God has made everything suitable for its time; moreover God has put a sense of eternity into their minds, yet they cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. I know that there is nothing better for them than to be happy and enjoy themselves as long as they live; moreover, it is God’s gift that all should eat and drink and take pleasure in all their toil. I know that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it; God has done this, so that all should stand in awe before God. Eccl. 3:11-14
When I was young, Lent was a competition with my high school friends to show who had the most self control. Whether giving up chocolate, sweets, meat or tv, each of us was eager to prove — and broadcast to the cafeteria table — our commitment to the spiritual fast.
However, as I have grown, I began to see Lent differently. A few years ago, instead of asking myself, “What do I want to give up?” I asked, “What will help me reconnect me to God?” With this shift, Lent has become less about promoting my super-humanness and more about remembering my human need for God and others.
The season of Lent begins with Ash Wednesday, when we place ashes on our foreheads to remind us that our lives will end, and that we must carry out our existence with the humility our mortality conveys.
And the Lord said, “Will not God grant justice to God’s chosen ones who cry to God day and night? Will God delay long in helping them? I tell you, God will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
“How would you define right-relationship?” James’s question interrupted my well-planned presentation. My mind went blank and all the ‘correct’ answers faded away as I locked eyes with James McKim, a black leader in the Church’s work of reconciliation. My awareness of white supremacy, the authority I carried as the presenter, and the deeply complicated road we have to right-relationship overcame me. As a white woman, I felt inadequate to try and broach the subject of reconciliation with a black leader.
I ended up offering James a “good-enough” response. I said the life of Jesus of Nazareth shows us a model of right-relationship. The way he engaged with people, interpersonally and societally drew them into right-relationship with one another. When we follow his example we have hope of undoing the systems of inequity that separate us. However, I failed to speak directly to the racism, homophobia or misogyny that plague our society.
I left that presentation at Diocesan Resource Day feeling embarrassed. One of our team members, Jesse, noticed my embarrassment and asked me, “Do you want to practice talking about race?”
Yes, I responded. Yes, I want to practice because this is hard. I want to practice working cooperatively rather than enforcing authority, naming systems that hurt us and seeing people as partners rather than issues. I need to practice living this reconciled life that is inherently counter-cultural to the world in which we live. Yes, I want to practice.
This Sunday, Christian communities across the country will hear Jesus’s familiar teachings on the Good Samaritan in our assigned reading. In this story Jesus of Nazareth challenges us to show mercy to those we may not see as our neighbor.
This lesson seems especially apt in light of the awareness of racism in our country. A division that, although it has been around for years, was made more aware through the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philandro Castile. If we don’t speak out against racism it will not end.
The Church is called to be the living and breathing Body of Christ, it is our mandate to continue in the healing and reconciling ways of Jesus of Nazareth in our neighborhoods today. We cannot sit idly by in the face of racism and violence. To do so is to ignore the very purpose for which we were created: reconciliation and healing.
A few weeks ago I had the privilege of visiting “God’s Country.” Those are the words that Dick, a member of the St. Paul’s Richmond community used to describe Shrine Mont, the location of their. I have to say, Dick was completely accurate, even prophetic, in his description of our time at Shrine Mont which ended up being a time of growth, challenge, retreat and beauty as we community experienced how to build Beloved Community together.
Part of my work with the Katallasso Movement is facilitating workshops that build the capacity of leaders to build Beloved Community. St. Paul’s invited me to facilitate the workshop Katallasso: Radical Love during their adult formation sessions. Katallasso: Radical Love is a workshop that exposes the need to pattern our lives after the example of Christ’s radical love and the workshop was broken up into four sessions
One: Why Beloved Community
The first session’s plenary teaching provided a theological grounding for the claim that the Church is called to build Beloved Community by looking at scripture, the Episcopal Church’s teachings and my personal experiences in the Church and/or Beloved Community. The audio link to this session is below.
It is in many ways unfair for me to speak about issues of race and power. I have a college degree. I practice Christianity. I have a thin body. I have white skin. In our culture, I am a woman of power. Power is a complicated and loaded word. Today I will define power in terms of personal privilege: I can assume that in most situations I will enter into a room knowing I will receive attention, respect, assistance, and to a varying degree, I can get what I want, because of the qualities I possess.
That said, I feel I must speak. The recent deaths of Eric Gardner, Michael Brown, John Crawford III and Tamir Rice have reminded our country of the lingering presence of racial inequality and I am challenged with how to respond. I am saddened by the loss of life, the perpetuation of racism, and I feel powerless. Especially because I practice a way of life modeled after Christ who proclaimed that love always conquers death.
