Thursday, November 16, 2017

The Clothes of "Me, Too"

Over the weekend, my partner and I were doing some cleaning out of things that never quite got cleaned out when we moved. You know what I mean. There are the couple of boxes where you just dumped everything when you had no clue what box it should go in. There's the stuff kept for sentimental reasons that, in the right mindset, can be called junk and tossed.

And then there are the clothes.

Like many, many people, I own a range of clothing sizes. Let's not talk about the weight range they encompass, please. There's the lose 10 pounds box, and the lose 20 pounds box, stepping down quite a way. There's the dream box with about five articles of clothing in it from that three months I was that size. If I hadn't gotten the flu, I'm pretty sure I'd have never been that small.

When we moved, we took many boxes to Goodwill. Unpacking in the new place still made it clear how very, very many clothes I own. We pulled out all the clothes boxes over the weekend, and I gleaned two more IKEA bags to get out of our spare bedroom.

Some of the clothes were more worn out than I'd remembered. Some were more out of style than I remembered. Three of the items were tossed because I'd been sexually harassed while wearing them. Wait, on second thought, maybe I should count it as four. A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about Me, Too on the blog for the local conference of the United Church of Christ, especially naming how rampant sexual harassment is in the church. For some women, Me, Too is triggering, bringing up many terrible and traumatic memories. For others, like me, it has erased some of the guilt and shame. Let's be honest, it's not just Me, Too. It's years of conversation about the harassment women experience just for existing.

My partner was in the room when I pulled out the gray striped sweater I had been wearing for the worst incident. A married pastor later told me how attractive I was when wearing that sweater, along with plenty of other inappropriate things. I turned to my partner, "This was the shirt I was wearing when I was sexually harassed. I should get rid of it, right?" I asked. Of course he said yes. If the memory clings after five, six, maybe even seven years, that seems the better thing to do. It's become clearer after the fact that incident was worse than I knew at the time.

I also got rid of the pink shirt I was wearing when a young man struggling with his life made unwanted sexual advances. I was in the back parking lot of the church, doing something or other for the church where I was a youth and children's minister. He'd been attending on and off for a few weeks. In a space where I've always been told I should be exceptionally nice and welcome, I had no idea how to stop him. It was church, so being rude was not an option--at least not then.

I long ago got rid of the skirt I was wearing when a seminary classmate ran his hand up my thigh and wouldn't stop when I told him to. I so love the dress I was wearing when he thought it appropriate to toss small objects between my breasts that I kept that. This time, I got rid of the not so liked dress where he did the same. I also got rid of the shirt I was wearing the day he made it clear he wanted to do all of those things.

The "What Were You Wearing" exhibit pops into my mind as I reflect on these clothes. Maybe these clothes matter so much because I've been told they do--as if clothing invites a certain kind of touch. It might be my particular sort of memory, too, that I can picture each incident with alarming clarity.

As more and more stories about sexual harassment and assault surface, there seems to be a glimmer of hope that the tide is changing. I have this deep, abiding hope that the church, groaning with age and girth, moves, too. After all, complicity is one of the church's greatest sins in many things, including harassment of women.

I don't have much to say in the way of Jesus things about this particular topic, so here's what I do know. As a pastor, I hold people's secrets and their confidences. I use two words with intention. Confidences are things that need to be held--often until they're ready to be revealed. The most joyous of those confidences are about pregnancies, still too tenuous to be shared with many. Secrets, though, are darker, more sinister. They are the things that must not be spoken because of guilt and shame. They carry great weight and it seems there is nothing that can relieve that weight.

Totally out of context and not well-exegeted at all, I still think of this passage whenever I learn a new secret, "Nothing is hidden that won't be revealed, and nothing is secret that won't be brought out into the open. Therefore, whatever you have said in the darkness will be heard in the light, and whatever you have whispered in rooms deep inside the house will be announced from the rooftops." (Luke 12:2-3)

It's an alarming promise if there's a secret you desperately want kept.

It's an amazing promise if the Reign of God means the guilt and shame around those secrets dissipates so that they can be spoken aloud.

For everyone who can say, "Me, too," may their secrets be turned to justice.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Why We Won't Create an Active Shooter Protocol

I never thought I'd be looking forward to preaching on the Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids (or Virgins, depending on your translation). There's a lot that's unappealing in it, including that half the women are shut out of the banquet because they left to get oil. The parable is one in a succession of stories pointing to the impending end of the way things are.

Of course, what ushers in the end is the coming of the Reign of God. That is the thing the hearers of the parable are called to await: urgently, expectantly, hopefully. What would you do if you thought God's Reign might come crashing in at any moment?

In the wake of another church shooting, I am certain of only one thing: we are preparing for the Reign of God. Anything else is a distraction from our calling.

Quite bluntly, that means we are not called to prepare for someone bursting in with a gun. Be prepared for fire, sure, and flood--the things over which we have no control. Be prepared with a plan to keep kids safe in your churches. Be prepared for everything except that which is heartbreakingly preventable.

You see, that's always the truth about gun violence: it is preventable. It was preventable on Sunday in Texas. It was preventable at Mother Emanuel AME in Charleston, South Carolina. It was preventable in Newtown, Connecticut and Blacksburg, Virginia. It was preventable in 1993 in Grayson, Kentucky, when the deaths there hit very close to home for me.

Preparing for the violence instead of working against the violence is wrong. That is a response of fear, and fear alone. It is a recoil inward to the worst parts of ourselves. If we make that choice, we sacrifice our resurrection hope at the altar of security.

Most terrifying of all, creating any version of an active shooter protocol is accepting this is the new normal. It follows that if this is the new normal, then we must adapt. In doing so, we surrender any claim to the Kingdom of God we have.

I realize at this moment church councils are wondering if they should figure out how to answer, "What if?" I realize at this moment other church councils are congratulating themselves for already having armed guards on campus or policies already in place. With words I rarely choose: that is sin--full of sin, from beginning to end.

You who seek the Reign of God, reject this version of normal. Reject any possibility that we adapt to this. Reject the fear that cries out gun ownership is necessary.

Follow the call of the Kingdom, instead. Demand justice. Demand justice from lawmakers. Demand that it be harder to obtain a gun than be licensed to drive a car. Demand that domestic violence be treated with the gravity it deserves. Demand that white men be held accountable for their actions.

This is your call.

By all means, run. Run fast and hard. Run headlong into the Reign of God. Run with perseverance this race. Keep watch faithfully at every single moment for what God is doing. Let the Spirit be your guide. Let fear crumple with the shadow of death. For the sake of this call, though, don't update your policy manuals.

Instead, be ready for the Kingdom of God. The gates might be flung open at any moment.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

When She's No Saint

As always, Halloween overshadows All Saints' Day. I'm sure many kids are ricocheting from last night's candy. Still, I love this day. My congregation will celebrate All Saints' Day on Sunday. The particular way we celebrate is decidedly Protestant. The Roman Catholic Church reserves November 2 for All Souls' Day, remembering all who have died. All Saints' is reserved for named saints, those who have achieved the beatific vision.

