My energy has been low, and, frankly, kind of sad and heavy these last few weeks. Yesterday was Good Friday, and I wasn’t looking forward to a day of church services focused on the agony of Jesus’ death. But instead, I found fresh air. At … Continue reading A breath of fresh air
Four walls and a cross, a font and a table might be important, but they aren’t much if we aren’t bringing God’s good news to where people are, to where it is desperately needed. And I think especially right now, we need to remember the many ways Jesus went to the people. He went to the people who were suffering. People who were sick in need of healing. People who were outcast, who were untouchable. He provided food for the hungry. Good news for the poor. Setting the oppressed free. If we are to take seriously what it means to be Christian, to follow Christ, we need to take these words very seriously.
Mary, the mother of Jesus, is hands-down one of the most fascinating people in all history. Praised and doubted, her integrity questioned not only in her own life time (Matthew 1:19) but also in ours, Christmas is the time of year when the Church ponders her the most. However, in a special pre-Christmas post, Sarah Degner Riveros shares with […]
I do “nice” really well.
I have friends who are pretty sure there’s not a mean bone in my body.
And once I dated a woman who told me she just wanted to see me finally get angry. I’m pretty sure she could tell that I bottle up my anger. But then, when I did finally dare show my anger, just a little, we ended up breaking up just days later.
So much for positive reinforcement.
I’m a hospital chaplain. I can witness anger and grief and despair and rage, and generally stay pretty calm and grounded. But I don’t have a clue what to do with my own anger … often I can’t even quite identify it, and usually it comes out in tears.
Sometimes it also comes out in cursing. Usually to myself, and to God.
And for the last couple days I’ve been thinking a lot about anger and language and expression, and how I manage the tension between not wanting to offend, wanting to keep spaces of discourse open so that as many voices can hear and be heard as possible, and yet also recognizing that sometimes the offensive language IS the language to express deep frustration, anger, despair, grief.
Far too often those of us who prefer to stay comfortable have shut down the voices of those who have needed to speak a very real, very important message of grief, injustice, righteous anger. And when I shut down that anger, it’s a way of distancing my self and “othering” someone else, keeping myself apart — insulated — from their pain and anger in a way that also can dishonor their pain.
The Lutheran Church tends to do a pretty spectacular job of this kind of nice that avoids all conflict. Even my (Catholic) hospital system has a culture of “Providence nice.” Jesus, however, didn’t operate that way.
As I write this, the second day of the season of Advent is coming to a close. This is my favorite season of the church year, the four weeks preceding Christmas, a time of preparation, of waiting, of sitting in the darkness watching for signs of hope. This is a season of trying to comprehend the insanity of God loving the world so much as to show up in our midst as a fragile infant, born to a poor, young, unmarried mom, and leaping into all the messiness and brokenness of people and politics and relationships.
This Advent, I’m following a devotion series on the theme #FuckThisShit.
You’ll find Day 2, by Alisha Gordon, here.
Rev. Tuhina Rasche, one of the pastors who conceptualized this series of devotions, says this:
There is a deep need to express one’s self on a visceral level. After a tremendous experience such as the death of a loved one, an act of betrayal, an experience of righteous anger, or a sense that something is not right with the world, there are many people who yearn for a way to communicate something they feel deep within their souls. Communicating such a deep emotion cannot be accompanied by flowery and polite language; if anything, the language that accompanies such emotions communicates a rawness and a sense of being both literally and figuratively torn open. There is a desire for God to rend the heavens, to have things torn open to enter into the world. Like the heavens being torn open in Mark’s Gospel at Jesus’ baptism. Or like Christ’s flesh being torn at the crucifixion… and bearing those scars in the resurrection, giving validity to our hopes, yearnings, and anguish.
