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Author: Merianna Harrelson

I am the Pastor of Garden of Grace United Church of Christ in Columbia, SC and the Director of Consulting at Harrelson.Co. I am always looking for a good cup of coffee and a great book.

Reflection in the Mirror

One of my favorite songs from a movie is from Mulan. The lyrics that always get to me are:

Who is this girl I see

staring straight

back at me

When will my reflection show

Who I am inside?

There have been more than a couple of times in my life that I have stared at my reflection in the mirror unsure if I recognized the person I was looking at or not. The most memorable for me was five days after our son was born. He had a traumatic entry into the world. I had a traumatic post-delivery twenty-four hours.

I looked at my reflection in the bathroom mirror after being helped into the shower and out of the shower wondering who was looking back at me. It’s one of those moments you don’t forget because you have been so changed by life and experience.

This week I have looked deeply into the mirror and into my reflection confessing, wondering, and hoping. Confessing that the very whiteness of my skin has granted me certain privileges while others have suffered. Wondering why I didn’t recognize that being in my very body, a body that society has privileged, has impacted the way I view the world and how I exist in the world. Hoping that the deep desire for justice and transformation can transform me.

Take a minute today to look at yourself deeply in the mirror. Who do you see staring straight back at you?

On Confessing

There are some spiritual practices I readily practice. Walking and wandering while reflecting and pondering are always life-giving. As I walk and wander, I pray for family, friends, and for our world that we would find a more peaceful and just way of being together. I am always so grateful that my job is to read, study, write, and create. These have always been very natural tendencies for me and to be able to answer a call that encourages and supports those habits is truly wonderful.

There are other spiritual practices I tend to push aside. They are not comfortable. They are not welcome in my life. And yet they are so very important in grounding me in my understanding again and again of my dusty nature. Prayers of confession have always made me jumpy. Even as I would say these prayers communally, I found myself trying to speed up the pace of the confession so that we could get through it and be done.

This past week, I have done a lot of confessing to God. I’ve confessed that I have been a part of the problem by telling myself that I didn’t enjoy a privileged life. I have been so focused on what I have had to overcome and work through that I didn’t stop to think that there were other parts of daily living that I never, ever had to worry about. I have told myself that I had to fight my own fight before I was ready to fight for others.

I have confessed this week that I have thought of every excuse and justification so that I wouldn’t have to admit to being a part of the problem. I have confessed that I feel lost and overwhelmed because the problem is so deep and so ingrained into our society, into our culture, and into our communities of faith that it seems impossible to change. I have confessed that I am scared and fearful of the voices and stories because I wanted to pretend that they weren’t true.

I have no doubt that I will do much more confessing. For now, I am thankful and grateful to bear witness to this good and holy and important work. May my confessing bring me to my knees, silence my mouths, so that I might listen, truly listen, and be a part of the change.

Walking in the Backwoods

Yesterday, we took some time to go to Croft State Park. This was always a place that provided retreat and respite because it was so close to where I grew up. Also, I knew that this is where my grandfather was during World War II. There was even a desk from the administrative office at our family business growing up.

As we walked the trails by the lake, I found myself imagining what it was like a training camp. The number of soldiers who came to train in the woods or backwoods as some may call it. So much of the landscape and the foliage was familiar to me. It felt like my backyard, but to those soldiers coming from around the country, the heat and humidity and bugs must have been surprising.

I knew where we were going and I knew the significance in my own story of that place.

This is a significant point in our history personally, culturally, and societally. This is an invitation to stop and to decide how you are going to participate. What conversations are you going to have with your family? What conversations are you going to have with your kids?

In Exodus chapter 35, we find the reminder that when Jacob was fleeing for his life, God appeared to him and after God appeared to Jacob, he built an altar to remember that God appeared and that God was with him.

Jacob built an altar there and called it “God of Bethel,” because that was the place where God had appeared to him

How are you going to mark this time in a way that you will remember? What will you build to remember? This is indeed a remarkable time to be a part of history and to be a part of much-needed change. May God grant us strong memories to remember and courage to continue the work of change.

“The Kids Want to Help”

This week, I have been intentionally quieter here in this space. I have been reading. I have been listening. I have been lamenting. I have been asking for guidance.

All of these are practices that get pushed aside in the midst of the busyness of life. When something like the events of this week provokes the realization that I have benefitted from a system that has oppressed and silenced so many, my initial instinct is to deny that realization. I want to say that I’ve had my own fight to find my voice. I want to say I too have been silenced. I want to say I know how you feel.

But I don’t and to say these things overshadow the voices that need to be heard.

On one of our walks this week, the four-year-old unprompted said: “The kids want to help and when they do God will be proud of them.” Yes, I wanted to shout. Yes, we need a new generation of helpers. We need a new way of being and learning and growing together.

From these voices, from the kids, from these realizations, maybe just maybe, we will finally be able to create something new.

 

Dreams of Screams

I dreamed of screams last night.

It’s just a dream I told myself.

But it wasn’t.

Last night the screams of justice were heard all across our country. These screams were followed closely by the screams of fear from people who were victims of tear gas and rubber bullets. Screams of citizens trying to make their voice heard and realizing that the system and government in America are going to fight back. Fight to continue to oppress. Fight to continue to hold power and control.

My screams turned to tears and sobs.

I dreamed of screams last night on Pentecost Monday when we remember the mighty rushing wind of the Spirit coming so that all may be free.

Come Mighty Spirit, carrying these screams to the heart of God and let justice roll down.

Dreams of Fire

I dreamed of fire last night.

It’s just a dream I told myself.

But it wasn’t.

