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A litany for predominantly white spaces, against white supremacy

Litany against white supremacy

 

Gracious and loving God,

 

We, as a church, must respond to the white supremacy in our nation. Here is one attempt at a litany to address it. Change it, do with it what you will, just please do something. 

Written by Revs. Elizabeth Rawlings and Jennifer Chrien

In the beginning, you created humanity and declared us very good

We were made in Africa, came out of Egypt.

Our beginnings, all of our beginnings, are rooted in dark skin.

We are all siblings. We are all related.

We are all your children.

 

We are all siblings, we are all related, we are all your children.

 

Violence entered creation through Cain and Abel.

Born of jealousy, rooted in fear of scarcity,

Brother turned against brother

The soil soaked with blood, Cain asked, “Am I my brother’s keeper?

 

We are all siblings, we are all related, we are our brothers keeper.

 

When your people cried out in slavery,

You heard them. You did not ignore their suffering.

You raised up leaders who would speak truth to power

And lead your people into freedom.

Let us hear your voice; grant us the courage to answer your call.

Guide us towards justice and freedom for all people.

 

We are all siblings, we are all related, we all deserve to be free.

 

Through the prophets you told us the worship you want is for us  

  to loose the bonds of injustice,

   to undo the thongs of the yoke,

to let the oppressed go free,

   and to break every yoke;

Yet we continue to serve our own interest,

To oppress our workers, to crush our siblings by the neck because we are afraid.

Because they don’t look like us, act like us, talk like us.

Yet, they are us. And we are them.

 

We are all siblings, we are all related, we are not free unless all are free

 

In great love you sent to us Jesus, your Son,

Born in poverty, living under the rule of a foreign empire,

Brown-skinned, dark-haired, middle-Eastern.

They called him Yeshua, your Son,

Who welcomed the unwelcome, accepted the unacceptable—

The foreigners, the radicals, the illiterate, the poor,

The agents of empire and the ones who sought to overthrow it,

The men and women who were deemed unclean because of their maladies.

 

We are all siblings, we are all related, we are all disciples.

 

The faith of Christ spread from region to region, culture to culture.

You delight in the many voices, many languages, raised to you.

You teach us that in Christ, “There is no Jew or Greek, there is no slave or free, there is no male and female.”

In Christ, we are all one.

Not in spite of our differences, but in them.

Black, brown, and white; female, non-binary, and male; citizen and immigrant,

In Christ we are all one.

 

We are all siblings, we are all related, we are all one in Christ.

 

Each week, we confess our sin to you and to one another.

We know that we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves.

We are captive to the sin of white supremacy,

Which values some lives more than others,

Which believes some skin tones are more perfect than others,

Which commits violence against those who are different.

We confess our complicity in this sin.

We humbly repent.

We ask for the strength to face our sin, to dismantle it, and to be made anew

We trust in your compassion and rely on your mercy

Praying that you will give us your wisdom and guide us in your way of peace,

That you will renew us as you renew all of creation

In accordance with your will.

 

We ask this, we pray this, as your children, all siblings, all related, all beloved children of God.

 

Amen

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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.


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.

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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


A new kind of attractional ministry (or: the church has done this to itself)

If You Build it They Will Come... Just Kidding...

A while back, I was listening to an episode of On Being with the amazing Joanna Macy. Macy is a buddhist and environmentalist, and if you don’t know who she is, go and read The Great Turning then come back. I’ll wait.

The host, Krista Tippet, asked Macy about her journey from Christianity to Buddhism. Macy was raised Christian, but her life changed when she went to volunteer with refugees from Tibet. As she tells it, she saw that these refugees who had nothing and were living in incredibly difficult circumstances had this light inside of them. They seemed to radiate joy and peace inspire of their circumstances. Macy says she thought to herself, “That. I want that.” From that point she began to study Buddhism and has become an amazing teacher and activist for peace and environmental justice.

As I listened to her story, something clicked. That. That is what we in the Christian church are missing. We have busied ourselves for years with changing our congregations so that we have the “right” programs, the “right” worship service, the “right” small groups. This is called attractional ministry, or the Field of Dreams way of doing ministry. If we build it, they will come.

