Wakanda Forever

The tragic loss of Chadwick Boseman to cancer last night is hitting Marvel geeks and the whole world in a very hard place. Yes, 2020 has been a dumpster fire of the most epic proportions, but this hurts particularly because of what T’Challa, the Black Panther movie, and Mr. Boseman’s embodiment of Wakanda had for our black friends around the world. In a time when the pervasive reality of racism is on our nightly news, to lose such an icon is beyond devastating. I can empathize, but I cannot speak to the heaviness of that loss as a white person.

What I can do is write about what that movie meant to me and why I feel his loss so acutely as a Marvel fan and as white person who is continually working through my own racist indoctrination.

I don’t know if I am normal among Marvel readers, but I mostly read for one character, Captain America. I read Avengers comics too, but mainly for Cap. Prior to the movie, I had never read a Black Panther comic, though I knew of him from Avengers comics. I think part of the systemic racism that we have all lived with is that on some level, I bought into the idea that Black Panther comics weren’t “for me.” Meaning, the character was written to give black comic readers a hero, which is awesome, but I had also internalized that I was not the target audience, so I never bothered.

T’Challa’s first appearance in the MCU was in Captain America: Civil War and I was taken in by Chadwick Boseman’s performance from the moment he was on screen. His first scenes are a close up of T’Challa talking to his father and on the huge screen I could see that Chadwick’s ear was pierced. It seems small, but that tiny detail gave me instant affinity to him. Throughout the story, T’Challa stands as an outsider in the middle of this family feud and in the end, when he prevents Zemo from killing himself, he seals his place as a leader in the MCU as someone who knows that villains are often just a matter of circumstance, something Chadwick himself said on “The Daily Show” when he said he didn’t believe Killmonger was the villain of Black Panther, rather he was the other side of a coin that was T’Challa.

Then came the movie. From my first viewing, I knew how special this film was. I resonated with the beauty of the integration of nature and technology. I fell in complete love with Shuri and her brilliance, sarcasm, and creativity. I relished the demonstration of equality of the sexes on a level never seen before in Nakia and the Dora Milaje. I appreciated the complexity of the issues presented in the film as well as what it would mean to the world to have a country like Wakanda in real life. Black Panther instantly rose to the top of my list of favorite Marvel films where it has remained. My laptop is named Shuri and my car is named Zuri, who was the Spiritual Leader of Wakanda.

What Black Panther did for me was highlight what has long been missing from the MCU and honestly from all media; Black Excellence. And in that, I’m not saying we’ve only missed strong acting or writing or directing. There’s not enough of any of that to be sure, but that’s not what I mean. What we had in Black Panther was a vision of a world where there are no limitations on what African culture and all its decendants could do and be in the world. Where colonialism was repelled, yes, and the culture and society were able to develop without white influence or control. The end of the movie carries Nakia’s hope that Wakanda could maintain itself and provide wisdom to the world. Wakanda is a place I want to exist.

In the Marvel movies that have come out since, I have felt it acutely when there is absence of Wakandan influence. Of all the characters lost to “The Snap” I was most upset about T’Challa. I hoped that Shuri would have survived but when teaser clips confirmed she had been lost too, I felt how terrible the loss of both siblings would be to Wakanda. The only consolation (not knowing how Endgame would turn out) was that I knew a second Black Panther film was in the works. Looking at IMDB today, all previously attached actors (which had included Chadwick Boseman) are now gone from that films’s page. I’m so heartbroken because that was the one Stage 4 film I’ve been looking forward to because it meant returning to Wakanda for another 2+ hours.

My black friends and other black influencers I follow on social media have written about what Boseman’s portrayal of King T’Challa meant for them and I can only try to imagine what this loss means for them. I don’t have to imagine what it means for me. Wakanda is the vision of the world we all need right now. King T’Challa was a leader for the more just society we need to create. The Black Panther film (and if you want to dive into the comics, start with the series by Ta-Nehisi Coates) allows us all to spend two hours in a world where Black Excellence reigns in a way it always should have. Mr. Boseman embodied that excellence both on screen and off and our world is so much better for your too-brief 43 years. Your ancestors have welcomed you home with great pride.

The Family Business

As a kid in the ‘70s and ‘80s, TV shows with large families were every where. Partridge Family, The Waltons, Eight is Enough, and Brady Bunch were fascinating to me because my daily family experience was small; my mom, my sister and me (since my parent’s divorce, anyway). I can recall being amazed at how many “Goodnights” would end each Walton’s episodes, and the crazy antics of the Bradford family who fought fiercely but always had each other’s backs.

