Sabbatical Reflection 3 – The T-shirt

On a late 90’s trip to Memphis to visit family, I had the pleasure of walking down Beale street. Over the years of going there with my mom and brother, we’d gone to Mud Island, Graceland and other quintessential Memphis places. In the window of a tourist-trap store, there was a Sun Studios t-shirt. It wasn’t one of the places we’d visited, but it was fun to buy it and think about the early recordings of folks like Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and so many others. Years later, still rocking the t-shirt on occasion, a stranger asked me if I was just wearing the t-shirt or if I’d been there. My snarky reply was, “Just wearing it; I’m one of those people.”

In my Vanderbilt class this summer, the memory popped up. Dr. David Kim, Professor of Religion at Connecticut College, talked about his deep passion for building a world that is more just. He reminded us that we have to really know what it means to to do this work – work that I would define as creating the visible reign of God on earth. Dr. Kim reminded us that there are lots of people showing up in t-shirts but not everyone knows what they will face.

Doing social justice in an unjust world means we will face dismissal and disdain. We are not exempt from hardship. In fact, walking in the way of Jesus in a society that glorifies narcissism and consumerist pleasures means that we will know hardship. It can look like standing up to beloved friends and family when they are dehumanizing things about those who Jesus made his priority: the poor, women, children, people on the margins.
Back in June, Dr. Kim reminded me that Christians determined to make the gospel real in our world will appear absurd. The roots of the word absurd are “ab” meaning “from/away” and “surd” meaning “something that makes sense.” You see, our society believes that making money is more important than the quality of people’s lives. Our society believes that one has to be worthy to receive any mercy or help. God has a different view, though. God’s mercy is abundant and requires no test of worthiness. In God’s economy, there is enough of every needful thing not just for survival, but for all to thrive.

While taking Charlie to swimming lessons this summer, another mom told me after the first week, she liked seeing what t-shirt I might wear. (My sabbatical uniform was yoga pants and t’s.) The t-shirts I wore were all some expression of my values, rooted in my faith. I pray that when people see me in them, these shirts simply confirm what they know about how I live in the world and not make them wonder if I’ve been there.


Sabbatical Reflection 2 – The Book of Ruth

Scripture’s ability to reveal truth in multiple ways blew me away this past Sunday. Chanhee’s Ruth-inspired children’s message about the power of crying with and being with our friends in hard times brought me to tears. Seeing Ruth’s ability to be with Naomi in the darkest time of her life without arguing with her to “buck up” humbles my heart with each read. Not only does Ruth not argue or dismiss Naomi and her feelings, but she doubles down on her commitments to Naomi and God. In difficult seasons, people often struggle to find or have people that can be with them fully, without trying to diminish or dispel the hurt and sorrow. When we show up with another in those moments, we take on their hurt too. When we stay with others in those moments, we have the chance to carry that sorrow.  Our culture tells us to turn away from hurt, or rush to buy something to relieve it. Ruth turns toward Naomi. I pray that we each have known someone who turned toward us and helped us bear the weight of sorrow – no matter the source. When the time comes, may we each live in that manner for someone else. It is then we discover how human we are and how we are made in God’s image.

The first week of my sabbatical was spent away in Nashville for a class at Vanderbilt. The class offered best practices, theory and encouragement for people who work for social justice. People came from across the country. The passion in the room was palpable and powerful. My heart was reinvigorated and challenged every day. One of the most significant challenges came from Dr. José Cossa, a professor in the Peabody College at Vanderbilt. His home country is Mozambique in Southeast Africa. He spoke to the necessity of shifting away from Western individualism and redefine how we see being human. He taught us about the idea Ubuntu.

Perhaps you’ve seen a meme with African children’s feet in a circle and a definition of the word “ubuntu” as “I am because you are.” While the sentiment and image are striking, Dr. Cossa let us know that this is not an accurate explanation of Ubuntu. Ubuntu is an African derived idea that takes different expressions across the African continent. Dr. Cossa went deeper saying that Ubuntu is more accurately expressed as “a human is a human because of humans.” The concept of Ubuntu is seen in the fact that some African languages have no concept of individual. When a person would refer to themselves, the word would be “we.” Further, when colonizers approached people who speak Bantu languages (rooted in the southern parts of Africa) and asked what they were called, the people simply said “bantu,” the word that means human. Misunderstanding, the colonizers called them Bantu as a name. (This information comes directly from my notes taken in Dr. Cossa’s class.)