Long before I was a pastor, Protestants collapsed the two into one day on November 1st, when we remember all who have died. We especially remember those who have died within the last year.

This year, two of my aunts have died. Well, one aunt and one woman who was for all intents and purposes my aunt. She was married to my uncle at one point, I think, and they have a son my age. She's been around all my life. So has the wife before her, the only one with whom he had two children. Yes, you may have guess that he's that uncle.

The other aunt is the one who is the squeaky clean, played piano in church aunt. The skeletons are well hidden in her closet; not so with the other one.

My partner gets very confused when we talk about this branch of my family tree. The years of brokenness pile up to form my knowledge; my mother has told me the portions that extend beyond my memory. There's no way he could grasp the full brokenness. I don't know that I can either.

Because the truth is, it's overwhelming. The parsing of it all would take pages upon pages. If I were to write about it, would I begin with addiction that carried on to the next generation? Or prostitution to support that addiction? Would I talk about cancer caused by those choices? Maybe it's the pieces I've collected to realize that cousin who is my age was born addicted to something. He suffered a stroke last year resulting from his own drug habit; I'm told he can now walk pretty well.

There are all sorts of places in those stories that something could have helped--mental health services or effective drug treatment programs. Maybe foster care and the agency running it could have broken the pattern if those systems were better.

Not surprisingly, we weren't close, this sometimes aunt and me. I've looked for her obituary over the last few days, but haven't located it yet. She requested to be cremated and no funeral, so there's no rush on an obituary. I had to spend some time figuring out her last name in order to search. Many broken relationships, including at least two marriages, are part of her story. Although she was living with my uncle when she died, that was not the name she'd most recently chosen.

Her story is not unique. My story on the other side isn't either. I've sat with more people than I care to count who are worried about their children or their cousins or their parents. They don't know how their loved ended up where they did; it's a painfully common story.

On this All Saint's Day, I remember well the phrase, "She's no saint." Of course, it may also be, "He's no saint." Either way, it's shorthand for someone who has made a series of bad choices, creating their own problems. The clichés are many. Maybe someone is reaping what they sowed. Or maybe the made their bed and now they have to lie in it. There are more ways than there should be to condemn someone.

Many people would say of my aunt, "She's no saint." I'm guessing they'd be right. I know far too much and I'm guessing it's the tip of the iceberg. In some ways, I barely knew her. The things I do know mean there has to be far more.

Still, she is a saint.

That is the deepest promise of All Saints' Day. She, too, is a saint. She, too, is beloved by God. She, in all her brokenness, will be welcomed by God. The many afflictions of her life will not follow her into death. Somehow, all of the terrible will be better.

"...for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to the springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes." (Revelation 7:17)

Blessings upon all the saints, both known and unknown.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

When Pumpkin Spice Lattes Invade

The world seems to be crashing down--out there. Somewhere. I wonder if this would feel different if we didn't live where news makes its way quickly from one part of the globe to another. Yes, here in the US, you might not hear a whole lot about the Rohingya being displaced, but you might, too. It depends on how much you're paying attention. Harvey and Irma are storms you recognize; Maria, too, is wreaking havoc. Those names remind me of a decision several years ago to diversify the names of hurricanes, replacing the lost list of very white sounding names. It seems to me we might have done well to keep the names as a reminder of all the destruction of white people, but I digress.

Earthquakes get numbers, not names, but Mexico is is clearing rubble after two different earthquakes. Who knows what comes next with North Korea. A man at my church said that a Trump presidency means another war; I fear he is right.

And I'm over here missing Fall. Somehow, all those things are related.

Die-hard Arizonans will tell you we get four seasons. It's quite true in higher elevations, but even some folks here in the Valley claim there are four seasons. After a few years here, it's true that you own pants and long-sleeve shirts and a few sweaters. A crackling fire on a January night might even be nice as you sit outside. Although temperatures are getting cooler, it's dropping from 100 to 90 right now. It will be October before we stop hitting walls of heat when opening doors.

The desert has a beauty of its own, to be sure. The cactus bloom and there's life in unexpected places. Crops grow here, but in the winter months, not the summer ones. Right now, plants are going into the ground, with no harvest to safely gather in.

I miss trees with changing leaves and needing a jacket. I miss the change in the air and spiderwebs dripping with dew. I miss the trappings of fall, in all their Pinterest glory. I don't even mind the invasion of Pumpkin Spice everything, too much, if accompanied with cooling temperatures.

Pinterest, like most things, is a sales pitch. The same could be said for Facebook or Instagram or Buzzfeed, for that matter. While I love Fall, I also love the idea of Fall. What's being sold at every turn is comfort. We might say coziness, instead, but that's not far away from comfort. Warm blankets and warm sweaters, hot drinks and hot soups, fireplaces and candles, all point to comfort. Fall, it seems, is the season to be exceedingly comfortable in your own space.

When the world is crashing down outside, comfort becomes even more appealing. I'll stay here, with my blanket, sipping a hot drink, reading a book instead.

I confess that I am torn. There is a part of me that thinks there is Gospel in choosing to remain calm, where you are, satisfied. This reaction is the story of Jesus calming the storm, when he is asleep in the boat while the storm rages outside. The disciples must wake him up in order to calm the storm and he says, "Do you still not have faith?"

Then, there is my deepest belief that we are coworkers with God, participating in the divine will and bringing about the reign of God now, here, right where we are. Jesus healed, so we offer medicine. Jesus fed people, so we do, too. Jesus hung out with the poor, so we eat dinner with our homeless neighbors.

Here is where I end up: is your world the one that is crashing down? If so, by all means, choose comfort. Take the offered blanket and hot soup and curl up somewhere with a book that whisks you far away. Find the way to be calm in the midst of the storm, to have faith that there is One who will somehow help carry you through.

Is your neighbor's world crashing down? Then help. Take that soup, if it's a next door neighbor, or send the check if it's a neighbor far away. Do the thing you'd long for if your world was crashing down around you. Do that thing with great love and many prayers.

In some ways, the sales pitch of Fall intersects well with the Gospel: we all long to be comforted, to be safe, to be nourished in body and soul. Breaking from Pinterest, the Gospel pushes us to create that world for everyone, not just ourselves.

I'll probably still be annoyed when the temperature hits 100 today, though.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

A Name to Remember

I speak the name James A. Fields often. In prayer, in thought, in worry, in conviction, in determination. James A. Fields is the name I need to remember, not Heather Heyer. Who she was matters a great deal, but I know plenty of people like her. They are willing to march, to give money. They shop at businesses owned by people of color. They are people who recognize their privilege and work to be an ally. They don't always get it right; they're willing to hear they got it wrong and try better next time.

