Go ahead and wear a safety pin, but don’t *just* wear a safety pin

I have been seeing a lot of commentary on the safety pin movement. If somehow you haven’t heard, it is a movement encouraging allies to wear a safety pin in order to tell people in communities facing harassment, intimidation and violence that you are a safe person. This was,for many, a well-intentioned attempt to do *something* after the election of Donald Trump in the face of the grief it caused for many and the rapid increase in violence against marginalized groups of people across the United States. It is based on a movement in England after the Brexit vote, where Brits hoped to show solidarity with communities there that faced violence after the vote to leave the E.U.

safety-pin

Make this more than a symbol.

Doing something like this makes us (and by us I mean white people) feel better in the face of chaos. It is soul soothing to take symbolic action when it seems (note I said seems) like there is nothing to be done. I have seen commentary by people in the communities that these safety pins are an attempt to make feel safe that the sight of someone wearing a safety pin does, in fact, make them feel a bit more safe. There is also plenty of commentary from people that this is a way for white people (especially those who voted for Trump) to make themselves feel better, that no one facing violence is going to look at the safety pin and automatically makes a person assume they are safe (this is my favorite commentary in this vein), and I have seen reports that some not-safe people are wearing them to appear safe while they wreak havoc. Some people probably are doing this simply a a way to feel better and don’t understand the real, physical costs of being an ally. Some people probably really do mean that they are a safe person and are willing to face the consequences of being that safe person (which can mean ending up in a physical altercation). There’s a lot of noise about whether a person should wear one or not. I don’t know how much weight my opinion holds: as a queer white Christian woman who generally presents as female in a straight relationship, I do not remotely face the level of risk as people of color, immigrants, other members of the LGBTQ community and Muslims  (to name a few). But here it is:

Fine, wear a safety pin. If you’re going to wear a safety pin, make sure you are ready to really defend someone who is being harassed. I have seen a lot of white people talk about, “I just want people to know I’m not hateful/racist/whatever,” or, “I won’t step in, but I will call the cops!” You know what makes a lot of people of color feel really unsafe? Cops. When you wear a safety pin, don’t assume anyone is going to think you are safe or that you are an ally. Those things require trust and trust requires proof of solidarity beyond an article of clothing. A safety pin is a symbolic gesture at best. It is literally the least you could do. We need way more than symbolism right now, so…

DON’T JUST WEAR A SAFETY PIN!! EDUCATE YOURSELF! ACT!

Join an anti-racism group, take trainings, get your church or other community group involved in anti-racism work. Showing Up for Racial Justice is an awesome group and they are asking people to organize and engage. Support the ACLU, the NAACP, look for organizations in your community that are working to fight racism. Learn about how you can help defend the rights of immigrants (also here and here) — if you belong to a faith community, learn about how your community can become a sanctuary community. Go to the local Mosque for prayer, see what you can do to combat Islamaphobia. Support your local LGBTQ organization. Learn about what it means to be a member of a marginalized community. Get educated. Read books like The New Jim Crow, God is Red, The Cross and the Lynching Tree, and check out lists like this and this. Find podcasts that address issues of race. Some of my favorites are NPR’s Code Switch, The Race and Wealth Podcast, Tapestry, Kamau Right Now, & Politically Reactive. If you’re into social media, get on Twitter and follow people from marginalized communities to hear their voices and learn from them. It is not the job of oppressed people to teach us, it is our job to learn from the many resources that are already available to us.

As God’s people are told through the prophet Isaiah:

Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke? 
 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin? 
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator shall go before you,
the glory of the Lord shall be your rearguard. 
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.


If you remove the yoke from among you,
the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, 
 if you offer your food to the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
and your gloom be like the noonday. 
The Lord will guide you continually,
and satisfy your needs in parched places,
and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water,
whose waters never fail. 
Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
the restorer of streets to live in.

This doesn’t say jack about solidarity through clothing. It’s about action.


Voting with Biblical Values

As I have listened to conversations around the election, I hear a lot of talk of Biblical values, usually invoked to keep LGBTQ people from having equal rights or using the bathrooms that assign to their gender, or when talking about abortion restrictions.

There are, of course, many other issues to consider this election season: economics, immigration, gun rights/gun violence, the environment, racism, legalization of drugs, voting rights, and a whole bunch of other stuff. One of these conversations seems to consistently rise above the rest: immigration. And, more often than not, this conversation around immigration is coupled with fear. Fear of the possibility of violence brought by immigrants, fear of immigrants stealing jobs, fear that, as Donald Trump has said of Mexico “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

There also seems to be a large percentage of people who are afraid that a) we are allowing unvetted immigrants into the united states and b) these immigrants could be terrorists, preparing the next terrorist attack.

Or, as Donald Trump Jr. puts it:

trump-skittles

 

The solution that has been proposed to alleviate these fears is to end immigration from middle eastern countries, from Muslim countries, to some how label Muslims or people from the middle east, to build a wall on the border with Mexico.

Oddly enough, Biblical values never seem to enter into this conversation. I imagine this is because Biblical values do not seem to fit into the narrative being created by those who would like our anxiety to be put upon immigrants. So, I would like to take a moment to look at what the Bible says about fear, immigration, and safety.

 

Let’s begin by addressing fear. Holy shit are we afraid. It seems like everyone is afraid. Afraid of immigrants, afraid of having their rights taken away – whether that is gay rights or gun rights, rights to choose an abortion or the right to refuse service to a person with whom you disagree – and we are afraid of who might be elected president. It is likely safe to say that each of us is very afraid of what might happen if the other candidate is elected president.

