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Today I Saw God

United to Love: Rally Day 2018

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We knew they were coming. The group of white supremacists had been issued a permit to gather in Lafayette Park, on this, the one-year anniversary of the “Unite the Right” event in Charlottesville. At their 2017 gathering, Heather Heyer, a counter-protester, was killed, while others were physically injured and their city was left scarred and deeply saddened. Now they were coming to Washington, D.C.

A call was initiated by the Baltimore-Washington Conference of the United Methodist Church to respond to the white supremacist rally with a rally of our own. I’d heard that there would be a group from Floris UMC going. Something inside inclined me to sign up.

Let’s be clear: I am not a very brave person. I am no risk taker. I am not foolhardy. I have never stood before the barrel of a gun, never truly feared for my life, and certainly never placed myself intentionally in the presence of someone I knew would be spewing hatred, shouting racist epithets or chanting anti-Semitic slogans. (Heck, I don’t even like the unruly crowds at Redskin games.)  All of this swam in my mind as I boarded the Floris UMC bus to head downtown.

Hate Has No HomesThere were 12 of us on that bus: 10 courageous women, one pastor and bus-driver extraordinaire and me. During the ride down, organizers of our group delivered our “marching orders.” In case we were confronted by hostile protesters or situations that posed harm, we were to defuse any altercations, assist anyone subjected to harm and were not to engage any form of hatred. Our job was to sow peace, the peace of Christ. But, just in case something untoward occurred, we arranged for an alternate meeting spot, shared phone numbers, and signed into event alerts. Maps indicating the nearest metro stations were distributed, just in case we couldn’t get back to the bus.

This, you might imagine, did not assuage my fears. There I was, sitting in the back of a church bus, apparently headed straight into what might be harms way.  I sat pretty quietly during that ride in spite of the lively chatter which surrounded me. This was a pack of peacemakers with a purpose! I was completely out of my league.

The plan was to collect for a pre-march pep rally at Christ United Methodist Church, so after Rev. Bob’s miraculous parallel parking on DC city streets, we poured out of that bus and onto the sidewalk to head to church. First, prayer. Circling to hold hands, Sara Greer even convinced a group of kids walking our way to join us. All prayed up, we headed to church where we were greeted warmly, welcomed magnanimously and inspired by word, song and fellowship. They handed us a lunch – our last meal? – as we gathered behind the banner to begin our march.


 Our police escort immediately surrounded us. They proceeded to stop traffic, so this little band — multi-racial, multi-ethnic, broad-ranging in age and mobility — could all find its way safely. As we spilled onto the grassy lawn of the mall, instead of the hatred, weaponry, and harsh words I feared, we were greeted by nothing but love. A beautiful stage had been erected right in front of the Capitol building, its banner announcing our common purpose: United to Love.
 

Kicking off this rally, Bishop LaTrelle Easterling told us, this was not a meeting of counter-protesters. In fact, it came about in response to a request directed to the bishop imploring her to lead the effort to deny the “Unite-the-Right-ers” permission to rally. “Absolutely not,” she told them. “If we take away their rights, they will have the right to take away ours.” Instead, we will rally under this banner. Not as counter-protesters, shouting down hatred, but as representatives of a force stronger than hate, because, as Dr. King said, “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.”

United to Love had a permit, too — for the mall, not Lafayette Park, thank goodness! I would not be standing eye to eye with white supremacists, but surrounded by love in all colors and denominations. Relief! I even saw a bit of humor in this. As we staked out our place on the grass, we were instantly dive-bombed by dozens of large flying bugs that resembled dragonflies. One in particular hovered so close to me and held me with such intent focus, I imagined him a dragonfly-drone collecting data on this new species of    Invader. I waved a happy so-long, as he buzzed off.

                                                                                             

 

                                                             

Then I settled onto a borrowed beach blanket to enjoy the spectacle: song and word, prayer and praise, fellowship and message. A rally it was, to God be every bit of the glory. Yes, we knew that hatred and bigotry was gathering just a few blocks from us but we couldn’t hear them and we couldn’t see them; it was only from news reports via digital media that we heard they were there. Instead we were focused on the future, on ways that moved us forward, on a path we could chart together. We, a diverse group of interfaith worshipers, gathered in support of our common humanity and each other. That, I felt sure, was not what was happening in Lafayette Park.