We are not using #FuckThisShit to be edgy or radical. We are not using this to be “cool.” We are using these words because they are troubling. They are unsettling. They are being used to move us from places of complacency. If anything, we are using these words to reflect the brokenness of the humanity in which we live. We are using these words to reflect a deep sense of heartbreak and yearning to be in restored relationship with one another, and to be in restored relationship with God. We are using these words to call out for Christ to come again …
To be very clear, this choice of language is not a response to the inconsequential — a scratched car, not getting concert tickets, finding sausage on your vegetarian pizza. It is a response to waking up again this morning to news of an active shooter on the Ohio State campus. To the long litany of names of African American men and women who have been killed in what should be routine traffic stops. To the reality that we have a president-elect who has said vile, offensive things to and about women, Muslims, immigrants … and if I were a Muslim immigrant woman (and I work with many of them), whether I would actually say it or not, I would want to say #FuckThisShit.
I will be forever grateful to feminist Christian ethicist Beverly Wildung Harrison for all I learned from her essay, “The Power of Anger in the Work of Love.” She writes,
“Anger is not the opposite of love. It is better understood as a feeling-signal that all is not well in our relation to other persons or groups or to the world around us. Anger is a mode of connectedness to others and it is always a vivid form of caring.” She goes on to write, “Where anger rises, there the energy to act is present.”
Yes, anger can be destructive and lead to harm. But it also can push us to work for change and justice and a more loving world where all are welcome.
And as I work as a hospital chaplain, and look around at the state of the world, I am increasingly convinced that one of the most important growing edges for us is to increase our ability to tolerate discomfort.
The more comfortable we are, the more we need to get used to discomfort, learn how we respond to it, learn how to stay grounded and loving even when we’re in the midst of chaos, pain, uncertainty.
Not long ago I sat in the family room of our Emergency Department, with a woman who had just learned her husband had died. When she found out I was a chaplain, she immediately said “I don’t want to talk religion.” We didn’t. What she did do, over the following hours, was grieve, curse, and tell stories about a man who “If he loved you, you knew it,” and who used “fuck” as both noun and verb, “as fuck” as his most common adjective, and so on. And that was time was absolutely sacred ground.
There’s no question that this series of Advent devotions won’t be for everyone. That’s fine. But as I watch it spread over Facebook and notice the responses, I’m noticing it reaching a lot of people. Many of whom are not, and will not be the churched.
The woman in the ER wanted nothing to do with religion or church. But I’d also bet she lives with an assumption that “Church” wants nothing to do with her.
And that is where my fears lie for the church … not that we’ll become a place where “fuck” and “shit” have a regular place in our litanies or preaching, but that we’ll (continue to) be a place where those who are hungry for some hope or some love in the midst of violence, poverty, abuse, despair will never feel they can bring their whole selves. A place where those who bring their whole selves, in vulnerability, rawness, brokenness, will be told they need to change to keep us comfortable, rather than be welcomed, and chance that we all may be transformed.
It is my hope that there will be more places where we can be honest about our anger, regardless of the language, and truly be heard. That change may come, along with balm for the wounded places we carry.
I expect to be uncomfortable this Advent season. Hell, I’ve been uncomfortable all year for a variety of reasons. I hope that discomfort will also push my creativity, my prayers, my writing, and whoever it is that God is currently calling forth from me. I’m grateful for this opportunity to engage the discomfort.
Meanwhile, I’m still pondering how I’ll write about and talk about this on Facebook. I’d rather have you read it than turn away because of the language. And, the language matters. For the record, there’s also a profanity-free version of the prompts titled #RendTheHeavens.
“Oh, that the Christmas miracle of God-in-a-manger wouldn’t be
just a one-time magic trick.
Because god we could use a Christmas miracle these days
because by now the ice and the snow and the darkness are
already old friends but we haven’t even
reached the darkest day yet.
And I’m scared. And I am bleeding. And I am tired.
Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down…”
You can read the rest of Micah Martin’s Advent Psalm of Lament (inspiration for the devotion series) here.