And yet, for those of us who embrace the words of Genesis, Exodus, Numbers Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles, the prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Joel, Malachai, Matthew, Luke, John, Acts, Revelation as holy, as words given to us by God for use in guiding our lives and inspiring us to faith – the message is do not be afraid.

Do not be afraid.

God tells Abram and Moses to not be afraid, through the fathers and the prophets he tells the people of Israel to not be afraid (and we know the things that the people of Israel were going through!). Jesus tells his disiples, “So do not be afraid of them, for there is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known.” And,” Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” Before he leaves the disciples he says,

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

And we know what they were about to face! In Acts, an angel comes to Paul and says to him, “Do not be afraid, Paul. You must stand trial before Caesar; and God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you.”

Do not be afraid. Again and again God tells God’s people to not be afraid.

And I know this is hard. I know the world looks dark. But if we are truly placing our trust in God of what shall we be afraid?

As David writes in Psalm 27:

The Lord is my light and my salvation—

whom shall I fear?

The Lord is the stronghold of my life—

of whom shall I be afraid?

2

When the wicked advance against me

to devour[a] me,

it is my enemies and my foes

who will stumble and fall.

3

Though an army besiege me,

my heart will not fear;

though war break out against me,

even then I will be confident.

 

 

If we as Christians are willing to cling so strongly to the relatively few verses that support our views in other matters, why are we not willing to cling to the multitude of verses that command us to not be afraid?

In particular, why are we not willing to cling to those verses as they apply to those who are different from us, when scripture makes clear over and over again that our call is to care for the orphan, protect the widow and welcome the stranger? To love our neighbor as ourselves?

In Exodus, God says to Moses, “Do not mistreat a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt.” – twice in but a few verses God says that. Again in Leviticus, “When a foreigner resides among you in your land do not mistreat them,” “The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born, Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt, I am the lord your God.” In Deuteronomy, “He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing.”

Job uses his care of the foreigner, his feeding and sheltering of them as a sign of his righteousness and love for God.

God speaks through Jeremiah and says, “Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of the oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong of violence to the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow, do not shed innocent blood in this place.” God sends a smiliar message through Ezekial, Isaiah and Malachai.

In his parable to describe what it means to love your neighbor as yourself, Jesus uses care for the stranger as one example of loving your neighbor, ending with that which you did not do to the least of these you did not do to me.”

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Jesus consistently shocks his listeners by using outsiders as emissaries of grace, such as the single man who comes back to thank Jesus for his healing in Luke 17 or the many times Samaritans – dirty, suspicious, unclean outsiders, are the people who do the Godly thing. Jesus repeatedly crosses all kind of barriers to welcome people to him, in demonstration of how we should live in order to welcome people to God.

For crying out loud, Mary and Joseph were strangers in a strange land when they had jesus and they were refugees when Herod killed all of the children in the land. What if there had been a no refugee policy in Egypt?!

Again and again and again, scripture calls us to welcome the stranger, the foreigner, the alien. And yet this Biblical value seems to be completely absent from the discussion on immigration – it is like the polar opposite of our discussion on same sex marriage and Transgender rights, where the Bible is all over the place in spite of the relatively few verses that can be used to support this topic and Jesus’ silence on the issue. Over and over and over again, the triune God asks us to welcome the stranger and to not be afraid, and yet we seem to be committed to living in fear and building walls so that the stranger we are called to welcome can be kept out. Not for nothing, many of these foreigners are also widows and orphans – two groups of people pretty much every book of the Bible says we are called to protect.

Why are we leaving these scriptures out? Because it does not serve the narrative. It does not advance the policies of those who want to keep us afraid because our fear feeds their policies and puts money in the pockets of politicians who benefit from our fear. Politicians who promise to keep us “safe.”

Which brings me to another thing – Christians are not called upon to be safe.

Safety is not a Christian virtue.

We are called upon to sacrifice ourselves for the good news of Jesus Christ — the news that God came down and became human to know us, to love us, to set the oppressed free, to break the yoke of slavery, and to proclaim good news to the poor as he proclaims when he reads from the scroll of Isaiah in his first moment of public ministry.

Christians are called to sacrifice. We are called to pick up our cross and follow God. We are called to give up what we have and follow – safety, security, shelter, clothing – we are called to give those things away. We are called to leave our families for God, to separate ourselves from all we know and all we have, to go out into the world and trust Jesus. We are told again and again that following Jesus is dangerous. And it is. For centuries, people have been killed because of their call to follow God. Whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for the sake of the gospel will save it.

Many will take this to mean that we should be willing to be killed for our faith, as in if someone is holding a gun to our head, we should be willing to say that we are a Christian and let the chips fall where they may.

That’s cheap grace, it’s pumpkin spice latte Christianity. It’s basic.

Losing our lives for Jesus and the sake of the gospel is losing our lives to live as Jesus lived and to follow Jesus’ call to give up what we have and follow him, to give up our cloak, to turn the other cheek, to be willing to give up what we have so that others may have as well. We are called to be willing to give up our lives for the sake of love, for the sake of the poor and the oppressed. To eat all of the damn skittles.

Those are Biblical Values.

