Monday, June 5, 2017

marked.

Some of you know I just returned from ten days in Leipzig, Germany with a delegation of parish pastors in the Minneapolis Area Synod. Bishop Ann recruited this ragtag group of young clergy to help renew our partnership with the Lutheran Church in Leipzig. The potential for relationship and collaboration is great, especially as our countries face similar waves of conservative nationalism and refugee migration.

While I knew plenty of history about Germany related to the World Wars, I was less familiar with the GDR's communist regime and the church-ed Peaceful Revolution that crumbled a wall when I was in 5th grade. The pastors of Leipzig hosted us in their homes and congregations for part of this trip, which provided amble opportunity to learn their own stories. They were coming of age in the late 80s and early 90s, most of them 10 or 15 years older than me. Most of them grew up in Dresden and Leipzig, their families active members of congregations that participated in non-violent resistance of the regime. The simple act of attending church or holding membership at Nikolikirche in Leipzig gave the Stasi (the Ministry for State Security, which was trained and monitored by the KGB) good reason to monitor your family, your political actions, and your personal contacts.

Working to locate fellow citizens who went missing after protests or supporting the circulation of underground newsletters could affect your father's employment or your admission to university. The Stasi had countless informants, which made neighbors, coworkers, and family members suspicious of each other. One pastor shared that his brother and father had both been approached to spy on each other, but they shared this with each other instead of acting compliant.

When freedom and hope were drained by the state, the church remained a voice of truth. They did not have the luxury of steering clear of politics because politics were oppressing, starving, and dividing their communities. A psychological tool learned from the KGB roughly translates to "decomposition of life". The Stasi would create such despair, chaos, and paranoia in a person's life that basic functioning became difficult, let alone resistance.

Clockwise from top left: Small white squares among the cobblestones light up at night like those holding candles at peace prayers 30 years ago. A sign inviting people to church stood defiant of the regime. A pillar like the ones inside the sanctuary stands outside the church. It is a symbol of the ways the church met its community in the street during the Peaceful Revolution. A photo the Stasi took of Nikolaikirche as people gathered for the weekly Peace Prayer in 1989. The sanctuary's interior pillars.

So the church stood up. With candles and prayers, people began gathering at Nikolaikirche in 1982. Each Monday evening they defied the regime with their hope in Christ. Though attendance ranged from handfuls to hundreds of people over time, it was always dangerous to be seen and claimed by this ritual. And in the fall of 1989, several weeks known as the Peaceful Revolution unleashed that hope on the whole country.

Stories from these weeks are filled with the uncomfortable tension and pain of birthing something unknown and new. The fullness of their prayers were realized as people lived moment to moment, kissing their loved ones each morning in preparation for the worst and showing up in the streets to embody the best. A movement swept the people into one common voice that found assurance in peace thanks to seven years of prayers. They walked the streets believing with their bodies that something new was coming and that it could be born without violence.

The city of Leipzig is marked with generations of both trauma and rich history. They are doing their best to remember the whole story, the horrifying and the inspiring alike. We found stumbling stones that marked where Jewish citizens had been taken from their homes for death in the camps. We noticed symbols that route your walking musical tour of the city. We climbed a bell tower nearly 1,000 years old and learned that one of her bells was once melted down to make cannon balls. We listened to the Thomaskirche Boys' Choir, home to 850 years of choral music that includes Bach's legacy. We watched the cobblestones light up outside Nikolaikirche, reminding us to gather for the sake of peace, especially when it is dangerous to summon.

These conversations reminded me of the many political or cultural formations Germany has known over the course of centuries, including Gaul, Germania, Goth, and the German Empire. Germany's lens for the story is so much wider than my American view and still they remember.


The first photo is a picture of a church in Leipzig that dates back to 1231. It has a rich history in the Catholic and then Lutheran traditions and was the official church of Leipzig's University. It survived WW2 completely unscathed. Then in 1968 the communist regime of East German announced that they would blow it up with dynamite the very next day. Why? Because they could. It was an effort to silence the people's faith and destroy the building's legacy.