Processing this history continues to inform reshaping of many ideas including humanity, individual people, church, and family. Ubuntu keeps waving to me from different corners of my mind as we go deeper in the book of Ruth. Ruth’s declarations to Naomi in chapter 1 (below) reinforces that our humanity is caught up in how we respond to another’s humanity. Her declaration strengthens my belief that any single person’s identity is never an individualistic matter, but rooted in our connections to others. Could I make a play on the idea of “we are what we eat?” Could it be that we are who we love? Could it be that we are who we show up for? Existentially and spiritually, of course. It doesn’t mean we all have to do WHAT Ruth did in order to be fully human or fully who God made us to be. Ruth, as a book and a person, reveals to us God’s design of our core being. God’s design of our humanity could easily be described as Ubuntu. God did not leave the first human alone. God did not leave God’s own self alone, creating humanity in God’s own reflection. The very character of God could even be described as Ubuntu! Hear now these words of Ubuntu.

But Ruth said, “Do not press me to leave you or to turn back from following you! Where you go, I will go; Where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die, I will die— there will I be buried. May the Lord do thus and so to me, and more as well, if even death parts me from you!” When Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more to her.

Sabbatical Reflection 1 – Showing Up

One of the very first lessons imparted to me by a mentor in ministry was simple: Show Up. Show up for your congregation. Show up for your colleagues. Show up for your friends. Show up for social justice. I could keep going, but I think you get the point. It seems simple, but like most things, showing up becomes complicated.
Our city (and country) is deeply divided by race and class. This is no new reality. Shouting voices on television and social media encourage us to live more separated lives. It is difficult to overcome. Yet, we know that division is not God’s will. As people who live in the way of Jesus, we are called to build bridges and develop relationships, reclaiming what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. named as the ‘beloved community.’ Scripture calls it God’s reign. The first step is showing up. Since I cannot ask our community to do something that I have not done myself, showing up became an urgent call for the sabbatical.

During June, July and August, I worshipped at Pine Street Christian Church, our historic African American Disciples congregation in Tulsa. Prior to visiting Pine Street, I worked hard not to create any expectations of what the time would be like. Yes, I wanted to begin building a relationship. But, no one owed me a relationship simply because of my intent. In my study of African American experiences and my black friends’ testimonies, it is clear that we white people can have good intentions, but not always be truly sensitive to the experiences of African Americans and the multi-faceted reality of racism. People of color often have deep wounds created by well-intentioned white people. I carried this with me, knowing that I too have “stepped-in-it” and hurt someone unintentionally before in my life. My prayer was that when it happens, I will be able to hear with gratitude the truth shared with me and see the bravery it takes to share it. It continues to be my prayer.

As I prayed my way to worship that first Sunday morning, I asked God to teach me whatever I needed to learn. As usual, God provided in spades, because the people of Pine Street are ready to respond to the world with love and mercy. Before going, I did not let anyone there know I was coming. Much like at Bethany, though, once you walk through the doors, there is no staying incognito. Not only was I warmly welcomed, Rev. Brenda Denson called me forward to sit on the chancel! It was a humbling experience being welcomed this way. Each Sunday, Rev. Denson’s sermons spoke to my personal struggles of faith in a way that felt like she could see right into my soul. That, of course, was startling, and a balm to my heart.

Hmmm, at once startling and a balm to my heart? God sure does know how to make this journey of faith interesting. This summer’s sabbatical was just the beginning. Showing up is not a one time action, but a way of being. If we seek to see a more equitable and just city, it is our work to do. If we believe that God’s love is for everyone, we are called to build relationships that share love in a way that defy our world’s divisions. Let’s show up and see what God has in store. 

Can you join me this Sunday, September 15 at 3:30 pm for a worship service at Pine Street Christian Church? Meet me at church at 3 if you would like to carpool. Prepare to be back at church around 6.

