Day 37: Proud Parenting

From the time my firstborn was old enough to talk, it was clear that our gendered language and culture were not a fit. While I was totally down with gender neutral parenting, gradually I’ve become aware that my progressive stance was not unlike colorblind racism. And missed the mark. In a highly genderized society, we need to explicitly teach genderism and the implications of its oppression.

On this 56th trek around the sun, I am watching my firstborn find their own words and from the sidelines I am cheering. They are fully adult, living in another state, loving life with their beloved, and together finding the truths that belong to them. I am a proud and happy momma. This is what every mother secretly hopes for their children.

Meanwhile a young trans youth came into our home, our lives, and our hearts this summer. He’s just ready to start high school; brilliant, tender, passionate, profoundly brave and deeply intuitive.  He is a blessing. His presence already shifts my attention and priorities in ways that are important.


At last night’s trans rally in St. Louis, I was there for my firstborn. And I was there for our newest child. I carried the Black Lives Matter banner for the child with whom I was blessed in marriage. And with every step I shared a prayer for the child whose path diverges. I was a proud parent last night.

I noticed what is always true in St. Louis, a divide.  Called by white queers, this was a predominantly white (and white centered) rally. This hurt my heart. But my spirit buoyed when dear comrades from Ferguson showed up, proud black men watching the perimeter and guaranteeing our safety. And it was the most queer as fuck crowd that I’ve likely ever experienced. Profoundly beautiful, if still imperfect. My people.

And I’m so totally NOT into American flags or military glory. While my pacifism wanes, my distrust of the empire grows with each passing encounter. I do not trifle with toy soldiers or the systems that sustain them. But I do notice when governments (in any of their capacities) begin to identify and dispense with particular groups of persons, especially when those groups are publicly branded as being too costly or disruptive. These aspersions are red flags, flaming. Shots across the bow. Make no mistake, this dehumanizing trajectory will manifest in the public school hallways where already trans youth are terrified to walk.

I watched as our newest child and his friends led the procession. I cheered for him and for his community as my wife and I carried our familiar banner at the rear. Their passion was fierce, the hope deep. It was good, so very, very good.  Yes, I noticed who was missing from the crowd and I grieve our slowness to decenter whiteness. But  I was able to celebrate the sacred in the profane, the rose in the thorns, the beauty in the imperfect… which has been for me so difficult. I’ve yearned for the righteous cause, the perfect moment. This isn’t.

But this is love for my children.
And it trumps dogma every time.

#55andCounting

 

Day 30: Distractions and the DNA of whiteness

Watching the news these days is like an exercise in courage, at least for those of us who had any investment in reformation. Very quickly both the good and the bad of America’s social institutions are crumbling.

Things that once appeared immutable (things like Medicaid, Social Security, Title IX protections, voting rights) are now remarkably tenuous and in some cases simply disappearing. Those of us who still believe in social contracts for the common good (accountability to one another) are rightfully terrified. Unfortunately we are also kind of fracturing. In large part our inability to come together emanates from our (white folk) failure to address and dispense with centuries of inculcated white supremacy (and its companions, patriarchy and meritocracy).

Some of us are still focused on Bernie-HRC-Stein. Some of us are fixated on the Russian meddling. Some of us are watching red zealots in DC and state capitals across the nation dismantling whatever social safety nets remain in service to the unseen oligarchs and an American taliban.

Where to spend our focus? The truth is that they are all connected, all rooted in our dependence on systems of white-male-monied  supremacy.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should admit that I’m enamored with Rachel Maddow and the quest for the Russian money trail. I’m fascinated with the so-called Christian love of Russia and their hatred of people like me. And I was an extremely reluctant vote for HRC that is curious about the Stein backstory.

But where I spend my energy, and invite you to join me, is finding and facing the supremacist leanings deep inside me.  Because at the end of the day, this DNA untended will poison everything (and everyone) that I touch.

#whitefolkwork is getting honest about this toxic tap root. Quite frankly, *everything* else is a distraction.

#55andCounting

(Note: this post inspired by my dear one’s response to Chomsky this morning. Her laser sharp focus continues to inspire me.)

