POEM: THIS IS HOW WE CARE FOR ONE ANOTHER

This is how we care for one another.

Shabbat bags distributed Thursday afternoons: 
            2 (battery operated) candles
            Grape juice
            A blessing card in Hebrew/English
            The time of Friday’s sunset

Eid Al-Adha festival in the atrium:
            Koran recitations sung in Arabic
            Prayer rugs on the floor facing the Kaaba
            Food and drink for all

Bedside daily Eucharist.

Chanting for hours in a dark room
            gathered round a body in transition.

All under one shared roof.

I bristle a bit at the language, but
is this what Jesus meant when he said,
“My father’s house has many rooms”?

This is our body with your body.
This is our presence saying,
Until you are able,
we come to you.

Sermon: Jesus, Open to Influence

Jesus, Open to Influence
Liberation United Church of Christ
August 20, 2017

“Do you love Black people?”

This is the question, Jessica Byrd, a self-described “black, queer, feminist political operative working at the intersection of social justice and electoral politics,” specializing in the trifecta of activism, good elected leadership, and transformative public policy asks.[i] “Do you love Black people?” is the question she asks candidates when she is deciding whether to work with them or not.  I heard her relay this recently in an interview[ii] followed by the sentiment that she will die fighting to hear the answer yes and the feeling that comes with it when she knows a candidate means it.

She has power and she knows it. She has an imagination that can envision a different reality than the one we’re in right now together as a country and she uses that imagination combined with her intelligence, hard work, her community and her inner strength. She has experience and influence and she knows that too.  She knows what she needs, the Black community needs, what we all need to thrive as a democratic community, and she’s not afraid to ask for it or fight for it – she knows her zone of influence and she goes straight to the heart of the matter with the white, mostly male, gatekeepers who say to her: “I just don’t understand why difference is good.” 

“I just don’t understand why difference is good.”

The gatekeepers who literally keep saying to people of color and women and anyone who is not a straight white male, “it’s not your turn yet.  Get more experience first. Wait in line.”

She swore a bit in the interview, but she did not sound despairing.  She’s awake and she sounded empowered and up for the ongoing conversations with those who are, to use a Jesus phrase from the Gospel of Matthew, [iii]“willfully stupid.” She refers to them as people she loves, just as Jesus loves his disciples, progressives with a lack of imagination who consciously or subconsciously are holding onto the idea of what winning is based on the old ways.  We forget that disciples were disappointed too that they didn’t get their king.

She’s done the math on all of electable roles in this country (over 50,000) and the demographics on the people who hold them. She shared that white men hold 4 times the roles of any other demographic. They are gatekeepers. Jessica laughs explaining that she’s fighting for really simple things for humans – the right to be alive, the right to not be criminalized, the right to care for and feed human bodies. Why is this even a fight? It’s absurd, but it is our reality.

Jessica sounds like an off her knees, standing tall, not begging 21st century version of the Canaanite woman and Jesus sounds to me like a gatekeeper in the encounter of our lectionary text today.

In The Message interpretation of the Mark version of this story, Jesus literally tells [the Canaanite woman]: “Stand in line and take your turn. The children get fed first. If there’s any left over, the dogs get it.”

Well Jessica Byrd is not interested in leftovers, but the unnamed Canaanite woman needed her daughter healed and maybe we can hear that woman saying, “Do you love the gentiles?  Do you love the Syrians?  Do you love the Canaanites?  Do you love the women and the daughters and the men and the sons outside of the children of Israel?”

His first response after ignoring her when the disciples ask him to deal with her: “I’ve got my hands full dealing with the lost sheep of Israel.”

His first direct response to the woman, “It’s not right to take bread out of children’s mouths and throw it to dogs.

That sounds like vomit coming out of a mouth from the heart to me. 

I always wonder where “Gentle Jesus, Meek and Mild” came from?  Did Charles Wesley, the writer of that hymn, and those of us that grew up singing it read the gospels?

This passage is hard for the folks who want a gentle Jesus or a perfect Savior.

One Women’s Bible commentator writes, “The fact that Jesus’ initial response to the woman is rude and parochial bothers faithful readers who want Jesus to be a perfect model of morality and courtesy, untouched by his patriarchal culture and human nature.”[iv]

It’s impossible to be untouched by culture – we are born open hearted and the culture seeps in.  This is why we don’t have to be a neo-Nazi as a white person to be a racist. 

Maybe the Canaanite’s woman’s conviction, her faith was not in him in that moment per se, but in the right she had to seek healing on behalf of her daughter.  She had a right to be seen, to be alive, to be served!  To have access to the power that Jesus was using on behalf of others.