 


Re-mything America

Most societies are built on myths —  symbolic tales of the distant past  that concern cosmogony and cosmology (the origin and nature of the universe), may be connected to belief systems or rituals, and may serve to direct social action and values. Our myths help tell us who we are and how we relate to the world around us. And, as Joseph Campbell wrote, when our myths are taken from us, when they begin to break down, the society structured around it begins to break down as well.

America (white America, in particular) is built on a myth. This myth is that this country was founded for the ideals of liberty and justice for all. These words are, after all, written into our founding documents. We believe that success is determined by hard work. If you work hard enough, you can accomplish anything. Our courts are fair, people are presumed innocent until proven guilty and, while there may be a few errors here and there in our criminal justice system, generally the outcomes of court proceedings are good and right. After all, the rites and rituals of the criminal justice system are also some of the rites and rituals that help us act out our belief in our story, in the American myth. Our nation is fair, because it was created by brilliant human beings (who in some cases we revere in ways close to reverence religions have for gods). The protectors of our myths (our priests) the police and judges and the military, have gone through tests to prove their worthiness, they are willing to sacrifice themselves in the name of our myth, and they can do no wrong.

The symbol for our myth is our flag, and when it is raised we praise it with promises of commitment (the pledge) and praise music (the national anthem). These have become (albeit recently) the rites and rituals of our myth, and to disrupt these rites and rituals disrespects the myth, and the priests, and scribes who attend to it.

Like the faithful who have never really had a prayer answered, there are many who are faithful to the myth of America who have never seen the fruits of the faith. There are many who have worked their fingers to the bone and yet don’t seem to get ahead, those who dream big dreams only to die poor and anonymous. But it is faith in the myth that keeps them pushing ahead, faith in the possibility that makes the hard work worth it, even if it may take generations.

It seems that there is a rather large racial divide in those who believe in the myth and those who don’t. To be sure, there are white people for whom the myth has proven to be empty, and people of color for whom the myth holds promise. But all in all, I would imagine that being born into a country that once saw your people as less than human (3/5 of a person), where your ancestors worked until they bled, and were beaten into working more, yet never saw anything come of that work but more work, would lead you to see the myth for what it is long before others might.

What I believe we are seeing now is a vociferous objection to this myth by those for whom the myth has never been seen as true and for those who have been listening to and learning from those who have not experienced liberty and justice. White people are hearing our brothers and sisters cry out that they have been working, working, working for generations only to see that it would take generations more work to catch up to the same amount of material wealth that white people have. Video recordings of police killing unarmed black people, of dogs being set on native people trying to protect what is theirs, are showing those of us who are white and willing to listen what our brothers and sisters of color have known for so long — the American myth is just that: a myth. It is a story we have told ourselves for generations both so that we might keep working towards an imaginary goal and so that we can blame those who do not reach their goal for their own personal failings. Believing in the myth ensures that those of us with power and privilege are not responsible for those who do not succeed. We are not complicit in the breaking down of the dream for another; it is their fault.

Yet there are others for whom this myth is so integral to the fabric of their being that to question the reality of the myth is to question reality itself, to question the core of one’s own being. If your life is inextricably tied to belief in this myth and this myth is being shattered, you have two choices: allow the myth to collapse and figure out a new story around which to find meaning, or fight like hell to keep the myth in place, facts and figures be damned. Many, many Americans are choosing the latter.

Myths are based in the past, not the future. They are creation stories and hero stories around which we guide the structures of our lives. We use them to guide our decisions, but always as a touch point in the past, not as a moment in the future towards which we aim.

The American myth is not a bad idea. To strive to be a nation that believes in justice and equality, that actually allows for everyone who works hard to get ahead is a wonderful goal. But it is that, a goal. It is not a reality, and it has never been. There is not point in the past to which we can point and say, “There! There is a time when the American myth was actually American reality!” And yet we gather around it as though it was. We focus our political and religious yearnings towards a time that never was, towards a myth that is as real as the stories of the Greek and Roman Gods. However, unlike the stories of the ancient Gods, this myth has potential. It is something we can strive towards if we are willing to let go of the myth and work towards it as a goal. If instead of looking to this point in the past (that does not actually exist) in which our nation was truly free for all, we work together towards a point in the future when this actually could be.

In order to do this, however, we need to find a new myth around which we can gather ourselves. We need to provide those for whom this myth is a defining life belief (those who have faith in this myth) another story. As it is, half of our nation is fighting the loss of this myth, fighting it with all their might. We have people absolutely irate at the perceived disrespect shows to our rites and rituals, to our priests and scribes.

We need to re-myth America.

These are just some things I have been thinking for which I have no statistical evidence. I am not an anthropologist or sociologist, I am a person who thinks a lot about myth and ritual. I am working this out. Feel free to add your own thoughts, we can all work this out together.


Love divides

A sermon on Luke 12:49-56

I gotta tell you, I love cranky Jesus. He’s kind of my favorite — because cranky Jesus is so human. But even though I love cranky Jesus, this story has long troubled me. As much as I love cranky Jesus, I need peaceful Jesus.

So, what happened here?! What’s up with Jesus? Where is the love your neighbor as yourself Jesus, the turn the other cheek Jesus? The gather them in like hens Jesus?

He’s right here. This anger, this frustration Jesus seems to be feeling (and it seems to happen semi-regularly), comes from a place of deep love.

