When guilt, shame, and blame transform…

When guilt, shame, and blame transform to curiosity, grief, and humility, a door to liberation flies open.

For the past year and a half, the congregation of Immanuel Lutheran Church in Seattle has been on an intentional journey of humble learning and intentional AntiRacism training. This is not the beginning of their work. In many ways they have been immersed in the work for years as part of their ministry with refugees, people living on the streets, folks in recovery and advocacy for justice in the areas of poverty, food distribution and gender equality. But what has been new is the formation of an intentional team of people who call themselves the AntiRacism Team.

For a year the team led monthly forums for the congregation, providing baseline education on terminology such as; Whiteness, White Privilege and Intersectionality. They facilitated conversations to clarify understanding of Gender Identity as a spectrum just like Sexuality. They made space for stories to be told about the disparities of the criminal justice system and police brutality. They accepted an invitation to share their experience as a workshop for other congregations. All the while, they humbly claim no particular level of expertise, simply a desire and willingness to be accountable to one another and to continue to challenge the congregation.

The congregation has been warm and receptive to the work, seeking more than just 1-hour monthly forums. So the time came to do more. It was time for a retreat. The team, decided it was time to dive-in to the depths of #decolonizeLutheranism.

As their pastor, it is my humble joy to shepherd them in this work. So when they asked me to invite my beloved collaborator of holy chaos at Churchwide Assembly to come to Seattle and co-lead the retreat with me, there was only one possible response: HELL YEAH!

And so it was that this past Saturday that, the itinerant preacher, Rev. Tuhina Rasche, and the veteran youth minister with a social justice lens, Rev. Priscilla Paris-Austin, were reunited for a workshop titled: The Liberating Love of the #decolonizeLutheranism Movement.

PRISCILLA:  Tuhina, Thanks for joining us in Seattle. My family is always happy to host you when you visit. But what were you thinking when you accepted this invitation to be here on your birthday weekend?

TUHINA: The Spirit works when the Spirit works. When I visited Seattle in March to meet with communities to talk about #decolonizeLutheranism, I mentioned that these are conversations that need to take place over time. I made a commitment to the people of Immanuel Lutheran and other communities where I spoke that I would return if they wanted to continue the conversation on what it meant to seriously work toward decolonizing the ELCA. The people of Immanuel wanted to continue that conversation, and they wanted to invite their ecumenical partners who are also invested in this work. The date that worked happened to be my birthday weekend. You promised me cake (I got two, as a matter of fact), but the work of liberation and love is a daily practice. I knew that I would be surrounded by my siblings in Christ to celebrate my birthday, but to also do the continuing work to profess the full inclusivity of God’s love in the world.

PRISCILLA: What surprised you most about your time in Seattle?

TUHINA: This is hard work. These are vulnerable spaces in which to reside. This is a work that will truly continue until Christ comes again. Yet the time that we spent together as a community wrestling with the brokenness of the world was a holy time… and it is a time that passed quickly. I often see tired faces following such retreats; at this retreat, I saw a look of yearning, of people wanting more and wanting to continue to explore these difficult and vulnerable conversations to make them into embodied action. I had people come up to me following the retreat stating they’re ready for even more.

PRISCILLA:  I was deeply appreciative of your vulnerability as you shared your motivations and perspective on the history and origin of the #decolonizeLutheranism movement. Can you talk about what it means for you to share that story, not for the first time, but for the first time with this group of folks?

TUHINA: One of the aspects of my ministry with #decolonizeLutheranism is to model the sharing of holy stories. Many times, holy stories come from places of extreme vulnerability. Oftentimes, I am incredibly scared to show such vulnerability in front of people I do not know, and in predominantly white spaces. I have to remind myself of the theology of the cross, realizing that power can be found in vulnerability. If I am able to honestly invite people into a vulnerable and brave space, if people are invested in the work of love and liberation, I trust that they will follow. Part of sharing my story is talking about embodiment. When I share the story of my motivation for this ministry, I want people to know there is flesh attached to the words, that there are real lives that are risking their candidacy, their ministry, and their lives for this work. I am grateful that the story was held as holy within this community. I am also grateful that people were able to share parts of themselves and where they could see themselves within the narrative of #decolonizeLutheranism and parallel stories within their denominations.