Growing up in a large city also meant that families with more than 2 or 3 kids were the fantasy of television, not something real people had. Birth control had liberated our parents and abortion was legal, so people could control how large their family got, if they had the means.

The shrinking family unit also took on generational layers too. I had a couple friends who had a grandparent living with them, but most of us had grandparents who had their own houses in other towns or sometimes other states. With age and experience, I do understand that this was largely a white reality, as generations living together is very common in other races and ethnicity, but it wasn’t common among my white friends.

What was clear to me though, the above TV shows notwithstanding, was that the preferred life was a small, nuclear family. Dad, Mom, two kids (maybe three if you were adventurous). Bigger than that and you’d get asked if you were Catholic or there’d be whispers about why you couldn’t figure out birth control, all with an air of derision. This continued well into the time when I started having my own children in the early 2000’s. Too many pregnancies were something uneducated or hyper-religious people did. A grandparent living with you meant they hadn’t saved enough for a retirement home and you were “burdened” with providing for them. I held that prejudice as much as any privileged white woman. There’d be mom group-talk about being able to afford children, of ensuring they had a “good life”, and with all the opportunities available. Marriage was something you waited to do until you were older in hopes you wouldn’t get divorced (Gen X grew up as latch-key kids and hated it). Parenthood was something you held off on until you had money and could stay home or hire nannies. My kids each have several friends who are only-children.

And I’m not here to say any of those choices are wrong. Raising kids is easier when you’re older, have a mature marriage, and have financial stability. By no means is this everyone’s experience, but I think it would be facetious to pretend that our culture doesn’t still regards that as “ideal”.

What our current pandemic life has driven home to me, however, is that when we chose to view large families with derision, we lost something essential in our ability to live in community, and maybe even lost part of our own humanity. By shrinking what we regarded as “family” and by even going so far as to shame those who viewed family differently, we created a culture of self-imposed isolation. And the impacts are being seen now in new ways. We lost a commitment to neighborliness because large families need more adults involved. How many of us even know our neighbor’s names, never mind have their phone numbers and emails? We have become so insular, that we buy up more toilet paper than any family of 3 could use in a year out of fear, caring little if anyone else has toilet paper as long as me and mine are taken care of.

Then there’s my own “family”. I put that in quotes because even among us, not everyone is comfortable with that title, thanks to the above mentioned derision. Two families, two adults and three kids each, living next door to each other. For 13 years, the ten of us have shared our lives, our resources, cared for one other, argued and cried over one another, pushed each other’s buttons in ways that aren’t helpful, and come together in emergencies. Those who know about our lives think it’s cool…and a little weird. Our children are as close as siblings and it can be hard at times for them to explain that under-girded loyalty as they cultivate relationships with others at school and on sports teams.

But I have never been more grateful for our little herd than in this time of quarantine. Since we have always been each other’s daily life, we are a “quarantine tribe”. The kids keep each other going while their parents are navigating working from home. For me, having three other adults in my daily life right now has kept me sane. And it highlights for me what society gave up when we decided that large families were somehow to be derided. My family knows exactly how lucky we are to have each other right now.

So maybe one of the benefits of this time will be our society moving towards expanding their definition of family, of intimacy, of neighborliness. We need one another far more than our fiercely independent culture tries to imply. I can’t promise you that this life is easy. It’s every parenting and marital negotiation on steroids sometimes. It takes commitment and a desire to stay together, even when it’s hard. And there are times it’s tough to explain to someone who wants to view us with suspicion. But opening our lives to one another has held far more benefits than problems. Family is what you make it, and more is far merrier than you’d expect. If you get the chance, it’s very worth it, especially in times of pandemic.

The Rod and Staff of Comfort

As the city of Seattle comes to a standstill, I woke up with this section of Psalm 23 in my head:

“Even though I walk through the valley of darkenss, I fear no evil, for you are with me. Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” Psalm 23:4 NRSV

The Puget Sound region is collectively walking through that valley right now. The number of deaths is under 30 (at this moment) but that is rising every day. Most of the population is not currently symptomatic but that too, is increasing. And days before our Governor ordered a cease on all gatherings of more than 250 people, our stores were ransacked for hand sanitizer, toilet paper, and Clorox wipes. As schools close, fear in adults increases and impacts our kids as they wonder why all this is happening when they feel perfectly fine.

