Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Wind-on-Skin, a sabbatical "short"

Wind-on-skin is a top reason to get on a bicycle. It's a sensation I've indulged in less and less over the last five years with occasional attempts to get back at it. Sixteen months into my pastoral call in June 2014 the Senior Pastor (SP) retired. The same afternoon as his send-off shindig, our beloved family dog Romi was diagnosed with cancer. She died five weeks later.  Those five weeks were full of last walks with her and first steps for me in the three months before the first interim SP who was to shoot the gap during the search for a new one. Wind-on-skin was the last thing on my mind. So a summer a came and went without cycling time.

Each new departure and welcome of SPs brought role changes for me. So I tend to think about my work in five phases - 16 months before the retirement, 3 months on my own, 12 months with the first interim, 9 months with the second interim, and now 2 years with the called SP.  I don't know how other people handle multiple, rapid work transitions within the same organization but it became clear to me that I needed some help to do better thinking - enter Bowen Family Systems Theory, stage left, which includes regular visits with a leadership coach steeped in said theory.

It's also become clear in more recent hindsight that there were unintended consequences along the way as I was getting my act together as a pastor in a thriving parish. One of them is loss of wind-on-skin. It's not just an exercise thing. Sunny dog joined our family a few years back so walking and weight lifting continued. Wind-on-skin is joy and it's also a couple thing for Rob and me. Case in point, our honeymoon included a supported mountain bike ride over the Uncompahgre Plateau from Telluride to Moab. I'm also very aware that Rob married an R.N. not a pastor. He's remarkably supportive of my work and believes, as I do, that it is a calling.  So, as our Trussell sprouts empty from the nest (yeah, mixed metaphor...just roll with it), as parish work has become more defined and mentally manageable, and as I begin a three month sabbatical (gifted by my congregation) in which to rest, reflect, read, and learn, wind-on-skin makes for a top priority.  Rob and I rode dirt together for the first time in a long while a few days ago. It was inelegant, wonderful, and literally took my breath away (clearly more riding to do to get the lungs back).

Signing off to saddle up solo today...
     More sabbatical "shorts" to follow...

Monday, May 14, 2018

Nothing Short of Full Abolition

On April 26 and May 3, Sister Lee McNeil and I testified alongside each other and legislative sponsors to abolish constitutional slavery in Colorado at the House and Senate State Affairs Committees respectively.  Concurrent Resolution 1002 unanimously passed these committees and also unanimously passed the subsequent floor voting in the House on May 1 and Senate on May 8.

Senator Crowder's (R) testimony is memorable for his passionate call to fellow Republicans to continue their long history of abolition, including the work of Abraham Lincoln, and vote "yes" to abolish constitutional slavery.  Now the voters have the same opportunity on ballot November 6.

Here is my fb post from that first day, April 26...

Honored to be testifying this morning alongside Sister Lee McNeil of Shorter AME Church, whose great-grandmother was a slave, in favor of amending the Colorado State Constitution to remove the slavery exception as punishment for a crime - House Continuing Resolution HCR18-1002.
Listen here: 
House State Affairs Committee proceedings begin at 9:30a. No telling what time we're up.
My testimony:
Good morning Representatives Foote and Lontine, and members of the committee.
I am Caitlin Trussell.
A Pastor of Augustana Lutheran Church, an 1,100 member congregation in Denver;
Faith Leader in Together Colorado, a multi-faith, multi-race organization;
the great-great granddaughter of Hugh Thompson, governor of South Carolina (1882-1886) and a graduate of The Citadel who led a battalion of Citadel cadets, firing the first shots of the Civil War against the Union ship 'Star of the West' as it entered Charleston Harbor;
and the great-great-great granddaughter of Thomas B. Clarkson, plantation owner of 300 slaves.
Complacency and justification are too easy when we ourselves are not the ones in chains. Prior to the Civil War and the burning of his plantation, my triple-great grandfather invited an abolitionist to come and see the condition of the slaves for himself. The abolitionist recorded his visit in a letter. The letter congratulated my triple-great grandfather on his good care of the slaves. He specified that they were clean, educated, and instructed in the Christian faith. I suppose it’s comforting that he treated his slaves with some kindness. Regardless, there's no legitimate excuse for owning people. 

