Some Days, I Just Can’t…

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This week the news has been unbearable. As a mother, it feels impossible to watch children and parents crying in terror or grieving after the unthinkable.  As I prepared for Ash Wednesday Worship, the news of the shooting in Parkland, FL was still coming in, with little details known… only videos of kids running for their very lives as they left the school.

So as we gathered, as I preached about the suffering of the world, embracing our own humanity, and proclaiming hope, I couldn’t help but to think about the tremendous suffering in Florida.  On Ash Wednesday we are marked with the cross on our foreheads.  It is an action of embracing both our humanity – the dust from which we are formed, and our hope of resurrection – the cross.  ash wed cross

But this action of being marked with the ashes, is not just meditative.  It is physical.  It is an opportunity to wear our faith publicly.  It is a matter of making visible that which we so often carry as invisible.  Our pain and our hope.

I cannot begin to speculate what will solve the mass shooting problem in this country.  I believe it to be more complex than one solution – considering the state of humanity, the availability of guns, care for hurting people, the state of politics, amendments, family stressors, mental health care, education funding, the list goes on and on…  However, I do believe that as Christ-followers, we have an obligation to live in a way that does not just hold our faith as an invisible part of ourselves, but as a prophetic witness to suffering in the world, speaking and living the message of hope in Jesus life and teaching.

This week, we will begin a new sermon series, The 40.  We will consider the 40 days of suffering Jesus experienced in the dessert.  Jesus willingly walked into the suffering so that he might know more deeply our experience and then become a fiercer advocate for all humanity. 

As Jesus-followers, this is the charge before us… to walk into the suffering so that we might also find resurrection.  May this painful entry into the Lent season cause us to deeper reflection and intentional action – making public our faith, a prophetic witness for a new way, a new life, resurrection.   

See you in church!

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The Longest Night – Embracing the Light

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 Tonight is the longest night of the year.  It is the Winter Solstice.  It is the day where the hours of sunlight are at their absolute minimum and the hours of darkness are at their longest. It is the tipping point of winter.  As we consider the quiet that night can bring, the shadows that grow and blur in the deep dark, let us also remember to hold up our lights.IMG_5624.JPG

This time of year, my thoughts often turn to Mary.  I imagine her in the throws of labor.  And we can guess it was evening, because the shepherds came at night…

But I imagine her sense of aloneness; finding herself in a strange town, in a country under occupation of a foreign government, a young woman, engaged to be married, maybe there was a midwife, in a barn, a cave, a lower level of a home carved out of the stone. 

Not in her bed.  Not with her things.  No extra clothes or pots of boiling water. 

In the dark.

And then I think about that sounds, of birth, echoing into the darkness.  The cries of a woman in labor, fully embracing the mortal experience of teetering on the verge of death in effort to usher in new life.

The Christmas Season is often trivialized with folktales of jolly elves and a man in a red suit.  It is commercialized with gifts and trinkets.  It is complicated by busy schedules and a pressure to ‘make it meaningful.’  Even the actual Biblical Christmas story is deduced to a sweet tale of a silent baby.

But the calling of the Christmas story is a story of proclaiming light in the midst of the darkness. It is a story of holding to hope in the midst of pain.  It is the story of a heavenly light in a darkest parts of the world.

Christmas is not cute but revolutionary.  It is not sweet but subversive.  It is the very presence of God breaking into the most basic human experience.  Birth. It is the tipping point of our mortal experience.  It is that moment when the light of Christ breaks in and declares a new life over the darkness, offering an infinity of new births.

 

 

 

One Pastor’s Response –

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Know that the LORD Himself is God; It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves…” –Psalm 100:3

IMG_5370This scripture from Psalm 100 is the scripture used to open the Nashville Statement, a series of articles released as a collected statement about human sexuality and gender, signed by more than 150 Evangelical leaders this past week. The statement was meant to define marriage in terms of one man and one woman and then digress into theologies around gender identity.

In a time when millions are affected by devastating flooding and our country is sorting through the continued harms of racism, both past and present, this statement is released as one more hurdle for the church. And as the church in the Wesleyan Tradition, we have an opportunity to respond, let us be reminded that we are charged to “do no harm,” “do good,” and “attend upon the ordinances of God.”

