Open Letter to Lake Shore

Dear Pastor Kyndall and Lake Shore Baptist Church,

 

I greet you in the name of Jesus Christ.

 

I came to you in 2013 as a closeted seminarian and you welcomed me and my leadership. I was tight lipped about how and who I loved because of the same oppressive forces at work that have delayed your public affirming statement.

 

To come out as LGBTQ and to come out as an ally are significant tasks and a significant burden. You may not feel the relief of such a burden for some time until perhaps one Sunday you can’t remember a time before LGBTQ individuals and families were fully free to be as out as they want in your congregation and community.

 

To come out is no small task. Questions and anxiety about the future rain on the internal rainbow parade. As Ecclesiastes 3 says, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven… a time to keep silence, and a time to speak” You have discerned well to recognize this is a season requiring boldness- speaking up and speaking out.

 

You will likely be on the receiving end of harassment, threats, protests, black-listings, and other expressions of aggressive disagreement by those who would want you to doubt your faith and your confidence in choosing inclusion over exclusion. Woe to anyone who attempts to close a door that God intends to be open. If the Bible is clear about anything, it is clear about God’s love being grand enough to accept all people- even those who chose to create a harshly exclusionary God rather than the true God of love. You are not divisive. You are inclusive.

 

“Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.” [1John 4:7-8]

 

I am proud of you and this significant milestone toward being the loving presence of Christ as we are called to be. Remember that adopting a statement is a milestone in a much longer process. I urge you to continually ask yourself how you can actively and proactively love the LGBTQ community. To paraphrase Don Bosco, it is not enough to love the LGBTQ community; they must know that they are loved through ongoing action.

 

I urge you continue to ask who else is missing from the Table as you gather. Where are other areas of growth for inclusion? How can Lake Shore continue to more clearly reflect the Kin’dom of God?

 

May you continue to faithfully and justly live the greatest commandments- love God and love neighbor. I am more proud than ever to have worked with you and I am thankful to know you. I love who you are becoming. I am thankful for your witness.

 

“And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.” [1 Corinthians 13:13]

 

Shalom,

Rev. Erica Lea

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Unity & God’s Will

I cringe a little every time I hear someone say, “God’s will”. The will of God is about more deeply discerning call. What is God calling me or us to do? How does God desire life in the world to be?

 

“God’s will” is often said with shrugged shoulders as a way to avoid deeper reasoning. A child dies. I guess it was God’s will. A house burns down. I guess it was God’s will. A violence inciting rapist rises to arguably the most powerful office in the world through Democratic vote. I guess it was God’s will. God’s will is often invoked when there is a sense of lost control.

 

The current political climate is not God’s will.

 

The Bible tells us that God desires: all people to live in harmony (Romans 12:18), justice and humility (Micah 6:8), peacemakers (Matthew 5:9), nothing to separate us from God’s love (Romans 8:35-39), to love one another (Mark 12:30-31), the Church to remove us and them attitudes (Galatians 3:28), and all people to follow the way of Truth and Life (John 14:6).

 

The current political climate is not the result of God’s will because fear-based dominance is not of God.

 

“For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.” (2 Timothy 1:7)

 

The current political climate is not the result of mysterious Divine workings. Racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and xenophobia are the fuel of this domestic terror machine.

 

In the past 8 years, Americans and the world have watched a Black man be elected as president while simultaneously being reminded of the daily micro aggressions and full-scale violent assault of more African-Americans than most can bear to count. We have seen the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement. While there were 60,467,601 cracks in the glass ceiling, it was not enough to overcome the blatant sexism that denied the most qualified and capable presidential candidate in American history the Office of President.

 

In the past 8 years, there have been significant strides and setbacks for the LGBTQ community. Most notably: marriage equality, non-discrimination executive order, adoption rights, and school bathroom inclusion. We have also seen states discriminate in the name of religion while others have fought for marriage equality in the name of religion. Hate crimes against transgender and gender nonconforming people are on the rise, disproportionately impacting trans women of color.

 

In the past 8 years there has been a harsh revival of global xenophobia, especially against Latinos, Muslims, and Arabs. “Outsiders” are scapegoated as smoke and mirror in order to avoid introspection and responding to the brewing internal divide. American rejection of immigrants is the inheritance of the iron rule of entitlement and false ownership since 1492.

 

What is a Christian to do in the midst of the stench pile of complexly layered violent mistrust?

 

  • Pray for enemies and those who persecute you (Matthew 5:44)
  • Accurately identify if you are being persecuted or if you are troubled by a shift in power as white straight evangelicals are decentralized
  • Ask yourself why you are troubled by someone who is a minority receiving similar opportunities and benefits as white straight evangelicals
  • Remember you are God’s favorite and you were made in Gods image (Genesis 1:27)
  • Remember the other is God’s favorite and made in God’s image (Genesis 1:27)

 

“You can safely assume that you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.” –Anne Lamott

 

If all people are God’s favorite and made in the image of God, imago dei, then we are united in our shared humanity and in our shared a divine connection.

