Sacred Soil

On Fundraising and Ice Water
August 20, 2014, 3:58 pm
Filed under: Weeds

I was once a fundraiser, sending out hundreds of thousands of pieces of mail to people, hoping that a mere 2% of them would open the mail and return a check.(1) The odds were never good, and often it cost well more to acquire a donor than we raised. It was a frustrating business, as we sought out the best way to get people to give money to a cause we knew they supported.

I got into it because I believe it is good for us to give our money away. And, to be honest, I needed a job. But it’s true, when we give away our money we are investing in a world far beyond our grasp, we’re investing in the hope that things can be better for others, not just ourselves. Generosity changes us, and makes us better people.

But that message is hard to get out. I currently serve as co-chair of an awesome organization, Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries, that affirms & supports lgbtq rostered leaders in the Lutheran church, because we believe God’s love is for everyone, and we are called to seek justice together. We do some awesome work. You should check it out: Thing is, raising money for this great work is hard, mostly because folks don’t know we exist. And if they do know about us, folks don’t realize they can make a difference with just a bit of money.

So, I’m imagining that the folks at the ALS Association are flabbergasted at how well this meme has done for them. The return on investment is huge. I’m happy for them and their bit of luck. It also makes me wonder what kind of meme-fundraiser we might get going for Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries. Perhaps we could plant elm trees… Plant an elm, or give ELM $50. (That works. Let’s get started on that…)

But, we live in an age where we rather enjoy sandblasting every idea with the fine granules of our criticism, rendering us all slightly scarred and annoyed.

The ice water challenge is a waste of water.
Dumping water to avoid generosity?
This merely serves the egos of those filming themselves.

I can imagine that in drought-stricken areas, or for folks who walk 5 miles just to get drinking water, the opulence of a bucket of ice water is too much. And It seems counter intuitive that people make a show of not having to be generous (yet this meme has led to greater generosity). We should talk about these things–especially if we can do it without the grating judgment of those who’ve decided they know the best answer.

But, I find the judgment about ego a bit too much, and terribly naive.

Most of our fundraising is about ego. Indeed, the more one can connect with the ego of a person, the more you’ll raise. That’s just basic fundraising. Is that good? Frankly, no. But, it may just be the human condition, or our current human condition.

People give to the Art Museum because they want to be known as donors to the Art Museum. The parties are great, and your name gets listed with the most prestigious people in town. It’s about ego.

People like to buy chicks or pigs or goats, because they like the story, the idea that they’re giving something they’ve decided someone else needs. It feels good to imagine your generosity in the form of a cow in Africa, rather than trusting people to use the money as they determine would work best for them. It’s about ego.

People put up plaques to commemorate their generosity (oh how I remember the pain of trying to get every name just right– is it Mr. and Mrs. or Mr. and Ms., or Ms. and Mr., or are we forgoing titles altogether? And, are you even going to remember how you asked to be listed once we hang the plaque?). Right now in my church we have a plaque on the refrigerator. I’ve seen them on microwaves and lamp posts. How does spending money on a strange bit of metal help the cause? It’s about ego.

So, people pouring ice water over their heads, well, yes, it is ego. And so is most of our fundraising work.

Altruistic generosity is rare. It’s a problem in our society. We demand to be thanked, we demand to approve all the ways our funds are used. We give with strings, indeed, ropes, attached. A free gift is rare–exceedingly rare. But, wouldn’t it be great if we could cultivate that kind of generosity?

Perhaps instead of judging each other for the ways we feed our fragile egos, perhaps we could instead plant seeds that foster true generosity? That’ll involve putting away the sandblaster, and entering the world with kindness, trust, and curiosity. It’ll involve hearing other’s stories of generosity, and celebrating them. It’ll involve looking at why our egos are so fragile, and it’ll require we do that with compassion. And, perhaps it will also involve anonymously sending money to that community organization down the street, expecting nothing in return.

Anonymous always was my favorite donor.