I know how we create the Heather Heyers of the world. There are many ways I strive for the same goals. But we create the James A. Fields of the world, too. In some cases, we create with the same intentionality as the people seeking justice; in others, it's the byproduct of our entrenched racism, our entrenched white privilege turned to supremacy.

Here is my truth: I know White Supremacists. Maybe I should say confession, I don't know. It's this haunting truth inside me though: I know White Supremacist. I grew up with them. Maybe they didn't call themselves that publicly--good Lord, I am shocked that we've made it safe for White Supremacists to come out of their closets and into public spaces unashamed--but they were White Supremacists all the same.

They were there, lurking in the teenager who called Martin Luther King Day by "Nigger Day" instead. (I thought about using n***** instead, but niceties go out the window in confession.) Does he remember that? We're friends on Facebook and he, his wife, and two kids are living a nice suburban life. Yet, somewhere, he learned that word, that phrase, and had no problem using it in front of his friends. I saw so many faces like his in the photos of the marchers at Charlottesville.

The White Supremacists were there, in those same places. Confederate flags were everywhere, but there were those who had swastika patches on their backpacks or sewn onto their jackets. They'd sometimes be made to remove the emblem or turn their coats inside out while at school, but the rule was enforced sporadically at best. Was there a rule against swastikas? To tell you the truth, I don't remember. I am certain the Confederate flag was just fine. Heritage, not hate, after all. These were the people I sat on a school bus with, an hour at a time.

I wonder, were the White Supremacists gathering in that abandoned house on the other side of the hill? Sometimes, at night, a light would be on. It was the kind of light you use in a garage, a bulb on the end of a cord. The room it illuminated was covered in flags: US, Confederate, Nazi. I don't remember people gathered there, just flags, but the image that remains is vivid and terrifying.

Never, ever, have the KKK or Neo-Nazis been merely an idea for me. Maybe because it was the South, or maybe because it was a rural area, but they were always there somewhere. They were in the newspaper when they got arrested. They were whispered about by teenagers interested in joining. (Yes, interested, I remember that much, too.)

Moving away means I don't know if I know White Supremacists now--other than there this lurking feeling that I must here in this deep red, SB1070 passing state.

And so I remember James A. Fields because he is the person I might have sat with on a school bus, or watched a teacher make change clothes, or wondered how he found the people meeting in back rooms and back alleys. He is the person I might stand in line with at Starbucks, or cut off on the freeway, or run into at a city meeting. He is the person I must remember is here, at least until we, until I, make it clear he's not welcome.

After all, he is the person who persevered, persisted, held on to the demons we've never exorcised.

I confess: I do not know how to exorcise these demons.
I confess: I know I helped create them. I know I help sustain them.
I confess: James A. Fields. Because so much is wrapped up in that name.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017


Surprise, surprise, I got myself into a little bit of trouble a few weeks ago at our denominational gathering. On social media, I critiqued the number of speakers who said how long they had been part of the denomination; the majority of speakers in large gatherings presented such a credential, apart from their biography. In every case, the point was that it had been their entire life, or even for generations. For the record, I still maintain that it's a good way to make people who did not grow up in the tradition feel unwelcome. That remains true for me, and I imagine I'm not the only one.

After I posted the critique, several people carefully explained to me why I was wrong to feel that way. Let me tell you, that is always incredibly helpful. I got at least one, "Why do you come, then?" Yep. That was welcoming, too.

If I kept typing about that, I still wouldn't get much of anywhere.

Y'all, here's the thing. I can play the credentials game all day. No, I didn't grow up in the denomination I serve, but by golly I've logged a crazy number of church hours. I didn't do youth group intensely, but I've logged a crazy number of mission trip hours, too. I've topped out at communion three times in one day. Nursing homes, lock-ins, VBS, going to Sunday school, teaching Sunday school, most everything churchy, I can play that game. I've slept on floors and raided church kitchens in more states than I care to count and discovered three year old condiments in the fridges of most all of them. If you want to quote scripture, let's go for it. By the way, I also have a Master's degree from Emory University that I'm damn proud of. We could talk about my lack of student debt, too, if you'd like. There are all kinds of ways to play that game.

It becomes terrifying quickly, though, this proving that you're "enough" of something to matter. The other day, I got an email from the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). I get an email from them most days, sometimes several a day. Many of their emails are about Muslims being harassed. This particular one was about a daughter of a legal immigrant. The daughter, the woman being harassed, was born in the United States, so she is a citizen. In other words, she's really an American, so she deserves to live here without harassment. Or so the email implied.

Some would say crazily, I think she should get to go about her daily life without harassment regardless of her citizenship status, or her faith, or pretty much anything else. Being and feeling safe is a right, not a privilege. I actually think that's Gospel. I'm also aware that me feeling like crap at a denominational gathering pales in comparison.

Still, this insider/outsider game is real, and it's playing out in terrifying ways right now. How Muslims in our country are being treated is the tip of a giant iceberg. From middle school bullies to the President himself, there's a lot of concern for who is in and who is out.

For once, I don't have a Jesus story in response; I have Paul:
"If anyone else has reason to put their confidence in physical advantages, I have even more:
I was circumcised on the eighth day.
I am from the people of Israel and the tribe of Benjamin.
I am a Hebrew of the Hebrews.
With respect to observing the Law, I'm a Pharisee.
With respect to devotion to the faith, I harassed the church.
With respect to righteousness under the Law, I'm blameless.
These things were my assets, but I wrote them off as a loss for the sake of Christ."
                   (Philippians 3:4b-7)

This is one of the times Paul got it just right.

For the sake of Christ, we'll stop asking those questions to prove if you're enough.
For the sake of Christ, we'll invite you in.
For the sake of Christ, we'll believe you when you say you're one of us.
For the sake of Christ, we'll say, "We're glad you're here."

I picked up a quote from Yvonne Gilmore at that same conference. It sums up what I most deeply believe about Church, "I am yours and you are mine."

I don't think we should wait so long to say so.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

You are loved.

This summer has been a bit of a whirlwind between a couple conferences, camp, and vacation. It's only late July, but feels like summer is ending. Here in Arizona, school starts early, which certainly adds to that feeling. Some kids were back in class this week and a lot more will be next week. Most of the districts give kids and teachers more time off when the weather is nice enough to enjoy outside. I imagine the lines at Disney are better, too. Despite the unrelenting heat, back to school is in full swing.

For our church, back to school means blessing backpacks. Every kid gets a luggage tag for their backpack and is charged with handing them out to the kids and young adults too cool to come and get one for themselves. They hand them out to the teachers, too. In fact, anyone who has their hand raised to indicate they're going to school in some way gets one. We pray together for the coming year. 

The prayer we say together is for the things that I know the kids worry about: finding friends, people to eat lunch with, standing up for what is right. I admit, I loved school. I'd probably be much better at adulting if I were still given grades. The whole system worked exceedingly well for me and I have the report cards and transcripts to prove it. I'm painfully aware that's not true for every kid.