I’ll state and maybe you already guessed this, I have no need for Jesus to be perfect. I have no desire for Jesus, Gentle, Meek, and Mild.  He was tough and he was tender.  I would love to be able to go back in time and see if Jesus was learning in public!  That would be a transformation to experience and to witness and to encourage others to do the same. My first title for this sermon was, “Jesus Behaving Badly, Jesus Transformed.” I changed it almost immediately because I thought, was he?  Did this encounter really cause a transformation in him?

I started having conversations this week with others, some long, some short when I felt an opening. Eleta, Marshan, and Daphne obliged.

Eleta made me laugh the hardest and literally brought me to my knees when in response me saying, “I’m not sure he was transformed by that one interaction.” She responded, “Well, I suspect his resurrection meant a lot to him too.”

I suspect his resurrection meant a lot to him too!

Dang, church Mother!

All four of us – Eleta, Marshan, Daphne, and I have different understandings of Jesus, of scripture, of God, of this particular text.  That is true of every single one of us in this community and it is true of every Christian community. But here is the beauty of the UCC and this community that is not true of every other community – here we don’t have to pretend otherwise.  We get to claim that.  We, correct me if I’m wrong, think our diversity in unity is our strength and we get to influence one another.  As Daphne and I were talking at the end of our walk together, we get to sharpen iron with iron, steel with steel. 

Not all of us believe that Jesus is God.  Not all of us believe that Jesus is Savior.  But some of us do.  Some of us think Jesus acts like a jerk sometimes.  Some of us think it’s his imperfect humanity, some of us think it’s his wise divinity turning every conversation and interaction into a training ground for spiritual warriors who will exist in an even more violent empire after he’s gone, and some of us haven’t thought much about this scripture text at all.

We get to turn the jewel of scripture, the jewel of our individual and communal life experiences together.  We get to share with one another how we see it, how we experience life, what we think the other is right about and where we may be off or that we just disagree. We get to illuminate one another’s blind spots out of our varied experiences.

This is a gift.  This life together is the living ground of transformation.

We are all influencing each other and we are all being influenced!

I want to be as BOLD as the Canaanite woman and I want to be as open as I imagine Jesus could have been in that moment, in that encounter.

He was laser sharp in his focus once he came out of the wilderness. I admire that and I don’t judge him for it.  He was on the move and was preaching to crowds and healing individuals all over from town to town, avoiding getting killed from those who were plotting to kill him, mourning the death by beheading of his cousin John the Baptist and that involved leaving a lot of unhealed, unfed, unvisited, unclothed people behind!  That is a painful truth then and that is a painful truth for us now.

If we are looking for quick fixes in the wake of the most recent, vile showing of white supremacy they’re not going to happen. It’s taken the whole history of humanity and the history of our country to get here.  It is true what the Matthean Jesus says, “what comes out of the mouth gets its start in the heart!” And he goes on to list all the vile possibilities.

But, take courage! These are not the only options to come out of the mouth from the human heart.

We are not quick fix magicians, but we are seeds planters.  We are powerful.  We can’t change people that don’t want to be changed.  But [40,000] people showed up in Boston yesterday to show whoever gathered in explicit displays of white supremacy that:

We are not trying to replace you. We’re trying to transform and transcend a disturbed, scarce, evil mindset and include your humanity with ours. You are loved, but you will not be coddled.  Even though you act like spoiled children, you are not children anymore.  You’re literally playing with fire and we’re not going to stand idly by and watch you torch our communities.

But we don’t have to travel to rallies to show up. There are implicit, covert rallies every day in our work places, around dinner tables, bedrooms, banks, schools, parks, government bodies. We, I’m speaking as a white person to other white people, can show up as open to influence, learning in public, open hearted, courageous people who see the kin-dom of God in our midst, near and available right now, and stoke the moral imagination and courage of our fellow white folks and participate in chaplaining the death of white supremacy. Our privileges may be associated with our whiteness, but true power comes from a higher authority and a connection with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and our connections to our diverse human family and creation. We are invited to follow the lead, as the Rev. Traci Blackmon says, of those who are closest to the pain and let them guide the unfolding narrative. As for me I’ll be listening to womxn of color, queer womxn of color, and the men of all colors and white women [and all people across the gender spectrum] who listen to them and are open to influence.

For all of us and our open hearts and the temptation to close them in the face of ugliness and evil - there is no place in the world where the words that we speak, listen, and take to heart here every week are not transformative. 

“We are free to be intentionally, radically inclusive, welcoming all persons.”

What practices are you doing every day to keep your heart open to influence?  To leave it soft for transformation and steeled for engagement?