It may be hard to see that. In a time that appears to be s divided, when pollsters and our own dinner tables tell us that this nation is more divided than ever before…. I don’t know about you, but I could use some togetherness. I have had it with division, with the yelling, with the my way or the highway conversations we all seem to be having (myself definitely included). I’m in the “can’t we all just get along?” place pretty regularly. And yet, there are things that need to be said, people who need to be heard, bondage from which people must be released, inequalities that need to be addressed and hate speech that must be stopped.

To walk in the path of Jesus, to have the love and compassion of Christ in your heart, to be lit on fire by the holy spirit… this means that we will get angry sometimes. There is so much injustice and cruelty in the world, it is impossible to walk in compassion and love and not feel outraged at what we see happening in the world. And when we speak out in righteous anger at the evil we see in the world, division will occasionally result. We don’t like being called out, we don’t like it when others point out to us that we might be being a jerk, because then we have to look inside of ourselves and see that we might have some jerkier parts and maybe we should look at those. So, instead of thinking about the possible truth in what is being said, we get angry, we fight, we storm off. This is a natural consequence of living out the gospel in the world. Sometimes, well, we are going to make people mad by calling them to account for what they have done and said.

We are called, as Christians, to love the Lord our God with all of our heard, soul and mind and love our neighbors as ourselves. We are, in the words of first John, to love one another because love is from God and everyone that loves is born of God and knows God. God is love. Love is a verb. It is active. And love in action isn’t all kitties and rainbows. Sometimes love in action means putting your foot down. Sometimes it means standing up for someone else. Sometimes it means marching, shouting, writing letters. Sometimes love in action says enough is enough.

IMG_3512

The first place to look at this is with ourselves and how we allow others to treat us – for before we can love others, we must love ourselves. In order to truly love another human being, to see others as beloved children of God, we must first understand that we ourselves are beloved children of God. This means treating ourselves with love and respect. Sometimes it means taking a hard look in the mirror and doing a lot of work so that we can get on the right path and begin to love ourselves. It can mean confronting ugly truths about who we have been, things we have done, thoughts we have had – but if we truly love ourselves, we will get the work done. Then we will make sure other people love and respect us the way we love ourselves.

When a person loves themselves, they will demand to be treated with love and respect. For example, I might (if I feel safe enough), let a man who has been disrespectfully calling out at me on the street know that behavior is not okay. I will speak up if I am being treated or spoken to as less than because I am a woman. I have had relationships come to an end because I would not be treated with disrespect anymore, because I would not be treated in ways that I didn’t see as loving anymore.

I know I am not alone in this. We all, from time to time, are faced with someone we love treating us in ways that are hurtful and we are called to speak up, to say that we are hurt, that we won’t be treated that way. Sometimes we have to do this with parents, with lovers, with siblings and with friends. Sometimes these will lead to a good talk and some healing. Other times, these conversations will not go well – we will be told that it was just a joke, that we shouldn’t take things so seriously, or we will be told that it’s our problem. There may be shouting, there may be a rift or a break in the relationship. All because we said I am a beloved child of God and I want to be treated as such. Father against son, and son against father…

There is a lot of talk about PC culture, everything is becoming too PC, people rail against Political Correctness. At its heart, this is what political correctness it. It is a person or a group of people saying, “Um, I don’t like being talked about that way. It hurts. Could you talk about me this way instead?” That’s all it is. It is people asking to be talked about in ways that reflect their status as a beloved child of God, in ways that support and embrace who they are as human beings. That’s all it is. Like everything, it can occasionally be taken too far, but a good 90% of what I see talked about as politically correct is people getting mad that they aren’t allowed to publicly insult others anymore. Daughter against mother, mother against daughter…

This brings us to the love of others. There is so much happening these days that is not loving to others and we, as Christians, are called to stand up for love. We are called to speak out when we hear statements that are racist, homophobic, xenophobic, or whatever other flavor of hate makes its way to Thanksgiving dinner, the water cooler, or the evening news. We are called to say no, that’s not okay.

Father-in-law against son-in-law

Son-in-law against father-in-law

There is a movement in this country to hide behind “sayin it like it is.” Now, I am all for telling it like it is, after all, I am a leader in a faith tradition founded by a man who spoke of the import of calling a thing what it is. We must do this. But it must be truthful, and the purpose should be to further the goals of love not sew the seeds of fear.

As we all know, there has been a lot of anti-Muslim rhetoric in the United States, coming from places high and low. This rhetoric has consequences. Yesterday, two men were shot on their way to their mosque. Shot in the back, without warning. No altercation. Execution. Imagine what might have happened if the shooter had been talking to someone else about how evil Muslims were and that other person had said, “Dude, that’s not okay. Maybe learn a little about Islam, talk to a Muslim or something.” What if that happened time and time again? Or what if those spouting hate from on high had been confronted repeatedly? What if they had been given pause in their commentary?

If you hear something, say something.

We are called to take action when we see hate in the world. And when change doesn’t come, we are called to get louder.

This is hard for us, particularly, I have learned, here in the Pacific Northwest. Y’all really like to be nice (I say y’all because I am still 90% Cleveland in my heart and that’s not how we do), to be polite, to not make waves. It’s also hard for women, in particular. We are socialized to not be a problem. To be polite. To not make waves. So we too often let other people hurt us. We too often let other people get hurt. Because we don’t want to make noise.

Jesus calls us to make noise in the name of love.

Jesus made people uncomfortable. He comforted the afflicted and afflicted the comfortable. He challenged the lives of those in power and held up those who had none. We are called to do the same. Even if it means daughter in law against mother in law.