More importantly, how they do in school has nothing to do with how much God loves them. How they do in school also has nothing to do with how much their church loves them. When I send kids off to a place that will be sometimes amazing and sometimes terrible, that's the best reminder I can give them. 
Despite lots of brainstorming each year, I keep making tags that remind kids how much they are loved and that they are called to love others. Last year, the tag read, "Love God. Love others. Love yourself." This year, it's simply, "You are loved." 

"You are loved," is the deepest truth I can offer them. It's the truth that I can hope will sustain them when they are scared, or sitting alone at a lunch table, or fail a test. Some of my kids have brown skin. Some of them having learning disabilities. Some of them are LGBTQ. Some of them have struggles I know nothing about. And still I say with great confidence, "You are loved."

May this sustain them their whole life long. 

Jesus said, "As the Father loved me, I too have loved you. Remain in my love." John 15:9

Monday, June 19, 2017

Your Neighbors Aren't Safe

We ate goat stew of some sort, lentils, green stuff I was warned was spicy, a salad with a most delightful crunchy something mixed in with the greens. Dessert was carrot cake and a delicious ball in sweet syrup. Just a few days later, I don't remember the name of that dessert. I do remember the conversation about a fruit that was missed in this country. That name, too, has disappeared.

Many times, now, I have sat as a guest in a mosque, breaking fast with Muslim neighbors during Ramadan. Occasionally, I am invited to fast, too. Abstaining from food all day isn't fun, but it's the water that is most challenging. I can't imagine keeping the practice here in Phoenix. This is where I learned to keep a water bottle with me at all times. Many water fountains have a separate place for filling bottles because this practice is so universal.

Friends from my church came to this meal, too. Some eat more freely of this unfamiliar food than others. Occasionally during our meal, we hear familiar voices from the men's side of the mosque.

I wonder to myself what we might invite these Muslim neighbors to. It's different when you're in the majority religion; everyone knows when Christmas is. Easter is on most people's radar. Even the few food customs appear in all sorts of places. I don't know if it would make sense to offer hospitality in the same way.

When the time comes, the prayers look so different from ours; there is a young child--two, maybe three years old--trying out the prayer postures along with the adults. She nestles by one adult for one set, another for the next set, laughing in between.

It is a different sort of safe here. Many of the people switch freely between English and Urdu. Most of the people here are from Pakistan. Their sect of Islam is persecuted, so they have fled to the United States. Sometimes, when one of the Christians asks a question, they must talk about the question in Urdu in order to find an answer. Sometimes, what they want to tell us doesn't translate.

Persecution is a word thrown around far too lightly in the United States. More than I'd like, in my non-pastor life, I fight the fight that persecution is not being unable to have everyone practice your religion. People think persecution is not hanging the Ten Commandments on the wall or having everyone pray the same way you do. I wonder how to introduce them to someone who has fled for their life because of their faith.

One of the leaders is intentional in expressing their gratitude for living in this country, for being able to practice their faith freely here. Yet, in conversation, as we talk about community work we both support, they also talk about not feeling like they can volunteer to host certain things. They already receive threats sometimes just for existing.

Maybe it's just my imagination, but I swear I feel the comfort of my Muslim sisters in this space. They are comfortable here. Peaceful, perhaps, is the better word. It is easy to settle into this space. Later, when I talk with my partner about the evening, I would talk about Virginia Woolf and A Room of One's Own. This women's space is sacred in a way I forget women's spaces can be.

I realize the slipping into Urdu, the traditional dress, the practice of faith is fought for in a different way outside these walls.

The memories of the first Muslim women with whom I kept company inside a mosque remain vivid. Most of all, I remember their pleading, "Tell them we are not terrorists."

The "them", of course, were my fellow Christians.

That first encounter was twelve years ago, give or take.

And still, your Muslim neighbors aren't safe. Not even 17 year olds walking home.

I remember their names in my prayers. The names are unfamiliar. I would type them, except I don't know where to begin for many of them. Doctors, and teachers, and incredibly poised teenagers--at least I remember their faces. I remember the fears they have for their children that I have never experienced.

Not as often as I should, I remember that my neighbors aren't safe.

Your neighbors aren't safe.

Friends, change that. Whatever it takes. Change that.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

How To Save a Life

Step one, you say we need to talk
He walks, you say sit down; it's just a talk
He smiles politely back at you
You stare politely right on through
Some sort of window to your right
As he goes left and you stay right
Between the lines of fear and blame
You being to wonder why you came

Where did I go wrong? I lost a friend
Somewhere along in the bitterness, and 
I would have stayed up with you all night
Had I known how to save a life

I don't know if this song from The Fray reaches down into the stomach of people who aren't fans of Grey's Anatomy. I've been watching the show since college, although now I bingewatch at the end of the season instead of keeping up through the year. It still gets me. I swear if they added a good chaplain, it would round out the show to perfection. The doctors could use a dose of theology, especially good theology. 

This story was posted today by A Mighty Girl. Go and read it, even if you read this first. It's the story of a woman who saved the lives of 150 Jewish children as the Nazis invaded Holland. I'd heard it before only because her granddaughter is a colleague. Her granddaughter and I have never met before; our connection is through The Young Clergy Women Project. Still, I consider her a friend. As a result of calling her friend, I hear this story differently. 

What is an extraordinary story becomes more ordinary--in a wonderful, beautiful way. There is a different sort of closeness to it. Decidedly, the story becomes more possible simply because it is nearer. Saving a life becomes possible, maybe even probable. 

"You don't need to save the world. Jesus already did that," is advice often given to pastors. I'm guessing, it's especially given to young, eager pastors. It's true. Yet, in a faith that has often talked about saving souls, we might do well to follow it up with, "But you do have to save a life."

The vast majority of what I preach week to week is noticing, showing up, and paying attention in ways to create community. After all, Jesus couldn't have healed the people if he had just looked away. A persistent woman or two had to convince him to pay attention to her. Feeding people means paying attention to the fact that there are hungry people there. In our world, especially among the middle class folks, it is isolation that is most damning. After all, individualism is one of our greatest idols. 

Romance aside, the last two lines of that chorus are the ones that echo in and out of my life: I would have stayed up with you all night/Had I known how to save a life. 

God knows, I give thanks for the Marion Pritchards among us. I also give thanks for the people who stay up all night with someone who is hurting. I give thanks for the people who pick someone up and take them somewhere they can sleep safely. I give thanks for the people who check in on their neighbor. I give thanks for the people who invite someone to sit with them. I give thanks to people who live their life as well as they can in the direction that Jesus calls. That direction is sometimes uncomfortable, often annoying, but always a little holier because they followed Jesus' call. 

I doubt I'll ever have a moment in which I know I saved a life. Yet, I have no doubt that this Jesus life means we save more lives than we ever know. It turns out, we might just know how to save a life after all. 

