Pandemic Pentecost Affirmations

I read this morning that there are more churches closing in the wake of the pandemic. I have seen the reports about attendance and listened to how hard it is to wait in that Zoom room for anyone to join the room.

The church will be forever changed by this pandemic. We will be forever changed.

I hesitate to name what those changes are. It feels too soon. We do not know enough.

In the United States, only 50 percent of the population is vaccinated. Only half. And at the same time the White House is working toward sending over eighty million vaccines to be used throughout our global community to end this pandemic. I pray you’ll continue this effort by supporting the People’s Vaccine. You can learn more here.

We are not there yet but it is important to find space to name aloud where we are feeling called. Pentecost came and went. You celebrated with cake and streamers and even kites. We find ourselves now in that long season after Pentecost when we look for the green sprouts of new growth. We hear familiar stories and remember what matters most — and maybe we even dream.

I know that is hard when looking at the balance sheet. I know it is harder when looking at the empty pews and mourning for so many lives lost in just one year. Our faith proclaims that from death comes new life. It is a bold claim and it is not always easy to claim such boldness so I thought it might help to catch a little of energy from Pentecost and carry it into this moment with Pandemic Pentecost Affirmations.

It’s an adaptation from something you have seen before. During Lent, I offered a simple free printable on Pandemic Easter Affirmations. I have also shared my favorite affirmations because these are words I need to repeat to myself when I am not sure about the future. It felt like something that needed for this moment when so much is uncertain about the future. The changes that have come in this past year have been so fast that I wonder how it is possible to process all that has changed. I wonder if that’s part of why we so often hear that desire to return to normal? Normal might not exist but we crave comfort. We yearn for the the familiar. We struggle when the tiniest things have changed in the traditions of our church and this year has pronounced their end. You know, dear pastor, that it’s not enough to make a bold claim and move on. It has to live in our bodies. It has to wander through our prayers and become part of who we are.

We need to find words to speak to this moment of who we have become and find ways to express what it is we believe the church could be. Our words will not be the same but if we listen to this gift of tongues then we may find the hope we need for the days ahead.

You might use the workshop model I suggested here for the Easter season to gather these affirmations to carry the congregation through the growing season or they might just be something that is used with the leadership board to open your next meeting. You could use it with the youth in the next time you gather on Zoom and share their vision in worship the following Sunday or maybe it’s something to bring to your weekly Bible Study after reading Acts 2 together.

I imagine that there are several other ways that this could be used. I hope so. I hope it’s something that is easily passed on to a deacon or elder or someone who loves to lead adult faith formation kinda things with the encouragement, “Wouldn’t this be wonderful? Let’s try it.”

I hope it feels worth trying. I hope it’s a blessing for you, dear pastors.

I know, too, that there are words you are trying to find for this week. I am not fast enough in my prayer to speak to more gun violence in San Jose and the anniversary of George Floyd’s death but where I fail Maren Tirabassi always has words. Her prayer for San Jose and her prayer for May 25, 2021 both spoke to my heart. We are carried by each other, dear pastor. Alleluia. Alleluia.

Pandemic Prayers for Trinity Sunday

I missed a week. I didn’t mean to do so even as I tried to plan ahead for another Pentecost in Coronatide. I still missed a week. Two weeks if you saw what I offered for Pentecost and thought it had nothing even remotely related to what might happen on Sunday morning on Zoom. I feel like I’m missing a lot of things right now.

It will happen on Trinity Sunday that we shall depart for our overseas move. We shall board a series of planes until we finally arrive in our new home in Germany. I will feel like we don’t have enough masks. I will be on edge about how often my almost two year old rips off her mask. And yes, I know that the guidance is that she’s too young to wear one but I need some comfort in knowing that she can wear one as we fly overseas.

I fear I will miss again in this faithful practice because I do not know what awaits us on the other side. I do not know if I should write prayers into the weeks ahead or if those words will fail to speak to the moment because everything is changing so fast. I imagine, dear pastor, that you are feeling this weight too. You are trying to navigate how to plan and lead when everything is changing. There is your own sanity and then there is the concern for the children sitting on the chancel steps. You are praying as much as you ever have in this pandemic nightmare as you try to be patient and kind with every vaccinated boomer who assumes their status is the norm. I pray you’ve found the work of the Wisconsin Council of Churches with their guidance for this moment. If not, please check out Love Builds Up and share it with your leadership.

