Monday, April 29, 2013


We spend a lot of time at seminary talking about something called theodicy. Theodicy means "the justice of God," and it basically asks the question: "If God is all-good and all-powerful than why does bad stuff happen to good people?"

I will be honest with you and admit that I'm not sure there's much of a good answer to this, other than messing with the idea of what exactly we mean by the phrase "God is all powerful." Which I could do here, at length. But I'm not going to. Because right now, at the end of my semester, with a lot of the people that I'm in close relationship with going through some tough times, and with the 24-hour news cycle throwing its (why is it so)usual storm of pain and suffering at us, I'm not sure that trying to answer the question of theodicy is the most helpful thing.

There is a book of mystical poetry that one of the brilliant students that I worked with at American University gave me. She marked a bunch of pages in it. One of the pages she marked was a poem by Catherine of Siena, a 14th century saint. Here is what St. Catherine wrote:

"A thorn has entered your foot. That is why you
weep at times at

There are some in this world
who can pull it

The skill that takes they have
learned from

There is a time for debate. A time for trying to figure out ,"why." A time for analysis.

But there is a time, I think, when what we need to do is sit with each other and help knead thorns out of each others feet. Sit with those "some in this world" and help hold each others' hurt.

Maybe it's the end of the semester. Maybe it's all the trauma that has been flooding our national--and international--conscious lately. But that's where I feel pulled right now.

To sitting-with.

To thorn-pulling.

Saturday, April 20, 2013


and make a declaration:
I have a body.

I am not only
   scattered, racing thoughts
     caught on permanent loop
   ghosts of news media sites
      imprinted on the backs of my eyelids
I am not only
   systematic theologies
     that can't contain what they seek to explain
     that fail and fail and fail
I am not only
  paralyzed by tragedy
I am not only
   Rumi's perpetual whirlpools
   the lies I tell about myself
   the skeletons of winter.

  and make a declaration
  a protest in the darkness:
We are bodies
  loving in rhythm
  moving to music.

We are miracles.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Sermon: A Deep and Terrible Darkness

This is a sermon I preached at American University last night. Obviously a lot has changed in Boston since I wrote this but I think it still speaks to our response, somewhat. It's on Genesis 15, which is a problematic text for me in a lot of ways because of all the time I spent hanging out with people who get treated like Canaanites, people who live between the river of Egypt and the great river, who were doing awfully fine without a covenant being forced down their throats, thank you very much. But that is not what this sermon is on, at least not directly. 

