Saturday, July 9, 2016

whose.

There are words and chants and articles and feelings flying around this week in America and in my community here in Minnesota. Police shot black men for rumors of weapons that, by video accounts, appear to be still in pockets. Snipers shot police officers for a system that cannot be cured with bullets. Tensions are high. Emotions are sharp and pointy and fragile.

The vigils and protests in my neck of the woods have been largely peaceful and unifying. People are standing together to cry and listen and prophecy. A 32 year old St. Paul man is being remembered for his gifts, strengths, and relationships. His life is being called worthy, but only after he was shot dead in his car while a four year old girl watched from the backseat. Lord, have mercy. We are failing her and her whole generation.

With every black life lost to police violence and racial injustice, a few are hard at work finding fault with the victim. Criminal records. Domestic abuse. Gang affiliation. Addiction. Unpaid parking tickets. Down to the acne and hangnails!  When specks and logs are discovered, they are paraded as justifiable cause, as proof that his behavior and identity were unworthy of life and dignity, respect, and basic human rights. (All while we reported rapist Brock Turner's swim times, charm, and Olympic potential I might add.) This pattern is fuel for a system and society hell bent on making sure white people like me can sleep at night. Those articles and arguments try to remind me of a great and permeating lie that has powered the quiet hum of my ease and privilege for nearly 35 years:

Some people have to earn their share of respect, belonging, and worthiness.
Some people can lose their share of respect, belonging, and worthiness.
And according to this system you, Meta, are white enough to sit on that jury.

I have the luxury of hearing what someone has done or left undone and then feeling better about whether or not they should have lived. I get to go home to my mostly white neighborhood where late night bangs are probably fireworks. I can turn it all off when I need a break because I'm too tired or sad. I get to, as Jesse Williams would say, go make myself a sandwich.

While abiding in this pattern is convenient and comfortable, it is not remotely Christian. As a preacher, I confess day in and day out that our identity and value are not aligned with what we do or who we are, but whose we are. Philando isn't more deserving of our grief because he was good at his job or well liked by kids or about to win a Nobel Prize, nor is he less worthy if it turns out he didn't have a conceal permit or jaywalked on occasion or was building a fricking bomb in his basement. Philando was and is and will forever be a beloved child of God.  If I tell my children that there is nothing they can do to make God love them any more or any less, then it is most certainly also true for Philando and black lives everywhere.

Being made in God's image and redeemed in Christ Jesus are not exclusive invitations or conditional offers. This is the gospel. It is untamed and Spirit-filled and a holy gift to the black community. But merely knowing that is not enough: white Christians are called to speak and embody this news even in the face of a system that does not encourage or reward such movement. (Poor Meta. So used to encouragement and rewards.)

I will read about the men who have died this week - the black lives and the blue lives, their gifts and faults alike - and then will remember that they belong to God. They are worthy of love, belonging, justice, and life abundant regardless of what they've done or left undone.

We're decades - centuries - overdue, friends. It's high time to put our sandwiches down. This is a call to excuse ourselves from the jury and instead stand accused of our destructive ignorance and perversion of the gospel. Can we trust that grace wide enough for our own specks and logs? Can we listen and feel until we are disrupted and outraged about death where life matters and about conditional worth where Christ's body belongs?

Many of us will hear the story of the Good Samaritan in worship tomorrow. Forget the moralistic reminder about lending a hand and instead listen from the ditch. Watch passersby wave and promise you that Of Course All Lives Matter while you're lying there vulnerable and bleeding out - let it break you into pieces because their generalizing and brief glances are not enough. Wait there in the dust with death and injustice, wondering what or who marks you worthy of life. You might be surprised by the one who shows up and carries you back into belonging.


Sunday, June 5, 2016

just listen.

This weekend I read this article about a college campus rapist, caught in the brutal act and chased down by eye witnesses. What he did appalls me. What the woman endured breaks me. What the judge ruled offends me. Unfortunately, none of this is new. Victims are assaulted and then retramatized during a medical exam or the pointed questions they must answer for police and lawyers.

The judge gave a ridiculously lenient sentence
because he thought anything longer than six months and probation would have a "severe impact" on the young, champion swimmer's future.

This is why victims decide to hold it in, never reporting or recanting quickly. This is why victims fatigue during lengthy trials, forced to react, explain, and defend until they convince themselves that they are all alone or completely mad. This is why victims don't tell their stories; because no one wants to hear how rape feels in long form. They just want sentence fragments from the stand and a quivering lip for effect.