Monday, May 1, 2017

Being Rev.

Recently, I was handed a new, very official looking name badge by an agency for which I regularly volunteer. "Rev. Abigail Conley" it reads. I laughed a little inwardly and grimaced a little inwardly and tucked it away for days I would need it. You see, the "Rev." is included with great intention by the organization.

A couple of years ago, I walked into a room full of faith leaders convened by that organization. Looking around the tables, the place card for every single man had a title before his name. None of the women's titles were included. I know for a fact that the people gathered in that room held a variety of advanced degrees and titles. Yes, that includes me. When the organizer came around to check in, I shocked her a little, saying, "I'm curious why all the men have titles included and none of the women do." Suffice it to say that I didn't get an adequate response and my title has been included ever since.

Over the last few weeks, women's leadership of churches has come up in a few more prominent ways. Princeton awarded and revoked their most prestigious award over women's ordination, as well as LGBT inclusion. This week, Julia Baird of the New York Times wrote about the event, with the piece failing to include women's appropriate titles. Later, it was revealed that the titles were editorial discretion, with the male editor failing to walk back any of it. Nothing like a dose of sexism in an article about sexism to make things fun.

Several weeks ago now, I decided to do a sermon series during Eastertide called, "Things Progressive Christians Care About." I was going to come up with a better title, but time got away from me, so that's sticking. It was about three weeks ago when I realized I should include women in leadership among the topics. I'd written it off as something so normal now; the truth is, it's not remotely true in many of the churches we share a zip code with, or the adjacent zip codes for that matter. It's not been true in my history, either.

My sermon for Sunday isn't written yet, but it's been brewing for a couple weeks now. All of it rolls over in my head. All of it. The learning to see women's stories in the Bible--women, who were the first to announce the resurrection while all the men were still in hiding. I loved the call to worship we used this past week:
      Women:   Christ is Risen!
      Men:        No, he isn't!

The story continued for a while before the men agreed, "Christ is Risen!"

All of it rolls around in my head, though--the learning to see the way women were written out of stories. Some translations demanded the male Junias instead of the female Junia as a name in Romansn. After all, no apostle could be female.

All of it rolls around in my head--the flipping through the Bible to make sure verses were really there: "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for all are one in Christ Jesus."

Somehow, that name badge says so much, "Rev. Abigail Conley." It speaks of the struggle of leaving a fundamentalist church. It speaks of the struggle of so many women to have their work and achievements honored. It speaks of years and years to get to this place, years put in by generations before me.

Every time I think about that day when I asked about the women's titles, I feel a little more glad I mentioned it.

And you better believe I wear that name badge with pride.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Grieve, Dear Friends

"Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last." (Matthew 27:50)

Grieve today, dear friends. Grieve today and tomorrow. Grieve in the midst of sunny skies and packing Easter baskets. Grieve in the midst of soccer games and ballet lessons. Grieve while walking the dog or feeding the cat. Grieve as you eat dinner and wait on your morning coffee.


These two days hold within them so much grief. As deep as the pain caused by the unjust death of a savior is, there is so much more to grieve for.

Grieve for the children in Syria, the combatants in Syria, the people whose lives are being shredded day by day. Grieve for the use of chemical weapons and bombs. Grieve for the ancient cities destroyed day by day.


Grieve for Karen Smith and Cedric Anderson and Jonathan Martinez. Grieve for childhoods ripped away from the kids at North Park Elementary School in San Bernardino.


Grieve for the men in Chechnya being forced into concentration camps. Grieve for violence on Palm Sunday, leaving churches covered in blood.

Grieve. Of course, you should sign petitions and go to rallies and send letters and do anything else that might possibly slow down the madness. In doing so, do not forsake the act of grieving.

Grieve. Mourn. Sit in dirt if that helps. Dress in black if that feels right. Shout at the heavens. Weep in the shower. But grieve, dear friends. Let your heart be broken into a million pieces, then a million more.

Grieve, for this is resistance. Resist the normalization of reckless abandon for human life. Resist the normalization of sweeping destruction under the rug. Resist the "again" of school shootings, as if it will surely happen again and again. Resist the "history of violence" as if that makes everything ok and you're going to be just fine. Resist. Resist every unholy, violent, destructive thing, for that does not come from God.

Grieve today. Grieve tomorrow. Grieve as if it is God-breathed, kingdom-building work. For it is.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Pride's Lessons on Bodies

I'd never go to Pride Festival if my church didn't table there. Actually, the chances of me choosing to go to any festival are slim. Paying to be in crowds of people with overpriced food and drink ranks very, very low on my list of things to do.

Still, in this case, I go. Jesus has a way of sending us to places we'd never go on our own.

Pride is always an interesting experience. There were no protestors this year and one of the men walking beside me as we approached the entrance said, "Is it even Pride if there aren't protestors?" I laughed, all the while self-conscious in my church t-shirt. Inside the gates, we're not the only church present by any means. Pride does, indeed, cause a massive collision of values for me. I guarantee the values aren't any that anyone immediately thinks of. You see, at Pride Festival, bodies are good.

Bodies are good.

It's amazingly, wonderfully, unbelievably radical. It breathes life into the dusty places of my soul.

American Christianity has widely embraced Gnosticism, a dualistic view of body and soul. The body, of course, isn't as good as the soul, which must be cared for in spite of the body. Pretty much every church that talks about your eternal soul is guilty of some form of Gnosticism. Theology aside, we're also really uncomfortable with bodies.

I cannot count the number of conversations I've had regarding what kids wear to camp, school, and pretty much every place else. We've worried about midriffs and bra straps and too much thigh and pants falling off and no shirts and visible underwear on absolutely anyone. The robe I wore before moving to Arizona (where the heat wins every fight) was in many ways a deference to policing bodies. Sitting on a dais in a knee-length skirt is nightmare. Couple that with the sexist fact that women's clothing isn't made for microphones and a robe made everything easier. That doesn't even begin to hit the conversation on weight and how comfortable we are with judging people because of their weight.

My culture and my faith have managed to tell me bodies are evil or tempting or only acceptable if they look a certain way. Pride upends that in all the most wonderful ways.

Anyone can wear booty shorts if it suits them. Pasties are welcome. Big, little, and everything in between is just fine. Your body is your body. No shame. No one gives an interesting ensemble a second look. No one gawks at bodies. It's downright revolutionary.

And it's better. The dusty parts of my soul say it's better like this. It's much better than how we live day to day when even a woman feeding a child is scandalous. Breasts, you know. We started a Bible 101 class just a few days before Pride, and reading through the creation story, I'm reminded of the claim, "And they were naked and unashamed." Somehow, bodies just being bodies really is better.

