One of my good friends, Tricia DeBeer, once told me that finding balance is an illusive goal. Instead, she said, balance is an ongoing movement between moving targets. I likened her words to an active Twister mat in which you’re readjusting to make sure your hands and feet stay on the colored circles. Whatever the visual that comes to mind for you, I’ve been in a constant state of finding and refinding balance over the pasts few months as LDI has simultaneously wrapped up a very active program year and completed our merge with Episcopal City Mission (ECM).
Today, when people of faith urgently need to embody love that brings about justice LDI is again listening deeply. Over the past year, under Natalie Finstad’s guidance, we have carefully discerned where our work can best meet our community’s need, and have assessed which organizational structure can best accommodate our growing ministry in the diocese of Massachusetts and beyond.
Alongside this process, our fiscal agent, collaborator and long-time funder, ECM, has also been discerning their response to this urgent moment. It has become clear to both the LDI Leadership Team and ECM’s Executive Committee that our work is deeply integrated. LDI is drawn to ECM’s emerging mission of deepening the church’s response to immigration, racial justice and economic justice, and ECM intends to feature LDI’s formation tools and practices as a critical centerpiece of their new strategic plan. As a result LDI will become part of ECM and we will be dropping our distinct public identity
Alongside LDI’s discernment as an organization, I have been doing my own professional discernment. At the close of LDI came an opportunity for me to apply for the Director of Programs and Engagement with Episcopal City Mission. This position would not only allow me to continue leading LDI’s formation programs but expand my work so that I am able to adapt our current program models so they strategically support grassroots movements that are building relationships of power which bring about more just communities.
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.
Six months ago I moved from Kenya to the U.S. The move has been challenging on many levels, primarily because I’ve been exploring questions of identity: Who am I in this context? & How can I best serve God in this place? These questions that had such clear answers in Kenya.
I believe we as the Church are asking a similar question. How do we be the people of God here, in this place? It is clear that the Church’s role in society has changed – we no longer hold the moral authority we once had – in response to that change we must discern what it means to be God’s people now, what do we have to offer the world besides a stamp of good character? My sermon this week calls the Church to answer this question with boldness and confidence. So often we water ourselves down to being a group of “nice people” or another “social service” rather than offering one another a place of meaning and significance rooted in Christ’s love.
The sermon reflects on how in the texts for this past week – linked here – God’s people are asking this same question in Egypt, Corinth and Jerusalem. In Egypt Moses challenged the people to ask the question, “How do we live our lives as God’s people in the wilderness?” Again, Paul makes it clear in his letter to the Corinthians that we are called, as the people of God, to see life through the lens of Christ. Christ who, in John’s gospel, is infuriated by the loss of holy identity that happens when the temple becomes a place of business.
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.
Today begins a week with my friends at St. Martin’s of the Field in Severna Park, Maryland. I was originally invited to come here for two weeks while their rector was on sabbatical and meet with current leaders to envision how they could develop their individual ministry areas (youth, children, music etc) in a way that builds a transformational community. However, between then and now the church entered into a difficult transition and time of uncertainty concerning their current leadership – welcome to church!
This passage reminded me that God is inviting us to accept an invitation to live in a world where we search out the ever present Spirit, in all our circumstances, and we join in her activity – regardless if we know the dance steps. Despite being a challenging sermon to write it was a very fun one to deliver – I even got my first ‘amen’ shout out from the congregation. A huge thank you to my dear friend Zach for the perfect sermon material and to all the members of St. Martin’s who remained so present during the sermon.
If I could do this again I would put more emphasis on how Christ, in his life, lived in the realm of abundance and how his life offers us an example of what is possible when we are in communion with God. I’d also talk a little more about how the Baptismal vows are focused on God’s help, God’s abundance, more than our individual ability to achieve.
PS: In case you are wondering how I found two very different lessons from one text, the original sermon was using the Epistle text from Philippians and perhaps it will be offered sometime in the future.
Finally, a quick note, in the sermon I mention that my father’s unemployment lasted from when I was three-years-old to the present, this is not true and I apologize for misspeaking. My father held multiple jobs within that time frame but they were often short lived – please forgive me for stumbling through the story, it’s a difficult and sensitive topic for me.
I put effective in quotes because one might ask: how do you define “effective” church? I am defining it as the following. (1) Individuals have encounters of God that redefine how they understand themselves/see their role in the world (2) Transformed individuals work alongside their community to build a just world that reflect’s Christ’s values.