I cannot imagine the dance you are doing, dear pastor, but I know that you are doing it with faith and love. You are preaching the gospel sometimes even with words. You are living it. You are loving just as you have done for more than a year. I hope you know that my prayers continue even when I fail to post. We are all doing what we can and sometimes I have to admit that I cannot do it all. (I am not good at this. Like at all.)

I wonder if this week you were to write a letter to Nicodemus as my friend Claudio Carvalhaes does on Working Preacher. Because I’m guessing that you too need a break. You, dear pastor, have found yourself without words. You are looking for something meaningful and powerful but you have so little left. Or maybe exactly because of this fact you need for the words of this letter not to come from you so that worship this week builds toward your people writing letters to Nicodemus.

Rachel Hackenberg has this wonderful book on Writing to God. It’s snippets from her work that I offer here as a suggestion to you in how you might structure this sacred time to ponder the wonder of the Trinity. She offers a free Small Group Study Guide for Lent that I’ve selected bits and pieces from to make this service come together. My copy of the book is regrettably packed in some box being shipped over the Atlantic Ocean so I cannot offer anything from its pages but I hope you’ll order a copy for your small groups this summer. I can almost guarantee that there would be something to use related to the particular passages for the day in this small tome. Or to use for the next time that you don’t have words of your own.

Call to Worship 
Inspired by John 3:1-17

We come without
words to explain 
this moment
or what we dare 
to hope will come.

We come needing 
words to explain 
how these things 
can be. We need 
some expression 
of what it means 
for us to know
the presence 
of God.

The wind has blown
and it will blow again.
We hear its sound
and feel its force
but we do not know
where it will lead.
We can only notice
another grey hair
and another wrinkle 
from the stress
of this long year.

Bring us together, O God,
to find that you are giving 
us words. Very truly, you 
will give us ways to 
understand how 
these things can be.
This song is covered by the CCLI license.
Opening Meditation
Adapted from Rachel Hackberg's Small Group Study Guide for Lent

In the middle of the night, a leader of the Jews called Nicodemus came to Jesus looking for answers. There were things that he wanted to know, things that he couldn't understand and hoped that this teacher from God could help him. He called him Teacher and waited for his response. 

After night turned to morning light, we come to find answers. Our emotions are high as they may have been for Nicodemus that night. We come to find words for all that we are feeling right now. Together, we will take two minutes to each write a few sentences to describe one of our emotional responses to Jesus. Pick the emotion that feels most powerful. You might begin, “I admire Jesus, because...” or you might choose, "I am frustrated with Jesus, because..." 

When we have each had time to find words for emotions, you will be invited to share a word or phrase in the chat box from your meditation.

This is not a complete service with all of the details that you might include but I do wonder about using Nicodemus by Malcolm Guite as an introduction to the Gospel Lesson. Perhaps another bit of writing would add inspiration to this meditation though words.

Reflecting Meditation
Adapted from Rachel Hackberg's Small Group Study Guide for Lent

Having heard how the good news is shared in the Gospel of John, we pick up our pen and paper again to allow words to flow however they might come in lists or poetry, prose or epistle in response to this prompt: “Now is not the time.” Dare to direct your words to the Holy Three in One. Tell God what is most on your heart. 

When we have each had time to find words for how this can be, you will again be invited to share a word or phrase in the chat box from your meditation.
This classic hymn is not covered by CCLI.

My friend Erica Schemper offers this inspiring Prayers of the People for Trinity Sunday inspired by St. Patrick’s Breastplate. Or you might opt for a Responsive Pastoral Prayer that picks up on the beloved refrain in this favorite hymn. I want there to be a way to connect all of these words offered in personal meditation especially for those who do not find words to come easily. I wonder if using a popcorn prayer might work to gather all of this together.

Prayers of the People
Inspired by John 3:1-17

Holy is what 
we long to name
in our own words.

