A Woman… A Protest.

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Today, I had hoped to march with the millions of other women and men around this country.  March for women.  March as a woman.  March as a mother.  A wife. A daughter.  A sister.  An aunt.  A pastor.  Unfortunately, my life dictated that I was not able to attend a march.  So instead of protesting with my presence, I protest with my pen, (or my keyboard.)

So here’s the thing, the first time I was ‘grabbed by the pussy,’ I was four or five years old.  I was a young child, still too young to know that I wasn’t supposed to be touched ‘like that.’  I was with my mother at the public library… of all places.  I was just a few aisles away, in the children’s section, when an older boy, probably a young teen, thought it was his right or maybe he would just, ‘try it out’… Either way, he groped me over and over and over again.  

When I told my mom, my mom told the librarian.  The librarian found the boy’s mom and that was it.  He got a ‘talking to.’  I went home and took a bath. 

Now, I am not blaming my mom for doing anything wrong… but this boy just got a good ‘talking to’, literally. 

It happened again when I was closer to ten years old, this time a friend of the family, again, an older boy pushed me against my friend’s bed and started humping me.  He did it again a year later. 

As an adult, I know that I have been cat called and have had men ‘accidentally’ brush up against me.  I have been cornered by coworkers and have been looked up and down by teachers in high school. 

I know that I have not had overly traumatic experiences with harassment or unwanted sexual advances.  But that is just it, my experiences are pretty ‘normal.’

I think about my friends who have experienced much, much worse. 

Today’s marches are a protest, a protest to a president who brushes off talk about sexual assault as if it’s ‘normal.’  The problem is, it is normal.  And it shouldn’t be. 

So, I protest.  I protest by going on the record.  I am going on the record to say that it is not okay for boys to grow up thinking they can ‘do whatever they want’ to women.  It is not okay for women to be looked at or talked about like sex objects.  It is not okay for grown men, men who aspire to be leaders to brush off sexual assault like ‘it’s no big deal.’

As a Christ-follower, I don’t have to look far to know what to do.  I look to Jesus’ own close circle of disciples, the ones who stoo20170121_121127_resizedd by him until the end, at the cross, the tomb, and finally resurrection… Mary, Martha, and his mother.  Women. 

I look to the way Jesus affirmed the bleeding woman, healed Jarius’ daughter, sharing a drink with the woman at the well, standing up for the woman about to be stoned… I can look to Jesus’ own genealogy – born to an unwed mother, the relative of a widow, a prostitute, a woman entangled in terrible abuse, a woman barren and then miraculously healed. 

As a Christ-follower, I see that our God values women, all women, all the time. 

I also see that as a Christ-follower, Jesus was unafraid to stand up to the religious leaders, the political leaders, the masses of people, the businessmen, the wealthy, even at times his own followers to show us how to love and care for one another, to show us how to seek wholeness for the whole of the world. 

So, I do protest.  I protest a world that wants to deny the teachings of Jesus and seek its own self-interest above the wellness of others.   I will pray for my government.  I will pray for its leaders.  I will teach my children to respect all people.  I will preach Jesus’ teachings.  I will read God’s word.  I will not apologize for the Gospel.   

As a Christ-follower, I do not expect my law makers to necessarily be moral.  I cannot expect those who have not truly experienced or seen redemption to act like the ‘redeemed.’  I cannot expect those who look to themselves first, to care about others first.  But I absolutely expect that our leaders do their job, which is to serve the people, all the people. 

So when I look to my government, I demand better.  I demand that they work for all people, show respect to all people, as public servants.  A protest is not really a protest unless a solution is proposed.  Protest demands more of those protested against.  So today, I protest and call upon our president, our government, my neighbors, my family, and even myself to stop.  Stop allowing sexual harassment, sexual assault, and sexism be ‘normal.’  Stop allowing anyone to have power over a woman’s body, life, or choices.  Stop making a woman feel ‘less than’ simply because of their sex.

I demand that our president and government acknowledge that these behaviors hurt mothers, daughters, grandmothers, granddaughters, aunts, neighbors… women and men.  And in in this acknowledgement, I demand that we reject past wrongs, seek sincere reconciliation, and just watch.

Watch what women are capable of… watch what happens when we are empowered, when we have confidence, when we forgive. 