Fifty years later it has been rebuilt, in renewed relationship with Leipzig's University. The blue glass design is meant to look asymmetrical and crumbling, the rose off center as though falling. I am in love with this architecture, a vision of our messy motion and resilience during communal resurrection. They could have built something more perfect and powerful than last time, but instead they chose to remember with vulnerability that tells a longer story.

Fifty years. That's a long time to wait for resurrection. And yet there are 25 year old men and women who have spent their whole lives in Dadaab refugee camp who have been told they will wait decades more. Today there are only 200,000 Jewish citizens of Germany, a country with more than 81 million people.  There are Americans who have been waiting centuries for reparations of land, dignity, and speaking lines in the script for The Democratic Experiment.

The people of Leipzig refer to the Peaceful Revolution as "The Change". I remember watching the wall come down, people scrambling across to embrace anyone they could get their hands on. But until this trip, I could not begin to understand the fullness of death and resurrection experienced by those who marched, those who sat imprisoned, those whose lives had been decomposed by their own government.

Thirty years ago the Stasi turned over keys and files to the church leadership. Soon after, citizens could apply to view their personal file, which included all kinds of data about the Stasi's observation and meddling in your life. For some, this opportunity provided closure that was necessary to move on. For others, it divided their friendships and families when informants were revealed as classmates, neighbors, or even siblings. Some never applied for their file until their children were old enough to ask about it.

The Superintendent of the Leipzig Church said simply, "Germany has had two words for the world in these last thirty years. The people can effect change without violence and yes, we can receive refugees." They are marked by so many stories already, which continue to inform their word for this generation and the world they fought peacefully to reengage.

The church where Martin Luther was baptized in 1483. Reconstruction has devoted this space to the theology of baptism. The whole sanctuary is one level, symbolizing our equality in Christ. A font and pool are focal points at the front, the table and pulpit simplified. Christians from all over the world come here to remember and give thanks for their baptism.

Which leaves me to wonder: What is our world for the world? Are we, the Christian church of the United States of America, showing up with candles and prayers even when it feels futile or dangerous?  Can the earthly powers see our faith spilling from the sanctuary into the street? If we invite God's will for peace and justice, are we willing to be disrupted by that kind of transformation?

We, too, are marked with a story that is both horrifying and inspiring. Let's be brave and honest in remembering the whole story while we discern and speak our word for the world.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

confess (v.)

I am still learning to admit that my white privilege gets in the way of my Christian discipleship all day. I am steeped in the company of progressives passionate about concepts and institutions, all proud of our liberal ideals. I am a white person who loves to shout into my echo chamber of like-minded people about how woke and forward-thinking I am when compared to those other white people over there. My greatest fear is that I'm advocating for racial justice all wrong and that I, too, am part of the problem. And I am embarrassed of that fear because it is pretension and self-protecting. (And because it is, of course, true.)

A letter from the St. Olaf Board of Regents a few weeks ago held a mirror up to all of this. Let me back up.


Students had been rising up with their voices and hearts, telling their personal stories about oppression on campus. To be taken seriously by the system and the public, they painstakingly organized their experiences and emotions into heady talking points. The students created a website and a list of demands. They translated their hearts so people like me could digest their feelings and experience and wisdom more easily.

The Board of Regents met with the students and responded with a heady list of their own. This letter was for the students, but it is also for alumni, parents, donors, community members, and the general public that is watching St. Olaf's spirit in question.

The dominant verb was "reaffirm", which is the language I use whenever I feel my self-identification as a woke champion of diversity is threatened by my lack of understanding, empathy, or action. But doing the same thing we've been doing with a renewed commitment does not require anything new from me, nor does it hold me accountable to regret thus far. If these concepts and ideals are not supplying safety and value for students of color, why would we reaffirm them?

There's a stark difference between an achievement-fueled, "We'll try harder," and an empathetic, "We are so sorry this is happening to you." I am convinced that reaffirmation is not an adaptive change or real solution.

We've been reaffirming for decades.

I'm guilty of merely reaffirming ALL.THE.TIME. Try harder. Do better. Fix this. Explain it. Check the boxes. But sometimes the stakes are too high and the tools are insufficient for the boundaries of that verb. Sometimes the stuff we are trying to affirm again is broken or wasn't there in the first place. 

