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Author: Merianna Harrelson

I am the Interim Pastor of New Hope Christian Fellowship and Director of Ministrieslab providing tools and resources to churches, clergy, and lay people to meet need. I am always looking for a good cup of coffee and a great book to read.

A Culture of Complaint

I didn’t sit outside today at the coffee shop, but rather at the point in the store where customers pick up their drink. I see the barista behind the counter working hard trying to keep up with the influx of Friday morning orders. I see him trying to smile as not one, but one after another, four people walk up and complain about their drink.

“Is this how this is supposed to be?”

“This was too milky.”

“This was too bitter can you sweeten it?”

“Why don’t y’all put the sleeves on the cups anymore? I don’t like having to do it.”

“I ordered light ice. This has too much.”

And I wonder how he does it. Person after person complaining about being served a beverage they didn’t have to make. I wonder about the customers too. Why did they order a drink that was full of espresso rather than sugar and then complain it was too bitter? Why did they order a latte and then complain it was too milky? The cynical part of me wonders if they are just trying to get two drinks for one since the barista patiently remakes and remixes drink after drink while new orders pile up.

We live in a culture of complaint. Our first reaction is to express what we don’t like before we express gratitude to the person who has served us. We expect that when we don’t like something or something differs from our expectations for someone to solve that without question.

Our first reaction is to express what we don’t like before we express gratitude to the person who has served us. We expect that when we don’t like something or something differs from our expectations for someone to solve that without question.

“I’m a paying customer. I deserve…”

Even as communities in Mexico City work together to search through the rubble; even as communities in Puerto Rico wrestle with the reality that they may not have power or water for six months or longer; even as people are diagnosed with life-threatening diseases, we complain about our coffee.

Thanks be to God for a lectionary text about a complaining prophet this week who is angry when God spares a people. May our eyes be opened to our own anger and complaining and give our mouths gratitude first.

A New Kind of Economy

I’ve been struggling with how to express the importance in revisualizing the economy and those who are struggling to make a living and find a home within the confines of the stilted economy we find ourselves in. But any conversation about the economy inevitably falls on deaf ears of those who entered the working world in a different economy. Those who entered the working world before the 2008 Recession are convinced that if you work hard enough, you will find a job that can sustain you and support your family. Those who entered the working world before the 2008 Recession are convinced that education can provide you opportunity and advancement in the professional realm.

Those of us who entered the working world after the 2008 Recession know these things aren’t true.

We know that there is a constant and consistent threat to having your job being cut, reduced in the number of hours and that benefits are not a guarantee of any job anymore. We know that working full-time doesn’t cut it and know that working 40 + hours at a regular job is just the beginning of your work. We know that you also have to develop and maintain a side hustle, something that isn’t in addition to your job, but absolutely necessary to make ends meet.

And we know, if you entered the working world before the 2008 Recession, that you don’t get it. You don’t understand the amount of financial pressure and burden we’ve born for the entirety of our working lives.

There’s no way we can imagine a new economy until we are able to see where our economy truly is. There’s no way we can combat poverty, homelessness, and debt until we understand the reality of how little wealth the majority of Americans have access to. There’s no way we can stop blaming those who are struggling for not working hard enough and not trying hard enough until our eyes are opened to where we are.

And where we are is in desperate need of a new economy. A change. A different way of working and living in relation to one another.

On Taking a Different Path

I took a different path today,

not my regular route,

not my regular rut.

 

Trying to gain new perspective

because even those who examine

and reflect and remember –

 

Miss things

calling them mundane

instead of miraculous.

 

The connection

to the world

in a box.

 

Sun shining

devoid of the shadow

of eclipse.

 

Birds chiping

on tree branches

creating oxygen

 

to breathe

to live

to dream.

Shadow Ships

As I was reading Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar, there was an image that struck me. She was giving advice to someone who was wondering what her life would be like had she taken a different path and she suggested that the other life was a ship on the horizon. We can see that ship and sometimes it haunts us because of the possibility that isn’t our current reality.

Then I thought about our shadow selves. The ones that are revealed to us in the dark night of our souls. When we don’t wrestle with our shadow selves and come to terms with the best of ourselves, but also the worst of ourselves, then we can’t become fully whole. We have to come to terms with our deepest desires, our deepest passions, and our deepest, most fatal flaws.

But these shadow selves aren’t the only things that can impede us from living full and whole lives. It’s also our shadow ships. In those moments when our realities are so difficult, we long to be aboard another ship, another reality. We fantasize about what that life would be, the one floating on the boat over on the horizon. When we dwell on that boat, we only see the light cascading off the perfect facade, we don’t see the work required to keep that boat afloat.

Our shadow ships have to be sent out to sea. We have to bid them bon voyage when our realities get difficult. Those shadow ships are on a different body of water heading somewhere else and when we try to get to them, we risk capsizing the reality we are in. Rather than pining away for passage on them, be thankful for the journey you are on, no matter how difficult and how different than what you imagined.