Today I protest, I protest by claiming my story and promise to work for a better story for my children, my sons and daughters.  I protest by bearing witness to the harm that can come from ‘locker room talk,’ or from a world that allows men to ‘do whatever they want.’  I protest because my own story compels me.  I protest because the teachings of Jesus demand it.

 

 

#NewYearRevolution

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As we start a new year, I have been thinking a lot about what it means to be new, made new, experience new.  So I am challenging my congregation to a 30 Day Bible Challenge – Read the Bible for 10 minutes/day for 30 days.  Read along with me or read a passage of your own choosing… But let it start with me, with us.  If we want the world to be more… we must be more.  We must prepare our hearts and minds for what’s next, for what’s new.

Follow along at the Little Prairie website… http://www.littleprairieumc.org/lpumc-30-day-revolution20170102_085420_resized.jpg

Walking Together- First Reflections on Standing Rock

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20161103_090530_resizedThe morning glowed with golden pink light, washing over the hills and rock formations as we drove into the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, specifically the Oceti Camp.  Planning our route carefully, having received word that the most direct road into camp had been blocked by law enforcement.

The day began in darkness… back on the road after three short hours of sleep.  We drove through complete darkness across North Dakota.  But just as we entered the valleys and hills around the reservation, the sun spilled over the edge of the earth and lit up the whole of creation with splashes of glorious gold, creating long shadows and dramatic vistas.  From darkness to light, we travelled to a place that was held sacred for generations, and it was very clear why.

Upon approaching our final turn to the Oceti Camp local law enforcement made its presence known, holding a post at the intersection.  Rounding one last hill, the camp opened to our right as cars streamed onto the highway, parking on the narrow shoulders of the road.  Clergy robing up on the side of the rural highway in the morning light.  From every kind of faith tradition, robes, collars, stoles, banners, crosses, cleric hats, tassels, aprons… all streaming into the Oceti camp between the flags lining the entrance.  As we walked, a lovely woman yelled, “Thank you for being here!  Thank you for coming!” to each and every person as they walked in. 20161103_090546_resized

As I prepared and prayed about going, I did a lot of soul searching and a lot of explaining.  I recognize that many outside of the American Indian community don’t fully understand or know what is happening at the Standing Rock Reservation.  With the boom of oil production in North Dakota, the oil company is laying a pipeline across North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa and Illinois to move oil with more efficiency.

The problem is that the pipeline is planned to cut across the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation and more troubling, directly through sacred lands and camps – places where the tribe has sacred ceremonies.  These sacred sites are on the banks of sacred waters.  These waters are deeply connected to the spirituality of the Standing Rock Sioux.  Worry about the destruction of sacred sites and potential for pollution of sacred waters are the main cause for protest of the pipeline.  A protest that has taken the form of a tent/teepee city on the sacred grounds. standing-rock-pic4

In fact, the tribe has not asked for the pipeline not to be built, just not directly through their sacred sites.  Here is a map to show exactly what and where things are taking place.  (Map from a great article about the clergy gathers at Standing Rock by the Baptist News:  https://baptistnews.com/article/clergy-repudiate-doctrine-of-discovery-as-hundreds-support-indigenous-rights-at-standing-rock/#.WBy1X4WcFPa )

With various levels of escalation of tensions between protestors and law enforcement, local Episcopal Priest, Father John Floberg published a request for clergy to come on Thursday, Nov 3 to stand in solidarity with the protestors at Standing Rock who are seeking to protect their sacred spaces.

When this invitation for clergy to come, I immediately knew that I wanted to go… The teachings of Christ compel me to love my neighbor.  This teaching of loving our neighbor, is directly related to the parable of the Good Samaritan, found in Luke’s Gospel chapter 10.

To summarize, in this story, Jesus explains that a man is travelling on a road and is overtaken by robbers.  The robbers assault the man, take the load he is carrying, and leave him for dead.  As time passes, a few men walk by the man lying on the road,  men who were from the same community as the injured man, but they walked past.  Not wanting to get involved.  Finally, a man from a different culture, community, even religion (a Samaritan) walks by the injured man.  He stops, attends to the man’s wounds, and walks with him to safety.

I did not go to Standing Rock because I represent the ‘Good Samaritan’ who helped the injured man.  I went because I represent the robbers.  As a member of clergy, I represent the church.  (The church collective, throughout time.)   It is easy to say that this struggle has nothing to do with me.  That I wasn’t here when this land was settled by Europeans.  It’s easy to say that the people on Standing Rock should have worked the system, stopped this thing before it even began. It is easy to say that this isn’t my fight.