Then the funniest of thoughts creeped in. What if all the dragonflies really are drone-spies sent by the “Unite the Right” rally organizers to report on that “other rally” down on the mall? I wondered what they’d think of what was being shared here: messages of hope, commitment, and unconditional love, amid preaching and teaching affirming that we, in our diverse array, are each expressions of a God whose nature is love.

OK, now that I’m relaxed and amused and my life doesn’t feel quite so endangered, this out-of-doors praising God inclines me to worship with a bit more abandon — to raise my hand in affirmation, clap my hands in rhythm and raise my voice in response. I’ll be honest, I feel way more free to really worship here than I feel inside a Sanctuary on a Sunday.

Our times make it clear that now is the time we need to raise our hand when we see injustice and raise our voices to stand against it. From Micah 6, we take our marching orders… what does the Lord require of you?

As I look behind me and scan the gathering of the faithful around me, a peace that passes understanding settles over me. The trepidation I came with is gone. No, I’m not a risk-taker by nature, but I’m no standby-er either. I rise to wander through and greet a few folks, but mostly to snap photos of the amazing expressions of God’s mercy, love and justice, on display right there on the D.C. Mall.

How proud I feel to have marched behind the banner which is now draped over the fence with the Capitol building as backdrop. Midway through the rally, as the afternoon sun beats down on us, and most of the crowd have taken shelter in the shade to right or left of the stage (but not the hardcore like us!), Dr. David McAllister-Wilson, President of Wesley Seminary addresses those gathered. He wonders to us, What is Unite the Right? How are they right? He concludes that they have gotten it confused. Not unite the right, rather, unite the righteous. “Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.” ~ James 3:18

Many speakers refer to the distinction between our rally and that of “those gathered a few blocks away.” It starts me wondering if our times are something like the day in another capitol city, Jerusalem, some 2,000 or so years ago when there were also two parades. Along one parade route people shouted Hosanna and waved palm branches, welcoming Jesus riding humbly on a donkey. Along the other rode Pontius Pilate, Roman governor of Judea, adorned in his imperial majesty. One rally peaceful, one rally proud. The peaceful not a counter-protest but a different message, entirely. 

Sometimes, when we as people who are not brave, not risk-takers, and not particularly well-suited to diffuse differences or sow peace, let the God of love drag us up out of our pews into our nation’s capitol on a Sunday, we are forced to see and hear what is going on in our day.

I marched and rallied on Sunday in order to magnify the message that Jesus reverberates through the ages: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” Love is the eternal answer to the toughest questions of every age. 

The question that remains: what will the followers of Jesus do with the message of love? We’d best be love. 

 

 

 

When There Are Strong Winds in Your Life - Cuando hay vientos fuertes en tu vida

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We were having two days of intense winds, and I was worried about my neighbor’s tree, a tall pine more than fifty feet high, and other trees in my yard.

My husband had gone to work, and I had the day off. I was still in my pajamas when I decided to move my car to the place where my husband parks his car. I was afraid that a tree branch in our front yard would fall on my car. I was barely back inside my house when I heard a rumble. I ran to the kitchen window and could not see the neighbor's pine tree. It had fallen! I opened my front door and saw my car buried under pine branches. I started shaking and a neighbor came to see if I was okay. He told me that he had just driven around the neighborhood and the only tree that had fallen was the one that destroyed my car.

It’s incredible how everything can change in an instant. Nobody is exempt. A tree destroyed my means of transportation.

Jesus never said that we would escape trials or problems. On the contrary, He said in John 16:33: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

Our environment is full of pain, suffering and difficulties. Believers are not immune. An illness, unemployment, a divorce, an accident, abandonment, sexual abuse, depression or losing a loved one can change the course of our lives.

As believers, we are not free of problems or afflictions. How we differentiate ourselves from the rest, is the way face them. We do not concentrate on our difficulties. On the contrary, we see God working with us through these situations, and we are victorious because we are not alone facing our adversities. “I call on the Lord in my distress, and he answers me.” Psalm 120:1.  

The insurance paid me more than what I expected for my car and a new fence. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him.” Romans 8:28.