But this hasn’t happened. We have built it and they are walking away. We have tried to alter our way of doing things in order to attract people to our ministry instead of altering our way of being so that we might attract people to Christ.

Many of my friends who don’t do church have this listed in their reasons for staying away. Church appears to be a group of people who gather each week as one would at a social club, nothing really challenging is said, no one really emerges as changed, they just sit for an hour listening to a bunch of words and then go home the same person they were when they woke up in the morning. What’s the point?

A colleague of mine recently told me of a conversation with an older colleague who explained that, in his day, it wasn’t thought of as the pastor’s call to change people; the purpose of church was to make people comfortable. And comfortable we are, but changed we are not.

Now, let me be clear, the change I am talking about isn’t people coming to church and instantly changing their outward behaviors to become more socially acceptable people (or, worse yet, changing who they are to fit into some narrow idea of what Christian looks like). It isn’t becoming less obviously sinful or bad or whatever, changing the outward behavior in hopes of becoming more holy or something (though one hopes that through regular encounters with God’s word, change will come). We will always mess up, we will always fall short of the goal, and changing acts means little without a change of heart. The change I am talking about is the re-orientation of life that comes from communion with the holy spirit, from hearing the radical love of Jesus Christ proclaimed from the pulpit every week, from deep involvement in a community rooted in Christ, and from a discipleship journey that includes regular engagement in spiritual practices. This kind of change comes from being both mentored and challenged in faith.

Too often leaders are afraid of challenging their people. Afraid of rocking the boat, afraid of having congregants get mad because they were made to feel uncomfortable. But, the thing is, faith is uncomfortable. The gospel is incredibly disruptive. It tells us that all of the messages society gives us about what matters in life (material possessions, worldly power, etc) are wrong. The gospel tells us that every single person is loved and worthy of love — this includes people we hate, people we don’t understand, people who have hurt us AND ourselves when we are at our worst. Jesus came to proclaim good news to the poor and to flip the narrative regarding whose side God was on.  This is incredibly challenging stuff. It will make people uncomfortable, but this is the message we are called to proclaim. Every week.

Repeatedly hearing of God’s radical love for all of creation, or God’s unapologetic inclusiveness and the Biblical call to serve the oppressed will change people. Giving people spiritual practices they can use to engage with will lead to transformation.

This will lead to communities in which “All are welcome” is more than a slogan, it is a way of life. It will lead to Christians doing work in the world towards justice for all people. It will lead to people who overflow with God’s love, pouring it out into the world, leading people to look at Christians and think, “I want that.”

This is not a simplistic faith. It is not a faith defined by doctrine and dogma, but a faith that is deeply connected to God and to the world. A faith that recognizes that bad things happen, but God is with us, and we are God’s people called to walk with others who are struggling. This is a faith that cultivates a deep resounding joy that is different from fleeting happiness, a joy that helps us get through difficult times because no matter how hard things get, we know the love of God. It is a faith that recognized the broken in the world and in ourselves and boldly proclaims that love is still alive, that love wins, defeating hate and violence and death.

When we are able to love others and ourselves despite our sinful nature, when we are able to love others and ourselves as we are, we are able to create radically honest communities that love loudly and boldly beyond all of the superficial smiles so many congregations seem to feel they are required to wear on Sunday mornings. When we create spaces into which people can enter when they are not okay, we create spaces into which anyone can enter at any time and know the love of God.

We often look to a growing church for guidance on how to fix our congregational problems. In the past few years, ELCA (and other) churches (as well as the institution) have been looking to House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver for the solution. What do they do there that has helped them grow? How to they attract so many young people? What is the magic pill and how do I get it?

I have been to HFASS, I have friends who have been involved in the community and I think I have an idea what it is. Here’s the magic: excellent, challenging preaching rooted in the gospel message of radical inclusion, bold proclamation of the fact that we are all both sinners and saints and we are all equally loved and valued by God, administration of the sacrament, and a radical inclusiveness that lets you feel welcome in church when you feel like crap, when you have screwed up, when you feel totally unworthy of love, when you have a past you would rather forget about, or any of the million reasons people stay away from church on a bad day (or every day). That’s it (as far as I see it, anyway).