Last night fires raged with voices demanding justice all across our country. Fires that have been smoldering in the hearts and souls of those who have suffered every day in an unjust system. A system designed to benefit some and oppress most.

And some are surprised.

Surprised that there was this amount of suffering in our country, in our city. Surprised to come face to face with their privilege, their participation in a system that harms so many.

I dreamed of fire last night.

The night of Pentecost Sunday.

Come Spirit of Truth, burn within us the compassion to listen and courage to act to let justice roll down.

Entering Eastertide: Hope

We are just days away from Pentecost, which marks the end of the fifty days of Eastertide. In the season of Eastertide, the church calendar follows the stories and journeys of the apostles who have received the Spirit of Truth and have preached this good news all over. This is where the story of the life, death, and resurrection spread so that we are still talking about it today.

If you follow the book of Acts, you’ll find that there is a pattern where Paul goes into the synagogue to teach and is the message of hope is received by the Jewish people. Then after a day or two, the Jewish leadership gets involved and they either run Paul out of town of beat and imprison him. This is when Paul is often taken in by a Gentile and the message of hope transforms whole households.

Our congregation was already studying Acts before the pandemic and before the Eastertide season began and now as we study together, I am amazed at how much we need these words. We need the hope of those first apostles. We need the courage of those first apostles. We need the imagination of those first apostles.

Because we are creating church together in the most unusual ways. We are spreading the message of hope to new communities in new ways. Thanks be to God for the Spirit of Truth that leads and guides us on our way.

Entering Eastertide: Loss

We lose a lot of stuff around the house. There is a basket full of cars, but we can’t find the one car we really really need before we can do anything else. Our sixteen-month-old has figured out how to open the toy drawer and the trash can, so we lose pacis left and right. Although there seems to be an abundance of them, there is only one that will offer comfort she needs to drift off to sleep.

As we move throughout the day, I find myself saying when we confront one of these missing items: “It will show up. Things always show up.” This has provided time and space to let us look for things now or later without frustration and tears.

Losing items around the house or forgetting where you put something down is not uncommon, especially in the midst of consistent change.  My congregation jokes with me because during high, holy seasons at church I always lose my keys.  They have learned to laugh and help me look. My mind and my heart are in a different place during these seasons and so the every day remembering gets put on the back burner.

When things that we have been looking for do show up, we all get excited. We share the funny place we found the item and we share in the show of recovering the sought after item.

Collectively, we haven’t lost something that will show up eventually. We have lost over 100,000 people. Human souls connected and invested in families and communities. We can’t forget. We remember every day when we wake up and as we try to get a little bit of sleep at night. As we reached this devastating milestone, we hold onto being the country that has the most deaths and most cases of COVID-19. In seventeen states around the country, those numbers are not decreasing, they are increasing.

Loss surrounds us. Grief engulfs us.

And as we grieve for many of us, we are still alone at home trying to do our part to help those numbers stop increasing so drastically. Loss has always been a part of inhabiting this dusty bodies, but that doesn’t mean that loss doesn’t bring us back to remembering we have but one life to live. One chance to care for others. One chance to offer hope. One chance to offer love.

I know that there are many states that are opening up. I know that there are many states without mask laws. I know that there are other people and other families traveling and getting together. I know that it can all be confusing and overwhelming because there is so much information out there. I know that you are tired and weary and just want a change of pace. I also know that bearing this amount of loss is sometimes just too much to carry.

The loss and grief won’t go away. These will be the things that change us. My hope is that it changes us not to be people who hold onto to our lives and our desires so desperately that more loss comes. My hope is that by remembering this loss, again and again, every day, 100,000 minutes every day, we will transform into more caring and compassionate people.

Entering Eastertide: What’s that smell?

Spring has always been full of new smells. Flowers blooming. Trees budding. And those wonderful evenings after the rain comes through.

On our daily walks, one of the questions our four-year-old almost always asks is “What’s that smell?” Sometimes I know the answer, especially if it’s a Bradford Pear tree, but many times I don’t. So I ask him back, what do you think? If it’s an unpleasant smell he is always convinced it’s a skunk and hopes he will see. If it’s a pleasant smell his answers range from honeysuckle to rose bush to tulips.

Smells trigger our memories of summer camp and long afternoons in the pool or at the lake. Smells remind us that we are connected to a deeper earthiness. Smells warn us of danger as well. Without smell, we can’t taste our food.

Stop and smell the flowers is a phrase used to remind us to slow down enough to notice your surroundings. But really stop and smell the flowers and when you do you will find your body and soul reunited in memories and hope for this the new life we are creating.

Entering Eastertide: Do you hear what I hear?

NPR recently reported on the way lockdown and limited mobility impacted the natural world. One of the most poignant observations was:

We can hear subtlety of life around us that we haven’t heard in a long, long time.

Maybe it’s because we have the time to notice sounds that have been all around us but have been overshadowed by the constant to-do list running through our minds. Maybe it’s because there isn’t as much sound from cars and buses that are drowning out the natural sounds.

Whatever it is, we are hearing the world around us a little more clearly. We are hearing the sound of birds and bugs and frogs. For me, those sounds remind me of the spring and summer at my parents’ house out in the boondocks where we would spend hours spitting watermelon seeds over the porch railing and catching lightning bugs in the front year.

As I listen, it reminds me of the joys of having nowhere to go. I breathe a deep breath of gratitude that maybe this is what our four-year-old will remember too. As we listen to the calls of the birds in the morning and as we read stories at night, maybe we are growing something in him during these strange times that he will remember later on when the world gets noisy and busy again.