Day 24: Uninvited

When I accepted a preaching gig this summer (a first since retirement nearly five years ago) it was for two Sundays, one in July and one in August. I kinda knew the second one was always iffy. I’m not everyone’s cup of tea, especially in these years since leaving church, seeing the brutal truth of Amerikkka, and losing my nice.

So I can’t say that I was surprised by the disinvitation that arrived on Saturday. I had preached my one sermon and named, as clearly as I could, the gospel call to repentance of the sin of white supremacy (text of sermon here) based on the assigned lectionary text. What has been surprising is the sweet outpouring of support from my virtual community when I shared the disinvitation on Facebook and the subsequent uptick in reading of the manuscript. If the goal was to foster conversations about whiteness, white supremacy, and the gospel imperative of justice, the disinvitation was probably more success than the original sermon itself. In the ensuing conversation, I was also reminded both of what I treasured of church… and why I had to leave.

This morning I awoke thinking about the verb choice in the letter: upsetting. The “message from the pulpit was upsetting to many”. As I awaken this morning holding that word, I find myself amused. In all the years of writing and sharing sermons, never was I able to so effectively prod folk from a place of comfort. For better or worse, on this ill-fate re-entry I managed to move a community so thoroughly that I got myself run out of town. And I know that means I am in good company.

More I am thinking about the privilege inherent in the message. While Black mothers and grandmothers are burying children whose lives are literally taken by systemic violence, white mothers and grandmothers are concerned when their comfort is disturbed. I am reminded of a time in parish ministry when one Black mom was having to face “the talk” with her son and another white mom was upset that a children’s story about civil rights used in church included the word bomb. Really. Black children were killed by white people’s bombs and a white mother can still demand (and receive) space free of even the word. Our presumed privilege to not be upset is the epitome of whiteness.

What is clear to me on the 24th day of this 56th trek around the sun is that being upset is symptomatic and necessary if (as white folks) we are ever going to face the evil with which we swim. While I like roses and tranquility and warm fuzzies just as much as everyone else, I am keenly aware that Rome is burning and we (white folk) are still blithely throwing gasoline on the fire. Though no doubt upsetting, the biblical mandate for justice is clear and so too the call to speak out. While it may well be too late for Rome, I can sleep at night only insofar as I have joined my voice with others calling for a new and just world order.

And this week I’m sleeping much better than I have in a very long time.
#55andCounting

 

Day 20: When being a bitch isn’t the worst thing…

In the quiet heat of middle July, I’m aware that school is seeping into my periphery. To be honest, I’ve spent a couple of hours already in planning and really enjoyed the reverie and rhythm. Also true is that I genuinely miss the young humans with whom I am at school to serve. But as I begin to step onto this path, my heart quickens and an inescapable pounding begins in my skull. Dread. It’s real. And important to tend.

For me the dread is no longer the chaotic classroom (which I don’t enjoy but at least no longer fear). I’ve learned to sit and count the time as I wait my turn to speak, I’ve learned to harness the bag of teacher tricks and looks, most importantly I’ve learned to have classroom meetings and allow the students to have at least some modicum of ownership and control. And the truth is that a mass of hormonally charged youth in a math classroom is gonna be a bit of ride. It just is. And I’m (generally speaking) ok with that part.

The dread is the community pool. It is the relationships with peers that I can neither understand nor navigate. It is the nice pleasantries that mask queer-antagonism and racial hostility. For an entire school year our building’s emphasis was “relationships”, but never once was it ok to be gay. I decided to be out (wedding picture on my desk kind of out) and it was a hot topic amongst the kids and taboo with the adults.

But the gay thing is really not the hardest part for me. It’s actually easy compared with the other. The hardest part is the racial hostility that bubbles below the surface (and occasionally above) in a school where more than half of the teachers are white and 99% of the students are Black (the vast majority also living in poverty). It is the assumption that “these kids” are somehow different (read: less). It manifests in teachers offering little to no substantive effort at all because, well, “they won’t listen anyway”. In a school where >30% of the teachers are newbies, every one of us should be in over our heads with lesson planning in an attempt to meet student’s educational needs. Racism is the undercurrent when young white teachers announce that it is either not their job or not worth their time to invest in planning rich activities for “these kids”.