Where in our lives are we practicing not letting the Pharisees distract us from our call, the blind men leading the blind men, and getting down to business?  Where are we crossing the boundary of difference to ask for what we need acknowledging that our healing is bound up in one another’s healing?

If you need a suggestion say one line or our whole mantra every day. Multiple times a day like medicine, like living water, if you need it. 

“None of us is a foreigner or an outsider. We belong to the same human family.”

There’s a difference between being informed and being indoctrinated.  Yes, be aware, but down forget to turn off the so-called news!  If you’re spending more time on the news, or zoning out, or despairing than you are praying or meditating or singing or moving your body or engaging in a life giving conversation or cooking or volunteering or tangibly loving someone who needs it or receiving love or gardening or showing up at a city council meeting or joining a group who is working for good [or learning history], we will not be transformed and we will not influence others in their transformations.

And no matter what we do for a living, we are here today because we are in the influencing and transforming hearts by the power of the Holy Spirit, our own and those around us, business. Amen?

And you, Liberation, have influenced me to my very core.  Each of you have influenced me and my ministry.

You have planted seeds deep within me as a visitor at that very first service at Langston Hughes in 2007. I came to Liberation two years later and never left,  until now. You’re releasing me not from membership. But as a member in discernment you are sending me to follow my call towards ordination as a chaplain. I do have a call as a hospice chaplain to white supremacy in myself and in this country, but I also have a call as a chaplain, as a listener, and a conversation partner out in the world wherever people find themselves.   It doesn’t seem real that you might not see me and I might not see you for a year, when God willing and the people consenting this congregation will be close to ordaining me and sending me wherever I am led – but it is real.  And it is time. And I am ready!  I’m ready in part because you have taught me, corrected me, trusted me with your tender, fierce honesty, and you have listened to me.  What comes out of my mouth is started by what you have planted in my heart – what I have heard here, what I have seen here.

Yes, Liberation, I’m taking you all with me, I’m taking us with me – our prayers, our singing voices, our testimonies, my accountability to you, and our openness to the Spirit together.

You might not know this, but I have a practice I learned from a writer I know who at the start of every writing project makes a jury box.  He literally draws 12 squares on a piece of paper and fills them in with names.  He puts it up on the wall near his writing desk where he can see it while he’s writing.  I adopted the practice a while ago and I used to draw it out.  I should do that again.  Now I carry it in my heart. I remember doing it on paper once at Epiphany.  I was telling my former boss, Doyt, another important person and conversation partner in my life, about it and in true Doyt fashion he said,  “Epiphany should be in all your boxes if you’re preaching at Epiphany.” I said “No, Doyt. They shouldn’t. They are in one of my boxes.” We kept talking about who else was in my boxes and I said first of all my mom. She gives honest feedback, she’s white, and she has a tender heart. I’m always wondering how would she hear this?  Would she be able to take it in? Have I pushed too far? The youth I met at Juvie and the youth that are still there. Is this message good news for them?  Does it say anything in service of the transformation of our society that cages them? And you Liberation, you and who we are and aspire to be together are always in my jury box or the bleachers of my ministerial life.  I try to always be in conversation with this community, with us, literally and in my mind’s eye.  I want to be able to picture any of you in the pews of a church where I’m preaching, in a hospital room, when I’m with my friends and family away from here – I want you to be able to recognize the minister that you’ve raised me to be.

And to Jesus, the spiritual teacher, yes, you’re in my jury box too. Yes, the gospel is bringing up spiritual warriors here and in your humanity you were not immune from the culture you were born into. But there’s something about you. So, yes, Lord, speak to me. And keeping speaking to and through Jessica Byrd.Speak to and through Trina, and Daphne and Nicole, and Adrienne.  Speak to and through Ruth and Danai and Chloe and Kahlia. Speak to and through Hillary and Cheri and Daniella. Speak to and through Trish and Eleta and Janice. Speak to and through every single person gathered here.

Maybe God is trying to tell you something through the courage of our convictions!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[i] Jessica Byrd’s website: http://threepointstrategies.org

[ii] Politically Reactive podcast: http://www.earwolf.com/episode/is-this-what-democracy-looks-like-jake-tapper-jessica-byrd-give-their-take/

[iii] https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+15%3A10-28&version=MSG

[iv] I failed to write down the name and authors of the book I was referencing at the library.

