God or Empire? You Choose

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There are for-profit concentration camps in the United States right now. Adults and children are kept separately without adequate food and water, and without hygiene products including feminine hygiene supplies and diapers. People are making money from treating refugees, immigrants, and asylum seekers as though they were not human. How is this possible in 2019 in a country that many would claim is a “Christian nation.” There is nothing less Christian than dehumanizing people when they are in need of hospitality and sanctuary.

Of course, I dispute the idea that this country was ever meant to be a Christian and only Christian nation. From what I recall of my history lessons, religious freedom was one of the cornerstones of this country. Yes, I know they were mostly Christians of various sects with a few deists to temper the waters, but let’s go with the intent. The U.S. has always been a pluralistic country. The separation of church and state was meant to keep the government from telling citizens what religion they must practice. This means we are free to choose any or no religious practice without reprisal from the government. In other words, we can have whatever religious affiliation we want and it shouldn’t matter to those who hold higher office. Nor should it matter to anyone – our neighbors or our government.

Now that we are clear about that, let’s look at this from a Christian perspective since many claim that they are Christian and support the current Administration. The first thing to remind ourselves is that Jesus looked a lot more like the folks being held in detention centers at the southern border than the usual blue-eyed blond, emaciated Caucasian that is the common depiction of him. Jesus was brown skinned. Additionally, if you read the Gospels, then his family was homeless at the time of his birth and then became refugees in Egypt for a period of time. Common belief says that Jesus came from a poor family. He was just a carpenter’s son and nobody of any political power. He also got himself into a fair amount of trouble by speaking out against agents of the Roman Empire, those employed by the Temple and those serving Rome in more clear capacities. How many times do the Gospels tell us that there were plots to kill him?

Christians today have conveniently forgotten a few key lessons. On the conservative side of the theological divide, we’ve pushed away the knowledge that Jesus always ministered on the margins. He encountered the outcasts and the unclean and offered them healing, wholeness, and community. He didn’t treat women differently than men or Greeks differently from Jews. He didn’t distinguish between the very poor or the very wealthy, those with no power and those with significant power. Would Jesus sanction putting children in cages away from their parents just because their families were desperate for a better life and they spoke Spanish rather than English?

Lest you think I’m picking on the conservative folks, progressive people have forgotten a few things, too. We have told ourselves for decades that politics don’t belong in the church. We have kept our faith separate from our public lives and really just want the comfort of the familiar when we find time to worship. Jesus didn’t care very much for the complacency of maintaining tradition for tradition’s sake. He didn’t have much use for the apathy he encountered in the Scribes and Pharisees who seemed only interested in maintaining their own positions of power and comfort. Jesus was a revolutionary who adhered to God’s ways even though that path led to his death. Would Jesus choose to remain silent when people are being dehumanized just so that people could remain comfortably ambivalent about what would be the right thing to do?

Truthfully, in the early days of this Administration when a few people were drawing comparisons between the President and Hitler, I thought they were exaggerating. The world would not let such atrocity happen again, would it?Yes. Yes, it would. This President has manipulated the news outlets while creating and propagating his version of reality. He has targeted Muslims and fanned the horrid flames of Islamophobia. This President has supported decreasing the rights of LGBTQ+ people increasing discrimination, bullying, and violence. He has also targeted women, African American people, people with disabilities, and poor people. He has supported the privatization of prisons and increased the sanctioned the increase in ICE activities. Make no mistake, white supremacy is on the rise. If you are not on this list of unacceptable people now, you might be soon. What will it take for us to unite against the systematic removal of those who live on the margins, literally and figuratively?

There is nothing faithful here. I think about how Jesus sent the 70 out into the world. They did not go alone and they would find everything they needed to do the work God had set before them. They were to bring peace to every household they entered. If the peace was received the Realm of God was near. If the peace was rejected, they were to shake the dust off themselves and move on, carrying the Realm of God with them. This passage tells us all we need to know about what following the way of Christ should look like, and it doesn’t include for-profit concentration camps.