PRISCILLA: One of the things I found most helpful was the conversation around permissions and invitations.  The group was so deeply engaged and hungry for learning that we found ourselves jumping into stories that we thought wouldn’t come up until later in the day. Instead the Holy Spirit was totally in control of our day. It was so fruitful and unplanned.

TUHINA: Absolutely. No retreat or workshop I’ve ever led has been the same. I continue to marvel at the communities that continue to be formed through #decolonizeLutheranism. I also appreciate that people were so willing to be vulnerable and to come with a sense of wonder. I loved that so many questions came so early in the retreat; it was evident that the group was so ready and eager not just to learn, but also to embody love and justice in the world.

PRISCILLA: On a personal note, I want to thank you for sharing your birthday weekend with us. There are moments in my life when I find myself feeling cynical or jaded by the world, even by the routine of the daily grind of ministry. But I stay in it because of moments like this weekend. Sitting next to you in worship, hearing you proclaim the word and watching you delight in praising Jesus was like a revival to my soul. Plus, without your visit, I might have never gone out to find the statue of Jimmy Hendrix. Traveling and partnering with you in ministry and life is such a blessing.

The Rev. Priscilla Paris-Austin

 

 

I Hope You’re Somewhere, Praying

Originally published at Pastor Jennifer Preaching

I Hope You’re Somewhere, Praying
A Meditation on Kesha’s “Praying” Music Video

“Why did I not die at birth,
come forth from the womb and expire?
Why were there knees to receive me,
or breasts for me to suck?
Now I would be lying down and quiet;
I would be asleep; then I would be at rest…
Or why was I not buried like a stillborn child,
like an infant that never sees the light?”
Job 3:11-12,16

“Am I dead?
Or is this one of those dreams?
Those horrible dreams, that seem like they last forever?
If I am alive, why? Why?
If there is a God or whatever, something, somewhere,
why have I been abandoned by everyone and everything
I’ve ever known, I’ve ever loved?…
God give me a sign, or I have to give up.
I can’t do this anymore.
Please just let me die.
Being alive hurts too much.”
Kesha, “Praying”

 

A victim’s story is only theirs to tell. No one else—not the victimizer, not a judge, not a jury, not the court of public opinion—can tell it. No one else can tell a victim how to react, how to move forward, how they should or shouldn’t behave.

Unfortunately, all too often, we do just that. We blame victims for what was done to them and refuse to hold victimizers and abusers accountable. And then, when we have collectively decided it’s ‘over,’ we demand that victims forgive and forget, that they move on. We expect them to fit a specific, saint-like mold of infinite patience and beatific smiles. We don’t want them to be angry. We don’t want them to show us their scars, physical or emotional or spiritual. We don’t want to be reminded of what happened—even if they are unable to forget.

Last week was completely upended for me when Kesha released her new music video, “Praying.” I will be honest and say I never expected a music video to have such an impact on me. My first reaction when I saw the link was, “Oh, she’s back! I’m so glad she’s finally able to make music again.”

Then I started watching the video. If you haven’t watched it yet, if you’re not sure what the buzz is about, go watch it. Right now. This piece will wait ‘til you get back.

It begins in a twisted parody of a funeral, no music. Kesha asks, “Am I dead?” Floating on debris in an empty ocean, she says, “If I am alive, why? Why? If there is a God or whatever, something, somewhere, why have I been abandoned?”

I don’t know if Kesha meant to create a lament in the ancient tradition of the Hebrew Bible, but that’s what it sounds like. It is a voice that cries out from the deepest, darkest places in the human experience. Like Job, like the lament Psalms, she questions God and begs for an end to her suffering. “Please just let me die,” she says. “Being alive hurts too much.”

There is a reason the ancient laments still resonate in our modern ears. We know suffering. We know darkness. We know what it feels like to cry in the dead of night “Why God, why?” and mean it as an accusation.

On the cross, Jesus cried out in the words of Psalm 22: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He died a death of pain and humiliation and injustice. His body was laid in a tomb. His disciples grieved. This was not the end of the story.