Let us begin with the Attend upon the Ordinances of God. Let us be a people of faith who know God’s word in a way that is not apologetic, in either sense of this word. We are not about seeking forgiveness for God’s word, nor are we interested in foolish debates that try to prove what God’s word actually means. Let us instead know God’s word in a way that we are completely secure in what it says. Let us commit to wresting with it and discussing it. Let us use it to spur us on in the work to which we are called. May we be at peace with the teachings it contains in a way that offers soul freedom to our own souls and invites others into the same.

Let us know that when a group uses scripture to discriminate or divide, we have the tools, skills, and responsibility to reveal the whole picture.

 

Psalm 100 – NRSV
Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness; come into his presence with singing. Know that the Lord is God.  It is he that made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.  Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise.  Give thanks to him, bless his name.  For the Lord is good;  his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.

 

The scripture used at the beginning of the Nashville Statement, (the only scripture used in the whole statement,) is a Psalm celebrating the goodness of God. It is a song of gratitude for God’s provisions, God’s care, God’s love, God’s faithfulness to all people for all generations! This Psalm is about a way of being in the world that acknowledges God’s intimate love for all people. It is not a Psalm about marriage, sexual identity, gender, or divisions.

Let us be a people that is connected to our faith in a way that informs our standing, our walking, our serving. Let us “attend upon the ordinances of God.”

And then let us Do Good. Let us be a people that is able to continue to “fight the good fight, finish the race.” (2 Timothy 4:1-7 – Read it, it’s good!) Let us do as much good as we can. This Sunday in worship at Fairmount Avenue UMC, we will have the opportunity to give to UMCOR (United Methodist Committee on Relief) as a way to support the Hurricane Harvey Relief. Let us seek ways to encourage reconciliation across every dividing line. Let us continue to be intentional about our relationships and invitation.  Let us be intentional about hard conversations and engage where we might normally back down.  Let us challenge, with love, where we see injustice.

And finally, let us Do No Harm. In a world so consumed with hurt, in a nation divided, in the face of natural disasters, let us not add hurt in the world. Let us not speak poorly of one another or of anyone else. Regardless of how many things we agree upon, the beauty of this Psalm is that we are all created by God. So, let us recognize the “mark of the creator” upon all people and find ways to love. Perhaps instead of a mean-spirited word, we offer up a prayer. Perhaps instead of posting on social media our disgust, we share a statement of affirmation for those marginalized. Do no harm is hard, but it is where we begin to find healing for all people, for the whole of the church.  Let us not be silent when others are so vocal, and not just to drown out the ugliness in the world, but to offer light, peace, and joy.  And let us not passively accept the distortion of God’s Word and work of the church.  Instead let us hold up truth and grace by preaching, teaching, serving, standing, marching, walking, showing, sharing a more holistic approach to the teachings of Jesus.

This Sunday Fairmount Avenue UMC will begin our new sermon series, #TheNext100Years. As we consider what it will mean to set up this church for the next 100 years of ministry, we are challenged to be intentional, invitational, inspirational, and innovational. Our text will come from Acts 1:1-11, in it Jesus commissions the disciples to continue the work of Jesus, but reminds them to wait for the equipping of the Holy Spirit. After he is taken up into heaven, the disciples stand staring at the sky. It is not helpful, proactive, or even embracing of their commission. It is passive. An angel comes and reprimands them.

Sometimes we watch media, or simply watch the world, and if feels like we are just looking up to the sky, hoping for something different to show up, a new voice, a new reality. But the reality is, the church has been called to go out into the world to continue the work of Jesus. It is up to us. We cannot afford to stand and stare at the sky, hoping “Jesus will fix it.” We must embrace that we are created by God to continue the work of God in this world.

See you church.

Pastor Shawna

pastorshawna@faumc.net

Back in St. Paul…

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all are welcomeYesterday, I found myself driving down Larpenteur Avenue, like I had done hundreds of times before, just blocks from where my children once attended elementary school.  Larpenteur Avenue is the marker of the north end of a neighborhood where so many of our friends lived, the border of the city of St. Paul, home to our favorite comic book store, and the location of countless other errands and interactions.  But this was all before.  Before we had moved to a small town just forty-five minutes away four years ago.  Before we moved back to St. Paul this past month.  Before Philando Castile.

And here’s the thing, as I write it, I want to edit it immediately.  His name is not an event.  He is not an event.  He is a person.  A beloved child of God.  A neighbor.  A role-model.  A father.  A cook.  A caring adult.  A son.  A brother.  A cousin.  A nephew.  A grandson.  An uncle. 