It probably won’t surprise you if I tell you that I had to change the sermon that I was going to preach today.
I was going to start with a hip, relevant reference to a movie. Except that I’m not particularly hip and relevant so it was going to be a movie from the 90s originally made in France. But it was going to relay the message of my sermon in the language of pop culture, complete with a Dustin Hoffman quote. It was going to set up a clever contrast with the passage from Genesis that we just heard, shed light on the scriptures, which was going to be ironic because the passage that we’re grappling with is about darkness.
And then the bombs went off in Boston.
It didn’t take long for the gruesome images to fill our social media sites and newsfeeds. And we watched. Watched the videos of the explosions, of runners still trying to finish. We refreshed news sites to see if there was new information. We gathered around. Huddled together. We prayed. We started planning vigils. We told stories of heroism, of runners running all the way to the hospital to give blood, of people responding. We shared posts about goodness outnumbering evil. We quoted Mr. Rogers telling us to look for the helpers when we are scared. We did what little we know how to do.
When something like Boston or like Sandy Hook happens—and isn’t it awful that we have a category to put these tragedies in, that we can say “when something like Boston or Sandy Hook or Virginia Tech or Columbine or….”—my first reaction is silence.  If you know me you know that not having words is scary for me. I'm not someone who is naturally prone to silence. But what do you say in response to the terror, the shrapnel, the bleeding limbs? What do you say in response to the smoke and the wreckage? I just have to sit with it, for awhile. Just sit in the deep and terrible darkness of it.
So now here I am, speaking. And here we are, looking for answers, looking for God to show up, to do something, to give us some sort of explanation or way to react or something. I know I am. It’s a natural response, and an important one. To look for God to show up.
In theological parlance, there is a word for a revelation of God’s self. It’s called a theophany. Theophanies, in scripture, are often accompanied by signs of God’s power over creation. Fire, lightning, thunder. Earthquake. Blinding light, knocking Saul to the ground. God shows up and those who experience the theophany know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that God is there. God makes God’s self known in a dramatic way.
I think that when I want to hear from God, I want this kind of encounter. I mean, I could do without the earthquakes. But I want the certainty. The convincing evidence that God is here, that God has something to say directly to me.
Genesis 15, which we just heard read, is the story of a theophany, but it challenges our expectations about what it means to encounter God. Now this Genesis 15 text is a pretty key story in the Hebrew Bible. This is the first covenant with Abram. Here God, having called Abram from his home into a strange country, promises him descendants and land. This is quite a promise for an old man, with no children, wandering landless. This story foreshadows all that is to come after—the birth of the Israelite nation, the captivity in Egypt, the Exodus, the violent entry into the “Promised Land.” I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that without this story, the rest of the Hebrew Bible doesn’t make much sense.
And so it’s fascinating to me just how ambiguous this passage is, in fact just how fractured it is. How caught up this passage is in fear and in darkness. It’s a story about a promise but it’s an ambiguous promise, an uncomfortable promise.
There are a few things that I want to point out about this text. First, there’s a ceremony being referred to here, a covenant ceremony, which the first hearers and readers of this text would have known but which we, in the 21st century, are not familiar with. The description of this ceremony is remarkably detailed considering the usually sparse nature of biblical narratives. We are given a detailed list of the animals involved and a description of the process of preparing them and protecting them from scavengers. The prepared sacrifices are then accepted by God in a haunting scene involving “a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch.” What is going on here?
            The way we translate from the Hebrew sheds some light. The Common English Bible translates: “That day the LORD cut a covenant with Abram.” The Inclusive Bible expands on the reason behind this translation: “In Hebrew, the word ‘covenant’ is derived from the verb ‘to cut.’ Usually both parties cut the sacrifice jointly, as if to say, ‘May this happen to me if I violate our agreement.’” So when Abram asks “how am I to know that I shall possess [the land],” God responds with a radical commitment, saying, in effect, “If I don’t hold up my end of this deal, I am going to get cut. I am going to be hurt.” This is a vulnerable God.
            What brings about this radical commitment from God? Abram’s doubt. Throughout this passage Abram challenges God, asks God pointed questions, asks how he can possibly know that God is serious about this promise. Now Abram is often lifted up as the paragon of faith, the one who does just what God tells him to do. And here he is, doubting, and forcing a response—a radical response, a vulnerable response—from God.
            So this promise is wrapped up in doubt. And the doubt doesn’t just manifest itself in the form of Abram’s questions. This whole passage is fractured and caught up in darkness. We are told that when God first addresses Abram, God tells him to go out and count the stars. So if we’re seeing the stars, then it’s nighttime, right? Ok. Then God talks to Abram some more and we are told that the sun is going down. So did a whole night and day go by here? Or is the story out of order? And then it’s nighttime again and we get this spooky scene with the smoking pot and the flaming torch. Time is fluid in this passage. It is fragmented. Fragmented like experiences of trauma. Because trauma disrupts our sense of time, makes seconds last hours and days disappear like smoke.
            So we go from nighttime to the sun going down and then “a deep sleep fell upon Abram, and a deep and terrifying darkness descended upon him.” I can’t get rid of this line. It sticks in my heart. A deep and terrifying darkness. That’s what I feel when I see the news about Boston, the news about Texas, the news about the Virginia Tech massacre that occurred 6 years ago this week. The news of U.S. bombs falling on a wedding party in Afghanistan, killing 30 people. A deep and terrifying darkness. That’s what I feel when mental illness swirls around me and I have what we clinically call a “depressive episode” and my brain is trying to kill me. A deep and terrifying darkness.
            What I want to say here is that the fact that Abram encounters God in a fragmented way, and in a deep and terrifying darkness, tells us something about how we encounter God. Remember I told you about theophanies? This passage from Genesis is almost a reverse theophany. It does not happen with a thundering voice or with beams of light. It takes place under deep and terrifying darkness. It is in darkness and confusion that God—a radically committed God, a vulnerable God—shows up.
            So tonight I want you to stay with me, at least for a little while, in the deep and terrifying darkness. It is an uncomfortable place to be. A scary place to be. A place where there are no easy answers, where, in fact, there might not be any answers at all. This is not the place where we expect to find God. This is a place where we might describe our experience as an absence of God. And what I’m telling you, and what I’m telling myself, is: don’t be so quick to leave this place.
            See, I do not like the deep and terrifying darkness. I like sunshine. I like clarity. I like answers and certainty. But what I encounter in this passage is a faith, Abram’s exemplary faith, that is expressed through doubt. I encounter a sense of time that does not march by mechanically but that ebbs and flows chaotically. I encounter promises made in darkness, covenants cut in haunting scenes, God’s presence as absence.
            And I want to say that what seems like bad news—doubt, fragmentation, darkness—is actually good news. Because often these things match our experiences, and we can only meet God in and through our experiences. We can only encounter God, the God who heals, if we are willing to stay with the hurt, to experience it. As the Sufi poet Rumi writes, “the cure for pain is in the pain.”
            And I want to say, further, that if we are not willing to stay, for awhile, in the deep and terrifying darkness, then we are going to have a hard time following this Jesus, this Christ, about whom we sing and to whom we pray. Because the Christ who dies on the cross is dying, again, in Boston. Is dying, again, in Newtown. Is dying, again, in Afghanistan. Is dying, again, in Gaza. And even when the disciples encounter Jesus after the resurrection, they find that he still bears the scars of his torture and death in his body. The trauma does not simply disappear. It remains. The deep and terrifying darkness is not simply gone. But there is a word in that darkness, a further word, a word of radical commitment and vulnerability.
            I am going to ask us to spend just a few moments, now, before we sing, in silence. To stay in this darkness, for at least a little while. To experience an absence. And thus, to encounter the presence that, perhaps, we were looking for to begin with. 