The odd thing is that I’d known for many years that he was a plantation owner and it never once occurred to me that he owned slaves. Of course I’m not responsible for his choices but I am affected by them…and so are all of us here. There is always something to be learned and another step to take. The legacy of slavery for all of us in this country, but especially for our Black brothers and sisters, is part of how I understand my call to the ministry of reconciliation in the second letter to the Corinthians in the Christian Bible -reconciliation understood as healing our broken relationships between God and neighbors.
My triple-great grandfather justified chattel slavery as a gentleman and a Christian. He had people around him at the time who knew it was wrong. He cozied up to something we clearly know was wrong. We’ve grown similarly cozy with the vestiges of chattel slavery including justifying constitutional slavery in our guiding document. I implore you to join me in abolishing the remnants of this inhumane evil by voting “yes” on the Concurrent Resolution to amend the Colorado State Constitution by removing the exception language as we continue to heal as a state and as a country.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Groundhogs, Jesus, and Five Years a Pastor

February 2nd is Groundhog Day and, only slightly less well known, the festival of Presentation of Our Lord. The Bible story sees the Holy Family showing up at the temple in Jerusalem (Luke 2). The elderly Simeon and the prophet Anna are both awaiting the promised Messiah. The weirdness of this scene is marvelous. Simeon scoops up the baby Jesus and dances around. Eighty-four year old Anna praises God and talks to anyone who will listen. It’s an impromptu, ecstatic celebration. It also happens to be the reading from my pastoral ordination with the good people of Augustana, five years ago exactly on the festival day of Presentation of Our Lord.

After five years, I love Jesus, the people, and the work. There’s work I’ve done well and there are situations I wish I’d handled so much better. Reflecting on these experiences is my own personal version of the good, the bad, and the ugly. Superstar Jennifer Hudson said awhile back, “Stop singing a perfect song and tell an imperfect story.” I love her line so much that I ended up preaching it on Christmas Eve [read it here]. There are several reasons that I can't let go of Christianity. Imperfection as a given is one of them.

Recently, I led the rite of individual confession with someone – hearing their confession and announcing to them the forgiveness of all their sins in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The power of that moment hung in the air of my office for a good while. There is nothing like being present when a soul is broken open by forgiveness. People are in pain, my friends, deep in their being. There are so few places to be held in grace and held accountable. The church is one of them, however imperfectly lived out. 

At this five year mark, I'm still grateful (and yes, on occasion, even ecstatic) for the chance to do this weird thing called church...

...and still having fun along the way...

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

My Dad, the U.S. Presidency, #metoo, and the Women's March (yup, all that in just a few words)

Dad roared, "I'm going to treat her like a woman should be treated!!" I was about five years old standing in the living room with my mother, older sister, and grandparents. 911 was quickly called to protect my mother. My sister and I watched the police lights through the lace curtains of the next door neighbor's row-house as Dad was taken into custody.  Obviously, there's more to the story but that's enough for now.

Alongside that memory, Mom tells the story of all of us driving along in our VW van when I was small. Dad waxed on about becoming President of the United States and he meant it. As the story goes, I piped up from the back seat, "Mommy, Daddy's crazy." And Mom burst into tears. I don't remember this moment but it was pivotal as Dad would be diagnosed with schizophrenia and become homeless in the years to come. When I was six years old, Mom packed laundry baskets in the night and my uncles came to help her move with the five of us kids. She's a fierce survivor that woman, my mother. 

So when Dad roared his infamous roar in our living room, it's easy to lay that on the crazy as if that's all it takes to explain it. Here's the thing, my father's words were NOT crazy. Calling it "crazy" too easily excuses the origins of the roar and his behavior. That roar was a cultural norm unleashed through the crazy. Let's not further shame people struggling with mental illness by piling on social ills that belong to all of us. 

When then presidential candidate, Donald Trump, revealed himself to be a pussy grabber and kiss pusher in recorded video, I thought his candidacy was over (listen here). I was shocked when the GOP solidified his candidacy and voters elected him to the presidency.

When then President Clinton, at age 49, had sexual encounters with a 22 year old intern in the Oval Office of the White House, the critique from his political supporters was fairly quiet. While respecting the intern's claim that the relationship was consensual, the power differential between the two of them and the lack of leadership on the political left to critique the president gives significant pause to consider "how women should be treated." 

The mistreatment of women is accepted as normative in the U.S. Presidency, so much so that someone can still get elected to the office with major strikes against them in this regard. I've been in recent conversations when people talk about the normalcy of men using their positions of power to stoke their own egos as if that explains everything and we should all go along with it because that's simply the way things work. Well I'd like to see the day when we collectively shout, "That's not how this works; that's not how any of this works!!"

At a very young age, I heard my father roar something that many people believe about women. I'm grateful for the #metoo movement begun by Tarana Burke to support young Black women that now frees women of all colors to speak their truth about sexual harassment and assault (read more here).  There are, indeed, amazing men on the planet who don't believe for a second that women should be thus treated. However, it's unsettling to me that the "treatment of women" is up for debate in terms of what is okay to say out loud about us and to do to us. Much, much worse is the daily experience of women and also men who continue to be harassed and assaulted with no recourse. 

So, I'll be at the Women's March in Denver this Saturday. Marching for family reasons, for myself, and for the many women who have yet to heal from their experiences or who are not free to march or who are fearful to tell their truth or who cannot safely get away from someone who is hurting them whether it be a customer, an employer or a family member or a President of the United States. Marching is the next right step for me.

"Why do you care so much about race?" Well, here's part of the why...