In “Praying,” Kesha does not stay in that desolate, black-and-white ocean. She does not stay in the hellish funeral. She wears a feather boa and angel wings and a veil of butterflies, and covers her face with brightly-colored paint.

It’s a resurrection story. An Easter story. Or in the words of the Psalms, “You have turned my mourning into dancing; you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy.” Kesha moves from death to new life. She starts out in lament, but she finds her voice and sings (and my God, does she sing). [1]

This is a resurrection story. It’s also a reconciliation story. Not in the simplistic, simpering way we want victims to reconcile with their victimizers. Kesha doesn’t forgive and forget, she doesn’t move on, she doesn’t make nice with the man who tormented her. She doesn’t apologize to us, her audience, for making us uncomfortable or for not being a ‘perfect’ victim (as if there were such a thing). She is beautifully, brutally honest, and it’s powerful to watch.

How do you forgive someone who hasn’t asked for forgiveness? How do you forgive someone who is unrepentant, who perhaps would deny that they’ve done anything that needs forgiving? How do you reconcile with someone who abused you and could abuse you in the future? There are no Bible-school answers for these questions.

Kesha sings, “You brought the flames and you put me through hell. I had to learn how to fight for myself. And we both know all the truths I could tell. I’ll just say this as I wish you farewell—I hope you’re somewhere, praying. I hope your soul is changing. I hope you find your peace, falling on your knees, praying.” This is probably the kindest message she could possibly send to her abuser. She’s not interested in making him feel better. She’s certainly not interested in sharing the burden of guilt. But she hopes that someday, he realizes he needs to repent. She hopes that his soul changes. And when that day comes, it’s not her whose forgiveness he should seek: “Some things, only God can forgive.”

In the depths of hurt and betrayal, it may be impossible to offer forgiveness. Our culture tells us “forgive and forget,” and if we can’t forgive, can’t forget, it seems like a personal failure. Yet even Christ on the cross didn’t tell his murderers “I forgive you”—he prayed, “Father, forgive them.” When we are unable to forgive, the only thing we can do is turn forgiveness over to God. When we cannot forgive and forget and move on, maybe we can move forward by handing the responsibility of forgiveness over to God.

What is so powerful about “Praying” is that it’s not about the abuser. It’s about Kesha. It’s about her healing, her new life. She hopes he’s somewhere praying. But what we get to see is Kesha, praying. Standing up, breaking free, clothing herself in color. Moving from death to life. Walking on water, looking towards the sun.

 

A Postscript on Religious Imagery

I could go on and on about the religious symbolism in this video. In addition to what I’ve already said, I’ll just add two more observations—one in the form of critique, and one in the form of appreciation.

I love this music video. I think Kesha misstepped, though, in appropriating elements of Hinduism. I’m assuming Kesha is not Hindu. But the font she uses for the title card and at the end of the video is an anglicized version of Hindi. And the multi-colored dust she throws looks like the dust from a Holi festival. I’m not Hindu, either, but as a Christian in the United States, I think we need to be very careful about using cultural and religious markers that aren’t our own. The bigger our platform, the more careful we need to be. As of this writing, “Praying” has over 12 million views, so that’s a pretty big platform. (Bigger than any audience I’ll ever preach to!)

I’ll end with one last image that spoke to me powerfully in this video. It’s the scene shot at Salvation Mountain (it’s a real place in California). This is where Kesha is wild and free and alive. It’s her Easter garden. Over this rainbow-colored monument rise the words, “God is love.” In a world where Christianity serves to abuse and enable abusers, this is the message we need to come back to again and again. God is love. If we need new life, then we need to turn to God who is Love. If we need forgiveness, then we need God who is Love. If we seek reconciliation or peace or a world where we don’t inflict violence on one another, then there are worse places to look than Salvation Mountain.

 

[1] For further reading, check out The Message of the Psalms by Walter Brueggeman. Brueggeman identifies three types of Psalms: Psalms of orientation, Psalms of disorientation, and Psalms of new orientation. They trace a movement from a comfortable status quo, through a crisis, and to a new equilibrium. The Psalms of new orientation reveal the Psalmist coming to a new understanding of themselves in relation to God and the world. After a crisis, a new life is rebuilt. As Kesha moves from lament to finding her voice, she is re-orienting herself and her identity.