I suppose I could join a protest, grab a microphone and speak out against the murders. I see many churches acting this way and I applaud their desire to speak out against violence and be witness to compassion. However, I worry that these actions risk missing the root of the problem in the way that they are addressing these flashpoints of violence rather than the underlying power dynamic that perpetuates this problem. Some may argue that something is better than nothing but in this case, I am not sure. I believe that the paltry “somethings” the church has done for years has actually allowed people of faith to perpetuate existing power structures. The current violence cannot be addressed in isolation but must be a call to align our way of addressing power and race through the example of Christ.
Church’s Current Relationship with Race and Power
For years the Christian faith has promoted half-solutions that keep us, the (white) people of power, in power. We provide just enough food so black kids are fed but we don’t fully address the hunger problem by arguing for living wages. We take time to tutor one child that “had it rough” rather than using our collective voices to promote policies that develop healthy and vibrant schools in all neighborhoods. We donate old clothes to the poor, never stopping to ask ourselves why we need to make such a large income that allows us to accumulate extra but others to scrape by on with not enough. We, through our paltry attempts at charity, create a world in which we have power in the dominant systems.
Last month I traveled to East Africa to launch an initiative of Planned Parenthood Global, the international division of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, that will support local communities of advocates for sexual and reproductive health and rights in several countries in Africa. I helped develop the content for the training and prepared small groups of facilitators to work with Ugandan leaders in the sexual and reproductive health and rights sector.
While preparing for the training Jacob Okumo, my colleague from Tatua Kenya, asked me about my connection to Planned Parenthood. My eyes welled up as I told Jacob about how Planned Parenthood had been my primary healthcare provider when I was young. I grew up in a conservative family that attended a conservative church in a conservative state all of which believed that sex had one place, in a heterosexual marriage. As a sexually active teen who was trying to be responsible, I turned to Planned Parenthood for birth control, STD tests, and annual exams. Planned Parenthood continued to support me through adulthood, providing me with exams when I was uninsured, even inserting my IUD.
At the opening of the initial training for the small group facilitators who would carry out the training in Uganda, we answered the question, “Why do I care about sexual and reproductive health?” As we went around the table I heard stories of women who were fired for being pregnant, shamed for needing birth control, discarded for being sexually active. Many of the stories carried the same disturbing theme: as a woman in East Africa your worth was undeniably tied to your body.
This theme was incredibly disturbing but even more so was the realization that although I was raised in a very different context, this was my story too.Read More »
This challenge became clear this weekend at TACHC’s annual conference during meetings with their newly hired Community Organizer, Courtney Weaver. Courtney is great, she understands the importance of developing leadership and is asking all the right questions. This weekend she and I were doing some skills training, strategy coaching and debriefing her first two weeks with TACHC when Courtney asked about the difference between organizing people to achieve a desired policy change (field advocacy) and organizing that begins out of a community’s frustration. She’s correct to raise this tension, we aren’t giving the community 100% control and opening up all options to them because it’s essential that we address the funding gap but we are trying to do this while building up the leadership of patients. Our question is; how do we successfully achieve shared leadership given this dynamic.
While I was in the states I had lunch with lovely group of people connected to All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena CA. Our conversation centered on how we, in our various life sages and professions, can best represent Christ and the love he had for people in this world. During our conversation Juliana, the director if community connections at All Saints, raised the issue of charity vs. justice. Though inherently something in her resisted a charity model she felt like our faith stories endorse ‘mercy ministry.’ While I fully support mercy I think the interpretation of these acts of Christ as charitable (in our understanding of the word) is incomplete. Take for example the store below when Jesus heals a leper.
Yesterday I had the joy of being with the incoming group of college staff at MDUMC, my church ‘alma mater.’ The college staff is a group of about twenty college students who dedicate their summer to hanging out with high-school and middle-school kids. I was asked to share my thoughts on the importance of being vulnerable with youth as a college staff member.
Here’s an abbreviated summary of what I offered to the college staff.
Often when we think about ministry we think about what we do, in your case, “be there” for the youth. However, from my experience meaningful ministry, what I call transformative ministry, cannot just focus on what we give. Transformative ministry, one that changes the way we see ourselves and the way we act in the world comes out of our personal experience of God.
This summer is more than making sure you are ‘there’ for the youth, it is an opportunity for you all to know more fully the love of God – only then do you have something real to offer.
This Lent I have been practicing letting go of fear and learning to trust myself more. Instead of giving into fear and ‘not saying what I think’ or ‘taking a risk,’ I have been trusting myself and finding a whole new way of being. At times this has been terrifying but I feel transformed, with a clear sense of who I am called to be and what I want to do with my life. This process of new life, of letting go of the old is something incredible.
My work at Tatua Kenya allows me to experience this miracle of new life daily as individuals, communities and cultures transform from places of death to places of vibrant life. Jacob, an organizing fellow with Tatua Kenya was reflecting on this resurrection that has happened in Ngong Village.