I know that my job is to stay in my lane. The challenge is that for part of every day I am placed in classrooms with other teachers, and I am daily witness. I see the students’ faces. I hear their frustration. In one situation I was able to offer some remedy, in another not so much; but in both I ended up feeling totally overwhelmed, deeply troubled, and aware that I was perceived as a bitch for challenging. Meanwhile the (Black) administrators were working overtime to reassure, placate, and (no joke) coddle the nice white teachers who couldn’t be bothered. My role as the resident bitch who names this bullshit is secure. Seriously, if you want to be a lazy teacher, go to a school where the children look like you and speak your language. Cross cultural teaching requires MORE (not less) effort.

Bottom line (as you can clearly see) I struggle to navigate collegial relationships in this racially charged environment. The good news is that it isn’t my job. In the parlance of the tables, other people’s opinion of me is none of my business. As Christopher Emdin (#ForWhiteFolksWhoTeachInTheHood) points out: 

I need to do more walking away. Eating lunch alone is not the worst choice. An even better choice would be to be out about my love for the students and their families and the community in which we live and work. I can celebrate that though I, like all of the other white women, drive a distance to work, the neighborhood in which I am privileged (and choose) to live looks a lot like the one in which I work. Without the rose colored glasses of a visitor, I am coming to know the cadence, celebrate the beauty, and honor the struggle of life in communities denied white privilege. And racism becomes more personal; my friends, my family, my trusted circle are the ones that are whispered about in staff lounges. I am committed to rooting out my own racism and I won’t tolerate yours; there are children’s lives in the balance. So call me a bitch, but I’m gonna insist that we look into the eyes of these children and honor them. Or get out of the way.

We got brilliance to attend.
We got magic to celebrate.
We got children that deserve our best.

Holding Emdin and the sweet little boys next door and my niece and nephew close to my heart, I think I found a place to rise above. The righteous anger isn’t resolved, but it can’t be my focus. Eyes on the prize, teaching is about honoring the souls of the young ones gathered.

We got this.

#55andCounting
(ps: this post is perhaps less hopeful, but hopefully more honest. this journey is not as linear as one might hope.)

 

 

Day 19: Myth of Knowing

I prefer to live my daily with the myth of knowing what’s ahead. Today my head (and my calendar) is filled with a sea of unknowns.

The more woke I become, the more willing to journey down the side roads, the more clear it is that we never really know.

So I’m confronted, daily, with the conflict of the alluring myth and the often conflictual pull to authenticity. I feel the urge to make premature choices, to close windows, to revise the order of the idea. But I am still using pen in a calendar that insists on pencil.

If only I knew x, y and z, then I would a, b and c. Sure. But even if did, I would never know to anticipate e, f and g. What I can do is recognize the need to cleave and tend the child deep within that needs this reassurance. Because if I don’t, I’m gonna miss the wonder of l, m and k.

Embracing mystery, relinquishing control.
Lessons begun in childhood, still unfolding.

#55andCounting

Day 18: Four Years Down, More to Go

My four year teaching certificate needs to be renewed this month.
 
As I think about these classroom years, I’m struck by how the backdrop of my life has changed. Foster parenting was the first big change, then eclipsed by Ferguson and all that followed. My wife changed gigs, and I did too. And still the protests. Finally a geographical move to a north side neighborhood we love, add a beloved puppy. A lot of living in four short years.
 
So I’m tempted to wonder where the time went, but (despite more than a few lazy days this summer) I can see the source of the new gray hair.
 
Life lived fully, one day at a time, doing the next right thing.
I’ll take it.
 
#55andCounting

Day 17: Retirement Beckons

Perhaps the most precious aspect of this day is that there is (as of yet) no claim on it. No rush to work, no appointments, not one thing due. I woke up slowly, made coffee, fed the animals, and sat down to read and listen to the morning news… leisurely. Luscious. Retirement, real retirement, beckons.

Clear to me is that with each dance around the sun, I appreciate quiet more. I cherish unstructured days and the luxury of rest. Unmistakably I am slowing down. Yesterday at breakfast with friends, I discovered that I can now (legit) order from the seniors’ menu. No joke.

So I feel a bit of a hypocrite as I pray for Justice Ginsberg’s health and stamina. She is 84, managing pancreatic cancer, and still daring to show up every day to be a voice of reason and justice in a world gone mad. Similarly Justice Anthony Kennedy was widely rumored to be retiring this year and the likes of actor Carl Reiner (in his 90s) decided to weigh in with an OpEd in the NYT pleading for Kennedy to hang on a while longer. Kennedy is only 81 and Reiner points out that he has years of good life ahead. Maybe so.