And on one hand, it isn’t my fight.  This should be, and I am so happy to see that it mostly I,) led by, managed by, organized by, and protected by the local Sioux community.  However, this is my fight because this fight is a fight about protecting sacred space.  It is also my fight because in the name of Jesus, the one I follow, the church perpetuated the belief that these sacred spaces and the people who valued them were not to be valued.

It was in the name of Manifest Destiny, an idea proposed in the very name of Jesus, that this land was overtaken.  It was the belief that God was on the side of the European explorers that led settlers and pioneers for centuries to not only take land from the people already living here, but to destroy and kill those very same people.  It was dangerous theology that proved to be devastating for anyone not the ‘side of God.’

It was because the church promoted these beliefs that genocide, exile, banishment, and finally forced assimilation became standard practice.  It was the church that came to ‘save’ the ‘heathens’ from their ‘pagan’ beliefs and kidnapped, yes KIDNAPPED!, children and put them in church-run schools (of almost every denomination.)  These children were taught how to be ‘good Christians’ through abuse, threat, and isolation.  It became illegal to practice their native religions or speak their native languages.   And before we think this was ancient history, the practice or forced ‘Indian Boarding Schools’ persisted until the 1978!  The year I was born.20161103_102318_resized

The church did this.  In the name of Jesus.  We took what Jesus intended for good, for healing, for wholeness in this world and distorted it to the point of making abuse.  The hurt experienced by Native American communities at the hands of the church is impossible to measure.

Yet this past week, the tribal community, a priest of the people, invited the church to walk in unity against the continued oppression of their people and land.

It is not my sacred land, but it is my job to stand alongside my neighbors, not because the church has been such a good neighbor, but because the church has not been a good neighbor, and yet… we are invited.

It is humbling.  It is powerful.  It is the call.

When I said, not as a pastor, but as a human, that I would follow Jesus, it meant taking seriously the call of Jesus when he said that if a person asks you to walk one mile, walk with him two.

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When I arrived at the camp, people from many Christian faith traditions shared statements of repudiation –  a statement saying that the theology that led to a proclamation, The Doctrine of Discovery, by the church 524 years ago was wrong.  Elders representing the Standing Rock community were given a copy of the Doctrine of Discovery and burned it.

The elders then blessed the 500 clergy that had gathered as we joined together in a walk to edge of the law enforcement line, a standoff at the bridge, running over the sacred waters.

As we walked, my friend and I were asked to walk in unity with a young Navajo woman and her friend.  The Navajo women played a drum and sang.  And we walked.  In unity. At the invitation of these women.

standing-rock-pic-2This event was not about my song.  It was not about the guilt of a church or a nation.  It was about not about being a hero or a rescuer.  It was about being together.  It was about being physically present.  It was about walking on the land.  It was about witnessing the sacred beauty and power it contained.  It was about literally saying, “We are with you.”

I did not go because I am so great, or so brave, or a good neighbor… I went because I was invited.  I went because Jesus said, ‘Go.’  I went because sometimes we are simply called to walk together.

Deep Water- Reflections from this week’s sermon.

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We are going to wade in some deep waters today.  The woman at the well references the deepness of the well.  So much of the story of God happens around the water, at the water’s edge.  The edge of rivers, seas, pools, and this well.

Today I invite you into the deep water.  The water that feels unsafe.  The water that wells up around you and offers life and fear.

This past week, I took the youth from the church to a water park.  I have an irrational fear of waterslides, especially the ones that are all enclosed…. When you can’t see where you are going.  And even though the water is maybe just an inch deep, it feels infinitely deep.  You twist and turn, you fall, and water splashes into your face.  And, to me, it feels like drowning.  It feels like deep waters.

This week felt like deep waters.  I started this week by driving 11 nervous young people up to camp.  It was a long day.  It was a good day.  I prayed and prayed for those kids on the way home, hoping that they would have the kind of week that changes their lives.

And then it was the Fourth of July, a beautiful day.  Where we celebrate the freedoms that this country affords us.

And then it was Tuesday, and Wednesday, and Thursday.  Alton Sterling. Philando Castile. Dallas.

It was like barreling down a waterslide, through the deep water, twisting and turning and dropping.

From God’s Word

-John 4:1-30

This scripture, the story of the woman at the well, is a story for today.