We are to rely on each other and all our neighbors. We are to bring peace with us, wherever we go. If we are living in holy ways, then we will have everything we need. Realm of God is nearest when we bring peace to every household we enter. It’s that simple. We have what we need in this country to welcome everyone who needs sanctuary. We have the resources if we focus on loving our neighbors more than protecting ourselves. The Empire thrives on fear and division. The Body of Christ thrives on compassion and unity. The question remains: which one are we actually serving?

RCL – Year C – Fourth Sunday after Pentecost – July 7, 2019
2 Kings 5:1-14 with Psalm 30 or
Isaiah 66:10-14 with Psalm 66:1-9
Galatians 6:(1-6), 7-16
Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

Photo: CC0 image by Gerd Altmann

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No Turning Back

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Following Jesus, true discipleship, is not for the feint of heart. Jesus is not of a fan of the familiar, routine, or status quo. Jesus likes to challenge assumptions, rouse the rabble, and provoke the powerful with truth. Once you put your hand on this particular plough, there is no turning back. It just isn’t possible because Jesus is unconcerned with what the past holds and far more interested in liberating people from oppression right now.

In the last four weeks I’ve been in four different cities and three different states. I’ve spoken at two different suicide prevention conferences, participated in a workshop at the United Church of Christ General Synod, and attended the Minnesota Conference UCC Annual Meeting. I’ve been in four states (MN, NH, MA, and WI) and met up with friends I haven’t seen in decades, and friends I haven’t seen for a few weeks or months. Waves of nostalgia wash over me as I drive through the mountains and walk on the beach. I’m overwhelmed with a longing for what used to be when I encounter friends I haven’t seen since seminary (more than 25 years). This last month has given me plenty of prompts to think about the course of my life and the unexpected twists and turns of my ministry.

June began with a trip to Western Massachusetts where I spoke at a conference. I met up with a high school friend and talking with her took me right back to the days when we were inseparable. We talked about the weirdness of aging where the body feels the years, but the mind and spirit have no concept that time passes; we could easily have been out on a night when we would have to go to school in the morning (except for the multitude of years between then and now).

This experience was followed by the MN UCC Annual Meeting. While I have made friends in MN, I was momentarily consumed by a longing for folks I’ve known a whole lot longer in other states. In those moments, I would have turned back the clock to years gone by without hesitation. At least I would have until I realized what I would not have in my life if I turned back the years. No time machine for me.

Then I went to General Synod and stood at the intersection between now and yesterday. I was there on behalf of the UCC Mental Health Network doing good work. Then I encountered people from across my years in ministry. The longing for what was threatened to overwhelm me once more. Those close friendships from seminary that nothing else quite replicates… those conversations in the dining hall… the hopes and dreams for serving the church… Oh, to begin again! No, not really.

Today, I stood at the ocean’s edge after speaking at another suicide prevention conference in New Hampshire. Nothing renews my spirit quite like the song of the sea and the feel of the sand on my bare feet. As I watched the tide (and the fog) roll in, I reflected on my ministry and where following Jesus had taken me. Never in the proverbial million years would I have ever guessed where Jesus would lead me. Once I figured out that I was called to ministry in the church and not in academia, I thought I had some idea of what that would be. Nope! Not even close.

The church I had prepared to serve no longer exists, and probably didn’t really exist even as I entered ministry. I had visions of youth group mission trips and adult spiritual formation retreats, with some preaching and Bible study in between. The intersection of mental health and faith, let alone suicide prevention, wasn’t in my wildest imaginings. The fact that I speak openly about my early struggles with mental health, being bi-sexual, wrestling with an archaic theology, and telling my story of suicidality and suicidal behavior, is not what I had envisioned. Yet, I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

65116850_10157392583029375_1975425480005779456_oIn those moments when I think I would, when I think about going back when I kept all these things secret, it’s like watching the fog roll in on the beach. While the illusion of solitude is good, the temperature drop is a little chilling. Sure, I can tell myself that life was somewhat easier “back in the day,” it’s a lie that takes my attention away from the challenges of today. If I am distracted by the church of yesterday, I can miss the joys of today. If I think the past holds the answers, liberation of any kind may prove impossible.

