I’ve been seeking reconciliation in my own way. And it is hard. And painful.

I keep reading about how forgiveness isn’t for the other person… it is for ourselves so that we can let go of the pain and be at peace. I think that is true, which is why it is about more than simply saying, “I forgive you.”  It is about getting to the point in your soul when that is really true.

When you are on the receiving end of such a phrase, the work is done.  Or rather, maybe there wasn’t any work at all.  “I forgive you,” is a balm to ease a troubled mind. That’s it. End of story.

But, “I forgive you,” doesn’t change anything. It allows those who have hurt us to continue to do so.

Maybe that is why God’s forgiveness and grace always comes with the call for a different way. God’s forgiveness is so profound and complete because it forces us to truly face our transgressions before we hear the words of comfort.

And maybe that is part of what has been missing in my own quest for forgiveness.  I haven’t yet told the truth of what I’m feeling. I have not yet demanded to have the pain recognized.

I’m too busy trying to be nice and kind and forgiving and it feels inauthentic.

I hesitate to make that demand to be seen, to have my pain recognized, largely out of fear. Fear of shaking the waters. Fear of making things worse. Fear that things might actually change?

Fear can cause us to want to fight. Fear can cause us to run away. Fear can paralyze us.

In one relationship in particular, I feel paralyzed.  I don’t know what to do, so I do nothing.

I wonder what would happen if I began my morning prayers not with the plea that I could forgive, but by thanking God for being my light and my salvation and my strength… with the reminder that, in God, I have nothing to fear. I wonder what would happen if before I focused on reconciliation, I found the courage to speak the truth.

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Intersections and the Body of Christ

Sometimes it is better if I keep my mouth shut.

The world doesn’t always need to know what I think.

And frankly, most of the time I can glimpse only one piece of the complicated fabric we call life.

I have one, limited perspective to share.

So instead, here are a few of the voices that have been challenging me this week:

Bree Newsome’s statement re: taking down the flag in South Carolina.


from @NineDaves – the reminder that you can get married in the morning, and be fired before the end of the day in 32 states.


While We Were” by Marilyn Thornton



Her remarks come a day after 35 members of Congress signed a letter that was sent to Secretary of Homeland Security, Jeh Johnson requesting the released of LGBTQ individuals from detention centers and placing them under alternative supervision pending their immigration cases. The letter cites the Bureau of Justice Statistics which found that while transgendered women make 1% of detainees, they account for 20% of sexual abuse assaults while under custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

– Wendy Carrillo, firstlook.org , writing about Jennicet Gutiérrez, the undocumented trans woman who interrupted President Obama’s remarks during LGBT Pride Month



There is this term: intersectionality.

It describes how systems of oppression and discrimination are intertwined.  You can’t talk about LGBT rights without also recognizing how gender and race interact.  It is a term lifted by Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989 that explores how “various biological, social and cultural categories such as gender, race, class, ability, sexual orientation, religion, caste, species and other axes of identity interact on multiple and often simultaneous levels, contributing to system injustice and social inequality.” (Wikipedia)

My life intersects with the struggles of others in some ways, but in many ways, I simply do not know or see the systems of injustice others face.  I fully admit that I am limited in my knowledge of the sins we perpetuate against one another.

And while the world is full of injustices that need to be called out and named and repented of, these past ten days have brought multiple intersections into the public conversation in a big way.

I need other voices to call me out and help me understand a reality that is beyond myself.

I need to be quiet and listen.

I need to let voices that are not like mine speak.

I think that is part of being the Body of Christ.

Acknowledging I am just a foot.

Paying attention to what the hand and the ear have to teach me.

It must be exhausting to continuously be calling out to feet like me, “Hey! Pay attention to this, too!”

It is the reason we need specific and defined hashtags like #blacklivesmatter and #blacktranslivesmatter.

Because while it should be, it isn’t obvious and white cis-gendered folks like me assume far too much when we lump everything together and pretend it isn’t an intersecting, complicated mess.

Forgive me for too often putting my foot in my mouth.

Forgive me for perpetuating systemic oppression.