Jesus was talking to a woman, a woman who, simply because of her gender, was considered nothing, property.  Men didn’t just ‘talk’ to women.

This woman was also a Samaritan.  Jews and Samaritans did not get along.  This story is a story about race.  It is a story about oppression.   Jesus stood with her, a woman.  A Samaritan.  He stood with her, he talked with her.

She was not less then.

She was not an object of pity.

She was not a project.

She had dignity.

Jesus didn’t restore anything.  He stood alongside. He was human, because she was human.

And he asked her for something.  He needed something from her.  Fill up my cup.  I am thirsty.  Bring me some water.

Jesus didn’t have to be there.  He didn’t have to say.  But he did.

He had multiple opportunities to excuse himself from the conversation.  He has so many opportunities to walk away from this mutual interaction.

“I’m a Samaritan.”  She said. But Jesus stayed.

“The well is too deep.”  She said.  But Jesus instructed.

“I am a sinner.”  She said.  Jesus didn’t condemn.

The disciples returned and raised their eyebrows.  But Jesus remained.

The woman went and brought her community back.  And he showed them.  He was with them.

Jesus stood with her and with them.  He was not afraid to stand in the place of discomfort.  He was not embarrassed to need something from her.  He was not afraid to stand with her.  To be a Christ follower means standing with the oppressed.

 

This story is connected to another story… another interaction with Jesus and a woman.  Just a couple chapters over in John 8.

It is the story of the adulteress woman.

Jesus stood with her.

The law said she should die.  The law said she should be stoned for her crime.

But Jesus stood with her.

Jesus stood with her until every accuser put down their stones.  He stood with her until she was no longer in danger of dying.  And then he put his own stone down.

To follow Christ is to stand with the oppressed, regardless of their crime, their reputation, their race, their gender.

 

Challenge

This week I watched two men die.  Two men who were human.  Two men who should have been guaranteed a trial, a jury of their peers, a judge.  Philando Castile and Alton Sterling.

I then watched chaos in Dallas as bullets sliced through a crowd of people – people who were standing with Philando Castile and Alton Sterling.  Police officers who were standing with protestors, holding up their rights to protest.  I watched as police officer lay on the ground.

Brent Thompsom

Michael Krol

Michael Smith

Patrick Zamarripa

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We are called to stand with the oppressed.

When I heard the news about Philando Castile, I was heartbroken.  His death took place just blocks from where my children used to go to school.  Where their friends live, where our life took place.  Philando Castile was three years behind my husband in high school.  He worked in the St. Paul Public schools.

When I saw the video, the news, I wondered if I should go stand shoulder to shoulder with my friends, my neighbors… I talked to my clergy friends serving in the community where the shooting took place.

When I asked if I could do anything to support their work, I was asked to pray.

So I organized a prayer vigil at Little Prairie.  Here.  In Dundas. It was clear to me that I needed to stand for justice, stand shoulder to shoulder here, in this place.  Bear witness in this community.

I invited the pastors of another church in town.  I emailed our law enforcement (before Dallas happened) and told them that we would be praying for them.  This week I am also the on call police chaplain.

So we gathered.  We were a small group.  But we prayed.  And we sang.  We held space in this community, standing shoulder to shoulder in this town for the hurt in our nation.

Northfield can feel very far away from the Twin Cities.  Certainly if feels very far away from Baton Rouge.  This town can feel very insulated, except when we are going to Wild game or a Twins game or a concert.  Then the city is just up the road.  But when something like this happens, it might as well have happened across the ocean.

If we call ourselves Christ followers, we must do what Christ did.  This community needs us to hold the light of life, to stand up for the oppressed.

This past week I watched as my friends who parent African American sons, I watches as they mourned and cried out in fear for their children.  Afraid to let them walk down the street, or drive across town, or go out with their friends.

I have never had to fear that simply because of my sons’ skin color they might be in danger. I have never feared that their skin color might escalate a situation to violence.  Never.  I have never had to talk to my children about how their very appearance can be dangerous.

But my friends have and do.  And they have for generations.

It is because of this, I don’t get to say how a person protests.  I don’t get to say that blocking traffic or boycotting commerce is wrong.  I can say violence is wrong.  But as long as it is peaceful, I don’t get to say, “Oh, you’re overreacting.” “You’re methods aren’t working.”