Holy, Holy, Holy, 
Our God Almighty,
we have stumbled 
what is possible
and even how
to name your
wonder and 
possibility. 

It has felt like 
this isn't the time for...

And we are aware
that there are things 
that we have not 
found words to express
how these things 
can be. Our words
are not enough
to name your
glory and grace.

We come close in 
naming that Christ Jesus is...

But there is more 
to your power. There
is more to your being
than what sustains us
in Christ Jesus. 

We pray, Holy One,
that you will fill 
in the silences 
between our words
and surprise us
like a wild goose
taking flight
into the great blue skies.
Surprise us again 
in your infinite grace.
Disrupt what we 
assume must be
with what could be
with the blowing 
winds of hope and change.

Holy, Holy, Holy, 
Our God Almighty,
we pray in your many names.
Amen.
This version is definitely not covered by a license but I love it.

Last, but not least, I loved this Benediction in the Time of the Pandemic for this Sunday last year. These are the words that I need to hear right now. These are the words that I hope will carry us all. Though if you use an Amen refrain like the one above, that might be where you end. That is all the benediction that is needed before virtual coffee hour.

That’s all I’ve got for you, dear pastor. As you prepare worship this week, please know that I am praying for you. I am praying for you so much.

Pandemic Easter Affirmations

I wanted to write a statement about what it means to be a person of faith when everything feels uncertain for the service I wrote for the Longest Night in 2020. I did it partially for myself.

I needed words to speak to what I believe right now, but I also wanted to provide some words for the confusion that is coronatide. I was super surprised to find that a friend had made this statement into a graphic when I was mindlessly scrolling through Facebook. It’s the image below.

There are — of course — the classic statements of faith that remind us who we are and what we believe. I shared my favorite affirmations here last year. It can be grounding to go back to those words and repeat that faith that has been shared again and again by Christians across the centuries, but there are times when we need words that speak to this particular moment. We need words that remind us what it means to be a person of faith right now.

I thought about writing a series of affirmations for Lent following the Lectionary. Then, I thought maybe I would wait until Easter. I might still but I wanted to offer something else that might carry us all into the resurrection season. I’m thinking particularly about things that don’t require clergy to lead and thought that it might be amazing to have a collection of affirmations from the church gathered together in one place. It would be an amazing things for the church archives but it would also be a simple way to support each other in the days ahead.

I’ve created a simple free printable on Pandemic Easter Affirmations that can be shared with one and all within your congregation. This is something that you could send out in the church email in the beginning of Lent and ask for submissions to be emailed to a designated email before Holy Week begins. Offer lots of reminders and offer samples in worship to inspire creativity.

All of the submissions can be collected into a Word document or you can get fancy and use Canva that could then be emailed or printed for distribution throughout the community. There are 50 days of Easter. Set that goal so that there is a affirmation for each day to share in the Easter season. Share the progress as submissions arrive in your inbox with teasers on social media: “We got two more submissions for our Easter Affirmations today. They are stunning. Have you written yours yet?” Or something like that.

Or you might lead a Zoom workshop to write these affirmations. Here is a sample outline for how that 60-minute workshop might look. I’m assuming you have talkers. It could be shorter.

1

Pray

Practice together some lectio divina as a group with one of your favorite affirmations.

Invite people to briefly speak about what speaks to them in the affirmation. If you’d like to offer more than one example, you could read another affirmation after sharing in group lectio divina. You might even provide a brief overview on common traits of such statements.

2

Explore

Use a whiteboard to brainstorm things that feel true in this pandemic season.

Pose that question first and if there is no movement then use the questions on the downloadable PDF.

3

Listen

Find a beautiful video of a favorite hymn of the congregation on YouTube (you know, the one that is always requested and no one ever grows tired of it).

Before playing the video, invite people to listen for what this hymn says about our shared faith. Encourage them to listen closely for scripture references.

Invite them to then to search for the lyrics of their favorite hymn and note what it says about their personal faith.

4

Connect

Create breakout rooms so that those in attendance can share what connections they’ve made between their truths and their faith.

Offer questions to encourage conversation, such as: What surprised you in the lyrics of your favorite hymn? Where do you find hope? What challenges you?What matters most about your faith in this pandemic?