Following Jesus has taken me all over the U.S. My journey of discipleship has made me go places I wouldn’t have the courage to go on my own. While the beach sings to my soul like no place else, I’ve also been restored by songs of the mountains, the woods, the lakes, and the desert, and the prairies. Without my hand on the plough I would never have come out as bisexual and wouldn’t have given a thought to LGBTQ+ inclusion in the church. I wouldn’t have marched with Black Lives Matter or protested with Latinx folx, or carried signs protesting the current administrations policies on refugees, or shared the journey with those struggling with symptoms of mental illness, or a thousand other things. Once I put my hand on the plough, I committed to leaving behind the shy, fearful days of my youth to become one who shows up and bears witness and tries to lend my voice to those who often go unheard.

It’s been a weird and wonderful journey. But looking back with yearning for what was takes me off-track. Jesus wants us to carry the lessons of where we have been not so we can recreate the past, but so that we can build the Realm of God here and now with the wisdom and compassion we’ve gathered on the way. And lest we forget, the plough creates the best furrows when many hands are on it. We do not and cannot follow Jesus, be healthy disciples, if we fool ourselves into thinking that we are alone. There’s Paul’s great cloud of witnesses and there is also the folx who are with us, hands next to ours making sure we plough a continuous row.

May we all stop looking back with yearning and celebrate all those whose hands guide the plough with courage and strength, wisdom and compassion.

RCL – Year C – Third Sunday after Pentecost – June 30, 2019
2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14 with Psalm 77:1-2, 11-20 or
1 Kings 19:15-16,19-21 with Psalm 16
Galatians 5:1, 13-25
Luke 9:51-62

Photos: CC-BY-NC image by Rachael Keefe

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What are You Doing Here?

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What are you doing here? Are you running away? Are you exhausted? Are you without hope? Are you looking for God, hoping God will show up and fix all that is broken? Will you eat the bread that is offered? Will you withstand the truth of where God is? Will you get up and go out to the wilderness to continue working to bring Divine Love into the world?

I feel for Elijah, I really do. He’s worn out by the resistance to God’s ways he continuously encounters. He would gladly go to sleep and not wake up to face another day of threats to his life. He has fled, seeking rest for his weariness. Maybe he’s even hoping that God will tell him he doesn’t have to be a prophet anymore. Instead, he’s offered food and told to move on to a place where he will wait for God to show up.

There’s the wind, but God was not in the wind. There’s an earthquake, but God is not in the earthquake. There’s fire, but God is not in the fire. Then there’s the sound of sheer silence that compels Elijah to come out of the cave and answer the question again: What are you doing here? He recounts his failures – covenant broken, altars torn down, and prophets killed. I can almost hear God saying yet again, “What are you doing here?” Seriously, there’s nothing to be done in a cave, hiding out. Sure, the people have turned their backs on God’s holy ways, but that is no reason to give up. Whatever it is you think you are doing here, go on your way. The wilderness waits for you.

Church, what are we doing here? We are still looking for God in the storms and chaos. We still want to flee when the weariness, fear, and hopelessness prevent us from experiencing those moments of sheer silence. We might even miss the nourishment that God places before us. I’m not sure what we are doing here. Are we hiding? Are we being prophetic? Are we taking in nourishment? Are we soaking up the silence? Probably not as much as we are hiding out, desperately hoping that God will show up and fix all that we have broken.

June is Pride month and I can’t help but think that the church is still hiding out in a cave. We want to blame the current stormy political environment for all that ails us and for obstructing the work of God. We can’t blame our disunity on the current administration, though. When it comes to LGBTQ+ folx, we have long been divided. Not only have we missed God’s presence among us by participating in the storms, we have also failed to hear Paul’s words that remind us of the unity we are find in the body of Christ. You know, in Christ there is no immigrant or resident, no refugee or naturalized citizen, no queer or straight, no Trans* or cis, no POC or white, no disabled or abled, no mentally ill or well, no rich or poor. We are to be one in Christ. We cannot continue to hide from that which divides us.