I had someone say, it’s hard to pick a side.  It’s not about picking a side; it’s about being on the same side.  It’s about coming together because we want this world to be a better place for everyone.

A black clergy friend of mine quoted Martin Luther King Jr,

“In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

When I picked up kids from camp yesterday, I was surprised to see one of the boys, an African American boy, who lived in my neighborhood in St. Paul. He had come up with my previous ministry setting. And this boy, who now looked like a young man, this boy who spent much of his summers in my back yard, this middle schooler hugged me. A genuine hug. He was so happy to see me. And I hugged him back, like one of my own. I hugged him and told him I loved him. And I didn’t want to let go because I want this world to be better for him.

And then I found my brother in law, my husband’s brother, a camp counselor this summer. My brother, also African American, was goofing around with my son. And I hugged him. Wanting so much more in this world for him. The uncle to my children. A young man, on the cusp of adulthood.

If you don’t feel like you can stand for people in another town. Then maybe you can stand with my brother. And if you don’t feel like you can stand up for my brothers. Then stand up for your own children, grandchildren, that they might know what it is to follow Christ because you followed Christ. That they might know what it is to follow Christ and stand with the oppressed.

These are deep waters. And it is uncomfortable. It is complicated. There are no easy answers and we don’t know if we are even close to a way out, but we are Christ-followers. We are called to stand with the oppressed.

Come to the well and stand. Shoulder to shoulder. Be in the deep water. Offer the deep water. Take the deep water. Follow Jesus.

 

I Broke Up with Netflix…

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So I am a glutton for binge watching on Netflix.  I love a show that I can start from episode one and carry all the way through for two, three, eight seasons.  I love to see how the writing grows, the character development deepens.  I love the mindless escapism into a story, especially if it was created by the BBC.  (Although there are plenty others that I have found. ) But, Oh. My. Goodness. BBC. 

I love all things British crime or drama or history… (Josiah I blame you for this addiction!) And I am truly embarrassed to admit, I can watch for hours while ‘putting away laundry,’ or ‘cooking dinner.’  Sometimes I get so caught up in a show, I stay up waaaay too late to finish a season or a plot line.  I mean, late like, I’m-a-mother-of-four-and-work-full-time-and-have-no-business-staying-up-so-late, late.

Now, I recognized that there are worse addictions in the world, and in the grand scheme of things it’s not the worst thing in the world.  But as I reflected on preparing myself for this year’s Lenten season, I realized that I was spending too much time in front of a screen.  And I was distracted from productive things and meaningful things as a result.

So I decided to break up with Netflix for Lent. 

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When I say it like that, it feels a little pathetic.  But there was intention behind this decision.  Lent is a season where we fast from something as a way of identifying with Jesus’ suffering.  It is a way of identifying with our own humanity and sinfulness, our own weakness and therefore our need for a savior. 

Watching Netflix is not a sin, but my lack of self-discipline is.  My inability to moderate myself to the point where I lose sleep and productivity, is a problem.  We are called to “Take every thought captive and make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:5) For me, the decision to break up with Netflix for Lent, is an exercise in making more room for Jesus.

So it has taken me some time to get there, but I found a fantastic replacement… Binge watching (or listening) to sermons.  As a middle-schooler in the late 80’s and early 90’s, back before all things media were ‘On Demand,’ I used to listen to Christian talk radio in the mornings.  The voices of Chuck Swindoll, TD Jakes and Tony Evans echoed through my bedroom every morning as I curled my bangs and fried them with hairspray. –  I will just let that sit with you for a minute.  Ladies, do you remember that special smell of fried hair and hairspray?  Those were the days…

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Yep, that’s me in middle school. 

 

Remembering these voices that floated in the background of my adolescence inspired me to revisit them.  I have found the most suitable replacement for binge watching Netflix is binge listening to sermons. 

The challenge of making more room for Jesus is a difficult to say the least.  There is a saying out there, that 90% of life is just ‘showing up.’  What does it mean to show up for Jesus?  Making time to pray.  I mean – I’m a pastor, I pray a lot during the day… but intentionally making time to pray.  It’s not always consistent for me… it’s hard.  Or taking time to read my Bible?

But then I started listening to Tony Evans sermon series, The Power of the Cross.  I was challenged.  The power of the Cross, or the power of Easter doesn’t end with the cross, it begins with the cross.