In this particular format, the affirmations wouldn’t actually be written. You would bless them after the small group conversation and invite them to write on their own after sharing in rich conversation with trusted souls.

I imagine that there are several other ways that this could be used. I hope so. I hope it’s something that is easily passed on to a deacon or elder or someone who loves to lead adult faith formation kinda things with the encouragement, “Wouldn’t this be wonderful? Let’s try it.”

I hope it feels worth trying. I hope it’s a blessing for you, dear pastors.

Words to Speak to the Unknown

I am as uncertain what tomorrow holds as anyone. I’ve done my part. I’ve cast my ballot and now I can only pray that I live in a land that chooses love over hate.

I pray so much and fumble for the right words to speak my hope. I admire you so much, dear pastors, for your courage and strength in reminding us what the gospel calls us to do and be.

I find myself tripping over words in my worry for what 2020 will dish up for us now. When I don’t know how to pray, I sing broken and out of tune. Only my kids really suffer the discordant praise while we are under lockdown. Still, I sing.

i

I don’t know why this is the song on my heart right now but it’s what I’ve been singing all morning. It got me thinking about other words that speak to the unknown fears so many are carrying right now. There are other songs, of course. Even when we cannot sing together, there are hymns that can proclaim our hope like a good poem. Among my favorites are these wonders of words:

  • This Is My Song
  • O for a World
  • God of Grace and God of Glory
  • For the Healing of the Nations
  • We Would Be Building
  • Toda la Tierra
  • Come, O Long-Expected Jesus

I haven’t included links as I hope that these are familiar enough that you can sing a few bars even if you were confused why Advent songs appear on this list. Isn’t that how we feel right now, like the whole earth is waiting even if it’s actually just those within the borders of these United States of America? There are two more newer hymns that I would add to this list. One of these songs was included in the All Saints liturgy I shared a few weeks ago. Those songs are:

There are, obviously, poems that dare to name our hopes and fears of all the years of 2020. (That carol is another I’ve found myself singing lately.) Here are some poems that have spoken to my heart recently and I hope dare to dream of what will be beyond the election results.

There are certainly more words to speak to this moment. You, dear pastors, are offering so many wonderful words of life. Thank you for reminding us all to hope.

70,000 Words

Earlier this month, I took a Memoirs 101 online class with the Writer’s League of Texas. The instructor emphasized structure and form, both of which feel like high ideals for the random assortment of memories that are currently cobbled together in a massive Word document that takes forever to open on my laptop.

I should be writing right now. My baby girl is napping and this is my chance to add to that document. Or maybe to polish it. Instead, I’ve procrastinated by cleaning both of the bathrooms in my house. It needed to be done, but still.

I sat down to write but I’m still thinking about one of the instructor’s closing thoughts. She shared, at the end of her presentation, that memoirs can take different formats. They can be anything from a short essay of 2,000 words to a full book of approximately 70,000 words.

That massive Word document on my laptop currently has 71,917 words and it does not yet feel complete. Instead of inspiring me to edit and economize, this little fact has debilitated me. It has left me paralyzed.

I am not usually one that speaks or writes at great length. My sermons are always short. I can barely manage to preach for 15 minutes and am completely and totally flummoxed that anyone could orate for 45 minutes or more. I know churches that have asked for it. They expect it more than the churches I’ve served where worship better be under an hour, or else.

Neither of the theses that I wrote in college or in seminary were this long, but here I am staring at a blinking cursor wondering if there could really be more to say. I believe there is. There are moments from my childhood grief that I haven’t fully explored. There are things that I still don’t fully understand and that’s why I’m writing this anyway. It’s why in the sixth or seventh draft of this book, I’m no longer reflecting back as an adult who has grieved for thirty years but choosing to find my voice in that little girl who first bumped into the terrible things that are so often said when someone is dying.

I want these words to matter. I want these words to speak beyond the grief of my inner child to articulate something that others have felt. It won’t speak to everyone. There will still be some that don’t understand. There will always be someone who says they’re sorry I haven’t gotten over this sadness already, but I really hope that all of these thousands of words I’ve written have some meaning beyond the fact that I wrote them.

