Why I Didn’t Preach About Saturday


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I wanted to preach today about the newest big thing to happen – but I wasn’t able to do it.  I wanted to preach because I was frustrated and angry about yesterday’s events – and I wanted my soapbox time.  I wanted to preach because Facebook told me that if I didn’t preach about it, then my people should start looking for another church.  I wanted to preach about it because this, THIS, was what I was called to do.

But I wasn’t able to say one word about it.  It just wasn’t the right time or place.

For over two years I have been working with the Methodist pastor and the Lutheran pastor here in town as we seek to build relationships between our churches and move forward in meaningful ministry – together.  It’s working for us.  Slowly…it’s working.

And today – today, was our first ecumenical outdoor worship together.  Actually it was just the Methodist church and the UCC church, but it was another layer in an already good foundation.  We had planned big – well – big for us.  And everything was ready to go.

The sermon was all worked out, and the beauty was that we spent maybe two hours on it and it was done.  It was a very thoughtful sermon, one that had been carefully culled for landmines, yet also one that addressed a difficult topic.  It was heady stuff for a picnic, but it was also a message of real hope.

And then yesterday happened.

Saturday.

That Saturday where a bunch of white supremacist terrorists decided to unhood and unleash.

Saturday happened all day.  It was painful to watch, and like everyone else, I couldn’t turn away.  I actually turned on my twitter.  Trust me, it has to be pretty big in order for me to turn on my twitter.  The last time I turned on my twitter was during the election, and we all know how that turned out.

Saturday made me angry, and I don’t think I was the only one but I will confess I was deep within my echo chamber. Plenty of people were angry.  Angry and tired.  Black people, white people, Jewish people – lots and lots of angry and tired people.

And I really wanted to preach on it.  But it just couldn’t be.

The sermon we had worked out was a good one.  I like preaching with another person.  Our theme was “A Time to Heal.”  We read Ecclesiastes first and paired it with Romans 8:18-25.  And then we entered into the dialogue about the question of suffering.

Both passages tell us that suffering is built into the fabric of the universe.  I like that description better than God setting us up to suffer for some weird, unknowable reason…And both passages tell us that all the suffering in the world doesn’t compare to the glory that is to be revealed in us.

Suffering is real; it’s part of the deal.  No one escapes suffering, but some sure do suffer more than others.  It’s always been that way.  Long before Jesus, and long afterwards too.  Heck of a thing to bring up at a church picnic, but isn’t it good to know that suffering is real, that it’s not just you, and that there’s hope?

Actually a church picnic is the perfect place to bring up shared suffering because there are a lot of people there.  And moving throughout all those people are sufferers – even at the most delightful of picnics – there are sufferers.  Because at one time or another, everyone suffers.

So Paul touches on suffering in his letter to the Romans, because he knows that they are suffering.  It wasn’t easy being a follower in those days.  Actually it could be quite deadly, and people were probably starting to wonder if it was even worth it.  Paul acknowledges this, and he doesn’t sugar coat it either.  He tells them suffering is part of the deal – that nothing on this planet escapes it – including the planet.

But, is it worth it?  Yes!  It is so worth it.  Because our sufferings are nothing compared to the glory about to be revealed to us.

Ecclesiastes also tells us that suffering is part of the deal, but alongside suffering walks healing, and there is a time for both.

Anyone who’s suffered knows – when healing happens, the suffering suddenly becomes worth it.  When healing happens, we realize that the suffering was the very thing that lead us to that glorious moment.  And then we embrace our suffering – in retrospect.

But here’s the question: can we maybe move ourselves along to that place of healing a little faster?  Because let’s face it, the world is a mess and we’re digging ourselves deeper and deeper into the hole of despair.  Suffering might be part of the equation, but when do we finally throw in the towel and submit to some healing?

If anyone knew suffering, it was Jesus.  Jesus dedicated his whole life the ones who were suffering the most.  He fed them; he healed them; he comforted them, and he taught them about the kingdom of God by praying “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. He taught them that when we are operating out of God’s will, God’s kingdom manifests itself on earth, same as it does in heaven.  In other words, he showed them how to accelerate healing.

And when they asked him what is God will for us, he said love of God and love of neighbor.  Kind of like one commandment with two sides, because we show our love of God through love of our neighbor.

So the way to God’s kingdom is through love.  The way to our own healing is through love.  Nothing more, nothing less, just love.

And all of this is why I didn’t get to preach about Saturday.  All of this is why I didn’t get to get up on my soapbox and talk about how this whole lousy country is built on a flimsy foundation of white privilege and how we need to start opening our eyes and acknowledging our truth if we are to ever find our way toward healing.

Instead I had to preach about love – love of God and love of neighbor – and how that is the only real way to healing.

And you know what?  That congregation managed to put the pieces together for themselves.  They applied our sermon on love to Saturday – in fact, they thought we were preaching about Saturday.

We preached about healing through love, and as it turns out it was the exact message that was needed – for Saturday.

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Show Up, Point, Talk Gospel, and Love


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Tombstone of Chief Red Cloud

The NAACP has just issued its first statewide travel advisory, for Missouri, my home state, saying:

“Individuals traveling in the state are advised to travel with extreme CAUTION,” the advisory warns. “Race, gender and color based crimes have a long history in Missouri.”

In the year 2017, the dozing beast of in-your-face racism has been roughly prodded awake, and the beast is starving and angry.

For over a week, I have been wallowing around in the afterglow of my road-trip vacation.  Nearly three-thousand miles, alone, just so I could rest, re-create, and take photos of our North American landscape.  It was a huge adventure, and definitely more risky than it was when I was younger, but I never lost my agency.  I never expected to lose my agency.  And believe me, I was and am, profoundly aware of how many in this country there are who do not have that same luxury.