What ideas do you have for cultivating altruistic generosity?

Matthew 6:17-18.


(1) I now repent of my tree-killing ways–which only adds to my frustration about how hard it is to do good fundraising.

My Advice to Experts: Stop
April 28, 2014, 7:45 pm
Filed under: Weeds

I’d love to give you a list of the 15, or even the 115 things that you should start doing right now to save the world. I’d even do the research to give the list a snazzy title that might inspire a bit of click-bait. But, I’m a realist, and perhaps a bit of a cynic. Because, if you sent me just such a list, I’d respond by picking it apart and daring, “Why don’t you make me?” But that’s my issue, I’m not very compliant when I’m told what to do.

Though, I’m pretty sure I’m not the only obstinate person in the room. I think most of us fall into that category, exhausted from the steady tide of people declaring what we should and shouldn’t do. In response, most of us either opt out, or strive to be deemed an Expert so that we can do the declaring.

On one extreme is the comfy position of non-expert, plaintively tossing one’s hands in the air. “There’s nothing that I can do that’ll really matter,” they say.  “I don’t know enough, or even where to begin.”

The expert then rises to the challenge at that other extreme– she writes that article: 15 things you can do right now to save the world and stop killing us all. Sometimes the expert will acquire degrees, or claim to have read 20x more books than others. But, that’s not required. All that expert status requires is a bit of gumption and the capacity to make declarative sentences with conviction. Someone must take a stand! And so, the expert, made bold by the need, rises up to take on the world.

Neither extreme is terribly helpful. Though, I’m not going to argue for a position in the middle. I’m not sure what that would even be, other than annoying. Rather, I’ll argue for a different paradigm altogether.

And it begins with my plaintive cry into the whirlwind: Stop acting as if you are doing this alone.

Please. Stop. You who throw up your hands in despair at your inability. Yes, if you were doing it on your own, of course, you’d never be able to figure it all out. And certainly, you’d never really be able to accomplish much.

And you, you who claim to be an “expert” or even if you pretend to be one, stop. Please. You may be right. Your analysis may be perfect. But, if you’re doing this on your own, if you are the most right person in the room, or if you disdain everyone else who hasn’t come around to your analysis…. well, then it doesn’t matter how right you are. You cannot, by your own force of will, change the world with the volume of your opinions.

But the problem with both of you is that you seem to have forgotten, we’re in this together. We are not a bunch of mere individuals acting in private spheres. We are intimately connected. So, let’s move forward as if we believed that were true. Because I do believe, if we did, we’d get so much more done.

So here’s my advice for the experts and non-experts of the world. I’ll limit it to three–though you know I could go on.

1).  Listen with compassion to the people around you. Even when they annoy you. Listen for what breaks their heart. Listen for what brings them joy. Listen for the places of hope, the places of despair. Treat these stories like they matter. Then ask, how do their stories connect to your own? Can you work together on that?

2). Believe in the extraordinary wisdom of a group of people who feel they are heard. The most sacred spaces I have known have been the places where a people have come together because they have truly heard each other. This hearing connects people, leads them away from isolation, and ignites a passion to make true and meaningful change in the world. There is no stopping a group of people who truly feel heard.

3). It’s not about you. Please, get over yourself. You are important, loved, and special. You’re just not more important than everyone else in the room. It is about us, about our shared humanity. Please share. Please trust the humanity of all of us. Let us do it together.

Indeed, let’s do this together, because there is too much heartbreak in the world, too much pain. And none of us should try to bear that alone.

Monday of Holy Week: Beauty & Judgment
April 14, 2014, 4:46 pm
Filed under: Weeds

John 12:1-12

Six days before the Passover, Judas is angling for money. He’s upset that Mary has poured out a costly perfume on Jesus’ feet, when those funds could be used for the poor. Or, rather, to line his pockets.

Setting aside his true desire to pilfer that money, Judas’ question seems worth asking. Why, when there is so much suffering, should we spend our money to fill the house with the smell of perfume?