So maybe I should just write. Each day has enough trouble, Jesus said. Tomorrow will worry about itself and there is only so much I can do toiling and spinning in my worry over word count.

Character: Essays by readers

Some time ago, the Christian Century invited readers to submit first-person narratives (under 1,000 words) reflecting on the word character.

They are requesting essays from readers on other words in the future, but it was to this one that I wanted to respond. It was for this word that I knew which story I would tell and so I wrote my short essay and hit submit.

The issue arrived in my mailbox yesterday and I keep looking at it in shock that my name is there. My name is there — and it says that I live in Texas. All of these things are bit too much for me. I’m thrilled to be included among these essays and even more excited as I hint toward the writing project I’ve been working on for so many months.

I do hope you’ll click over to read all of the essays featured in this issue.

 

Spirituality for the Resistance

I have not felt like an activist in years.

In truth, I’m not sure that I ever really felt like an activist even though ministry called for it. I couldn’t faithfully preach the gospel on Sunday without taking to the streets on Wednesday to advocate for that hope that had been in my words. While war continued to wage in the Middle East, as it does now, there was a season when I would spend an hour of every Wednesday afternoon in the public square witnessing to my hope for peace. I got to be an outspoken advocate for LGBT equality.

That was years ago. Since then, I’ve convinced myself that there wasn’t enough time or that my time could be better spent doing other things. I’ve even told myself that what I was doing wasn’t making any difference at all.

I’ve did such a good job convincing myself of this that I didn’t do much of anything. I argued that it was someone else’s fight. I couldn’t lead the change which is what ministry had taught me to do. I still am not sure how to be an ally. It’s lame and I’m embarrassed to admit it, but since I’ve struggled to rise up.

Others who would have never imagined themselves to be activists have arisen. They have organized in ways they’ve never imagined. They’ve started to run for office. As the LA Times reports, they’ve fueled the resistance. Maybe you’ve found that same courage. Maybe you’ve risen from the last election with new hope and new determination. Maybe you’ve started to engage in your local ways that you never did before and maybe you’re wondering how not to get overwhelmed with the onslaught of action that days like these requires.

Or maybe you’re bit more like me and you’re wading back into an old practice. Maybe it feels different now but there is still something tugging at your heart to rise up.

Rise Up!

Maybe like me you’re in between church communities or maybe you’ve never had a church community and are wondering what in the world people of faith have to say about activism. If any of these possibilities rings just a tiny bit true for you, then I can’t recommend this new devotional to you. I was thrilled to add this devotional collaboration to my kitchen to remember what it means for me to engage in the struggle for hope, love, justice and peace.

It is what we need right now. We need to remember that we are called to such a time as this. We are called to Rise Up. We are called to shape this spirituality for resistance together. Luckily, the work has already begun.

A very talented group of people — led by my editor at New Sacred — imagined this 52-week devotional for those of us that hope to rise up from the election, rise up from racism, rise up from the division and hate and do the real work that creates change. In their creative scheming, I got to remember why activism matters to me and why it has always been a part of my ministry and my faith. I contributed three devotions including Hope is a Verb, Come By Here and because my justice seeking has a teeny tiny bit of rage What Am I to Do with my Anger?

I have yet to get my copy of this amazing devotional and the t-shirt but as I’m still without an address for a few more weeks, I have to wait. You shouldn’t wait though. You should go ahead and order your own personal copy for $11.95 or better yet get a pack of five devotionals for $35.00.

I wrote thinking that these words would be used in one’s personal devotion before venturing out to a protest for Black Lives Matter or for any other act of resistance. I imagined myself needing to read such words after leaving a meeting that made me question why I bother since the meeting did more to frustrate than inspire, but the more that I think about it I think it would be better to read this with other people.

Rise Up recognizes that this is exhausting work and it is work that cannot be done alone. It requires something that will ignite us and spur us on and maybe that is best heard in each others voices. Here are just a few ideas.