POEM: HOMESICK FOR REVERENCE

“From the sea of identities that is reference
To the sea of possibilities that is [essence].
I am not this [shame], this anger, this fear.
I am not that hesitation, the doubt, that near death wish.
I am blessing,
I am tested,
I am sometimes suffering.
And so often blessed
By the presence of these questions we are all asking.
This feeling is genuine.
It arises spontaneously.
It is not a mere reference point.
It is a revolution of our thinking.
It’s our attention fundamentally directed internally.
It’s our love rising and falling,
Ceaselessly,
Mercifully.
So when you feel homesick for reverence
That penetrates every cell,
The awakening to the remembrance
That casts the simplest spell of truth,
Just close your eyes and go inside
To remind yourself of what your heart needs to hear.
It’s only this and it’s super clear,
I love you, I love you, I love you.”

-Elena Brower reading her writing on HOME podcast April 19, 2017

Slightly adapted for use at a Enneagram and Sabbath retreat.

(elenabrower.com)

REFLECTION & POEM: "WILD GEESE: after MARY OLIVER"

Recently I was with a group of spiritual directors.  Each of us were invited to share an image, a metaphor, or a poem that currently represented our work. I drew one image of a human with a traffic light inside with radar lines around it. Part of my practice is to invite people to pay attention to the signals their whole being is sending out to themselves and others. Sometimes a red lighted STOP, sometimes a yellow lighted SLOW DOWN, and at other times an undeniable green lighted permission to GO or KEEP GOING.  

My other metaphor was a drawing of a permission slip filled with repeated themes that come up with almost every person I talk to in one way or another. We each have permission to feel our feelings fully, all of them, without editing ourselves and we each have permission to communicate them directly with God/Source/the heartbeat of Life/the voice our own soul. In our desire to get it right because of our personalities' quest for perfection or security or because of our images of God (or no God) absorbed in families, churches, religions, culture, we miss being honest with ourselves, each other, and the mystery of Life.  Part of my work is to remind whoever I'm talking with that even though it's incredibly vulnerable and can seem foreign or forced or too damn simple or silly to be true we can simply pause and say to ourselves or out loud, one or a thousand times a day, "here I am as I am. I feel...  I long for... I'm grateful for... I'm terrified... I want to feel you here with me just as I am."  This practice opens us over time and reminds us that our essence can not be destroyed, no matter what.

No one needs my permission, spiritual freedom is already and always ours even if it's buried. But as human beings we need to be reminded because it's so easy to forget. I've been paying artists, poets, musicians, and therapists, seminaries, retreat centers, and spiritual directors to remind me of these things for years.  And every time I remind a directee, I'm reminding myself. Sometimes directees inadvertently remind me.

A directee shared with me the poem I've included below and it's full of the tender reminders our souls crave for us to hear. Sometimes I want to weep over the joy and pain of life and our combination of incredible resilience and loving natures, and our human conditioning to make it harder and more painful and shameful than it needs to be. Many of us don't often get reminded in church that part of one of the creation stories in the Bible says, "both [humans] were naked and unashamed." (Genesis 2:25b) Naked and unashamed. If you're not reminded of your goodness, of your birthright to be naked and unashamed, you are free to find a community that will.

Artists remind us and we can keep reminding each other inside and outside of church, on the bus, walking in the woods, over dinner tables, and in spiritual direction rooms.  

Wild Geese
after Mary Oliver

You don’t have to be crushed
under the spokes of your own desire
to be proven worthy enough.

The trophies of your hard work don’t
have to appear so freshly on your body.
Your clothes need not be torn.

Every night, you worry a new bird’s nest
from your hair. Every night, your dreams
grind you under her boot heel.

Your pendulum heart doesn’t need
to swing so hard in either direction.
Nails don’t have to be bitten to the nub.

You have to believe that the ground will
materialize under your feet the moment
you step forward. No one can tell you

if it will be rock gravel, or slick with pain.
No one can travel this road before you do.
It is yours, and it is beautiful because of it.

- Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz

POEM: the diver

In the wake of
asking how and
wondering when, 

make space.

Dive deep
and send a marker buoy up
to the surface.
Announcing your
place of descent,
proclaiming
your place of ascent
to come.

An embodied bursting forth.
A glorious inhale,
an expansive exhale.

A bright looking around
with eyes to see
what the soul has known
the whole time

patiently waiting
for you to risk the darkness
our essence needs,
the immense quiet -
radiant, 
wild,
shy,
connected,

alive.

...

I love poetry, but I don't have a regular practice of writing it.  This came out after a rich evening with a circle of women reflecting on our souls. Many of our images and language from that evening are collected here.