When I was a child, my mother had this uncanny ability to rent the cheapest home in the best school district. She budgeted tightly, making most our food from scratch, urging us to eschew current fashion. We lived a fairly simple life, though I’m sure there were many places for us to save money. But, for many in my neighborhood, the calculations were different. In their nicer homes, money cushioned life. Budgets were important, but things like purchasing brand-name shoes required little, if any, thought. Many never had to question why the little label at the back of their shoe was so important.

But, I remember well, coveting that little blue label on the back of my white canvas shoes. I’d even drawn it in with blue ink. My peers were not impressed.

Judas’ question carries different weight for me when asked of my mother, vs. my former neighbors. And, that’s me being a bit judgy. And if I’m honest, I want to urge Judas to keep asking when I have decided folks are being wasteful. But, I want him to lay off when he’s talking about my mom.

I could assume a bit of moral superiority here–because we know that there’s a lot of waste in the world. But, it would be short-lived. Eventually, I succumbed, using my own money to buy a pair of name-brand shoes, with a real blue label in the back. And I did it for the singular desire that my peers would leave me alone. This isn’t just a jr. high student’s strategy–over and over again, folks make choices about what they buy not based simply on their physical needs, but on what will garner respect. Because, it’s a pretty simple equation we often forget: you’re not going to be able to earn more money if folks don’t respect you when you walk in the door.

And that’s what’s so maddening about Judas’ question. It attempts to create a clear pathway: caring for the poor is right, perfume is wrong. But, the reality is that the pathway is not so clear. The reasons we purchase things are complex–and figuring out right and wrong is rarely simple. I could give you 20 examples of how we’ve attempted to “help” poor folks that have completely backfired, and I could give you several examples of how even the simplest purchases we make undermine some of our most basic values.

And, I don’t know if Mary purchased the perfume from a locally sourced artist who created the scents in small batches, selling them at a cost that allowed a modest living wage. The text doesn’t tell us that. But, I do know that the moment was stunning–the room filled with the smell, the one who would die, anointed and prepared for his dying. It was overpowering, and beautiful. Beautiful for the wholeness of the story, beautiful for the devotion and care.

It is my hope that as we enter into this Holy Week, that we would know the scent of this beauty. May this beauty prepare us as well, filling our nostrils with the intensity of it. Because Holy Week is not a time for the judgment of right practice–but a moment to behold the enormity of this beautiful story, a story that is more complex than we can imagine. A story that will leave us forever changed.

On why Methodist clergy blessing same-sex couples are amazing…
November 15, 2013, 6:56 pm
Filed under: Weeds

115I don’t remember the date we were “unioned” in Illinois. It was sometime in June of 2011. It was a lovely little picnic for us, but nothing big and extravagant. We’d had our fantastic wedding. And it was fantastic. I’ll have to tell you about it some time. But that wedding was back in 2004, and so, the process of signing our civil union paperwork was just that, paperwork. Well, for us at least.

I’m a pastor, and my partner is a pastor, and at the time we lived in seminary housing, and all our friends are and were pastors. We were overwhelmed by the number of dear friends who could sign our paperwork, and we couldn’t figure out how to choose. So, we decided that we’d opt for the Biblical method of casting lots. We invited the eligible folks to put their name in a Solo cup, from which our daughter would draw a name.

For the Lutheran and Episcopalian pastors that day, writing their names was easy. Even joyful. They giddily vied for better luck, all hoping to put their names down on our meager paperwork. The Methodists though, well that was a different story. Writing their names on a little slip of paper meant risk. For some of them it meant risking their whole career on some sort of strange lottery, where the cost of winning was very real. Too real.

We tried to make sure our Methodist friends understood we didn’t expect them to put their names in the cup. In the Methodist tradition it is possible to be brought up on charges for presiding at union or marriage of a same-sex couple. The consequences range from suspension to de-frocking. The Lutherans and Episcopalians had nothing to fear, and indeed in our area, there might have been a bonus prize rendered in bragging rights. There were plenty of clergy around to sign, and we wouldn’t have received their lack of participation negatively. We didn’t want to ask anyone to pit their careers against our paperwork. But, they all did. And clearly, they’d all thought about it, prayed about it. This wasn’t meager paperwork for them.