HFASS is not the only community doing this, but it is lifted up so often by the ELCA (and torn down by others), it is an easy example of the gospel as the solution to our current wailing about church decline. It is an excellent example of a new kind of attractional ministry.

We, as Christians, are called to allow ourselves to be changed by the gospel. We are called in baptism to a new life in Christ, a lifetime of discipleship and practicing being Christian. As pastors, we are called to create disciples. Are disciples people who can recite church dogma, people who can quote scripture, or people who hear, smell, taste and see the gospel and “Go and do likewise?”

What’s more attractional?

What will make people like Joanna Macy look at us and say to themselves, “That. I want that?”


Ministry in Grand Central

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This past week, a colleague gave me an analogy for campus ministry as ministry at a bus stop. It’s a pretty good analogy — everyone is coming an going, no one will be there for long. As I thought about it, I thought a more apt description might be ministry in Grand Central. Some people are rushing towards their destination, others are wandering. Some know where they are trying to go, some think they do but change their minds, and others are just lost. People are hungry, tired and burnt out. For many, this is their first time away from home and the station is overwhelming and bewildering — they are seeking direction. Some have friends with whom they travel, others are traveling on their own. Given the amount of time most of them will be in the station, they will be seeking out fellow travelers to hang out with, eat with and form community, many looking for those who are traveling to a similar destination or who have similar travel styles. All of them will leave at some point, some sooner than others.

This is our situation. And it is up to us to figure out how to provide for these people while they are in the station — to talk to them, figure out what they need, and to try to meet these needs the best we can, all in the name of Jesus Christ.

When I talk to students around the University of Washington, one thing comes up again and again — students are seeking connection and community. Even the kids are me who are in fraternities, which, in theory, should be providing that. As a called an ordained minister of word and sacrament, it is often thought that it is my job to provide those things in this place, but, all too often, the way word and sacrament is practiced are too narrow. There are so many students here who desire to be fed, but preaching and eucharist don’t meet the students where they are, at least not at first. There are students who have baggage around “church,” students to whom our rites are foreign and strange, and students who are drawn to check out a community grounded in the teachings of Jesus Christ but aren’t ready to worship yet. if all we offer is a traditional worship service, how do we meet the needs of everyone else at the station? How do we minister to those who are wandering, lost, looking for company, yet for one reason or another aren’t ready for or interested in what we often call traditional, liturgical worship? If I am called as a minister to the entire community of the University of Washington through the Lutheran Church, is it not my call to minister to the needs of the community, even (is not especially) to those who do not feel called to worship God in the ways we have traditionally worshiped? What if, instead of practicing word and sacrament with my tiny community, we learn to embody word and sacrament, to embody grace, and to create spaces where that grace can be experienced by others not yet ready to practice word and sacrament themselves?

Many of my colleagues, particularly those of us on the left coast, are facing these issues. A colleague of mine had students coming for dinner but leaving before worship. Other colleagues have seen growth in gathering around meal with liturgical elements (often called dinner church), while others have been using gardens, conversation, and a dozen other things to help students gather in Christian community — even if not all of the students are ready to call it that or are even aware that Christ is moving within and through the community as it gathers.

I regularly encounter students who are hungry for community, for love, for grace, for hope — for the gospel, really — but are suspicious of religion and its trappings. They fear being sold to, they don’t want to come to dinner and worship (our current pattern) because they don’t want the bait and switch. They don’t want to be invited to share a meal and then be told they are getting Jesused, whether they like it or not.

What would it look like for communities to gather in ways that are rooted in the gospel without constantly talking about the gospel? If we found ways to be Christian community without hitting people over the head with it, then invited those who were enjoying the community to learn about Christ’s presence within the community? To provide a gathering space that is Christian under the hood and then to leave space and opportunity for the students who realized they were hungry for more to come to more?

One of the things I love about campus ministry is that those of us in this call are living out the struggles the church will be facing in the next 10-20 years (if they aren’t already). We are on the front lines of ministry in a changing world that often looks askance at people of faith and at the institution of the church. We are all, whether we know it or not, in the business of transit center ministry. Those of us who live in big cities and/or work with millennials know that our people are moving, moving, moving. They likely will not be in our congregation or our neighborhood for long — so how to we provide for them meaningful, deep, community rooted in the grace and love of Jesus Christ while they are around, and how do we do that in a way that is accessible to those at many points in their faith?