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Finally writing about Boston

I've posted three times in three days, which is quite an accomplishment for me. And I've written about myself every time. And I haven't written about Boston.

When the bombs go off--in Gaza or in Syria or in Boston--my first reaction is silence. I don't have any words. If you know me you know that not having words is scary for me. I'm not someone who is naturally prone to silence. But what do you say in response to the terror, the shrapnel, the bleeding limbs? What do you say in response to the smoke and the wreckage?

So much of what gets said after these sorts of things--how awful that there are "these sorts of things," that bombing and shooting and death and maiming are a category that we can talk about--strikes an ugly chord in me. The jump to assumptions about the religion and the nationality--let me be brutally honest, about the skin color--of the perpetrator. The endless speculation. The 24-hour news cycle.

We do what we do. We huddle together. We hold vigils. We identify heroes. Unless of course the bombs are falling far away, falling on--let me be brutally honest again--falling on Arabs. Then we don't need heroes. We only need the heroes when it's "us."

I am not trying to take away from anyone's pain, anyone's mourning. Boston is a horrible human tragedy and we need to do what we do, need to huddle together and hold vigils and tell stories about stories. What I am trying to say is that we are a part of this. This culture of violence. This culture that leaves the Senate paralyzed to do anything about guns. This culture that thinks that dropping bombs on wedding parties in Afghanistan is ok but a bomb going off at a marathon isn't. This culture--this government, this good "liberal" president--that is going to pump $40 billion more dollars into weaponry for Israel, so that we can watch from afar as the bombs drop on Gaza and the tear gas and rubber bullets get fired directly into the faces of unarmed protesters and the kids get shot from the rooftops in Hebron and the Wall gets built and built.

I abhor what happened in Boston. It is sick and it is cowardly and it is unacceptable.

But Suheir Hammad gives me my response: I will not dance to your war drum.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013


Someday I will stop writing about the hospital, but not today.

In the meantime, I listened to a speaker yesterday, Mike Stavlund, who said we don't really get over grief, we just learn to integrate it in our lives. Make the fragments part of a--still fractured--whole. His grief is incredibly different then mine. I'd say worse but he told us not to do the whole comparison thing. So I'll keep writing, I suppose.

