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White Washing the World

I pay attention to what I see. A lot. In the past few years, I've paid additional attention to what I don't see.

Today, I saw two interesting things.

The first was brought to my attention by the professor and Biblical scholar, the Reverend Doctor Wil Gafney (to whose work I commend you). Dr. Gafney noted on Facebook that, regardless of one's actual race, if a person indicates interest or support in issues, authors, or topics at all related to Black Lives Matter, the Root, or any other item that indicates interest in being an accomplice to equality... Facebook assumes that person is African-American.

At her urging, I checked and, sure enough, Facebook's #1 categorization of me is African American. While I would happily claim this designation if I could, it's not even close to correct. Ironically, despite the fact that I belong to multiple Jewish groups and an equal number of knitting groups, Facebook is more certain that I am black than it is regarding anything else …

Six Cans

I realize these six cans don’t look like much, but they represent a big deal to me. I made dinner for a group tonight and I wasn’t entirely sure how many people were coming. I have a tendency to overestimate and overprepare, ending up with way more food than necessary. 
I have come to realize, though, that cooking too much is my attempt to control a situation. I want everyone to enjoy themselves and for the event to be perfect. This isn’t actually mine to control. Having too much food doesn’t guaratee a good time. It’s just a lot of food.
No one who was coming would likely be in danger of starving. And if someone came who I knew needed more food, I could help with that in a different way.Furthermore, having a good time is up to each person. I am not the guarantor of other people’s good times. (#truth)
So, four cans of black beans and two cans of vegetarian refried beans represent not only my desire to be a good hostess, but also my willingness to let go of the outcome. If we run out …

Goats But

A Better Way

A friend recently expressed frustration that empowering people to take ownership and leadership takes a lot more time than doing something one's self. This is true... in the short term. In the long term, empowerment is the more efficient means of reaching a given destination because empowerment involves honest recognition of one's own limitations, the skills of others, the need for community and relationship, and the reality of having a few more eyes on an issue. 
As a person who often makes an idol of efficiency, I confess that I have sometimes let empowerment fall by the wayside. This is not because I lack the skills to empower others, but because I haven't taken the time to offer the opportunity or been willing to let something flounder when others didn't step forward. I have come to realize, through time and experience, that enabling is not actually an efficient path to any destination other than the Land of Resentment, Burnout Island, or Frustration Station. 
In …

The Jesus Test (A Corollary to The Rock Test)

In response to new/old news about powerful men abusing and manipulating women, blogger Anna Victoria Clark wrote a fun and true piece called The Rock Test: A Hack for Men Who Don't Want to Be Accused of Sexual Harassment. I recommend this piece and if you haven't read it yet, take a moment, click over, and then come on back for some theological reflection.

I like The Rock Test, but it's not totally great for my context.

Confession: I don't think about Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson as much as I do about Jesus.

Thus, I'd like to propose that for a certain part of the population, "The Jesus Test" may be a more effective hack to prevent bad choices and encourage good (and godly) behavior.

Setting One: Passing the Peace

Sure, maybe you're a "hugger", but you know the person who has always stiffly held out their hand? That person doesn't want to be hugged. You don't know why. It may be taking all they have to be in the presence of all…

Something New

I recently taught myself how to knit, with the help of videos, books, and a few friends. I ultimately want to make a certain kind of sweater and I can only find knitting patterns for that sweater. Knitting makes a different kind of fabric and would open up more projects for me. 
However, in order to start knitting, I had to stop crocheting (at least for a little while). To fully learn and grown in my new skill, I had to set aside other habits. While there was nothing wrong with crocheting, I can’t crochet and knit at the same time, so one had to be put down while I took up the other.
It seems that we often try to do two things at the same time, even though they are mutually exclusive. We harbor longing for change, but we do not set aside harmful habits or take up helpful ones. We try to fit complacency and courage into the same space at the same time. We like the idea of something new, but we don’t want to put the energy or time or thought into how it might come about.