A reporter asked a question of Governor Inslee at yesterday’s press conference, referring to these “draconian” actions by him and the Department of Public Health. That word clearly annoyed the Governor, though I understand why the question was asked. The limitations placed on King, Pierce, and Snohomish counties yesterday were removing the very first of our Constitutionally guaranteed rights: the freedom to assemble. In the context of a massive pandemic, it’s a right we understand needs to be limited, but I believe that is why this shakes us so hard; we don’t give up any of our rights easily, or at least we shouldn’t.

This morning though, as verse 4 had rattled around in my brain, I see these steps as the rod and staff that comfort me. I see State agencies taking even a a few deaths from a single nursing home extremely seriously and trying to get ahead of an even worse death count. I see public health officials doing a very careful dance of singing the song of serious precautions while also lofting a melody of “stay calm”. Business, attractions, churches, sports franchises…all are responding with the order while also trying to proceed as best they can. In short, the comfort comes from a collective response to agree that just because something doesn’t impact me (right now), we will act together to prevent it from impacting you. I see the comfort that for as awful as human beings can be to one another, we are mostly loving and caring to each other.

There will be so many lessons from this time. It will place in the hot spotlight the realties of a broken health care system, the chasm of economic inequality in our homes that truly can’t be paved over by our schools, and the need for our government elevate social systems as essential because when they fail, the business infrastructures they adore so much crumble like a house of cards.

Through it all, though, God is still God. Regardless of your faith tradition, God has always placed helping those who suffer as a pinnacle act of obedience. Our faith is created for times such as these, when we need God’s care fo us to be embodied by one another. And we can do it without fear, for God is with us.

Dusted

I was talking with a co-worker yesterday about Mardi Gras and quipped, “If you aren’t wearing ashes on Wednesday, you didn’t have cause to drink up on Tuesday.” And while I was mostly joking, there’s some truth to how my thoughts have been percolating around Christian religious practice as secular celebrations since last Christmas.

Last December, our church re-opened itself as a nightly shelter for a non-profit group that supports the unhoused in our city. We provide the building, they run the program. But as with any program that directly works with the unhoused, everyone loves the idea until it’s across the street. And as is also true with the internet, people can be really terrible on-line. As our collective culture was in the throws of nightly Christmas movies and specials and our stores decorated to the max in celebration of our Lord made incarnate, we were receiving truly rude and awful calls and emails about our shelter. And I wanted so badly to ask each one, “Do you have a Christmas tree up in your house or a toy manger in your kid’s room? If so, maybe research who inspired all that and what he said and did for and with the poor, diseased, and marginalized before yelling at us. Or just, y’know, take that down and appropriate someone else’s holiday.”

But I didn’t. And as frustrated as I was, I do understand that as modern practitioners of the Christian faith, we bear the burden of our ancestors who appropriated so many icons and practices from others and turned them into our own. You know Jesus is giving all of us *that* look for our Christmas Trees and Easter Eggs. And we devastated many cultures by forcing them to give up their own faith practices and replace them with ours. So if now those same holidays and celebrations are so secularized as to erase their very meaning from the post-modern age, we pretty much deserve it.

However, for those who practice those rituals and celebrations with intention, it is important for us to take the time to really understand them. And today is a very good day to start because today marks the beginning of Lent, the most important season in our liturgical life. Yes more important than Advent and Christmas.

Our cultural misunderstandings around Ash Wednesday, Lent, Holy Week, and Easter abound. Lifetime Channel never makes a movie about a plucky ad executive who finds love in a small town during Lent. No one composes Easter Carols. And there are no toy drives to make sure all kids wake up to something from the Easter Bunny. Everyone understands a baby being born. Few understand taking 40 days to contemplate your own mortality, darkness, and separation from God as a means of claiming the hope of a life made new based on the murder and resurrection of a 30-something Middle Eastern Jew.

I’ve preached before that Lent is not God’s Great Diet Plan, though I can’t begin to tell you how many tweets I read this morning talking about what folks are “giving up” for Lent. For some, the intentional fasting is about connecting to your own embodiment and mortality. For others, it’s about paying attention to suffering and the impact on what that has for yourself and the world. Through my theological lens, Lent is a time to reflect on what is separating you from God and actively seeking out how to remove those barriers from your spiritual practice so you can draw closer that Holy Spirit. That means you may give up something or you may add something, like daily contemplative prayer. Regardless of your Lenten practice, the essence is spiritual reflection so that you may grow in your faith.