SERMON: THE MOTHER OF ALL GOD'S POWER

Isaiah 42:5-23 (The Message edited)

God’s Message,
The God who created the cosmos, stretched out the skies,
Laid out the earth and all that grows from it,
Who breathes life into earth’s people,

Makes them alive with God’s own life;

“I am God.  I have called you to live right and well.
I have taken responsibility for you, kept you safe
I have set you among my people to bind them to me,
And provided you as a lighthouse to the nations,
To make a start at bringing people into the open, into light:
Opening blind eyes,
Releasing prisoners from dungeons,
Emptying the dark prisons.
I am God.  That’s my name.
I don’t franchise my glory,
Don’t endorse the no-god idols.
Take note: The earlier predictions of judgment have been fulfilled.
I’m announcing the new salvation work.
Before it bursts on the scene,
I’m telling you about it.”

Sing to God a brand-new song,
sing God’s praises all over the world!
Let the sea and its fish give a round of applause,
With all the far-flung islands joining in.
Let the desert and its camps raise a tune,
Calling the Kedar nomads to join in.
Let the villagers in Sela round up a choir
And perform from the tops of the mountains.

Make God’s glory resound:
Echo God’s praises from coast to coast.
God steps out like God means business.
You can see God’s primed for action.
God shouts, announcing God’s arrival;
God takes charge and God’s enemies fall into line:

“I’ve been quiet long enough.
I’ve held back, biting my tongue.
But now I’m letting loose, letting go,
Like a woman who’s having a baby -
Stripping the hills bare,
Withering the wildflowers,
Drying up the rivers,
Turning lakes into mudflats.
But I’ll take the hand of those who don’t know the way,
Who can’t see where they’re going.
I
’ll be a personal guide to them,
Directing them through unknown country.
I’ll be right there to show them what roads to take,
Make sure they don’t fall into the ditch.
These are the things I’ll be doing for them -
Sticking with them, not leaving them for a minute.”

But those who invested in the no-gods are bankrupt – dead broke.

Pay attention!  Are you deaf?
Open your eyes!  Are you blind?
You’re my servant, and you’re not looking!
You’re my messenger, and you’re not listening!
The very people I depended upon, servants of God,
Blind as a bat – willfully blind!
You’ve seen a lot, but looked at nothing.
You’ve heard everything, but listening to nothing.
God intended, out of the goodness of God’s heart,
To be lavish in God’s revelation.

 But this is a people battered and cowed,
Shut up in attics and closets,
Victims licking their wounds,
Feeling ignored, abandoned.
But is anyone out there listening?
Is anyone paying attention to what’s coming?

It’s Mother’s Day, Mothering Day, friends.  However this day finds you – achy or filled up, celebratory or longing – may you know and feel your belovedness today.  I celebrate with tenderness something we all have in common - no matter what happened after we were born[1] - we were all held and sustained by the wombs of our mothers and we are all held beloved within the womb of God even now.

I want to talk about mothering today. Not mothers exclusively as a noun although all of you who are mothers, who take it so seriously and give yourself over to it for the love of others are sacred to me and I bow to you.  Thank you for sharing your children with us here at Liberation.

A mother is a noun, to mother is a verb, the mother of all - an adjective, and I want to posit that it’s an energy, a POWER that lives within all of us.   It’s the power at the heart of the Easter season (that we’re still in), it’s the power at the heart of resurrection, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Today’s lectionary gospel which we didn’t hear today is John 14:1-14. It’s one of my favorite parts of the Bible, one of my favorite sections of all the Gospels.  Here are the first four verses.  Maybe you too almost know them by heart.

"Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going."

It gets me every time.  It comforts me.

But here’s what I also noticed about this Mother’s Day lectionary text – it refers to Father 13 times in 14 verses.  And there’s nothing wrong with that per se, but Father is not the only image or metaphor for God!  Makes me wonder - didn’t anyone look at the dates when they were assigning texts?

And then I thought, well who knows maybe the lectionary was put together before Mother’s Day came into being.  No, Mother’s Day became a national holiday in 1914 and the lectionary was put together in 1969 after Vatican II.  I know Mother’s Day is not a liturgical holiday, not a feast day, but it is an opportunity to put a crack, just a crack, in the male dominated imagery in dominant Christianity. And fill it with the gender inclusive images of God that are alive in our wider Christian inheritance and in our Bible.

So I went looking for the birthing imagery of God that I’ve heard exists in the Bible and I found it in Isaiah. We heard Ryan read it today. 

This is a God who creates, stretches, lays out, breathes life into, and make them, the earth people, alive with God’s own life.

Sounds like womb love to me!

Powerful.

This text is part of second Isaiah that is thought of as the comfort section.  Just like a mothering spirit, it can be a fierce comfort! Isaiah literally means God saves and the prophet is speaking as the voice of God to comfort Israel.  I’m starting to think of salvation, of God’s saving work as God sharing and infusing us with God’s power.