The only way …

Human Being

I have been thinking about getting a new tattoo for over a year. For a while, I thought
about the phrase I read in a book by Augusten Burroughs: “Harder is just harder”. I felt comforted at the idea that harder isn’t impossible, it’s just harder. However, the right time and place for that tat never materialized. That idea faded when I came upon another phrase: fida et audax- faithful and bold. I loved the idea of this motto and it made me feel strong and courageous to imagine it on my wrist or on an ankle. This was my plan until about 3 weeks ago. A variety of life events came to a culmination and I found that I was exhausted, frustrated, and tense. Overwhelmed by all things that seemed insurmountable, I marinated in the idea that in this intense time, I couldn’t “do” very much. All I could do was be. Be. I’m not very good at being. I am good at doing. I am good at thinking. I am okay at feeling, but I tend to put that aside for what I think I shoulddo. I went to visit a friend i…

Wholeheartedly

I've been having a lot of difficult conversations lately. Racism, sexism, classism, privilege, and anti-LGBTQ sentiments are all part of my usual fare. Then I have the occasional conversation with a person who is put off by religion or by religious people, so then I am in heavy listening mode. Good energy in patient listening takes away some of the energy I would put toward careful writing.

All this listening has changed my prayer life. I find now that my most common prayer is "Soften my heart. Soften my neck." I know that a hard heart and a stiff neck, both metaphorical, will interfere with the patience and kindness that I am trying to embody. I actively seek Christ in myself and in the other person by focusing on even my internal organs being gentled by the Savior.

This has caused me to pay attention to how often church people bifurcate their lives. Our bodies are our daily vehicle- the daily throne of God and inhabitance of Christ, driven by the Spirit. The experience…

Confession for Healing from Racism

This was written for Stand Against Racism: A Community Prayer Vigil sponsored by the congregations of Anchorage Faith and Action- Congregations Together and three other congregations, including Congregation Beth Sholom. 
The base idea for this litany came from the ELCA's Service for the same purpose. 

In some religious traditions, confession is used a kind of internal housecleaning. Confessing one’s sins- things done and left undone, said and left unsaid- clears the spiritual detritus from one’s heart and mind and better helps a person perceive the truth and guidance of God. Confession to God does not eliminate the need to confess and seek forgiveness from one’s family, friends, or neighbors. Like physical housecleaning, spiritual housekeeping is best done sooner rather than later and with a whole-hearted effort. Confessing together helps us to acknowledge that none of us is any worse or any better than the other, especially before the One who Made All Things.
Gracious God, you are…

Too Good to Not Be True (Sermon)

Sermon Text: Matthew 14:13-21

Sometimes I think we don't want to believe in grace.

It is easier, more rational, simpler, faster, more efficient to act as though miracles have a more basic explanation. The feeling of lack of control is fun for a minute, for some people, on an amusement park ride, but basically entrusting our life to that feeling is like wearing Keds (flat soled sneakers) as ice skates- no purchase, no control, slow progress. The idea of grace is amazing, but regular dependence on the stuff is a risky business. We've all had enough of a taste of grace to believe it's real, but most of the people I encounter still seem to believe that God's main currency is pain, shame, and punishment.

Recently, a person talked to me about a situation that was grieving them. After spilling out a story of a friend's pain and trauma, the person said, "I believe that God is doing this to bring my friend to her knees. That way she will come back to the Lord. It's…

What Kind of Stranger Are You?

"What kind of stranger are you?"

The small black girl paused in her climb up the playground equipment and asked me that question. She was speeding around the playground with my white daughter and another little black girl. The three preschool age girls united in laughter, daredevilry, and energy were challenging each other to scrambling up, over, and under everything in sight. 
I tried to be inconspicuous as a spotter as they climbed on the equipment, trying to eye all of them equally for potential falls. Halfway through scaling the wooden framework, one of the little girls turned and looked at me. 
"Is that your daughter?"
"Yes."
"Can we play with her?"
"Sure!"
"Are you a stranger?"
"Um, yes, I am a stranger to you, but not to her." 
"What kind of stranger are you?"
I froze for a moment, cutting my eyes away from hers. For a kindergarten aged black girl in Anchorage, Alaska, what kind of stranger am I? Wh…

Wonder(ful) Woman

I loved Wonder Woman.