 

The Rev. Jennifer Chrien

Pastor Jennifer is an ordained minister in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). She served her first call at Our Saviour’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Oxnard, CA, before being called to serve Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church in Simi Valley.

A Response to Sean Spicer

“In this room, also men were executed if they were deemed no longer useful to the Nazi. The methods of execution were varied. Sometimes a bullet was used, but our guide informed us that his captors had said many times that a bullet was too expensive a price to pay for the death of a slave. Poison gas or starvation was much cheaper.”  — Corporal Norman Paschen, describing his experience of the Buchenwald concentration camp during its liberation in April, 1945

It is likely that you have heard White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s remarks today in which he falsely asserted that Adolf Hitler never utilized poison gas during the holocaust and Second World War, and his subsequent apology in which he admitted that Hitler had murdered people with poison gas, but not “his own people,” and in which he refused to publicly name the concentration camps, referring to them instead as “holocaust centers.”

Prisoners liberated from the women’s camp in the Buchenwald concentration camp.

As Spicer is engaging in a maniacal spin campaign to attempt to mitigate the harm done to his career and the reputation of the White House by his remarks, it is crucial that we examine carefully what he actually said, and why his remarks carry historic impact.

The setting of his remarks were to defend recent American airstrikes of a Syrian airfield, and in doing so, he argued that Bashar El-Assad’s recent use of chemical weapons against the Syrian people was inexcusable, and needed to be punished. In doing so, he remarked that “You had someone who was as despicable as Hitler who didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons.” In his attempt at an “apology,”he doubles down on his claim, remarking that “I think when you come to sarin gas, [Hitler] was not using the gas on his own people.”

Press Secretary Sean Spicer making a personal apology to CNN announcer Wolf Blitzer, whose parents escaped the Nazis and whose grandparents died in Auschwitz.

As an American, a Christian, and a student of history, it is imperative that I speak the truth as loudly as I can in the midst of Spicer’s vile lies. Lest there be any confusion, I must make plain that Adolf Hitler most certainly did use poison gas on his own people. He did so tens of thousands of times, resulting in the deaths of millions. Sarin gas was invented, militarized, and utilized by Hiltler’s regime, though it is true that it was quickly replaced with cheaper and more effective substances, such as hydrogen cyanide and Zyklon B. Spicer’s remarks to the contrary are not accidental use of “insensitive references,” they are blatant and inexcusable lies.

For him to tell such lies on any day is appalling, but for him to do so during the commemoration of the Passover and on the very day of the completion of the liberation of the concentration camp at Buchenwald is inexcusable. To commit such an act of holocaust-denying and anti-Semitic theater on this day of all days is to do political and theological violence against the Jewish people.

As Lutherans we must be extra sensitive to the subject of anti-Jewish violence. During World War II, Millions of German Lutherans were complicit in the massacring of Europe’s Jewish communities, and Martin Luther himself wrote a significant treatise that is filled with unmitigated violence and vitriol – “On The Jews and Their Lies” (1543).

As an American and a practicing Christian, who has been “grafted into the side of Abraham’s tree,” and who worships a Jewish savior, I must categorically demand Sean Spicer’s immediate resignation. I must also fervently request that all those in this country who carry the title of “Christian” join me in educating Mr. Spicer and the White House about the history of our nation and that of the Jewish people. The time for half-hearted and ham-handed apologies has long since passed. It is time for action. On behalf of the Jewish people, the Syrian people and all of G-d’s beloveds who are oppressed.”

Written by decolonizer Jess Davis on behalf of #decolonizelutheranism

Decolonize the Body of Christ

Guest post from LSTP seminarian Lindsey Beukelman for Eating Disorder Awareness Week, which falls this year on the same week as Mardi Gras and Ash Wednesday in our liturigcal calendar.

This is a very important time in the church year.  Many church have just listened to the disciples staring in wonder at a dazzling Jesus, proclaimed as the Son of God.  We have buried the Alleluias and have started our walk toward the familiar season of Lent.  However, this year the beginning of our Lenten journey also coincides with another week long journey I walk each year, National Eating Disorder Awareness Week.