Evans got to the root of the Christian ‘problem’.  It’s not just about ‘showing up.’  Showing up at church is different than carrying your cross.  And Jesus, Jesus invites us to carry the cross.  To carry all it represents into the world with us, into our families with us, into our hearts, our minds, our relationships, our finances, our politics. 

The cross represents sacrifice, it represents sin, it represents intentionality, it represents love.  If we are going to show up for Jesus, Jesus calls us to carry our cross.  And the cross is not easy, it’s not about convenience.  It’s not about personal fulfillment or a special feeling we get during worship.  The cross is not about getting what we want, it’s about submitting to what God wants.  It’s not about a ‘get out jail free card’ or a ‘ticket to heaven card,’ it’s about walking in the world in a way that embraces the loss of life and the new life which it promises.  We are called to pick up our cross, the harsh, cruel cross and allow it to set the world free from the evil it contains here and now. 

And there is plenty of evil in the world… Just turn on the news, or flip through social media.

Making room for Jesus requires that we take Jesus with us, in every part of our lives.  If Lent is about identifying with the suffering of Christ, then it doesn’t end with Easter, it is where it begins.  It is the beginning of everything that matters – Our salvation and our sending, our crucifixion and our calling. 

So even though, I was only half way through ‘Call the Midwife’ when I broke up with Netflix, I’m glad I did.  I mean, who would have thought that by making room for God, God might actually teach me something?  What are the chances? 

If you are interested in following Tony Evans podcast, it has been a really good Lenten practice.  You can find it here: http://tonyevans.org/category/tony-evans-radio-broadcast-the-alternative/

A Better Kingdom… a thought on our allegiances.

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My father fought in Vietnam.  He was drafted.  I don’t recall him ever speaking about war growing up, except for the few stories of adventures he had in the jungle. He spoke about animals, insects, and bananas.  But he saw and did things in the name of ‘democracy’ that cannot be forgotten. Recently I found a picture of my dad in Vietnam.  I look at him and the men with him, and I wonder where they are today.  I see sons, brothers, husbands, fathers.  I wonder how war changed them.  I wonder how coming home from war changed them.

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(My dad is in the center kneeling, looking like a total badass with no shirt and a cigarette.)

He came home to a world that, because of government red tape didn’t allow him to actually go home for another six months.  He came home to a country writhing under the pains of civil discoursed.  He came home to a country that in one hand was embracing what it meant to be free and in another what it meant to be free.  It was not restful; it was certainly not peaceful.   

And I think about the countless men, women, families who have given everything to protect the freedom of this nation, and I look around and wonder what freedom we are protecting.  Ultimately, I have decided it is the right to vote.  It is the right to determine our own way as a nation.  Everything else hinges on this one action.  The things we uphold or change, the people in power who make the decisions, the ‘freedoms’ we maintain or loose, all of it comes down to our vote.

This past week was Super Tuesday.  As a pastor, it is my calling to listen and then speak.  I have been listening for some time.  Listening to the rhetoric on both sides. Trying to discern the issues that have polarized this nation and why they are polarizing.  These issues have caused division, rejoicing and even fear.  There is genuine fear of what the next presidential election could mean for this country.

This conversation is particularly interesting during Lent.  Just before Passover. 

Lent is a journey of understanding our humanity, embracing our responsibility, and gratitude for God’s grace. It is a journey of recognizing the ‘state of things’ so that we can move forward, better.

I would offer that first and foremost, our “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, love and sound mind.” (2 Timothy 1:7)

I would also offer, that we are called to “Be still and know that I am God.  I will be exalted among the nations and exalted in the earth.” (Psalm 46:10)

So we are not to be afraid, we are to recognize that there is a Power beyond us, beyond this world and the principalities it contains.  We are to approach this world with love and a sound mind.  We are to rest in the knowledge that God is God. 

With that said, everything about Jesus’ ministry was about disrupting ‘business as usual’ wherever it was a threat to God’s Kingdom.  When Jesus began his ministry, in Mark 1, Jesus was baptized, tempted and then after John was taken into prison, Jesus made a declaration.  “The time has come.  The Kingdom of God has come near.  Repent and believe.”

And with this he began gathering his followers.

The Kingdom of God.  The Kingdom of God, from what I can gather from Jesus’ own teachings and ministry was about reconciliation.  It was about reaching the marginalized and including them into community.  It was about offering healing.  It was about feeding the hungry.  It was about relationship.  It was about breaking down cultural and physical boundaries.  It was about challenging the authority when it oppressed others.