I went into the reverse lectionary to find out when this text, particularly 42:14 (the section that reads “I’ve been quiet long enough. I’ve held back, biting my tongue. But now I’m letting loose, letting go, like a woman’s who’s having a baby.”).  When is this verse read in the lectionary cycle? When would the hearer’s of the word ever hear this God invoking the power and the voice of a woman in childbirth?

Never. 

It’s not included in the lectionary.  Isaiah 42:1-12 is included by the lectionary text stops two verses shy of 14. 

It matters who controls the narrative and in some churches the narrative is controlled by the lectionary.  But not here, thank god.  So here we go.

I also love this text because it’s speaking to a nation.  Our nation, the United States, needs a mother right about now, would you agree?  I long for a birthing God to speak to us right now.

And if that God was speaking to us through Isaiah, was no longer biting God’s tongue, was letting loose, was letting go I think God would have some similar things to say and in response to the questions, is anyone out there listening?  Is anyone out there paying attention to what’s coming? To the announcement of the new salvation work? 

I can confidently and thankfully say yes, some people are we’re lucky enough to have them in our midst and in our nation.

I don’t listen to 45.  I pay just enough attention to not be ignorant – but I’m done obsessing over that team’s destruction.  I’m paying more attention to the creative resisters - those who are resisting through rebirth.  I follow men and women, but today I want to share the messages of three women who have a public platform and use it: Valarie Kaur, Glennon Doyle Melton, and Michelle Alexander.

Valarie Kaur is of Indian descent, an interfaith storyteller, an organizer, a lawyer, and a mother.[2]  She started Groundswell[3] and the Revolutionary Love campaign[4].   She has a Sikh religious inheritance and her grandfather rode a steamboat here from India.  She preached alongside many other folks you may know (the Rev. Traci Blackmon, the Rev. James Forbes, the Rev. William Barber) on New Year’s Eve 2016 at a Watchnight Service[5] and maybe you’ve watched it on YouTube (if not I’ll be posting the clip on Liberation’s page this afternoon).

She says this calling on the memory of her grandfather being detained in a jail cell upon arrival in the United States on a steamer from India:

“I close my eyes and I see the darkness of my grandfather’s cell and I can feel the spirit of ever-rising optimism in the Sikh tradition – Chardhi Kala – within me.

The mother in me asks, what if? 

What if this darkness is the not the darkness of the tomb, but the darkness of the womb?

What if our America is not dead, but a country that is waiting to be born?

What if the story of America is one long labor?

What if all of our grandfathers and grandmothers are standing behind us now, those who survived occupation and genocide, slavery and Jim Crow, detention and political assault, what if they’re whispering in our ear today, tonight, you are brave! What if this is our nation’s great transition?

What does the midwife tells us to do?

Breathe!  And then - Push!

Because if we don’t push, we will die.  If we don’t push, our nation will die.

Tonight we will breathe.

Tomorrow we will labor in love, through love, and your revolutionary love is the magic we will show our children.”

YES!  Powerful!

Glennon Doyle Melton is white, an author, an organizer, a speaker, and a mother.  She’s been radically open about being in recovery and struggles in her previous marriage to a man she still peacefully and generatively co-parents with. She recently fell in love with a woman.  She’s a fellow UCC’er. She writes a popular blog called Momastery[6] and now spends a lot of time preaching on social media platforms like IG and twitter and holds “family meetings” on FB for fellow white women who need to be called in on some things.

She tweeted on April 14, 2017,[7] the day after the United States dropped the Massive Ordnance Air Blast aka TMOAB on Afghanistan:

“The one time the administration invokes the feminine is to name their bombs. No, thank you.

“Quit calling it the “mother of all bombs.

“Motherhood is about creation, not destruction. 
Life, not death.  Patriarchy dropped that bomb. #Resist”
[#Create]

YES! Amen.

Michelle Alexander is African-American, born to a white mother and an African-American father, author of the New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness,[8] a civil rights lawyer, visiting scholar at Union Theological Seminary, and a mother.  Michelle Alexander and Naomi Klein in conversation moderated by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor (which I will also post on Liberation’s FB page).[9]

“You know I have been having some trouble with the frame of resistance for some time…

 I understand why the term, the phrase, the rallying cry emerged after Trump’s election.  It makes complete sense to me.

But I think we’ve got to think beyond resistance. Resistance is inherently defensive.

And as I see it, we are part of a bold and beautiful, revolutionary movement that aims to REBIRTH this country.

And this movement isn’t new.  We can trace this movement, in some ways, to this nation’s founding with the first runaway slaves and the native people who fought for their land and their territory

There has been a yearning for freedom for all people since this nation’s founding.  There have been great revolutionaries.

