Show Up, Point, Talk Gospel, and Love


Pine Ridge-1

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.

 

 

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Is anyone else reeling in confusion right now?  I am sitting here looking out the window at the most beautiful snow fall I have seen in a long time.  Big puff balls of flakes coming straight down, falling gently…gently falling…  The trees are all heavy-laden; each branch supporting several inches of white creamy frosting, a scene that makes me just want to run outside and hug the universe.  It’s a snow day deluxe!  Schools and businesses are closed, and the world sits quietly, resting, knowing that everything is staying put – for now.

But then I open my news feed.  Why did I open my news feed?  I am confronted by a series of atrocities.  I should be used to this by now.  Not surprisingly, the list is even longer than that of yesterday.  It is only 8:05 in the morning.  Why did I open my news feed?  Today, January 25, 2017, five days after the installation of DJT, and already a whole slew of radical departures from existing policies.  The EPA has been gagged and bound.  Communications blackout for US scientists.  Twitter accounts disabled.  Forward movement with The Great Wall of America.  Forward movement on the Dakota pipeline.  A new voter fraud investigation to be launched – really?  Isn’t winning enough?  The Dow Jones passes 20,000 for the first time in history – some folks are happy…

I went to DJT’s Facebook page.  One of these happy folks wrote: “Trump put a freeze on all new federal regulations, many great nominations, the repeal of Obamacare has begun, along with the pipeline, next is lowering taxes, the wall, getting rid of common core, conservative justices and everything else. Every single day we have something to cheer for. Let’s hear it for our president. ”

I look at my own Facebook wall and it is laden with pain, grief, and anger.

One country, one world, one human race – yet it feels like two alternate realities.  Maybe that’s why “alternate facts” became necessary.  The world has gone batshit bonkers.  It’s as though two dimensions have somehow overlapped.  And we are only in the first half of the first week.

I am a Christian.  I follow the teachings of Jesus Christ.  That is what I believe Christianity is about.  Following the teachings of Jesus Christ.  But from where I’m sitting, it looks as though Christians have divided themselves into two groups of followers going in the opposite direction with each group believing that they are the ones following Jesus while watching the other group go astray.  One world – two realities – each pushing against each other – hard!  One reality sees the ghost of Hitler past rising out of the ashes.  The other reality, the reality of “alternate facts,” see the reinstatement of our great and glorious country.  Both realities believe that we can only occupy one reality.  Both realities are at war with each other.  Neither reality is willing to make room for the other; we have reduced ourselves to an either/or world.

I clearly see the perspective of my own reality, and I can honestly say that I do not believe the other to be faithfully following the teachings of Jesus.  I read the bible, and it’s all right there in front of me: You’re blessed when you’re meek, you’re blessed when you mourn, you’re blessed when you can’t get enough righteousness…you’re blessed when you’re merciful, pure in heart, a peacemaker, and persecuted because you stand up for what is right and what is just.  For me it is as plain as the nose on my face that building walls, closing borders, polluting the planet, and denying food and healthcare to people goes directly against the teachings of Jesus.  For me it is just as plain as the nose on my face that we, as followers of Jesus, are called to stand up, speak out, and push back against any policy that enriches some while crushing others.

But I’ve also been around long enough to know that God’s universe is a both/and universe, and that this either/or world that we are trying to hammer out is going to end badly if we don’t start finding our way toward some sort of unity and wholeness.  I’m all for standing up, speaking out, and pushing back, in the face of injustice, but I am not for running about helter skelter and putting a megaphone on everything that comes across my newsfeed.  I am a pastor; I am called to be a prophetic voice, but I am also called to be a pastoral presence – which means I am called to listen.

Many of us are speaking out.  Many of us are feeling that call to prophetic witness.  But speaking strictly for myself, I know that I have to reign in that impulse sometimes in favor of more facts and greater understanding.  Walls are destructive, but it’s not enough to just protest walls; we have to build bridges.  And in order to do that we need materials and tools that can only be acquired through listening.

I know a lot of people who believe that this is the dawning of a new era of prosperity and abundance for America.  What sort of frustration and fear leads people to believe that purging the country of everyone who is of a different nationality will lead us in the right direction?  What sort of frustration and fear leads people to believe that denying others healthcare is a logical move?  People like DJT fuel and play on those fears – through listening.  Why can’t we build a better world using that same strategy?