That reflection starts today with the reminder that you will die. Your time here is transient, itinerant, and so, so brief when held against the expanse of the cosmos. But as fleeting as our presence on this earth is, we are all here for a purpose, a calling, a life meant to be lived. And the promise of our Lord is that we will be loved, guided, and supported in that life, should we choose to lean into the relationship offered to us by God.

So wether you spent Tuesday night eating pancakes, drinking and earning beads, or attending a Presbytery meeting (raises hand), today is your day to stop and remember your mortality. Remember your purpose. And to sit in the holy space of quiet that connects all of us to our creator and to creation itself.

The Sin of Sexualization

I’ve written before about my thoughts and feelings around dress codes and the way they are unfairly enforced against girls and are rooted in patriarchy and misogyny. I was thrilled when Seattle Public Schools announced they were abolishing most of the dress code guidelines which had previously focused almost exclusively on what the girls were wearing.

This week, we have a news story blowing up about a female swimmer disqualified from her race because her school-provided suit did not cover enough of her butt. I’m a USA Swimming Official. I have a competitive swimmer. You think I don’t have things to say about this?

This post, however is about why fighting against this matters. Fighting against this kind of discrimination (which local parents feel has elements of racial as well as gender bias) is necessary because it addresses a sin (yup, I went there) in our society that is so pervasive many don’t even realize they are doing it. I’m talking about the sin of sexualization. Sexualization is focusing on a person only as their sexual nature, ignoring the fullness of their humanity; effectively robbing them of their sacred worth.

The reason why we have to focus on the damages of sexualization is precisely because of how indoctrinated it is, even among women. I hear it frequently at the pool regarding girls swimsuits. Swimsuits are made to be tight. They are meant to reduce the friction of water across the body. But I think the most significant way to analyze the impact sexualization has on young women is to not talk about girls at all. Let’s talk about the boys.

Many male swim suits can be measured in INCHES of fabric. Very little of any competitive male swimmer body is covered by anything. Many males wear “jammer” suits that extend down to their knees, but by the time they are racing in high school or at upper level meets, about half of men (seems to change from year) wear small race suits like these:

This picture of Olympian Ryan Lochte shows how small race suits can get.
This picture captures how thin the fabric is, and that it’s reinforced across the pubic area.

Coverage isn’t the only discrepancy. Like girls’ suits, they are intended to compress. In the photo of Olympian Ryan Lochte above, the suits dig into the flesh at both waist and legs. They strap tightly across the butt and just as tightly across their penis and testicles. The fabric is thin enough to be see-through on the legs, but has a double-layer across the pubic area. The nature of what can be seen through these suits is one of the reasons USA Swimming bans all cameras and cellphone use behind the starting blocks and in locker rooms. But no one, anywhere, ever says a word about these suits being inappropriate or disqualifies the men wearing them.

Which is not surprising because our society has not conditioned us to sexualize men, adult or youth. To see only body parts and sexual gratification instead of the the totality of his humanity. We don’t experience advertising that only shows a guy’s “package”, forcing our gaze there. We don’t have kids clothing designers intentionally cutting pants to augment the crotch on boy’s Tuffskins. Parents don’t have to worry about if the outfits they buy at Target will “cover enough” of their boy’s body to meet most school dress codes. And even if you encounter advertising or movies that *do* focus on male anatomy or present men in a sexual way, society *still* regards that as positive. We don’t regard male bodies and male private parts as anything other than worthy of pride for the implied strength and virility.

At the end of the day for this story, we are really talking about why this swimmer was punished for something she cannot help. Her suit was given to her by her school. The suits are meant to be worn tight. And her body is just a body.  The flesh on the butt is the same as it is on the thigh and back. The only thing that makes that flesh “sexual” or “obscene” is our cultural objectification of the area and the fact that we objectify women’s body parts while also shaming them for having them.

There was a time when women couldn’t expose their ankles because that was too “sexy.” We don’t care if women expose them now. We changed. And we can change this by one simple thing: Stop looking at women, no matter their age, as sex objects! Stop parsing out pieces of the female body as the loci of male sexual pleasure while disregarding the whole woman. Stop defining a woman’s value, rightfulness, goodness, appropriateness…essentially her humanity,  based on what her body makes *you* think about.

This is true for men. It’s true for women. It’s true for parents. It’s true for teachers, cops, sports officials, directors, photographers, pretty much everyone. We must stand against clothing discrimination in all forms, even if the clothing makes you personally uncomfortable. Because this issue is not about one high school girl and how the swim suit fit her body. It’s about the fact that seeing a few inches of her bottom mattered more than the fact that she is a powerful, athletic, human being who won her race.