Mother-in-law against daughter in law

We are called to speak truth in love.

Often, those of us who are willing to talk about racism, sexism, homophobia, social inequality (but race in particular) are told we are making it worse, that we are causing division. Those who are willing to call a thing what it is and name issues like racism aren’t making it worse, they are naming what is already there. They are shining a light on our darker spaces so they can be cleaned out. Naming it in the name of love so that it can be dealt with. So that it can be talked about. Evil loves the darkness because it can grow and thrive there. When we shine a light on it, it gets angry because it knows we are going to do some cleaning. We name evil to bring it to an end, and we are called to do this.

As it is written in the book of Hebrews, we have an amazing could of witnesses surrounding us who have taken much bigger risks to live out the mission of Christ. People have been beaten and killed in the name of love. This is the space to which Christ calls us. We are called to speak out against injustice at risk of alienation, hate, and division in our house, our workplace, and the rest of our lives. This is to pick up our cross and follow Jesus.

When love is a verb, when love is an action that you do each and every day of your life, division is a consequence.

When we love one another as we love ourselves, we risk creating division.

 

Parent against child

Child against parent

Partner against partner

Friend against friend

 

We are called to love.

We are called to act.

 

This is the price for the salvation we have in Jesus Christ.

 

Amen


Defining Greatness

 

greatnessA sermon on Mark 10:32-45

When I was growing up, I went to church camp every year. As soon as I graduated High School (actually, a few weeks before I actually graduated), I headed off to camp to work for the summer. It was here that I not only learned the Christian Values I hold on to today, but I also had the opportunity to live them.

Carved in the stone by the waterfall was the phrase, “God is love.” The community I experienced there was the closest I have ever been to loving one another as yourself. It was the rare place where, as I grew up, I could be genuinely myself (even as I was still figuring out who I was).

It was also the place that thought me that I could question the church, that I could hate hymns (and that was okay), the place where I learned about the non-canonical gospels and the place where I heard my call to ministry and, try as I might, I could not unhear it.

Last month, I went back for the camp’s 75th anniversary. We had a picnic and everybody lined up. As though we were kids again (or really because some things don’t change no matter who old you get), some people rushed for the front of the line. I opted for the middle. The middle, at camp, was the safest place to be. Because you never knew when the staff would decide it was a “the first shall be last and the last shall be first” meal. It was a total crapshoot as to whether rushing to the front would actually get you served first or quickly land you at the back of the line. While I am generally not one to play it safe, I like to eat, so the middle always made the most sense to me.

Now this verse from Matthew, and the corresponding idea that is evidenced in both Mark (which we have here) and Luke, are tattooed in my memory, and this scripture regularly competes with what I have been taught by the world.

It started when I was young – my grandfather always told me to look out for number one. My father was in a pretty consistent battle to keep up with the Jonses (which, oddly, was most obvious in his weird desire to have the best lawn, but I digress). Awards went to the people who finished first, the kids who were fastest always got picked first, the kids who cut and pushed their way to the front of the line usually got it (and unless we were at church camp, that was just how it was). And on and on it goes. We are often rewarded when we fight to be at the front of the line or the top of the heap, no matter who we push aside or who gets stepped on.

More often than not, those who are at the front of the line or the top of the pile lord it over the ones below, often totally unaware of the real struggles those not at the front of the line have.

This is one of the biggest problems with being at the front of the line – you lose your ability to see those behind you. Even if you do decide to turn around, you can only see those just a bit behind you. You can’t see the back of the line.

When one surrounds oneself with privilege, it is so easy to forget the have-not’s. I grew up fairly well off, but I thought I was middle class because, for a long time, most of what I experienced was people richer than me. People who had houses on the lake with elevators down tot heir private beach, kids whose parents had multiple luxury cars – these things made my large 3 bedroom house and my parent’s buicks look positively poor. To my parent’s credit, they tried to show me, they tried to tell me, but it wasn’t until I went off on my own and made friends in other places that I got to see how truly wealthy I was. I couldn’t see the rest of the line from where I was standing, in large part because I was so concerned with who was in front of me, I rarely thought to look back.

We hear a lot of talk today about greatness. But rarely do we hear about what that word means to those who recite it over and over again. I suspect, however, that greatness means power and authority. I suspect that, in that context, greatness is a power, privilege, and position that allows certain groups to lord such things over others.

To those of us who follow Christ, a lot of the world’s paradigms are inverted. The way the world sees greatness is diametrically opposed to the way Christ sees greatness. We are James and John, asking to have a position that we don’t understand.

I mean, how entitled and blind are James and John to even ask this question? Seriously, they are asking the Son of God if he will give them whatever they want. What?! Who does that?! This requests makes me think these two have rarely heard no in their lives. It makes me think that they have, generally speaking, been at the front of many lines. It also shows clearly that they still don’t understand what Jesus is talking about, what Jesus is going to do. They just saw the transfiguration, and were likely thinking that they want that. They want to be all glowy and heavenly with Jesus and Abraham and Elijah. They still don’t get that the path to that place involves deep sacrifice, involves pain, involves death.

They want to be great, but they are thinking in the world’s terms, not in Jesus’ terms.

