Room Enough For All

To change the world enough / you must cease to be afraid / of the poor.
We experience your fear as the least pardonable of / humiliations; in the past
it has sent us scurrying off / daunted and ashamed / into the shadows.
Now, / the world ending / the only one all of us have known
we seek the same / fresh light / you do: / the same high place / and ample table.
The poor always believe / there is room enough / for all of us;
the very rich never seem to have heard / of this.
In us there is wisdom of how to share / loaves and fishes / however few;
we do this everyday. / Learn from us, / we ask you.
We enter now / the dreaded location / of Earth's reckoning;
no longer far / off / or hidden in books / that claim to disclose / revelations;
it is here. / We must walk together without fear. / There is no path without us
—“To Change the World Enough” by Alice Walker

Our faith boldly professes that there is, indeed, room enough for all of us. There is, indeed, enough blessing to go around. Our God is not a God of scarcity; our God desires that we all experience the abundant wonders and beauties of creation. And no one is disposable. As we confront the complexities of COVID-19 and the devastations of racism, we must acknowledge that we need one another. Our only path forward is with one another. We are interdependent, interconnected, interrelated. And for this reason, we continue to monitor the safety of resuming in-person worship. As of now, all best practices recommend waiting. We will not meet in person for worship at least through August 31. And we will reassess as we get closer to the fall. Yet, even as we continue to meet over Zoom and in other alternative ways, we continue to be the church. We’ve never stopped being the church! We continue to fight for justice. We continue to offer hope and hospitality. We continue to show up for one another. This is who we are and who we continue to be. No matter what.

See you in (zoom) church,

If One Member Suffers...

From1 Corinthians 12:12-26
Faces of “essential workers” Who are the people who have delivered something to you; prepared something for you; worked as a cashier, checker, bagger; performed a medical procedure on you; offered you a needed service during this time of limited mobility and sheltering-in-place?

Bring to mind the people who have harvested your food, cared for your health, picked up your trash, insured you get your medicine, made deliveries to your home. . . .

Do you recognize them as essential? Did you before 3 months ago?
Paul teaches us that the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable.
Are there people who you now see as essential who you once thought you could live without?

In a relaxation spiritual practice that I do—and some of you have done with me—toward the end, we focus our attention on a part of our body that is in pain, that may be sick, or weakened…

And as we focus there, we also become aware that there are other parts of the body that remain strong and healthy, and we allow those parts of the body to send their strength and energy to the weakened or sick area. No part of the body exists on its own.

Paul says, if the ear were to say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. . . . God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.

If one member suffers, all suffer together with it. . . .

George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Michael Lorenzo Dean, Eric Reason, Christopher McCorvey, Christopher Whitfield, Atatiana Jefferson, Dominique Clayton, Pamela Turner, Botham Jean, Antwon Rose II, Stephon Clark, Ronell Foster, Aaron Bailey, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Sandra Bland, Freddie Gray, Philando Castile, Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, Ahmaud Arbery, and . . . .

Scores / hundreds of black men, women, and genderqueer individuals have suffered and died at the hands of racists—and racist police—who think they are above the law. And because racism was built into the fabric of America from the beginning, systemic racism continues to be a persistent obstacle for our society and for the values and vision we claim for the church. . . .

And even as the global pandemic continues to unfold, we are experiencing waves of grief, anger, and unrest unleashed by centuries of injustice—which come around to us—here, today—and ask, How is it that you, Church, can help in this time of crisis?

In her recent charge to the graduates of Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary, Dr. Tamura Lomax invoked the ancient prophets and said, “Raising hell in an unjust world is your work. It is THE work. It is holy work.” So, go be hell raisers for justice!

And as if heeding her words, crowds of people—black, white, and brown; gay, straight, queer, and trans; people of all faiths, nationalities, economic status, and political affiliation—have taken to the streets to cry out against the brutal and inhumane moral illness of systemic racism. And this is where the church belongs. 

If one member suffers, all suffer together with it. . . . We belong to one another. We are essential to one another. Without you, my humanity in diminished. Without me, you are diminished. We need one another.

And this is what Paul is trying to convey to the 1st century church in Corinth. There are obviously those within this very diverse Christian community who are questioning whether or not they belong—whether or not this Jesus movement is really meant for them—whether or not they can really contribute in a meaningful way—whether or not they truly belong. And here we have Paul’s response:

Each and every one of us—no matter who you are—is important, actually essential, to the entire body of Christ. We are all interrelated, interconnected . . . as different—as opposite—as we may be . . . Jews or Greeks, slaves or free . . . democrat or republican . . . gay or straight . . . young or old . . . rich or poor . . . black or white . . . strong or weak . . . . regardless of gender identity, social ideology, education level, ability level. . . . We actually belong to one another. We are essential to one another.

