Another day, another stole

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My stole from Amani Ya Juu (Peace from Above)
Today I took a quick trip into downtown DC, to the plaza in front of the US Supreme Court building. Before I started my rounds with my hospice patients, I put on my collar and this stole. The stole was made by refugee artists from Amani Ya Juu. It was the first stole given to me when I was ordained, and has a special place in my heart.

(Make sure you visit their website — see the beautiful things they have created, and read their stories!)

The artisans of Amani Ya Juu use their love of African textiles, their commitment to their community thriving, and their skills in creating beautiful items. My stole is just one of the items they make. But the beauty of their craft is just part of what I have learned from these women.It is their example of faithfulness in the face of horrible injustice. It is how they move past those experiences and find “the peace that surpasses all understanding.” They have learned to survive life’s twists and turns, and to make sure their community thrives with them.

It is this selflessness, this desire deep within them to serve others that inspires me in my ministry. I do it so imperfectly… but their example challenges me.

So I stood on the sidewalk in front of the Supreme Court this morning, with flurries and a stiff, cold breeze. There, I gathered with many other faith leaders to speak out…

…for those who are unjustly detained

…for those who are denied due process in our courts

…for the attack on our civil liberties — ALL of our civil liberties — by those who refuse to obey court injunctions, who defy our Constitution, and who act for selfish gain. 

…for eviscerating the progress made under Loretta Lynch in defending the rights of all persons of color. #BlackLivesMatter

I am compelled to respond because I believe the God I serve demands it. I am compelled to respond because I believe in the worth and value of my fellow humans. And I am compelled to respond because we have done enough waiting. We have given enough “chances.” The actions over the last ten days are sufficient.

Jesus said in Matthew 7:

“Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits.”

I am angry. Angry that the powerful do not use their power for the common good. Angry that elected officials are not governing in a way that benefits ALL of us — our country, our world, our future.

I am motivated. I have called, written and tweeted my elected officials. I have encouraged them to stand firm and defend our Constitution. I have pleaded with them to uphold “liberty and justice FOR ALL.”

On Sunday, I led this prayer… and I stand by every word, knowing that God will be with us as we stand up to injustice and bigotry.

LET US PRAY.

Lord God, we gather in your Presence, aware of your care for us and for the world. We ask for your Spirit to guide our words and our worship this morning.

Gracious God, the hungry are all around us. May we faithfully share of our pantries and cupboards, our money and our time, that they will be bountifully fed.
Lord, in your mercy… Hear our prayers.

Lord of all, we pray for our elected officials, that they will serve the people and defend and protect our Constitution. We hear the words of the spiritually empty, the proud, and those who abuse their power. We pray you will burden their hearts with your Truth and convict them by your Holy Spirit.
Lord, in your mercy… Hear our prayers.

God of all nations, we pray for those in legal limbo, whose immigration status is wrongfully blocked, who are doctors and teachers, researchers and laborers, parents and children. May your justice prevail and may your angels take charge of them and liberate them.
Lord, in your mercy… Hear our prayers.

Healer of the broken-hearted, we your children humbly repent for the ways we have not cared for the aliens and the strangers in our midst. Forgive us for our short-sightedness and selfishness. Give us courage to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly. May our actions make a difference as we join with others who follow Christ.
Lord, in your mercy… Hear our prayers.

We pray all this in the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit,

Amen.

I do not understand the whys and breakdown of common decency that led to our country’s situation today. I lean on hope in a God who is more powerful than the power-obsessed. I am resting in that Peace from Above.

Pray with me, friends…

We must stick together and believe in God’s love for us and for all humanity.

Pruning

5 “Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. 6 Anyone who does not remain in me is thrown away like a useless branch and withers. Such branches are gathered into a pile to be burned. But if you remain in me and my words remain in you, you may ask for anything you want, and it will be granted! 8 When you produce much fruit, you are my true disciples. This brings great glory to my Father.”
John 15, TNIV

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It’s an old, stately crabapple tree. Every year I wait with anticipation for the first blossoms to unfurl. Every year, it is covered, almost overnight, in these deep pink blooms, and the sound of the bees reveling in the branches is like a dull roar. Every year, the petals drop off and cover the front walk with a pink confetti. It’s the first of many trumpets of spring at our house. And it seemed pretty healthy for an older tree…

Yes, there was some sign of disease. There was some dead wood further out from the trunk, but most of that branch had lots of green leaves, and the crabapples had set on after blooming this spring. To our surprise, in a wind gust Sunday, the branch cracked and fell to the ground, blocking the entire driveway! Yes, it was not the healthiest branch on the tree. But it looked OK. At least, it appeared to be.