No Lies at 2am

My mom worked the night shift as an ER nurse while I was growing up. She used to tell stories of the absolutely crazy stuff that happens in a big city ER in the middle of the night. One of the axioms she shared that I still carry with me is, “There are no lies at 2am.” Even as a child, I understood that the events lived in the deepest darkness are also the most real, most raw, most human. When I worked overnight shifts as a hospital chaplain, I sat with a woman who had been abused by her mother all her life. As we watched her mother’s body shut down and die, I watched as Truth poured out of every second of that encounter and as I crawled back into my bunk at 0330, those words echoed again: “There are no lies at 2am.”

In our current world, I’ve started to feel as though 2am lasts all day. The stories that keep flooding our news, Facebook pages, twitter feeds, and tumblrs are full of people sharing their stories, or exposing the lies that have been wrought for far too long.

This past week we have encountered the brutal truth that education may not be the great equalizer we have been taught on both the national stage by the college admissions scandal and at the local level, a story from last fall exposing the huge monetary disparities in Seattle Public Schools, revealing that money is still the most prevalent form of redlining, even in “liberal” Seattle.

We have also again been confronted by the evil of white supremacy and the bitter rampages of gun violence. And we have witnessed the best in people and the worst in people as Christian white folk strain credulity to avoid owning our racist past while people of color and people of faith grieve yet again.

The hardest part of living all day at 2am is that you know it’s possible to be overwhelmed by the darkness. That when the world presents itself as just a little too real, we want to turn it off. A friend posted to her FB page after word of the murder of Islamic worshipers in New Zealand hit as we woke up, “Don’t you dare look away.”

That’s the challenge of 2am. Because all of us want to go to sleep and wake up when it’s all OK again. What we must do is learn to lean on one another. To keep facing the truth, keep loving ourselves and each other, and yes, stay woke. God stands closest to us in the dark. Jesus weeps hardest at 2am. The space between the divine and the human is thinnest when Truth crackles in the air like static. It’s a space worth inhabiting and we don’t need to fear. God is with us.

My good opinion, once lost….

“My good opinion, once lost, is lost forever.” ~Mr. Darcy, Pride and Prejudice

This line from Jane Austin’s classic novel has always stuck with me. And not only because of the quiet austerity with which I first heard it spoken by Colin Firth.

I’ve been confronted with this reality enough times in my life that it seems a good time to reflect on it. Some of the truth in these words, for me, come from episodes where trust was broken. Someone does or says something very hurtful and they are immediately transformed into someone I no longer trust with the intimacy of my heart.

Other times, I’ve found myself standing up for someone else I believe is being treated unjustly. For whatever reason, God put a whole lot of fight in my amygdala and not much flight.

Sounds good right? Especially in our current age, the call to justice echoes all around us. The painful examples of racism, homophobia, classism, sexism, xenophobia litter our news and our every day existence that to not participate in the fight truly makes you complicit in the oppression. It is necessary.

What never makes it into the heroic stories of good triumphing over evil is the toll it takes. In real life, when you chose to stand up to power, you will experience isolation and grief. Power fights hard and often dirty. Power wants you to feel alone. Power wants you to bargain away your ethics and will accuse you of malevolence when you don’t.

See, there’s a difference between reconciliation and acquiescence. Reconciliation means that power has to acknowledge that injustice has occurred and they caused it. And in my experience, power will just not do that. Instead, power will blame you. Power will tell you that if wasn’t for you and your disruptive opposition, everything would be fine. That things are not peaceful because *you* are the one who refuses to reconcile.

But they don’t actually want your reconciliation. They want you to apologize to them for daring to call attention to their abuse of power. They will call you unfeeling, stubborn, and hard-hearted. Those they hurt have already been pummeled into silence, or more likely, shoved out the door, so they must erase all evidence of what they have done. To everyone else they will blame you for the ramifications their abuse has caused. While also creating a cautionary tale of what happens to anyone who dares oppose them.

And that’s when I go full-on Darcy on your ass. It’s not about a refusal to reconcile. When you show me who you are, I promise, I will believe you. Whether it’s an abusive boss, an ageist community board, or a cruel president, injustice looks the same. Planting yourself “like a tree in the river of truth” is only unyielding to those who refuse to swim.