Oddly the news these days is filled with images of old white men leading this nation. Old is in, like, really old. Young in this administration is my age. Honestly I think this is kind of dangerous. Not only is there a time warp, the painful truth is that not only do our step slow, so too do our minds. While Ginsberg and Kennedy had enough going on to lose a few brain cells and still think circles around many a youngster, let’s face it – retirement is, for most of us, a good thing for both the recipient and the wider community.

What is also true about those of us who’ve been around the sun a few times is that we sometimes have less to lose by being honest and/or we are in positions in which we can finally speak our minds. With the vantage of perspective (if not wisdom) we actually do bring something unique and worthy to the table. And maybe some of that is also important in these perilous times.

Personally I believe that the keys to the kingdom should remain with younger peeps, but I recognize that the graciousness of this summer off-time is appropriately only temporary. In this critical time we must have all hands on deck, each tending to the next right thing in front of us. If we take it one step at a time, we can do this. At least for one more season.

#55andCounting

 

 

Day 16: Message Delivered

Yesterday was the long awaited first-again sermon at an unsuspecting church on the far northern outskirt of the county. Save my wife, there was not one familiar face and I’m guessing the average age in the sanctuary was 70. After making myself publicly available this spring to share a message of how the gospel looks to one white-lady-pastor-turned-protestor, this one (and only) church asked me to come. After weeks of trepidation, the moment of reckoning was now.

Walking in felt strangely familiar, like every white congregation across America and I’ve seen many over the years. Feeling at once at home and simultaneously on hostile ground, I took my seat at the pulpit. For the most part my instincts took over and I moved through the service like the veteran that I am, rusty but experienced. When it was over, I wanted to bask but it felt all wrong. The smiles and hugs and kind words were familiar, but also the chill. There was a reserve, a marked disconnect. Could it be simply group weariness from having too many strangers pass through their midst this summer? Maybe so. More likely though would be the obvious: displeasure. I often forget that nice white church folk smile at you as they then turn to their neighbor to complain. Is this what was happening? I don’t know and, quite frankly, it isn’t my business. What is my business is being faithful. The only relevant question, for me, is whether I was faithful to the gospel that I was given. Did I share with integrity, humility, and prayerful presence as best I was able? I believe so.

A friend texted later in the day and asked how it went. As I replied, I discovered the conundrum that haunted me every Sunday for 23 years. The message that has been given to me, from my earliest call, has been a prophetic one; a message that pushes the edges, asks hard questions of myself and the wider community, that understands that none of us are truly free until every one of us is. And though my personality is not people pleasing (oh that it were), I am predisposed to measure my own self worth based on my understanding of other people’s opinion (read: I crave approval). This felt need combined with a prophetic message has always been a toxic duo, preaching things that make congregations stir and then looking to that very same community for approval.  It’s an irrational expectation.

For years I was able to find some balance in a setting with a fairly large and supportive staff team. As a staff we could provide the chorus of yes as we troubled with the waters, supported one another, and found life in ever deepening waters. Truly my undoing in parish ministry was the devolution of the staff team. In the rearview mirror I can recognize that it happened gradually and can even see areas of my own culpability, at the time I was clear only about betrayal. Regardless, the loss was complete and I found myself floating (and sinking) on my own. So much of this has been buried. Stepping into the pulpit yesterday morning brought it back. It’s personal, it’s deep, it’s painful. It is a sinkhole of grief that pulls with remarkable force, even now.

But yesterday morning wasn’t about all of that. Yesterday morning was about sharing a sacred word in a community to which it (hopefully) belongs. There is nowhere in America more in need of frank talk about race, whiteness, and the soul of this nation than white church.  Imperfectly but in very personal terms, I invited that conversation yesterday morning. Using the lectionary text of the morning, I shared my own grief, included stories of urgency and terror straight from the streets, and pointed to a path forward. Like Jonah reluctantly preaching in Nineveh, I shared the message given to me. What happens from here is really none of my business. If Jonah had let go at this point, his story would have ended happily. But he didn’t and it didn’t; it actually gets quite brutal after Jonah refuses to let go of the outcomes. Clear is the command to share the message and relinquish all control. All. And it’s got to be this way. If we white folk are ever going to get honest about the racist waters in which we swim, we’re gonna have some uncomfortable conversations that result in, well, displeasure. And worse. If we’re clinging to the responses, we will lose the message.