  • Share one devotion each week at the beginning of that weekly conference call of justice seekers that you’re already participating in
  • Open and close your monthly mission committee meeting at church with these devotions (which would cover your prayers for the next two years)
  • Feature Rise Up in your church newsletter and offer to stock the church office or church library with copies so that groups of advocates can gather and share these words
  • Gather a group of friends that want to be part of the resistance but are not sure where to start for food, your favorite beverage, study of a devotion and conversation on a weekly action to share

The possibilities are endless. Whatever you do to ignite your hope and faith to keep the resistance alive, I hope and pray that these words bless your good work for much more than one year.

Rise up, dear ones. Rise up.

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Waves of Grief after Waves of Nausea

Grief is my constant companion. It is there every day and every moment even when there is a smile plastered to my face. Sometimes I choose not to acknowledge it. I don’t want it to dominate and there are still other times when it rides along in the sidecar of my whole existence.

For the first three months of my pregnancy, it stayed there. It didn’t hop into the driver seat but stayed somewhere in the background. I noticed it only enough to order a copy of Hope Edelman’s Motherless Mothers, but then the swell of nausea would hit and I would speed down the hall praying that I’d make it to the toilet this time. Waves of nausea is too gentle for what I had been feeling those first few weeks of my pregnancy. I felt sick. I felt so sick that I can’t even consider an apt metaphor.

I could barely pull myself off the couch. I binged on television and hid behind my hands every time food appeared on the screen. The odor of that food would waft through the television screen and my stomach would turn. Back down the hall to the bathroom I would race muttering prayers of disgust.

When I finally started to feel better, it was Mother’s Day and the New York Times published this popular essay on The Birth of a Mother. It was posted and retweeted though all of my friends and family at the same time that I got a sweet text message from my sister wishing me a happy mother’s day for the very first time. It is no secret that I have complicated feelings about this observance. I’ve blogged about it in the past. So it may come to you as no surprise that I couldn’t bring myself to read this poignant essay. It remained an open tab on my browser for weeks, but I never read a word.

I never read a word until today.

I read only the first paragraph before the swells of grief rose in my chest. Tears began to roll down my cheeks not because of the overflow of hormones in my body, but for the fact that I am still a motherless daughter and so as careful as Alexandra Sacks is to include the wide variety of emotions that pregnant women experience, she still left me out. My family dynamics changed long ago when my mother died. Ever since, I have been creating my own style. I’ve borrowed from lots of amazing women — including my beloved stepmother — in parenting myself so that I still quite imagine what will emerge when I first hold my daughter in my arms.

Ambivalence is not the right word for me. Ambivalence doesn’t even describe the years before I met my husband when I knew that I couldn’t be a single parent. I couldn’t imagine doing it alone. I didn’t want to raise a child with all of my grief leading the way, but I hoped that there would be someone else to ride that wave with me. I didn’t want to be a parent if it wasn’t a partnership.

Is that my own version of guilt and shame? I don’t know. I do know that when I met my husband and first watched him interact with the little girl who would become my godchild, something inside me shifted. It changed. I could see something that I hadn’t let myself see before. Parenting no longer seemed impossible, at least not with this man by my side.

This is something we talk a lot about these days. It might be the sappy talk that every couple has in the midst of a pregnancy but every time it comes up, it feels revelatory. He chose me to be his partner because he saw that I’d be a great mom. There were other reasons, I’m sure, though those aren’t highlighted quite as often as this particular fact. And even though I tell him the exact same thing, I can’t help but wonder what kind of mother I will be.

My mother did not work. She put all of those moms that worry about being good enough on edge. In my memory, if not in real life, it was what she wanted most. She wanted to be a mom. She relished in every bit of it. I don’t know if I will be like her though I’ll probably spend a lot of time wondering what she would do. Let’s be honest, I’m already doing that because that it is how it is with grief.

Grief raises questions. It makes me wonder about things that I can never know no matter how many times I ask those that knew her. What is left is just a hole where there was once a person. She is gone and all of that wisdom that I might have once gleaned from her is now gone. It is lost. It will never be retrieved and so many of my questions will go unanswered. I’ll never really know if what I’m remembering is a fantasy or some complicated illusion I created to survive her loss. Those that knew her will tell me, but it will always be what they saw or what they wanted to believe. I’ll never really know how she would have chosen to define herself as a mother or as a woman.

