Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Naaman.

www.codyfmiller.com 

The Hebrew grammar is unclear. Is Naaman’s weakness his leprosy or his self-importance? He is introduced by both of these things and perhaps they are tangled up together. Naaman is a Syrian general, confident about his military status while haunted by his deepest insecurity. His flesh invites curiosity, disgust, and distance. 

A young girl had been taken captive from the land of Israel and served Naaman’s wife. She was either shrewd or merciful when she spoke out of turn and offered up a long shot solution. There was a prophet in Israel known to cure this disease. If he went to see Elisha, he might be healed.

But healing does not always happen on our terms or leave the rest of our body unchanged. Healing often requires trauma, humility and recovery from the rest of our being. Naaman went to Israel hoping for a miracle that would cure his flesh, drawing him further into relationships and society than before.

Naaman’s king sent a caravan of pomp and circumstance to the King of Israel with a letter asking for healing and life. But kings and politicians and courts could not provide. Instead, they were rerouted to the outskirts of town where Elisha lived. When their horses and chariots pulled up, they expected Elisha to come outside, ready and impressed. But Elisha did not emerge. Instead, he sent a simple word:

Go, wash in the Jordan River seven times.
Your flesh shall be restored and you shall be clean.

This was not what Naaman hand in mind. The river was more like a stink ditch. A bath would be so humiliating, his tormented flesh laid bare for all to see. Submersion in the silent spotlight of expectation – again and again and again and again and again and again and again. It would be too physically simple. Too emotionally embarrassing. 

His pride and fear twisted up in the pit of his stomach. Naaman turned to go, angry and muttering all of the reasonsthis was beneath him. Until his servants stopped him.

If it required muscle and conquest, you would have done it.
This is another kind of sacrifice.
This is strength born when you shed your layers and show up as yourself.

Show up as yourself. Bare the one you wish away, you label with weakness, you try to control with apathy, violence, or distraction. Reveal your secrets and shame. See what happens.

So he let go and stepped out from behind his chariot. Thanks to a foreign slave girl and a band of patient servants and a quirky prophet, the Syrian general dared to take off the layers of soldier, commander, and man. And once undressed, he waded into the murky mess of his truest self: a beloved child of God. The mud squished between his toes and the water smelled foul in his beard.

It took seven times to lose himself in the hope of wholeness and healing. When he stumbled out of the tide, he seemed lighter and less self-conscious. And his flesh was clear like that of a young boy just learning how to live. Surrounded by witnesses and still dripping, Naaman stood before Elisha with a whole hearted confession…and a present.

But Elisha reminded him that this grace cannot be bought or bribed or rewarded. It is free. It is relational. It is enough for God to see him returned to his truest self. Naaman’s presents were refused until he finally agreed to return home. His infections and transactions had been washed away in the filthy beauty of a God who gets up close, who speaks truth to power, who peels back our layers to reveal our truest selves.

- An Interpretation of 2 Kings 5

Monday, November 6, 2017

Cain.

Now when Adam and Eve knew each other, she conceived and bore a son they named Cain, which means the sum of what they made and had (to produce). Cain was a farmer who cared for the land and his brother Abel watched over the flocks of animals. When the young men made sacrifices to God, Abel's was regarded but Cain's was not received with the same appreciation. 

When you are named for what you produce, your output can become confused with your identity. God's silence was deafening and unbearable for Cain. The scriptures say his countenance fell. Composure and mental stability were lost without praise for his harvest.

It was enough to unravel his sense of self, his loyalty to kin, his faith in God, and his stewardship of creation. While Cain knew how to produce and strive, he did not know how to feel or fail. And so, he began to live and act out of his mind. He lured his brother to the fields and murdered him in a jealous rage. As Abel's blood soaked into the earth, Cain lied to God and argued the punishment for his sin. Without confession or empathy, he became paranoid that death would now come for him too. 

Existing without real relationships meant he could imagine escalating violence and nothing else. And so he wandered away from family and farm and faith, marked by the curse of his own insecurity and isolation for generations.

- An Interpretation of Genesis 4

Cain still wanders the earth. He is the sum of what he produces: the talents he hoards, the secrets he enforces, the acclamation he demands, the accountability he rejects. We need to talk about

mental illness
and mass shootings
and sexual violence
and racism
and poverty
and religious intolerance
and bullying
and collusion
and money laundering
and nuclear proliferation
and fake news
and threats to the constitution

but they all have one thing in common: men. More specifically, toxic masculinity. Most of today's headlines echo of Cain's anger, fear, grief, dishonesty, and loneliness, which play out in manipulative, selfish, and violent ways. We're not talking about that, but we must.

Do not let Cain's narrative win by entertaining conversation about a Muslim problem or a tax problem or an immigration problem or an it's-too-soon-to-talk-about-guns problem or a religious freedom problem or an abortion problem.

We have a toxic masculinity problem. Cain is still wandering our churches and communities and schools and airwaves and elected offices. Cain is fooling our men and boys into thinking they are the sum of what they can produce and have and hoard and hit and grab and hide and profit. And when all these things fail, they are left alone in their unapproved feelings and their distorted identity where paranoia, shame, and revenge flourish.

We have a toxic masculinity problem. White straight cis men in particular, get your people. It is time to wake up and catch up and show up for the men and boys in your life. Because it's like an episode of the Walking Dead trying to navigate this mindless epidemic without your help.