Forgive me for not understanding you.

Forgiveness requires repentance.  A commitment to live differently.

And one way for me to begin is to not just listen to fingers and appendixes and hair when they are thrust into the spotlight or have to yell to get my attention, but to actively seek out those parts of this vast and diverse Body of Christ that are not like me… to honor them, to celebrate them, to support them.

Who do you say I am?

I started reading Neil Cole’s Organic Church this morning.

I am highlighting like a fool, but one line caused me to stop and pick up my phone to blog:

Before one speaks about starting or growing churches, one simply must wrestle with this question: “Who is Jesus to you?”

Maybe what struck me so much about this is that less than a month ago, I heard that same phrase. A new pastor took up her post in our community and her first sermon answered this question.

She was inspired by a pastor, retiring from his church who ended his ministry with such a sermon. A parishioner came up after and said: “That was wonderful… Why did you wait so long to share with us who Jesus is?”

As a pastor, I talk about Jesus all the time.

I teach about his life and ministry.

I use big theological words like atonement and justification.

I share what Jesus asks us to do and be.

But, have I ever preached on “who Jesus is to me?”

To me, Jesus is God in the flesh. Immanuel, God-with-us.

One reason I was so excited to be serving at Immanuel UMC is because their very name captures who Jesus is to me.

I shared a few days ago about how much I love being an aunt and getting down on my hands and knees to play with the kids and that is what I feel Jesus has done for me. Jesus comes to us, wherever we are and meets us there. The love I have for them… My willingness to do just about anything for my niblings… is but a pale reflection of the lengths Jesus went to show his love for me. He suffered and died to save me from myself.

And that is because the relationship is always the most important thing with Jesus.

More important than rules or right answers, more important than our histories of successes or failures.

I didn’t earn God’s love… It was there.

I can’t do anything to lose it either.

God-in-the-flesh met me where I was… a young woman, full of plans for my life, naïve, hopeful, everything and nothing figured out…

But that’s not where it ends. It isn’t just a nice feeling of warmth and comfort and safety.  Love means wanting the best for someone, and God’s love saves us.

From ourselves.
From sin.
From false realities.

Love is full of expectation and dreams.

And somehow God kept nudging me to where I needed to be.

Jesus opened my eyes to see the broken of this world: some by their own making, others by the sin of others or our corporate betrayals. And Jesus asked me to love them… like I had been loved.

So what does it mean to be like Jesus? To follow this Jesus?

Jesus asked me to do whatever I could to challenge the things and people and structures that tear us apart. To be willing to put my life or safety on the line to meet another person where they are.

Jesus asks me to be in relationship with others. Because relationships are the center of our faith.

Jesus is God-with-us… He is relationship.

And as the Body of Christ, we are called to follow together. A community of accountability and hope that holds on to God’s expectations and dreams for our world. People who love and challenge one another and who seek to always build new relationships… Especially with those who have none.

That is who Jesus is to me.

paying attention

Today, in my devotional reading this thought from The Spiritual Life struck me:

To be human is to pray… prayer is the disciplined dedication to paying attention.

As I sit here and try to write this morning, I must admit I am distracted.

Distracted by the remnants of water in our basement (our backup sump pump failed to switch on, leaving some standing water in the unfinished areas).

Distracted by the squirrels and birds fighting with one another on the fence.

Distracted by the pings from Facebook because I left the tab open in my browser.

Distracted by the waiting and anticipation for a SCOTUS decision.

Distracted by the garbage trucks making their way up and down the streets in my neighborhood.

 

What if instead of being distracted, I focused on paying attention in prayer.

 

Gracious God, be with my husband and I and help us to be patient and wise as we clean up the water and as he fixes the pump.

Holy One, thank you for the creatures of this world who play and bring joy to our lives.

Blessed Redeemer, be with my friends and family and acquaintances.  Help them to know your grace and mercy.  Be with them in their struggles.

God of Grace, you teach us that love is patient and kind. You teach us that love is sacrificial.  You teach us that your love has no boundaries.  Be with us today as so many of us wait and dream of a nation that recognizes the many kinds of love and families that bring joy and support and stability and hope and companionship to our lives.