As my husband sawed it it apart and cleared the driveway, we saw that part of the main support for this branch was hollow all the way through. It appeared alive on the outside. And it was dead, completely dead on the inside. There was no way to sustain life. No way to support new growth. And much of the rest of the branch was well on its way to self-destruction.

BAM. Critical mass reached. Tipping point engaged. Good-bye, branch!

In my studies in church growth, church planting, and chaplaincy, I have learned about the phenomena of a “sick system.” This is when a constellation of relationships appear to be a healthy system, but are actually a very “sick” system. Under stress, or continued neglect, that which appears to be working for the moment is disastrous in the long-haul.

The bottom line: when the pressure comes for new growth and new direction, faking it doesn’t make it any more.

I’ve been reflecting on this as I read the latest round of op-ed pieces on church health, church growth and church sustainability. Millennials will engage if we do x, y and z. Boomers and Busters need a program which includes a, b, and c. I read lots of church gurus’ suggestions and mandates. I hear about innovative approaches. I meet passionate, praying, and caring pastors who are following the latest trends and hoping this will be the “multi-vitamin of Jesus” that their anemic church needs. And… I note that the very cancer which has been dogging their footsteps has never been treated.

What might this “cancer” be? Self-centeredness. Anger. Self-righteousness. Prejudice. Misogyny. Homophobia. Transphobia. Entitlement. Exhaustion. Fear of change.

Church… we gotta get over ourselves. That’s the plain facts. The issues we “church people” argue about are not only unimportant, they don’t contribute to the overall health of the church! People OUTSIDE the church really and truly don’t care about our sacred cows and holy hobby horses. They DO NOT CARE.

Really… NO ONE CARES if you had Sunday School at 9 and worship at 10:30 since Solomon built the Temple.

NO ONE CARES if you wear robes/collars/vestments/T-shirts/open-toed shoes.

NO ONE CARES if you use a rock band/pipe organ/bagpipes for worship. (OK, maybe I do care about the bagpipes.)

NO ONE CARES what version of the Bible you use.

NO ONE CARES if you do all sorts of things for God, but never just sit and BE with God.

NO ONE CARES who uses which bathroom.

No one, that is, EXCEPT the people who perpetuate the system. (cough cough: look in the mirror :cough cough)

It’s simply comes down to this… if we (and I am the first in this line of “we”) do not grapple with the things which make us ineffective and dilute the power of the Holy Spirit in our churches, our lives and our world, we will never change. And, more importantly, we will not succeed in bringing about change and hope to those who are desperately seeking it. And if we (and again, I include myself!) do not consider where we have made the Church into a hobby and not into a passion, we doom our energies from the start.

I don’t think we (ahem — I) need a another new start or a new program. The journey to healthy growth begins in the heart. It is the pushing, the challenging, the reshaping, the pruning by God. It is the consistent, guiding hand of God. And then. when I’ve mastered some baby steps in change, it points to other places where I need to prune some more. A lot more, actually. It’s shaping the pastor who prays and leads and prays some more.

The result? Pain. Loss. And amazing new growth. In myself. In the work that God calls me to. In the people around me that God cares about more than I possibly can. That’s what I’m going for. Change that means God gives… and takes away.

Blessed be the Name of the Lord…
You give and take away,
My heart will choose to say,
“Blessed be the Name of the Lord”

Blessed be.

Found a new resource…

Hat tip to Presbyterian Gal… she had a link to this blog in her side bar.

The post for the Lectionary of January 4, 2009 is New Year’s Resolutions from our Monastic Mothers and Fathers.

Great info and links! And ten very thought-provoking applications from the author’s perspective…

I’ve bookmarked it! 🙂

Deb

P.S. Fixed the link… sorry…