Tell them who they actually are: farmers of creation and children of Eve.
Model unconditional love for animals, neighbors, and strangers.
Express your feelings in front of them and talk about why that's okay.
Build connections in nature and help them find simple ways to be useful.
Hug and kiss them. Wrestle and play with them. 
Assure them that no apparel, interest, role, or activity is "just for girls".
Teach them to apologize without blaming the victim.
Show them how to pray and offer thanks to God with humble candor.
Remind them to hold space and listen well to others.
Be a man in caring relationships who tells the truth, especially when it isn't easy.

Ooze empathy for those and that which you do not understand. Speak of the problem we actually have. Because feeling and confessing is balm for these feral fields that lie covered in the blood of our brother.


If the term "toxic masculinity" is brand new to you, start by watching this documentary by The Representation Project.  It's free on Netflix right now.


Monday, October 2, 2017

red lantern.

We woke up to more tragedy today. Bullets rained down on concert goers in Las Vegas last night. It's a new layer of raw disbelief and painful grief for this country. We are on fire and flooded. Some lack clean drinking water and others are strung out on opioids. Kneeling is seen as an assault on patriotism while white supremacy by torchlight is called complicated. We are simultaneously isolated and at each other's throats. Lord, have mercy.

I am a person who feels things. I feel the weight of PTSD renewed in a political climate that validates rape culture. I feel the responsibility that comes with privilege as a middle class, straight, white person. I feel the stress of parenthood in a social moment that aches for a new generation equipped with courage, empathy, and kindness. I feel the power and urgency of the gospel so that I often sound idealistic because I am - I believe in the Kingdom of God in our midst. It's annoying and exhausting and awesome.

This week I have received the same compliment from several people: They express gratitude and wonder for my effervescent personality and optimistic energy. I usually joke that I am caffeinated. And I mean it when I say I get life from joy and challenge at home and at work. But if we linger a bit longer, I might tell them a little story like this one:

I do not come by this joy all on my own. I am an Enneagram Eight, which means I tend to challenge systems for the sake of independence and justice, which requires stubbornness and endurance. My greatest fear is being harmed by or at the mercy of another and I do what I can to stay in control. I'm in good company with Mae West, Ernest Hemingway, Martin Luther King Jr., and pretty much every dictator in modern history. I have a Seven-Wing, which means I like to be in charge, but I'll try to make it fun for everyone involved.

I had some mom guilt after working so much this weekend, so I got home early to make dinner and do laundry before picking all the kids up today. I made sure to wash superhero shirts and Solveig's favorite pants. I walked the news media line, trying to stay informed about the Las Vegas shooting without becoming consumed. I prayed at the bus stop and handed Jasper's driver a handwritten note, thanking him for taking such good care of our kids after school each day. Salaam.

The kids ran off together to color when they got home, but as the storm clouds rolled in, so did the whining and shoving. Yesterday's headache returned while I grilled shrimp on the stovetop. They forgot that they all like shrimp and gave me a hard time. I added more asparagus just to spite them. By the time we sat down to dinner it was pouring outside. But their attitudes were louder than the rain and I had to bow out. I gave Matt a sympathetic look and whispered, "Just ten minutes," as I stood up and put my rain jacket on. I admit, I relished their confusion as I slipped outside into different sounds.

Sometimes Zoloft and a good attitude isn't enough. I am grateful for medication that makes the boundary between me and the world's offenses a little less porous. It's the difference between me crying at the dinner table and taking ten minutes outside, hopping over puddles, breathing deeply, and stopping to notice that a few maple leaves have turned a brilliant red.

When I left, Jasper was red with anger about so many things: having been scolded for decking his sister, writing a few numbers backwards on his drawing, and the amount of asparagus on his plate to name a few. He self-describes this feeling as "red lantern": tear-soaked cheeks and a face raw with anger, frustration, and embarrassment. I found a leaf that looked like "red lantern" and I carried it for awhile.

My thighs were getting wet, but I stopped at a lending library. I am trying to get back in the habit of reading novels and just finished one last week. But instead my fingers found a copy of Jasper's favorite book as a toddler, "I Love You Through and Through". The binding was wobbly in a familiar way, so I opened it up and, sure enough, there was still a dried booger on the first page. It was our copy. It found me and my leaf. I tucked it into my jacket and headed home.

When I got inside, Jasper mumbled a slightly more than half-hearted, "Sorry". I surprised him with the leaf and explained why I brought it home for him. His face warmed with gratitude and then he asked about the book. The once whiny table was now hushed while I held the pages up for all to see. "I love your happy side and your sad side. I love your silly side and your mad side." Jasper moved to find my lap.

"Mom, can we keep this book forever and ever?" Of course. No one wants our booger book. But it seems to want us. We'll keep it forever and ever.

I share this story because it's Mental Health Awareness Week. Maybe you don't have PTSD or feel better on a drug like Zoloft, but you do need to take good care of your mental health. You deserve to feel safe and loved and free to take that walk around the block in the rain. And, when you do, you're more likely to recognize someone else for their red lantern moment. Your earned and honest effervescence will embolden you to tell yourself and them what we all need to hear these days: "I love you through and through...yesterday, today, and tomorrow, too."

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.



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.