If there are winds in your life that are disturbing your spiritual tranquillity, I challenge you to attend church, a source of nutrition for your spiritual hunger. Let's find refuge in the presence of the Lord. He is the only one who can calm our hearts in the midst of the storms of life. “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:7.

Joy is not the lack of problems, but the presence of Christ in your existence! What do you need to change in your life to be able to feel joy in the midst of trials? “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” 2 Corinthians 1:3-4.


Estábamos teniendo dos días de intensosvientos, y yo me encontrabapreocupadapor un árbol de mi vecino, un pino de más de cincuenta pies de alto, y otros árboles quetengo en mi jardín.

Mi esposo se había ido a trabajar y yo tenía el día libre. Todavía estaba en pijama cuando decidí mover mi auto al sitio donde mi esposo parquea su carro. Temía que una rama de un árbol en nuestro patio delantero cayera sobre mi auto. Acababa de entrar a mi casa cuando escuché un estruendo, corrí a la ventana de la cocina y no ví el pino del vecino, ¡Se había caído! Yo abrí la puerta principal y vi mi automóvil enterrado bajo ramas de pino, en ese momento empecé a temblar, un vecino vino a ver si yo estaba bien. Él me dijo que acababa de conducir por el vecindario y que el único árbol caído fue el que destruyó mi automóvil.

Es increíble como en un instante todo puede cambiar, nadie está exento. Un árbol destruyó mi medio de transporte.

Jesús nunca dijo que nos escaparíamos de las pruebas, ni de los problemas. Al contrario, Él dijo en Juan 16:33: “Yo les he dicho estas cosas para que en mí hallen paz. En este mundo afrontarán aflicciones, pero ¡anímense! Yo he vencido al mundo.”

Nuestro entorno está lleno de dolor, sufrimiento, y dificultades. Los creyentes no son inmunes. Una enfermedad, el desempleo, un divorcio, un accidente, el abandono, el abuso sexual, la depresión, la pérdida de un ser querido, puede cambiar el rumbo de nuestra vida.

Como creyentes no estamos libres de problemas o aflicciones, lo que si nos diferencia del resto es la manera de afrontarlos.

No nos concentramos en nuestras dificultades, por el contrario vemos a Dios obrando con nosotros a través de estas situaciones, salimos victoriosos porque tenemos el alma saturada de Dios, porque no enfrentamos solos nuestras adversidades. “En mi angustia invoqué al Señor, y él me respondió.” Salmos 120:1.

El seguro me pagó más de lo que esperaba por mi auto y una valla nueva. “Y sabemos que Dios dispone todas las cosas para el bien de quienes lo aman.” Romanos 8:28.

Si hay vientos en tu vida que están perturbando tu tranquilidad espiritual, te reto a congregarte a la iglesia, allí se ofrece una fuente de nutrición para nuestra hambre espiritual.

Encontramos refugio en la presencia del Señor, Él es el único que puede poner calma en nuestros corazones en medio de las tormentas de la vida. “Y la paz de Dios, que sobrepasa todo entendimiento, cuidará sus corazones y sus pensamientos en Cristo Jesús.” Filipenses 4:7

¡El gozo no es la falta de problemas, sino la presencia de Cristo en tu existir! ¿Qué es lo que necesitas cambiar en tu vida, para poder sentir gozo en medio de las pruebas?

“Alabado sea el Dios y Padre de nuestro Señor Jesucristo, Padre misericordioso y Dios de toda consolación, quien nos consuela en todas nuestras tribulaciones para que, con el mismo consuelo que de Dios hemos recibido, también nosotros podamos consolar a todos los que sufren.” 2 Corintios 1:3-4.

Before I Go

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At the end of this year, my husband and I will be moving to Williamsburg. Between now and then we have a number of things to do and a very limited time in which to do them. Two of them are unavoidable: cleaning out the old house and planning the new one. Each of these “to do’s” comes with its own set of challenges and its own offering of unique opportunities. 

Cleaning out what you've collected over the course of a 26-year stay can be both overwhelming and freeing. Honestly, it’s a bit embarrassing what you find under the weight of all those years. Stuff you’ve forgotten and shoved aside, something you purchased but only used once, and much that time and technology has rendered obsolete. But also tucked away in that storage are a few precious gems: old photos, letters from a friend, a lock of the baby’s hair. These are keepers. I’ll take them with me. 