 

Please for unity during this tumultuous political season ring hollow as many people making this request have actively rejected, undermined, and lamented the recent gains of minorities rights’ progress. “Unity” is passive aggressive code for “shut up”. If there was sincere desire for unity, then fruits of active inclusion and support for minority rights would already be seen. We are united in our shared humanity and in our shared a divine connection.

 

Unity is not a concept and term to be wielded when convenient. Until white evangelicals see their rights as intertwined with the rights and sufferings of minorities, then there will be no unity.

 

“Nobody’s free until everybody’s free.” -Fannie Lou Hamer

 

“When they locked up the social democrats,

I remained silent;

I was not a social democrat.

 

When they came for the trade unionists,

I did not speak out;

I was not a trade unionist.

 

When they came for the Jews,

I remained silent;

I wasn’t a Jew.” -Martin Niemöller

 

The question worth pondering is if God is in control, then who’s God is it?

 

Is your God in control through demands and requirements? Is your God a warrior who destroys your enemies? Is your God a guide who cultivates compassion and charity?

 

Who your God is determines what type of leader you will choose and how you view authority.

 

God help us.

 

May God’s will of harmony, justice, humility, peacemaking, inclusion, love, truth, and life, be our unifying guide and standard as we respond to our own and our neighbors’ pain.

 

“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” –Galatians 5:22-23a

 

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10 For the Win

This year, 2016, I am thankful to celebrate 10 years cancer free. I am celebrating by completing 10 5K events. What better way to celebrate a temporary health decline than by putting the power in powerwalk toward a healthy goal? As of August, I am only about half way to my goal, but I have more 5Ks on my calendar through December.

As some of the fittest people in the greater DMV and Baltimore areas zoomed past me, I made a few observations applicable to life, especially church life:

 

Organization and communication

The most well attended and enjoyable 5Ks were well organized as evidenced by accessible organizers and clear instructions. To successfully host a race, there must be an organized team working together as a healthy team.

 

Encouragement from the sidelines

Some 5Ks were in residential areas, others were in more business-oriented areas of town. Regardless, there were always at least some people on the sidelines cheering and encouraging the runners and walkers. Positivity is particularly important during up hills and the final stretch of the race.

 

Sportsmanship

Some of the most inspiring moments of the Olympics and even local 5Ks are when fellow participants help each other. While there were always professional medical personnel, there were minor issues such as a small cut or younger participants getting tired. There is power in handing the runner next to you a band aid or an encouraging pat on the back.

We were all moving toward the same goal- to finish well after giving our best.  Each person is responsible for themselves AND we are all in the race together. This is not multiple choice. I hope you will join me in finishing this year well- finish 2016 well personally, spiritually, socially, professionally, and otherwise.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.” -Hebrews 12:1

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Go For the Gold!

The 2016 Olympics are upon us. Opening ceremonies begin Friday evening. The usual nationalist fanfare and moving stories of determination are already circulating. Socio-political tensions are high in Brazil and questions about the environmental impact of hosting the Olympics linger.
 
This Olympics includes a refugee team of 10 dedicated athletes from nations in conflict including Syria, South Sudan, Ethiopia, and Democratic Republic of Congo. As their life stories are shared, I am increasingly inspired by their resiliency. For example, Yusra Mardini began swimming at 3 years old in her home country of Syria. When she and her sister fled Syria in 2015, their small dinghy with 20 people on board began taking on water between Turkey and Lesbos. Mardini and a few others swam while pushing the dinghy to shore. Now, she is swimming in the Olympics.
 
I am also increasingly convicted to respond to the ongoing global refugee crisis, especially as a result of incessant warfare. How can we love our neighbors on micro-next-door levels and on macro-global levels?
 
I invite you to watch the Olympics and read the stories of as many Olympians as possible. Learn the experiences of real people around the world. When possible, watch the Olympics and discuss the athletes’ and their families’ stories with other people around you. Knowing each other’s stories is an important step toward recognizing the imago dei, Divine Image, in all people.
  
“‘Give the members of your community a fair hearing, and judge rightly between one person and another, whether citizen or resident alien. You must not be partial in judging: hear out the small and the great alike; you shall not be intimidated by anyone.” [Deuteronomy 1:16b-17a]

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Make Basil Great Again

While in seminary I had a pet basil named Basil the Great. I picked him up at the local farmer’s market one Saturday and repotted him on the wrap around porch of my cottage. He thrived and became quite large with very little attention which worked well for my very minimal gardening knowledge. I harvested him multiple times to make bowls of pesto and top homemade pizzas with fresh basil leaves. The sacrifice brought delight to my table. Eventually Basil the Great died during freezing weather.

 

I think back to those days with nostalgia. I have even attempted to recreate another Basil the Great here in Maryland on the patio of my basement apartment with the same strategy and plan- minimal intervention, sunlight, natural rain, etc. I have successfully killed at least 5 different basil plants in the past year. What worked well previously does not necessarily work well now. My home and climate are significantly different. I continue to experiment with different soils and amounts of water, sunlight, etc.