And so each friend pridefully wrote down their names, trying to fold the paper in such a way that a 2 year-old might prefer their slip of paper. And then we handed the cup to our daughter, who pulled out a name. She drew out a Lutheran.

And our Lutheran friend was joyful and celebratory. She was excited, and we were pleased. I might even say relieved, relieved that our Methodist friends were able to offer their willingness, without having to endure the risk. I thought it was the best possible outcome.

That is until I looked at the face of the one who took the most risk by putting in his name. I don’t actually know what he was thinking, but I saw in his face a look of disappointment and sadness. He quickly rallied to the joy of the moment, because that is what we do at these events. But, I must say that I was extremely touched by that act of love, that act of risk, the willingness to lay down his career, his life, for his friends.

I’m glad he didn’t lose his career, because he is doing important and beautiful ministry. It’s work that needs doing. And I know that over and over again he stands up for families like mine. But, that look in his eyes at that moment gives me a sense of the love and the commitment that all the other Methodist ministers have taken on as they married same-sex couples. It is an amazing thing to provide the ministry necessary, especially when the costs are great. It is a profound act of love and generosity to offer up one’s life for the sake of their friends. And it is a rare thing indeed.

And that’s all lovely and beautiful in the abstract. But, it wasn’t abstract. This was my meager paperwork. My marriage. My family. Our dear friend determined that his career was worth the risk to bless us, to stand up for us. He was willing to take on injustice, so that we might have some justice of our own. And even these years later, I still sit in awe of that courage and love. Utter awe.

And so my heart is full, as I watch the other Methodist clergy who are standing up today, willing to take those same risks. This is no abstract act of disobedience. Indeed, it may just be that there is no greater love than this.

This is what privilege looks like
July 31, 2013, 6:01 pm
Filed under: Weeds

We’re a one-car family, though we do occasionally aspire to guzzle more gas. I’d like to say we’re frugal, Eco-conscious people, but the reality is that we just can’t afford another car. So, on the days when we need a second car, I find my way to the local car rental place. They know me well in the office, greeting me with a friendly handshake. They always ask how I’m doing. I feel comfortable there, especially now that they know better than to try to up-sell me.

A few months ago, I rented a car and headed on over to the the West side of Chicago for a few church supplies. When I came back out to the car, a police officer was hovering over the vehicle, ready to write a ticket. I quickly looked around, examining all the signs. I saw nothing wrong. Confused and anxious, I approached her and asked what was going on.

She was gentle and kind, noting that the registration on the vehicle had expired. She then walked to the front of the vehicle and noticed that the car was designated as a rental. She pointed at the sticker and said, “Here, this car is a rental, so the registration is not your responsibility. Hand this off to the agency and they’ll take care of it.”

I was relieved, though annoyed. This isn’t the first time I’ve rented a car with an expired registration. Now, I’ve learned to check that before leaving the lot. The company paid for the ticket, apologized, and gave me a discount on the rental.

A month or two later, back at the rental agency, I was sitting in the office waiting. I don’t quite remember why. Rental offices often involve a lot of waiting. While I sat playing with my phone, an African American woman was pacing the floor. She was agitated, worried about her schedule, wondering how long it would take the office to have a new car ready for her. She mentioned that she needed to get a new car because the car she’d rented had an expired registration.

I commiserated. “Oh, how frustrating. I’ve been there,” I told her. And then she told me the story of how it came to be that she found out about the expired registration. And then I realized, I hadn’t been there at all. I had been in the land where white skin means these things, though frustrating, are easily resolved. All it cost me was 5 minutes and a smile. It wasn’t so easy for her.