It’s not about forgiveness either. The very reason why the gospel has always resounded so loudly to me is because Jesus was unequivocal about justice. Those who have been wounded and marginalized are those with whom he sided every. single. time. And he stood so firmly against those who abused their power that the only way left to silence him was to kill him. Those who seek to get away with their injustice will demand your “forgiveness”. Even Jesus knew that was God’s alone to give.

There is often little peace in a commitment to justice; whether in an office, on a pool deck, or from the pulpit. There’s lots of grief and plenty of loneliness. And I’m quite certain the word “stubborn” will be etched on my gravestone. But I’d rather that than bear the shame of knowing I should have stood up for someone and didn’t.

“I remember hearing you once say, Mr. Darcy, that you hardly ever forgave, that your resentment once created, was unappeasable. You are very cautious, I suppose, as to its being created.”

“I am,” said he, with a firm voice.

Lesser Courage

I have this on my wall at work. I reflect on it nearly every day. It’s rooted in Micah 6:8, which is what I think of as my “life verse”. I read it all the time because in the past year, I have needed its strength.

The point of this section of the Talmud is to encourage those who are called to the work of God. Inherent to this understanding, however, is that the world will make you weary. That the darkness, the injustice, the cruelty, the hubris, the unmitigated trauma this world inflicts will lessen our courage.

People of faith know (or have been taught anyway) that the hope we cling to in our moments of grief is that God will stand with us in our grief and suffering. That the unexplainable lift within our hearts comes from the source and creator of all love. Traditions across the globe promise that God’s redemption will prevail in some way. And until that day, we work. We act for justice. We love with mercy. And we do not seek to out-pace the Divine.

Merriam-Webster defines daunted as “to lessen the courage of”. I’ll be honest, I don’t feel as though the world’s grief has lessened my courage so much as it has emboldened my rage. Children sobbing uncontrollably over their missing parents. Health benefits being silently and systematically stripped away from those who need them the most. Lies upon lies being perpetrated by our government. People of my own faith lauding and excusing cruelty after cruelty to the point where our nation can simply say we no longer value human rights or freedoms or even due process.

I am daunted by members of my own religion. How did we stray so far away from the Gospels, from the Commandments, from the challenges of our prophets, scribes, and the inspiration of the Wisdom of God? More importantly, why do we allow evil to take root around us and thrive so fully? We’ve allowed the corruption of the Gospel of Christ to teach that deep love between two men or two women is sin but lying to mothers as their children are stolen away is somehow not. We allowed this not only in the past two weeks, but in Jesus’ name many, many, times. We allowed it in Africa. We allowed it throughout Asia. We allowed it as we “tamed” the nation we now call America. We allowed it after bombs dropped on Oahu. We allowed it throughout South America, even as priests were slaughtered for daring to say “this is not of Christ.”

I am daunted when I see holy scriptures used to justify abuse, hatred, xenophobia, and murder. I am daunted when I see my religion’s icons used to threaten, intimidate, and serve as the backdrop of White supremacy. I am daunted when my denomination can barely come together in agreement that these are, in fact, atrocities, because we fear alienating our “conservative” members.

I am daunted by the label of “Christian.”

We must not allow practitioners of our own faith to lessen our courage. We must confront the truth of our calling. We may even be called to schism: To break away from those who have corrupted the message of justice, love, mercy, humility, and faith. To stand firmly in opposition and declare ourselves as followers of the Jesus of scripture, of history, of truth and not of an anti-Christ who is cruel, nationalistic, abusive, and racist. To continue to proclaim the truth of the Mountain top, where God’s voice echoed across the land, “This is my son…Listen to him!” To forever preach and live the two commandments we were given by Jesus: to love God with our hearts, minds, and souls and to love one another as we have been loved by God.

In all these things, we cannot allow our courage to be lessened. Our rage, our fear, our heartache, our disgust, our shame, and our resolve are the gifts we have been given to inspire us to action and remind us of our obligations when the scales have tipped towards evil. We are not obligated to complete the work, but nor are we free to abandon it. #RebellionsAreBuiltOnHope

The Truth in Dying

Next week will be my one year anniversary of working in Adult Protective Services. It’s been a long year mostly because I hadn’t really believed I would last a year in this job. I figured I’d have found a pastoral call by now. But as often happens when following Jesus, where you are needed isn’t always where you expect to be going. One of the challenges of living a life of faith is that God has this habit of calling you into spaces that are uncomfortable, risky, scary, and actually dangerous.

