|Has there ever been a time like this?|
Our well-being is so exquisitely and critically communal. It always has been.
Now, we daily are made aware of the life and death ways our behavior impacts others.
An unrestrained cough can kill. Sharing communal song is dangerous. Aerosols travel.
The simple act of protecting others from harm has become politicized.
Somehow the COVID virus and our response to it has become a litmus test for our faith in God and our political affiliation.
Cooper and I were hiking at Itasca State Park. We went down a path to be by Lake Itasca in order to dip our feet in the lake and savor the beauty of a perfect summer day.
The area where we were sitting was visible from the path above. The area where we were sitting was small.
A man and his party came down the path, clearly wanting to access the water. We shared concern that there was not a six foot margin in that small space. We asked for space and the time to put on our masks. None in his party were wearing masks. There was no safe place for us to go. We were trapped.
Rather than wait and rather than see the sense of our request that they either not access the space or wait for us to safely vacate it, the man snarled at us, and the child with him – maybe six? – chastised us for being so afraid.
And I wondered: When did following scientific guidelines become a sign of fear?
When did a simple request become a gauntlet thrown?
The irony of being two pastors branded as contemptibly fearful (by a six year old!) was not lost on me. Somewhere along the way the young girl learned that to practice safety measures in order to contain COVID is to lack faith in God.
Who are we?
I share the interchange above not to stir up yet more anger or side-claiming.
I share the interchange above because I am, in fact, fearful.
I am afraid.
I fear that somewhere in the past months and years we have lost our call to practice exquisite care for one another.
Scripture says not one word about our God-given right to endanger others.
Scripture teaches us that our care for the most vulnerable bespeaks our commitment to our God.
We witness to our faith by the ways we are fierce in the way of loving our neighbors as ourselves.
This pandemic is not a short-lived test of our character; It is exhausting heartbreaking messy character-refining challenge.
The ways we live faithfully in and through this time of pandemic is writing our future.
What does the Lord require of you?
Over and over in Scripture we hear that the Lord requires kindness, mercy, justice and humility.
We don’t have the answers to so much.
But we do know that the ways we comport ourselves – the posts we share on Facebook, the emails we forward and the conversations we have in front of and with our children – bears witness to our faith.
I am longing for the agony of the 160,000 lives lost and countless lives upended to lead us to deeper reverence for the power of our Holy God and the beauty of connected human being.
Humility. Mercy. Kindness. Justice.
The prophet Micah and Jesus and all of creation is calling to our hearts.
We are called to live our faith in a time like this.
The disorientation is real, isn’t it?
I find myself unsure about what day it is and what it is I should do next and the hum of anxiety is constant companion.
Suddenly those I encounter are potential carriers of harm.
I represent threat to others.
We are all in this together, apart.
So may God grant us the courage and wisdom to learn from this reorientation of life.
Our elders? Our fragile irreplaceable elders? May we always treat them as precious and worthy of cosseting.
Our work colleagues? May we savor the different ways they encounter life and how it is we are wildly blessed to join with them in meaningful work.
Child care workers and grocery store stockers and food service folk and the people who make it possible for our toilets to flush and our lights to be on. May we honor them through the ways we notice and value their work.
Medical personnel who put their lives on the line to swab throats, research cures and dispense accurate information. May we never forget that they are heroic seekers of wisdom that has the power to save lives.
And may we learn, once and always, that what we do and say matters. It matters so much.
We are all leaders.
Stay home. Keep your distance. Practice grace with yourself and with others.
Remember who you are.
Henri Nouwen has this to say about that:
“You are my child.
You are written in the palms of my hand.
You are hidden in the shadow of my hand.
I have molded you in the secret of the earth.
I have knitted you together in your mother’s womb.
You belong to me.
I am yours. You are mine.
I have called you from eternity and you are the one who is held safe
and embraced in love from eternity to eternity.
You belong to me. And I am holding you safe and I want you to
know that whatever happens to yo, I am always there. I was
always there; I am always there; I always will be there and hold you
in my embrace.