She was on the same side of town when a police officer discovered her registration expired. He then asked for the rental papers, which she had accidentally left at home. Apparently, he didn’t bother to look at the “rental” sticker, or if he had, it didn’t matter to him. He told her, “We’ve seen a lot of thefts in this area, so I need to see those papers.” My police officer never even thought to suggest such a thing to me.

And then, rather than take her to her home, where she could produce the papers, they took her to the police station where they held her for three hours. Three hours. How long does it take to call the rental office? Run by her home? How long does it take to show someone a little dignity?

What cost me 5 minutes, cost her 3 hours and a huge dose of humiliation. And then she had to return the car and get a new one.

She was mad. I’d have been mad too. She had a right to be very angry, but the young men in the office couldn’t look her in the eye. They couldn’t bring themselves to say, “I’m sorry.” They merely took the ticket and walked around her as if she were a bomb that might explode if you showed an ounce of kindness.

As they prepared to go out to the new car, she asked, “Is the sticker updated on this one?” The young man said, “Yes” with a a huff, incredulous that she’d asked. Then they both stepped outside to the car for the closing rituals. Two minutes later, he was back inside, searching for the new sticker. Apparently, she was right to ask.

When I was talking with this woman, I got the sense that this sort of thing felt “normal” to her. I suppose my experience felt “normal” to me as well. I expected that the officer would be nice, that the rental place would apologize, that my time would be valued. She expected the opposite.

This is what privilege looks like. This is what happens when the world assumes that just because I’m white that I’m not going to steal a car. The world assumes that I require an apology when I’m wronged. They assume I am entitled to a discount. I don’t think that any of these folks intended to mistreat this woman–but by responding to their implicit assumptions about who she was, and what she deserved, what should have been an apology for a careless mistake, turned into an opportunity to deny her dignity and respect.

Hearing, in the Biblical Sense
July 16, 2013, 5:44 pm
Filed under: Weeds

The past few weeks, the news has been difficult. I’ve felt strong emotional responses, but every word I have to say seems inadequate. Yet that’s just how these things go. To speak is to risk saying the wrong thing, being misunderstood, being overzealous, being too real, to add too much to the cacophony of all the others who feel they’ve got to say something too. But, in the end, I’ve decided that silence would be worse. It would be collusion, denial, abdication. And, on the balance, it seems more worthwhile to risk myself than to deny the other.

Here’s what I know: on this Tuesday afternoon in July, white folks can let racism slide. We can let the realities of Travon Martin’s too-short life slip into the background. We can lay aside the Supreme Court’s verdict on the voting rights act. We can wonder, “maybe this really isn’t about race?” We can go on with our lives as if nothing has changed. We will now resume our regularly scheduled life– we may even indulge in the wish that the news might move on to something else.

It will. Very soon. Before we know it, the airwaves will be silenced, filled with the news of a royal baby, or the next natural disaster, or congress failing to govern, again. The media has already determined there is no will to fix the voting rights act, no will to repeal the “stand your ground laws.” And so, soon enough, we will stop hearing about it.

Saturday morning, hours before the jury rendered their decision on George Zimmerman, a group from our church gathered together to learn the art of the one-to-one conversation. This is a community organizing principle started through the work of Saul Alinsky, a Chicago activist who organized communities to make their lives better. As we gathered, I know that most of the folks entered with a feeling of trepidation. Why would we do this? What’s our goal here? Do you really expect us to go out and do this?

A one-to-one is a natural, yet uncommon conversation, wherein we learn the passions, values, and motivations of the other. The goal is to listen and hear– not in a passive way, as if the other person were merely data, but doing our best to hear in the way that our God hears. Throughout scripture, when we learn that God has heard us things change. Radically. Hagar and Ishmael are rescued in the desert, the Israelites are freed from slavery, and the Isrealites are given manna as they wander toward Canaan. Through this listening, lives are changed, possibilities created, and hope is born.