Yesterday, I found myself driving down Larpenteur Avenue, like I had done hundreds of times before, and I found myself unprepared.  With my daughter in the car, as we drove down the familiar street, I noticed flags and flowers in the distance, and as I approached it hit me, all at once, Oh my God.  That is where Philando Castile died.

Oh my God.

Oh my God.

It is the very deepest cry of my heart.  It was not profanity, but a prayer. 

Oh. My. God.

I kept driving.  Because I could.  Because I was in stunned.  Because I was in shock.  (All of these reactions came as I recognized that I had made it past a point in the road, where Philando did not.  All of it speaks to a privilege I was given and that he was not.)

My daughter was stunned, too.  For a moment we drove in silence. 

I have not been silent about Philando Castile’s death.  Yet in this moment, I had no words.  Just a very deep sorrow in my heart.

A sorrow that teeters on the edge of outrage, and anger, and grief. 

After he died, I was not silent.  And I hadn’t been silent in the years and months leading to his death about the profound injustice and brokenness in our world that comes out as systemic racism.   I preached about it. I taught about it.  I organized a prayer vigil the day after Philando died in my little town, just forty-five minutes away. (We might as well have been a world away.)

A prayer vigil that was attended by five people and a law enforcement officer (who stayed in the parking lot.)  20160707_193231-1.jpg

I am not mad at police officers.  I am not mad at cities and governments.  I am not mad at broken laws and systems.  I am not mad at jurors or lawyers.  They are a product of the hearts of people who made policy and systems and cultures. 

I am furious with the state of the human heart.  That our hearts can be so twisted, so self-consumed, so careless that we can justify injustice.  I am furious that people against people is even an option.  I am overwhelmed with sadness for the state of the soul that can lead a person to the kind of darkness that objectifies another human’s life.

My life is not worth more than yours. Ever. 

I don’t fight for my own existence at the expense of another’s. 

 

This is the way of the cross.  It is the model of discipleship. It is the invitation that Jesus gives when he said;

“No greater love has a person than this, but to lay their life down for their brother.”  John 15:3

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” Matthew 16:24

Or when Paul said,

“To live is Christ.  To die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21)

So I continue to cry,

“Oh. My. God.”

My calling as a pastor compels me to teach and preach- preach the Kingdom of God; a wholeness, wellness, and peace for all people. It calls me to be prophetic in speaking truth and offering healing.  It requires of me to build up others, so they may also seek the Kingdom of God.

My calling as a Christ-follower compels me to not stop, to not count the cost. 

I was not prepared to be driving down the street, a normal street, an everyday-driven here hundreds of times-street, only to be confronted with the very worst humanity has to offer. 

But I am glad I did.  I’m glad it’s there. I am grateful for the interruption.  I’m grateful for the in-your-face, unapologetic reminder of how deep is the hurt in our world.  And I reminded of how urgent is the call to both seek and offer healing in the forms of love and hope.  

As I continue to understand my own calling in this world, I am reminded that this world is not as it was intended to be. It is the very foundational truth that I cling to when I consider how hard, how mean, and how ugly this world can be.  This is not the world that God created, but is continuously recreating.  God created a world where all people lived at peace with one another, with creation and with God. And when that was disrupted, God commissioned a nation of people to live their lives in a way that would hold up God’s hope for humanity, to live as a living model to bless all the nations.  And when that was disrupted, God sent his Son into the world, to literally walk this earth and show us what it means to love.  To show us how to rebuild, how to turn right side up this upside down world.

I don’t know if there were flowers at the foot of the cross when Jesus was crucified, or if a make-shift memorial was ever erected at his tomb.  But as I see the memorial where Philando Castile died, I realize that his sacrifice is not in vain, as long as we live in a way that honors his life.  As long as we don’t let the story end on that street.  His breath, lives on is us as we work for a better world. 

The memorial that has accumulated at the place of Philando Castile’s death is a reminder that this world is not as it was created to be… therefore the we must not grow weary, as followers of Jesus, to continue this work or rebuilding, or right-siding, of loving and not counting the cost.  

We must continue to seek and work towards wholeness for all people, the kind of wholeness that inspires more wholeness. We must continue to process and ask hard questions that effect change, the kind of change that ripples out in waves of mercy.  We must talk with our children and grandchildren and neighbors and families about how our lives are not our own, and that we are not working for our own, but we work for one another.  God asks two things of us.  Love God and love our neighbor.  May it be so, oh, my God.   

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.