For some, entering into a church deeply rooted in tradition and liturgy will be a welcome trip home, even if they have never done so before. Some people just connect with the rites and rituals and are drawn in by the history, humanity and holiness of the creeds, the smells and bells, and the wonder and mystery of the eucharist. Others have deep wounds which these elements rip open. For many, these rites are unapproachable without a good deal of preparation and understanding — isn’t it kind of weird to demand people worship a God they are just getting to know?

We need many different types of churches and worship styles, but we also need places for people to gather that are rooted in Christian community but don’t shout it out loud, and ways for people to enter into the possibility of worshipping Christ and to explore what that means and what it looks like before they are ready for the full meal deal. We need to create opportunities for people to encounter the beauty of community rooted in Christ that *aren’t* worship, that aren’t liturgical, but allow exploration of those things along with exploration of the scriptures and experience of Word and Sacrament that are more akin to wading in than diving. If we are in the transit station, we are managing a host of different opportunities to experience the living God so that the people at the directions kiosk can direct people to the part of the station that is appropriate to the person. Some will want to stay at the precipice and not enter more deeply into the community or a relationship with Christ. And that is okay. Maybe at the next stop on their journey they will want more. Maybe they won’t. But they will have been fed and supported in the meanwhile, they will experience one form of God’s loving grace — community rooted in Christ’s love.

This may be a little all over the place, so — TL;DR — if we want to bring more people into Christian community, if we want more people to experience the beauty and mystery of liturgical worship and word and sacrament, it is up to us to provide entry points beyond worship services and one on ones, to experiment with what Christian community looks like, then to offer to walk with people on their journey through their stop at the transit station, however long it lasts.


Nonviolence and rape

Tonight I preached about Jesus taking on all of our violence on the cross and responding in love. I talked about how he was humiliated, abandoned, beaten and killed and, through it all, he responded with love, grace and forgiveness. The resurrection, I said, was God showing us that love wins. That responding to violence with love and forgiveness is God’s call to us, and love wins. I preached that our instinct to respond to violence with violence only harms the world and we are called to follow Christ’s example to respond to violence with love.

Then I ran into a problem.

Rape.

How does one tell a woman to respond to rape with nonviolence, forgiveness and love?

As a person who has provided pastoral care to survivors of sexual violence and relationship violence and a survivor of both myself, how do I talk about nonviolence and rape?

I know too well the shame that comes with feeling like you didn’t fight back hard enough. I know the questions victims are asked. “Did you scream?” “Did you fight?” “How did you let that happen to you?” I know that the level of resistance a person puts forward somehow, both to others and ourselves, speaks to whether we “wanted” it to happen or not. That when a person stays in a relationship with someone who hurts them, that person is branded as weak, as someone who is asking for it or even likes it. We live in a world where government officials refer to differences in rape and have coined the phrase, “legitimate rape,” as though some rapes count more than others. Not fighting back can make it impossible not only to protect yourself, but to convince others that your rape was real.

The Bible doesn’t speak to sexual violence, at least not in a way that helps me figure this out. The Bible has many instances of sexual violence, and, all too often, it seems condoned (or at least passed over) by the writers of scripture. David rapes Bathsheba and becomes king. Lot offers his daughters to the men beating down his door as a way to get the men to not harm his visitors. In the prophets, God is written as committing sexual violence against Jerusalem.

I know that nonviolence is not passively accepting what is happening to you. Nonviolence is a form of action, it is withholding, freezing, keeping violence from being done by standing strong. But how does that apply in cases of sexual violence?

I would never, ever tell someone to accept rape. I don’t know how to tell someone to actively resist rape in a nonviolent way. I would fight with my last breath to keep myself or someone I love from being raped. I would accept beating, I would accept many things being done to me in the name of nonviolence. But not rape.

How do we rectify this? How do we speak of nonviolence in cases of sexual violence? Is there a nonviolent option? Or do we accept violence as a necessary response in this world? Is nonviolence always the answer?

Anyone?


How do I get (my) kids to go to church?!

This picture kind of scares me. But, hey, kids in church!

This picture kind of scares me. But, hey, kids in church! Why are they crying? Is it that bad?!?!