This is when my Lutheran theology reminds me that I cannot save myself, live only in my head, or make the discomfort go away. I am called to surrender and be made new, which happens whenever I return to the very beginning, the foundation of my conversation with God, creation, and humanity: confession. And, while it requires seeing myself in less-than-ideal terms, the vulnerability invites me to move back in my heart again.

St. Olaf's mission is to "challenge students to excel in the liberal arts, examine faith and values, and explore meaningful vocation in an inclusive, globally engaged community nourished by Lutheran tradition". After weeks of reflection about my own student experience, visits to campus this month, and the formal correspondence with alumni, I offer another verb: confess.

I confess that I have often reaffirmed with my head instead of apologizing with my heart, a defense mechanism that allows me to retain my privilege while merely acknowledging your pain and quietly deeming your experience less valuable than mine.

I confess that I have needed the Black Lives Matter movement to translate their hearts into their heads so that I can be more comfortable while hearing their message and better assume how to insert myself into the movement without risking too much. I have felt entitled to their translation instead of changing myself.

I confess that I have cared more for the concept and ideals of liberal values and education than I have cared for my neighbor in the cafeteria or classroom.

I confess that I was primed for distraction from the cause when I learned that one of the racist threats was fabricated by a student desperate to bring this issue to light. 

I confess that I am self-conscious about current students at my alma mater raising their voices about sexual assault and racism on campus, not because they are wrong but because they are right.  They are like prophets telling the hard truth about a place I love and a reputation I am quick to protect.

I confess that I am working on all of this. I am being changed. I am starting over each day, repenting my distance and trying to meet people in their hearts.

What have you been reaffirming to no avail?
What are you ready to confess, 
   even though its truth will make a mess in your own heart?

Monday, April 17, 2017

bread.

Zion's Famous Communion Bread
shared by Carla and LuAnn

4 tbsp brown sugar
2 tbsp white sugar
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup white flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda

Mix well, then cut in 3 tbsp shortening.
Add 1/2 cup buttermilk.
Knead and roll out in four 6 inch rounds.

Bake 13-15 minutes at 350.
Score almost through with a cross.

Monday, April 3, 2017

mix-tape

Maybe you've noticed that I love the church I serve.

This little congregation has been my most profound experience of community - beyond family, friends, neighborhood, and alma maters. I have been shaped by the way they wrestle, struggle, celebrate, and serve at every turn. They are extravagant grace and when I am with them I can see heaven.

I will never forget my first Ash Wednesday, when L got stuck in the lift elevator in the back of the Sanctuary, riding up and down with a thud while eating a hot dog until one of these saints set her free and gave her a hug.  K, who looks exactly like Flavor Flav, came up for ashes with a shit-eating grin. He had not noticed the solemn atmosphere, responding to my declaration of his dust with, "Alright, alright! Yes, Ma'am. Whoo!"

I smile whenever I think about M and S serving communion at Recovery Worship some years ago. S balanced and broke the bread gingerly on her deformed, motionless arm while declaring Christ's body broken for us. M pronounced her line, "The blood of Christ shits for you." Clarifications were futile since the dementia loop was too short and everyone understood. The sacrament had new meaning, shared through the beautiful strength and weakness of these women.

I rode in squad cars, coordinated interventions, watched last breaths, and wailed with the suffering. I received the ashes of a man no one would claim but us from the county. People trusted me in the midst of their anger, grief, addictions, recoveries, relapses, fifth steps, and darkest secrets. They welcomed me into their different realities as I listened to experiences of bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and phobias. I learned about homelessness and housing, renter and refugee rights, planning for an active shooter and how to use a defibrillator. There was no class at seminary for these things.

I learned generous and nimble ministry where everyone receives dignity, shares the vote, debriefs with feelings, finds inclusion, wonders aloud, and it is safe to challenge and correct others about the stuff that matters. It was not uncommon for a Jewish woman to sing the Good Friday solo and a Muslim woman to staff the nursery. New neighbors about my age wandered in to find what they didn't know they needed: proxy grandparents, scrappy worship, solid theology, room to breathe, shared leadership, peers rooted in vocation, and another crack at being the church despite past heartbreak or continued skepticism.