How did we get to this place?

Have we really been here all along?

Have I really been that blind?

One of my stops was the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.  For over two-thirds of my life I have wanted to go there and see the site of the Wounded Knee Massacre.  I knew it would be bad – the poverty, the isolation, the corruption – I’ve kept track enough to know – but when you’re there, and life suddenly steps out of the painting, it’s so much more.

I wanted to go and see the people who were shoved aside to make room for my people – you know, the real illegal immigrants.

I didn’t know what I could do beyond pay my respects, and so I did, but I wanted to look at and know and acknowledge for at least a moment, who was really paying my rent – who was picking up the tab on my comfortable, privileged, lifestyle.

I can move freely between states; I can visit breathtaking sites; eat in local restaurants; stay in local hotels, and know that I’m probably not going to be exploited, harassed, or abused in any way.  I take it for granted; it is how I experience my culture and my world, but what gets swept under the rug is how this American culture is built on a flimsy foundation of hatred, insecurity and the highest percentage of juvenile pettiness recorded so far.

I read a story today written by a black woman who was describing her own recent cross-country road trip.  She had her kids with her and decided to stop at a Cracker Barrel in Texas for lunch.  Well, it kind of scared the hell out of her, so she tweeted something that crossed the radar of the wrong person and it went completely south in no time. (Story here)

As I traveled, I knew that the color of my hide granted me gold card access to wherever I wanted to go.  Yes, I’m a woman; yes I’m older, and yes, there is a whole set of issues embedded in that, but for the most part I can move around unmolested.  I cannot imagine looking over my shoulder everywhere I go, terrified of who I might encounter.  I cannot imagine feeling like a moving target.  My problems are not these problems, and truth be told, I learned how to navigate my own challenges a long time ago – because I have that luxury.

It is spiraling out of control again – racism – and I am ashamed.  I am ashamed that it is members of my tribe who cause these problems, and I am ashamed that I am safe because of it.  I am ashamed of the insatiable greedy beast that my tribe has become, stealing land, stealing bodies, and ravaging souls.  I am ashamed of the blind eyes, and the propagandist narrative about bygone days when everything was “baseball, hotdogs, apple-pie, and Chevrolet.”

And I am VERY ashamed of our false nostalgia.

But I don’t have a fix for it – any of it.

I just have my voice.

I have my voice and I have my heart, and I have a seminary education that helped me see the difference between the way of Jesus, and the way of white Christian America.

Show up, point, talk gospel, and love.

Repeat.

What if I screw up?

I have.  And I will again.

I have been fed the intravenous fluids of privilege my entire life.

But it’s the only way to get through.

Show up, point, talk gospel, and love….then repeat.

 

 

Red Flags and Tiny Yellow Flowers


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I didn’t plan it, but this year my vacation turned into an epic road trip that will probably keep me smiling for the rest of my life.  The only plan I made was to drive my kids back to Colorado, and then visit family in Wyoming.  The rest of the adventure was completely spontaneous; every single day experienced with no preconceived plan, or agenda – just my camera, a cooler full of bottled water, and my trusty little GPS.

After all the visiting was done, I struck out on my own, dead set on reaching the top of the nearest mountain.  It sounded so simple – only 20 miles away – but then I noticed that my GPS had projected an arrival time of 3 hours in the future.

Have you ever made up your mind so completely to do something that you fail to notice those little red flags that start popping up?  Now I’ll admit, this is not the first time I’ve done that.  I’m a boundary-pusher by nature so I’ll ignore the red flags until I can’t ignore them anymore.  And there have indeed been times when I wished I hadn’t; but more often than not, what I end up discovering is that the boundaries are actually quite a bit further out than what I had first supposed.

Well, it took almost 5 hours to make it to the top of the mountain.  After spending 2 hours on a particularly crude logging road, it abruptly stopped – blocked by fallen trees, and I had to turn around and go back.  And what was really intimidating was the complete absence of other people.  (As an aside, this is why I stick with Jeep products)  But I did make it to the top of the mountain.  After several hours of intense off-road driving, I made it.  And that kind of set the tone for the remainder of the trip.

After that, it seemed every place I went, I somehow had to earn it, but then the rewards would be huge.  I sat on top of the world, alone, the only human for miles, and while it took some pretty big risks to get there, it was the most humbling and soul-clutching experience imaginable.

On another mountaintop, 4 more hours away, I stood next to a field of snow that was surrounded by tiny little yellow flowers.  Snow, in the hot July sun, surrounded by millions of tiny little yellow flowers.  And the snow was untouched.  There was not one single foot print in that snow.  It wasn’t mandated; there were no signs saying “keep off the snow,” yet everyone who made it to that spot agreed, this snow-covered ground was sacred.  I immediately thought of Moses on the mountaintop, standing before God, who said to him, take off your sandals you fool; can’t you see you are standing on Holy ground?

As I made my way across the jagged and raw beauty of the landscape, I noticed how boundaries expanded and barriers seemed to melt in the desert heat.  Without the protective padding of civilization, one learns the cooperative ways of nature.  Atoms and cells working together to form rocks, rocks and soil working together to form ground, ground and vegetation working together to form mountains…trees protecting birds, cool holes protecting prairie dogs and rattlesnakes…

Humans are the only species to cut themselves off from the flow of life.  We seal ourselves up in cities and towns, homes and cars, creating boundaries and erecting barriers, all in an effort to forget that we are fragile creatures, leading a fragile existence.

Sometimes we have to push boundaries and climb mountains in order to remember that like the tiny little yellow flowers surrounding the snow –

we are here now;

we are “fearfully and wonderfully made,”

and it’s all Holy ground,

all the time,

everywhere.