So imagine my surprise and awe when I read the victim's own full-length statement, which she read aloud in the courtroom to the judge and her assailant right after his stingy verdict was declared.

Before you read it, allow me to tell you why I want you to read it. 

Sure, it is long. It will cause emotional fatigue because you will feel betrayed by our justice system. It will cause you physical fatigue because she does not let you forget, for a moment, that she was completely violated and does not know her body as her own anymore. But these are not good reasons to shy away.

You should read it because it is rare for a victim to speak her or his whole piece without direction, interruption, or distortion. I can't think of a better way to begin challenging our system or inviting courage than by listening to victims and survivors until they are done speaking. You should read it because entering into the fullness of her reality helps restore her power and reclaim her identity as a human being. She has been alone and accused in strange ways that deserve closure; when you decide to listen to her story, you call her back into belonging.

I write this because I know it to be true. I was drugged and brutally raped by acquaintances when I was eighteen years old. My memories from that night were fuzzy and missing most of the puzzle pieces.  I couldn't completely articulate what had happened for several months, though sleepless and terrified in the meantime. I was further traumatized by the questions I had to answer in the first hours and days after the assault: Had I been leading them on and flirting with them? Did I have a boyfriend? Had I ever cheated on a boyfriend? Did I drink? Was I certain I had not taken my own clothes off? Had I ever taken drugs? Did I choose to take the roofie, thinking it was something more recreational? Had I been to his house before? 

The medical examiner caused great confusion about my virginity when she asked, "Were you a virgin before last night?" implying that it was now gone and I could not give it freely in the future.

My (former) OB/GYN listened intently to my abbreviated version when I mustered the courage at my annual appointment and replied, "I have a lot of young, college aged patients. Any advice you have for them on how to avoid this kind of thing?"

All of these subversive accusations worked together on my body, mind, and spirit to make one thing very clear: Your story is inconsequential. Instead, we care about your regret, your fear, and how you plan to make better choices in the future. I did not report. I buried this fresh, raw wound while packing boxes for college, desperate to be anything other than The Rape Girl at freshman orientation.

I was quiet and anxious and private and a mess for two long years before I finally trusted that this was not my shame. Over the course of the last 14 years I have told my story many times: in private counseling and a support group, then to my peers at a wellness event when I was a student at St. Olaf, to friends and boyfriends, to criminal justice classes at a community college, and to a congregation's call committee. With each telling, those horrible questions that once trapped me fade away. I look into the faces of patient people, a little squirmy but willing to ache and learn with me. I speak until I am done speaking so that everything true and hard becomes a little lighter to carry around. There are usually tears and hugs when they have listened well. Someone in the room has felt this kind of pain or perhaps even caused it. When they engage my story, I am graphed into theirs and everyone finds new power and belonging.

I did not have the endurance for a trial or the courage to face a judge and attacker the moment a trial ended, but the Stanford victim does. She speaks with the strong words many survivors wish we'd had in the face of fresh injustice. I am grateful for and in awe of this fierce and vulnerable 23 year old.  So read her unbridled report of abuse and pain. Put away your questions and simply listen to a woman whose truth is worthy of being seen and heard. It will restore all kinds of power and belonging that lead to justice and wholeness.

With great gratitude, Meta

caravans collide.

Jesus went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went with him. As he approached the gate of the town, a man who had died was being carried out. He was his mother’s only son, and she was a widow; and with her was a large crowd from the town.

When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, “Do not weep.” Then he came forward and touched the funeral bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, rise!” The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. Fear seized all of them; and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has risen among us!” and “God has looked favorably on his people!” This word about him spread throughout Judea and all the surrounding country. – Luke 7:11-17

Have you passed by a funeral procession recently? The cars inch slowly down a busy street, each tagged with a small orange flag or guided through the fog of grief by a decisive police escort. These parades hush the distracted pieces of my heart and change the rhythm of my day. Loved ones are in those cars; they’ve already moved through most of the practical tasks of death: obituaries and luncheons and lawyers and booking flights. They have remembered and laughed and cried and embraced and sang. Now they creep outward to the cemetery where there are only a few words left and the dust of goodbye.

This is the kind of scene Jesus and his followers stumble upon as they approach the city gates at Nain. His caravan steps aside for the somber crowd that escorts the man’s body from society, commerce, and life itself.

