Family Trees Blessing

Blessing originally given at Hyattsville Mennonite Church on Pride Sunday, June 11, 2017:

May God awaken us to the beauty of Creation-the beauty of ourselves, the beauty of our neighbors, the beauty of God itself.

May we resist apathy and falling asleep in the theater as the epic story of creation plays on. May we join God in co-creating a new heaven and a new earth. Let there be light for our paths & darkness for resting. May the sky be large enough to make you feel small. May the stars been numerous & bright enough to make you proud to share carbon with them.

May the vegetation of the earth be bountiful on your table. When you marvel at a fish or a butterfly or a dog, may remember that you too are beautifully & wonderfully made. Whatever season you find yourself in, may you know that God is with you at this very moment & that very season too.

If you wonder what your life is worth, may remember that you were made in God’s image-mysterious, complex, lovely, and created for community and co-creating.

May you live well & rest well. May we always remember one of our purposes is to be a good neighbor, to more deeply and widely love our relatives on the family tree of creation. Amen.

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Mother’s Day Prayer

Originally given during the service on Sunday, May 14, at Calvary Baptist Church, Washington, D.C.

 

O, God, today we grieve with motherless children of all ages & childless mothers of all vocations. We grieve with families who have lost loved ones & for whom this day is particularly painful reminder of that loss. Today we resist the religiously abusive teachings that suggest a woman is worth what her womb produces. We give thanks for families- biological, adopted, chosen, & otherwise.

 

We give thanks for the women of our tradition who guide us with their wisdom- Mother Eve, Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, Leah, Miriam, Deborah, Esther, Mary, Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Phoebe, & even those women who are unnamed, but whose stories we cherish close to heart.

 

We give thanks for the women of history who inspire us in their courage- Mother Perpetua & Felicity, Teresa of Avila, Therese of Lisieux, Katherine von Bora, Julian of Norwich, Sojourner Truth, Mother Teresa, Sofia Mendoza, Maya Angelou, Cheryl Branham, Sally Sarratt, Maria Swearingen.

 

We give thanks for the Holy Spirit who leads us with her feminine care & guidance. O God, may the Spirit blow through our lives, guiding us, loving us, comforting us, pushing us, pulling us, inspiring us, making all things renewed. Amen.

 

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Mary, Our Mother by Angela Yarber

Gracious Inventory: Ash Wednesday Reflection

I have to be honest with you- Ash Wednesday is not my favorite service and Lent is frankly, a downer. Sure, I look good in purple and there is Easter cheese at the end of the Lenten maze. But still…

I have heard Lent described as the time of spiritual heavy lifting during the Christian liturgical year. Heavy lifting? Have you ever moved or bought new furniture? There’s a reason why there are so many moving companies and moving trucks. Hauling around stuff, especially bulky stuff, is indeed exhausting work. Perhaps Lent is about examining one’s stuff.

In the popular book, Spark Joy, by Marie Kondo, the author brings ancient Japanese wisdom on minimalism in the home to contemporary readers. Maybe you have heard of it. Recently The Simpsons did a spoof episode where the family tries out the minimalist principles. Lisa ended up getting rid of her prized saxophone. It was rough to watch, in an amusing way of course. Marie Kondo’s method can be summarized:

  • Commit yourself to tidying up
  • Imagine your ideal lifestyle
  • Finish discarding first
  • Tidy by category, not by location
  • Follow the right order
  • Ask yourself if the item sparks joy

I will confess that I do experience joy when space is clutter-free. There is value in taking a long hard look at how much we consume and then readjusting in order to minimize one’s footprint. It can be a healthy practice to have seasons in the year and in life- lean times & feasting times. It can be liberating to take a personal inventory. What areas am I doing well in? What areas can I do better in? When am I most experiencing God? When do I struggle to experience God?

A lot of people think of Lent as a time to reduce stuff & to clear out clutter sometimes literally, but most often metaphorically. A lot of people think of Lent as a time to test self control- with enough grit & determination I will completely ban chocolate or television or social media or alcohol or complaining or clutter. If Lent is reduced to what to do & what not to do, we miss potential depths of the season.