One of our group worried about these meetings, wondering if they were merely self-serving. She asked, isn’t it manipulative to go out into the world seeking others stories for our own purpose? And she’s right—that is manipulative (and often my main worry about the art of community organizing). But, that’s also not really listening and hearing. Rather, we go out to hear these stories as a way to understand the heartbreak and the joy of our community, to respond to these things with all the human compassion we can muster. We go out, so that we can understand how God is at work amongst us, and where God is calling us next.

I wanted to do this project for a few reasons. First, I’m fairly convinced that this is a necessary skill for the viability of the church. We’ve got to be deeply connected to our community if we are going to have any integrity about our understanding of the Gospel. In most places, this is the work of the pastor. Indeed, many of my friends and colleagues spend their days doing these meetings. I do them too. But, I’m trying an experiment here, hoping that this can become the work of the church, rather than the work of the pastor. I am inspired by the vision of a church that cares so passionately for its community that it longs to hear the stories those who live here… that is, hearing, in the biblical sense.

Secondly, I am tired of programs that long to bring folks in the doors. If I’m honest, the truth is, I can’t stand them. There are certainly exceptions, but too often churches develop these long lists of programs and events that are completely divorced from real hearing & listening. We divide our programs into mission and fellowship, or (when separated from biblical hearing) we do fixing and fun. I suppose I’m all for fun, but I am curious about a church that exists just for the fun if its members– is that really church? And, what business do we have creating programs to fix others when we do not know the heartbreak and joy of our community? What business do we have in fixing others if we cannot really hear others?

Wouldn’t it be beautiful to be a part of a church known for compassionate listening and meaningful action? Wouldn’t it be beautiful to really be the extended body of Christ, a community that rejoices when one member rejoices, and a community that mourns when one member mourns.

We have days like that. We do. This church we’ve got is amazing. But, I am convinced we can do more. We’re called to do more. And it’s weeks like last week that prove this. The fact that we continue on, business as usual, while mothers again are compelled to have “the talk” with their young sons—that talk where they advise on how not to get shot by someone who may fear them. We continue on, business as usual, while state after state limits voting rights of the poor and people of color, simply because they can. It is as if our ears have closed, shut off from the cries of our neighbors.

It is time that we listen. It is time that we hear, in the biblical sense. And I don’t mean in a get-to-it-when-you-can sort of way. I mean this with all the urgency I can muster.

If I could beg of you one thing, I’d ask that you take some time this week to listen to the voices of people of color, listen to their rage and their pain and their hope and their joy. Listen and hear and let their stories rub against the reality you live, the reality you think you know. Don’t fix it, explain it, rationalize it, or even understand it. Hold it as real, and whole, the cherished gift of story.

And then, after you’ve listened, let’s talk. Let’s figure out how we really hear, together.


Here are a few places to start:

Finding Your Roots: John Lewis & Cory Booker. A great way to hear the story of the voting rights act and the people who fought for it.

Becoming Trustworthy White Allies. It starts with doing our own work.

Life is never so simple as black, white, straight, gay. I do so appreciate the beautiful work at Black Girl Dangerous and the ways they name the joy and pain of life in words beyond expectation.

We make assumptions about others without even knowing it. And then, we have this way of denying that we do it, or making excuses for that reality. Part of our work is to get real about this. Taking the Harvard Implicit response test is one way to start getting real.






The Trouble with Being Progressive
June 6, 2013, 4:35 pm
Filed under: Weeds | Tags: , ,

Newton’s first law declares that an object in motion will remain in motion until acted upon by a force. This is the law that describes how a ball will effortlessly sail through the air, until it collides with dirt, or a bat, or the catcher’s mitt. It’s one of those laws that we scarcely need to name, as it seems so obvious to our existence.

As a child, I had a lovely relationship with Newton’s first law, pushing down the streets on my little roller skates. The thing about roller skates, and my six-year-old self, well, I never really seemed to get a handle on how to account for the moments when I would be “acted upon by a force.” Gravity, gravel, the wall, my clumsy feet–invariably, I would be caught by surprise, my graceless gliding halted suddenly by the reality that there were many forces that lingered near, just waiting to act upon my body in motion. Fortunately, we always had a good stash of band aids.

