Wednesday, August 30, 2017

careful | care full

When men gather under the guise of clarifying scripture
     to confine the creative mercy of God
Careful.

When those inside the box make demands
     of those beyond plain categories
Careful.

When disciples draw lines in the sand
     assuming Jesus stands beside them in division
Careful.

When people of faith claim that scripture requires
     identity denied and justice misallocated
Careful.

When religious leaders corner a market on what is biblical
     contorting the beautiful mysteries of God's image
Careful.

When some in power demand that others without
     normalize as though dignity is a scarce or sly
Careful.



When God formed the first humans from dust and bone,
     images of God called very good, but not everything or perfection
Care Full.

When God worked for good through all kinds of
     broken and blessed relationships throughout scripture
Care Full.

When God moves through the timeless snares of sexual violence and economy
    to declare delight, value, and belonging to those on the margins
Care Full.

When God in Christ lives and dies
     choosing relationship instead of being right
Care Full.

When we trust the Holy Spirit to change hearts
     without shame, manipulation, or discrimination
Care Full.

When scripture awakens us to work for justice and mercy for the world
     instead of piety and righteousness for ourselves
Care Full.

When God's people reject a statement that limits the power of Jesus
     for the sake of love that's been known to conquer fear
Care Full.

One reaction to the futile and painful Nashville Statement
For a rainbow of responses, including: The Denver Statement, Father James Martin SJ, John Pavlovitz, and Christians United

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

the children.

Last August I found myself in a conversation about race and skin color with my five year old. We were reading the children's book "The Skin You Live In", marveling at the many ways to be beautiful.  He asked why there are so many different colors of people. Probably because we have a very creative God who knows how to make beauty lots of different ways. We are all holy and worthy of the same love because we all look like God. 

I was so tempted to stop here, only describing the palate of color and not the weaponized brushes we've used to paint evil and division, the many ways we've always been at war with God's own image. But it was high time. If I protect my son from the truth about racism because I think he's too young, that's my privilege copping out. Every black and brown baby heading to Kindergarten would already know something about racism because their families don't have the luxury of putting it off.

Do you think God has a favorite color of skin? I asked him. He looked confused and answered quickly, No, God loves us all the same. We're all God's favorite. 

I hesitated and then I pushed, just like the devil likes to push. I know, I know. We're all equal and stuff. But there's probably a winner, right? One color that is more special and powerful than the others? I mean, someone has to come in first place. He looked down at his pale hands and thought about it for some time.

I don't know. He waited for me to answer my own question so he wouldn't need to say it out loud, but I didn't. We sat in silence until he finally whispered in a soft, disappointed voice, Probably the light skinned people? 

Maybe I'm a terrible mother for playing this mind game with my own child, but I wasn't the first. The world had already whispered these lies to my sweet, honest, fooled five year old. And now I had an opening to tell him the truth.

It is only one way to begin the conversation. I'll admit up front that it is flawed and far from comprehensive, but this moment planted deep trust in our relationship that keeps welcoming his observations and questions about racism a year later.  If you know you need to tell the children, but you don't know where to start, I offer the first leg of our journey as a place to begin.


When God created humankind long ago, they were formed from the earth in Africa. Their skin was dark and they didn't wear any clothes to hide their beautiful bodies. God looked at them and declared them "very good". God took good care of them on the days they listened and followed directions, but also on the days they hid and broke the rules. 
You've heard Mom and Dad say, There's nothing you can do to make me love you any more or any less than I already do. We learned to love you like this from God's love. 

Time went on and more and more people covered the earth. They spread out all over the world finding deserts, forests, mountains, oceans and fields. As they got further apart, they started speaking different languages, eating different foods, and their bodies were born in lots of different shades, all beautiful and unique. Every single one looked like God.
And then, once everyone was spread out over the whole earth, light skinned people decided to lie about God's love. They wanted there to be a winner. They were okay with everyone being special as long as they were special special. And so they set out to conquer and control. They tried to make themselves the most important and more powerful by treating dark skinned people like unimportant and weak people - or by treating them like they weren't people at all. 