My body grew and changed to hold my daughters while members and neighbors brought thousands (thousands!) of diapers for our use. I thought of their generosity each time I changed one, always reminded that we don't have to manage the crap all by ourselves. They let my children show up as they are, loving them through chatty stories and temper tantrums, once pouring piles of Cool Whip straight into their palms during coffee hour. Each night my son is wrapped warm in a quilt they so lovingly made.

We repaired stained glass windows and ripped out carpet, built a shed and crafted clever marquee signs. We loved our neighbors and welcomed the stranger, making small talk in broken Spanish and Somali, finding space for our Muslim brothers and sisters to pray, anointing the sick or cold in dead of winter. We blessed and sent those who moved through our community, we buried those who were called home, and we welcomed in many more than I can count.

We flipped lefse and rolled meatballs. We ate soup and samosas, drank wine or counted days sober. We opened windows, waved dish towels, and kept morale high until the smoke alarm stopped beeping. They prank called me at the office or made me jewelry at the group home. They remembered Pastor Appreciation Week, baked me bread, forgave me often, and left restaurant gift cards in my mailbox. Each Christmas Eve I found a ham and a pound of butter with my name on it. They encouraged my vacation time instead of keeping track. They understood better than and before I did that I am a person and I am enough.

Zion is alive and beautiful and unique in the way it has receives real and broken people for magnificent relationships and love. I know many people think their church is a special snowflake. Zion is a special snowflake with a unicorn-shaped cherry on top. Shamelessly biased, I know. This post has turned into my mix-tape for my relationship with Zion.

When I told Jasper that we only have a few Sundays left at Zion, he was sad. "You mean our next church won't be yellow?" There was devastation when he realized his church friends weren't coming with us - and I am sorry to say goodbye, too. But it helps me bounce back from that jealousy thinking of them carrying on, showing up, and welcoming someone brand new for the next chapter, which is brimming with wild possibilities. This niche of the kingdom will continue to provide creative hospitality, humor, and hope to a wide community of members, friends, neighbors, and partners. And they will follow the Spirit somewhere I never imagined in my time there.

Being tugged someplace new doesn't mean you are suddenly called away from the place you are now. But perhaps it means you have been privy to extravagant grace that cannot be contained by one parish or one neighborhood. Perhaps it means your backpack has been emptied and refilled several times since that Ash Wednesday six Lents ago. If I start wandering, I might find out what I've got in there.

I know how Zion has loved and challenged me in this chapter.
Now I get to find out how they have equipped me for the next.

"Does anybody at this new church give high fives on the way back from communion?"
Not yet, buddy. But maybe you can teach them when we get there.

Monday, March 20, 2017

bossy love.

Sit in your seat
Chew up your meat
Just hands on the table and not your feet.

Wipe what is sticky
Eat, though you’re picky
If you take a bite you can say it was icky.

Don’t flick boogers on that lady
Or eat the candy you found that's so shady
(I mean, at least brush off the dirt and then…maybe.)

One butt at a time for privacy
But make haste, this porcelain isn’t your dynasty
And don’t pick up your poop up for all to see!

When a mitten’s lost I can hear your cries
But just look with your eyes
It’s right in front of your face - damn it – surprise.

No shoes on the couch
No chewed gum in the pouch
Of my favorite purse, its cost was no slouch.

Run but don’t slip
Pour but don’t drip
I’m sorry I’m such a hovering trip.

Don’t push, bite, or scratch
Or do - while I pour wine down my hatch
You’re identical twins, you’ve met your match.

And I’ve met mine too
Since the two of you grew
From the tiniest shock to make me brand new.

It seems like yesterday you both fit on my chest
And our daily accomplishment was just getting dressed
I remember tired beyond tired, trying to feel blessed.

These days I grin while you put on your pants
Either backwards with a dance
Or inside out with a prance.

You’re three now and tall
Running, biking, kicking balls
Climbing, hugging, and snuggling us all.

I’m much better for your noise and your laughter
And our messy house a whirlwind disaster

Being your mom makes me a better person and pastor.