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.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Defiant Faith: Red and Yellow, Black and White

I'm home writing sermons. One for Boogie Bob's funeral and one for Sunday. It was supposed to be a full day of writing but our Director of Youth and Family texted that she's down with the stomach flu so I ended up in chapel this fine Thursday morning with my church's preschool kids. I sang with them:
"Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world.
Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight.
Jesus loves the little children of the world."

It broke my heart open, choking back tears as these beautiful, little people of all the song's colors sang with me. I sang this song to my kids every night when they were tiny. It's simple. Pure. Defiant. So many moments this week have felt loaded with defiant faith. A refusal to let natural or man-made devastation be the last word. From a hospital baptism using a glass bowl gifted from dear friends to a 1:1 meeting about alternatives to prison to home communion with a 94 year old to the surreal painted lady butterfly migration happening through Denver to a super quirky screening of the new Martin Luther movie, it's been a poignant, strange week.

A week made all the more surreal given Colin Kaepernick's knee, carnage and grief in Las Vegas, and hurricane after hurricane. Made all the more surreal by patriotism and the common good being shaped in ongoing debates about protests, guns, race, health care, immigration, media, diplomacy, aid, education, gender, incarceration, taxes, and more.  All of this to say that a defiant faith is what fuels my hope, prayer, and actions. It's easy to give up and hide. It's easy to disrespect other people and turn up the volume on my opinions. It's much harder to fight for your humanity as I hold onto mine while we disagree.

Martin Luther King Senior came home from a trip to Germany and renamed himself and his son after learning about Martin Luther's 15th century commitment to non-violence as a way to turn self-interest and corruption upside-down so that all people could live. No small thing, that name change. I'm committed to non-violence right down to the way I talk about you. Do I get it right every time? Not by a long shot. Do I get angry? You bet.

On the docket is confessing on Sunday my part in the mess, receiving training on October 15th to better understand connecting conversations across difference, and remembering that my faith doesn't mean I'm good, it means I live a new life. Every. Single. Day. I get a chance to live. Because if Jesus loves all the children of the world, then that means you and I are in this together whether we like it or not. It doesn't mean I keep the peace for the benefit of the status quo while people continue to suffer. It means that I lean into the chaos of our present time and see what's possible for all of us so that we all may live.*


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

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.