Wednesday, September 23, 2020

All Live Matter When Black Lives Matter

At the end of today, with the grand jury decision following Breonna Taylor's killing, here's the question on my mind. If I, Caitlin Trussell, middle-aged suburban White woman, had been shot to death in my bed at home by law enforcement who entered the wrong house after my husband jumped out of bed with a legally owned handgun to protect us, what would have happened?

Over the last three and a half months, I joined the other founders of Lakewood for Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion for weekly Black Lives Matter protests and demonstrations at different intersections in our town. While there were many positive honks, waves, and fists in the air from drivers, there was an escalating reaction primarily from older, White men. The reaction of lightening fast rage involved a straight arm, middle finger in the air, leaning toward the passenger window, making eye contact with me, and screaming obscenities at me. This happened to all of us at the protests - Black, Brown, and White. As a middle-aged White woman this was a new experience for me. Every time it happened, I envisioned the newspaper pictures of the White adults screaming at the black children entering schools as desegregation unfolded after Brown vs. Board of Education (1954).

There are so many reports of getting stopped by law enforcement pretty much doing anything while black, including sleeping in your apartment wrongly invaded by a no-knock raid and being shot to death to entering your own home and being asked to prove ownership. Here's a video of people being asked, "If you as a white person would be happy to receive the same treatment as black folks in our society, please stand."

It's illogical that people would even question that black lives haven't mattered and continue not to matter. It's not a question of being a nice person to the black people that we know or call friends. It's a question of holding law enforcement and other people in authority to the standard that White forks enjoy. I, as a former nurse and now pastor, am part of a professions held to the highest possible ethical standards. In nursing, people died if I wasn't. It's perfectly acceptable to hold law enforcement accountable.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Rest Steps (OR Day 2 of Return to Pastorland Post-Sabbatical)

Way down the list of Colorado’s Top 100 peaks is Mount Silverheels ranking 96th. Over supper one cold winter evening, our friends and Rob and I concocted a master plan to climb said peak. Two of our friends are mountaineers with the gear and peak tally befitting the title. The rest of us are not. July rolled around and we started throwing around the euphemism “Gentle Giant” to describe Mount Silverheels. I’m not entirely sure what I thought it was going to be like but I’m pretty sure I’d lulled myself into complacency. This will come as no surprise to anyone but that thing was a beast. A huge, green, rocky beast that steepened as the top loomed. 

About a mile before the top, one of our mountaineer friends coached us through rest steps. The gist is that you can make it to the top of just about anything if you slow your steps way down, resting briefly between each one. Picture a slow bridal march and you get the idea. Rest steps were key to my bagging the peak. We all made it. A glorious, 360 degree view of peaks and valleys, blue sky, and puffy white clouds, not a thunderstorm in sight. 

Rest steps. (Don’t be surprised if they show up in a sermon.) The experience has me thinking about life in general and my work in particular. And, of course, sabbatical. I’m beyond grateful for the recent sabbatical that is a significant “rest step” in my pastoral call with the people of Augustana. It’s given me time to literally rest. And it’s given me time to think about how we take rest steps together as Jesus people in a world longing for hope. 

Sunday worship is one such rest step for me. My first day back in the office, I asked Cindy (intrepid organist) to accompany me through practicing the prayer chants for communion. It’d been awhile, you know. Cindy played the cue notes and I sang, “The Lord be with you…” I barely made it through “Lift up your hearts…” My throat tightened and my eyes welled. My second day back and I’m in my office writing this piece. I’ve missed being in the rest step of worship with these dear people and I’m glad to be back, looking forward to Sunday and more. 

Rest steps in progress...

Mount Silverheels 13,329'/4,215m (Prominence 2,283')


Monday, May 28, 2018

Military Deaths, Murphy, and Memorial Day

"Okay guys, listen to Navy Lieutenant Murphy's story while we wrap up with pigeon stretches." Our coach read us the details of how 29 year old LT Murphy lost his life in Afghanistan. [Click here to read it.]  His favorite CrossFit workout was renamed in his honor posthumously and more recently the Murphy workout became a Memorial Day tradition.