Explorers from Europe were sent to learn about the world discover new lands. They built big boats and brought weapons. They sailed all of the oceans, assuming that whatever they found would be theirs. Most of the places they found already had beautiful people living there, but the explorers focused on their differences and told them that their skin, language, food, and culture was wrong.
The white people brought germs that made the people who already lived there sick. They used their weapons to make people move off the land and killed the people who tried to stay. They threatened Native Americans into signing agreements they couldn't read and didn't understand. The United States made more than 400 promises in writing to Native Americans and broke every single one of them. 
We invented a holiday called Thanksgiving to pretend that everyone got along, but most of the white explorers from Europe took advantage of the Native Americans. They compared them to wild animals instead of seeing them as people God loves. The Native Americans were brave in defending their culture. They fought for freedom, family, and the right to be themselves - the same things that are important to us today. Why didn't we let those things be important to them, too? 
38 Dakota men hanged in Mankato, MN in 1862.
As Minnesotans, it's important for us to learn about the U.S. - Dakota War in the 1860s. Minnesota had just become a state and, after breaking several promises to the Dakota people, Minnesota's settlers wanted to take even more land and freedom away from Native Americans. Most Dakota people were captured and kept in a concentration camp prison at Fort Snelling. Families were split up and many died because they were sleeping in tents outside in the winter without enough food or supplies. 
This is especially heartbreaking because Fort Snelling is built on land where the Minnesota River and Mississippi River meet, sacred territory for the Dakota people that is part of their creation story. While the history books you'll study in school rarely mention Native Americans after 1900, they are not history. They are not over and gone. They are people and miracles and they are still here, an important part of our present day. Do you think we, as white Americans, can learn their stories and listen to their ideas for a future that respects their lives and land? 
 Explorers were also arriving in Africa, where they met people with rich culture very different from their own. There the white people tricked and bribed black people into fighting and selling each other. They kidnapped black people and took them all the way across the ocean to sell as slaves.  
African men and women were packed into slave ships. They had to lie down right next to each other and couldn't stand up to go to the bathroom or get something to eat. When they got to America, they were sold like animals and farming equipment to people who had a lot of work to do.
Slaves were like prisoners who couldn't go to school or leave the land they worked. Sometimes they had to wear chains or were abused by the white people who owned them and they didn't get paid for their hard work. They had to ask permission to get married and sometimes got married in secret so they didn't get in trouble for loving their family.
The white people told black and brown people that their religions were dumb and wrong and made them worship Jesus. But all of their pictures of Jesus looked like the white people who were helping the lie about God's love. White people wanted to imagine that Jesus looked like them, but Jesus was actually brown-skinned man.
This lie grew all over the world for a really, really long time. Families were broken apart. People weren't allowed to be their beautiful selves. White people got used to hurting black and brown people. They did it for so long that they learned to forget and ignore the truth about God's love, and would teach their kids the lie too. Other white people didn't teach their kids anything at all, but kids are smart and figured out that white people were the ones in charge who got to make laws, vote for leaders, and make the most money, so it was easy to believe that they were better than everyone else.
The United States fought other countries and native people for more land, convinced that we were doing the world a favor by making other people forget their own cultures and act like white Christian Americans instead. 

 When the Civil War ended in 1865 slavery was suddenly against the law, but that didn't change the way white people felt about black people. They still wanted to be more important and, since they had more money, power, and education, they were convinced that black and white people should stay separate from each other. 

Black veterans did not receive the same benefits as white veterans. Most colleges didn't accept black students. Many neighborhoods wouldn't let black people live there. Cities tore down black neighborhoods, businesses, and houses to build highways. And so we pretended that black people were free and everything was fair for a long time. It was kind of a new lie, kind of the same old lie.
During World War 2, America became suspicious of Asian Americans because we were fighting against Japan. Many people were sent to prisons because they looked Japanese or because they had family members living in Asia. These people lost their businesses, homes, and families while they were locked up simply because white people were afraid and judging people because of their skin color.
We have been part of this lie for a long, long time. No wonder you thought there might be a winner! We have created a system in our country and the world that works hard to keep white people feeling more important and more powerful than everyone else. This lie has helped people who look like you and me for a very long time and it has hurt people with other skin colors for just as long.
We are living in one of many moments when the truth is starting to sneak out. It's getting louder than the lie. And this makes some people who need the lie feel scared and mad. You'll hear them saying, That's not fair! But I think they mean, I don't like how it feels to not get things my way all the time. Sounds like you fighting with your sisters about who's first or how much or what wins, right? We're good at noticing when something is unfair or unlikable, but rarely notice when things are going our way and making it easier for us.
So it's our job to remind each other about the truth of God's love. It's our job to learn our whole history, not just from the groups in charge, but also from the groups who get hurt or silenced. We need to practice saying sorry, even if it happened before we were born. We need to listen to people who feel sad, tired, or angry about the lie and then try to imagine how they feel. 
And when you meet someone who looks different than you do, begin by finding things you have in common. Then look for things that make them interesting, unique, and beautiful. Different doesn't have to be scary and your way isn't the best way. Try making space for a lot of right ways and you might learn something wonderful.