But Jesus is not especially taken with the dead man. His gaze and compassion rest on the man’s mother, a widow, who is as good as dead. Without a close male relative, her future is without status or income. Her work and home, relationships and identity also find exodus with this march. She is now a social refugee, even though she is surrounded by a great crowd taking the journey to the graveyard. She is drowning with company, but she is also completely alone.

Jesus says, “Do not weep”, which might be the most inconsiderate and unhelpful thing people say to us when a loved one dies. But those words fall out of our mouths because we’re uncomfortable with emotions or we’re equating faith with piety and stoicism. When we utter these words, it’s because we long to fix what we cannot and instead our good intentions scold or shame.

Jesus says, “Do not weep”, but Jesus does weep, at the end of his life for the sins of the world and the pain of his own death! Jesus says, “Do not weep” because he sees the injustice and isolation and pain of unbelonging and he is about to restore her humanity with the rising of her son.

And if you think I’m reading too much into this line, “Do not weep”, remember that Jesus physically stops the procession with his approach and his own hand on the bier. He cannot let the caravan of despair move on, burying not only the man but his mother out there in hills. He objects with his words, his feet, and his hand, touching what is unclean and sick and dead.

Death is routine. It’s none of his business. He doesn’t even know her.

But he will not stand for it.
With his clean hand on the unclean cart,
  the bearers and the whole procession stop
  the rhythm of death, loneliness, and unbelonging is interrupted
  the Kingdom of God breaks into the mundane pain of this world
  and Jesus makes this his business.

Young man, I say to you, rise!
Not because you have earned it by faith or works.
Not because resurrection is a party trick.

Rise so that your mother knows value, place, belonging, and love.
Rise so that the crowds can witness the achy beauty of relationship restored.
Rise so that now every breath is filled with awe and wonder for this life.
Rise so that this caravan can move from despair to hope, from death to life.

Fear seized all of them and they glorified God saying, “A great prophet has risen among us! God has looked favorably on his people!”

Don’t be fooled like the crowd, brothers and sisters. They have seen with their own eyes and are willing to settle for a prophet and God’s favor.

We know that they have witnessed our inbreaking, indwelling God, who sees the people we can’t bear to look at, who speaks the hope we can’t manage to muster, who touches death with his holy hand, who restores life where there only dust was promised!

Jesus shows up where caravans collide, where gates dismiss us with our pain and suffering. Christ steps out of line and makes these things his business, changing the momentum and giving us back to each other.  

Perhaps some of you heard that the pitching coach for the Gopher Baseball Team died last week after a four year battle with leukemia. He left behind three sons, a loving wife, and eighteen rosters of young men who got to see him fight with faith and courage. When he showed up to the field, both his body and spirit invited deep vulnerability from the players and staff. They watched his physical transformation with great fear and grief as cancer ate away at his strong frame. And they watched his spiritual transformation with great awe and hope as he emptied himself into Christ’s care more each day.

I spoke with Todd twice last spring during Gopher games and addressed him with the rote greeting, “It’s good to see you!” Both times he leaned forward, locking eyes with mine, and said with deep sincerity, “It’s good to be seen.” Todd kept showing up where caravans of despair and hope collide, grateful that the truth about his body and spirit would be seen by the Gopher community and by God.

We know there is great injustice in loneliness and unbelonging, but Jesus has given us the power to push back on that. He uses stories and sacraments, relationships and rituals to unhinge us so that we, too, might step out of line and speak for the sake of life.

Restoration happens whenever caravans collide, when what’s deemed clean dares to gets dirty, when we change the momentum with our fierce and compassionate presence. And this wild and miraculous work is only possible when, before anything else, we see each other – more deeply and more distinctly than a passing glance - so that our caravans do not slip politely past one another but, instead, dovetail into belonging and breath and hope that do not fail.

Jesus is at the gate. He is looking at you with compassion in the midst of your despair and hope. He is inviting you to get out of line, to change the pace, so that no one has to march into unbelonging and loneliness again. Keep your eyes peeled, brothers and sisters. For it’s good to be seen.

Amen.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

forehead jesus.

I am the mother of a five year old boy. It's a sweet spot because he is getting so long and brave and expressive, but he still scrunches into my lap or asks me to help fix his sock that got twisted up while jumping on the couch. He still lets me crawl under the covers with him before bed, where I hunker down for a minute in the darkness each night, listening to his restless wiggles give way to slow breaths.

Before I leave we always make the sign of the cross on each other's foreheads. "Come get your cross, Mom," he'll whisper through the silence. And I do.