Here is what is making me write today:

When my parents loaded me in the car to limp our way up the East Coast to Silver Hill--to Connecticut, where everything was going to be alright so why did it feel like I was dying of choking on half-formed words--I asked if we could stop by the post office and pick up a roll of stamps. I used those stamps to send letters from the hospital, letters on yellow legal pad paper, letters to everyone I could think of to write letters to. To folks at MVS and to the AU community and to Dumbarton and to friends from high school and college. I scribbled in my journal--gold, gold, gold, the trees are all gold, and the birds that are in them also--and wrote furiously cramped letters and quoted Rilke and Thurman and Nouwen and Kathleen Norris and I don't know when the words stopped pouring out of me but somehow when I got home from Silver Hill things weren't all better but the words had dried up.

And I say all this to say that I am down to just three stamps on that roll, having just used one to send off a massive check to pay for the psychological assessment I have to have done for the ordination process. Maybe I'll use the rest of my hospital stamps for some similarly ironic purpose.

And I say all this, also, to say that I am staking out a claim made of words for myself, again. Lent started that process, hopefully. I'm not saying I'll write everyday, or even every week. I'm not setting a timeline. But I am tackling this fractured process of writing again. Because in my journal from that painful journey I wrote, again and again:

Thank God I still have words. Thank God I can still write.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

...and remembered

I woke up before the construction--
(that awful jackhammer sound of the bulldozers
evoking concrete dust and demolished houses)
--woke up to the refrains of songbirds.

...and remembered trees bathed in gold
and a wire cage open to the sky.

touching stories on my arm
tried again.

Monday, April 15, 2013


They tell me that these ancient apocalypses don't speak about the end of the world
    but an affirmation of the world
    a world where death has lost its sting.
But the chaos that hovers on the edge of my vision
    has a voice and he whispers:
"You can't beat me. You need me."
And I wonder if he's right.
And I think about conversations
    about chaos
    about creativity
    about art.
And I wonder who's got it right.

We are on your couch
    not talking
    and thinking about death
    and how it does, really,

Monday, April 8, 2013

Sermon: To tell a different story

This is a sermon that I preached last night at Kay Chapel at American University. It's about violence in the name of the Christian story, and why I think--given all that violence--we still need to tell the story of our faith. As it turned out, it was also the day when the campus remembers those who died in the Holocaust by reading names from the steps of Kay, so there was a resonance between what I was saying and what was going on outside. The texts were John 20:19-31 and Acts 5:27-32. Let me know what you think.

I. Love. Stories.

When I was a kid, I used to tell stories. I had a really active imagination, so my stories usually involved Martians or dragons or robotic superheroes. I just loved make-believe. Loved creating whole worlds that I could play in, could lose myself in.

I never kept my stories to myself. I would tell them to just about anyone who was around. My mom would sit at our computer and type up the stories that I told her. Then we’d print them out and make a book out of them, and my dad would help me illustrate them.

I’m pretty sure I still have some of those books sitting around, but anyway. That’s a different story.

Stories. What’s your favorite story?

Think about this question for a second. What’s your favorite story?

Why is it your favorite?

Who is the story about?

Last week, we walked together through a story. It’s a story that has all the elements that make for a good story. It has foreshadowing. Tension. Conflict. Betrayal. Redemption. And when we tell it, there’s a lot of singing.

Now, we find out, the story continues. There’s a “what’s next?” And it sounds like it’s going to be another good story. The story of a people transformed in order to transform the world. The story of a church.
 Earlier, we heard the first outlines of this new story. We heard about the disciples, huddled together in the upper room. We heard about their transformative experience with the Risen Christ, with this man who still bears the scars of his terrible death but now, somehow, graciously breathes out the Spirit of peace. We heard about Peter—fearful Peter, Christ-denying Peter—suddenly filled with courage, leading the apostles in front of the council, saying “We must obey God rather than any human authority.” Renewal. Drama. Confrontation. Oh, yeah. This is going to be a good story.

But there is a problem with this story, or at least a problem with the way that this story has been told throughout the history of the church. A problem that makes me cringe even though I want to be thrilling to the themes of redemption and liberation hinted at in these texts. The story that we are hearing the beginning of tonight is good news, but it has not always been good news for those that the Christian community has interacted with. As it turns out stories, even good stories, can be used as weapons.