My job has forced me to dust off my old domestic violence advocate skills, remembering things like how to approach a door before you knock on it, how to be aware of what people are doing and where they are in the room. And how to listen to that internal voice that lets you know when to get the hell out. My job means I get yelled at, called names, threatened, and my de-escalation skills are getting a workout they haven’t seen in 15 years. I have to step into spaces that others, including me a lot of the time, don’t wanna be. But I have to because a victim needs me to be stronger than my fear, more solid than my disgust (one of my trainers still teases me about my screaming when the rats ran out at me in the worst hoarding home I’ve ever encountered),  and to have calm in the face of an abuser that wants me anywhere but his living room. I do this work because it is where I am called to be for now. But the truth is, it’s depressing, it’s volatile, it’s filthy, and almost never fun.

As I reflect on my job and my feelings about it, one thing that has come up for me over and over, especially this week, is that out of just under 200 cases, the number of non-white victims I’ve encountered fits on one hand. Seriously. Less than five of my victims have been a person of color. It’s a fact I’ve noticed since the beginning. And I’ve reflected on why that is. It’s not because of the racial percentages of people in the city in which I work, which is a major metropolitan city, has the diversity that goes with most cities. Statistics from where I live show both police engagement and CPS cases have the same disproportionately high number of people of color that is systemic in our racially biased system, so I highly doubt that APS is suddenly the one  department that has figured out how to manage that issue.  I suppose it’s possible that when elderly people of color are being abused or exploited, that the system of mandatory reporters just doesn’t care enough about them to make an APS referral, but I don’t think that’s it either.  I honestly believe it is cultural: People of color take care of their elders.

Go visit any nursing home, assisted living facility, or adult home and you will see mostly white people. That is both a reflection of whites being able to afford such facilities but even more, I believe, it’s because as a culture, whites see placing our elderly in a facility as preferable to having that elderly person in our homes. We regard caring for our elderly parents and grandparents as a limitation of our freedom to live our own lives or spend our money as we want. There is also the truth that caring for someone who has dementia or has lost bladder and bowel control or can no longer bathe themselves is very unpleasant. I can’t even begin to tell you the number of people who’ve said to me “I could never do that job” for either my current job or when I was a hospice chaplain.

It turns out that my work has given me a window into a microcosm of race relations in our culture that is painful and sad: white culture doesn’t know how to die.

We don’t know how to literally help our elderly die and we don’t know how to let the worst parts of our history, traditions, and beliefs die. White people would prefer to not have to deal with the harsher, more painful, and yes, grosser, realities of the human existence. We have pushed the hardest aspects of our lives to people of color; manual labor, cleaning services, food services, caregiving…white people have the privilege of being able to put that on someone else to deal with so we can go about our lives without ever having to deal with the unpleasant things.

For generations, we have put the weight of dealing with our nation’s racism on the shoulders of people of color. Nazis and KKK aside, normal, everyday, white culture has refused to do the work of letting our privilege, our nationalism, and our belief in our superiority die . We know it must happen, but we’d much rather stick these issues in a White Culture Nursing Home until someone calls to tell us they died peacefully in their sleep, preferring to let people of color do the equivalent of changing the Depends on our withered, failing, Uncle Supremacy, all while demanding they grant us infinite patience, eternal forgiveness, and constant understanding for all the pain *we* are going through. “Beloved Uncle Supremacy is dying! Can’t you feel our anguish?”

That has to stop. It is the responsibility of white culture to take our own racist culture off life-support; to untangle the web of tubes and machines and usher it into the hereafter.  It’s our job to wipe up the feces, blood, and vomit of its final death throws. Yet in death, God promises new life. The hope of the Ressurrection is that the evil that dies is replaced with love, grace, and eternal life.  Yes, this work is sad, depressing, and definitely not fun, but it is the work before us and we cannot abandon the call.

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Oh, my dear Presbyterians. It’s been 6 years since 10A passed, two since 14F, and we still can’t deal with it well. This week proved how fractured we continue to be and how painful the wounds still are.

Rev. Eugene Peterson gave an interview this week where he was asked about the LGBT congregants he’s shepherded and like any good pastor, he loved them. He was then asked if two same-gendered people from his congregation asked him to perform their wedding, would he do it. He replied he would. The religious internet proceeded to blow-up. Shouts of Hallelujiah rang out from the queer-Christian ranks and threats to pull his books and bible translations “The Message” from religious book stores loomed large. So the Reverend retracted his statement. For me personally, this carried the immediate memory of when World Vision announced a few years ago that it would stop discriminating against queer people in their employment practices until their anti-gay donors threatened to pull their money, so they reversed their position.

