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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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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Why I support full LGBT inclusion

A powerful word from my friend & colleague, Marty Troyer, on the importance of loving & welcoming all people, especially LGBT people. I particularly appreciate his insistence on a we rather me approach to church life!

HOUSTON MENNONITE CHURCH

“The wind blows where it chooses…. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit (John 3:8).”

I believe the Spirit of God is alive and well today. It’s the only way I can describe my journey, and the journey I see happening throughout the Body of Christ today. Having shared this with our church leaders, I’d like to share my journey with all at Houston Mennonite Church.

You see, at a point in the not-too-distant past, my thoughts about sexual orientation mimicked the thoughts I had inherited from church, culture, and family: godly sexual orientation was opposite-gender attraction only, and therefore marriage was only between a woman and a man.

I believe it was nothing other than the Spirit of God which led me to full inclusion of my gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) brothers and sisters in Christ. My repenting toward this position did not…

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In the Spirit of Mary Magdalene

Today is a momentous day. Tuesday? Sure. July 22? Try again. Today is the Feast Day of St. Mary Magdalene.

 

Read a main passage of her story here in John 20. If you have ever seen an icon or sacred painting of Mary Magdalene, she was probably wearing red and/or holding a red egg. Read stories behind that tradition here. Bishop Hipolytus [2-3rd century] called Mary Magdalene an “apostle to the apostles” because she was a disciple sent out with a message & mission. An apostle is a disciple in action. She had a message to share, & she did so faith-full-y. 

 

Whether you support women in formal religious leadership or women as Christian ministers/pastors, there is wisdom to receive from these particularly faith-full women who live in the spirit of Mary Magdalene. These women write, speak, preach, & lead in various ways so that the hope of Jesus Christ’s life & messages reaches deeper & wider. In no particular order I present 10 diverse women in Christian ministry we need to listen to:

 

1) Nadia Bolz-Weber, Pastor, House For All Sinners & Saints, Denver, CO

2) Amy K. Butler, Pastor, Riverside Church, NYC

3) Dorisanne Cooper, Pastor, Watts Street Baptist Church, Durham, NC

4) Angela Yarber, Artist, Preacher, Author, Winston-Salem, NC

5) Helen Prejean, Catholic nun & Activist, New Orleans, LA

6) Kyndall Rothaus, Pastor, Covenant Baptist Church, San Antonio, TX

7) Allyson Robinson, Activist & Transitions Pastor, Calvary Baptist Church, Washington DC

8) Vashti McKenzie, Bishop, African Methodist Episcopal Church, Nashville, TN

9) Erica Evans Whitaker, Pastoral Resident, Wilshire Baptist Church, Dallas, TX

10) Rachel Held Evans, Author, Speaker, Dayton, TN

 

“Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’; and she told them that he had said these things to her.” [John 20:18]

 

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Disorienting Wonder

Working my way down

The long, long dark corridor

Hoping, praying, dreaming

 

Knocking on tall doors

Short doors

Antique, modern doors

Mirrored doors

Moated doors

 

Gentle knocks?

Forceful knockers

Running starts

Failed picked locks

 

Down, down

The corridor

When finally

A squat door of Mary’s cerulean

Opens with persuasion

Darkness deeper than the corridor

But the door opened

 

The only way in

Kneeling

Sliding on knees

Sliding, sliding

Falling, falling

 

Like Alice into fearful wonder

Slightly unhinged

Thud landing

Disoriented wonder

 

Standing up for once

On steady cobblestone

A new, long, colorful corridor

Single door at the end

Cracked open

Shining, glowing, calling

 

I open the door

Mezuzah intact

Entering into Twilight Space

Crossing over

Through the threshold

A whole new world

 

From black and white

To blinding Technicolor

From Pleasantville

To a truer reality

 

There you are

Queen of my Heart

Welcoming me to The Table,

Inviting  me to taste and see

 

Calling me

Closer, closer

Breast of milk

Breath of honey

 

“Welcome, beloved

Come

Stay

Sit

A while”

 

Releasing coat and baggage

Into your care

Wearing new hats

 

We sit

 

We exhale

 

Together

 

door-opening

Sophia & Pax

I rise before the sun rises

under a full moon

the verdant forest

with layers of green & brown

rain like grace

so that the forest sighs in relief

 

Two owls in the near distance

distinct hooooo patterns

calling to me and the messy forest

insistently getting louder

a love-love tennis match

calling to one another

 

Sophia says be strong

protect yourself, be strong

 

Pax says be strong

protect yourself, be strong

 

Sophia says you’re so close

you’ve come this far, be careful

 

Pax says you’re so close

you’ve come this far, be careful

 

Sophia says wait! listen!

it gets better, be patient

 

Pax says wait! listen!

make it better, be patient

 

Sophia says watch your step

the end is near, be quiet

 

Pax says watch your step

the end is near, be honest

 

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