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Wrinkled Joy

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We finally got our Christmas decorations up this weekend. We were waiting until we had our girls again and I wasn’t quite ready to move from the season of gratitude into a season of waiting and searching in our home. Couldn’t I teach our kids more about thanksgiving lasting all year if we just left up those decorations?

But as I watched them walk around the tree light debating over which tree would be easiest to pick back up if their younger brother decided to try to pull up on it, I knew we needed this season. And so we climbed the garage to get down the boxes marked Christmas and there at the bottom of the ornament was joy wrinkled and waiting.

Wrinkled joy.

The joy of the birth of the Christ Child wrinkled with the realities of a year of uncertainity and grief in so many ways. Joy that has been packed away, waiting to be brought out for this season of Advent. Joy that just needs to be shaken and ironed out.

Or maybe, this is joy wrinkled by the truth of a messiah born in a manger surrounded by outcasts. Maybe this wrinkled joy is exactly what we have been awaiting.

A Hand Reaching Out

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When Ben and I arrived to jummah prayer service at Masjid Al-Muslimiin, we were immediately welcomed by women of all ages. A teenage girl approached asking what Ben’s name was and then helped me with my headscarf. As I looked around the community gathered in the courtyard, I was speechless that there was a whole community of faith who gathered right off the busy street of Garners Ferry in Columbia on Friday afternoons whom I had never encountered. How many times had I passed the sign and not wondered about this community?

And as we gathered in the small room designated for the women sitting on the red-carpeted ground, I was overwhelmed by the sense of community that was palpable in the body heat of the women and children gathered. I resisted the urge to keep Ben close and let him wander through the sea of arms and legs just as the children for whom this was their faith family were doing. He tried to follow another little boy out of the door, but before he escaped, a hand reached out to stop him. It was a hand of an elderly woman in a burka and as he turned to look into her face, her smile spread across her face. She passed him a lamb stuffed animal to play with while whispering to him in Arabic. He sat beside her mesmerized and I stopped and watched as I held back tears.

We insist on so many boundaries and barriers in our American culture. We insist and protect our privacy, our right to free speech, our right to worship or not worship, our rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We are missing so much life-giving, life-affirming love that comes from sitting together and reaching a hand out across those boundaries and barriers. Thanks be to God for this community of faith for their courage in inviting us, outsiders, into their community of faith for truly this is divine, mysterious, transformative, radical hospitality.

On Finding Sure Footing Again

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Just yesterday, I wrote to our BWIM SC newsletter list how the election results had left me off balance and unsure of what we could do, what we should do. I wasn’t sure because I hadn’t ever been here before and although I had a pulse on the influence of our president elect in more conservative congregations and communities, I still didn’t think his voice would be enough to drown out all the other voices who had come together.

And I’ve been in a state in which hands have been offered and I have stood up, but much like Ben when I’ve tried to get him to walk holding my hands, I’ve sat back down pursed out my lip and pouted. I wasn’t ready to walk yet. I wanted to be carried.

Then today, I saw the pure joy in Ben’s face as he took three unprompted steps from the coffee table to the chair, something we have been seeing off and on over the Thanksgiving break, but this time it was different. He was doing it on his own. He was stepping out. I guess it’s time for me to do the same; to admit that even in the midst of uncertainty, still I am called to write, to study, and to preach.

I have no doubt the road ahead for Ben will be filled with bumps and bruises as he gets his sea legs. I know the same will be true for me, but I hope like him I will step joyfully and courageously into this next phase and stage of ministry and motherhood as we walk together.

Where Do We Go From Here?

The presidential election results have sent many into a whirlwind of emotions. For some, these emotions are of finally being heard. For others, these emotions are filled with lost hope that they are central to the fabric of American life.

In the midst of these emotions and trying to come to terms with these emotions, ministers and communities of faith are wrestling with the role they will play in helping shepherd and guide their congregations. If our country is as divided as the presidential elections revealed, then our communities of faith have deep barriers to overcome in trying to offer a word from God and trying to stay together as a communities of faith.