On the way home from Pride, I was on the train with a woman and her four granddaughters. They were having a marvelous time. They'd been somewhere for lots of fun, including making coffee filter butterflies. I'd guess the oldest was around 8 years old. The light rail was basically an amusement park for them, and they squealed with delight at every stop and start. I heard a mention of "the candy bag." Near my stop, she asked about the sign I was holding, which led to a conversation about Pride. We didn't have any additional conversation after that.

As I looked at her granddaughters, full of energy, confident that their bodies were meant for bending and holding on to things and helping them have fun, I became even sadder. She had no idea how much they need Pride.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

A New Place

My partner and I moved last month. Yeah, that has to do with lack of posting. It turns out, moving sucks a lot of energy for several weeks.

We moved to a bigger apartment. We moved closer to his work. We moved to be on the light rail so he wouldn't have to fight rush hour traffic every day. It's been a good move, despite a longer commute for me. Actually, the biggest change has been living in acute awareness of my privilege.

Privilege, as we know, is least evident to those who have it. I've never ranked at the top on quizzes like this one or this one, but I've never been at the bottom either. My family was and is fairly stable. My parents always managed well with resources, even if those were limited. We did spend my youngest years below the poverty line; there was pride that our family didn't take free lunch, even though we qualified. However, my accent is largely gone, because it had to disappear in order to be taken seriously. I remember getting asked if I wear shoes because of where I grew up. True, I'd largely prefer not to wear shoes, but that would be considered weird in eastern Kentucky, too.

We could talk a lot about privilege, including living with an extra bedroom, an extra bathroom, and a washer and dryer. What is most evident, though, is the difference in environment.

Where we live now is poorer and more urban than where we lived before. A couple miles east is very poor. A couple miles west is on the wealthy side of things. The apartments on the other side of the freeway that were also on the light rail were well outside our budget. It's not what most people would consider a bad part of town, but neither is it the best part of town. Honestly, if not for the gentrification happening around the light rail, I'm not sure we would have moved there.

Here, especially in the stores closest, my neighbors are all shades of skin. Here, the grocery stores block off one entrance after dark. The Wal-Mart in the town near where I attended college did the same, but only after 10 p.m. It's strange to encounter it at 7 p.m. We don't go to the grocery store nearest our apartment because it's not as well stocked as the same chain just a mile or two in the other direction. The produce section is lacking. Boxes of macaroni and cheese are always on sale and piled in bins near the front of the store. The music is rather terrible country, too, which doesn't help anything.

I walked over to the park across the road and was the only person present who would be considered white, of the European descent variety. Expletives were occasionally shouted in the skate area. I only caught snatches of the conversation happening among the men playing cards; those snatches made me steer clear. Homeless people were gathering here in the evening. A few had already made camp in the nearby field. A few shared dinner in one of the ramadas. I didn't feel unsafe. It was also the first time I saw that sort of community in the park; it was obviously a regular ritual. The presence of these homeless neighbors made the bars on the benches make sense. They were divided into seats, the arms added after manufacturing, to prevent sleeping on the benches. Most parks I've been in certainly didn't bother with adding arms.

The differences are subtle. There are no more sounds of sirens than where I lived before. My neighbors are quieter, even. The grocery stores, though, have MPower stations, the pay-as-you-go version of electric service here. I didn't even know it existed for at least a year of living here. The rate is slightly higher and you load cash onto a debit card; you also don't end up with a bill you can't pay. Knowing that regular accounts require a deposit or credit check, of course this exists.

The St. Vincent de Paul thrift store is just across the road. Small almost bodegas are plentiful along the stretch of road, as well. People walk on the sidewalks most all the time. Many are students at ASU, but many are not.

I know one day these things that point to the difference in place will disappear into the background of where I live. Maybe. Four years later, the spring smells of the desert are still a beautiful surprise. Saguaro surprise me in a way green trees don't, even when I haven't seen them for a year. And maybe, if I can keep those differences in sight, I will step more fully into the reign of God.

After all, this is part of the benediction I give often at the close of worship:
               May you see as God sees.
               May you hear as God hears.
               May you love as God loves
               as you go out into the world.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Abundant Life

We sat in a circle, holding on to stars. Some of us held on to our stars the whole time. Some of us folded back points. Some of us tore off the points of our star. It was an exercise in understanding the life impact of being LGBTQ.

The church I serve has welcomed LGBTQ people for a long time. There is welcome of everyone who walks in, sure, but deep welcome of people who had to seek out a church where they'd be welcome. There are treasured memories of same-sex couples whose names still come up regularly. The two women who led the charge to rework our patio are names I know well, thought I've never met either of them.

I smile when folks in my congregation avoid pronouns if the person can't answer the question of, "What's your pronoun?"

"Ok. That person is like God," someone responded to a particular visitor. And so, for the duration of a visitor's somewhat short time with the congregation, we avoided pronouns and said, "Welcome." That visitor is, indeed, a long story. But no one ever doubted that visitor should be at our church, and was worthy of love.

Doing this particular exercise, called Star Training, was a bit unusual for a congregation that has the welcome of the LGBTQ in our DNA. When talking with the faith director of One Community AZ, who offered the training, he wondered a bit about the benefit. It turns out, he's not a fan of The West Wing, but still, I quoted Toby Ziegler, who said in response to the cry, "You've got me preaching to the choir," "That's how you get them to sing." He laughed and understood.

Even though I'd done the Star Training before, I wasn't quite prepared for the tears, and the raw emotion in the room. Part of being a church that welcomes LGBTQ people is that, for most members, there is deep investment in this choice. Sometimes, it's deeply personal, as an LGBTQ person who has been shut out of church. Other times, it's a child, a sibling, or a parent who you need to know would be welcome in your church, too.

The conversations are always strange for me on a personal level. My hair is often short enough that people assume I'm a lesbian, then see me in a dress wearing make-up and aren't sure. I've dated women, but married a man. Of all things, I married a Scotch-Irish Christian man, despite dating far more Indian men and Middle Eastern men, Hindu and Muslim, respectively. I've gone through various butch phases, including the cargo shorts and men's t-shirts phase. It's strange. Bi and straight both seem weird labels for this definitely not far left person on the Kinsey Scale. I live my life, right now, on the femme side of things. It took recognizing the horrible cultural expectations of women for cisgender to feel right. There are a lot of traditional roles of women I've shunned, but the body suits me well enough. I recognize my own baggage around gender, in particular, and I fit the molds well enough. I even have the wedding gifts to prove it, and the pictures of me in a white dress.

I remember a morning back in my life as a fundamentalist, a time when I certainly didn't fit the molds as well. I was walking down the stairs along the hill one morning. The buildings of the college campus were just visible in the first light of day. For some reason in that moment (I'm guessing because I'm generally grumpy until 8 or 9 in the morning),  I remembered a promise of Jesus, "I came that they may have life and have it abundantly." I realized that had never been my experience of faith.