I loved it so much that I didn't want to leave the theater. When I got up, I didn't want to talk about the movie. I wanted to stay in the bubble where it was accepted that women are badasses and to be treated as equals (or even more powerful when they are!). I wanted to linger and wallow in the place where the presented and accepted truth is that women can kick butt AND love babies AND speak multiple languages AND be sexually interesting AND be warriors AND be leaders AND grieve AND can be funny AND can read maps AND can be gracious AND can silence detractors.

There was a whole lot of AND in the movie. Not so much OR.

The world is wide enough for AND.

Mostly, though, I gripped the armrests and wanted to cling to the place where I had seen something that was new to me in film.

There was a shape. A shape I see all the time. A shape that literally and metaphorically defines my life. I saw this shape in Wonder Woman and, for the first time ever, the shape was…

Altars, Altars Everywhere (Sermon)

Outline for sermon based on Acts 17:16-31

Paul wanders through Athens, sees idols, and is dismayed at the sight.
What idols would someone see wandering through Anchorage? LCOH? Our home/car/backpack?
In order to convince the Athenians to put up an idol to a new god, the evangelist of the new deity must assert the ability to speak of the deity and the deity’s desires. One of the desires of the god must be to reside in Athens. The god’s Athenian residency must bring good will and blessing to the citizens.
Yet, the Athenians have installed an altar to an unknown god.
What actions in our life that would indicate to people that we worship a known God or an unknown god?
Paul speaks to them the one whom they have classified as “unknown” is actually God over all things. This God is not limited in space, time, or material, but is the source of all things. This God is not a small provincial idol, but the Divine Presence of every place and within whom everything “lives and moves” and has bei…

Listen

If I was taking a walk with You, I’d say, “It turns out there isn’t a limit to how frustrated I can get. Or how many bad decisions people can make. Is there no bottom?”

I think you would be silent.

We would walk on and I would get exasperated.

Yes, with You.

“Are you going to say anything?” I will ask.

Stride, stride, stride. Pause.

“I am.”



Originally written for and posted at RevGalBlogPals.org, 5/19/17.

Sermon: Made, Loved, Kept

I understand and I truly believe that Jesus was both fully human and fully divine, from his conception unto his resurrection. In his fully human nature, he would have been tempted to sin. Not just the sins experienced through the devil's presence in the deprivation of the desert, but also in every day ways. Thus, when Jesus clearly states to Thomas,
I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.And Philip IMMEDIATELY responds,
Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.I believe that Jesus was tempted. Perhaps not tempted to violence or sarcasm, but tempted to abandon patience, to growl at Philip, to roll His eyes, to throw up His hands and cry out, "How can I lead when the people I'm leading keep retreating?". A fully human Incarnation was tempted to something in that moment, but did not yield to that temptation. Blessed be the…

Repost: 10 Things to Know about Hell

I wrote and posted this originally in 2015, but I recently dusted it off and updated it to preach to a group of clergy colleagues. It's one of those sermons that is truly written for oral delivery with asides, facial expressions, and gestures, but it's still good in the reading.
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The Top 10 Things to Know about Hell
10. About 99% of the images in your head of hell- the red demon with a pointed tail, the levels of suffering, the pit of fire, the presence of those who never knew Christ, the darkness, AND the eternal wailing and torment (plus the image of Judas in hell)- are all from Dante’s The Divine Comedy (or The Inferno). His writing was a piece of political literature that condemned powers of his day that he didn’t like. It also was Dante’s way of confirming himself as a poet for the ages by using the poet Virgil, who lived and died before Jesus, as his guide. Additionally, Dante’s work was a distillation of Greek and Roman mythology, some alleged gospels fro…

Easter Sanctuary

This sermon builds on the idea that the design of the sanctuary is to help us realize that we are safe there- baptized and safe in God's family, fed and safe with God meeting our needs, alive in Christ off the cross and safe because God is bigger. 
          It is one thing to tell children that sanctuary means safety and that everything in a church is designed to help us feel safe. It is quite another thing to try to convey that same idea to adults, particularly adults who are very aware of how church has not always represented safety or sanctuary for all kinds of people. Additionally, the words of the gospels have not always been used for comfort, consolation, or assurance of safety in God to people from a wide variety of backgrounds and circumstances.
           The church has been unsafe at times for women, for divorced people, for children, for people who sought the gospel in their own language, for people who were anything other than heterosexual and cis-gendered, for peopl…