It Tismas Time? – Christmas Eve Sermon 2016

The woman behind us in line smiled and nodded been-there-solidarity as she overhead the conversation that had been in loop for sometime now between Charlie and myself. Waiting for check out at Target, getting my coupons and apps for the ready, the loop went like this:

Charlie, “It Tismas time?”

Me, “yes, sugar, it is.”

C, “Santa come?”

Me, “Not yet, sweetie.”

C, “It my birfday?”

Me, “No, honey. It’s Jesus’ birthday.”

C, “Hooray!… It Tismas time.”

This was not a new loop for us. Once the decorations were up around the church and home, Charlie would one part ask, one part tell me “It Tismas time” every time we came into the church, which is 5 days out of 7. And sometimes when we were leaving. “It Tismas time?”

Of course, this is a mama-brag. The adorableness of a 2.5 year old’s joy at Christmas decorations never, ever gets old.

The woman behind us in Target seemed to enjoy it, too.

By the time loop began in line at Target, the question part had subsided. But it stuck with me.

“It Tismas time?”

Could it be that our Christmas this year hangs on that part question/part announcement of the birth of the Christ-child that Charlie so readily reminded me of this whole Advent?

We approach the season with tradition and ritual. We hang the greenery and light candles.

We sing of the Shepherds’ approach to the manger. We echo the angelic announcements.

We recount the Christmas morning smiles of our children and grandchildren.

A proud-mama-preacher tells cute stories.

We tell these to ensure the Hope of the season, the “ahhhh” moments at what it all means, because someone else’s Joy -the shepherds, the magi, Mary and Joseph- help us live fully into the assurance of God’s goodness.

This year are we all are approaching the manger with a tinge of question in our voices. Is it Christmas time? Is the Christ-child really going to appear in the manger? Can I dare to hope for implications of God-with-us? There is almost a resistance and assuredly a wonder if grace-embodied really is going to born again.

Can we move past our hesitancy to see God’s goodness after a year that was deeply burdensome…

a year that pit neighbor against neighbor and sibling against sibling with an election that was about anything but public policy;

a year where images poured out of Syria, where the first and second generation inheritors of our faith trod the road to Damascus, of both rebel and state forces killing civilians in a bid for control;

a year where the news of celebrity deaths reminded us that even those who are worshipped for talents we envy die, suddenly and often without any ceremony;

a year where the only solution put forth to better funded education in our state was a regressive tax that failed and in doing so singed the already raw hearts of dedicated teachers across our state who often have second jobs or live (fingers pinched together) this close to applying for food stamps.

a year where people simply keep saying, “that’s enough 2016.”

Do you feel the hesitancy? Do you feel this indecision toward the nativity? It’s the dark-side of hopeful expectancy that we celebrate as Advent? We come to the manger with side-eyed-wonder. I come to the manger with diffidence, desperately seeking good news that God wills a world that can be more whole than the one we known this year and the one upon I reflect today, on December 24, 2016.

And so, I thank God for the tradition and ritual of this season, for the hanging of the green and the lighting of candles, for the reading of liturgy and singing of carols, for the angels messages to Joseph, to Mary and to Joseph and Mary and the shepherds. I thank God that the “It Tismas time?” out of Charlie’s mouth back in late November has transformed to “It Tismas time!”

Are we, too, willing to hear the voices of of the angels, the shepherds, the magi, the children among us and shake free the questions of whether or not God’s goodness is for us too, in this time, in this year, in this season? Can we listen, even if our voices are too tired to sing along?

While we may not feel equipped to shout with the angels or shepherds, we hear these words from the writer of Titus. Surely, we can share in this good news, written at least 2 maybe 4 generations out from Jesus. We know for sure it was written 2 generations out from even Paul. Titus was a disciple of Paul. This pastoral letter was written by those who were a part of the churches nurtured by Titus in the area Corinth.

These were folks, who like us have no direct knowledge of Jesus or even Paul. Here the words that community wrote again:

Titus 2:11-14

“2:11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all,

2:12 training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly,

2:13 while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.