Your light skin gives you a lot of power in this life, little one. But it's not because God loves you more or because you deserve it more than your neighbor. It's because so much of our history is an evil twisting of God's love and it takes brave people and a long time to untwist it. You can either use your power to help the lie or to tell the truth about God's love. Telling the truth is really hard work. Lots of grown ups like me are just getting started, so we'll practice together.

Like I said, flawed and far from comprehensive. But it's where we started and now we can't be stopped.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

shopping.

I've been watching people church shop every Sunday for 11 years.
So we'll call this "easily inspired fiction". 


You notice
the parking signs for visitors
the pollinator-friendly gardens
baskets half filled for the food pantry
the paint chipping on the widow sills
the silk flowers on the bathroom counter.

It matters,
the space that greets you 
while you stomp snow from your feet
or you move your sunglasses from your eyes atop your head.
Do need to navigate hallways and offices
or are you thrust nervously into a narrow narthex?

The hunt is on.

The people notice you
with affection, warmth, and curiosity
or desperation, skepticism, and fatigue
or not at all.

Writing in a dusty guestbook
would be like signing up for spam mail.
The edge of your sticky name tag
begins to curl, appalled by your shirt.
You considered writing, 
"Settle down, we're just visiting"
or a pseudonym. 

Your children are sized up
the nursery is eagerly suggested
while they cling to your leg.

The pew does its best to corral your family 
into meeting the palpable expectations 
of this crowd. 

They will tolerate wiggles and whispers, 
but crayons drop and Cheerios crunch
and echo tragically
while someone half asleep 
mumbles obscure scripture passages.
Your first cold glares and nervous smiles 
come before the sermon
and now you are sweaty.

You are having trouble recalling why 
you dared to come.

Duty.
Healing.
Guilt.
Hope.
Tradition.
Longing.

There are good reasons to stay away
from the broken and beleaguered church
of your past and their present.
These grow louder in your mind
when you realize you are behind in the bulletin
and your youngest needs a diaper change.

You are still figuring out how the sacrament is served
and if you are welcome
and if your children are welcome
when an usher asks if you are coming up.

He seems more concerned 
about the timing of the music
and a break in the line
than helping you find belonging 
on the way to the table.

And while you hustle self consciously,
his wife reminds him sweetly
that he would have had all day for 
arthritic knees or a buzzing hearing aid.

Startled and swayed, he squats down
to offer each of your children a high five 
as they pass by.
One brings a picture up front,
a colorful offering
another skips and waves 
until people smile 
breaking formation long enough
to answer your question:

They are hurting like you.
You are welcome like them.
We are all breaking and mending. 

You leave before coffee,
no welcome card or signature
and just a few bucks in the plate.
This was enough, 
perhaps more than you had to give.

But you are not empty.
There was a morsel and a sip
and the promise of people and places,
futile and fertile efforts out there.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

collision.

Today was my ordination anniversary. It's a strange holiday that few in a pastor's life know how to celebrate, or if to celebrate at all.

Congratulations on your mystical promises!
Happy covenanting.
Proud of your weird call.
No one rocks a stole like you do.

I'm not sure what the right greeting card would say. Which reminds me that this vocation often implies solitude. We are set apart for something and it doesn't always make sense. And so I usually mark the occasion by taking myself out to a nice lunch or disappearing for some self-care at the salon or the gym.

This is the third year I have shared my anniversary with Solveig and Tove's baptism birthday. It's almost too cute, these vocations of pastor and mother mingling on the calendar. In real life, it's kind of a shit show. A real collision of sorts.

Yesterday we returned home from a state park family vacation where my motherhood cup had runneth over. I was itching to get back to work and a schedule, but realized I'd dropped the childcare ball would need to bring them all to church with me in the afternoon.