It’s these questions that rise from the depths — once again — as I wonder about the kind of mother I will become. I can only hope that my children know how much I love them, for this is what I’ll never forget about my own mother.

 

A Blasphemous Question Just For You

Before I officially became Mrs. Cook, I went to a writing conference. This is, of course, what everyone does in the last few days before they get married, right? They go to a four-day conference. Well, it’s what I did.

Before we hopped on a plane and flew off to get hitched, I went to the Frederick Buechner Writer’s Workshop at Princeton Theological Seminary where I got all kinds of wonderful insight and advice from Philip Yancey, Jonathan Merritt, Jeff Chu and Kathleen Norris. As you may know, I’ve been writing a book. I’ve been staring at a blinking cursor for a really long time and let’s just say it’s a slow process.

It’s a really slow process. And then, on the very last day of this conference I heard Kathleen Norris say, “people of faith are afraid to encounter what they presume to be blasphemous — and so we are quick to cut down what makes us uncomfortable.” I may be misquoting her but that’s what I have written in my notebook. And it hit me like a ton of bricks. She just described my whole writing process. I have been afraid to put down the words because I’m afraid that I’ll be labeled a heretic. I don’t want that label. I might be one but I don’t really want the label stamped on my forehead. Or worse, on whatever published work I might offer the world.

Jeff Chu said something the day before that I was still thinking about. He said, and again I might be misquoting, “we are never ever telling one narrative, but it is always a weaving of different stories.” It was then that I realized that I’m writing a memoir. I’m weaving my stories with other stories in a first person narrative of my own grief. They say to write what you know. Well, this is what I know.

I am writing every day. I put my butt in the chair and try to get down 1,000 new words every day. Or almost every day. But, I have a terrible time with editing. I want to reread what I’ve written and I get lost in my edits. This is made worse by the fact that I have realized that it’s a memoir. And so, the whole voice has changed. Everything needs to be rewritten! Ah!

What I want to share with you is a snippet of this work in progress but I learned at said writing conference that blog posts really shouldn’t be that long. Blog posts should only be 750 words. So perhaps I’ll save that for another day. Today, instead, I want to ask you something. I want to ask you about something I heard Krista Tippett say yesterday. On my way home from a meeting, I listened to OnBeing and heard Krista say this:

There is this great puzzle about life that things go wrong, right? Perfection can be a goal, but it’s never a destination. And this has given rise across history to the whole theodicy debate. If there — how could there be a good God, or how could the universe, the balance of the universe be good when there’s so much suffering? And so that question is there and it’s real, and reasonable.

But then there is also this paradox that we are so often made by what would break us. And I think this is where our spiritual traditions, where spiritual life is so redemptive and necessary, because this is the place in life that says — that honors the fact that there’s darkness — but also says “And you can find meaning right there,” right? Not — it’s not overcoming it. It’s not beyond it. It’s not in spite of it. What goes wrong doesn’t have to define us but, I mean, again, to come back to what wisdom is, as I’ve seen it, it’s people who walk through whatever darkness, whatever hardship, whatever imperfection and unexpected catastrophes or the like, the huge and the ordinary losses of any life, who walk through those and integrate them into wholeness on the other side. That you’re whole and healed, not fixed. Not in spite of those things, but because of how you have let them be part of you.

What do you think? Is that true? That’s the big blasphemous question because I’m realizing I need to hear your story as much as I need to write my own. Jeff Chu is right. It’s never just one story. Moreover, right there — in hearing those words — that is where my imposter syndrome shows up. There it is announcing that I am not actually whole and healed. I have so long defined myself by this hard thing, this grief. I’ve felt it was who I was, who I am. So, I want to know: does your grief define you? Or are you wise enough to have integrated this grief as Krista suggests? I hope you’ll share your wisdom with me.

 

Discussing But I Don’t See You As Asian

READING RACISMHere we are again as  White Young Clergy Reading Racism.

Whether or not you are white, clergy or young, I hope you’re here because you want to be part of the change. You recognize that racism is a sin we haven’t atoned for. You can’t figure out how to arrange your schedule to be in Baltimore or Ferguson but you know that this matters. And you have to do something so you’re here to read with us.