2:14 He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.”

Good news for ALL…that we would become zealous for good deeds and the glory of God! It is good news that God is training us for such things. If I need to train to run a 5k, I surely need to train to be Jesus’ disciple on earth. And God is working in me, in you, in us to ensure that we are Hope Bearers in the world.

Do you hear the singing of the angels now? Do you see that signs of the manifestation of our blessed hope now? Perhaps these followers of the way of Jesus were as weary as we. And, they, too proclaim that the grace of God has appeared! They-without a child in a manger near by- knew signs of God’s grace among them.

Are there signs for us now, this year?

Well, “The start of Hanukkah and Christmas fall on the same day this weekend, a rarity that comes only every few decades. It means millions of people of both faiths will be lighting candles together, across the land,” highlighted Washington Post columnist Petula Dvorak. She continued,

“Hello? Haters? Are you seeing this celestial bat signal?

It’s a sign. Interfaith wonderpowers: Time to activate. Because the darkness has been deep this year.”

You, know I think she’s right. If the reading of Luke 2 and the joy of children aren’t enough to solidify statements rather questions, how about that – after a difficult year world-wide, and our own particular experiences of that difficulty -Christmas and Hanukkah begin together. Two holy celebrations of God’s faithfulness to humanity.

God is faithful to the point of incarnation. Both in the manger and in our eagerness, our zealous hope to do good and shape God-sized wholeness into being.

The good life that God promises in the Christ child comes as we are zealous, eager for the good deeds that make plain the HOPE for which we wait, no for which we ache.

Washington Post columnist Petula Dvorak quoted George Washington in her column and I think it bears sharing here. He wrote, “May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants — while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid.”

This Christmas, without a tinge of question in our voice, let us sing with assurance of the life we commit ourselves to living, eager to do good deeds that proclaim no one shall live in fear, that salvation – as described in Titus as the whole of creation redeemed from iniquity and purified to be a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds, ensuring the grace of God has appeared.

It Tismas time, friends.

1. on 1.

September 8 unravelled a piece of my life that put me into action mode. Fix it. Save it. Hold it. Tape it together. It’s ok now, as I write now on November 16. It was never my little family at risk. And, in the two or so months since I’ve realized it was always my little family at risk. Because, what happens to us when things get difficult can often bring out the worst of our coping mechanisms.

In the midst of responding, I also attended a (previously) planned trip to the Why Christian conference in Chicago with the 1 day Enneagram immersion added on to the front. Many of my colleagues are Enneagram nuts and I love a method of understanding human behavior. The day was intense, simply from the constant receiving of information about the 9 types of personalities of the system. My number was presented third of the day, a part of the gut triad. As Susanne Stabile began describing my number, I began to feel nauseous. Like, woah, what it happening sick to my stomach. (Remember, I’m part of the gut triad.) As she continued teaching, I thought to myself, I better keep listening to all the numbers so that I make sure to identify with the right one. So, if you know anything about the Enneagram, you probably know my number by this point in my reflection. I’m a 1, the perfectionist, the reformer. The one who hears the voices of negative self-thought and the obsessive-taunts of ‘should’ circling my head, all. the. time. The best image I’ve come up with is the bubbling pink slime from Ghostbusters that emanates negative energy and overwhelms all it touches.

Identifying my number, and the wealth of reflection about best practices and hopeful responses to who I am couldn’t have come at a better time. It feels an awful lot like discovering what it means to be a child of an alcoholic household. That was ground-breaking for me and only came about due to a trauma that catapulted me into counseling for the first time. Speaking of being a child of an alcoholic household (and all that entails), being a 1 connects with being the oldest ACOA in a family. And, the negative coping mechanisms are similar.

For the past two months, I’ve squashed my feelings and absorbed as much as I can to make sure others are ok. (FYI, I don’t hide my feelings well. But, I think I’m squashing them nonetheless.) That’s lead to me having a couple (strong) drinks every night at home in order to zone out of that deep hole and relax. I know that’s not the way to respond in a healthy way. And, I did it. I did it cause it’s easy, because it’s familiar and because I felt cornered by emotions and didn’t want to confront them. This self-defeating behavior feeds my negative stream of consciousness about myself. And the cycle is awful. The shame and self-directed anger is awful. And, so now I feel a little closer to understanding my dad, the alcoholic who drank in seclusion every night when he got home from a job that wasn’t his dream and held tight to his promise not to be the parent that he had. So, he hid. And drank. I often want to feel close to him as he’s been dead since 2001. This really wasn’t what I had in mind.