Almighty Savior, be with those who serve us today. And help each of us to think carefully about the waste in our lives. Help us to treat this world and its possessions with respect.  Help us be less wasteful with the precious gifts we have been given.  Help us to focus more on relationships and less on things.  Forgive us for our reckless use of resources others are dying without.

 

Westerhoff and Eusden write in The Spiritual life that “unless our identity is hid in God we will never know who we are or what we are to do.”  It is when we pay attention, maybe especially to the things that distract us, that we discover God’s longing for our lives, we hear the still small voice calling us to a transformed life, and we see our neighbors through new lenses.  Prayer is the foundation of our faith, the beginning of change, the roots of justice, and the core of our belief.

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Praying for the Church

One of the practices I have incorporated into my renewal leave is to use Bishop Job’s, A Guide to Prayer, each morning.

I have taken to setting up office on our back porch in the cool mornings where I can look out on the garden, feel the cool breeze, and breathe in the air.

I have gone through the devotions like normal, but when I get to the section where I pray for the church, for others, and for myself, I pull out a stack of postcards and labels and stamps, and I pray for the people of Immanuel UMC.

Each day, I pray for between 10 and 20 families in our church.

I pray for them by name.

I pray for their health and struggles, their joys and the people they love.

To be honest, I don’t know every name on the list.  Some are people who remain members but have been disconnected from our community.  Some are people who live far away but have maintained their membership.  Most are faces I see in worship every Sunday.

No matter who they are or how well I know them, I know God knows their lives and I lift them each up in God’s hands.

 

In part, the idea came from receiving a notecard from two different people at Church of the Resurrection in Kansas City.  Their pastor, Adam Hamilton, came to our annual conference as a guest speaker and his congregation lifted up the churches and pastors of Iowa in preparation for his arrival.

It was moving to get that card in the mail.  To know that someone out there was praying for me and my ministry that day.  I began to wonder how I might incorporate that personal prayer outreach within my own ministry and this is one way I am beginning this practice.

When I return, I am thinking about how to do this on a weekly basis – to connect via calls or postcards with the folks in my church and let them know that whatever is going on in their lives, I’m praying for them.

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2 days, 3 houses, 7 niblings

This weekend, we made a road trip to spend some time with family.  Since we have moved, it has been harder to make a quick trip over to see our parents or siblings and the kids.

One of my primary goals during renewal leave was to spend more time with family and to re-establish patterns for seeing and communicating with them.  As I shared with my congregation when we announced the leave:

this is a time to enjoy the simple beauty of spending time with those I have been called to love.

I do believe that our families are part of our calling.  You almost never got to choose who they were.  Some of them were around long before you and some have come into your lives as you have grown and changed.  But each one of them are part of your responsibility to care, to teach, to listen, to play, to love.

Since my husband and I are child-free, I have in particular embraced the role of aunt to my niblings. I love their little footsteps pattering towards the door as we walk in to get hugs.  I love the sloppy messes.  I love the silly things they say and their wild imaginations. And as I have watched them grow… including the one who now towers over my head… I have loved to see how kind and responsible they are and to hear all about the things that they now love.

A dear friend, who is also a child-free aunt, posted this to my facebook wall the other day and it made me tear up.  I do love my niblings. And this weekend, I got to be that aunt.   I loved their snotty faces and their tears and their shrieks of joy.  I loved hanging out on the floor and putting together legos with them.  I loved writing silly stories with them.  I loved the cuddles. I loved teaching them something new.  I loved listening to what is going on in their world. And, as a pastor, I also love that I can bring the gifts of my work into their lives and can wrestle with questions and be a part of blessing them… literally!

That is what the picture above is… a celebration of new life as we blessed my newest nibbling.  We gathered around him and prayed for the life God has in store for him and for his parents and grandparents as they all love and care for him.

But I also love my brothers and sisters and if an ounce of what I can do and share with and for them makes their lives any easier, that brings me great joy, too.