These days, Newton’s law has me sailing forward. Gliding, now gracefully, on the joy and astonishment of tremendous victories that have profoundly changed my life. In 1997, I came out as a lesbian in the days just after my state had tried to pass a law banning the discussion of anything related to homosexuality in our public schools. While the measure did not pass, I remember well the violence, the fear, the vitriol hurling about. In those days, it seemed to me that claiming my identity as a white lesbian meant subjecting myself to the forces that would continually act upon my freedom. It was a frightening time.

And then, three years later, against all logic, I decided to become a pastor. I knew in this decision that these forces would press upon me, and that finding my calling would mean getting creative about my momentum, searching out new places and ways to launch forward. At the time, it seemed clear, like a law of physics, I was not going to be able to follow this calling in the standard way. The church had uttered a bellowing “no,” to my gifts for ministry.

But, it turned out differently. Somewhere along the way, our society began to cherish the mutuality of relationships. It happened quite a while back. (For more on this check out Stephanie Coonz’ book: Marriage, A History: From Obedience to Intimacy, or How Love Conquered Marriage) And from this dramatic shift, we launched a movement toward justice that has been utterly astounding. It took awhile to gain momentum, but there are days it seems that this movement is a rocket ship launched into history. In the 16 years since I came out, as a white lesbian, I have experienced an astounding shift from fearing violence and enduring jeers, to a steady rain of laws, and policy changes, and attitude shifts that have meant that I am now functionally married (come on Illinois, figure this out), I’ve got a beautiful daughter, many legal protections, and mostly, I don’t fear walking around holding my partner’s hand. And, most astoundingly, I am a pastor, ordained in a blessedly ordinary way. It is as if I am moving ever closer to that moment when justice will be fully gained, and I will be really free.

Until I hit a wall that is.

Perhaps that’s not fair. I don’t know that I’ll hit a wall. It may well be that I will continue to benefit from this great launching toward justice… I don’t know. But I am leery. It may be that I kissed the pavement too many times while on those roller skates. But, I am leery of this assumption that this particular launching of hope will continue forward. I fear that the momentum created is not enough to withstand human fear, human depravity. And I’m also not sure it’s good for us to presume it will, even it if does.

For most white folks, history has been moving on this arc toward greater prosperity, security, and freedom. There are certainly moments where this is not true, times when economic decline has been devastating. But, for the most part, the story has been that the best days lie in the future. We are hurling ever faster toward goodness and hope, that we can do no other but progress toward this great time when all the world will know a good and holy existence.

And I do mean holy. We mix God up in this all the time. And there’s good reason to. We are promised in the scriptures that God will bring all things to God’s self. That God will redeem creation. There will be a time when justice will flow like a river, washing down upon the earth. And this is good. Very good indeed.

Yet, as humans, we have this little difficulty in separating our own experience from that of the divine. And, for us white folks, that’s a particular challenge.  Because for many cultures the goodness of God, the hope of humanity, lies in the past. For the Native Americans who experienced genocide as a result of white settlement, there is a longing for the freedom known before the force of white greed and colonialism came crashing against their lives. In reading the Hebrew scriptures, it is clear that the good days of Israel were the earliest, when the people were ruled by God. It was human depravity that brought about the need for kings. God clearly longs for those days past, when we truly listened. And by this I do not mean to imply that other cultures have a nostalgic longing for the good old days–rather that there is a fundamentally different understanding of time, of the action of momentum.

And so it seems to me that it is a dangerous thing to presume that this object that is in motion will stay in motion. We have this way of resting into the momentum, of believing that God has willed this movement forward and that nothing can stop it. Indeed, I have heard many times that marriage equality will come to Illinois. It is only a matter of time. Yet, I worry that this is an assumption based on the story of white privilege, on the story of people who instinctively perceive that history will continue to move in our favor, as if this were a law of physics.