You are mine. You are my child. You belong to my home. You
belong to my intimate life and I will never let you go. I will be
faithful to you.” Henri J. M. Nouwen, “Lecture”
That. That is who you are.
This space is soul home.
For decades this space has held baptisms, weddings, funerals, and weekly worship.
The power of prayers and music shared is palpable in this space.
And, due to the practice of social distancing necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic, this space echoes with emptiness.
Every Sunday those checkered rugs hold kids crawling and reading and puzzling and being kids during worship. The steps in the chancel are used for children’s lessons and the Littlest of Angel song.
Each pew has its people. Each chair in the ECC has its person.
Every week our organ and band sound out and are joined by hundreds of voices.
Coffee is shared, conversations savored and the sweet goodness of people who make up the collage of our hearts are encountered.
The echoes of what is not are bouncing off of empty space.
And, the church is not a building or a space or a tangible must-have.
The church is each person open to encounter.
The church is the living Body and it is woven together by the power of the Holy Spirit and the church is each person praying and loving and living the anxiety of these days.
Our soul home is blessed yet by the prayers of the people.
Presence will come.
I didn’t grow up in the United Methodist Church.
I made my way through young adulthood and into motherhood. While we were far from home we happened into a United Methodist Church and there I found theological and heart home.
While attending seminary I was appointed to my first church. I have been blessed (mostly!) to serve in United Methodist churches for twenty three years.
But all along I have felt the grinding wrongness of the United Methodist stance on full inclusion.
I organized regional conferences in Duluth and Minneapolis. I twice spoke at the state capital during rallies organized by OutFront Minnesota. I worked with colleagues in the Minnesota Annual Conference to speak out against the (anti) Marriage Amendment in MN and have worked for a day when all people are beheld as beloveds in all aspects of their beings.
I name the above because it helps me assuage my sense of complicity in the existence of an oppressive structure through which I receive benefit.
I cannot do that much longer, that assuaging.
The global church met in 2019 and came away a declared unsafe place for GLBTQI individuals, clergy, and allies.
No place is safe when core identity is perceived as suspect.
So what next?
I am a woman of 61 years. I find myself exhausted by the grief of these days.
And yet, there is new life aborning. Power is rising up from the too-long silenced and this power I seek to support. A conference held here in Minneapolis called Our Movement Forward will center discussion of the future of the UM church in the community of People of Color, Queer and Transgender leaders. I will go to this gathering as an ally. I will go to this gathering to learn and to listen.
I serve a courageous church. Christ UMC in Rochester is leaning into the questions and work of this time. We own the grief and the opportunity of these days. Together, we seek to offer welcome and hope in the way of Jesus.
Yesterday I was in the hospital room of a young mother. We were gathered to celebrate her baptism. Her young son held her as she received the sign of the cross on her forehead.
The song we shared before her baptism is one she loves: We are a Gentle, Angry People, by Holly Near.
And so we are. Gay and straight together, singing (and organizing and witnessing) for our lives.
Author Annie Dillard says this about the urgency of writing:
“Write as though you are dying.”
What then is it to live with that same sense of urgency, to live as though we are dying?
What does it mean to write the story of our days in such a way that we are present to the power and poignancy of being alive?
Today I will have traced upon my forehead the symbol of my intention to be present to the ongoing story of breaking and being reborn. As I inhabit this story called life I join my soul to the eternal community of others who believe and seek to live the power of embodied love taught by Jesus.
The grit of the ashen cross traced on my body is reminder to live as though I am dying.
Because I am.
I am far from home.
Today I was keenly hungry for worship in a United Methodist Church. Knowing that in my home church and in all United Methodist Churches across this world those who were struggling with the General Conference decision would be gathering, I wanted to be in solidarity.
And I needed a good word shared in the midst of connection.
Here is what I heard. I heard a brief note during ain’t-life-swell announcements about the General Conference and an acknowledgment that there were lots of opinions about the General Conference vote and, hey, people are always welcome at that church. Those of us gathered were assured that was so.