Would it be better if we just divided into sides? Would it be better if we avoid any talk of political discussion in our communities of faith? Or has this election cycle revealed how our communities of faith shy away from dealing with the issues that American people have passionately and publicly voiced through their vote are important to them?

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Where do we go from here?

We know the evangelical right played a critical role in the results of the election, but those claiming the identity of evangelical also share something else in common:

The key to understanding Trump’s support among evangelicals is to realize that some evangelicals’ commitment to the faith is shaky, too. Trump does best among evangelicals with one key trait: They don’t really go to church.

Or at least they didn’t in March of this year. We’ll have to wait to see if the election results changes that trend, but this isn’t surprising since church attendance and identification with a religious denominations has been on the decline and communities of faith have felt the impact of this trend in budgets, but could our communities of faith’s fear of addressing with hot button issues have contributed to the results of this presidential election? Could we have impacted the leadership of our country by addressing issues that are plaguing Americans rather than shying away in favor of safe, easy sermons? Could we have been more relevant in our teachings and in our ministries?

These are questions we will have to wrestle with as ministers and communities of faith as we desperately try to play catch up and regain our voice in the lives of millions of Americans who are now not only hurting, fearful, and angry, but are also divided into us vs. them.

We Have Vastly Underestimated The Needs That Surround Us

As we awaken to the reality that our country has elected Donald Trump as it’s next president, I hope what we have also awakened to is the reality of the needs that surrounds us. 47 million people live in poverty according to the 2014 creating a poverty rate of 15%, that’s 2.3% more than at the height of the 2007 recession. In 2015, there were 17.7 per 10,000 people who live in homelessness. In one year, 10 million men and women are victims of domestic violence.

The need for the hope of something great for many, many people is real.

These statics haven’t changed overnight because we elected a new president. These are needs that are ever-present and have become more prevalent since 2007. In this period of recession and recovery, our faith communities have lauded and celebrated legacies of white male privilege in leadership positions patting ourselves on the back for accepting applications for women to serve in leadership positions, but never actually calling them (at least we had a female presidential nominee, that’s progress!). The teachings in our communities of faith, retreats, and trainings have focused on self-care and spiritual formation rather than community-care and spiritual transformation. We have created a reality we wanted to believe: that we our communities of faith are welcoming and affirming of all people and are relevant in the changing dynamics of our society.

But our eyes have been opened this morning.

We must now wrestle with the truth that we are participants in the privileged culture that favors some and not all. We must wrestle, no matter who we voted for, with the times that we felt we should have said something to challenge and question the systemic discrimination we have encountered. We must now wrestle with the truth that as ministers, followers of Christ, and communities of faith we have failed to offer hope in real and tangible ways that connect to the deep needs that surround us.

May this morning bring heartbreak for the part we have played and resolve to play our part in bringing out real, systemic change that meets the needs of our fellow Americans.

On Being a Woman Ministering to a Homeless Population

Part of my story is that my gender has always been an issue in my call to ministry.

It was a theological conundrum when I voiced a call to preach because of the faith communities in the baptist tradition who don’t believe my call, my ministry is of God, from God. It is a question I have had to approach with the churches where I have preached, served as interims, and engaged in the pastor search process: “And would I be the first woman pastor? Would that cause conflict?” My gender has always been a part of where and when I push and where and when I hold back waiting, reflecting.

Since May, I have been ministering to the homeless population in Columbia and have never once felt that my gender was an issue. There are no questions about whether I am called to ministry because we are in the midst of ministry. There are only smiles and warm greetings when our son accompanies me in our worship or service. There are no questions about my authority to teach or administer communion.

But sometimes when I share the work I am doing outside of this open and affirming community, there are hesitations. “Is that safe?” “Did you say there were all men in your chapel service last week?”

The unspoken question hangs in there air, “Are you sure a woman should be ministering to the homeless? What if…” This unspoken question laced with assumptions that those who are homeless are dangerous and unpredictable.

But these are mothers, fathers, grandfather, grandmothers, sisters, brothers, wives, and husbands.These are people just like me who need a community of faith that doesn’t judge, label, or exclude. People in need of hope through worship and the bread and the cup that Jesus offered his own disciples.