The Power to Condemn and Spiritual Abuse

I’ve been condemned to hell more than once. I’ve been on personal prayer lists, Sunday School prayer lists, and prayer lists of communities of faith because I have “stepped out of God’s will” and “off the beaten path.” When I expressed a call to preach and pastor, it caused quite a few theological crises because as a woman I wasn’t supposed to be called to preach or pastor.

There are a couple of possible reactions that someone, like me, who presents a theological crisis to an individual or a community of faith, receives: acceptance or condemnation. If an individual or community accepts the “wanderer”, then the others within the faith community may also begin to question and challenge the teachings of that community causing more to wander away. If this “wanderer” is condemned by an individual or a community of faith, then the equilibrium is kept. Power is kept in the hands of the powerful. Followers are reminded of what happens when you step out of line: you become an outsider. The power to condemn is a purposeful use of language that maintains control and order.

The power to condemn is a purposeful use of language that maintains control and order while keeping power in the hands of the powerful. This is spiritual abuse.

Because I was born and raised in this theology, I know the line of reasoning. So, when I am condemned to hell, I don’t merely accept this conclusion but attempt to diffuse it.

“But I thought only God could judge or condemn someone.”

“That’s right, He is the ultimate judge.”

“Then, why are you condemning me to hell for answering a call to pastor and preach.”

“I’m not. I’m just…I’m just saying you need to be careful.”

“Ok, thanks, I will be.”

My response may sound flippant, but these encounters have been intense and painful experiences for me. In more than one instance after I have been condemned to hell, I have ended up in my closet crying and doubting myself and my call wondering whether I was indeed “off the beaten path” and “out of God’s will.” The reason spiritual abuse is so powerful is that it produces self-doubt, shame, and insecurity. It cripples those who have experienced it from being their true and whole selves.

If you haven’t condemned a fellow human to damnation and warned them of the danger of the path they are taking, it would be hard for you to imagine this conversation or interaction. But as someone who has both condemned fellow humans to damnation as well as wrestled with the inhumanity of that use of language, I understand the impact it can have.

As Hurricane Irma draws near, people are looking for something or someone to condemn; they are looking for a theological reason for Irma and Harvey to have hit where they have hit. “Ahh Orlando, isn’t that where the Pulse nightclub is?” I hope you haven’t heard these types of theological explanations for the disaster and devastation as I hope you haven’t heard them for you being yourself, but if you have, know that you are not alone.

I’m here “out of God’s will” and “off the beaten path,” ready to welcome you and affirm your courage and bravery in being who you are.

When You Exile the Dreamers

One of the first questions I asked my very first congregations was, “What do you dream this church would be?” In their answer, I saw their passion to help their neighbors in need. I heard their stories of being exiled from communities of faith, but most of all I heard hope.

This past Sunday, I asked the same thing of New Hope. “What do you dream this church would be? What has God been whispering in your ear?” And I’ve heard stories blueprints, ideas of why God had called this community of faith to form. I’ve heard of blueprints drawn up and since abandoned, but most of all I’ve heard hope of being God’s presence in the community.

The physical act of dreaming catches us in our most vulnerable position: unconsciousness. It reveals our passions, our fears, our anxieties, and our loves. Dreams can bring lost loved ones back for a conversation or a hug. Dreams can remind us of friends who we haven’t spoken to.

And yet our society has become one who longs for dreamless sleep. We don’t want to dream and imagine, we don’t want to put ourselves into the vulnerable position of revelation. This is evident in the announcement yesterday about DACA and the Dreamers.

When we exile dreamers from our society, we exile imagination.

When we exile dreamers from our society, we exile possibility.

When we exile dreamers from our society, we exile passion.

When we exile dreamers from our society, we exile healing.

When we exile dreamers from our society, we exile gratitude.

When we exile dreamers from our society, we exile hope

When we exile dreamers from our society, you enter a dreamless sleep of ambivalence and hopelessness.

Staring Into the Light

As Ben and I were walking this morning, we rounded the corner and Ben started to whine. He had his hand over his eyes and I realized the change in direction put the sun rise directly into his eyes. It made me think about looking directly into the poverty, homeless and need that exists in our society.

It’s almost too much. It’s too much to consider that another Category 4 or 5 hurricane could hit another part of our country. It is too much to think about the fact that we have food and homes while others don’t and so just like Ben, we often shield our eyes from the reality, but looking away or shielding our eyes won’t change the needs of neighbors.

It will still be there when we open our eyes shaded by the comfort and security of our own privilege. Maybe it’s time to head into the light, as bright as it is because there in the light is where we find Jesus healing those who are sick, eating with those who are outsiders and preaching to anyone who will listen.

 

Why this Labor Day is Different

This Labor Day is different because of the Homelessness Coalition I attended last week where people all over Columbia who felt passionately about helping the homeless came together to learn. We learned about the fair housing, we tried to make ends meet through a poverty simulation (I bet you can’t make it 30 days), and we asked ourselves how we could work together to combat poverty and homelessness in the Midlands.