 

I continue to experiment with the hopes of having a stable and thriving basil plant again. The only way this will be possible is by trying new things. 

 

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” [Ecclesiastes 3:1]

 

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The Gospel According to the Convent

I am Mennonite & I love Catholic nuns. I am a nun groupie from way back. In college, I minored in Women’s Studies & focused on the experiences of women in religious leadership related to family systems, mostly Catholic nuns. I have prayed with Sisters, baked, sang, cried, hiked, cleaned, laughed, & more with them. Last week I had the amazing & always illuminating experience of visiting a convent & starting to know another community. Parts of this Carmelite convent were familiar, but there were some parts that were unlike any other convent I have visited. A few observations:

 

Boundaries & Radical Hospitality Must Co-exist

I contacted the convent & they received me as a guest with only a few pertinent questions such as when I planned to come. It was practically a “no questions asked” welcome. This does not mean I had free reign. Certain doors & areas were labeled private. The Sisters did not modify their schedule for me. They invited me into their schedule & routine. This gives the community consistency & gave me a sense of authentic presence as I observed & participated in their natural habitat.

 

This community is semi-cloistered. They know who they are & what they need to do to fulfill their commitments to themselves & to show hospitality to the stranger. Brené Brown says, “daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves, even when we risk disappointing others.” See more from her here on healthy boundary setting.

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Sing, Even if it Sounds Like A Train Wreck

Monastics throughout the ages have gathered for regular prayer together throughout the day. These Sisters chant a few Psalms a few times each day as part of their communal prayer time in addition to daily Mass. Every once in a while the rhythm or organist or someone is off, but the chant went on. Part of the beauty of communal chant is when you find yourself off, you are surrounded by other people who carry the chant until you are able to jump back in. This principle of mutually supportive community surely carries over beyond the chapel.

 

“Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up the other; but woe to one who is alone and falls and does not have another to help.” [Ecclesiastes 4:9-10]

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Accessibility is Everything

I have visited many convents & had great conversations with many different types of Sisters. This was my first time to visit a more progressively minded community. A few times I heard people of other faiths spoken of positively & even prayed for. Other times I heard subtle & not so subtle openness to LGBTQ people. These small comments of gracious kindness reflect a life of prayer & openness to the Spirit’s presence that turns out to not be so small after all. As a result, I have never felt so welcome at a convent.  

 

“Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.” [Romans 13:10]

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Leadership + Follow-ship = Healthy Community

It was not immediately clear to me which of the Sisters was the Prioress or the local Superior. Yet, there appeared to be no need for heavy handed leadership either. The Sister in charge of hospitality was wonderfully thoughtful with no need for the Prioress to insert herself. The community was orderly & connected with a mission & focus beyond the Prioress. There was clear respect for the various priests who visited, though they called each other by familiar first names. There was a clear sense of mutual respect that everyone seemed secure in. Perhaps everyone is following Pope Francis living example of empowering leadership.

 

“Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you; consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.” [Hebrews 13:7]

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God Is Everywhere… Maybe

I believe in a theology of place. While I believe that God is all-present, there are certain places where I experience God consistently & profoundly. Convents are 1 such place. Thanks be to God & the Sisters who commit their lives to prayer & hospitality. Find your place visit. Visit often.

 

God spoke to Jacob in a dream, “‘Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.’ Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, ‘Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!’” [Genesis 28:15-16]

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Blizzard Sabbath Keeping

I don’t know if you heard, but a little storm has popped up on the East coast. So far Winter Storm Jonas has dropped more snow in the DC-Baltimore metro areas than I have ever seen in my entire life combined. Before now, the only blizzard I was familiar with came from Dairy Queen!

The ability to drive or even walk much outside has contributed to me accepting the need to stay home. So I have. I have stayed in, read, relaxed, baked, connected with my sweetheart. After 1.5 days of this externally imposed hibernation, I realized how relieved I have been not to have expectations put on my time.

Business as usual has temporarily stopped.

While I was in seminary I experienced great relief & peace by carefully practicing Sabbath & protecting that time. Not in the Orthodox, kosher, Jewish sense, but in my own adapted yet spiritually focused, life-giving way. This regular practice has since stopped as little by little I allowed other demands, “needs”, & a different life stage/lifestyle to take over.

My mistake.

I truly grieve the lost life & damaged property this titan of a storm has brought, but I am thankful for the reminder that I need this type of rest when no one owns me or my time. When I am reminded that I am only Erica, always Gods, & life is both short & long so plan accordingly.

Sabbath is a reminder that Creation is finite & glorious, our Creator is infinite & glorious, & rest is divine. Sabbath is a reminder that contrary to American belief, work & productivity do not define humanity, or more particularly me. Sabbath is a reminder that what we do individually & privately impacts who we are collectively & publicly.

Sabbath is not leaving reality, but facing reality in a more centered way.

When was the last time you Sabbathed?
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