Thanks be to God for this dangerous, unpredictable community of faith that challenges my privilege while giving me great hope.

 

“I Have Plenty”

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As I sat in the middle of a tarp filled with donations of men’s short-sleeved T-shirts and collared shirts on Saturday morning with our 11-month old, I was overwhelmed with the way a community can make a difference. There were so many winter items gathered in order to help those who might not have enough to stay warm through the cold. I was already overwhelmed by the generosity of the two communities of faith with whom ministrieslab had partnered in order to collect and sort items for the distribution. This, I thought, is church. Individuals, nonprofits, and communities of faith all coming together to help those in their own community who needed items to help them stay warm. This is the gospel.

And I was feeling good about the work we had done to create partnerships to have a bigger impact by joining together. And I was feeling good about being there in the midst of need and being able to hand someone exactly what they were asking for.

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“Do you have a black XL T-shirt?”

“Sure thing!”

“Would you like a collared XL shirt as well?”

“No, I have plenty. Thank you!”

“Are you sure? These are all XL.”

“No, thank you. I’ve got more than I need already and there are other people who need those.”

I looked in his hands and saw two pairs of socks, one pair of jeans, the black T-shirt, and a coat. More than he needs? He has plenty? My mind reeled as I took in what he was saying and what my privilege had assumed. I wanted to give him more, but he wanted to make sure that the people who would use and wear the collared shirts would be able to have those. He knew he wouldn’t use them, so he left them for someone else.

And I thought about how much I have, about how many times I’ve not even thought about other people who might need something I have more than me. And I was confronted with my privilege again.

As a woman who has pursued ministry, in particular preaching and pastoring ministry, I have fought against privilege and systemic discrimination. And as I have confronted and challenged that privilege by simply trying to answer my call, I have often thought there was no way I could have privilege, no way I could not understand those who are fighting the same battle I am fighting in different realms.

I was wrong.

The work we have done with the homeless has humbled me, challenged me, and made me confront the reality that I have privilege that makes me want to give more to someone who thinks more about the community surrounding him than he does about how many clothes he has.

 

      

“I’m Following the Bread”

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Yesterday as we worshipped at Transitions Homeless Shelter, we had more new people who had never worshipped with us than we’ve ever had. When someone new joins our community, there are always questions about who can or can’t take communion and since communion is a part of every service it is a point of discussion almost every week.

Again and again I’ve heard reflections from our community of their experiences being denied communion. The justification was they were not worthy, not in good standing with God, or had unconfessed sin before God. In most cases, the person denying communion was a minister who had judged their life to not be in good standing with God. This has happened so often that it has driven me to research the theological interpretations and traditions surrounding partaking of communion.

Certainly, part of the communion conversation has to include the Catholic tradition of not having people who are not Catholic partake in the Body and Blood. This belief stems from doctrine in the Catholic church that indicates that one who is conscious of grave sin should not partake in the Body and Blood of Christ nor those who are non-Christian or non-Catholic.

In the Protestant church, there are a variety of different beliefs and traditions associated with whom can partake of communion and how often communion is administered. Lutherans, Disciples or Christ, UCC, and Episcopalians all partake in communion weekly following the tradition found in the Catholic Church while Methodists, Baptists, and Presbyterians vary in how often they participate in the Lord’s Table. Just as some Protestants have taken on the traidtion in the Catholic church to partake in weekly communion so to have some denominations taken on the belief that no one who is engaged in grave sin or unconfessed sin should partake in communion. These grave sins are interpreted and expounded upon by church leadership creating a closed communion experience in these communities of faith. Other denominations who are welcoming and affirming of women, all races, members of the LGTBQ community, and to those who are seekers of faith and have not yet defined their faith identity, engage in open community meaning that all are welcome to God’s table regardless of race, gender, or sexuality.

As someone who was raised in a closed communion community of faith, it is important to me to specify in our worship with ministrieslab that God’s table is open to God’s people and God’s people are all who are created in the image of God. My sincere belief in open communion reflects my belief that my role as a minister is not to judge, classify, or exclude anyone who is seeking fellowship with God, but rather to encourage, challenge, and journey with God’s people.