I notice, when I’m reading the gospel of John, that I cringe a lot. I cringe a lot because John uses a word repeatedly, a word that is used in tonight’s reading. Actually, in the Common English version that we heard read, the Greek word “Ioudaios” is translated as “Jewish authorities.” But traditionally, in the old King James Version and in the New Revised Standard Version that I’m used to reading, the word is translated as “Jews.” And I hear, “the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews.” And I think, instead, of all the times in the past 2000 years when it has been Jews locking doors for fear of the good Christian folks. And I think, instead, of centuries of pogrom and persecution and Holocaust. Of Christian bishops urging emperors to prohibit Jewish communities from rebuilding burned out synagogues. And then I turn to the Acts passage, and I read “the God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree,” and I wonder just how long in Christian history it took for that plural “you” to mean, not authorities or power structures but instead a whole race or ethnic group. I wonder just how long it took for this good, good story of resurrection and redemption and empowerment to turn into a story of violence, of ethnic cleansing of us-versus-them, of othering.

Of course the story didn’t start out this way. When the gospel of John uses the word “Ioudaios,” what’s being referenced is an intra-Jewish conflict. The Jewish community is being pulled apart over the issue of the messiahship of this Jesus of Nazareth character, and the fledgling pre-Christian community is not doing so well. It seems, from other texts in John’s gospels, that Christians—who, remember, are still predominantly Jewish at this time—have been kicked out of synagogues. So what we have in John’s gospel isn’t the story of Gentile Christians against traitorous Jews but rather a struggling Jewish Christian community against, as the CEB would have it, religious authorities. There are even some scholars who argue that the meaning of “Ioudaios” is better understood as “Judean,” that is, from Jerusalem and southern surrounds, in contrast to the predominantly northern, Galilean followers of Jesus.

This same dynamic of intra-communal conflict is at play throughout the book of Acts. The author of the single document that we know as Luke and Acts goes out of his way to absolve Pilate of the death of Jesus, emphasizing the insistence of the Jewish community on the crucifixion of Jesus. But as Barbara Reid writes, “When Jewish Christians spoke of Jews who put Jesus to death, the intra-Jewish nature of the conflict was clear. But when Christians who are no longer Jews speak of ‘the Jews’ as being responsible for the death of Jesus, there is a whole other nuance that fuels anti-Judaism. Luke’s narratives must be understood in both their historical and theological contexts, at the same time, they must not be used to foment anti-Semitism.”[i]

But oh, how our Christian narratives—our Christian stories—have been used to foment anti-Semitism. The story of the crucifixion, with the Jews as the enemy, the killers of Christ, fueled Christian violence against Jewish communities, from riots to pogroms to the ovens of the Holocaust. It was Christian theology—the Christian story about God—based, ostensibly, on the biblical texts, that made this violence possible. Daniel Jonah Goldhagen’s book Hitler’s Willing Executioners makes this point, that German anti-Semitism, based on Christian theology and a certain reading of the Bible, created the atmosphere in which genocide could occur.[ii] Our Christian story was wrapped up in the need for violent scapegoating. Our story, our text, was used as a weapon, as a tool for writing other people out of the story. 

Now much work has been done, after the Holocaust, to disassociate biblical interpretation from this pernicious anti-Semitism. But Jewish people are not the only victims of our Christian tendency—can we call it our human tendency—to write people out of stories. Other religions have been the target of our stories-as-weapons as well. I’m thinking particularly of the stereotypes and the fear directed toward Islam, from the blood-drenched saga of the Crusades until today. The story relies on the exclusion of others, of people of other religions, in order to secure the particularity of Christian salvation. And we look to some of our favorite Bible verses and we see the shadow of this looming exclusivity. We see John 3:16, that favorite verse for signs at football games, and we read “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life.” And somehow instead of the love of God, and instead of the statement against condemnation that appears in the very next verse, somehow this verse comes to mean “You must accept Jesus or you must perish.” And we hear John 14:6, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” See? Look! It’s in the Bible! If you don’t believe in Jesus, then you are excluded. You are written out of the story.

(This is bad exegesis, by the way. But I think it’s representative of the way these texts have been interpreted over the centuries and throughout modern times.)

