Sunday, August 20, 2017

Symptom: Coffee (or lack thereof); Diagnosis: A Week

Coffee is my job in our marriage. Rob handles a ton of practical details too. But coffee is mine. This past week, coffee served up humble pie. On Wednesday morning, I discovered we were out of coffee. This never happens. NEVER. Until now. Mom arrived later that morning from the West Coast.  Mom brought coffee.  Thursday we moved our daughter her first college dorm with our crack team of her dad, her grandmother, and me.

Friday, I took off to a quasi-remote mountain spot with Mom and my sister.  During the evening chit-chat, it dawned on me, no coffee; forgotten at home. With sheepish lack of eye contact, I broke the news. Not a problem. Mom had brought special coffee for my sister too.  Resourceful types that we are, we filled a baggie with beans and pounded out some grounds.  Not too long after that moment, my husband texted to see if I had stashed back-up coffee filters anywhere. Nope. No back-ups. Telling my mother and sister the latest, and third, coffee mishap, I started to laugh until I couldn't speak. We laughed until our stomach muscles couldn't take it.

Why am I sharing this coffee tale?  Because it's a symptom of the last week. With my daughter's move, we've experienced a season change in our home. One I know that will be fine but feels surreal in the happening. Her move alone would have been enough. Way bigger is the march under Nazi flags in Charlottesville and the response from the White House. Many of us are not surprised by the existence of racial hatred. What is appalling is the explicit display of white supremacy - that white people and their agenda is the ultimate and only agenda that is worthy.  Appalling, not surprising.

Angry on behalf of my black friends and Jewish brother's family, I've spent the week in conversation with them and thinking about their own shock, anger and worries.  My response to this moment in time and my self-assessment of how I consciously and unconsciously participate in a white-people-first agenda is also on my mind.  I've written elsewhere that my faith tradition allows for this kind of self-examination. We say that we are saint and sinner at the same time. It makes sense that this would be as true for me individually as it would be for a country that imported its first African slave 400 years ago, passed the Civil Rights law in 1964, and now incarcerates a much higher percentage of black and brown people than whites per population.

It's tempting to extend the coffee metaphor into poetry about racial hatred and more subtle forms of white supremacy. I'd rather lay down the challenge ahead more explicitly. Listening to people of color, their experience and their leadership, is paramount and THE place to start. I also need to look deep inside myself to weed out racial bias and how I benefit from white-people-first agendas.  This goes for city, state, and national policy as well as bias built into implicit social codes.

This morning in worship, my faith community begins with confession and hears a word of God's good forgiveness. The forgiveness is grace. It isn't earned or deserved. Receiving God's grace inspires and strengthens me to take the hard next steps into consequences for my actions and a reset to live as Jesus teaches us to do so. May grace abound so that all people may have life and have it abundantly.*


* Paraphrase of Jesus' words in the Bible, John 10:10 - "I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly."

Saturday, August 12, 2017

E Pluribus Unum (The KKK Doesn't Exist in a Vaccuum)

I'm furious with the KKK. They threaten what I hold dear - my Jewish brother and his family, my black friends, and my colleagues of many faiths and races. The KKK is an egregious legacy of chattel slavery in America. But they are not the only one. As much as the US Constitution and Christianity had to do with advancing civil rights in this country, the same could be said in the other direction. The US Constitution and Christianity keep the 400 year legacy of racism alive and well with embedded racial biases. I have no trouble claiming that paradox because I see myself as a microcosm of it.  One of the confessional claims of my faith tradition is that I'm saint and sinner at the same time - imperfect and beloved by God.  Why wouldn't it be so when it comes to racism as well?  

'There's always a scapegoat' goes the theory of Rene Girard. There's always someone to blame. For the KKK, the scapegoats are black, brown, Jewish, and Muslim people. For other white people like me, the KKK can be an easy scapegoat that absolves us from the ways we perpetuate racial bias in government, law enforcement, religion, real estate, education, and commerce.  There is more work to do while also righteously denouncing the KKK in Charlottesville, VA.  Let it begin with me.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Two Weddings and a Funeral

Friday, a wedding; Saturday, a funeral and a wedding rehearsal, and Sunday, a wedding. It's a wonder that these rituals happen and the rituals themselves are a wonder in a world where meaning is elusive. I've been noodling on this time spent with other people's family and friends. Here are some initial gleanings...

Guiding people through ritual rocks. Finding a sweet spot in the midst of hope, reality, and the work that follows the celebrations is an epic puzzle. My people will tell you that I love a good puzzle.

Raw emotion is tapped. Joy, grief, love, hate, and everything in-between. Weddings are blinding joy bombs. Standing with a couple whose family and friends are pouring big energy toward them defies description. Weddings also scratch at grief in the absence of family and friends who have died. Funerals ache with unresolved tension as life is celebrated through the pain of loss, the promise of good news, and the reworking of family relationships among the living.

Family is a complicated mix of dependence, independence, and interdependence. I'm especially struck by this truth on a global scale as we in the U.S. celebrate Independence Day while struggling to live well in the actual interdependence of the human family.

