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The Privilege in Choice

As the cooler weather has crept in, I realized that this time last year, my choices were pretty limited on what I could and couldn’t wear because I was 8 months pregnant. As I looked in my closet, I wondered what I wore two years ago before I was pregnant to stay warm. Then, I realized, I have clothes from two years ago and three years ago and four years ago….

As I looked in my closet, I was overwhelmed by my privilege. The privilege of having choices of clothes in my closet. The privilege of having a place to keep these clothes year after year. The privilege to change clothes. Privilege that I hardly ever think about, but that exists as part of my daily life. Privilege that separates me from other people. Privilege that helps me sleep at night free of worry about what to wear tomorrow because I know there are clothes in my closet and in my children’s closets.

As we prepare at ministrieslab to partner with the good work Resurrections is doing to provide winter wear for those who come and eat at Lunch on the Lawn this Saturday, I am thankful for partners like Garden of Grace and New Hope Christian Fellowship. Partners who are willing to acknowledge their own privilege in having clothes and winter gear that could help someone in need. Partners who are willing to give freely rather than defend their right to that privilege.

Housing People Instead of Stuff

Sometimes sermon prep rocks you to your core…

There are 2.3 billion square feet of self-storage space in America, or more than 7 square feet for every, man, woman and child in the country. (An American Dilemma)

The official poverty rate is 14.5%, meaning 45.3 million people in the US live in poverty, up by over 8 million since 2008. An additional 97.3 million (33%) of people living in the United States are low-income, defined as incomes below twice the federal poverty line…(Current US Poverty Statistics)

On a single night in January 2015, 564,708 people were experiencing homelessness — meaning they were sleeping outside or in an emergency shelter or transitional housing program. (Homelessness in America)

What is instead of housing our stuff, we housed our neighbors?

The Stillness and the Silence

The streetlights had not yet gone off. There were murmurings from the houses that families were waking up to go to school, to go to work, to start the day. As Willie and Waylon and I ran by, the stillness and the silence of the day surrounded us.

The quiet was a stark reminder of how much noise I have in my life. The dishwasher running, baby toys singing, collars jingling. Noise that reminds us of life and of discovery, but also noise that distracts and dictates a busy life jumping from one activity to another. In the midst of these distractions, I find myself often running from the stillness and silence rather than running to the stillness and silence. I create more noise: fingers typing on a keyboard, hymns hummed while cooking, always moving about.

And after the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. After the fire came a gentle whisper.

In creating and craving noise, I wonder if maybe we are missing God.  When we quiet our minds, our bodies, our souls, we, like Elijah, we might be invited into the presence of the Lord. When we do, we might uncover that our calling to follow God is in the midst of the noise of God’s people tearing down altars, breaking covenants, and even in the midst of prophets being killed.

But it’s only in the stillness and silence that we uncover our tendency to run when God’s call asks us to risk our statuses and our privilege. It’s only in the stillness and silence that we discover whether we will follow after God only when convenient or comfortable or whether we will follow God not knowing where the path leads.

Don’t Change the Channel, Create Instead

Last night I sat down after picking up donations at Panera Bread for our service with ministrieslab and St. Andrews youth to watch the end of the RNC. As I did, I watched Twitter and Facebook only to see more and more people say they were changing the channel because they couldn’t take more of the same from the republican party nominee for president. I understand where they are coming from and certainly had moments when I wanted to walk away from what was going, but as I fought that urge and kept listening, I realized something important.

This is no longer a parody. This is one of presidential nominees. This is our reality.

One of our presidential nominees uses gaslighting as a main rhetorical device made obvious by bullying a reporter, and has given an acceptance speech that clearly indicates he has no intention of working with Congress or depending on historical precedent (or historical presidents for that matter).  When we turn the channel and ignore what is happening, we are giving up.

Instead, let’s create.