While I don’t purport to have the answers, I do have stories to tell that challenge our assumptions and invite new reflection. And I have renewed clarity that while such is the task at hand, pastors reliant on congregational paychecks cannot be the ones to deliver this message. But I don’t have that constraint, and I can share the message.

Letting go the backward glance, hand at the plough. Let’s do this.

#55andCounting

Note: If you know of churches where this message might be shared, please be in touch. All proceeds (in their entirety) will be used to support Jericho Project, a new initiative of the Wicked Poets Society in St. Louis.

Facing America’s Original Sin, Together (Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30)

Do you remember where you were on August 9, 2014?

There are dates that are seared into our very beings. Dates we will never forget. Dates that mark before and after in our lives. Some are moments of profound beauty and happiness: 12/18/1991 (the birth of my first child) and 7/1/2011 (my wedding in Iowa with my beloved). Some are communal and terrifying: 9/11/2001 and the vision of fire.

August 9, 2014 is one of those dates.

I remember where I was and what I was doing when the news broke. The emotions that raged are still a knotted mess. Horror, yes; fear, inexplicable but palpable; and (?) shame. Perhaps it is relevant to point out that ours was and is a multi-racial family. Throughout that summer we’d been parenting two children in foster care. The children were Black with a sea of white caregivers; social workers, counselors, teachers, and even foster parents… all white. Racism was raging in our world and the children were struggling for breath in the midst of it. To say that it was a turbulent summer is understatement. Already by August 9th we’d been advised that the children would be moved, our queer family pushed too hard against the racist system. The children were still unaware but I knew that this was the last Saturday morning that I would be braiding hair, already I was up in my emotions. We were sitting in front of the TV when the news broke into the cartoon reverie to tell the story of yet another police shooting, this time a lifeless body left bleeding on the pavement and a crowd was gathering. My fingers slowed and I caught the silhouette of the younger child as she watched the screen in horror.

The injustice of the world was laid bare. Michael Brown was an unarmed teen, just graduated from high school and headed to college, killed by a police officer who found his very presence as a large Black man to be frightening. And when the people cried out in pain, troops descended to quell the outrage.

On August 9, in the year of our Lord 2014, I sat up and listened. With thousands of others, I moved out onto the streets and learned to pray with my feet. This date is marked in my life with before and after.

The gospel this morning opens with a question. What would it take to get you (or I) to listen? Jesus came in all of his radicalness and was met with disbelief. John was deeply pious (deeply religious in every aspect of his life) and still the people were uninterested. ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.’ What does it take to shake us from the status quo? To create those life changing moments that we mark with before and after?

As I read this very familiar gospel text in the aftermath of August 9, 2014, two things become clear.

(1) We aren’t listening. Things are not getting better, especially not for Black folk. Not in Ferguson, not in St. Louis county, not in this metro area. And in this nation, as a whole, in this current political climate? I daresay things have gotten even worse. Or, at least, more bold. The stakes are perilously high.
(2) We have omitted a crucial piece of the gospel reading. The lectionary conveniently omits 5 troubling verses, Matthew 11:20-24. These are the woe to you passages, with a description of the eternal torment awaiting all those who tarry. And whilst I would be tempted to agree with the Lectionary editors that these verses are a bit too graphic for the Sunday morning crowd, at least in nice white America, the daily news is far more graphic for Black folk here and now. Such that even our willingness (or lack of) to read the gospel in its entirety is reflective of our white privilege.

As I have stood on the streets bearing witness to the other America, it is painfully clear that the stakes are shockingly high. Quite frankly, the woe and doom of Matthew’s verse is pretty tame compared with what I see boiling just beneath the surface in America. If we can’t find the will to dance with Jesusand address the most original sins of our nation, we will live to see our undoing. Bottom line: like it or not, the woes are real.