Allow me to begin with what Lent is not:

  • Lent is not a time to punish yourself. While it is true that we are all imperfect, God does not desire self-punishment or self-loathing.
  • Lent is not a religiously sanctioned time to try out a crash diet. Focus on health is usually a good thing, but self-loathing or unhealthy restrictions is damaging. How does dishonoring one’s body honor the incarnate Christ?
  • Lenten is not a time for practices approached like a religious new year’s resolution. There is a dismally low average rate of sticking with new year’s resolutions anyway & Lent isn’t about goals, it’s about focus.
  • Lent is not an opportunity to humble brag about piety.
    • Matthew 6:1- “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.”

 What then is Lent?

  • Logistically, Lent is a 6 week time of preparation for Easter.
  • Lent is the mirroring of Jesus’ 40 days of fasting in the desert as he began stepping in to his greatest purposes.
    • Writer & theologian, Frederick Buechner, writes, “After being baptized by John in the river Jordan, Jesus went off alone into the wilderness where he spent 40 days asking himself the question what it meant to be Jesus. During Lent, Christians are supposed to ask one way or another what it means to be themselves.”
  • Lent is a time of deeper fellowship with Christians of many denominations and traditions around the world & even across time.
  • Lent is a time of individual and shared lament. This season puts the “Lent” in lament. These days there is no shortage of situations, laws, injustices, abuses, hurts, and loss to grieve and lament.
  • Finally, Lent is grace.

In our passage this evening, Psalm 51, David expresses deep regret and begs for God’s mercy after the prophet Nathan convicts him about his sins of adultery and murder. You may or may not be guilty of adultery or murder, but surely you are familiar with regret. Have you ever regretted something you did or didn’t do?

The book of Psalms is timeless largely in part because it includes a full range of human experience and emotion. Psalm 51 can be a model for Lenten practice:

  • Appeal to divine mercy
  • Confession of sin
  • Cleansing & renewal
  • A vow with thanksgiving

Today, Ash Wednesday, we do all 4 of these rapid fire, as an overview of the season. Today in particular we remember our sins & confess them to God. That’s kind of the easy part. Throughout the season of Lent may we actively seek to make right broken relationships. Sin doesn’t separate us from God because God is always with us, but sin does distort our image and understanding and experience of God and sin does our image and understanding and experience of ourselves and other people.

Sin is like acid rain wearing us down. May we alternatively be renewed in the life giving waters of God’s grace and perhaps even grace for ourselves. Sin is not a surface wound. May we dig deep together as we examine our stuff, clear out the clutter of our lives, accept God’s grace, & actively make right our relationships.

O, God, “Create in us clean hearts, put new and right spirits within us. Restore to us the joy of your salvation, and sustain in us a willing spirit. Deliver us, O God of our salvation, and we will sing aloud of your deliverance.” Amen.

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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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Let Your Light Shine

On this New Year’s Eve & 8th night of Hanukkah, this Episco-Bapt-onite Christian sees the intersection of faith & public life coming together in new ways. Just 20 days from now, the world will witness a man sworn in as President of the United States who has no qualms playing Russian Roulette with nuclear arms & whose very presence encourages violence against minorities of every type. I am deeply troubled by this reality, but perhaps even more so, I am troubled by a global shift namely in parts of Europe and the United States. A shift that embraces anxiety & scarcity more than embracing neighbor.

 

On this New Year’s Eve I feel worried that the world I have always known is moving toward an irreversibly violent & intolerant reality. What can be done?

 

I’m not sure what can be done, but I will light candles.

 

I will light a candle with the hope that if I increase my external light, then my internal light of hope that is dimmed with each headline & threat will be reminded of truths.

 

I will light a candle when hope in the midst of these troubling times feels like too much to ask for, so that the Inner Light’s voice will be more clear to me than anything else.

 

The story of Hanukkah is a story of miracles & identity. The Jewish Maccabees were unlikely victors in their struggle. The Maccabees were targeted as a minority group by the Greeks who were hellbent on destroying them. A menorah or chanukiah during the festival of Hanukkah is traditionally displayed near a window.

 

To light the menorah is to stick it to the man by saying- light lives here & my Light will not be intimidated.

 

Let your Light shine.

 

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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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