On the other hand, creating the house you've dreamed of can be both daunting and delightful. While I feel incredibly grateful to be able to build a house, the burden of “getting it right” feels quite heavy. There are so many people to consult, decisions to make and costs to cover. Plus, planning for a future you don’t know in a place you’ve never lived… well, there’s just a lot of guesswork involved. And a lot of hoping. 

I find myself reminded of the words of scripture that greeted me when I was new at Floris and unsure about my decision to leave my old church.  In my very first small group study, we read the words spoken to Abram, “Go to the land I will show you.” (Gen 12.1) Not, here’s a map. Not, here are three nice plots of land, choose one. Not even, follow me. Simply, go. And as you go, I’ll show you where and what and how.

But I haven’t left yet! So, as preparations are made, I have been gifted with a short time to complete what I started here. What needs finishing? What loose ends need tying? What haven’t I done yet that I may not get to do again? Honestly, if it weren’t for the impending departure, I doubt I would ever find myself in this place. But now that I do, I am trying to honor it. What do I want to do before I go?

Isn't it interesting how scripture seems to prepare us for ANY occasion? As Bishop Palmer so conveniently reminded us via sermon last week, when Jesus knew he was on his way out, he gathered his disciples to tell them: if you don't remember anything else, remember this: stoop, kneel and wash the wounds of this world. I’ll be honest: taking one's leave does sharpen one's focus, even if divinity isn't in your bloodline. You know what they say, you can't take it with you. 

So, as I take my leave from Floris UMC -- yes, I think a 3-hour commute on a Sunday is probably not in the cards -- I am saddened by the thought that I can't take it, take you, with me. I can't take the friends, the kindnesses, the notes, or the conversations. I can't take the small groups who welcomed me gladly and set me on a level place. I can't take the vitality, the diversity, the fiscal responsibility, or the trust that has inspired deeper stewardship. I can't take the message or the messengers that have shaped the word of God in me, as much as I'd like to.

Nope, I have to leave all that behind. Or do I? 

This pondering is another gift of the before-I-go time. As I look underneath all the clutter I have acquired over my time here, I discover the keepers that I DO get to take with me. In fact, I must, because now they are a part of me. 

  • From you, friends, I have learned the impact of small kindnesses and the power to pay it forward. 
  • From your acceptance, I have gained the confidence to risk being myself without apology, always with an eye tuned to what others have to teach me.
  • From your vitality, born of discipline, I have learned that no's open the doors to yeses I would not otherwise have seen. 
  • Your message has inspired me to think and write, on this blog and elsewhere, and even to publish what I've written.

Thank you for your patience as I have found my way among you, friends. And to my pew-mates who have observed my scribbling furiously during every sermon, thank you for indulging me. It is a labor born of love.

On the wall of my teen-aged bedroom there hung a poster I loved. In the foreground was a beautiful white bird taking flight over rolling surf at the edge of a vast oceanic expanse. Written in script across the sand were the words: "If you love something, set it free. If it comes back, it's yours. If not, it never really was."

Floris United Methodist Church, you have my enduring thanks and my undying love. As I go, you go with me. I'll be back.

Scripture Mash-up

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I love song mash-ups where DJ’s, singers, and others mix portions of favorite songs into a new composition and in doing so, create something with a power all its own, separate from the effect of the individual songs themselves, strong though they may be.  Let me do that here with verses from the Biblical books of Genesis, Colossians, Revelation, John, 1 John, and James related to race, unity, and our common roots in Christ. Let’s read collectively as a summons to find the courage of Christian conviction to participate in the hard, sometimes uncomfortable work of racial reconciliation in God’s world:  

So, God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them… And have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all…After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands…[Declaring] Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness…[So,] A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.

Please, Holy Redeemer, let these moments in scripture grant us courage of conviction as we facilitate racial reconciliation in our personal lives and the larger community. We know that if we speak up for respectful conversations, whites becoming informed of the issues, racial reconciliation and equity in all elements of secular and spiritual living, we may lose friends, family members, and colleagues for a while…or longer. Walk with us, Lord.  Help us with forgiveness, too -- for ourselves and others.  We will make mistakes in these conversations, including inexact wording, unintended stereotypes, muddled thinking, and outright offensive acts or words. They WILL happen. How we respond thoughtfully to these gaffes, imperfections, and the pain we cause others is a clear and courageous expression of our Christian conviction and God’s grace. Lord, grant us the receptiveness to hear you, the humility to recognize the error, and the fortitude to make amends. And noting your direct commands in the Scripture above, Lord, your call could not be more clear. Carrying the lantern so, we see the way ahead.