On August 19, 2015, more than a year after Michael Brown’s murder, my friends sent out an alert. The police had killed another unarmed youth near the corner of Page and Walton and (already at noon) were responding to neighborhood crowds with riot gear and threatening tear gas. I was in school at the time, teaching special education at Southeast Middle, and by the time I got to the scene the police were gone and the neighbors standing around pretty shell shocked. First to have the nephew of a resident murdered in a drug raid gone bad, then to have the police terrorize those who gathered to grieve. We stood in solidarity as the activity buses rolled through and the last round of children were just arriving home. That’s when we saw it, in the distance but unmistakable. An advancing army. The SLMPD decked out in riot gear, fully armed, flanked by tanks, marching in formation down Page Avenue. The line, several soldiers deep, spanned from front porch to front porch, covering front yards, side walks, and the wide city street. Marching in time, beating the batons. Towards who? For what? Yes, there were people filling the sidewalks and yards and (yes) streets; people talking, crying, shouting, grieving. No violence, no destruction. None. I was standing there on the corner at Page and Walton. Disbelieving, but witnessing nonetheless. There were still toddlers and elders on the lawn, school children in uniforms riding their bikes, and adults watching incredulously as the army arrived at the corner. I’m standing in front of the market, breaking no law and knowing that I have every right to be standing right where I was, and also realizing that it wasn’t going to matter.

I remember the unintelligible drone of the loud speaker, reminiscent of terrible nights in Ferguson, and then I saw the flash of fire as it began. In all there were at least four chemical weapons poured out in the neighborhood, none identifiable. Some that burned with increasing intensity when water was used to wash them off. It was a nightmare unleashed that was unimaginable. It lasted for almost an hour with tanks and troops circling round and round a four block area, filling the air and soil and residents with chemicals and trauma. Children ran for the lives, elders too. I stood for a moment, in hesitation and incredulity, as the tank rolled down the side street, right beside me. As it passed me it stopped, and then backed up to where I was standing and an arm extended to aim it’s weapon spray directly at me. I was the target. It’s a moment I will never forget. I dove for cover into a nearby car where my friends were hiding. The police then threw a gas canister directly under the car in which we were huddled for safety. The night was filled with harrowing stories, truly hell opened that night and I saw the living face of evil.

In truth it is this night, more than any other, that changed my life. No longer could I deny the omnipresent evil to which I’d slowly been waking. Every shred of pollyanna was ripped from my heart that night and I was left believing that we are indeed in a battle for the soul of this nation. In 23 years of parish pastoring, I never felt the need to include these omitted verses from Matthew’s gospel. But now I do. We are at a precipice. And woe to us if we don’t repent, and quickly.

Jim Wallis (of Sojourners fame) published a book last year entitled “America’s Original Sin”. The subtitle reveals his thesis: Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America. Importantly Wallis also published a (free and online) study guide and the first three sessions parallel the movement of this morning’s gospel.  

(1) The first is acknowledgement, the wake up call. An honest and heart rending repudiation of the evil that is as close to us as… well, our next breath. Jesus is playing the flute, will we dance?

(2) The second step is education or, as I’ve come to understand, unlearning. This is facing the woe, looking full into the face of the evil, unlearning white supremacy piece by piece. This is learning that Officer Friendly is a white myth, that modern day policing owes its rhythm to slave catching, that the systems that serve us as white folk function to oppress those who are not.

(3) Willis’ third chapter imagining Beloved Community speaks to the third movement of today’s gospel. In the gospel passage, Jesus moves from frustration that nobody’s listening, to a rant about the dire consequences, and then offers an otherwise inexplicable shift to “my burden is easy, my yoke is light”.

If we’ve done due diligence and considered the missing section’s dire prediction about our current situation, this burden is easy stuff doesn’t make a lot of sense.  Wallis would say (in a word): community. We need each other. Robert Fulghum, in his famous piece entitled “All I Ever Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten” had this as #13 on his list: When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.  Watch out for traffic, hold hands and stick together. Yes. But Wallis adds an important caveat for those determined to address the evil of white supremacy: notice with whom you’re holding hands. Because our choice of playground buddies will make all the difference in the change that we do, or don’t, make in this world. As Wallis talks about building the beloved community he remembers that Sunday morning is the most segregated time of the week and that beloved community MUST be multiracial community. 