The poet and philosopher David Whyte argues that feeling as if you belong is one the great triumphs of human existence—especially if you can sustain a life of belonging and invite others into that deep sense of belonging. But he further suggests that our sense of woundedness around NOT belonging can also be a great source of strength. When we know what it means to live in exile—hurt and pain—and when we learn to name the exile we feel, we have already begun the journey home. And that is one of the greatest human endeavors and the greatest of human stories. Just ask Abraham. Or Ruth. Or Mary. Or Jesus. Or any of the Black Lives Matter protestors on the street, fighting for their lives to end the deadly reach of racism. Or any of the millions of refugees around the world searching for a deep and abiding sense of home.
It’s easy to feel like we don’t belong. It’s much harder to create intentional spaces where all kinds of people feel like they DO belong. . . . And that my friends is the work of the church. Where every single person is welcomed as a beloved child of God and truly feels at home.

Clivie and the hummingbirds. Built nest, laid eggs, hatched, grew, practiced, left the nest on Thursday. Clivie’s big tears loss and underneath the loss, a deeper, almost inexpressible mourning. Mourning safety and safety for friends and needing one another. …

Reminder that we need each other. We are related. Dependent. Interrelated. Even in a time dominated by messages of individualism, isolation, loneliness, and fragmentation. We’re all in this together. We belong to one another. We are essential to one another. And especially now, we need to allow our hearts to be broken open. . . .

And to express our dependence, our relatedness, in the shadow of racial brutality, white supremacy, and privileged entitlement, we must humble ourselves. And we show up for the ear. For the foot. We must show up for what Paul calls the “less honorable,” “less respectable” members of the body. We show up for those who are different from us. For those whose needs are greater than ours. We show up for those facing oppressions and injustices that we may never fully comprehend. We show up for Black Lives Matter. And we raise hell.
Today, this may mean that we show up for the March and Rally to end Racism in Vallejo. Or it may mean we show up in another way. Relationships, after all, are not just something we “do.” Relationships are who we are. They embody a quality of presence. A way of sharing love. A willingness to examine ourselves and our intentions and the impact of our actions. And as we face down centuries of racism in this country, undoubtedly our God is with us. And we take the lead from our siblings of color. We show up for them. And when they are honored, we will all rejoice together.



Imagining Something New

From Acts 2:1-21

There are people sitting in prisons—hoping for guidance and a kind word, desperate for redemption—aching for some good news. . . . Come, Holy Spirit, Come!
There are people languishing in hospital beds—lonely and afraid—uncertain about the future and yearning to see a friendly face. . . . Come, Holy Spirit, Come!
There are people living in cars and garages, on park benches, and under overpasses—suffering with the elements, bodies twisted with lack of comfort—longing for some hope…. Come, Holy Spirit, Come!
There are people struggling to feed their families—some forced into the excruciating decision of who will get to eat tonight?—wishing there was sufficient community support for everyone. . . . Come, Holy Spirit, Come!
There are people sheltering-in-place who are wrestling with mental health issues and experiencing abuse aching for a life-line and a meaningful, life-giving connection with a friend. . . . Come, Holy Spirit, Come!
There are people stigmatized by the expression of their gender identity—who are shunned and criminalized—and who just want to know that they are seen and loved for who they are. . . . Come, Holy Spirit, Come!
There are immigrants and refugees fleeing from dangerous situations in their homelands—seeking a place of safety where their children might learn and grow and thrive—where they might be reassured that goodness and generosity are still alive. . . . Come, Holy Spirit, Come!
There are people of many different faiths who call this country home—who believe that God is big enough to be called by many names—trying to live out their spiritualties in life-giving and gracious ways—sharing the abundant resources of God’s creation. . . . Come, Holy Spirit, Come!
There are black people and brown people, and every race and mix in between—who are created in the image of God, and yet who are systemically made to feel less-than, inferior, insignificant, unimportant. They cry out to know if their lives matter. . . . Come, Holy Spirit, Come!
Now, I guarantee you that Peter and the other disciples gathered in Jerusalem to celebrate that first Pentecost after Jesus’ resurrection did not know how to meet all of the needs of all of the people who gathered as the earliest followers of Christ. This was a group of immigrants with distinct struggles and concerns, longings and hopes from all over the known world (“known” to the writer Luke in the 1st century, that is). They gathered to try to understand who they were, to feel connected to one another, to recall their histories—as well as to envision their future. They gathered—as we do—to try to find a sense of hope. And while Peter and the disciples did not come with all the answers, they slowed themselves down enough to listen. And they listened, and they heard in ways they could each understand. …
They heard the cries, the needs, the hopes, the fears, the uncertainties, the lamentations, the passions, the sufferings, the experiences of love and oppression and grace and injustice and healing.
But in order to hear this, fire had to burn away their resistance to the sounds and experiences of difference. A powerful African proverb says, “The child who is not embraced by the village will burn it down just to feel its warmth.” They all wanted to be seen and heard—embraced and valued. And the Holy Spirit came to make that happen—to scorch them all—and to leave its mark that would bring them to life. Fire, after all, can be an agent of creation and renewal, purification and revelation. Think of Moses and the Burning Bush—or the heat from a forest fire triggering dormant seeds to pop open in the char and ash that is mysteriously rich soil ready to nurture forth new life. Or even the fires of protest, that we are currently experiencing, which push communities to the teetering precipice of crisis.
There may not be many gifts to be found in the fires of crisis—especially when it feels like the crisis ushers in so much destruction—but one gift crisis can offer—at both an individual and social level—is the opportunity for self-examination and communal-examination. And these examinations can lead to transformation and the imagining and creating of something entirely new. Fire can also be a sign of this transformation. The fires of crisis can bring us to the edge where profound change is possible—and necessary. It burns away the chaff until what is beautiful and precious and essential is revealed—delving into the depths of our hearts. But this does not mean that no pain is involved. 

