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.


Friday, March 10, 2017

life and choice.

Trigger Warning: Pastor who swears, loves, fights, lives, and chooses with all she's got. Like a woman.

We are failing women's bodies
when 97% of rapists evade conviction
responsibility
accountability
remorse
tranformation,
leaving her to heal without justice.

We are failing women's bodies
when children's clothing stores insist
we cover little girls in sparkles and unicorns
limiting their imaginations and power
to pretty and nice.

We are failing women's bodies
when we teach college freshmen
how to avoid getting raped
instead of teaching college freshmen
do not rape.

We are failing women's bodies
when we mansplain the real problem
dismiss her experience
silence her voice
regulate her body
as though she is not fully human
and super human.

We are failing women's bodies when
the uterus is a pre-existing condition
and we elect a Congressman who doesn't understand
why men should also be covered for prenatal care.

Maybe he should ask his mom.
You know.
The one who carried him to term
while his male genitalia developed
in utero.

We are failing women's bodies
when we treat them like an operational loss.
No, we are people-bearing-power-houses.
Prenatal care is human care.
And if we all come from this care it should be
affordable
accessible
really fucking good.

We fail women's bodies
when we act like women get themselves knocked up
when we assume that housing a fertilized egg
is just a lady problem.
It confirms we are too often on our own

responsible for what is
unseen
inconvenient
messy
pro-bono
dark matter parenting

but that does not mean we are
insignificant
less valuable
more on the hook
in need of micro-management.

We go rogue every day
refilling our birth control prescriptions on time
paying out of pocket for health supplies
hoarding vacation days for maternity leave
pumping in closets at work
applying makeup in the daycare parking lot
getting laid off if we miss one more day with a sick kid.

We are failing women's bodies
when we assume
she wants to be a mother
she can get pregnant
she can stay pregnant
she needs our two cents
before making a profound and personal decision.

We are failing women's bodies
when we are foolish enough to think
pro-life is a stance for the unborn alone and
pro-choice a godless apathy.

We are failing women's bodies
until pro-life also fully considers
refugees
immigrants
widows
systemic racism
veterans
poverty
education
mental health
incarceration
hunger
homelessness.

Feminine human life
cannot
will not
be categorized or set aside
from the rest of human life.

Pro-life begins when we stop making the choice
to fail women's bodies,
instead hearing the decisions she must make
in a system that does not honor her deepest
strength
sacrifice
power
suffering
grace
truth
life.

We are failing women's bodies.
And yet she refuses failure
with her beautiful life and her gutsy choice
every single day.