Jesus himself went out to the wild places and called people to himself. He offered healing and wholeness without exception. Even the Gerasene demoniac was restored to wholeness and told to proclaim all that God had done for him. If any of us have survived the winds of rejection that shatter our sense of self, the earthquakes of division that drive us to the edges of society, or the fires of ridicule that diminish us, and then experienced the sheer silence, the still, small voice of God, we must share this healing. We must do has Elijah did, as the healed demoniac did. We must continue on the journey, proclaiming all that God has done for us. How else will others find their way, find their place, within this wounded body we call church?

What are we doing here? Are we huddled in fear and protecting ourselves or are we cleaning up after the storms, strengthened by the moments of sacred silence? We can continue to yearn for the church of years past or we can expand our understanding of what the body of Christ looks like and be a vital presence in the world today. It’s time we continued the journey and proclaim all that God has done for us. In Christ we are one. In Christ we are whole.

RCL – Year C – Second Sunday after Pentecost
1 Kings 19:1-4,(5-7),8-15a with Psalm 42 and 43 or
Isaiah 65:1-9 with Psalm 22:19-28 and
Galatians 3:23-29
Luke 8:26-39

Photo: CC0 image by Sharon McCutcheaon

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Sophia is Calling

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As I’ve been thinking about Wisdom in this time between the anniversaries of the Pulse massacre and Stonewall, I am haunted by a conversation I had many years ago. It wasn’t the first or the last such conversation, but it has been on my mind because it was one of the first times I was asked to justify my identity face-to-face. It was a hard conversation, as they all have been, and one the left me angry and worried about the future of the church, or at least my future as part of the church.

Anyway, several years ago, a woman came into my office to talk with me because she had “concerns” about me being a pastor and being married to another woman. Her stated goal was to understand what I thought being a Christian meant. She was convinced that I had to be under the influence of Satan in order to be ordained, married to a woman, and not have children. I don’t know if she placed these “sins” in an order of severity, but she wanted to talk because she had been a life-long member of the church I was serving. The conversation was lengthy and difficult. I don’t remember all of it, but a few bits stand out in my memory.

She started in by questioning my claim to be an ordained minister. I told her that women had been ordained in our denomination (United Church of Christ) since 1853. Surely God would have made any objections known in the intervening years. She didn’t like it but took a breath and went on to her next question. It was kind of a trick question because she had hoped for a different answer.

“Why don’t you have children?” She really wanted me to say that it was because I was married to a woman. She was unprepared for the truth which was a painful struggle with infertility. I was in my mid-thirties and could not seem to get pregnant. (I later learned that I would never be able to sustain a pregnancy.) She was silent for a moment or two, fishing around for something to say to alleviate the awkwardness of the situation or prove her theory about me, which was more likely the case.

Her face lit up as she hit on what I knew was coming. She told me that my “barrenness” was God’s punishment for my sinful “lifestyle.” I told her that I really didn’t believe God worked that way at all. I carefully explained that I thought God was more about loving us and encouraging us to love ourselves and each other more than about seeing that all our sins were punished accordingly. She paused for a moment before suggesting that maybe God was just testing my faith and when I showed God true faith I’d be rewarded with a child.

I again told her that God didn’t work that way. God knows my heart and doesn’t need to test me through cruel adversity. She didn’t know what to say to that so just plowed ahead.
“Do you believe in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?” I assured her that I did without bothering to explain that I might have a different understanding of what those words meant.
“Do you believe in God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?” Again, I assured her that I did and kept my understanding to myself. Her face said that she did not believe me. She scanned my office as if looking for clear evidence of my heretical status.

She practically jumped out of her seat when she came up with her next question. “Do you believe that the Bible is the word of God?” I surprised her by saying that I did. So she fumbled around until she basically asked if I believed that the Bible is the inerrant word of God and no other revelation from God exists (I don’t remember her exact words). And I finally gave her what she was looking for when I said no. She declared that she knew I was a “tool of Satan” and that people like me would destroy her church.

I didn’t respond well to her pronouncement, unfortunately. I suggested that one of us might indeed be under Satan’s influence, clearly indicating that I didn’t think it was me. She left my office telling me that she would pray for my salvation and I assured her that I would pray for hers as well. She slammed the door on her way out. She did, however, show up in worship the next Sunday. Our relationship continued to be contentious during my tenure at that congregation.

