Wednesday, September 7, 2016

tenderness and power.

Last week I launched my girls into preschool and put Jasper on a bus to Kindergarten. It's an emotional time for any parent, the releasing of your children to new experiences and people and environments. As a working mother, I can't help but wonder what I have missed in these first five and a half years of parenthood. But as a potty training warrior, I can't help but be glad they'll be peeing on someone else today.

The night before Jasper started Kindergarten, we talked about superpowers. Everybody has one. There is strength and creativity and kindness in every single person you'll meet at school. Sometimes it's hidden and sometimes it's obvious. And guess what? I think one of your superpowers is discovering other people's superpowers.

It's true. He's wise and observant. He notices and names things I cannot see. I sent him off with this encouragement so that he'd be curious about his classmates, always seeking to learn more about them until he finds something wonderful and powerful in these new peers.

Perhaps it's crazy to think I can raise a deeply curious child in today's world. The media presents a list of despairing, polarized, terror-filled, angry, and fearful headlines that paralyze me with every page turn and click. Nothing inquisitive about their tone or volume!  I feel small in the face of this declarative reporting and I am left to wonder what kind of world is waiting for my curious little ones:

Gretchen Carlson's sexual harassment suit paid her exactly half of what Fox paid Roger Ailes to leave. Brock Turner was released from jail early for good behavior and Stanford has not yet expelled him. Syria used chemical weapons against its own people. Again. College campuses continue teaching first year students "how not to get raped" instead of teaching them "don't rape". Iran and Saudi Arabia flex tensions as the pilgrimage to Mecca begins. Elementary students are learning how to hide quietly in case men with guns enter their schools. Our legislators are divided and stalling about funding urgently needed to fight the Zika virus, proof that they do not honor the welfare of the American woman's uterus. American Indians are united in historic proportions at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota as protectors of water and life, but a majority of media outlets show little interest in this human, creation-wide cause.

Lord, have mercy.

And then there is Jacob Wetterling. He has been found, but not as we have hoped. The myth of closure is alive and well in Minnesota today. The Wetterling family invited all of us into the search 27 years ago and yesterday Patty Wetterling spoke with such eloquent strength, inviting all of us into the grief of this moment. She gave us permission to be deeply sad and sorry, but also to be alive in the work still before us. There is more to do: more children to find, more families to comfort, more perseverance to mold, more porch lights to leave burning brightly.

Jasper and Patty have met me in the tenderness of this season - in the midst of all that is evil, unfinished, and hard to bear alone - with the promise of power. Everybody has one, you know. And the best way to discover (or rediscover) your superpower is to get on the bus and show up together where someone might be curious enough to notice and name yours.

Let's see and be seen, friends.
We are found in moving our bodies and souls together.
And perhaps our collective tenderness will reveal new superpowers.

May the bus show up when and where you need a ride,
  guiding you into new courage and adventure.
May the light you were gifted in baptism shine brightly,
   guiding others into hope and warming your own heart.
May the power of the Holy Spirit rumble in your breath and bones,
  guiding you into great purpose and curiosity for those who need power, too.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

what do you mean, "welcome"?

I drove all over town running errands on Thursday and passed at least a dozen church buildings of all different sizes and denominations that shared something in common: their marquee or banner out front declared, "All are Welcome". I struggle with this tagline for all kinds of reasons and here are just a few...

  1. I should hope so. When our congregations feel the need to explain that everyone is welcome, it reminds me that our history, theologies, and communities have done a poor job embodying this basic truth in all kinds of destructive and disappointing ways for which we struggle to fully acknowledge and seek forgiveness. I think this statement is meant to be innocent and friendly, but can also remind our estranged and unfamiliar neighbors of our great hypocrisy throughout history. It can fall a little short of what's necessary to redeem our reputation for hospitality.
  2. Really? Everybody? To be true, this assumes we have interpreters at worship services, elevators and ramps for accessibility, trama-trained staff and leaders, gender non-specific bathroom facilities, braille bulletins or hymnals, and much more. But we don't have most of these things - at least my congregation does not. There are several subsections of the population who know what it's like to show up only to feel unsafe, undignified, and unexpected. Perhaps that marquee feels like salt on a wound that's been festering for awhile now. And perhaps we hope they don't show up because failing to welcome them well really kills morale and the easy going nature of this one-way slogan. We'd prefer an easy welcome that doesn't require our failure or shame.
  3. Sweet assimilation. What, exactly, are welcoming them into? Our ways and traditions? Our worship style and membership protocol? Our budgetary needs and priorities? Um, no thanks. That sounds just as rigid and painful as getting on board with a new company health benefits plan. We are so quick to say folks are welcome, but our motives are mixed and completely unclear to passersby. What if I bring more need than benefit? What if I have ideas and gifts that cause too much change or discomfort for the core? If my welcome is contingent upon adaptation into this ecosystem, are you willing to be changed by me, too?
I searched for images online using the phrase, "All are Welcome" and found this arrow piercing a heart. It has been become a symbol used by communities all over Europe and Asia to show unambiguous welcome to Syrian refugees seeking a new beginning. I was taken by it's simple clarity: the arrow of welcome cuts to the very center of the heart. It seems the heart has been changed by the arrow - it's pain and plight and courage - and it is welcome in the very soul of this new place where it will cause discomfort and change while forming an entirely new shape.

If our church is to declare welcome to our neighbors and the world in the name of Jesus, then it is like this heart which says, "Come unto me. Pierce me with all of who you are so that we can transform and become more together. For you belong just as much as anyone else and we, of course, will make room for you in the middle of this great love."

Since my marquee sign can't hold three sentences, the message is often and tragically stunted into fragments. But I mean it with my whole life and I am not afraid of failing miserably at this pierced welcome while writing, singing, and declaring it from the pulpit and street alike.

How do you understand the phrase, "All are Welcome"?
What, exactly, is this catchy slogan inviting people into 
and do they understand the invitation as we intend it?

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.