I’ve been wondering lately about how our stories fit into how we move through the world.  It makes me wonder how the different parts of our story work together to form our passions and work. Many of you know my religious background and church refugee status that led to my call to the pulpit. Added to this call is Martin Luther King Jr. Day and my experience of call as a person of faith to work in the breach between Black and White people in this country. There’s a lot in the mix there for me.  

When I moved to California from D.C. at 9 years old, my very first friend Kim Gammel was Black and so was my fourth grade teacher Mrs. Gaines.  In sixth grade, my teacher Mrs. Lake – an amazing, strong Black woman – assigned the novel Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry about racism in America during the Great Depression.[1]  I spent four years at John Muir High School in Pasadena. It was 10% White kids and predominantly Black and Latino kids with an additional minority of first and second generation Asian and Armenian kids. 

Running in parallel to those details of upbringing is the picture of the South Carolina governor’s mansion hanging in my grandparents’ home because my Great-Great Grandfather, Hugh Thompson, was the governor of South Carolina.[2]  He led a battalion of Citadel cadets to fire some of the first shots of the Civil War against the North’s Star of the West as it entered Charleston Harbor.  And, on top of that infamy is my Great-Great-Great Grandfather, Thomas B. Clarkson, Plantation man and owner of 300 slaves – men, women, and children.[3]  

About a year and a half ago, my mother gave me a letter written by an abolitionist to my triple-great grandfather.  The letter congratulated him on his good care of the slaves. I suppose it’s good to know that he treated his slaves with some kindness. The bottom line for me is that he owned people. The odd thing is that I’ve known for many years that he was a plantation owner and it never once occurred to me that he owned slaves. Of course I’m not responsible for his choices but I am affected by them…so are we all. There is always something to be learned. The legacy of slavery for all of us in this country, but especially for our Black brothers and sisters, is part of how I understand the anti-racism work that I do with my multi-race, multi-faith colleagues of Together Colorado.[4] 

[1] Mildred D. Taylor. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry (1976).
[2] Hugh Smith Thompson (1836-1904). 51st Governor of South Carolina (1882-1886).
[3] Suellen Clarkson Delahunty (my mother’s cousin). Information About Thomas B. Clarkson, Col.
[4] 2 Corinthians 5:11-21

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

My Heart on this 500th Reformation Day [a.k.a. Halloween]

There's this prayer about the church that includes the line, "...where it is corrupt, purify it." I love that line because it sums up being human. It's one of the optional prayers for Reformation Day that falls on October 31 every year (a.k.a. Halloween). This year adds up to 500 of those (1517-2017).  Martin Luther (monk, professor, saint/sinner) challenged the corruption of the medieval church at the time even as he added his recipe for antisemitic sauce. Catholics have long since instituted many of those reforms.

Here's where my heart is this Reformation Day. I'm grateful for the legacy of grace that loves first. A friend of mine recently told me that her teenage daughter doesn't wonder 'what would Jesus do' but rather that "he would love first." Love is the first move of God in Jesus. Through it we have some kind of shot at love being our first move too.  Corruption and purity, as the prayer names, are held in tension by every human institution, by every human, and by me.  No sooner do I say, "Love first," then do corrupt purity codes kick in - the things I hold close and dear can quickly become a measure of someone else's humanity and worthiness.

So today, Reformation Day, I remember that I am loved first. I'm pretty sure that love doesn't always win the moment. Inflicted suffering is evidence to the contrary.  But loving first is my hope - "knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts..."*

Hope is different than optimism. Optimism is a bit blind to actual human experience. Optimism says that things are going to work out in the end as form of denial. Hope sees corruption AND purity. Hope sees my own part in that murky paradox. Hope does not disappoint because it sees the truth of suffering and frees me to love first as I am first loved.  Happy Reformation Day.

Beyond by Colleen Briggs (2013)

*Christian Bible, Letter to the Romans, chapter 3, verse 5 [Romans 3:5]

Monday, October 23, 2017

Colleagues, A Love Language All Its Own

Yesterday I followed a whole heap of colleagues in formal procession and full regalia into a colleague's funeral. Most of us had also just been surprised beforehand by the news of another colleague's sudden death the night before - both were in their 60s. As we filled the sanctuary aisle on our way to the pews, the image came to mind of police officers lining the streets when they say goodbye to one of their own. An imperfect metaphor but one that gets close to describing the shared connection of work in common. My colleagues so often hold space for other people's big moments of life and death. It was different to show up for each other in this way, a motley crew covering the spectrum of grief, love, and loss.

Last Thursday, I picked up a colleague who had flown in for the funeral. He said he was grateful to be able to be with his "team." His gratitude is a bit of what I mean when I use the word "colleague."  There's a lot of love in the word. My colleagues represent a variety of kinds of work in the church world and, in my experience, it's one of the weirder professions one can be called into. The weirdness is part of the love. There are things that we understand without words because of common experiences that defy description. Honestly? There is much among colleagues that mystifies me after only a few years in the mix as a second career person. I can also honestly say that I couldn't continue to do the work without them. It's a love language all its own.