As a young professional who entered the job market in 2008, I understand the impact the recession had not only on me and my colleagues but also on the baby boomers who were just within reach of retirement only to find out that they had to start all over. I understand the changing dynamics of what it means to work. I also understand the negative impact of the myth of the American Dream.

The average worker has to work one month in order to make what a CEO makes in one hour. 1% of our population holds 40% of all of America’s wealth. 8 out of every 10 people only hold 7% of America’s wealth. 500,000 youth (18+) are homeless. In fact, America meets all three criteria for qualifying as a third world country: poor distribution of income, government run by the elite, political focus on stasis rather than change.

South Carolina is the 8th poorest state in the US. In order to afford housing that is livable and abides by fair housing regulations, an individual needs to between $12.5-$18.29/hour. The minimum wage in SC is $7.25 meaning that a person who is working a minimum wage job would have to work 120 hours/week in order to afford housing that abides by fair housing regulation. This is physically impossible, but again and again, the homeless population is blamed for being lazy and not trying hard enough. Four out of ten homeless people hold jobs and four out of ten have no savings, so when a big expense in transportation, deposits, or medical bills arise there is no way for them to pay for those surprise expenses.

NPR reported today: “Full-time employees have become the last resort. Companies will do anything to hire part-time, short-term, or contract positions.” In addition: “More and more people who are full-time employees need second jobs or side gigs in order to make ends meet.” Our world is not the same as it has been. The changing dynamics of the economy and the changing idea of what it means to work is changing young professionals.

If communities of faith want to be relevant to young professional, there has to be an understanding of the uphill battle they are facing when it comes to finding work and finding reliable income. Our neighbors are in need. What are we going to do to help?

The Aftermath

We are living in the aftermath.

We’re living in the aftermath of a major universal event that many have never experienced. 

We’re living in the aftermath of protests that ended in death.

We’re living in the aftermath of the storm that has destroyed a major city and left thousands stranded and homeless. 

We’re living in the aftermath of a statement from an evangelical group who claim to know what God says about marriage and what isn’t marriage in God’s eyes.

We’re living in the aftermath in which people are waiting for you. They are waiting to see how you will respond. If you will respond with statements of support. If you will respond with donations. If you will respond with silence and awe. If you will respond with a theological crisis. If you will respond with an identity crisis. If you will respond by continuing to live unimpacted and unchanged.

We are living in the aftermath; the ground shifting under us, inviting us to change, inviting us to new insight and new understanding. Will you accept?

The Ghosts of Our Past

I just finished reading Toni Morrison’s Beloved part of my commitment this year to read more books by women authors, authors from different socioeconomic backgrounds, and authors of different ethnicities and races. Morrison weaves a devastating tale of African Americans trying desperately to find freedom from slavery. Her main character Sethe is beaten when she is pregnant to the point that she will wear scars on her back for the rest of her life. In a pivotal moment, Sethe’s old owner finds her in Ohio and intends to claim his property back: her and all four of her kids. What is she supposed to do? That moment of decision plagues her for the rest of the book. Ghosts from her past keep her up at night, make her question who she is, and make her wonder whether she is a good mother.

I’ve often said I wish I could go back to the community of faith I grew up in now that I have found my voice and speak into the sexism and spiritual abuse I encountered. I wish I could stand up to that power and privilege protecting the hierarchy and often times missing opportunities to meet the desperate needs of the community. These ghosts of my past keep me up at night, make me question who I am, and make me wonder whether I am a good mother as the theology I grew up in taught that a woman’s most important role was to raise her children, not share God’s word, especially from a pulpit.

This weekend, we saw the ghosts of our past as a country in broad daylight in the violent protests of Charlottesville, VA. We saw the hatred and enmity as one woman was killed and nineteen others were injured. We saw the racism, sexism, and elitism that are usually subtexts and passive aggressive comments broadcast in public. We were confronted with the reality that our country was founded on the backs of treating people like property and animals. We discovered there are still some who believe that the past is not only ok but the way things should be.

The thing about ghosts of our past is that we don’t want to seem them. In fact, most of convince ourselves that ghosts don’t exist brushing aside the missed opportunities to offer a helping hand to someone in need, excusing the privilege we have enjoyed with defenses of why we deserve what we have (forgetting this means others don’t and can’t have what we have), and forgetting that what we saw this weekend, we helped create.

But being confronted with the ghosts of our past reminds us of where we have been and challenges us to ask the question who do we want to be. Do we want to be the kind of people who try to ignore the racism, sexism, and elitism that abounds in our country limiting the possibilities of other people? Are we going to brush aside people’s stories of racism, sexism, and elitism when we hear them blaming the victim? Or are we going to be the community that surrounds these ghosts of the past and exposes them?

At the end of Morrison’s book, there is a beautiful scene of the community gathering at the edge of the property where Sethe lives. They sing, they pray, they stay until she comes out of the house and they stop her from repeating her past. This is the power of community.

We can’t face the ghosts of our past alone. We need the power of community to help keep us accountable and courageous to become something more than who we used to be.