A few weeks ago, we started reading Bruce Reyes-Chow’s But I Don’t See You as Asian: Curating Conversations about Race. The deal is this: we read one chapter every two weeks because we don’t want to bite off more than we can chew and there’s still plenty of time. There’s always time. We are only just beginning. (I hope.) So go ahead and order a copy now. We’ve shared in one round of conversation already and discovered — not even a little bit to my surprise — that blogs are possibly the worst format for such a conversation. So, we switched to Facebook. In the weeks to come, you’ll find that the whole conversation is over there and not so much here on the blog. As such, this is the last time I’ll post my reflections here. Head over the Facebook to find questions and join in the conversation with your thoughts. Without further ado, let’s get down to those questions. Shall we? Yes. Let’s.

  • To begin, this question comes from Maren who blogs at Gifts in Open Hands: which chapter … which phrase … touched or prodded or pinched you or reminded you of your experience with racism? I so appreciate this question and am so grateful that Maren added it because it’s the question that really matters. What sticks in your craw? What pokes at you? What stings a little? What doesn’t make any freakin’ sense to you? Right?! Isn’t that what this is all about!!?? Here’s the problem in my answering this question: I picked out all of the juicy bits for the questions that follow. I am really not sure what to add.
  • When have the words spoken by another hurt you?  How might it it have helped to talk about how those words “caused tension and discomfort”? This is one of those questions that speaks to the truth that I have been wrong. I have been wrong so many times that I can’t even remember how many times I’ve been wrong. One of my very best friends from high school — and still one of my best friends — is Korean American. I was raised or I was taught not to see color. It just wasn’t supposed to be there so I’ve said insanely stupid things like “But I don’t see you as Asian” and I remember the look on her face. I remember her terse reply, “But I am.” I remember the silence that followed and remember my confusion in what I had done wrong. Here’s what I still don’t understand: what people or forces or institutions raised this thought in me? Where did this color blindness begin? Why was it valued so much that I thought this was the right answer — and admittedly, I’m still struggling to see how it’s not the right answer. I have no idea where this came from but runs deep within me. I am not sure how to divorce myself from it so that all I can feel in myself is the tension and discomfort that I cause with my own incorrect assumptions.
  • In Chapter 3, Reyes-Chow owns his Asian identity as a central part of who he is as a person. What are the identities that you carry that you couldn’t be the same person without this particular identity? I am a New Yorker. I don’t feel as connected to this truth as I once did having moved three times in my adult life, but the sarcasm remains. The urge to speed walk is still there. So there’s that — and then I begin to struggle to name my own identities because they are not as neatly defined as they once were. In seminary, we were constantly made to name our social location before offering a response. So it would always sound something like this: “As a middle-class white woman, I think…” Perhaps those identities still hold but there are so many new ones that I’m not sure how to define myself anymore. Instead, I find myself wondering about what makes us human. Is there one thing that we all feel? Are there universal truths or do these identities mean that there are that many different ways of being human?
  • In Chapter 4, Reyes-Chow makes the claim that most of us know that the “history of the United States is made up of complex stories of migration.” How have you witnessed this truth in your congregation or even in your own family? One of the best decisions I made in seminary was to take a class that pulled back the layers of immigration in New York City. I can’t even remember the name of the class but I remember how it made me wrestle with the ways that we have labeled whole populations of people as “black” just because they were different or new. Or something otherwise terrifying to our comfort. One side of my family doesn’t know this story of immigration well. They’ve been here through so many generations that it isn’t a conversation. The other has the story of my Norwegian immigrant grandfather. How he sailed to New York City. How he called one of the Norwegian immigrant communities home and how this is a history I barely know. It wasn’t until that class in seminary that I started to ask questions about this and started to understand a little bit more about my grandfather’s unique mannerisms.

Enough about what I think. What to you think? How might you respond to these questions or anything else you might be thinking after reading the first chapter of Bruce Reyes-Chow’s But I Don’t See You as Asian: Curating Conversations about Race. Add your thoughts and ideas to the comments below or to your own blog. Be sure to include a link or send me a message so that I can share your wise words. Or just swing over to Facebook and join in there.