Looking back, I see the community of that place as an incredibly abundant experience. Well, at least most of it. Things like a ridiculous worry about sex detracted from that abundance. In that place, though, the gauge of, "Is this life-giving?" became life-giving to me. My own life took lots of twists and turns as a result. More importantly, though, it has become the gauge for pastoral ministry. "Is this life-giving?"

That question becomes a lens to interpret other scripture. It becomes a way of making decisions. It often prods a yes instead of a no. Above all else, that question always prods compassion. There is nothing life-giving about hungry people. There is nothing life-giving about poverty wages. There is nothing life-giving in illiteracy. There is nothing life-giving about sleeping on the streets. There is nothing life-giving in absurd clichés when someone dies. There's so much that is not life-giving that we encounter every single day.

And be sure, there is nothing life-giving in kicking children out of homes, or denying people a romantic relationship, or forcing someone who wants to wear pants to wear skirts. As we sat around the circle on Sunday, holding our stars, we also heard those sorts of terrifying statistics. Kids who come out as LGBTQ are still far more likely to be homeless than any other demographic. The suicide rate remains alarmingly high among LGBTQ people. Holding a job, which most of us take for granted, is a privilege that may be lost at any time. There are all of these things that other people do that offer death instead of life--often quite literally.

I come back to the words of Jesus that aren't quoted nearly as often as I'd like, "I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly." It's a worthy goal for those of us who follow Jesus.

Thursday, February 9, 2017


I've never liked the parable of the persistent widow. I just haven't. I avoided preaching on it. I kinda liked the interpretation given by A.J. Levine. It didn't change my mind much, though. When I'm talking with people about church, this is never the story I tell. I often quote Matthew 25. The Prodigal Son comes up fairly regularly. Pretty much everything else in Luke makes me exceedingly happy.

This parable, though, no. Not at all. If you're not familiar with it, the summary is there was a corrupt judge who gave the widow justice only because she annoyed him enough to finally do what was right. I have to say, there's a very real element that resonates with a seven year old: if I don't stop asking, eventually I'll wear mom or dad down. Pony, here we come!

Then, Elizabeth Warren ends up silenced while speaking against a Supreme Court nominee and Mitch McConnell ends up talking about why he did it, and we have the wonderful line, "Nevertheless, she persisted."

Damn right, she did.

It has been a wonderful few hours of hearing women's stories, all the ones that invoke, "Nevertheless, she persisted." And I love the story of the persistent widow now. One of the best parts about the Bible is that it can always be heard anew.

In this case, I never noticed really that the cause is what makes the story worthwhile, not the action. The deep, abiding truth is that justice isn't given easily. Most people don't want justice; they want power. We're seeing that play out in ways almost unimaginable as men create laws about women's bodies and the new version of the KKK is making pleas for enrollment. Then, of course, there are the Muslims who are being vilified at every turn possible.

One of the best reminders for me that has come out of this time is the danger of narrating justice as given. We do that a lot. Women were given the right to vote. White people freed slaves. White people ended segregation laws. The reality is, the women, the slaves, the African Americans worked for those rights. They marched, they rallied, they were threatened. The less-than-human narrative around slaves meant the life of a person with dark skin was expendable; plenty of those black lives were and are expended as a result.

I'm a little embarrassed that it took me this long to connect this story to these experiences. I'll even go so far as to say it's my own racism that means it took a white, privileged woman whom I admire to make me see it.

Nevertheless, she persisted.

As much as I love Elizabeth Warren, I also am reminded that having the holy narrative in addition to these secular narratives matters deeply. First, it does, indeed, reorient us toward justice. When we live with a broken justice system, when just is a filler word or a water down word, when justice is the name of a clothing store that didn't choose the name because of a commitment to sustainability or fair wages, we don't exactly have a good view of justice. We need a theology of justice because, practically, we're far from it. We need stories of peace, abundance, and sharing resources. We need the stories of sacred scripture, not just the ones that flit through popular channels.

Second, and more importantly, it is the holy narrative that gives us energy. One person gets tired. One congregation gets tired. But seeking God's justice is not a thing I do, it is a thing we do. It is a thing we do in partnership with God. As the story of the persistent widow flows through my mind, I remember the lectionary text from Isaiah a few weeks ago, "But here is my servant, the one I uphold...he won't be extinguished or broken until he has established justice in the land." In between those lines is even more imagery of this faithful servant who brings justice without violence. Christians have interpreted this faithful servant as Jesus.

And here, the feminine imagery for the church that normally drives me crazy comes in handy. Because as I read of the injustice happening all around us, as I read stories of laws designed to create more injustice, I am also holding on to a place that God blessed, breathed, and called out, trusting that there is one thing that can be said of the Church: nevertheless, she persisted.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Perfect Love

My partner and I have been rewatching Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Say what you like about the fashion choices and some of the early special effects, the storylines hold. Joss Whedon, atheist that he is, remains a better theologian than many preachers I've met. Like Stephen King, he has a deep understanding of human nature and critiques it well.

We're into season two now, where the villains linger from the season before: the Master and the Anointed One. If you're not a Buffy fan, no worries. You pretty much need to know they're villains who plot to destroy the world. And yes, that's true of every single season in some way. The Master, in all his evil mastermindy-ness, talks about humans, saying something very similar to: "What do you think the greatest force in the human world is? Love? No, they'd like you to believe it's love. It's fear. Fear is what drives and motivates."

It probably sounds more dastardly when he said it. I'm not rewatching for the quote right now. I might already spend more time than I'd like doing that.

But I do rewatch, reread, revisit because it's easy to forget. There's no way I'd have remembered that line from the last time I watched Buffy, likely three years ago. And you know what? The Master spoke the truth.

He spoke what is painfully true apart from God.

I feel the fear right now. Sometimes it's masked in anxiety. Friends speak of sleepless nights for many reasons. Some can name their fears. On the liberal side of things, the echoes are painful: I'm afraid for my healthcare, my kid's school, my safety. I fear for my marriage. I fear what comes next.

Before that, though, I remember the others fears: Muslims will try to convert me and my children; bombs will fall here; I can't find a job to feed my family. The fear of hell looms in some other issues named as evil: abortion, gay people, trans people. Even if I think the fears are unfounded, I do not deny their reality for the people who are so fearful. Unfortunately, a person's reality is often not something grounded in facts, alternative or not.

As I watched the Master, the vampiry-est vampire of the vampires, breathe these words, I remembered, "Perfect love casts out fear." Some book from the Bible called John taught me that. Much more I didn't remember.

Well, luckily, the internet makes searching even easier. Here's more from the bit of text I remembered. The translation is different than the one I used then, but I liked this one. It's from 1 John 4 starting in the second half of verse 16: "God is love, and those who remain in love remain in God and God remains in them...There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear, because fear expects punishment."

There's a lot more in there, of course. Somewhere, I knew it before: fear has no place with God.