I was the best dressed mom in Walgreens while I let them pick out Lunchables, complete with the candy and Capri Sun. (The Cadillac of Lunchables.) I bought a green tea and a family sized bag of Kettle Corn for myself, which turned out to be the best decision I made all day.

My office is without furniture this month while we live between fresh paint and new carpet, but I imagined the open floor plan would work well for this chaos. Despite piles of snacks, markers, sticker books, and Pandora, I could not keep the squirrels from pummeling each other or sticking crackers in my face while I tried to write.

video


I lectured, I bribed, I laughed, I yelled, and I held them apart to no avail. Two hours, three Lunchables, half a bag of popcorn, four bathroom breaks, three bandaids, and five emails later, I called it quits. We packed up and started heading home.

I am a pretty good pastor. And I am a pretty good mom. But I am a terrible at both when I try to do them all at once. We stopped at Dairy Queen because ice cream helps and because I wanted to sit in the sun for a minute. We sang Happy Baptism Birthday to Solveig and Tove while ice cream leaked out beneath the hot fudge coating on to their hands and laps. They waved at cars parking and asked to pet dogs and giggled trying to balance on the cracks in the sidewalk. Everything was, "Mama, watch this!" And none of it was amazing. It was just plain old sticky life.

Congratulations on your sticky face!
Happy strange promise from heaven day.
Proud of you goofballs.
No one slow plays a kiddie cone on a hot day like you guys.

I was far away, watching strangers enjoying their antics when Jasper called me back. "Hey, Mom. We need to sing to you, too. What is your anniversary called again?" And then they sang Happy Pastor-versary at the top of their lungs while our bottoms stuck to the hot red bench and the parking lot buzzed with people passing by our mess. My worlds were colliding in all the hard ways and all the best ways, too. That bouquet of sticky napkins in my lap proved that it was real and it was mine.

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.


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.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

the evidence.


In honor of International Women's Day on March 8, I will dedicate my March posts to a few ways I reject the cultural pressures I experience as a white married middle-class working mother. Lord knows there are countless other pressures that I don't deal with personally because of these categories, so I will spend time reading and learning about women from other perspectives this month, too.

For the Post-Partum Bodies
When Jasper was born I decided to give up saying negative things about my body. I didn't want him to hear me disparage myself because I have the unique opportunity to define feminine beauty for him early on. If he sees me treating my figure with respect and using it as a vehicle for movement and life, he will believe it's wonderful too. If he hears me saying kind things about other bodies, maybe he will learn to do the same.

It was painfully hard work at first. I noticed how often I thought ill of myself or had to bite my tongue. But six years later, I have brainwashed myself into thinking I look amazing 99% of the time. Refraining from speaking ill of my body caused my self-critical thoughts to get bored and, at some point, they gave up trying to make me miserable in my own skin. It's changed my relationship with the parts of me that were affected by the trauma of rape and recovery so many years ago. Now this lack of self-judgment can be a gift to my girls, too.

I pulled back the shower curtain this morning and one of my daughters was standing there looking at me. While she examined me slowly, I rejected the urge to cover up and shoo her away. I want her to see me standing up straight. I want her to know that the mother of three small children can carry her body with pride and love and confidence, even if she's several pounds heavier than her glory days weight.

"Do you remember where you lived, Solveig?" She came close to me and put her hand on the lower left portion of my torso, her home for 38 weeks. "That's where my tummy got really big to make room for you to curl up in there. And then, after you were born, it got smaller but stayed soft so you can lie your head down whenever you need to snuggle."

Carrying and delivering and nursing my children has been my greatest power as a woman. How strange, then, that society pressures women to lose every pound and become firm again as if nothing ever happened. We're conditioned to shred the evidence of miracles and ferocity. My soft core isn't a symbol of weakness or something to sweat away - it is a tribute to my strength and life and three unforgettable chapters. So I reject the narrative that says I should want the body I had at 28 because my body at 35 tells a much better story - even Solveig can see that. We are not postpartum bodies until we lose the weight or find our abs again. We are forever changed by these events in ways our bodies want to remember. And call me crazy, but I think it's okay if they look like they remember.