There is Value in Your Silence

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On Saturday, April 14, I had the privilege of joining about a dozen other leaders from Floris United Methodist Church and about two hundred others at Annandale United Methodist Church to participate in the Bishop’s Convocation on Race and Reconciliation. Most of us from Floris came because of our connection to our congregation’s new racial reconciliation initiative, and we anticipated hearing how our bishop and other leaders would lead those gathered to be more effective agents of change and reconciliation in our communities.

It’s not easy getting up to spend a Saturday in church. However, between worship together, a challenging presentation by our keynote speaker Romal Tune and small group training on facilitating difficult conversations, I found myself seriously considering my own race for one of the first times in my life.

As a straight, white, Christian male, thinking about my own identity is not a normal thing for me to do. Most of my life experience has occurred in spaces where most people look like me, speak my language and believe similar things that I do. I have lived a lot of my life in a dominant context, meaning that, not because of any decisions of my own but because of a system from which I benefit, my voice is often heard in conversations and in communities when others’ may not be. For a long time, I bought into the same lie that many white people believe, that I don’t have race or have to deal with race because I’m white.

We centered a lot of our conversation at the Bishop’s Convocation around this phenomenon called white privilege. I know white privilege is a loaded and misunderstood term, but it identifies an important concept in our society which we need to address if we have any hope of real racial reconciliation.

A video by Dr. Robin DiAngelo titled, “Deconstructing White Privilege,opened our conversations on this topic. I encourage you to take about 20 minutes and watch the video to understand this concept more in depth, but in summary, Dr. DiAngelo argues that our conversations around racism in the United States don’t address the core issues.

We usually talk about racism by labeling two groups: bad racists and good people. Racism is reduced to the individual level, and white people in particular prove that they’re not racist by citing how diverse their friends are or arguing that they were raised to love everyone and see everyone as equal. Interpersonal racism is problematic, no doubt about it. But the issues that more significantly undercut our abilities to view one another as equals aren’t about personal choices and behaviors now, but those in the past that have woven racism into the very fabric of our society.

Rather than keep racism within the bounds of interpersonal actions, our working definition of racism focused more on how racism acts as a system of racial prejudice developed and sustained by institutional power. This shift in focus led us to consider our own participation in the racist systems that uphold our society and realize that being white does not mean being without race, but rather being associated with the race deemed most beneficial by the constructors of our society.

As we had these conversations, a phrase from our keynote speaker Romal Tune stuck with me. At one point, he spoke about what white people can do in response, and that deciding to act is really hard. Because of the ways our society has been set up to benefit the white elite, in some sense, any action toward racial and socioeconomic equity requires those in power to give up and share that power. In other words, as Tune said to those of us who were white in the room, “There is value in your silence.”

The moral weight of our work hit me squarely in the face in that moment. Many white people believe that issues of race and racial inequality do not affect them, but to leave this work to our sisters and brothers who have been oppressed based on their race is not a morally neutral act. White people will continue to benefit from our misordered society until it changes, and if we believe racial equity is morally significant, it is our responsibility to work for change and our moral failing to do nothing.

I do not claim this responsibility as an egotistical white man looking to continue fixing the world’s problems with my own solutions. I claim this responsibility at the invitation of my non-white sisters and brothers to join the effort they have maintained their entire lives: working to make sure our society views them as people and as nothing less.It seems like a simple request or, dare I say, one we might all assent to, to view all people as people and nothing less. But the reason I spent a Saturday in church, the reason I’m committing to this racial reconciliation work at Floris, is that request still needs to be made.

My white sisters and brothers, we cannot put the burden of equality on those who have borne the burden of oppression for far too long. Be informed. Be empathetic. Be willing to say that you’re wrong. Be willing to apologize. Be willing to listen and learn. As Tune told us, our past is not our future, but the past has dramatically shaped our present. I invite you to join the work of our racial reconciliation initiative to help shape our future, so you too can discover the value in others that far outweighs the value of our silence

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