Frederick Douglas
Harriet Tubman

Ella Baker
Martin Luther King Jr.
Anne Braden
Cesar Chavez

And we could go on and on naming the incredible revolutionaries that have helped to remake America.

As I see it, Trump is the resistance! [Trump is the resistance!]

There is a revolutionary spirit alive and well that is trying to birth a new America and Trump and his cronies are resisting, wanting to take America back.

And if we are going to do the work that is required to build truly transformational movements in which there is any hope of us building a multi-racial, multi-ethic, multi-faith, multi-gender democracy in which every voice and every life truly matters we’re going to have to connect and tap into, embrace that revolutionary spirit and the spirits of the ancestors. The freedom fighters that came before us and say we’re not about resistance, we’re about building a revolutionary movement for the collective liberation of us all!”

YES!

Isn’t this the Gospel? Isn’t this why we’re here today?  Because we believe this is possible? Or we came here today to be reminded.

These women have all invoked birthing imagery, references to labor and transition, pain and rebirth, those who have come before us and the spirit that lives on.

The Mother of all God’s power is not a bomb.

The Mother of all God’s power is not a bomb!

The Mother of all God’s power is regeneration! To be eye to eye in the face of natural death or unnatural, unjust death and know in your very bones – something has ended that will never be again, but life is not finished.  It’s not the end.

The revolutionary movement for the collective liberation of us all was and is and is to come. Sound familiar? It is here, right now, and we are in it.   This is the Gospel still alive. We just need to look and listen for it, to connect and tap into it as Michelle Alexander says and then keep REBIRTHING IT. 

Because our resistance is our resurrection! 

Our resistance is our resurrection.

This is what Easter is about!

The Mother of all God’s Power, the power is alive in Jesus in his birth, life, death, and resurrection. The power that makes Jesus possible, that is alive in us and makes our lives possible is CREATION!  It’s a fierce, tender, gorgeous power! 

This power is within all genders and beyond all gender, within all sexuality and beyond all sexuality, within all parenting and beyond all parenting. Because God is both within all and beyond all - breathing life into all - and laboring for our rebirth - all the time.  It is the pattern of life, the pattern of creation.  And we are being called to join in.  Our collective liberation is dependent on our on participation.  It doesn’t happen without us.

We cannot forget this, but I fear we forget, I know I do, in our fret or despair. We have to look for it – we have to listen for it!

Listen for the voices when you’re low – listen for the mother spirit, the mother power, in all God’s people.  Look around at creation. A good place to start is listening to these passionate, intelligent, articulate, generative women.

And when you’ve been quiet long enough – when you’ve held back biting your tongue and you’re tired of bleeding in silence then let loose, let go, RISE UP like a woman who’s having a baby, RISE UP like Jesus out of the empty tomb, RISE UP like God calling on the Mother of all God’s power that is alive in you and you and you and you and you and you and you and cannot be destroyed. 

Preached at Liberation United Church of Christ

--

[1] Inspired by an Ellen Bass poem, Gate C22:
 http://www.ellenbass.com/books/the-human-line/gate-c22/

[2] http://valariekaur.com

[3] https://action.groundswell-mvmt.org

[4] http://www.revolutionarylove.net/

[5] http://valariekaur.com/2017/01/6348/

[6] http://momastery.com/blog/

[7] https://www.instagram.com/p/BS34u6WFy_7/?taken-by=glennondoylemelton&hl=en

[8] http://newjimcrow.com/

[9] http://www.auditoriumtheatre.org/shows/resist-michelle-alexander-naomi-klein/

 

Sermon: it is finished

John 19:30

We are obsessed with his death.   We are obsessed with the crucifixion. Crosses are the predominant symbol for Christianity.  They are everywhere and not just on G—d Friday.

Most Christians go so far as to call this day Good Friday and I’ve heard all the reasons why, but for the life of me I still don’t understand it.  I never have. I try to see the cross as a meditation, a reminder to look for where crucifixion and unnecessary suffering and oppression are alive today and not look away.  I believe we are called to die to our false selves and awaken to our true selves.  And I even believe that living the gospel today can get you killed as it did Jesus. But I still have the question:

What is good about this day?  What is good about this or any other crucifixion?

I am terrified by this kind of worshipping of the cross and I resist, more than resist, I reject! And I am finished with the myth of redemptive violence and redemptive suffering. I’m terrified of a religion that glorifies redemptive violence and suffering and I’m terrified of the empire that put Jesus up on the cross and the Spirit of empire alive in me, our country, and the world today that keeps putting people up on crosses. 