In the world, greatness is having your name on the top of buildings, it is wealth, it is the ability to cut to the front of the line and climb to the top of the heap by any means necessary, no matter who you slander, insult, or otherwise hurt along the way. Greatness is the ability to say whatever you want and not face consequences. It is to have enough power, authority and influence that the masses will not question you; everything you say is truth, even when your words are lies that hurt people. Greatness, in our current discourse, is being able to do whatever you want and not only not paying the price, but leaving the vulnerable to pay the price for you. It is backing out of promises and leaving those depending on you high and dry.

Greatness, in our current national conversation, means keeping to ourselves, protecting those who look like us, those who are “deserving”

For those who follow Jesus, greatness is defined differently. Greatness is going to the back of the line, it is moving to the back of the bus and offering our place to someone who was forced to be in the back. It is handing the microphone to those who rarely get to speak. It is giving up what we have: our power, our privilege, our money, or our voice so that others might have a share in those things too. Greatness is serving. It is giving up our very lives so that we might serve those who have been pushed to the bottom of the heap. To be great, those of us who claim Christ and have power, privilege and/or wealth are called to give that up and serve those who have less.

Greatness gets mocked and spit on. Greatness gets crucified. Greatness dies discredited. Greatness does all of these things so that we might live. Greatness does this to show God’s beloved children that there is another way, that there is strength in weakness, there is winning in losing, there is salvation in death.

Those around this kind of greatness do not understand – they see power the way the world sees power. They focus on Christ as victor and king and deny his status as a crucified victim of an unjust system, as a man who got caught, as a brown skinned man from the middle east, as a loser. Strength shows no weakness, power no vulnerability. They cannot understand the necessity of the crucifixion, they move ahead to the resurrection to the ascension, to asking for a share in the power they do not even begin to understand.

But Christ shows us the power in weakness, the strength in vulnerability. Christ shows us that to move to the bottom of the power structure is to be at the top, that greatness isn’t about winning wars, dropping bombs, forcing others to bend to your will or making them do or be as you think they should. Greatness is not having your name at the top of a building; it is having your name atop a cross upon which you have been crucified.

Greatness is found in serving. Greatness is found in love. Greatness is found in giving up so that others might have. Greatness is found in the cross. Greatness is found in Christ.

Amen

 

As a part of this sermon, I read the poem Let America Be America Again by Langston Hughes. Everyone should know it. Read it ASAP. 


A feminist in the bathroom (and everywhere else)

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This is the bathroom I want to use.   Gender Neutral Restroom Sign – Baby Wale Restaurant DC – Freely downloadable from http://babywaledc.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/restroomdoor.pdf

A few days ago a Facebook friend of mine stated, in regards to the current discussion over trans people and bathrooms, he is baffled “that any true feminist who rightly opposes rape culture could in good conscience agree to such a gaping loophole.” I spun this round and round in my head and knew that I would take up a whole lot of space on his feed if I answered there, so I will answer here.

To begin, feminism is the idea that all people are equal and, as such, the main commitment of feminism is to destroy patriarchy. Patriarchy dictates that there are roles for men and roles for women and whoever steps out of those boxes does not fit. Moreover, patriarchy is a system in which men hold the power. And not just any men, but men who fit into the box of how patriarchy has traditionally defined manhood. Patriarchy has no space for men who cry, who have more “feminine” physical traits, for men who sew, who stay at home with their kids, who are quiet or afraid. Patriarchy does not allow for the full spectrum of what it means to be a man, only for a narrow definition of manhood. Patriarchy also does not allow for women to exhibit more “masculine” traits. Women are not allowed (under patriarchy) to show anger (when we do we are bitches or much be on our periods), to be in charge and be directive (lest we be called “bossy”). Conversely, when we do traditionally “feminine” things like cry or show fear or any perceived weakness, we are told that we cannot handle being in the workplace (or whatever situation we are in that has made us cry). The system of patriarchy is bad for everyone. It denies all of us — men, women and those who do not fit into the binary system of male and female — our full humanity. As a feminist, I object just as much to commercials that purport that men can’t talk about anything but sports (looking at you, terrible fantasy football commercials) or do anything around the home with some level of competence as I do to commercials that show women as pieces of meat (looking at you, seeming 90% of commercials ever). Feminists want all people to be able to just be themselves in their own unique way and to have power allowed to all people to do just that.

One of the problems with patriarchy as it relates to transgender folk is that it contributes heavily to the idea that there is one way to do gender and that sex is binary. In patriarchy, men are men and women are women. In reality, sex and gender are much more complex. There are at least 6 genetic sexes that people can be born with, and people can be born with female sex organs and a male brain and vice-versa. There are also people with body dysmorphia, gender dysmorphia, and people who just feel like they were born in the wrong body. But in patriarchy, there is no space for these people. Humans are one or the other, and if you don’t fit in either of those boxes, there is no space for you. This is incredibly harmful to those who don’t fit in our boxes of sex and gender, leading to an astronomically high suicide attempt rate (41%) for members of the trans community as well as ridiculously high rates of violence perpetrated against members of the trans community — trans women (especially trans women of color) being the most statistically endangered people in our society.

There is sexism in our national outrage over transgender people. The anger that arises when someone who has always seemed to be a man starts dressing as a woman and stating that he is, in fact, a she, is rooted in sexism. It is rooted in the belief that men should be a certain way and women should be a certain way. And few things seem to get a segment of the cisgender, hetero population heated more quickly than a (perceived) man “acting” like a woman. It is seen as somehow beneath a man to “want” to be a woman. This is sexism. This is patriarchy. This is what feminists fight against.