This past fall I received quite a few emails that went something like this, “I really want my child to be involved in campus ministry, but s/he just isn’t interested? What can I do?” Pastors, youth directors, church leaders and parents hear and ask this question a lot. How can we get kids and young adults to a) go to church b) not hate it and c) keep coming into adulthood? As the church frets about declining numbers, it is a reflex to try to do whatever we can to get young people in the pews. We start new programs, look to hire young pastors, change worship and do all kind of things to get children and young adults into the doors. Parents cajole, they bribe, engage in yelling matches, and I don’t know what all to get kids to church.

For generations, church was something people just did. There was immense social capital involved in going to church and not going to church made people wonder if there was something wrong with you. This is no longer the case. We cannot assume that young people will come to church or that once they leave they will come  back when they have kids. Some will, but, for many, when they leave the church as a teen, they will not come back to us. Because they don’t need to. They can have their community needs met elsewhere, they don’t need church for career connections and, for far too many, haven’t seen life in the church as being any different from life outside of the church. As a campus pastor, I think about this a lot. Getting college kids through the door is a really, really difficult thing to do. As I have conversations with youth workers, pastors, and other people of faith about the declining presence of young people (and, um, just people) in our congregations, I have a few thoughts. When I talk about young people, I mean babies to 30’s, ’cause that’s all young in church world.

1) Why do you want young people in your church?

Seriously, why? Is it because you are afraid the church is dying and, if we don’t get them in the door now, our centuries old way of doing things will die? If that’s it, find other reasons. Young people can sniff our desperation and they know that our desire to have them in church is far less related to who they are as human beings than it is to our need to play the numbers game and justify both our current existence and salvage our future. And they aren’t interested in propping up an institution at all, much less for the sake of just propping it up. What are some good reasons to want young people in church?

  • They ask amazing questions and challenge assumptions. This can be really hard, but also, if they are listened to, can bring about much needed change in church. Old things may die. New life will happen.
  • Young people bring a different kind of energy to church and are really excited about community and intergenerational life.
  • Young people are a part of a cultural shift that we as individuals and a church need to understand. We can’t understand “kids today” if we aren’t talking to them.
  • Because they are children of God and a part of our family and it is sad when part of our family isn’t around.

2) Why do you want your kids (or any kids) to go to church?

Like the former question, do you want them to go because they should just go? Because you always went? Do you even know why you want them to go? If you haven’t thought about it before, take some time and think about why you go to church. What does it give to you? How does it feed you? What is the importance of gathering weekly with a group of others seeking to praise God and to hear God’s word in our lives today? Once you have figured some of that out, tell your kids. Tell them why faith is important to your life and how the church community has fed your faith and your life. Tell them again and again. Tell stories of times when faith lived out in community has helped get you through something hard, has connected things for you in a new way, helped you celebrate… If you don’t know why you go to church, you won’t be able to pass it on. If the children in your life don’t hear stories about the importance of Christian faith lived in community, all they will see is a rote attendance out of obligation. Most young people just aren’t into that. They are seeking, and if they know that you are seeking, that church has helped you in your journey and you want to journey with them, that can go a long way to encouraging them to develop a faith life of their own.

3) Don’t remove the kids from worship

This is a huge thing for me. I grew up going to a church that I love dearly. I always felt cared for and supported. I also grew up in a church where I was shuffled out for Sunday School. I didn’t know this at the time, but I implicitly learned that church wasn’t for me. To this day I struggle to sit through a whole church service (if I am not leading). In high school, I tried to help out in the nursery, at coffee hour — whatever I could do to not be in church. I am not the only person who has had this experience. This is a story I hear again and again — I have even heard kids say that that is how leaving church makes them feel. If you are in or lead a church that takes the kids out of worship for Sunday school, YOU ARE TELLING THEM CHURCH IS NOT FOR THEM, implicitly teaching that church is for grown-ups and they are not needed or wanted in church. You are also (probably) creating a worship service that is strictly for adults, so if the kids came back in, they would have little to do/relate to and few role models for leading worship. There are a ton of ways one can make church work for kids — from setting expectations that they will sit through the service to creating play areas in the sanctuary to involving them in worship from a young age. I have seen very high liturgy churches do this as well as churches that are lower on the liturgigeek scale. There are ways to make young people feel included in worship that fit every church. Include a young person on your worship and music committee, find out what they would like to see in worship and how they like to praise God. Keep them in worship. Help them participate and see that they ARE a part of the church and worship IS for them too.