Run 1 mile
100 pull-ups
200 push-ups
300 air squats
Run 1 mile
*With a 20lb Vest or Body Armor

I'd never done it but it was my friend Susan's birthday so we teamed up to each do half.  Mine takes more mods to get through with ring rows and knee push-ups. Regardless, we did what we showed up to do.

Whether heading with my family over to the U.S. Marine Corps Memorial in Golden or showing up to do a Hero WOD, it's a good moment for me to pause in gratitude about the commitment that soldiers make on behalf of those of us who are not soldiers. I admit that I'm a sucker for homecoming reunion videos between soldiers and their families as well as the videos where soldiers talk about the freedoms they believe they are protecting.  The price they pay is ordinate for whatever benefit they receive.

I recently heard an NPR report about a cross-partisan group that has formed to support veterans in running for Congress [listen here].  Military Veteran politicians tend to favor diplomatic strategies over military intervention at higher numbers than their civilian counterparts. They know the cost of war at a deeply personal level.  I appreciate anyone working long hours to prevent the kinds of deaths experienced by LT Murphy, his fellow fallen soldiers, and their families.  Young people dying on my behalf in this way is overwhelming and humbling.  Young people dying in wars with fewer of the decision-making politicians ever having lived through or fought in one is questionable.

My larger family includes veterans (brother, stepfather, and father) and active duty military (cousin) but no one has died in active duty.  I'm open to conversations that honor the military and also challenge the institution to do better by the people affected by them.  That's consistent across institutions by the way - church, government, schools, banks, manufacturing, law enforcement, etc. It's pretty much consistent with my tradition's theology that we are simultaneously saint and sinner [simul iustus et peccator].

Today, though, I'm grateful for the young people who have given their lives for freedoms that I can so easily take for granted.

"Greater love has no one than this; to lay down one's life for one's friends."  (Bible verse: John 15:13)

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Am I Afraid or Is It Just Hard Work?

Riding my bike to the trail head allows enough time for waffling. Back in the saddle after an unintended hiatus and determined to ride dirt, I'm back-and-forth on whether to attempt my old fave trail of choice - uphill, switchbacked, and strenuous - or stick to the base trail with its rolling intervals. Fed up with my internal drama, the self-talk concludes with a stern speech to the tune of, "get a grip, take your time, and see what happens."

I pass an elderly man using hiking poles, both of us moving at a snail's pace, coming up on the first switchback. Panic ensues. Bailing, I dismount and walk through it.  The breeze and cricket song settle my panic. I get back on my bike and muscle the second two switchbacks. Feeling victorious, I stop to record a meadowlark who's celebrating their own moment. Minutes later, loose trail messes with my mind. Breathing fast, I stop. I can't tell if I'm panicky or just out of breath. Am I afraid or is it just hard work?  So it begins, the writing in my head.

Writing in my head seems as old as my memory. Maybe it's the reader in me that likes third person narration. Hard to say. Anyway, my mind takes off on the "am I afraid or is it just hard" question. Fear is an odd thing. Brain stems battle for survival every minute and our brains' amygdalas churn out corresponding emotions. For me, this looks like turning into a hot mess when I'm booking airline tickets and the flight is weeks away. Before you launch into the safety of air travel, I know, I've heard it all. Brain stems are reptilian though. They simply react. (Yes, by the way, I'm thinking this all through on the trail. Ill-advised, to be sure.)

Consoling myself with my propensity for public speaking scenarios that would unglue other people, I keep riding.  Mind you, this ride is only an hour even with all my stopping for breath, fear, and thinking. And, for the gazillionth time in my existence, I find myself wishing I was as calm as people think I am.  So, I keep teasing apart my reptilian and emotional reactions from how I use my gray matter to respond. Buying time before responding whenever possible. Reminding myself that survival is hardwired by evolution but, thankfully, rarely at stake in my day-to-day. This gap between reacting and response often looks dramatically inelegant and pretty darn human. Just ask Rob. Or, better yet, ask my kids. Evidence abounds.

Still on my bike, a biblical promise pops into my head about perfect love casting out fear - meaning that we are creatures first loved by God who is love.*  Now I'm just an 'n' of 1, but this promise seems to muscle its way through my indulgence in instinctive fear. Regardless, my love of riding dirt seems like one more chance to take the promise out for a spin.

*1 John 4:16-18

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...