As a woman and as a feminist, I see it as my job to stand up for my sisters and brothers who are being taken down by patriarchy and to work with those who wish to dismantle it. Feminists are called to work with and for those who struggle just to live their lives free from abuse and fear because they don’t fit into a box or as they struggle to be someone they are not so they fit in the box and are safe (until they are discovered or can’t do it anymore and harm themselves).

Forcing a person who identifies as female (and may even have had reassignment surgery but has not been able to get a change on her birth certificate) to go into a men’s bathroom is declaring open season on our sisters. There is no safety in that. Forcing a person who identifies as male to do the same opens not only trans men but more “masculine” women to harassment (as we have seen many times in recent weeks as more masculine looking/acting women have been harassed in restrooms in the name of safety). I can think of few things that make me feel less safe than having people bursting in to the bathroom to make sure I have a vagina).

There is absolutely no evidence that allowing trans people to use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender precipitates an increase in violence. This is an instance of perceived danger vs. actual danger, and the actual danger simply does not exist. As far as the perceived dangers of allowing everyone to use the bathroom corresponding with their gender, how, does forcing trans men to go into the women’s restroom make women safer? A cisgender man always could dress like a woman and use the womans bathroom. Now a cisgender man can either come in and say he is biologically a woman or he is just checking to make sure no trans people are there, like a white knight of bigotry.  Either way, if a creeper wants to come into the women’s restroom, said creeper can do so. In reality, a creeper has always had access to women’s bathrooms and never needed an excuse around gender to gain access. 

Moreover, if a person wants to rape someone, they will. If not in the bathroom, in the parking garage, in the alleyway or in the park. Or, more likely, in the apartment, dorm room, or home, as stranger rape is a small percentage of the rapes that take place in these United States. Most people who are sexually assaulted are assaulted by someone they know — so the perpetrator is more likely a friend, family member or coach than a transperson or random person in the bathroom you have never met. Maybe we should keep all of those people out of the bathroom? Private bathrooms for everyone!!!

I do not believe this is remotely about my safety or the safety of women and children, just as the fear of black mean raping white women in the civil rights era (and before and since) is not about protecting women. If those vociferously objecting to trans bathroom access actually cared about sexual assault, they would be funding sexual assault prevention (and just plain sex ed, but that’s another issue). They would be raising their voices loudly when a man is found not guilty of rape even though he had sex with a young woman who was unconscious. They would be objecting every time a victim is asked what he or she wore, if he or she was drunk, or if he or she led the assailant on. If people were actually concerned about rape, they would be pressing to have all of the rape kits backlogged in police stations all across the US to be run so that predators could be caught. They would be teaching their children about consent and autonomy, that only yes means yes and that no one ever owes anyone sex. Rape is not about sex, it is about power. It is about wanting something that isn’t yours and taking it, making someone feel small and humiliated and powerless. If the people out there who are so concerned about who is peeing where were actually concerned about rape, they would be working to empower those who have little power, not to continue to concentrate power in the hands of cisgender, straight, white men. They would want to destroy the patriarchy, just like I do. But all I see are people who want to reinforce gender roles, to force people into a gender binary that doesn’t exist, and to perpetuate patriarchy  so that they can keep the power that they have held for thousands of years, all in the name of safety.

And that, as far as I am concerned, is bullshit.

So far as it concerns me as a Christian and a pastor, I will simply say that we are all created in God’s image, we are all immeasurably loved, and God calls on us to stand up for the oppressed and marginalized. The end.


If churches want to be more diverse — maybe we should start with worship

I was just listening to a fascinating episode of Radiolab that took a look at race and racism in the world of debate. In short, they talked to black debaters about the ways the language and norms of the debate world excluded black people. The main subject of the show shared a story of walking into a national debate competition in high school and having everyone in a large cafeteria stop talking and stare at the black students who just walked into the room. Then he participated in a debate with a partner who instead of arguing the topic at hand, she argued that the debate itself did not allow for black voices, black culture, black ways of being and speaking. She argued that the basic setup of debate set up a ton of obstacles that kept black students from not only winning, but participating. It’s a fascinating episode and you should check it out.

This got me thinking about how we in the mainline protestant church, particularly in my home denomination, the ELCA, tells people of color, women, people with disabilities and the LGBT community (among others) that they do not belong in our pews through the norms of our worship. As we worry about how to become a more diverse denomination, we cling to what might be the main thing that keeps us inaccessible to people from so many other places on the margins. Our worship norms, our language, our music — our frozen chosen style — may create so many barriers to entry it is no wonder we are so damned white (96%, if you are wondering). The way we worship and the way we react to different styles of worship, music changes, etc (either protesting or tokenizing) reinforce white supremacy and keep people who are not a part of the dominant culture (or who don’t speak/have an affinity for the language of the dominant culture) away.

Nettie Jahns 003

Most of our ELCA churches still look like this, only the clothes are way less cool.  (1902 Confirmation photo, St. John’s Lutheran Church, Fremont, OH)

 

This is not new information to me. But I had mostly looked at it from the point of view of including other white people — white women, white people with disabilities, white members of the LGBT community. I hadn’t thought enough about how the very language we use may be a reason that people of color stay away.