Do not speak of welcome for all as though it is happening, truly, when baptized and called children of God are not welcome to preach or marry or be fully folded into community and you are not outraged.
There was no naming of pain. There was no seeming awareness that fluffing over injustice is to condone and perpetrate it.
None. Of. That.
I wanted to leave.
But in the front of the sanctuary was a table with the bread and cup on it and I had come so hungry and I was aware that this deep grief I was experiencing is part of the world I love and so I stayed because I so needed to be fed.
I stayed and prayed for Christ UMC and for all the churches who are doing hard soul and heart and advocacy work on this day. I stayed and tried to keep my heart soft toward the pastor who never once addressed the issue in his sermon. I stayed knowing that there are people who come to the church I serve who feel like they want to leave because of what I do or do not say.
And, I left hungry.
May we create communities through which tears and hungers and delights and questions and insistence upon the sacred beauty of each is celebrated.
No one is fully welcomed unless all are fully welcomed.
I am praying this week.
I am praying for the hearts of United Methodists to be strangely and profoundly warmed.
The notion about living with a strangely warmed heart comes from the experience of John Wesley. Wesley lived for decades as pastor and child of God without a clear sense of his full welcome into God’s embrace.
Through a heart warming experience, Wesley came to know the power of holy wholeness.
That heart warming brought Wesley and the movement now called United Methodism alive.
It has brought me and so many alive, this astounding good news that we are beloved, known, and made one with God’s heart.
United Methodists from around the globe are gathering in St Louis this weekend. They are gathering for a specially called conference. At the conference delegates will engage with each other and with the Holy Spirit to determine the future of the movement sparked by a man who knew what it was to feel doubtful about being fully welcomed into God’s grace.
United Methodists have been wrangling around this issue for decades. Countless hours, resources, passion and energy have been poured into how it is the people of Jesus the Christ are called to discipleship in the company of all.
There are plans being presented, talk of schism being bandied about and hearts feeling exhausted and near broken by the continued insistence on the part of some that GLBTQ children of God are blessed and beloved; well, kind of. Sort of. Not really.
Legions of others are fully exhausted by the continued profanity of exclusion currently articulated in our Discipline. The thought of another “not yet” in regards to living congruency with the gospel is unbearable.
So I am praying.
I am praying for the delegates and the bishops.
I am praying for the children I have baptized. I want them to grow up in a community of faith that welcomes them wildly and gratefully, with all varieties of being celebrated as God gift.
I am praying for the too many who have felt unwelcome by the people of Jesus.
I am praying for colleagues who have been mandated by our current disciple to closet living. My heart cannot go too near the cost of practicing subterfuge around holy relationships.
I am praying for my church: The United Methodist Church and the church I am appointed to serve. Both are full of people who have found welcome and invitation into the good-news-making of Jesus. I love both the larger and my local church. I believe in the power and the promise of the strangely-warmed.
The Holy Spirit is a force for love in this world. This I believe.
This is a pivotal time.
I am praying.
Please join me.
A Just Anger
Anger shines through me.
Anger shines through me.
I am a burning bush.
My rage is a cloud of flame.
My rage is a cloud of flame
in which I walk
like a precipice.
How the streets
of the iron city
and the dirty air
between me and things,
A good anger acted upon
is beautiful as lightning
and swift with power.
A good anger swallowed,
a good anger swallowed
clots the blood
There is a long-present seethe that is spilling into the consciousness of our nation.
The roil has to do with this: For too long, women have lived in fear.
For too long, women have had to weigh everyday choices about how it is they can be fully alive and safe.
What can I wear?
Where can I walk during the day or night?
How can I express myself?
Where and how can I lead?
Who has power over the choices I make about my body and my sexuality?
How will I respond to the subtle and not-so-subtle messages about my being as a woman?
Can I go to a bar or a park or a church or a school or a party or a meeting without being constantly vigilant about my physical and soul safety?
Women across this nation and across the world are giving voice to the seethe of frustration and fury.