Honestly, I think this interaction is on my mind because I keep hoping that the church will change. I keep praying that we will leave behind the need for certainty of our own righteousness of doctrine and practice and, instead, embrace the mystery and majesty that is God. Yes, we need language to share our beliefs and strengthen our faith communities. At the same time, we need to understand that the language is limited and God is far more than we can speak (or write).

Proverbs tells us that Sophia, Holy Wisdom, cries out everywhere we go, yearning for us to share God’s delight in the whole of Creation. Where God creates beauty and oneness, we seem to respond with fear and division. God invites us into community, into sacred relationship, and we react by building walls and isolating ourselves from those who are different from us.

I’m tired of having the kinds of conversations where I am condemned for being a woman who is ordained and married to a woman, and for believing in a God of Love above all else. There’s enough anger, violence, and hatred in the world without the Body of Christ perpetuating or participating in these things. God’s ways are about unity and sanctuary. Human ways are about division and (false) security. It’s time we respond differently when Sophia calls.

RCL – Year C – Trinity Sunday – June 16, 2019
Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31
Psalm 8
Romans 5:1-5
John 16:12-15

Photo: CC0 image by Stefan Keller

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Wind & Flame: A Pastoral Prayer for Pentecost

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God of wind and flame, come among us once more. Set our lives on fire with a passion for justice. Send winds mighty enough to clear away our fear and apathy. We long to be sure of your presence and power. We desire certainty of your grace, forgiveness, and love. Yet, we are slow to turn to you, to remember the stories of our faith, and to rely on your goodness. On this day of Pentecost, come to us anew. Let us remember with more than words that we are one in you. Each of us gifted, each of us hearing in our own way, each of us created in your image – all of us with the purpose of glorifying you by bringing Divine Love into the world. May this be the mission, the purpose, the passion of all your people.

Ever-speaking, always incarnate God, surprise us out of our complacency and ambivalence. As your Spirit moves among us, may we see our neighbors with new understanding and compassion. May we hear in all the angry words around us the underlying fear and anxiety of being left out, forgotten, misunderstood, abused, neglected, or dismissed. When we would respond to hurt with greater hurt, show us the way of Love, a way that brings healing, wholeness, and hope. When we would hide from the needs of the world, lead us to actions that bring unity, justice, and equality. When we would tell ourselves that our voices don’t matter, remind us that you are the Word-become-flesh for the very purpose of reminding us of the power of words, and the actions that follow. May all of us who call upon you, feel the force of your winds and heat of your flames calling us to more life and love than we can ever imagine.

God of the heights and depths, raise us up! We so easily sink into the muck and mire and messiness of everyday life, seldom lifting even our eyes to the beauty of the world. We also forget that you are in the deepest, most lonely places we can go just as much as you are in the joyous moments of community and connection. There is no place we can go where you are not already there. We are never apart from you. No one is far from you. Raise us up that we may recognize you in every face, in every moment, without exception. Place us all on equal ground that the beauty and wonder of Creation may shine in and through us all. May your Love unite what human beings have divided.

Momentous and amazing God, call to us in the midst of the chaos and the clamor. Shout out your claim on us until we respond to you. We act as if we are each on our own, without connection or responsibility to those around us. Yet, you have shown us what Love looks like – in thought, word, and deed. You have shown us again and again the power you have to transform the least among us to the greatest, and to humble those who think themselves great. We are not alone. We are united in you and through you – individuals connected to neighbors, congregations connected to communities, communities to cities and towns, cities and towns to states, states to this nation, this nation to other nations, all to your Creation. Burn away all our claims to independence. May we grasp the power of interdependence forged in Love.

God of us all, on this Pentecost day, be with us. Rekindle the fires that inspire your people throughout the earth. Ignite in us a Love that cannot be extinguished. We say that there is room for all in your house and at your table. May today be the day when we make this a lived reality. May none be excluded, ignored, overlooked, dismissed, devalued or hated by any who call your name. May the cleansing winds and fires of your Spirit create anew the Body of Christ here and elsewhere. May we honor you by embracing your Spirit of fierce Love and radical inclusion as we seek to embody you for all whom we meet.
We pray in gratitude for your patience, your mercy, your forgiveness, and your love for us that never ends. In the name of the One sent to teach us the ways of Love. Amen.