There was no system sacred.  No person off limits.  No place he wouldn’t go to proclaim the Kingdom of God. 

So when we consider the Kingdom of God and our world today, this is my starting point.  I find it interesting that Jesus didn’t come to replace the government of his day.  He could have, and certainly most expected, that the Messiah would come and sit on a literal throne, overthrowing the unjust leaders of their day.  He didn’t lead a mass exodus, defecting to a neighboring country where they could start over.

But Jesus didn’t do that.  In fact, he submitted to their authority, to the point of death.  He stood up for what was right, but he didn’t overthrow anyone.  Instead, he started a revolution in the hearts of his followers.  He offered a soul freedom, an allegiance to something greater than any government this world could offer.  He changed the way people interact with one another… offering a better way here and now.

So what does this mean for us today?  It is a reminder that, if we call ourselves followers of Jesus, we are called to higher allegiance.  Our ‘soul freedom’ is bigger than an oppression this world could offer.  I find real comfort in that, considering the leadership ‘choices’ being offered by our political system. 

It is also a reminder that Jesus did not compromise his commitment to the Kingdom, ever.  Jesus stood up against every and all oppressors of his time period.  He challenged the wealthy to think deeper about their ‘treasures.’  He challenged the poor to see the humanity in their oppressors.  He challenged the church to open its arms.  And he challenged everyone to make every interaction count, offer love and grace to every person they met. 

When I consider the circus that is our current political situation, I start with Jesus.  I look to the Kingdom of God.  And when it comes to my vote, I start with Jesus.  I look to the Kingdom of God.  Who matches most with what Jesus taught and did?  Who is most in line with the Kingdom of God ethos? 

And there is no ‘perfect’ choice.  Here’s where I get political…  I cannot accept the argument that a human document demands our allegiance over the Kingdom of God, not even the Constitution.  (Before you gasp and write me an angry note, please hear that I love this country, I am grateful for it.  Appreciating the Constitution is different than accepting how people interpret it.  Appreciating the sacrifices made for it, call me to defend it when people to misuse it. -Including my great grandfather, my grandfather, my father and my brother in law – of whom I am insanely proud.) 

Therefore, I cannot accept any argument for a wall, deportation or discrimination.  I cannot accept racism, gun violence or injustice by anyone.  I cannot accept calling others out of their name, belittling language, sexism, or exploitation.  I cannot accept denying people of their basic needs like food, health, and housing.  I cannot accept greed, protecting self-interest, or ambition. 

I do not and will not accept these things.  And I certainly won’t affirm them in my leaders.  And no matter what happens in November, I will continue to champion these things that Jesus championed.  I will continue to ‘fight the good fight’ no matter the policy or opposition put in place by whatever government is ruling.  Because my allegiance is to a bigger Kingdom.  A better Kingdom. 

Because the solution for a better Kingdom, for God’s Kingdom was never to flee, rather to engage.  It was never to dominate, but to heal.  And I pray for healing.  I pray for other Christ-followers to accept this challenge to engage and heal, rather than dominate or withdraw. 

I seek the Kingdom of God, not for this government, but for the people governed by it.  I seek wholeness, and wellness, and reconciliation so that the sacrifices made for freedom where not made in vain.   I look to the eyes of the men in that photograph with my dad, and I hope that in spite of whatever this government may bring, that they would know the love and grace offered by a Kingdom of Heaven, bigger and better than any kingdom on this earth could ever offer.   

And that cannot come from any political leader, it can only come from Jesus people doing Jesus’ work, sharing Jesus’ words, living for a bigger Kingdom, a better Kingdom, the Kingdom of God.

 

Seeds and Beads

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Every Sunday, really almost every day, I wear a simple wood cross hanging on a string of seed beads. Nothing fancy, but a reminder of my calling and who has called me.  The beads were given to me by a dear woman, who I only knew by first name, “Hildy.”  A woman who had long ago lost her memory, except for a few key memories of her childhood.  I visited her weekly, as part of a volunteer opportunity set up by my college.  I was 19.  She had nothing, living in a state institution.  She gave me a necklace given to her by a group of volunteers who had come to do crafts with the seniors.  She gave me a necklace made of seed beads, tiny little colorful beads, because she thought I was beautiful and she wanted me to have something beautiful.