I’ve seen too many people like the woman yesterday who said, “I’m following that bread around. Wherever that bread goes, I go,” who are hungry for the sustenance of fellowship, community, and yes the broken body of Christ to deny anyone a seat at God’s table.

May we all consider more deeply how our practices and traditions in our communities of faith have lasting impact on people who worship with even just once.

Enough is Enough

I have followed and read almost every story, comment, and response following the release of the video capturing the toxic culture of sexual assault, misogyny, and violence against women that plagues our society. I have written why we don’t share out stories in the midst of the this peak into the justification and defense of participating in this culture. I have written and wrestled with the truth that spiritual abuse lives and thrives in our communities of faith because we are afraid to talk about sexuality and sexual assault in our communities of faith.

I have cried and mourned that my reality as a girl who grew up in a fundamentalist community of faith may also be my daughters’ reality. I have hoped and prayed that the allegations and spread of this video would ignite a fervor, a revelation, a revival among those who are fighting for the equality of women only to be disappointed and disheartened by the defense and endorsement of the pastors, ministers, and fellow women of this behavior. And in my disappointment, I have fallen into the same mindset of fear and shame over who I am and moved to the shadows of silence and oppression because it is where I am comfortable and what is most familiar.

And then I listened to Michelle Obama voicing her hurt, her outrage, and her commitment to keep fighting. I listened and was reminded of the women who are standing strong and standing up, even though they are being criticizes, intimidated, and condemned by those whose power is threatened because their shadow lives and beliefs are being brought to the light. I listened and quieted the monsters of shame and vulnerability that told me to disengage from conversation because my voice didn’t matter and wouldn’t make a difference.

Michelle is right, enough is enough.

If you think the follow up to this video’s release that the system is rigged is not carefully, calculated political divergence, it’s time to open your eyes. The system is rigged, but not because it is exposing powerful men who use their power against women. The system is rigged because a conversation about sexual assault, sexual abuse, spiritual abuse, and violence against women is way overdue and because women who venture to stand up and speak out are still met with skepticism, intimidation, and mansplaining. If you don’t think these responses aren’t carefully thought out to keep power in the hands of the powerful because there is a viable threat to that power being overturned, it’s time to open your eyes.

I know the pain and humiliation that comes from opening your eyes to the realization that you have been played, manipulated, and tricked. I know it causes you to doubt yourself, your instincts, and the very core of who are, but it’s time to get over ourselves, our own insecurities, our own self-doubt in order to create something more for our children.

Our oldest just turned nine.

I remember turning nine.

There is no way I want her to remember this.

Let’s keep fighting.

Why We Don’t Share Our Stories

The release of the video on Friday that reveals the rape culture in America and the reason there are so many women who have stories of sexual assault, sexual violence, and rape was appalling to many. And in light of this video, there were many, many brave women who shared their stories. Stories of being raped, of being groped, and of being intimidated, threatened, and bullied by men. But there are many more women who haven’t shared their stories. Women who can’t share their stories because the abuse they experienced were in churches, were by deacons, were by ministers. These women who experienced not only sexual abuse, but spiritual abuse were forced to sign clauses and agreements that prevent them from sharing their stories in order to preserve a facade of holiness and righteousness that doesn’t exist. These women were shamed into this silence in order to preserve the institution of church and the hierarchy of power that excludes and oppresses them. These women were told that if their stories got out the church would split, contributions would drop, and it would be their fault.

What the evangelical response to this video has revealed is that they have contributed to this rape culture, this spiritual abuse and in standing by someone who has participated in this culture and has risen to the power and influence of being a presidential candidate, they hope that their secrets and positions are protected and preserved.

If these stories can’t be shared because of threats and bullying, then it up to us as the people of God to create space for healing and hope for those who have not only experienced sexual abuse, but had spiritual abuse heaped on top of those experiences. We have to be willing to ask tough questions of our leaders and practices. We have to be willing to say no to religious leaders who have histories and pasts of sexual assault, sexual abuse, and sexual harassment. We have to be willing to be brave for those who can’t share their stories.

Thanks be to God for those who are already standing up for the oppressed, the silenced, and the abused.