Meanwhile, I’ll keep writing. Might tag it #FuckThisShit. Might tag it #RendTheHeavens. Maybe #FTS/#RTH. But however I tag it, may my writing be honest and vulnerable and Spirit-led.
May we be blessed with discomfort in these darkest days, and also be surprised by hope, by connection, by the unexpected.
The path is longer than you think. And when you think you’re nearly to the center, suddenly you find yourself on the outside again.
I’m excited about the future, and feeling inspired.
That’s probably not how most of us tend to feel after two days of meetings. But yesterday was filled with inspiration and hope for the future, listening to students talk about their passion for justice and for meeting their neighbors and making sure people know about a loving God (as opposed to the mean, judgmental God of “No” and “Don’t” that gets all the press).
And it’s not often that I get so caught up in a sermon that I had to take notes, but Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary student Cassandra Chavez inspired me to grab a pen and jot things down. She talked about two types of stories we tell about change — we tell about how good things were back in the old days, and how we wish we could go back there. And we also tell the stories about the legacies we’ve left and the excitement, potential and possibility of what is to come. She was very clear that “narratives of glory” aren’t necessarily wrong, but they’re incomplete. The “good old days” were never good for everybody.
As an example, she quoted a Bay Area pastor passionate about the Black Lives Matter movement, who asks about what the “good old days” were like. Those days when prayer took place in schools? Well, he wasn’t permitted in those schools. That story is incomplete.
But we do leave powerful legacies. Important legacies, and that’s something to be proud of. That is something that can shape our values and passions and stories, pointing us to something new, something creative, an as-yet unimagined future.
I loved the “Oscar Romero Prayer,” composed by Bishop Ken Untener of Saginaw that she referred back to:
It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view.
The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision…
We plant the seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise…
We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.
My seminary is undergoing a lot of change. We are now Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary of California Lutheran University, embedded in a university rather than being a freestanding seminary. And the plan is that beginning next fall, the campus will relocate to downtown Berkeley, in a space across from City Hall where everyone will be able to be gathered in one place, and where students, faculty and staff will be immersed in the comings and goings, protests and excitement and struggles of the city.
Grieving what is lost is an important part of moving through change. But let us also not lose sight of the possibilities and potential ahead.
I graduated from PLTS in 2000. I’ve long loved this beautiful campus on a hill. But it always felt far away from the world, often too far, and too set apart. It was fantastic to hear the excitement and enthusiasm from both students and faculty as they prepare and anticipate the potential of this move. As they reflect on what place means and how it shapes us. As they look forward to being better equipped for justice, for learning to connect with the neighbor.
ELCA Lutherans have been known as a Northern European, largely white, highly educated church. And more and more, we don’t match the neighborhoods we inhabit. I’m so excited to see what these new leaders will bring as we strive to make deeper connections and roots in the places we are, connecting to our neighbors, learning and growing and serving. We will look different. I’m pretty sure that’s how God calls us to be.
Theological education will need to look different in the coming years as well, and I’m so proud to be part of a school that takes that very seriously, where faculty are collaborative, where there is a clear commitment to a just world and a future of hope.
We members of the PLTS Advisory Board spent our day listening to the stories of students and staff. We heard about their excitement about the opportunities that come with being in the midst of Berkeley, encountering people in new ways, having a smaller carbon footprint, experiencing diversity more powerfully. Learning to manage change, and to reflect more deeply about the power and connection of place — something my Alaska Native brothers understand much more intuitively and deeply than I have, a topic I yearn to explore more.
And finally, it was great to catch up with some of the incredible PLTS professors, scholars passionate about justice and collaboration. I love that the seminary is exploring ways to better equip students to do ministry with Spanish-speaking peoples.
The future is bright and exciting. As Cassandra Chavez said to us, “We are children of the resurrection, of a future we cannot see yet.” I’m proud to support PLTS. Will you?
It’s not often that I quote the 19th chapter of Leviticus, but here goes: When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. THe alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you … Continue reading Welcoming the Stranger