For the postpartum bodies out there:
You are lovely and strong. Your flesh and curves tell the story of your deepest power. May your shape be a vehicle for movement and life (soccer and Cheetos!) so that your children can witness your joy and strength as their first example of feminine beauty. For your sake and for the world, do not wish yourself away. We need you, standing up straight and being seen.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

political blessings.

Let’s get something straight about discipleship today.

There’s a cost to following Jesus. 
The gospel life declares that we will be last.
We will lose the preferred life. 
We will die into Christ.

And this is political because politics is defined as “the collective work of the people for the sake of common good”. Jesus did not come for ideas or rules or systems. He came for our breath and our heartbeats and our complicated relationships as creatures of God. He came because God's people have been enslaved time and again to earthly masters who do not do justice, love kindness, or walk humbly with God. He came to break our chains.

Discipleship is inconvenient and counter-intuitive at every turn. By design, it afflicts the Empire’s agenda, every self-serving urge, every tantalizing law disguised as the answer to justice or salvation or smug satisfaction.

I say YES to the separation of Church and State because Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection are not meant to sync with the Empire, our earthly compromises, our faliable forms of power. But this does not mean that faith is apolitical, that when the gospel calls attention to the disparity between our will and God's will we should turn the volume down because it's uncomfortable.

The gospel’s politics are made for agitation. The ministry of Jesus was enough to pit religious leaders and elders against his call for mercy and justice that is rooted in the scripture they know well:

Welcome the stranger.
Care for the widow.
Let the little children come.
See and feed the ones who overwhelm or inconvenience you.
Give up your seat at the table for the ones waiting outside.

These aren’t suggestions or fables. They are a lifestyle that breeds discomfort with the status quo and builds resistance to the Empire and its worldly excuses. It was enough to silence him with crucifixion. 

Jesus reminds us that we can only serve one Master. 
We and our ancestors have a recorded habit of choosing
our safety
our success
being right
being in control
being first
being comfortable every time.

For this hot mess, Jesus came.

Friends, if you feel torn apart by this political season, this test of patriotism, this paranoid shouting match between alt-right and reality, between left and right, between America and the world, it’s because you are, not just neighbor from neighbor, but within your own self.

You have ears for the Empire and ears for the gospel
            and it tears you apart.
You have an allegiance to saving yourself and redemption in Christ
            and it tears you apart.
You have faith in fear and faith in the one who says, “Do not fear”
            and it tears you apart.

So let’s get something straight about discipleship today.

There’s a cost. Our relationship between Empire and Heaven is messy and political and exhausting and it’s supposed to be. 

Do not be confused about the task at hand. The Empire will tempt you to believe that discipleship requires your piety, your perfection, your resolute strength all day long. But the gospel needs your vulnerability, your honesty, your weakness, your compassion, and your trust in the Holy Spirit to hold us together as the body of Christ as it has for thousands of years. Where to begin?

·      Acknowledge the many comforts the Empire gives you, always in exchange for your quiet compliance with the world.
·      Confess the ways you receive these gifts, convinced that you need them and deserve them and earned them, no matter how they pit you against the neighbor and stranger.
·      Craft a way to use these privileged gifts beyond yourself for the sake of the gospel, for the sake of the world turned upside down by Jesus, who wakes you up and tears you from chains, offering something more beautiful and courageous to do with your life.

There is nothing convenient or tranquil about the Beatitudes. It is a radical secret told to a few who gathered on the mountain, high above the Empire to hear the truth: God’s justice will not be trampled by fake news, fear mongering, noisy politicians, or the test of time. Christ has come to invert blessing and joy and power for the sake of those forgotten, refused, belittled, threatened, and destroyed by the powers of this world.

We cannot set this necessary and risky goodness apart from politics, the collective work of the people for the sake of common good, for the gospel does not bow at lines set by the Empire.  No, it has come and will come until we have been torn apart from everything that separates us from the love and justice of God.

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him.  Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:  "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.  "Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.  "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.  "Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.  "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.  "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.  "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  "Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. 

This is how fiercely we are loved. We have been saved and we are still being saved and we will forever be saved by news that is costly and death that is broken and work that agitates the cozy, sanitized illusions of our faith.

You see, the gospel is political because it is what the people need.
It is everything the Empire is unwilling to risk.

So take the secret down the mountain, friends.
Tell the world what it means to be torn apart for the sake of God's love and justice.