For example: When I go to churches that have a ton of Father God talk, I get tense. I get annoyed. When I see a large amount of masculine language included in prayers, I get irritated. I want to see myself in worship; I want to hear that my LGBTQ community is included and that those who don’t identify with male or female gendered language have a space in worship. But I don’t consider how the worship might be exclusive to those for whom our the language of the dominant culture doesn’t make sense. I use music in worship that is accessible to people who like predominantly-white hipster music, but I don’t work to include much music that might be accessible to non-white people (which is some ways is because I don’t have those skills). I mean, I use some of the stuff from This Far by Faith, my denominations African-American liturgy, but that’s as far as it goes (also, I would highly doubt that anyone would have any idea that was what I was doing. In fact, I actually quit the gospel choir in my seminary because of the constant drone of masculine language in gospel hymns, preferring my comfort over the comfort of others who experience far more oppression than I do as a white woman.

The language, music and style of our worship services are, in general, that of the dominant culture. With the exception of the non-white Lutheran congregations out there, we all do the same thing in the same way (to one degree or another). Even when we are doing something “different” we are using the language of the dominant culture whether we know it (admit it) or not.  When we tell people of color that their songs aren’t Lutheran enough, when we exclude the possibility of including non-hymn music in worship, when we stick to the script, we reenforce whiteness on a grand scale. Some people in oppressed groups like our theology and our community enough to stick with it, but most will just walk away.

Last week, the ELCA clergy Facebook group did an experiment. All white clergy were asked to step back and listen to provide space for voices that are generally marginalized on the page. While there were many postings that caught my eye and tugged at my heart and my social justice bones, there was one I saw that pertained to this writing. One woman pastor of color posted a gospel hymn with the words, “It’s nice to post a non-Lutheran song here without worrying that it will be completely dissected for its non-Lutheran message. We can simply enjoy the song and singer. Also, realize that this is typical of the music that many of those not in church listen to and which inspires them.” This is what we white pastors have a horrible tendency to do: we explain away all of the reasons something doesn’t fit into our culture when it is incredibly meaningful for someone and make assumptions about whether the person who loves the songs understand the theology behind it. This is a shining example of how we, in the church, reinforce white supremacy and keep other cultures out of our pews and our lives, whether we mean to or not. We whites plain to others (or straightsplain or mansplain) why their language does not belong, and by doing so, we claim the space as “ours.” We tell other people that they do not belong, that they do not matter, and that our cultural preferences win. Every. Time.

There are exceptions to our (Lutheran) tendency to adhere to the cultural norms that are rooted in our European heritage, and I believe that whenever possible we (rostered and lay people) should get outside of our comfort zones and experience the worship of communities different from our own. When I was a student at LSTC, I attended a predominantly black church in Harvey, IL. What I experienced there blew my mind. I cannot express how uncomfortable I was at first. People would (gasp!) speak during worship, uttering “Amen” and “Praise the Lord!” during sermons, prayers, etc. Everyone would hug during the passing of the peace. There was a hip-hop liturgical dance troop, and the music was far more along the lines of Kirk Franklin than Martin Luther. But the members of that community went out of their way to make me feel at home. Every week I would try to escape before the passing of the peace, avoiding the barrage of hugs (I grew up in a shake hands with the people in front of and behind you church). One week, this little old woman stood in front of me as I moved to leave. I told her I had to go to the bathroom. She said to me, “No you don’t. I see you every week. you’re passing the peace today!” Then she hugged me. In that hug, she shattered 24 years of frozen chosen-ness inside of me. I began to enjoy that people were so into worship that they would vocally respond to things that resonated with them, to look forward to the gospel songs (I always liked the hip-hop liturgical dance troop and think that should happen everywhere). I had to make a cultural commute to be there, but the people helped me along. Making it easier was that the words for the liturgy were, by and large, the words I knew in my heart, so we were really meeting each other halfway. What can we do in our predominantly white spaces that meet people who aren’t of European descent halfway? How can we open up our spaces so that there is something for everyone?

Yes, we have an African-American liturgy and a Latino Liturgy, but for the most part they stand alone or are only included for theme times like Black History Month (and, honestly, I am probably just being hopeful here about what we do) or Pentecost. Pentecost — the one Sunday a year when we all welcome other languages to be spoken in our space. What would it look like if we used pieces of these liturgies every week? If we intentionally brought the languages (liturgical style, music, structure, tone, etc) communities that we don’t think of as “traditionally Lutheran” into our spaces. What if we examined our norms to think about the kinds of barriers they might put in the way of people seeking community in Christ? What if we occasionally used our bell choirs for a little hip-hop or meringue, or we got in the habit of using a more call and response style of liturgy? Or if we taught our congregations that it is okay to speak when the spirit moves you (there is no side eye like the side eye given to someone who Amen’s through a sermon at a predominantly white church). How can we remove barriers to not only white women and white queer folk, but to errybody? What would an intersectional* worship look like?

I don’t know if this would have a huge effect on our abysmal diversity statistics. But It seems like a really good place to focus some attention.

Friends who are not of the dominant culture: what do you think? How can we as a church become intersectional in worship? Would it matter?

 

BTW, I am not remotely saying that there aren’t people of all races who enjoy hymns or that classical music is a white thing. But I am saying that these are things that our white culture is most comfortable with and it might behoove us to look at the ways these things might be creating barriers for people who aren’t Scandinavian/German Lutherans.

 

*Intersectionality is a concept often used in critical theories to describe the ways in which oppressive institutions (racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, xenophobia, classism, etc.) are interconnected and cannot be examined separately from one another. So, by intersectional worship, I mean a worship that allows people to see their whole selves, all of their identities, reflected in the worship service. This definition is from Wikipedia😉