Often times, reaching those deepest truths can sting and burn. They can cause great discomfort—but ultimately their work is grounded in love and offers hope for widening our circle and extending opportunities for greater flourishing for all those around us.
So when the Holy Spirit comes, it essentially uses its fiery breath to call us into crisis. (Can a fire of crisis be a Comforter/Helper?) It asks us if we are willing to heed the cries of our world, of our neighbors, of those experiencing injustice and desperate need. …
It asks us if we are willing to work to overcome our biases, our prejudices, our misgivings, our suspicions, our fears. It asks us if we are willing to stop deciding how we are going to try to control the situation, to correct the other, and come up with talking points. It asks us if we are willing to make ourselves vulnerable to all the human needs that meet us and surround us—and to sit in our discomfort of not knowing what to do and how to fix it. It asks us if we are willing to listen and be and respond in love. It asks us if we are willing to be the Church. And if we are, what is that church going to look like? What do we imagine the church should look like today?
The General Minister and President of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Rev. Terri Hord Owens recently said, “I want a church that loves so courageously that we will stand up and insist that the killing of black and brown people must stop, and will work to remove those in office who fail to enact laws and policy accordingly.
“I want a church that loves so radically that we are always putting up chairs to make room for more, always leaving empty chairs at the table, expecting that many more will come, turning no one away.
“I want a church that loves so generously that our priority will be the elimination of poverty, to ensure that everyone has enough to eat, safe and decent housing, healthcare, a living wage and quality education that is not based on your zip code.
“I want a church that loves so creatively that we are willing to dismantle structures, traditions, and processes that dishonor humanity and marginalize any among us. I want a church that loves so completely that we are not satisfied until justice rolls down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream. I want a church that follows Jesus, and is therefore committed to work for all of this….”
I believe the Holy Spirit is calling each of us today to dig around in the ash and embers surrounding us and take part in the holy work of God in this time and place. To open up doors of new life that have been jammed closed. To commit ourselves to creating cracks of liberation for others to find. And to stand boldly in solidarity alongside all God’s beloved community. This is the church I hope for and imagine. Come, Holy Spirit, Come!

Lighting a Candle of Hope in the Windows of Our Hearts

And the people stayed home. And read books, and listened, and rested, and exercised and made art, and played games, and learned new ways of being and were still. And listened more deeply. Some meditated, some prayed, some danced. Some met their shadows. And the people began to think differently. And the people healed. And in the absence of people living in ignorant, dangerous, mindless, and heartless ways, the earth began to heal.

And when the danger passed, and the people joined together again, they grieved their losses, and made new choices, and dreamed new images, and created new ways to live and heal the earth fully, as they had been healed.
—Kitty O’Meara, Iona Community in Scotland

It’s a beautiful vision, isn’t it? And I wish it were as easy as it sounds. But the reality for many of us is that this time brings with it confusion and cloudiness that complicates our best intentions. And while we may be thinking, “I should be using this time to xyz,” there are no “shoulds” during a pandemic other than staying safe and taking good care of ourselves and those around us.

But even while we work to stay safe and take care, the persistent needs in our communities continue and intensify. Each one of us could name a litany of pressing social and economic needs that desperately require compassionate and just faith responses. So, the questions I want to leave with you are how shall we light a candle of hope in the windows of our hearts? How can we clear our vision so that we are able to meet the challenges and opportunities that arise in the world we are moving toward?

Our world is changing, and we are changing with it. There is pain—and there is joy—in acknowledging that. May we always find solace in God’s presence—and always seek God’s guidance—on the journey.

See you in (zoom) church,