Women and advocates for women are no longer content to be under-represented in our civic, and religious lives. Disproportionate numbers of women and children are poor.
A recent article named the prevalence of how is women physicians and academics are often introduced by their first name rather than by the title of the role they have earned through decades of work. Women leaders endure comments on what they wear and how they look while the brilliance of their thoughts and minds and perspectives seem to be also-rans.
This objectifying and minimizing can go on no longer. It cannot.
I am the mother of two daughters.
I know they ask the above questions every day of their lives.
I know they live the “Me Too” of this broken way of being woman in this world.
I am seething.
Best of all, I am not alone nor am I powerless. My anger does not have to be swallowed or “clot my blood to slime”.
A good anger has the power to change systems of oppression.
A good anger transfigures the world.
Our sisters, brothers, daughters and sons are needful of a time when the full potential, particularity and power of all of God’s createds is alive and transformative in this world.
We cannot afford this desecration of women.
We will not afford this desecration of women.
Seething is energizing action.
It is past time.
A beloved children’s book taught our family the power of Koko the signing gorilla.
Koko signed a three word litany when her beloved kitten Ball was killed.
She knew the way of grief. She knew how to express it:
Sad sad sad.
I know the way of grief, but I struggle in these days with how to express it.
The money and power grab evidenced in the recently passed tax bill bespeak a nation made belligerent about being morally compromised. Folded into the removal of supports for college students and the poor is the agreement that our nation will now allow drilling in the Arctic Wildlife refuge.
Turns out there is no refuge from those who must drill drill drill.
The phallic imagery is intended.
There is a close race in Alabama between a man accused of drilling into the future of girls running against a man who sought to bring to justice Klan members responsible for the bombing of a church that killed four black girls. This is a contest?
Our nation’s president, forever caught on tape boasting of perpetrating violence on women because he is rich and powerful and can do as he likes is championing the man who has helped himself to young girls because a despoiler of girls is better in the halls of power than a Democrat.
And where are the people of Jesus the Christ as this is happening?
How are we speaking out against the violence against women and against the poor and against the earth and against communal compassion?
When do we become willing to explore the violence that has been folded into our faith narrative?
The raw power of “sad sad sad” is holy necessary work.
And, it is not sufficient.
Marge Piercy in her poem “The Art of Blessing the Day” puts it this way:
“…Bless whatever you can
with eyes and hands and tongue. If you
can’t bless it, get ready to make it new.”
Find a church or an organization or a people.
Cursing is necessary.
And, it is time to make this nation new.
I live in these days with a pervasive and powerful sense of grief.
I love the vision of the nation in which I live. All are created equal, right? Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are certain inalienable rights. But the whole precious – and who knew how fragile? – vision of what I thought was shared and sacred has been huckstered and profaned through and certainly beyond this past election.
What to make of a nation squandering its heart in fracture? What to do with earth and women and the poor and the vulnerable collateralized by powerful elite who have no concept of what it is to be other than privileged by gender, race, orientation or social status? What to do with the falling-in-behind the dismantling of compassion by those people who espouse the teachings of Jesus as bedrock in their lives and hearts? How can Jesus be used as mascot for the impoverishing of millions and the despoiling of this precious earth?
I love the vision of the United Methodist Church. Transformation of the world is sore needed and the hope of the living Christ as lived through the followers of Jesus is call to lived compassion. We are called to be antidote to fracture.
What to make of a denomination that condones hate speak? How can we be about transformation and open hearts, minds, and doors as we participate through our polity in the shutting of doors to the called and the beloved? How do we preach the Jesus message of dismantling systems of oppression whilst enduring the realities of ministering through a denominational structure bound by just such oppression?
Grief is real.
I’m choosing to feel it.
This coming Sunday is Pentecost. Pentecost celebrates the ways the Holy Spirit took up dancing on the heads of the fractured and frightened. Through the power of that Spirit barriers were eradicated and people could hear the hearts and behold the sacred humanity of those they never thought they would understand.
Oh come, Holy Spirit, come!
We are sore in need of the dance.