Let’s create art and writing and musics that inspires. Let’s create spaces where all are welcome to sit down and fellowship together. Let’s create opportunities to challenge our own privilege by opening our eyes to the need around us. Let’s create families who teach our children to love each other and love our neighbors. Let’s create churches who don’t ignore the hungry lined up every morning or the children’s homes or high poverty neighborhoods in our backyards.

Let’s create beautiful resurrection by not working for ourselves and our own agendas, but by communing and journeying together.

On Needing Each Other

Whether I like to admit it or not, I need help. I need help as I learn to be a stepmother. I need help as I learn to be a mother. I need help as I continue to learn how to pastor. I need help as I continue to encounter the disappointment and discouragement that comes with being a Baptist woman who is called to be a preacher.

I need you, women who have traveled this road longer than I have, to continue to tell your story with openness and authenticity. I need you to tell me why you didn’t give up hope and why you’re still Baptist when it’s so difficult to be a Baptist woman in ministry. I need you to share your experience. I need you to revisit those dark and difficult places that brought you to where you are today. I need to hear your story.

And I need you, who find yourselves in positions of power and privilege, not to let guilt over that place of privilege distract you. I need you to be brave and risky. I need you to use your power and your privilege to speak for those who find themselves on the other side of power and privilege. And if you do, I promise to do the same should the roles be reversed one day.

We were meant to live in community with each other. We were meant to hold each other’s stories. We were meant to work together to bring the kingdom of God here on earth.

Let’s get started.

Freedom for Some

Yesterday, many churches joined the worship or God with the worship of country as the lines between church and state were blurred with the singing patriotic songs and the parade of red, white, and blue in sanctuaries. In blurring those lines, we forget how many people are not free to be themselves in our country and communities of faith.

God of grace and love, in your mercy hear our prayers:

for those who are not free to express love freely for threat of losing their jobs,

for those who are reduced to their gender or sexuality ignoring their talents and abilities,

for those who speak on behalf of your name, Creator God, judging who are your children and who are not,

for those working three jobs tirelessly trying to feed their children,

for those giving up their own food to feed others,

for those whose EBT debit cards are empty before the end of the month,

for those who work this holiday and every holiday so others can celebrate,

for those grieving the loss of loved ones from gun violence,

for those grieving the loss of loved ones from gun violence who have heard that their loved ones’ death shouldn’t take away the freedom of others to buy assault weapons,

for those who feel trapped, oppressed, unheard, and unseen trying to pursue the American Dream that does not exist,

May we remember in the midst of our celebration those who aren’t free living in a country where people believe everyone is free. Amen.

 

You Cannot Serve

I remember in seminary, discussing a case study in which someone was asking to become a member of Baptist church. In the case study, the person had been baptized as an infant and did not want to be rebaptized. This was rich fodder for us as future ministers because many of us were serving in Baptist congregation who had similar membership requirements. The discussion was important because membership in the case study, and in many of our ministry contexts, was tied to the ability to volunteer or become a deacon. In the case of the person in the case study, the church refused to offer this person membership as many of my classmates concluded would happen in their own ministry contexts.

In other words, the church gets to decide who is in and who is out. Is it a wonder why there is a stark decline in membership? Every year 2.7 million church members fall into inactivity. Not only are people not becoming members of congregations, but those who are members aren’t involved anymore. If you can make it through the membership hoops that many congregations require, you still might be told you cannot serve based on your gender or your sexual orientation. For many communities of faith, wanting to volunteer to serve is dependent on fitting biblical interpretation that excludes and discriminates against women and members of the LGTBQ community.

If you have never been told because of your gender or because of your sexual orientation that you cannot serve as a volunteer at a church, then you have a privilege many people don’t. If you have never doubted that you would be able to be involved in church activities included leading Sunday School, chaperoning youth trips, and serving as a deacon, you have a privilege many people don’t. If you have never been told, you cannot serve based on who you are, you have a privilege many don’t. There is too much to do and too much need for churches to be deciding who can and cannot serve God and help those in need. This is spiritual abuse.

