A Charge for the New Tasks & New Year at Hand

Yesterday I had the privilege of offering the benediction at the conclusion of the Council of the District of Columbia swearing in ceremony. I offered these words as a charge for the new tasks & new year at hand:

 

Mayor Bowser, Council Members, Commissioners, honored guests, & all of you here:

 

If you are able, I invite you to take the hand of the person next to you or touch their shoulder.

 

-May the human bond between us guide you as you make decisions that will impact DC residents & beyond.

-May the Inner Light guide you as you seek to better the world by bettering DC.

-May the Inner Light empower you to lead faithfully & make wise decisions based on justice, mercy, & love above personal convenience.

-May you promote an agenda of peacebuilding & cooperation, especially with people you don’t like.

-May you tend to your holistic wellness- mind, body, & spirit- as intently as you tend to your civic & professional responsibilities.

-May we the people, all people, come together in harmony to form a more perfect union.

-May God bless you & keep you. May God’s face shine upon you. May God be gracious to you & give you peace.

 

Shalom, Salaam, Peace to all.

 

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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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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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Transitions & Thresholds: The Sacred Plate

Edited from a sermon delivered at the Academy of Preachers Texas Festival in March 2014:

 

It’s that time of year again… the seasons are changing from winter’s ice to spring’s life. Christians have transitioned from Ordinary Time to Lent to Eastertide. It’s that time of year again… teachers anticipating summer, graduates asking what’s next? It’s that time of year again when couples prepare for summer weddings, and life will change for many people in many ways. I wonder what kind of transition the Hebrews anticipated as they painted their doorposts with blood. Life was changing pretty quickly for them. Even so, God’s care for God’s people is sometimes most clear during times of uncertainty & change.

 

If you have ever experienced a Passover Seder or even seen a Passover platter, you know there is a particular order and liturgy to remembering the story of Passover. The platter has sections for remembering the story- there are spots for the bitter herbs remembering the bitterness of slavery, a shank bone for the lamb, the charoset. If you just sit down to the meal, you will get something out of it. But, if you go through the longer process of preparation, then you will get even more out of the process. A few years ago I did a presentation on Passover for a class. I brought in a few traditional dishes, including charoset. The charoset represents the bricks that the Hebrews made and hauled under slavery. Preparing this dish of dates, apples, and nuts requires a lot of labor. Peeling, chopping finely the apples, chopping sticky dates. I already knew the meaning of charoset, but it wasn’t until I went through the process of making it- feeling the stickiness and the density of the mixture, that I understood more deeply the meaning. Sometimes we want to blow through times of transition, because we are so focused on what’s next when being fully here, going through the difficult process, could be the most important part.

 

Sometimes change is sticky and labor intensive. Change doesn’t happen as neatly as Seder platters are organized. They get messy. As a kid, I remember seeing Bible pictures of the Hebrews putting blood on their door post & it looked like kind of scratchy crayon. As an often times practical and detailed person, I thought was strange that it looked so neat in the picture. I remember wondering even then if the blood dripped and made a mess. Sometimes when we look at other people’s changes and transitions, we think wow! They really have life together neatly. That really may not be the truest reality, though. Anne Lamott says that when someone has their Christian act together, they have just that- an act. No one really has it all together. Change is messy, there will be discomfort, there will be uncertainty. There will be faith involved. This is part of the joy of change. How vulnerable are we when our routine is out of place and the future is unknown? What an opportunity to renew our sense of connection and trust with God.

 

I wonder if this is part of why the Hebrews were commanded in verses 26-27 to tell their children what happened, so that the Passover generation’s faithfulness would inspire and encourage generations after them, as they told of their obedience and God’s faithfulness. Maybe the commandment is also to avoid communal amnesia. Have you ever walked into a room, crossed a threshold, & wondered now what did I come in here for? Wait for it… no, it’s gone. J There is a phenomenon in cognitive psychology that when people have a thought, then move from one room to another, as their context changes, their thoughts change. When moving between rooms with different purposes, such as the bedroom to the kitchen, our minds sometimes move on without taking past thoughts with us.

 

Even when the Hebrews’ scenery changed, their context changed, the people who made up who the Hebrews were changed, God’s faithfulness and this story must still be remembered.  Why? Because we need to know and remember God’s faithfulness, all of the time especially during stressful transition times. I don’t think we can be reminded too many times about God’s faithfulness. We can’t be reminded too many times about God’s liberating work. We can’t be reminded too many times that God will provide. At least I can’t be reminded too many times.

 

I wonder if this is part of the purpose of mezuzahs. A mezuzah is a tiny scroll with verses from Deuteronomy written on it, that goes inside a plaque looking box or case that is affixed often at an angle at doorways. The text written inside is the Shema- “Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is One” and the great commandment to love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul, and strength.” The Lord your God is one- during joy, during challenge, during changes, during stability. Love the Lord your God- when you feel like it, when you don’t feel like it, in and out of season. We need reminders of these truths, especially when opening doors and moving through thresholds.

   

If Exodus 12 and the Exodus story says anything, it is that change, big or small, is communal. As we change, our situations change, for better or for worse, that impacts our families, our friends, our neighbors, our colleagues. Earlier in this chapter, when God gives instructions for how to prepare the lamb, God says that each household should have its own lamb, but the lamb should be shared with a neighboring household if is too small to have its own.

 

Contemporary celebrations of Passover are very communal. I can’t imagine trying to go through the Seder liturgy by myself because it is not intended to be done alone. The proper word for this Passover liturgy is Haggadah, which means “telling”. I guess you could tell yourself, but that would be odd & misses the point. Passover could not have been done alone. Managing the stress of changes and crossing thresholds cannot be done alone. God makes a way with community.

 

Verse 11 says, “This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly.” I have to tell you, I don’t hurry very well. I hurry a lot, but I don’t hurry very well. Here’s the thing with change- we don’t always get to pick the timing or the speed. Sometimes change happens and we just have to do our best, with a staff in hand, sandals on, scarfing down the lamb chops, in order to be ready for the morning. Sometimes we don’t have time to let the bread rise, to get everything in order, every detail worked out, before change knocks on the door. Of course the Passover was a crisis moment and not all of our changes are crisis moments of this caliber, but I don’t think God, Moses, & Aaron had a little pow-wow. Hhhhmmm, does next Tuesday work for you? No, Miriam’s got a tambourine recital. What about Wednesday? No, the time came, and God moved the people to a new place, to a new situation. Ready or not, here it comes. That’s how change is sometimes. Instead of ready or not, let’s go with ready.

 

There’s an old saying that luck favors the prepared. I wonder if faith favors the prepared. We cannot be prepared for everything, but here’s what I mean- if we are spiritually prepared, in the ways that we can be, through slow and steady connection and prayer with God, with healthy connections to church community, then when doubts or challenges or changes come, we will be better equipped, with stronger faith to manage it, to trust God through it. Paul compares sin to leavening in 1 Corinthians 5, and like preparing for Passover traditionally requires getting rid of foods with leavening, I wonder if letting go of sin, letting go of what holds us back from full faith and trust in God, will lighten the load we have to pack on our back when it’s time to move.—–

 

It’s that time of year again. Time to ask what’s next. Time to discern where to invest time and energy. Time for changes. Whatever changes or challenges you are facing or will face, remember God’s past faithfulness in order to increase faith in God’s future faithfulness, live into the experience of transitioning, call on community for help, and do what you can to prepare yourself. Most importantly remember God is with you, even through the end of the ages. Amen.

 

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