For us, who are all trying to assuage fears of our own, we could end up with a good set of questions to help us live, especially right now:

  • Am I calming fear? If so, you are likely doing some good. I'm not talking about the "Trump won't be as bad as you think," version. Let me tell you, anyone afraid because of Trump will just want to punch you in the face. I'm talking about taking their fear seriously and offering something that might actually do some good. I'll fight for your marriage, too. I'll register, too. I'll introduce you to the refugees I know. 
  • Am I creating fear? There's talking about issues and there's creating fear. Which are you doing? Fear paralyzes. Issues motivate. Which are you doing? 
  • Are you punishing someone? Y'all. This is the "You got your eight years, now let us have ours." Or the "She had sex so she has to deal with the results." 
I'm not pretending for a moment that those questions solve everything. They do go a long way, though. 

May our love drive out the fears of others.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Unlikely Saviors

If y'all have not been following the National Park Service Twitter, uhm, amazingness, then start Googling. See, it all started when the National Park Service retweeted photos comparing the crowds at Trump's inauguration to Obama's inauguration. They also retweeted one about the new administration removing pages from the White House website. After those, the Interior Department ordered a shutdown of their Twitter activity. They apologized for the retweets, then were back up.

Well, two days later, Badlands National Park started tweeting facts about climate change. These were seen as anti-Trump administration by many, went viral, and were later deleted. Yes, part of this is in response to the media blackout ordered by the new administration on the Environmental Protection Agency. The official story was that a former employee who was not authorized to use the account posted, so they were deleted in response to the compromise.

Since then, AltUSNatParkService has been created. Their tweet? "Can't wait for President Trump to call us FAKE NEWS. You can take our official twitter, but you'll never take our free time. All of that is background to get me to this morning, when checking news and social media, and a tweet that had been shared on imgur. I'm posting it, too, because it made my morning. It reads, "First they came for the scientists...And the National Parks Services said, "lol, no" and went rogue and we were all like, "I was not expecting the park rangers to lead the resistance, none of the dystopian novels I read prepared me for this but cool." Grammar and precision of language issues aside (and y'all know that takes a lot for me!), I'm in love with the idea shared. I might even enjoy hanging out with the original tweeter.

I'd probably love the NPS person more. And all the other people creating AltGovernmentAgencyTrumpDoesntLike accounts. One of them uses "Rogue" instead of alt.

I'm well aware of the privilege of this country. I'm well aware of my privilege within this country. I'm also well aware that what is happening now threatens not just our country, but our world. Still, as I wonder about healthcare, worry about a continued free press, and try to stay engaged with news I don't want to read, I am hopeful in unlikely saviors.

I am hopeful in church agencies that say, "We've always taken care of refugees and that won't change." I am hopeful in the organization happening at local levels to protect vulnerable communities of all sorts. I am hopeful in Dan Rather, pushing forward news--actual, researched, fact-checked news. (I mean, my family watched NBC not CBS, so Tom Brokaw's voice is what exudes truth, but I'll take Dan Rather.)

And yes, I'm hopeful in Twitter, the same platform that kept us abreast of the Arab spring. After all, that's where the rogue park rangers are hanging out. I don't throw around the term savior lightly; however, there are so many things and people that save us. Most of us have a lot of saviors in our lives.

At the end of the day, the one I recognize as the Savior was the most unlikely of all, poor Middle Eastern refugee executed by the state that he was. Jesus' unlikeliness gives me even more hope in other unlikely saviors. I'm one of the people who doesn't believe you have to work at following Jesus in order to make the things Jesus would want to happen, happen. (And yes, I also believe in cooperation with the divine will as a foundation of my faith.)

And perhaps the reason I am most hopeful is because the work that is beginning is hopeful. It is especially hopeful that we can and will sway the course of history toward the better. It is hopeful that it will not take violence to do it. It is hopeful that indeed, we can stand firm against the forces of evil and that will be sufficient to triumph over them.

Today, my hope is in unlikely saviors.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

On the Eve of Inauguration Day

I confess my anxiety this week. It's not the overwhelming kind, but the lurking kind. As Trump's inauguration approaches, it's just been there, in the background. There's this dull hum to say that something isn't right.

Lots of people have been hoping deeply that Trump won't be as bad as everyone thinks he will be. I confess that I've been living by the Gospel according to Billy Joel: "The good ol' days weren't always good and tomorrow ain't as bad as it seems."

As I worry about what healthcare will look like next year, in Maricopa County, nonetheless, where Marketplace options are already terrible, I'm searching for answers. My fears are minimal compared to many. I am white and Christian, after all. My stories of sexual harassment are few, though yes, all women have one or two. 

I turned to the Gospel of Matthew today, looking for the Jesus version instead of the Billy Joel version. Maybe, "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life..." Or maybe the story of Jesus calming the storm, when he chastises the disciples, "You of little faith!"

And then, as I searched, I realized I wanted the stories of Israel's kings. The story begins with the people wanting a king like the nations around them; it didn't begin with a divine plan for a king. God gives them what they want, though, and then they have to live with it. In fact, when having the conversation with the last of the judges of Israel, Samuel, the people are given this warning about the kings they will have, "This is what the king who will reign over you will do: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants. He will take a tenth of our grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants. Your menservants and maidservants and the best of your cattle and donkeys he will take for his own use. He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, and the Lord will not answer you in that day." (1 Samuel 8:11-18)

The cycle begins of bad king and good king, bad king and good king. One king turns the people to God, the next turns them away. The welfare of the land rises and falls accordingly. 

Let me be clear that I do not for a second believe the United States is a chosen nation, especially blessed by God, or anything like that. As I look at these stories, though, I am woefully aware of the truth they point to for us: we made this bed, and now we have to lie in it. 

Our individualistic tendencies ruffle at that thought. I include "my" in "our." I voted for Clinton. I stood in line. I said #imwithher. Still, I am part of the country that chose Trump, so yes I made this bed. We made this bed. In a nation that is still overwhelmingly Christian, we made this choice. And I am appalled.

I am appalled that professing Christians voted for a man who so completely opposes Christ's teachings. I am appalled that professing Christians voted to deny benefits to the poor, voted in fear of immigrants and refugees, voted to deny healthcare to many, voted to endanger women, voted in the name of wealth, voted in the name of weapons, voted in so many ways that have nothing to do with Christian scripture. I am appalled by how completely my fellow believers denied Christ. (No, I don't believe Jesus would be a Democrat; I do believe Trump is anti-Christ, having nothing to do with his party affiliation.)

As I cry out to God, along with so many others I know, "How? Why?" I am met only with silence--at least so far. I am far more worried that I might hear the answer of scripture, "You turned away from me." 

I'm not big on calling down fire and brimstone on people. I don't believe in hell. And yet, I cannot forget that Jesus said he would say in the future, "Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels."

Why? Why would Jesus do that? 

"For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me...I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me."

And so my deepest prayer comes: May God have mercy on us. 

May God have mercy on us.