Back to the Enneagram. I’ve committed to a detox of all things that feed my shame cycle. So, no  booze. No personal facebook. And I’m really beginning the reading of The Road Back to You. I intend on blogging my journey. Here we go.

Reflecting on Katrina 10 Years Later

As the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina approaches, I’ve reflected on my own experience with the devastation. After the storm, I drove from Fort Worth, where I was in seminary, to Shreveport, where Hirsch Coliseum was a makeshift shelter for those coming in buses from New Orleans and the surrounding areas. My graduation from high school was in the same room that had now become home to hundreds. Inflatable mattresses in rows, parents in zombie-like states, and children playing in the walkways — I can close my eyes and can be transported back there with a simple, deep breath.

While volunteering, we did whatever was needed: organize donated clothing, input information to the Red Cross database, pray with strangers, play with children and get to know their parents. It changed me in ways I am still discovering. Most deeply, it brought to my attention the reality that those in poverty lacked means to get out of the city when the storm came in. This wasn’t some other country. This was my home state, my country. How could this happen? No matter our country, state or neighborhood, we all live in systems of inequity that feel like they are beyond our control. Certainly, they are beyond our control if we were to try to dismantle them alone or all at once. Even worse, sometimes scripture is used to keep us from working against inequity and poverty.

When we hear that Jesus proclaimed that “the poor will always be with you” (Matt 26:11), we can often resign ourselves to just taking care of ourselves. Those words can become a way to absolve ourselves of the responsibility to act. Upon closer look, Jesus is quoting Deuteronomy 15, where  it is proclaimed that because there are people in poverty, we have a hand open to help always. In Matthew 26, a woman in poverty anoints Jesus and helps him prepare for the cross. In that moment, Jesus’ own poverty is revealed and it is clear that even the most vulnerable among us have the ability to reveal God’s love.

In reading Matthew 26, it is important to know that God does not will people to suffer in poverty. Too often, humanity refuses to engage in the work to upend poverty. As Christians, we proclaim with Jesus that the poor will always be with us because that word of God catapults us into action. Could we say it this way: If there are poor, they ought to be with us; even more, we should be with them?!

Many things happened in the time I sat on the floor playing or talking at Hirsch Coliseum. Friendships developed with a family from Gentilly, a neighborhood in New Orleans. We worked together to find their mama who had ended up in a hospital in Monroe, LA. We made trips to the store together. We laughed and we cried. As it came time for me to head back to Fort Worth, I received a gift from the women of this family: a bud vase, a partially used body spray that made it out of New Orleans in one of the women’s purses, and a $5 bill with a note written on it – Katrina didn’t take it all. With that gift, I felt the oil poured over my head, anointing me to work for justice and always find myself with an open hand to help.

This Sunday, worship will be different. It is my hope that we will find ourselves reminded that we are all anointed to unravel the systems of poverty and racism that keep our culture divided, weaving ourselves together in love. We will not upend systemic poverty in our city in this one Sunday, but by working together we will find the energy to keep making choices that empower us to say poverty, death, and even the cross do not have the last word — God does.

katrina didn't take it all

Interfaith Vigil 2-15-15

These are my remarks from the Interfaith Vigil held February 15, 2015 at Boston Ave. United Methodist Church in Tulsa. We remembered the lives of Deah Barakat and Yusor Mohammad and Mohammad’s sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha. Here are my words:

At Bethany Christian Church today, our gospel reading was Matthew 20:20-28.

We reheard the story of Zebedee’s wife, mother of James and John, who asks for her sons to have the seats on the right and left of Jesus in the kingdom of heaven.

Often, interpretation of this scripture focuses on the fact that these disciples were not prepared for what Jesus was to endure. That to have such an honor meant enduring the unknown to them and the known cross for the readers since the writing of Matthew.