A hummingbird made a prolonged appearance in the trumpet flowers at Sunday evening's wedding. Some things that happen during weddings and funerals are pure poetry with multiple interpretations. More pieces to add to the epic puzzle. I'll keep working on it...

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Love is Risk

Dorothy Day, 19th century Catholic social activist, is quoted as saying, “I only love God as much as I love the person I love the least.” Dr. King said, “Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” Vincent Harding, friend and occasional speechwriter to Dr. King, said to a colleague on a panel of speakers in one of my seminary courses, “I am going to disagree with you in love,” and then proceeded to do just that. In Christian scripture, Jesus commands love of God, self, neighbor, and enemy. 

I’m personally challenged by these stalwart leaders in my faith tradition and the moment of leadership we faith leaders across traditions find ourselves in. Mockery is the name of the game today. Critique over connection is often the first move. I’m just as guilty as the next person indulging in laughter over and against another person’s humanity just to blow off some steam. But I keep asking myself, how are we going to lead through this moment in time if all the sides are indulging similarly? Will there come a time when higher ideals prevail to ground our connection and critique? Is there a critical mass of people needed to risk leading in love for the planet and its people to make it through this time? There is no crystal ball. There is only the next right step. 

For me, the next right step is continuing to risk connection across differences of race, faith, and politics. Robert Frost, in his poem “Servant to the Servants (1915),” writes, “I can see no way out but through.” Maya Angelou made a similar observation. For me, the way through this time means risking love as the highest ideal. Loving the earth, loving vulnerable neighbors and obnoxious ones, loving colleagues, and loving national and world leaders that I’m least inclined to love. Love is neither capitulation nor sentiment. Love connects over and against withdrawal. Love is powerful. Love is risk. Love is the way through.

[Written to multi-race, multi-faith leaders for Together Colorado Faith Voices, June 13, 2017]

Thursday, February 2, 2017

4 Year of Ordination...

February 2nd marks my fourth year of ordination and call as a pastor with Augustana Lutheran Church in Denver. It is weird, sacred, fun, hard, unpredictable, mundane and amazing work with people I've grown to love. It doesn't get much better than that.

February 2nd is also church festival called Presentation of our Lord (Luke 2:22-40).  I was delighted to discover this tidbit as my ordination was scheduled for that day since picking Bible verses was simple.  Mary and Joseph bring their new baby to the temple. The elder Simeon scoops up the baby Jesus, celebrating the promise of God, while Anna the prophet preaches redemption to all who would listen. This story resonates for me in so many ways - the faithful elders proclaiming good news, the new parents trying to figure out what it means, and the child who IS hope. 

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

So that people may live...

This evening, January 17th, I'm part of a meeting with the goal of strengthening relationship between the community, law enforcement, and elected leaders. After 16 years as a pediatric cancer nurse and now as a pastor, I’m involved in this process because I’m committed to relationship that values everyone at the table…ALL of us – people from the community, law enforcement, and elected leaders.  That is clear.  What isn’t clear, are issues like Lawful Order (state level) that can lead to your detention by law enforcement and Use of Force (local) once you're detained.

The lack of clarity means that people get hurt. And, disproportionately, our black and brown brothers and sisters are at higher risk. People who I know and love.  People who you know and love. Doing this challenging work together as people in the community, law enforcement, and elected leaders means that people will live.  Now, there’s the challenge of sitting through the tension of a public meeting.  And there’s the challenge of figuring out how to do the hard work ahead.  But those challenges pale in comparison to the painful challenge of being someone who is devalued, injured, killed, or grieving someone who’s been killed. 

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Tinted Purple

The church congregation I serve is tinted purple.  This is also true of my personal friends if I were to bunch everybody together in one place. People are all over the map on all kinds of issues including who should be president.  People I love. This is a push-me-pull-you experience revealing idealism of all kinds.  While I'm known to hum a tune of optimism on occasion, I'm fairly clear-eyed when it comes to people.  Maybe it comes from having a brilliant, loving dad whose mind imploded in a haze of schizophrenia even as he exploded in violence against my mother, the woman he loved.  I was 4 years old. Regardless, I'm clear-eyed as much as that's possible in the shadow of being human.

So, here's my plan over the coming days and weeks. I'm going to continue to do the hard work of loving people - distraught people, jubilant people, and everyone in between.  I'm going to speak up when someone hurts someone else. I'm going to celebrate when someone loves someone else in selfless ways.  I'm going to do these things because I'm a Jesus person which also means that I'm a person of the cross. The cross and Jesus' death on it means that we're inclined to hang out in dark places, saving ourselves as we dehumanize someone else.  I dare say that this is true for all of us including me.  I hear it in the ways people ridicule the Clinton supporters and the Trump base.  I hear it in people's fear for themselves, other people, the country, and the world.

And so, my friends, I will love you through your biography, not your ideology. And I will love others in the hard, bitter, purple-tinted shadow of the cross. Because I have a God who did not raise a hand in violence against the people God so loves. God who loves people, each person, and asks us to do the same.

"No one has great love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends." - John 15:13