This time with “Hildy” helped to form me.  And the necklace held her memory securely in my heart, her generosity and love.  It reminded me of her neighbors that I also visited… the farmer dying of cancer who drank black coffee, ate dry toast and a fried egg for every meal… the Ojibwa woman who was 101 years old, with beautiful long silver hair and a smile that could light up the room.  This simple string of beads reminded me of them.  Reminded me of the importance of taking time to spend time with people.

There are days where I feel like I have not one more thing to say.  Between visiting with the people who are homebound to talking about homework with my kids, to leading small groups, making phone calls, lining up volunteers, making worship plans, journaling through my sermon process… Sometimes I feel like there are no more words, no more thoughts left in my day.

And then I sit and reflect on my day.

And my brain races through all of the things I saw, did and thought.  Today, I keep coming back to the Kingdom of God and those tiny seed beads.

I have been reading the Gospel of Mark and the work of John the Baptist.  I love thinking about John.  A little wild, eating locusts and honey.  He was rugged, but not in a good way.  He was out there.  I’m sure many thought he was crazy, but he was teaching the Kingdom of God.  He was teaching that if people repented, they could find forgiveness.  He was encouraging all who would listen to rethink their journey and rethink what worship could look like.

He asked people to rethink the Kingdom of God.

So often we think the Kingdom of God is far off.  We talk about it like it’s heaven or something for the end of the world.  But the Kingdom of God was something John saw as imminent.  And after John was imprisoned, Jesus continued to proclaim the Kingdom of God.  It was clear that Jesus believed that the Kingdom of God was something for this world.

Both for John and for Jesus the Kingdom of God was experienced in transformed lives.  It is transformation that takes a person and renews them, makes them more generous, more kind, more thoughtful, more patient, more joyful, more peaceful, more disciplined, more gentle, more loving.

As Christ followers, as disciples of Jesus, we are called to share the Kingdom of God.  We are called to experience the kingdom of God.  But each of these things, these evidences of the kingdom are relational evidences.  They must be observed by others.

And in order for others to observe these evidences, we have to take the time to spend time with others.

The Kingdom of God is experienced in community, in relationship.

So this brings me to Sunday afternoon.  Sunday afternoon I was exhausted.  I had been feeling under the weather, but had a great morning at church.  I felt good about the work and the time.  I felt like good about the questions answered and the sermon I preached.  And I was tired.

Preparing to head home after a busy morning at church, my four year old was my shadow.  As I transitioned him from my hip to the floor, he accidentally pulled my pectoral cross down with him and broke the line of beads that held it.  The beautiful beads given to me by a woman who I only knew by her first name, “Hildy.”  At first I started to pick up the beads, but realized it was futile.  I took the partially beaded string in my hand and dumped it in the trash.  Making a decision to spend the time saying goodbye to the last of the parishioners at church instead of on my hands and knees picking seed beads out of the carpet.

The Kingdom of God.

After we got home, after we had lunch, I went up to my room to take a nap when I heard a knock on my bedroom door.  My daughter, my 13 year old, came into my room with a simple string of beads.  My beads.  “Hildy’s” beads.  Smaller, shorter, but the same beads.  She went back into the trash and pulled out the remnants of my necklace and she salvaged all she could form the carpet.  I didn’t even know.  When we got home, she went right to work in her bedroom, restringing the beads.  She put a new clasp on it and presented it to me.

She has always been thoughtful and mature, but this was so meaningful.  So kind.  She knew that the beads were meaningful to me.  She knew the story behind the beads.  And I think she also knew why I walked away from them, putting my attention of the people around me instead of a few beads.  But she took the time for me.  She took the time.  The Kingdom of God.

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She is the transformed life.  She is the one living in community sharing the kingdom of God.  She showed me how to take the time- how to live with generosity, kindness, joy, patience and love.  As I looked at the string of beads, I realized that from one string of beads, God has brought me two experiences of the Kingdom of God.  God has shown her the Kingdom of God.

There is so much in this world that is ugly.  And often we are so busy, we don’t take the time.  We don’t take the time to understand one another, to hear one another’s stories.  We don’t take the time to do something generous or kind.  We don’t take the time to share joy or love or patience.

The Kingdom of God is found in transformed lives.  It requires that we take the time, that we spend the time.  And truthfully, if we take the time, we don’t have to work very hard or look very far to find it because the Kingdom of God is here.