RCL – Year C -Pentecost – June 9, 2019
Acts 2:1-21 or Genesis 11:1-9
Psalm 104:24-34, 35b
Romans 8:14-17 or Acts 2:1-21
John 14:8-17 [25-27]

Photo: CC0 image by Michael Schwarzenberger

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In Her Grips

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Okay. I’m just going to say it: I like Paul. The older I get, the more I appreciate Paul for his passion, conviction, and unapologetic humanity. What the church has done with what he wrote and what has been (falsely) attributed to him, isn’t his fault. The man had some serious endurance. Prison, floggings, shipwrecks, and rejection in a variety of potentially life-threatening forms. Paul persevered and managed to inspire countless people to become followers of Jesus. All things considered, Paul is person to be admired not admonished. The tepid church goers of today could do with a little passion and, personally, I’m up for a bit of persistence.

Let’s face it, many people around us would much rather go fishing on a Sunday morning than attend worship. Paul didn’t have that problem. It seems he drew crowds almost the way that Jesus did. He had something that was appealing to those who heard him speak. It was more than his charismatic personality, more than his words alone. I suspect it was his integrity and authenticity. For all his eloquence, Paul didn’t say anything he didn’t mean. The Holy Spirit it had him firmly in her grips and she wasn’t letting go. I wonder if anyone would notice that intensity of Spirit today…

The story in Acts about the slave girl is a weird one where Paul’s humanity is on full display. So, too, the presence of the Spirit. How awesome is it that the writer tells us that Paul casts the demon out of the slave girl because he’s irritated? He’s annoyed that she has been following them around, proclaiming that they are slaves to God Most High. This had been going on for days. Paul couldn’t take it and silences the demon without thinking about the consequences. He didn’t think what might happen to the slave girl. He didn’t think what might happen to him and his companions. He’d just had enough of the girl’s proclamations. Consequences be damned.

And there were serious consequences. The writer didn’t mention what happened to the slave girl though I doubt it was anything good. Her owners disguised an economic issue with a racial issue that stirred anxiety and aggression in the crowd as well as the magistrates. Violence followed as it often does when those in service to the Empire feel slighted. So if the girls owners were angry enough to have Paul and the others somewhat falsely arrested, flogged, and jailed, I’m guessing they didn’t go easy on her. Did Paul regret his impulsiveness in the duress that followed? Did he pray for forgiveness? Did he want to make amends? Or did he blame the hard hearts of the slave owners? Who knows? However, the subsequent events point toward forgiveness with a hint of compassion.

In the midst of prayers and hymns an earthquake hits and opens all the doors. You’d think everyone would leave; that would be the sane thing to do. No one did. The prisoners stayed put. Why? I like to think that Paul remembered that all this was because of his own impulsive actions and he didn’t want anyone else to pay the price for his unthinking behavior, including the jailer. Paul, and the others, no doubt, knew that the jailer would likely be executed for allowing all the prisoners to escape – earthquake or no. Though, instead of an execution, we witness another household converting to Christianity. Forgiveness and compassion on full display. Well, that and the power of the Holy Spirit to bring goodness out of human folly.

I’d like to say that we’ve all learned something from Paul’s experience. But I don’t think we have. We still give in to annoyance and act without thinking. Those who have more power than we do, still take advantage by subverting the real issues with divisive ones. We are still easily manipulated by the Empire into accepting, if not participating in, violence. We don’t seem to pray and sing hymns while waiting for the Spirit to show up and do her thing. There isn’t much room in our lives to give and receive either forgiveness or compassion, is there?

As we come to the end of Eastertide and prepare for Pentecost, maybe we should pay more attention to Paul and embrace our humanity and the Holy Spirit. We can be unapologetically the fragile, fallible, frustratable people we are because we are also unapologetically the named, claimed and beloved children of God. In spite of what the Empire continues to tell us about supremacy and division, we are all in need of forgiveness and compassion. The more we share these things, the more we open ourselves to receiving them. Isn’t it time to recognize that Paul was who he was because he accepted and celebrated the fierce, demanding, loving grip the Holy Spirit had on his whole being? We can be the irritable, irrational, impulsive people that we are because the Holy Spirit has the same fierce, steadfast, and redeeming grip on us. This is good news for us, and unwelcome news for those who continue to serve the Empire.

