Tuesday, November 17, 2015


Fight. Freeze. Flight.

Did anyone else feel the pull last week? Terror rippled in cities around the world. As refugees trudge through a gauntlet of scraps and skeptical stares, handouts and hesitant hospitality, bombs exploded. And everyone felt the earth shake.

If I have to hear that ISIS “claimed responsibility” one more time, I’m going to throw up. When I use this phrase with my children, I'm suggesting the gathering up of both cause and effect, of premeditation and aftermath, of accountability that requires some vulnerability. Hospitals and schools list responsibility as a value cherished and taught. So when we use it to describe braggy terror, I get irritated and queasy.

Like many of you, I felt all of the fight, freeze flight feelings and they got jumbled up together. I wanted to run, but not away. I wanted to duke it out, but with proclamations of dignity and gospel in the face of so much fearful contraction. And I certainly froze: to weep, to listen, to wait, to hold breath with the world.

I’m still feeling all the feelings, but I know that news feeds are not what I need at the end of the day. They’re not what any of us need.

So on Monday I put my phone down and turned off the boob tube. I drove through the drizzle, taking side streets and underpasses, to a little bar in St. Paul where I knew there would be loud and wild hope. I knew there would be friendly strangers smooshed into a room singing important truths into being. 

This is what we need; to be gathered from the drizzly edges into belonging and song.

It’s hard to know what we’re supposed to do and where to start, but I think it helps to watch someone else in her element. I think it’s comforting to stand aside and notice the little ways someone else is redrawing lines and casting nets and adding chairs and saying, “Welcome”.

At Humble Walk’s Beer & Hymns, I watched Jodi do just that. She is the only pastor I know who also ushers. While musicians lead hymns and shakers are handed out and people shout out requests – “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?” Survey says, “No!” - Jodi is quiet and warm near the door. She stands just outside the room where curious onlookers might gather, where shy folks assume the chairs are all taken, where people loiter on the edge of solitude and belonging.

You see, sometimes we’re thinking too big. We can feel the urge to fight or freeze or flight because the task is too heavy and the ache is too great. Then all the feelings get tangled up until we give up or give in.

But I (and perhaps you) am not called to fix everything or find the most ingenious solution to our nation’s foreign policy and immigration challenges. We are, instead, ordinary American citizens. We are people who belong to each other. We are folks who desire a greater good. And we cannot do that alone glued to our screens or hidden behind locked doors.

It is grace when we meet strangers near the door.
It is mercy to set up chairs before people need to ask.
It is Christ’s body when we gather to sing of a faith we cannot carry alone.

Promise me you will move through the drizzle toward the room in the back where strangers are already singing and setting up chairs. Promise me you will break from your lonesome discouragement and fright long enough to be together, seen by others and whispering into the chorus that all is not lost. Promise me you will stand at the edges and usher people in with welcome and warmth.

For in these kinds of gatherings, we truly "claim responsibility". We practice unity and relocate pieces of hope that inspire a multitude of tremors for justice, equity, love, and peace.

May this be your sweet gospel lullabye tonight, dear ones:

We belong to each other for the sake of the good.
So unclench your fear, lean in, and gather.
Make space and sing with shaky joy
For you are not alone.
We belong to each other for the sake of the good.