In May 2012, my life took a dramatic turn when I was officially diagnosed with an eating disorder and began treatment with The Emily Program, an amazing holistic recovery community in St. Paul, Minnesota.  Now make no mistake, this eating disorder of mine was nothing new and likely isn’t even something that would sound terribly foreign to most people across the country.  This monster has consumed the majority of my life, convincing me that the self-inflicted harm of extreme diets, constant rumination around exercise and what counts as good food or bad food are imperative.  My eating disorder convinced me that if I could just lose more weight, eat the perfect meal, or make sure I was involved in enough sports I would be thin enough, beautiful enough, worth enough.

This is a painfully recognizable story in our culture.  In the U.S. alone, 20 million women and 10 million men suffer with diagnosed eating disorders and anorexia is the highest mortality rate of any mental health disorder.  And even with that knowledge we are surrounded by a culture that glorifies the one particular body, the body that upholds and perpetuates the values of the empire.  Thin, white, perfectly sculpted, and blemish/ailment-free bodies are traded like currency in an effort to grasp for status, happiness, and success.  And for those of us whose bodies fall outside of these parameters, frankly we’re just shit outta luck.

While this whole system of ranking bodies in our culture is utterly horrific and in deep need of decolonization, it is not the most painful part for me.  The far more real and far more damaging part to me as a fat woman, as a person struggling with the bondage of an eating disorder, is this… the church has often been one of the most unsafe places for me.  Rather than pushing away the empire’s view of body in favor of the body of Christ, I have witnessed a church that clings to cultural distortions and then couches their diets and body perfection in theological jargon and scriptural gymnastics.

I come to church hoping to feel safe to share my brokenness and pain with my siblings in Christ, but instead often feel ignored, or deemed less faithful or competent because of how I look.  I come to church hoping to feel welcomed into community, I have found myself surrounded by food while being subjected to our cultural body shaming track about what we should eat, shouldn’t eat, our current diet, or what we will have to do to make up for that cookie or full-fat creamer.  I come to church hoping to encounter God’s unconditional love for me just as I am, but often find myself tangled in a web of law, especially during the season of Lent when we glorify acts of self-denial as the holiness that will bring you closer to Jesus. While I believe that just about anything can work as a genuine and faithful practice for someone, I firmly believe that because of our cultural climate, much of our Lenten language does more harm than good.
Clergy types spend a whole lot of time circling around language fasting and “self emptying” during Lent.  We stand behind our pulpits and Bibles, looking down at the congregation while yelling “REPENT” like we are some kind of extra holy modern day John the Baptist.  Christians spend much of Lent finding ways to hold on to their failed New Year’s Resolution, convinced that this time will be more successful because Jesus is behind it.  We talk of repentance as if everyone is unaware of their shortcomings and their need for control.  I am deeply and painfully aware of the ways my desire for control can keep me captive and the very last thing I should do with that is further self-denial.  Lent is not just about a sanctioned time of corporate shaming.  When we lean too heavily on language and actions of guilt, we twist the pain and dehumanization of the empire into the eucharist, serving up a cultural agenda rather than the life transforming and life sustaining body of Christ.

We have been given a gift, Church.  Our scriptures are absolutely overflowing with a wealth of counter cultural body positive messages.  Our theology is incarnational!  We worship Jesus who slipped into a human body as God with us.  We are reminded of the importance of all members of the body, each with their own structure and purpose, but all imperative to the body’s ability to function in the world.  We are called to a table to taste the goodness of God.  When intertwined with a world that shames, excludes and tears down, living an embodied faith can be painful and complicated.  The whole church will never approach the table all in the same way.  As people come to receive ashes this week, some will already be far more aware of the frailty and “betrayal” of their body than any smudge or pray could remind them of.  So, in this season Lent, let’s explore ways that finding our way back to God might actually look like living into the fullness of who we are claimed as in the waters of baptism.  Let’s lean more heavily on language that builds up, that acknowledges our flaws but looks for daily ways to name God at the center of our lives.  Let us find our way back to a whole and beautiful vision of the body of Christ; a living, breathing, diverse witness of God’s love in action!