Now, we could talk a lot about the role money plays in both these stories, but for now I’d rather focus on the emotional impact on the queer community and what these moments are saying about pastoral integrity.

Prior to July 6th, the queer community didn’t think to much about Eugene Peterson. That’s because we’ve grown up knowing “the church” doesn’t love us, doesn’t value us, and doesn’t want us. The rejection is something the queer community is wholly used to and while we work hard to change that reality, there is no effort really to change the mind of any particular theologian or leader because frankly, oftentimes, that’s just wasted effort.

However, when someone of influence makes a change on their own, of course we will celebrate that. That was the energy around Peterson’s original interview. He’s well-known and regarded as a pastor and theologian so for him to make those statements was an affirmation of continued effort. That’s all. There is no one big “get” that the queer community will ever have that marks our full acceptance in the church. The affirmation of LGBT worshippers, elders, and pastors has been happening for over 50 years and continues to grow church by church, denomination by denomination. Each one is great, but they are simply pieces of a whole. So for Peterson to back-track two days after his “explosive” interview doesn’t exactly set us back as a movement.

What it does do, however, is remind us that those who hate us will use all their tricks and tools to try and continue to subjugate, marginalized, and yes, even encourage our deaths. It serves as the gong that reverberates across the world that the power structures are still against us. We cannot rest in our spaces of acceptance because there are still far too many spaces that don’t. And for many who have endured deep spiritual wounds, this week simply tears off another part of the scab that never quite heals. For queer kids who were handed The Message as their first bible in church, this reminds them that his bible wasn’t written for them. For young adults who studied his books in small group, they had hope of an inclusion that was dashed. So this hurts on a personal level, even while it’s not much more than a blip in the movement overall.

That personal wounding is important because it is the mirror of Rev. Peterson’s statements themselves. In his rescinding of his statements, he indicated that the questions posed to him were hypotheticals of personal interactions. That’s not entirely true. The original interview had him speaking about LGBT members of his congregation and staff. He spoke of them positively. As he should. Being a pastor means getting to know and care for your congregation and your staff. It is with this backdrop in mind that he is then asked the hypothectical question about what he would say if asked to perform a same-sex marriage ceremony for people like those he knew from his congregation. And to that, he said yes. It was an honest and PASTORAL response. It is the loving response. And it’s supported by the Book of Order. Even at 84, he’s still able to pass his polity exam.

The conflict this generates inside him, to me, is revealed in the part of his second statment where he says, “”I’ve never performed a same-sex wedding. I’ve never been asked and, frankly, I hope I never am asked.” If he is so firmly convicted of this position, why would he hope that? Could it be because he knows himself well enough to understand that if he had two people whom he had been pastoring through their spiritual walk and they asked him to be a part of this significant, religious ceremony in their lives, that to then tell them “No” would be hurtful, scarring, and unloving?

Regardless of Eugene Peterson’s personal pastoral sensibilities, there is something important here for all pastors to own up to: If you reject the LGBT community, say so, loudly, for all to hear. Put it in your PIF. If you’re a pastor who doesn’t want to be put in a position of having to tell two gay congregants that you won’t marry them, put that on your Pastor’s page of the church website. Otherwise you are creating a pastoral form of “catfishing” and queer people, especially queer kids, suffer from it.

If you are a congregation that rejects 10A and 14F, don’t put on your welcome page that you “Welcome All Believers” because you don’t.  If your church won’t accept queer inquirers or candidates under care, put that in your Christian Education Parents Newsletter. Be honest and forthright about what your church really believes and allow the queer community and their allies to stay away from you.

But we know you won’t do that. The reason you won’t is because you know that will mean your church has taken a stance that is in violation of the command of Christ to “love one another as I have loved you.”

Rev. Peterson couldn’t stand so firm in his opposition to the LGBT community that he would kick out lesbian congregants or fire his gay music director (good luck finding a replacement that *isn’t * gay), nor could he, in his first and most honest response, tell two of his hypothetical sheep that he refuses to marry them. Pastor’s take vows to “further peace and unity,” “to serve the people with love,” and “to show the love and ministry of Jesus Christ”. (BoO W-4.4003g, h, i(3)) This issue has created pastoral dissonance for a reason: The religious position against LGBT persons is unloving. It is rooted in fear, hatred, jealousy, and ignorance. None of which are fruits of the Spirit.

I believe that this week, God sent a pretty clear Error Message to those who hate in God’s name. Who is listening?