I let the tools of empire and this constant reminder of empire, the messages of scarcity, the fear, the reports of bombs, the deportations, the call to pick up my crucifixion keep me in check, keep me quiet, keep me just trying to make sure that I’m o.k.

Because my resistance and terror of these messages and teachings is mixed up with my strong emotional bond to my faith communities and the Gospel I haven’t left Christianity, but I haven’t been fully living either. And I’m starting to wonder if that’s not the point.

The cross bound up in atonement theologies (the thinking that upholds “good” Friday) and Christianity’s obsession with it, consciously and unconsciously, intentionally and unintentionally, distorts and hides Jesus’ LIFE.

And that is why empire, and religion in bed with empire, keeps pushing the cross in front because it distorts Jesus’ message of ABUNDANT LIFE for all people.

It is a tool of social control and it’s working wonders. There’s a reason it happened in public. There’s a reason it happened in public. The cross is doing empire’s job for it today just by hanging on the wall.

Yes, God suffers with us.  God is with us in our suffering. Yes, Jesus was willing to die, knew he was going to die, he repeatedly told the disciples that he was going to suffer and die.  He knew the cost at that time and in that place with the way he was living, but let’s not confuse that with having a death wish or passing out death wishes to other people too. 

He didn’t spend his life teaching the disciples how to be CRUCIFIED. He taught them how to LIVE: how to teach, how to preach, how to heal, how to feed, how to bless, how to listen, how to talk, how to hide from empire when necessary, how to be wise as serpents and gentle as doves, how to give thanks, how to calm the storm. And yes, he was honest that all of this might cost them their lives.  We are all going to die so HOW will we live, what are we living for. God is with us in our abundant living too.

Empire is selling us fear of death and through shows of might both creates a reality and an illusion of greedy scarcity. John’s Gospel says “ What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people… The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 1:3-4 and John 10:10)

How did we get finished with this message of LIFE so quickly?  How did these promises of LIFE turn into an obsession with his death?

The unconscious messages keep us afraid, keep us from abundant life in solidarity with one another.

It is normal – it is even holy to resist crucifixion.  If we really understood that we, I’m speaking as a white person to white people now, would understand what black lives matter means and why protests against police brutality, against empire’s ongoing fear based crucifixions, are sacred. Yes, pick up the weight and the cost and the sacrifice of our communal liberation – but leave the tools of empire on the ground.  Abundant, communal LIFE is calling.

When I hear the Jesus of John’s Gospel say from the cross a moment before the very end, “It is finished,” what I hear and feel this year, more than any other year, is the illusions are finished.  And I know for some people here, including many of my preaching sisters, the illusions have been finished for a long time and maybe you never had the privilege of being illusioned at all. 

I hear Jesus saying:

The illusion that I am not going to die - finished.

The illusion that empire could get me to turn away from my message, to not live my call, even unto death – finished.

The illusion that you’re going to have me around to lead you and for you to hide behind – finished.

The illusion that the Gospel is more about redemption through violent death than it is about radical companionship and abundant life – finished.

The illusion that any one person, including a black president or a well-groomed white female candidate or a socialist leaning white male candidate - God forgive me, even Jesus - is going to save us without our engagement and participation – finished.

The illusion that you are not called to greater things than these – finished.

The illusion that you’re not going to have to carry out my teachings and the ongoing revealing of the kin-dom of God in the midst of empire – finished.

The illusion that empire isn’t coming for every body – finished.

The illusion that white supremacy isn’t coming for everyone including white people – finished.

So too are these illusions finished:

The illusion that any legion of ignorant, power hungry, fearful, elite, mostly white men are going to destroy all of us without our creative resistance and revolutionary love rising up – finished.

The illusion and the lie that we really don’t care about one another and that most of us are only looking out for ourselves – finished.

I hear Jesus saying, “You have no idea how these teachings will live beyond me.  You have no idea that the power of the love of God cannot be destroyed.”

Jesus, I mourn your death, I give thanks for your life.

I am finished with being terrified of your death to the point that I am beholden, distracted, and paralyzed by the teachings surrounding it. God, help me, help us, be finished with blind obedience by intimidation. God, help me, help us, turn towards abundant life and the Body of Christ, the whole human family.

Yes, it is finished. 

So, Spirit, lead on.

-

Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ with the Rev. Kelle J. Brown

RESIST!  Seven sisters preaching an ecumenical observance of G—d Friday 2017

Edited on Easter Monday.  Gratitude for the teachings and writings of the Rev. Dr. Traci C. West, the Rev. Dr. Joanne Carlson Brown, and Professor James H. Cone.