Lindsey Beukelman is a ELCA candidate for ministry finishing up her senior year at The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia and preparing for her capstone internship.  She is loves drawing/painting, being outside, and snuggling on the couch with her fabulous partner Brady and fluffy pets.

Dear Church: Why Some Folks Are So Threatened By #decolonizelutheranism?

“Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.” Frederick Douglass

Greetings Church. It’s been a little bit and so much has happened. First #decolonize16 has happened. For all those who attended, watched online, supported in spirit, or donated, thank you. You have my heartfelt gratitude. Often I have felt the urging of the Holy Spirit, but I have ignored Her urgings. Y’all didn’t. Simply put you are my hero’s.

Second, during #decolonize16 we proposed 11 mid-term goals for the movement.  I must be honest I’m loathe to propose midterm goals because liberation is not a check list. Also, often with a check list its easy for the dominant culture to write you off after all is “accomplished.”

Here is a link if you haven’t seen them yet.

 

Third, we announced that #decolonize17 will be at United Seminary. That’s the artist formerly known as The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia to you. Here is a Link to that.

 

Today I want to address something that has been happening since the beginning. Since the birth of this movement within our beloved church. Resistance. At first it was blatant and easy to dismiss.

“A bunch of social justice warriors.”

As someone who has experienced first-hand most the things I write, preach or talk about, that one is the worse. I advocate for the prisoner because I was one. I advocate for the poor and marginalized because I spent years in West Philly praying for a meal at night and over a decade homeless. I talk about #blacklives because I’m living one.  I’m doing this in a country where it has little to no worth attributed to large portions of the population. I could go on, but I always find it disingenuous in the extreme when it comes from mostly white pastors. These same folks  who would lock their car doors in the neighborhood I grew up in. Lower their eyes as they drove through scared to make eye contact with folks. Cowards. Even the POC ones who have something to say negative. Comments like this dismiss my lived experience as some political platform rather than the bloodied and bruised body of Christ my experience is.

Or the communal experience of millions like me stretching back to the Atlantic slave trade.

It is the language of white supremacy couched in church polity.

It is the boot of oppression painted to look like an altar rail.

It is the self-inflicted wounds of other marginalized folks who have come to accept the dominant culture as the only one they have ever known or is right.

This doesn’t mean I don’t think critique is critical. We are discussing something else here, but I’ll get to that.

 

“Why are you Lutheran then?”

It’s funny you know we are so proud of being the first to protest the Church and survive. To thrive. But 500 years later we have become the people who sell indulgences to get butts in the pew. The indulgences look different. They may be shaped like an LBW and a church bully we refuse to battle because of how much they tithe. It may be our portico retirement we aren’t willing to risk by “preaching about another thug’s death.”

“This seems like a bunch of seminarians whining”

Let me translate this for you. You mean the future of the Church, you claim to love. By the way, so was Seminex. We are also PHD’s and Rostered Leaders, and even have the interest and support of a few Bishops but don’t let that stop you. Ageism looks good on you.

 

I could go on but these are examples of blatant resistance. I can only relate this next thing to my lived experience with liberation but the next step will be subtler. It is theological gas lighting, and ecclesiastical dog whistling.

 

It will perhaps look like this. “When was the Gospel about diversity?”

This statement is so intellectually dishonest I’m not even going give it a go. I would suggest this person read about Jesus. Or Acts. Or anything Paul wrote. I mean its stunning in its lack of hermeneutical understanding.

This is the next stage, seemingly innocent comments that don’t mention #decolonize directly but get to the heart of it. Why? Why dog whistle now?

Fear.

 

The edifice is falling. We are rooted in the Gospel, the Augsburg Confessions and the liturgical calendar. Our deep love and abiding respect for the Church is clear to anyone who cares to be honest with themselves and all that is left is fear. Fear that the brown folk maybe taking over. Fear that the queer folk you have lambasted from the pulpit may be your Bishop. Fear that the changes reflected in an ever increasingly diverse and richly beautiful society may be happening in your congregation.

 

You have been begging for the millennials, and the nones, and the unchurched to show up.

They are here.