I’m told that in Germany, before the rise of Hitler, gay and lesbian folks were growing in societal acceptance. Some parts of Germany even celebrated this diversity. But, in the difficulties of the Wiemar Republic, in the economic devastation, in the rise of fear, this group was one of the first to be sent to the gas chambers. Fear stood as cement against the momentum of justice.

An honest look at history will prove, we should never under-estimate the power of human depravity.

So what then do we do?

As a Christian, and as a pastor, I do believe that God will bring all things together. I do believe there is a day when freedom will truly come. It is a day without time, moving neither into the future or beyond the past. I don’t know enough about physics to tell you what that is like, but I do recall that Einstein suggested that if we think we understand quantum physics, we’ve got it all wrong.

Which is to say, I don’t know the answer. But, I do know that I am called to seek justice, to urge toward it on all levels. For all people. And as for the trajectory of our movement… well, I suppose it is best that we tend to the forces that act against justice, using the best of our humanity to act for good. But, let us never assume that our own actions will bring about the kingdom. That’s God’s to do. For now, perhaps all we can do is rejoice and be grateful for all those ways God’s reign breaks into our lives now.

And if we do this well, perhaps we can really be prepared for that day when the forces of fear and human depravity break against the lives of others, of ourselves. If we do this well, we will not be surprised by the abrupt collision with gravity, but will rather trust in God’s promises with a whole new fervor.

Could we?
November 20, 2012, 5:39 pm
Filed under: Weeds

A few weeks ago, I hosted an event at the local seminary to train students to teach about finances. And quite to their surprise, and somewhat to mine, it was a joyful event, filled with surprise and insight.

At first thought, the idea of coming together to train about financial matters sounds fairly dreadful. I’d rather eat soggy Cheerios. But quite quickly, the students came to understand how having financial literacy can usurp and overturn the ways in which so many are oppressed and used by our financial systems. Indeed, this literacy has the power to change their own lives, and release themselves from oppressive systems. It’s a simple fact that it costs a lot more money to be poor, what with check cashing fees, higher interest rates, and so on. But, with some education these systems can be drained of their power, and that is thrilling.

Indeed, I find that work particularly thrilling, the work of teaching in this way. For, I am utterly convinced that we are capable of changing our world for the good. Our capacity is astounding. Rather, God’s capacity is astounding. This is part of what I feel called to do as a pastor.

Back in college I learned about the work of Myles Horton at the Highlander Folk School in Tennessee. It’s an amazing story. The work of this school is part of the back drop of the civil rights movement. Through empowering education, disenfranchised folks realized their capacity to change deeply entrenched systems of oppression.

There is so much that I love about the work of Highlander: their deep respect for the dignity of all people; their understanding of true wisdom; their commitment to equality. These are such integral concepts to good and effective education. But, what warms my own heart is how Myles and Highlander have been so delighted to step away from the center of attention, and instead point to the work of the people. Myles Horton firmly believed that his job was to create the environment for learning, and allow people to flourish in ways no one could ever imagine. His work was always about them, about their capacity. Never about him. Which, I think, is another way to say that the work is about God, not us. What a joy to step back and see God at work.

I’ve long been wondering how the church could/should play a role in this work. The biblical and theological foundations of such education are strong, though thoughts for another post. And then I remembered where Myles got his idea in the first place. It came from a Danish Lutheran Pastor. Through his inspiration, the Danes began a system of Folk Schools that inspired civic engagement and human creativity. Myles was so taken with this that he created his own school, which has in turn, created so much hope.

Which then got me thinking about how quiet our church building is during the day. How the fellowship hall echoes, empty of people. How the building seems to long for creative use.

Which then got me to thinking… perhaps this is something we could do? Our own Lutheran Folk School. A place where we teach using popular education models. A place to engage, to claim our power, to use our creativity and hope to overturn systems that oppress and limit our lives.

We could start small. Experiment with just one class. See what happens. See where it goes.