So here’s my new strategy.  Listen.  Stand up.  Listen.  Speak out.  Listen.  Push back.  Listen, listen, listen.

 

Why Christian?


 

I entered the universe through the Christian portal by luck of the draw. I was born into my time, place and circumstances, and to the best of my knowledge I had no say in the matter. I left the Christian path as soon as I did have a say in the matter, and believed that was the end of the story. Yet, despite my best intentions, my baptism left its mark on me; it sort of gave me an address that I could always return to if I wanted, and know that I was home.

Christianity is perhaps the most treacherous road to travel by; it is peppered with land mines that are filled with the shrapnel of false certainties, buried and waiting for the unsuspecting traveler. After reaching a certain level of familiarity with the practice, I have come to both fear and treasure it’s teachings, some of which honor creator and creation, while others hold in contempt the wisdom of the very messiah that they profess to follow. I have experienced both the agony and the ecstasy of Christianity – sometimes simultaneously –  convincing me that the two reside in equal measure as part of the one great whole where I too, often stand in contrast to myself.

As a pastor, I am called to interpret and teach two millennia of our best theological thinking that is sadly mixed in with our worst theological thinking. I am not a rock star theologian.  I have not been gifted with the capacity for eloquent expression to draw in or captivate my audience. Sometimes I manage to strike a chord, but as God is my witness, I do not possess the elasticity my ego would require in order to contain my ambition. I do not seek to be a star, although I do spend a lot of time trying.  For nearly 20 years, I held Christianity and all things Christian in contempt.  I do not have a lifetime of wisdom to draw on – at least not Christian wisdom.  Nevertheless, despite my recalcitrance, there came a day when God showed me a level of grace that brought me to my knees, captivated me, and permanently changed me forever. I have spent all of my remaining years seeking the face of this gracious and loving entity which led me to the ministry where I hoped to be able to live up to the story of my own salvation.

While I have learned a great deal about Christianity, and I have somewhat honed my ability to think theologically, I still have yet to stand unflinching in the presence of the great I AM. You see, I always flinch, and my thinking takes over, and I end up worshipping my own thoughts rather than experiencing the divine presence of a love so pure that I don’t believe I could possibly be worthy of it. That’s hard stuff and it is so much easier to rationalize than it is to just be who I am, full of flaws, yet loved so purely and deeply that nothing else matters. Life doesn’t work that way, so how could eternity? And that is exactly how we regulate and control each other from realizing our true potential. While I cannot speak for other religions, or other people for that matter, I can see that the inhibitions and shame imposed in some Christian circles have become shackles on the human ability to connect with creator. It is human nature to want to be the best and the brightest; the disciples even argued over it. We truly don’t want equality; we each want to stand out – to be special. But if I am to be special then that means you cannot be special. So now we need rules to define who is special and who is not. Who’s in and who’s out, because we can’t all be special. And that is the same pitfall we all eventually land in – every religion – every person.

So with that in mind the question still remains, why Christian?  Well why not?  It is my destiny.  I did not choose it, it chose me.  Yet at the same time, it is not my destination, it is my transport. It is flawed beyond belief. The motor is rusty and the vehicle is so old that replacement parts are hard to come by. Sure, I could change rides, go for a newer, slicker model; but it’s just a ride and there are no guarantees regardless of which model you hop on board. I follow Christ because I am compelled by the one who said “blessed are the poor in Spirit for they shall inherit the kingdom of heaven.” You see, I am the poor in spirit – we all are. There is no such thing as special because we are all so incredibly special it cancels itself out. From the scant knowledge I have of Jesus, I hear the truth. I hear his voice beckoning, saying “come and see.”  I keep moving forward, hoping that what lies around the next bend will be the one I seek. It always is; the tricky part is my capacity to recognize it.

Christianity has as many flaws as it has followers who are filled with flaws of their own. How could it be anything else?  The trick is to stop kicking the tires and searching for the right vehicle, and just get in and go. Seek first the kingdom of God and the rest will follow. I have no idea where it’s going, no one does…but I’d rather be on the road seeking than not.  That’s just me, and that’s why Christian.