Now maybe it’s natural for religious stories to exclude other religions. But the way that the Christian story has been told over the centuries and right up until our current time has been perfectly willing to write people out of the story within the Christian fold. It will come as no surprise to you to hear me say that our texts have been used as weapons against women. I mean, there’s the obvious proof text passages. 1 Timothy 2:12: “I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent.” Or 1 Corinthians 11:3, “I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the husband is the head of the wife.” But those passages are the easy ones to critique, to say, “Well, those are just the product of a certain sociohistoric context.” But there are parts of our story that are much closer to home, I think, that have been used to commit violence against women. How many women experiencing domestic violence have been told that the abuse their husbands are pouring out on them is simply “the cross that they have to bear”? How much Christian theology has centered around God as an abusive Father, pouring His—and I say His here on purpose—wrath out on a victim Son? And if an abusive Father, why not an abusive husband? And I could go on and on about texts from the prophets Hosea and Jeremiah that picture Israel as an unfaithful wife and proceed to use language of violence and shame against the feminine depiction of the people of God. So often, too often, the texts that we draw on for our Christian faith have been used to silence women, to hurt women, to write women out of the story.

Of course, the latest fad in violence done in the name of the Christian story is that which is committed against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer folk, whether Christian or not. And again, we can go to the Bible for our prooftexts, for those seven clobber passages that are used to tell gay people that they are inherently wrong, unclean, less-than. During the recent rallies at the Supreme Court in response to the Defense of Marriage Act and Proposition 8 court cases, one journalist went and talked to young people who were rallying against marriage equality. He had them write the reason for their opposition to gay marriage on a pad of paper and then snapped a picture of them. Almost every single one of the young people he talked to used some sort of pseudo-Christian argument to make their case that marriage should be between one (cisgender) man and one (cisgender) woman. As Peter Gomes, the late Harvard chaplain and himself a gay man, writes: “Although most contemporary Christians who have moral reservations about homosexuality, and who find affirmation for those reservations in the Bible, do not resort to physical violence and intimidation, they nevertheless contribute to the maintenance of a cultural environment in which less scrupulous opponents of homosexuality are given the sanction of the Bible to feed their prejudice and, in certain cases, cultural “permission” to act with violence upon those prejudices.”[iii] To Gomes I would add that even when overt violence is not acted out against gay people, the violence of closets and of silencing—with all the depression, self-loathing, and all too often suicide that results—is not to be underestimated. For so long LGBTQ people have been the scapegoats, pushed to the margins and written out of the Christian story.

I could go on, of course. I could talk about all the biblical arguments for chattel slavery in the United States. The violence done in the name of the Bible against indigenous people, including ongoing violence against Palestinians sanctioned by the land promises of God’s covenant with Abraham and his descendants. The violence of colonialism. I imagine you get the point.

So here’s the question: why not just throw it all out? Why, if the Christian story has been accompanied by, and has fueled, so much violence throughout the centuries, if our texts have been used to write so many people out of the story, then why should we keep the damn thing at all? Why should we read the texts, why should we listen to the stories?

Here’s why I think our Christian stories matter. Because they point the way to the risen Christ. And this Christ, this risen Christ, is the Jesus who knows what it is to be written out of a story. To be pushed to the margins. To be violated, abused, killed. And it is this Christ—this risen Christ who still carries the signs of trauma in hands and side, wounds that Thomas can touch—who, against all reason, breathes the Spirit of peace out onto the disciples who betrayed and abandoned him. This wounded, this traumatized Christ comes to us from the margins of the page, from the places of crushing pain, and gives us the ability to tell a new story. Gives us new lenses to read this old, old story.

This risen Christ, this resurrected Jesus, calls us to question any place in our story that excludes and scapegoats, because if we read with the eyes of Christ we read with the eyes of the excluded and the scapegoated. This risen Christ, this resurrected Jesus, transforms Peter and the rest of the disciples from marginalized voices huddled in a room to empowered voices that must obey the call of a God of justice and of peace rather than any human authority of violence and dehumanization.  When we read our texts, when we tell our stories, in the Spirit of this resurrected Jesus, we find that our texts can no longer be used as weapons. That we can no longer engage in the project of writing people out of the story.

Because, you see, we are an Easter people. We are an Easter people, and something fundamental has changed. Something that leads us to challenge, like Peter standing before the council, the violent side of our shared story.

What’s your favorite story?

Who is it about?