Photo: CC0 image by James LeVos

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Listening to Lydia

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Lydia isn’t a biblical superstar. She is mentioned in Acts, almost in passing. Strangely enough, she’s often passed over. She was from Thyatira and she dealt in purple cloth. If she hadn’t encountered Paul, we might not know anything about her at all. However, her meeting with Paul was significant. Yes, it’s important that she and her household became a followers of Christ based on hearing Paul. Yet, given the current debates over abortion and women’s reproductive rights and the rape culture we live in, it may be far more important for us to notice that Lydia was a business owner in the first century. A woman owned a business in the decades after Jesus’ death. Why does this not get the attention it deserves? How have we let the later notions of the church patriarchy dismiss this information? Seriously, what if women in business was more commonplace than we have been led to believe? What if Paul and other early apostles treated women as respected equals and not as property to be used as they wished? What if we have spent the last 2000 years systematically smothering the value of women in our society?

I don’t know about you, but I feel the need for more purple cloth right now. Alabama criminalized abortion which puts women’s lives at risk. That’s bad. In lesser news, last week I spent a couple of days in Washington D.C. at a meeting to discuss mental health with other faith leaders. While the variety of mental health ministries across faith traditions inspires me and fills me with hope, the way many of the men treated me and the other women in the room was extremely disheartening. I was interrupted, talked over, ignored, and dismissed. The validity of my call to ministry and the decades I’ve spent serving the church were questioned and the implications for my soul were assumed to be dire. It’s been a long time since I have felt so personally dismissed and invalidated by a group of supposed colleagues. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t hate men at all. It’s the social and religious elevation of them and the devaluation and dismissal of women that I would like to end.

With these thoughts I read the account of Lydia’s conversion in Acts. Not only did she become a follower of Christ, she also offered Paul and his companions a place to stay. She was a person of significant means. She may have been one of the earliest gentile converts and, clearly, a financial support for the growing Christian movement. Yet, how often have we lifted her up in the church? How often have we held her up as an example of a strong, Christian woman? You know, the one who housed Paul and his fellow travelers and also gave them a place to stay after they had been to prison. Somehow her story remains untold. It makes me wonder if early manuscripts might have told more about her and whether they were intentionally left out by the men who decided the canon.

What might happen in the world today if we highlighted Lydia as much as some denominations lift up Mary? Lydia wasn’t someone to be trifled with. She had money and power and access to the very wealthy (no one else would have been purchasing purple cloth). She wouldn’t be easily silenced or dismissed. How different the church might be if we recognized the value of a woman who sold purple cloth. Might we not realize that women are valuable, that women are created in God’s image just as men are? Might this realization lead to the recognition that all people are valuable because we are all created in the image of God? All people.

As I think about Lydia and her purple cloth and how different church culture could have been and still could be, I realize once again how tired I am of having to defend myself or justify myself or protect myself just because I am female. I’m also tired of rapists, child-abusers, perpetrators of violence against women being excused, justified, and practically rewarded because they are men, generally white men at that. Surely, we can change this. After all, there is no indication that Jesus treated women differently than he treated me. Paul, apparently, didn’t either. Why do we? Isn’t it time we recognized the value of all human beings, including women who sell purple cloth and house former prisoners? Think of all the energy and resources we could put toward feeding the hungry, housing the poor, caring for the sick, welcoming the immigrant and refugee if we recognize the equality of all people, regardless of gender identity.

Maybe we should make purple the color of equity and wrap ourselves in purple cloth until the church and society stops believing in the superiority of men, especially white men…

RCL – Year C – Sixth Sunday of Easter – May 26, 2019
Acts 16:9-15
Psalm 67
Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5
John 14:23-29 or John 5:1-9

Photo: Is a derivative work based on CC0 image by Beate

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