Curiously the omitted verses of woe from Matthew’s gospel invoke the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Whilst Christendom has tried to make Sodom synonymous with homosexuality, nothing could be further from the truth. Biblically speaking, Sodom and Gomorrah are synonymous with the sin of being inhospitable, of refusing to offer community to the other. Jesus’ teaching is that if we listen, if we offer community, the burden will be easy. But if we don’t? Well, doom. Community is the key; community not with kin folk, community across the lines.

As we follow the spirit to seek the beloved community we will find ourselves in places we can’t now imagine. Looking to how my life has unfolded in these past few years, well, I couldn’t have foreseen it. I’ve been in St. Louis for 21 years, the first 16 years of which were spent in Webster Groves serving as church on Lockwood Avenue. Though I cared deeply about racism and passionately advocated for racial justice, I had little awareness of what it is to be white in America. I had not yet critically examined my own whiteness.

Today I live on the city’s north side, teach at Southeast Middle School in Spanish Lake and daily I consider the ways in which I white. The fabric of my life changed as my community changed after Ferguson and again after Page and Walton. Fostering these life changes has been a close circle of friends, circle that is family, that is for me beloved community. This circle is Black and queer and loves me unconditionally and holds me absolutely accountable, this circle is family that stood with me in the face of police attack and now sits with me at holiday tables. Challenged, empowered, accountable… the fabric of my life began to change.

When you hold hands and cross the road, you will find yourself in places you never imagined existed. And it’s pretty darn amazing.

Here’s the thing: the spirit is calling us to do a new thing and we tarry. The consequences are steep (and growing). But if we dare to embrace the dance, we will discover that the burden is actually easy, the yoke is unbelievably light.

May it be so.

Day 14: Facing Nineveh

When I hung up my clergy robes nearly five years ago, I had clarity that it was a door closing. I emptied out my library and gave away my clergy vestments. I sent official correspondence requesting a change in status (the correspondence was lost, but that’s a different story). So it is with no small amount of trepidation that I prepare to preach for the first time (again) tomorrow morning.

As I emerged from a season of reflection last spring, I felt clarity about my call to live in service. Clear also was that a call to gathering and leading community in real time is not mine; no to starting a church, no to dusting off my profile. Pondering how to faithfully share the myriad of lessons learned and windows opened in these recent years, I felt (and feel) clarity about continued writing. Check.

And several weeks later came one additional piece, that of offering to step in, for just one Sunday at a time, and offer pulpit supply (guest sermon).

In theory it’s no big deal. Preaching was one of my favorite parts of ministry, I know the lectionary passages inside out, and I have a pile of new stories from which to draw. And while I won’t know the members of the congregation, that should actually make it easier. Slip in, share the good (if challenging) news, slip out. In terms of navigating relationships, this is about as easy as it gets. Right?

Yet as I prepare for my first gig tomorrow, I confess to feeling a bit like Jonah resisting the call to Nineveh. Smallish and whitish churches spread across the heartland that might have need of pulpit supply are exactly where I do NOT feel safe and welcome anymore, and haven’t for some time. In fairness it is also true that I, like Jonah, have more than a wee bit of judgment about Nineveh. Unlike Jonah, I have actually spent time in Nineveh. I have called Nineveh home, delighting in the potlucks, the ladies guild, the trappings. But somewhere along the line I lost my enthusiasm. Perhaps that too is a story for another day.

Because tomorrow I am headed out to a far St. Louis suburb to share the gospel in the light of lessons learned post 8/9/2014.

And like Jonah, my emotions are complicated. What if they don’t listen? Or worse, what if they do? What if I say exactly the wrong thing? Will I know when to sit and stand? Should I have a children’s story ready to go? And (let’s face it, this is the real question) because I’m a woman who gave away her clergy vestments (I had stopped wearing them on principle long before I gave them away anyway, but still…), what will I even wear??? Sigh.

I think I might follow Jonah out onto the beach tonight. But e’en if I do, I know how the story ends. I’ll still have to face Nineveh in the morning.

So it is that tomorrow I am preaching my first sermon. Again.

#55andCounting
#whitefolkwork

ps: Please know that in the biblical narrative, Nineveh were (despite Jonah’s reluctance), actually great folk much beloved by God.

pps: I’ll post the sermon tomorrow when it’s too late to back out. 🙂