Today he wanted to know more about the cross. "Why did Jesus have to die so we could live, Mom?" What a wide opening for a preacher! God reminded me that we only had 8 minutes left on the drive to school.

Well, we tried to get up to heaven for a long time. We thought we could be perfect all by ourselves and live forever if we tried hard enough. But it didn't work. It couldn't work. Our sin and mistakes and anger and fears kept getting in the way. So God decided to do it for us. God came all the way down to earth in Jesus. 

"Like Jesus the person who lived a long time ago or Jesus in the bread now?"

The Long Ago Bible Jesus. He was God just like God and a person, just like us. And because he was totally both, he made the perfect bridge from earth to heaven. He connected all the things that we couldn't connect. He taught us and loved us and then showed us how to die without being afraid because now dying isn't the end anymore. Since Jesus defeated all of the things that get in our way and then rose again, we are connected to heaven forever by the bridge he made with his body.

"Now are you going to talk about the bread?"

I can if you want me to.

"That's the Jesus we can't see, right? We can just taste him because he's with the bread to fill us up. Ugh. I like the bread, but I don't like not seeing him."

Yup. We can't see Bible Jesus with our eyes anymore, but we can taste him at Communion. He's in the way we love each other or talk to neighbors and strangers. He listens to our prayers.

"And he's on that tiny little cross I put on your forehead, too. Because that's where he died. On a wooden cross. And that's why he made a bridge. Because crosses are made out of wood so he had wood to make a bridge."

Yeah, okay. Then he saw a city bus with an ad for the Science Museum's Mummies exhibit and the conversation wandered through facts about Egypt, dinosaurs, and bubbles. When we got out of the van at school, he asked me to stop and used his index finger to call me closer for a cross. 

"There's a Forehead Jesus for your day, Mom. Because it can be a daytime thing, too, right?"

It's an all the time thing, buddy. Thanks.

By day the Lord commands steadfast love
and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life.
- Psalm 42:8

Saturday, January 16, 2016

peeling.

We have big dreams for our little kitchen, but they keep getting pushed back because other projects come up and because adult-ing is hard. This weekend we cut the ribbon on a mini-makeover that will make this space more functional, but mostly just less ugly.

Layers of wallpaper were scraped and peeled away yesterday. Jasper came home from school and found the change horrifying. "What did you do to our kitchen? It looks terrible! Put the wallpaper back up!" He even fell to the ground like Sadness in the movie Inside Out, holding onto a fragment of the old paper he'd felt nothing for until this very moment. This dramatic effort only drew my gaze to the ugly orange linoleum and helped the prosecution's case in Change vs. Jasper Carlson.

Most of what lives on our countertops and shelves is still piled high on our dining room table. I refuse to put everything back because most of it needs to go away or find a new home. These rooms will be messy for awhile, which often feels like reason enough to leave everything the way it is.

Phyllis Tickle once said that God has a rummage sale every 500 years and purges everything that no longer serves the Kingdom of God. It makes sense. God keeps choosing to work through people and people are packrats - emotionally, physically, and spiritually. Zion has entire closets filled with silk flower center pieces we use once a year. There are Sunday School supplies from three decades ago still snuggled in the drawers of a huge armoir too heavy to move and to mysterious in origin to know whether we're "allowed to". Chucking stuff butts up against memories, memorials, and our human concepts of permanence. It's grounds for grief and disagreement. Letting go is exhausting because it can feel like failure.

Our kitchen is embarking on such modest, compromised change. We won't be knocking out any walls just yet, the cabinets can stay, and the fridge will continue to operate on its own timeline. I need this room to function better, but not so much better that it requires real death and resurrection.

But God is not nearly the cheap, lazy procrastinator I am when it comes to house projects. God gets real about these remodels and garage sales. God has big design plans and abundant resources. God is, quite literally, in the business of death and resurrection.

As the church changes and God starts tagging things for the sale, we have two choices:

Plan A:
1. Peel back some wallpaper.
2. Get completely overwhelmed.
3. Make the pain change all about ourselves.
4. Scale back the project and pretend it's a dream kitchen.

Plan B:
1. Ask God what we should be tagging.
2. Roll up our sleeves and say goodbye well.
3. Choose to see the bare closets and open spaces as empty tombs, signs of resurrection and promise.
4. Ask God what the Kingdom's design calls for next.

Kingdom God, change is hard. Distract us from our martyrdom and fear by making us useful. Move with us from death to life so we can peel with courage and tag with wisdom. Amen.