Who is included, and who is not?

Let me tell you my favorite story. It is one that I have probably told before. You might have heard it in this very chapel, but I think it is worth retelling. The story is about South Africa, in the depths of the struggle against apartheid. The white South African government had outlawed a march against apartheid, so the organizers of the march decided instead to hold a church service at St. George’s Cathedral in Cape Town. Then-bishop Desmond Tutu was preparing to speak to the gathered marchers when the doors to the cathedral burst open. In poured members of the dreaded apartheid secret police, making no effort to conceal their identity. They carried tape recorders and pads of paper. The message was clear: speak up, and your name will be taken down. You will be recorded. And we will find you. And we will find your family. And you will regret that you did not hold your tongue.

Desmond Tutu surveyed the situation. The menacing agents. The terrified congregation, eyes moving fearfully from him to the intruders. What would he say? How would he respond?

He began thoughtfully. “You are powerful,” he said. “You are very powerful.”

“But we serve a God who will not be mocked!”

And then, spreading his arms wide in a gesture of welcoming and smiling widely, he proclaimed: “Since, in Christ, we have already won…we invite you today to join the winning side.”

The response was tremendous. The congregation began singing and dancing, and the pressure of their movement slowly moved the secret police out of the cathedral and onto the street. From fear to celebration. From huddled in a room to saying, with Peter, “We must obey God rather than any human authority.”

Now the thing about this story is that when it happened, there was no way, just no way, that Desmond Tutu was right. The anti-apartheid movement was not the winning side. It was, very decidedly, the losing side. But a decade later those same protesters would be dancing in the streets of South Africa celebrating the fall of apartheid, and who knows but they might have been joined by some of those same secret police agents who had been tasked to intimidate and brutalize them. The anti-apartheid movement was carried forward by a hope in the resurrection, a hope that challenged not only state-sanctioned but also church-sanctioned dehumanization and violence. The scapegoated, traumatized Jesus, emerging from the margins of the story to breathe peace.

Friends, we are being invited, today, to meet this resurrected Jesus. This might mean positioning ourselves in some scary places. In the margins of our collective stories. In fearfully locked rooms. In the places within our narratives where prejudice and scapegoating rule the day. In places of trauma and pain. Because it is from exactly these places that the risen Christ emerges, breathing peace. This risen Christ is calling to us, today, from demolished homes in East Jerusalem, from bomb-shattered streets in Syria, from poverty-ravaged and abandoned urban and rural landscapes in the U.S., from psychiatric wards and homeless shelters, calling to us. Calling to us to, today, to tell a different story.

Calling to us, today, to join the winning side.

[i] Barbara Reid, “Notes on Acts,” in the New Interpreter’s Study Bible (Abingdon, 2003), 1959.
[ii] Daniel Jonah Goldhagen’s, Hitler’s Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust (Vintage, 1997).
[iii] Peter J. Gomes, The Good Book: Reading the Bible with Mind and Heart (Harper One, 1996), 146.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Easter Monday: On not giving up

Lent is over, Christ is risen, the "alleluias" are back on our lips....and I'm in a total daze, probably brought on by the 11 worship services I've been to in the past 4 days.

God sent me an email this morning that just said "enough already."

Anyway. Back in February, before Lent began, I wrote this:

"I was thinking about "giving something up" this year, and it struck me that giving up is exactly what I've been trying to avoid ever since I got out of Silver Hill more than a year ago now. So I think I'm going to blog for Lent about what I'm not giving up on, what I'm holding on to, what's keeping me going."

A liturgical season later, and  think I only missed three days. Not too shabby given how much of an undisciplined mess I generally am. I've had help. Once people caught wind of what I was doing, they'd ask me, "So, what aren't you giving up on today?" or "Have you blogged today?" It was a cool bit of community accountability that I really appreciated.

A liturgical season later, and what I have is a list of reasons--some seemingly trivial, some almost too big to hold on to--for putting my feet on the ground in the morning, for getting through the day, for taking whatever the next step is in this whole ministry thing that I've committed myself to. Should I say, this whole life thing that I've committed myself to?

Thank you for coming with me on this Lenten journey. There is so much not to give up on. So much to keep going for.

One day, when I am struggling, will you be part of my community of accountability? Will you remind me of this?