They are the most interconnected, inclusive generation this country has ever seen and they have seen through your thinly veiled hatred and scriptural warping.

They will be the candidacy committee. They are already on your synod council. They have been elected to Church wide positions.

I think the real fear is they may actually let Jesus in the door.

Lenny Duncan 

 

 

 

You don’t see color.

Yo, homes, lemme holla atcha for a minute.
I gotta tell you a secret.
Shh, com’ere.

your brother’s blood is calling out to you from the ground, but you can’t hear it, because your ears are attached to your eyes, and well,
You “don’t see color.”

You don’t see color.
You don’t see me in all my caramel macciato with an extra shot of mocha deliciousness.
You don’t see me.

You don’t see color, so I know for damn sure that you don’t see my coffee, chocolate, chicory-colored brethren as their blood is pouring out on the ground.

Because their pants sagged
Because their music was too loud.
Because their hoodie made them look like a hood rat.

Because they wouldn’t shut their uppity mouths and just go along to get along.
Because race doesn’t matter, because you don’t see color, because its not discrimination-it’s just that their skin probably blended in too well with the color of the pavement, yeah?

You don’t see color.
Can you see the Son of Man,
See his feet approaching in all their terrifying burnished bronze loveliness?
See that mighty sword he’s got for a tongue?
Nah, me neither.  I think maybe I could? A long long time ago? But, nah-I forgot how.

You don’t see color.
You don’t hear the whispers of your brother’s blood.
“Sing me the song of your people!” You cry.
Siyahamba! Alabare!  We’ll get tambourines and whatnot! You people like tambourines, don’t you?
But not too often. Don’t get used to it. Not often enough that it starts to feel normal. Not often enough that these words, these shouts, these songs might be coming from God’s lips. That’s just a bridge too far.

So we won’t.  We’ll just gather ourselves, our chocolate, caramel, chicory, coffee-colored selves at the river, as we always have done.  Can you see us now, our skin bright shining in the sun?  
We’ll gather, and we’ll take our harps down from the poplars, and we’ll shake our tambourines, and we’ll SING. Just loud enough that you can hear our voices wafting on the breeze.

just shh, be quiet
just shh, be quiet
just shhh, be quiet
you’re protesting too loudly to hear my heart.

Can’t you just be still for a moment and know that I am?
That I am enough?
That I am worthy?
That I am created from the same dirt as you?

That I am Adam.
That I am Holy
That I am Saved. From myself, and from you.

That God-Father, Mother, Creator, Sustainer, Redeemer, Deliverer-bound and bloodied and broken deliverer-that she wears my face, too?

No. Me neither.  I think maybe I could, a long, long time ago, but I forgot how.

But when I am still, when I am really still, when I am wearing my colors and not feeling afraid, I think I know something.  I think I hear…something. Something-a whispered song rising up from the pavement draped in blood.

I think it’s calling your name…In sighs too deep for words.

 

Jessica Davis

Persistence

I’ll tell you what, there’s nothing quite like the opportunity to preach.

At the seminary from which you graduated.

On a vague parable.

About 24 hours in advance.

 

I think this right here could either be attributed to outright insanity or the Holy Spirit. As we’re a people of faith, let’s go with the Spirit and just take it from there.

 

This parable brought up a lot for me in the past 24 hours. In prayer and reflection, I thought of my mother. She became a widow over one year ago, and she’s been trying to navigate this world without her spouse of over 45 years. My brother and I have done everything humanly possible to look after our mom, to make sure she receives just and fair treatment from the institutions and organizations she now has to deal with. My mom immigrated to this country from India when she was 18 and as a newlywed… and if she didn’t have my brother and me… where would she be today? The thought is almost too much to bear, if she had to navigate this present climate on her own, having so much already that defines her as an outsider (like being an immigrant), and she would be then even more on the margins… as a widow without an advocate. She would have no one.

 

A widow with no one. What does this look like in the world of this Gospel lesson?

Commentary after commentary states that this widow is the ultimate loser.

When it comes to telling stories about marginalized people, she’s lowest of the low.

She’s low because, well, she’s just a she.

She doesn’t have a husband or a family to be her advocate and to be her voice.

She has no property.