Perhaps it is that I am the mother of an infant and sleeplessly see everything through that lens, but I can’t help but identify with James and John’s mother and see the text from another view. From the very moment they were born she, like scripture shares about other mothers and fathers and like I’ve done, I imagine she prayed blessing over blessing over blessing of her children.

Holy God, keep James safe. Vast Creator, give John joy. Purest love, might their hearts never be broken.

The mother of James and John did nothing wrong in asking for blessings of her sons. She did, however, give in to the temptation for ask for blessings that come at the price of others. You see, the scripture only mentions two seats. We cannot as a society, as people of any faith tradition, as human beings, pray only for the thriving of our children, for their preferential treatment at the cost of another. It is that kind of prayer that sacrifices others, simply for being other. It is that line of thinking that begins to make excuses for violence and bigotry because we aren’t the perpetrators or our children are immune.

Whatever our faith, if we pray for blessings that limit love to a favored few, we blaspheme that which we hold dear. It is my hope that the blessings I pray for my daughter are transformed by the Creator of all to expand to all.

As I imagine the prayers that Deah’s mother prayed over him at his birth, the ones Yusor and Razan’s mother prayed over them too, I join my voice with those grieving mothers and cry out to God:

We ache, Mystery of mystery, at the death of three young people. Why in a world so alive do people seek to limit your creation by killing? Why is a world so filled with variety do people demand we all be the same? Hold tight Deah, Yusor and Razan as we grieve, Mystery of mystery. Make known to us love when violent hate has overcome any chance of understanding. Amen.

The Lowest Common Denominator Seduction, a post for ethics class

The title of this post sounds a lot like a Big Bang Theory episode: The Lowest Common Denominator Seduction. The show always uses some math/science terms in combination with a pun or attention grabber to name episodes. What I aim to describe is both mathematical and religious, easy to jump on and difficult to avoid. It’s the phenomena of Lowest Common Denominator church. Or, as Dr. Melanie Ross described it, the “youth-ification” of the American church in her review of the “five shifts in terrain” of worship.

In her exploration of North American protestant worship, there were 5 shifts: liturgical renewal, evangelical youth ministry, Pentecostal/praise and worship, church growth and emergent. I was most caught by the connection between evangelical youth ministry in the 1940’s-70’s and it’s connection to the church growth movement. Over and over again, in my personal/professional life, I’ve heard a call to go basic, assume no knowledge of the faith, become seeker oriented if you want to grow. I hadn’t thought about this as a youth-ification of the adult church. Her framing helped me see that while the math might look good (as in growth from seekers) the depth of development needed to sustain congregational life can get lost. The goal of the congregation becomes width rather than depth. Both are needed for a thriving experience of the gospel.

In my own church, I am often taken by the seduction to go lowest-common-denominator in worship and preaching. There is nothing wrong with it’s inclusion, but I cannot stay there. In staying there, we run the risk of jumping into the most-common-denominator of the church growth movement where homogeneity was lifted up as the basis for growth. If the gospel is for everyone, then the post-colonial practice of “dynamic diversity” across all expressions of what the church does when together is necessary. (Combing two of Emmanuel Lartey’s principles from Postcolonializing God, dynamism and hybrid.)

If anything I am doing is one-dimensional it is death-dealing. If I am focused on worship, it must engage the variety of people who come in the doors. If I am dreaming for children’s ministry, it must create strategic opportunities for adults to learn too. If I am considering one voice about a given topic, I must seek out several more. Anything less leads to isolation from one another, which is, in my take, an isolation from God who is known most fully in the interactional and intersubjective work of being human in community. Is there anything less than that –interactional and intersubjective experience with humanity- that we see in the life of Jesus?

The Little Mermaid and Historical Trauma, a post for my ethics class

ariel_forkIn the Disney movie “The Little Mermaid,” Ariel aches to be “where the people are.” The song “Part of Your World” has been a defining reference for me and how I do ministry. I’ll often reply to questions about how to equip people to follow Jesus with saying that we need to be where the people are. Pastors are often in the black hole of their offices. I can’t understand what life is like without being with the people. If I don’t watch out, once I get to the surface, I’ll end up calling a fork a dinglehopper and using it to comb my hair.