If you find yourself as one of the many who churches have told you cannot serve because of who you are, join us at ministrieslab.

 

 

Why I Ask the Awkward Questions Others Won’t

I was recently being interviewed and in the course of our discussion, my interviewer remarked:

“Well, you have gotten the reputation of talking about hot button issues, people usually don’t want to talk about.”

I laughed, but after the interview was over I thought a little more earnestly about that statement. Why did I ask those awkward questions about hot button issues that many churches, ministers, and lay people get nervous even mentioning?

Why did I feel compelled in a recent gathering of ministers and lay people to bring to light sexist and patriarchal language? Why do I write in this space about how churches need to have the difficult conversation around inclusion of the LBGTQ community? Why can’t I appreciate the heart of a message and forget about the racist, sexist, and privileged subtexts? Why can’t I keep my mouth shut around touchy topics that make people uncomfortable?

Perhaps it is because there have been so many times I haven’t said or done anything, but instead have tacitly condoned discriminatory language, practices, and patterns through my participation and silence. Perhaps it is because I hope that by challenging men who tell me at professional gatherings that it “looks like I’ve lost all that baby weight,” I am trying to expose sexism so my daughters might not have these types of experiences as professional women. Perhaps it’s because when I do speak up, I hear voices of others who wanted to say something, but thought it was just them who felt the sexist and racist subtext of the conversations. Perhaps it is because I am beginning to understand my own privilege and how it impacts others when I make decisions haphazardly without analysis or reflection.

Unless we are willing to fight against discrimination both systemic and unintentional in our language, in our worship, and in our churches, we are perpetuating the belief that Creator God is only available to some types of people and not all people. When we allow discriminatory patterns, habits, and language to enter our sacred spaces, we miss the opportunity to hear of the power of God working in the lives of God’s people. We miss miraculous evidence that God is still transforming lives. We miss the glimpses of wholeness and hope and healing in the midst of brokenness and hurt and pain.

We miss the opportunity to bear witness to God’s work in and among us.

And I don’t want to miss that.

Privileged Worship Planning

I’ve spent the last two and half years worship planning almost every week. As part of that planning process, I asked people to participate in our worship service. It would easy to ask the people who are always willing to participate to lead, but it’s much more difficult to take the time to examine the implications and impressions of asking one person to lead over another person.

When you are a welcoming and affirming church, worship planning is one of the most important ways you can demonstrate that you are welcoming and affirming. My congregation had the benefit of having a woman pastor, so ensuring that men and women were a part of the service was not an issue. Instead we thought about including all kinds of people: some who were old, some who were young, some who were divorced, some who had been married for over thirty years, some who were single, some who were gay, some who were lesbian, some who were black, and some who were white. Although every week we couldn’t include all people, we could think intentionally about who we were asking to lead the worship service because the people who lead in worship are who visitors and congregants see as able to lead and serve God.

By including all types of people in our worship planning, we were challenging many churches’ views that some people were designed by God to lead while others weren’t. I wish I could say historically churches have discriminated people based on the marital status, their gender, and their sexual orientation, but the truth is churches are still discriminating against people because of their martial status, gender, and sexual orientation.

This discrimination can take place in two ways: systematic discrimination or unintentional discrimination. Systematic discrimination occurs when a group of religious leaders get behind an interpretation of the biblical texts that excludes, oppresses, and silences a certain people group.  Unintentional discrimination occurs when religious leaders ask people to lead who look like themselves or come from a similar background. Unintentional discrimination comes from unexamined privilege.

Let’s be clear, discrimination is discrimination no matter whether it is systemic or unintentional. We have to work harder as people of faith who are welcoming and affirming to examine our own privilege as well as working to ensure that systemic privilege doesn’t begin to form.

Our calling as religious leaders is to lead and guide by challenging our own privilege and inviting all kinds of voices into our congregation so we continue to learn and grow as God’s people. This calling is more needed in our current context than ever before.

Thanks be to God for second chances when we’ve discriminated against God’s children.