Theoretically, her community in this city is supposed to take care of her, but that’s all good… in theory.

But there is something amiss.

 

This woman is repeatedly, over and over and over and over, confronting a judge to grant her justice against an opponent. We’re not given much information on this opponent; the title of opponent means there is some form of conflict between them and the widow. Time after time after time the judge is unmoved. But then… the judge’s thoughts run away with him. He outright says to himself, “I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.” If we want to get to the nitty gritty of the translation here, let’s rephrase it to the more honest and more brutal, “I shall avenge her, or she will give me a black eye.” Oh, violence and vengeance. Only when the judge thinks that violence will be inflicted upon him does he decide to finally act, because heaven forbid that violence be inflicted upon those in positions of power? Yet violence has already occurred with the judge; he should have moved to act not upon threat of violence. The judge’s inaction in the face of obvious need is evidence of his own spiritual brokenness. This system of oppression has damaged the judge, too.

 

It is important to state that both the widow and the judge are under God’s purview. Because God’s grace is ultimately unfair, we cannot talk about one being outside God’s grace and the other being the sole recipient. What we must come to understand, especially in situations where we seem to be pitted against one another, where one has offended the other, where one has done damage to the other… the Gospel is still for the widow AND the judge. But what they may hear is different. The Gospel comforts, but if it only comforts, we would be a people of cheap grace. The Gospel also challenges and afflicts. We are a people of both and, simultaneously saint and sinner, and we are to be both challenged and comforted. We cannot simply be mere recipients of grace and not respond to the Gospel message. We are called to respond.

 

But there was something to the widow’s response in her persistence. She kept coming back to the judge. She kept using her voice to advocate for herself. She used the strength of her voice to advocate for her survival. She spoke out, she moved. This was her embodied and Incarnational prayer. This prayer for her survival against her opponent was her life of prayer. In that prayer… we need to be persistent. The lives of our neighbors depend upon it. Our prayer should be that of movement, that of action, that response. If our Lord and Savior was of flesh and blood, that can be the embodiment of our prayer life.

 

If we are to take on this title as reformers and as people of faith, we must realize that there are persistent people in our midst. We are called in our identities to seek justice and to act, even when it takes us to those places of discomfort, and even persecution.

Were it not for the actions of many, that holy moment of 45 years ago would not have happened with women being ordained in our church. Yes, our church.

Were it not for the actions of many, some sitting in this chapel today, that holy moment of the vote in 2009 for LGBTQ+ siblings in committed relationships to be ordained would not have happened in our church. Yes, our church.

 

Oh, siblings in Christ, our need for persistence is not over, by any means. We are still called to reform; we’re at this time in our history, looking back on our almost 500 years of being reformers, but are we looking forward? Are we even aware of what’s happening around us today? Are we hearing the cries of the present day widows around us? There are people who are repeatedly coming to the judge, over and over and over and over. Are we truly hearing them, but more importantly, are we acting on them out of response to God’s love and grace? Don’t just hear those stories and those narratives that are not your own. Do not be complacent; we are being called to use these bodies. We cannot look away. We cannot sit idly by.

This is #decolonizeLutheranism.

This is #BlackLivesMatter, why we must #SayTheirNames.

This is #Pulse.

This is a litany that goes on and on and on where we have siblings who have been crying out and demanding justice for far too long because their blood screams to us from the ground. Do not let your inaction be your action, thereby denying righteous justice.

 

We are called into action, into persistence, into an active, lived, and embodied prayer. I do not know how this will look for you; that is a conversation you have to undertake with your siblings in Christ and with God.

We are not called to give into the conforming nature of this world.

We are not called to give into the conforming nature of Empire, which will constrict us… and kill us.

 

We cannot look away from one another.

We are intertwined with one another; we are accountable to one another. That was professed to us in our baptisms, that we belong to God… AND we belong to one another.

We’re called to do something. We’re called into a form of action. We’re learning that people’s identities, people’s lives are very much depending on how we act… or how we do not act.

 

Your prayer is your action… let your action be your prayer.

 

Go. Do. The crucified and risen Christ is with you in the midst of all of it.

 

The Rev. Tuhina Rasche
@tvrasche