That being said, the act of knowing and defining is tricky business. What I’ve noticed is that often people know something intimately (unlike Ariel and all the people stuff) but need a name to call it. Naming is powerful. In fact, God speaks things into existence and then Adam’s first job is to name the animals. Scripture, ahem, speaks to the power of speaking.

There’s an experience of memories that aren’t ours but that shape us and become ours that needs a name. That is even more so in communities that have been oppressed. At the Women and Worship conference, Judy Aaron introduced the term “historical trauma.” Oddly enough, I’d heard someone use it just the week before and thought about the concept but never explored the term until Judy’s workshop. Maria Yellow Horse Brave Heart, PhD defined Historical Trauma as “cumulative emotional and psychological wounding across generations, including the lifespan, which emanates from massive group trauma.”

Judy Aaron speaks from the Native American tradition and led the workshop through an exploration of what it was like for her to navigate the “Indian world and the white world” growing up and as an adult. Her own discovery of the definitions and framework to talk about it seemed to me to be liberating as she presented what it means to be in both worlds, constantly, as a United Methodist pastor and a person in Oklahoma.

As I reflected on the power of naming and defining for generations of wounding, it deepens my commitment to be where the people are, not only in the physical space of their lives but to meet people where they are with the woundedness we cannot see. All of us have wounds, but when individuals and families come from marginalized communities, we often want them to give up their fins and take on legs without even a bandage to acknowledge the gaping wound. We demand that they adapt to us, to act as if hurt doesn’t exist because “we didn’t do it.” Our role as followers of Jesus should be to meet people where they are without requirement of adaptation or expectations of a fresh dressing to hide wounds.

As much as I love The Little Mermaid, the movie has deep problems about what it means to be human. Her transformation cost her everything that had made her. And exploration about what that says about women is another conversation. For now, I focus on what that says about the other, those who are different in some way. (We are all different in some way.) We cannot ask anyone to be a blank slate for us white folks. People come with their dinglehoppers and I don’t get to ask them to make it a fork.

Seeing Ourselves, the Biggest Lesson from My Advent Video Series, post for ethics class

During Advent this year, I created a video reflection to accompany the devotional book by our denominational publishing house. I was desperate to find a way to engage folks in this holy season. Or, even more honest, I was desperate to reclaim the holy season from the consumerist frenzy. You don’t get to steal my Advent, capitalism. **Said with furiously shaking fist!** I learned a few things. I made this video to talk about some of the things I learned.

Of the lessons learned, one of the most startling was becoming aware of how uncomfortable I am with viewing myself. As noted in the video, there is scientific reason behind it. You can listen to a Radio Lab show about it, here. There are also the sociological and psychological reasons for it. Namely, that as women we aren’t encouraged to be ok with who we are without a sense of refining, e.g. make-up.  Culturally, we are encouraged to present our selves as perfectly as possible, refined by instagram filters and 50 shots to post one selfie.  In an effort to do that, we lose the very self we are trying to express.

As Colleen Kwong proclaimed the value of art in worship at the Women and Worship conference, she highlighted that it “holds a mirror up to see ourselves.” She was speaking about the art we use in worship. The art we choose even for the front of a bulletin reveals our values and commitments. The art we create becomes reflections of who we are.

I would not lift the video series I did as art, anymore than text on a page could be considered art. Using a different medium than normal, though, allowed me to see myself in a new way. See myself without refinement and opened the door to discover which “me” has more value.

In church life, there is pressure to do everything perfectly well like the megachurch. (Those are the pastors writing the best-selling books, right!) So much so that the things we do well get brushed aside because they are as polished as the latest YouTube sensation repackaged for the evening news. Art is not art because it reveals perfection. Art is art because it reveals life. What could we be if our goal was to reflect ourselves rather than what we think people want? I don’t want a flat mass produced poster of Monet’s water lilies. I want to see the layers and layers and layers of paint piled up on the canvas, even it is just for one afternoon.