4) Don’t make it a battle

I know this is to every parent’s discretion and I don’t know your kids, but my experience with kids is that when you make them do something they don’t want to do repeatedly, they just come up with more reasons to hate it. Express to them why it is important they go. Maybe make it into a family outing once a month followed by an awesome brunch or something fun. But, at some point, if you feel like you are driving them further and further from church, maybe let it go. Have faith conversations. If your kid doesn’t believe in God, talk about why. Some people just don’t have the faith gene. However, their doubt could be a huge gift to your family and your church by asking questions that need to be asked and starting deeper conversations about faith. If your kid just hates worship, find out why. See if maybe they might be interested in trying other churches or if you can bring up your kids dislikes with the pastor (if they are reasonable). Faith exploration is a healthy thing, and maybe you can have some awesome new experiences too.

5) Make church time meaningful time

As I said above, young adults can get a lot of the things previously provided by the church, such as community and connections, in many other places. What they can’t get elsewhere is Jesus. What we need to do as a church body — pastors, leaders, parents, everyone in the congregation — is to communicate to young adults why Jesus makes a difference. Sermons need to be good: to challenge, to exhort, to praise, to make the readings applicable to what people face in their daily lives. Churches should help young people (all people) develop a life in the spirit that changes, moves and guides them through every stage of life. Church has to be more than a social club and to provide more than good music and sacraments. Are we teaching our children to pray beyond the Lord’s prayer? Are we teaching them the purpose of prayer? Are we helping them draw connections between worship, prayer and service in the world? If we are not doing these things, if we are not showing them why a life in Christ matters, we are just another extra-curricular activity that is way too early on Sunday mornings or conflicts with stuff that will help them get into college. If we are, they know God is working in them them in ways that they know will help them walk through life and shape them into people who will spread God’s love in the world. They know that they are in community with others seeking God, people they can share their story and life with. That is something to keep coming back for.

6) Get intergenerational

In the 80’s and 90’s there was a huge move towards splitting everyone up for age appropriate programming. This makes sense — different ages have different needs, and not everything is developmentally appropriate (or possible) for kids. However, this move separated youth from adults and created a chasm in our congregations. Now, in may places, youth barely interact with their elders. Intergenerational relationships are deeply formative. Some of my best memories in church are Mr. McNerney, who sat in the pew in front of my mom and I, checking in on how I was doing. So many of the older members of my congregation were mentors for me, second grandparents. I cherish those relationships and knowing that those people cared about me deeply. Find ways to bring those relationships back to church if they don’t seem to be naturally occurring. Start a mentoring program. Invite older members to help out with youth events, create opportunities for relationships to be built across age groups. This will show younger members that the adults care, show older members that the youth are integral to the life of the church and have really good ideas, and help share stories and build relationships that will help guide and nurture faith for years to come.

7) Listen to the young people and those who work with them

I cannot tell you how many incredibly discouraging conversations I have with youth and youth workers about how their views are treated in church. I have talked to young people who have been laughed at and shouted down in council meetings, as well as young people who are constantly told they should be on the youth committee even if that isn’t where their gifts, skills or desires lie. Here’s what that says, “Your voice doesn’t matter. Your gifts don’t matter.” I have talked to youth workers whose announcements get pushed out of the bulletin or announcement time because of time/space. Here is what that says, “There is no room for young people here.” I know this is redundant, but if you want young people in your church you have to actually want them in your church as more than just a number. You have to want them as full human beings and allow them to participate fully in the life of the church. That means young people on council and in committees, it means lifting them up in prayer and in announcements, and having them serve in various ways in worship and service as soon as they are old enough to do so. If you have youth staff (paid or volunteer), show them that they matter. Work with them. Help them go to trainings. Too often, being a youth director means you are at the kids table. This helps no one. Invite your youth staff to the big table. Invite the kids too. After all, we all share the meal. Together, at the table, as the full body of Christ. Let’s set the table together.