That Hope is Stronger

I found myself today in one of those online conversations with a bunch of other clergy. I had asked for wisdom or a prayer. Or something else entirely. I’m still not sure what I put out there into the interwebs. To that posting, I got some feedback that I needed and some that frustrated me.

I edited my reply not once but three times before I hit send to the powers on Facebook. The first version was snippy. The next edit was evasive. And the third concluded with these words that I made into an image on Canva. (Because obviously that’s what one would do when procrastinating on writing a sermon.) LET'S NOTI don’t know where the hell they came from but they speak to me. They offer a truth that I’m trying to hold onto as I consider all that’s ahead in my vocation. I have so much hope tangled up and strangled by doubts, fears and concerns. I can only hope that my hope is stronger.

Maybe you’re praying the same thing today.

For you, for me, for the whole freakin’ world, may it be so.

White Young Clergy Reading Racism

Just after the shooting in Charleston, members of The Young Clergy Women Project banded together on Facebook to educate ourselves about the history and present reality of racism and racial dynamics in the US context in order to create meaningful change. Through our wifi connections, we’re trying to do our best — as mostly white women — to examine our own assumptions, learn new language and learn a thing or two. 

It was proposed within that group that we share in the practice of reading a book together to do this work. Because we’d all seen the various syllabi that have emerged on the internet to point to the amount of learning that we need to do. There are things that we really need to sit down and read and histories that we need to confront — and everybody loves a book club. So, let’s start a book club.

Because we all want to read James Cone’s new book and The New Jim Crow and Witnessing Whiteness and Just Mercy but that’s a whole lot of books. So we might need a little motivation.

Welcome to White Clergy Reading Racism.

It’s something that began with The Young Clergy Women Project but you certainly don’t need to be a member to apply. (You need to be a member for other cool perks and to be truly part of this amazing community but not this time. For this book group, there won’t be any need for membership. This is a really important conversation among clergy so there shall be no limits.) Join along if especially if you’re white and clergy, but don’t let those two qualifiers deter you. If you are interested in reading with us, JOIN US.

Here’s the deal.

  • We will pick a book.
  • We will read one chapter of that book every two weeks.
  • We will share in a series of reflection questions. If you are a blogger, you are invited to post on your blog with your responses. If you don’t blog, join in the conversation by commenting on the blogs of those participating in White Clergy Reading Racism.
  • We’ll finish the book. We’ll do a little happy dance and pick a new book.
  • Repeat.

We’ll start by reading Bruce Reyes-Chow’s But I Don’t See You as Asian: Curating Conversations about Race. It was free on Amazon last week so a bunch of us got a sweet deal — but if you didn’t happen to get in on that discount, go ahead and order a copy now. We will start reading next week on Sunday July 12 which means that two weeks later we’ll share in a series of reflection questions. (That would be Sunday July 26.) I’ll post the reflection questions on the off week because I want this to happen — and I’ll do everything I can to make it happen.

Ready to make this happen? Send me a message and let me know that you’re eager and ready to participate. (Please share with me your blog address so I can be sure to share it with one and all.) Then, go and share this blog post on your favorite social media platform. Tell everyone you know that this is something you’re doing. If you have a blog, go ahead and download this image and post it in your blog. Tell the story of why you’re participating.

Oh, and don’t forget to buy the first book.

Subtle Stories of Racial Change for White Churches

I was so excited to see this in my Facebook newsfeed today. Erin Wathen offers some advice to congregations that aren’t all on the same page about marriage equality. This sage pastor recognizes that struggle in some congregations even if it’s not an issue in her own. She knows — as well as I do — that there are many churches where it’s hard to celebrate because not everyone in that body of Christ is on the same page. So, she offers some tips in Holy Edges: 10 Things to Preach if your Church is Divided on Gay Marriage. The good news that she offers are all scriptural. Build on these themes — as demonstrated in our holy word — and you’ll be able to nudge toward celebration for one and all.

But, after watching President Obama deliver such an eloquent eulogy for the Rev. Pinckney (yes, I only just watched it today), I’m thinking about how to preach about race and racism. In that eulogy, the President quoted the good reverend saying:

Reverend Pinckney once said, “Across the south, we have a deep appreciation of history. We haven’t always had a deep appreciation of each other’s history.”

What is true in the south is true for America. Clem understood that justice grows out of recognition of ourselves in each other; that my liberty depends on you being free, too.

That — that history can’t be a sword to justify injustice or a shield against progress. It must be a manual for how to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past, how to break the cycle, a roadway toward a better world.

church-581069_1280I wish that that manual could come from scripture alone — but it seems that we need a bit more to illustrate this possibility of paving a way toward a better world. It has to be personal. What I didn’t find in my internet search today was a round-up of stories that might hint toward this possibility. Because there are congregations that don’t know their white privilege and really struggle to have a conversation about racism. My own denomination has been trying to have such a conversation since our President was elected. It’s happened in fits and spurts but we’re not quite there yet. There is still much more that needs to be done to break the cycle.

And we need stories to help us. We need stories of real people and real places that will inspire us along the way. As I prepare to preach on Sunday in one such congregation — a church that mourns what happened in Charleston but isn’t compelled into action — I’m trying to find stories that break the encourage people that don’t think that this is their issue to find something unexpected in the stories told in connection with the gospel. Here are but a few that I’ve found.

  • As the disciples go out two by two, I’m tempted to use this heartfelt, honest story from Dr. Chenjerai Kumanyika who really struggles to hold the hand of a white woman at a Charleston vigil as an image of partnership. I fear it will not be heard as being more about his racism than anything else but the image is powerful for any one of us that wants to believe that we can we can create a better world.
  • To find the courage of the disciples going out into the world, we might need to hear a few inspiring words. Though it might not be too subtle for some, there are amazingly inspiring words in the Rev. Norvel Goff’s sermon just after the shooting. I will also admit that quoting another isn’t exactly telling a story. Still… so good.
  • Gwen Moten lost her best friend Denise in the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963. She shared her story on StoryCorps after the shooting in Charleston when the memories came rushing back. Though I haven’t found as many as I might like, I imagine that there are many more stories like this one that get to the truth that the racism that is burning across the south right now is not new. It’s been happening for a long, long time. Offering these stories makes the connection for those that might have marched at Selma or those that have been tempted to believe that we won that fight that many years ago.
  • One of my very favorite stories to address how long this injustice has permeated our nation is the story of Ruby Bridges. There is a children’s book that tells her story well but Ruby’s story is also beautifully told here. In this story, you can hear the tension of a prophet having to shake the dust of her hometown — though here that doesn’t mean that she leaves. It only means she prays.
  • The good people at TED have created a whole playlist of Talks to help you understand racism in America. As with so much of our media, many of these talks focus on talking points rather than the power of story but there is this one talk by James A. White Sr. He tells the story about trying to rent a home as a black man. He’s rejected before he can even create a home in this new place — even after serving in the military.
  • In This American Life‘s recent episode Birds & Bees, Act Two features Kadijah Means as interviewed by W. Kamau Bell. There’s a lot about this little segment that I’d like to use but I think I would choose the story where Kadijah steps up to the pulpit in her family’s church and asks for the mic. That’s when she announces to the whole church that black people and white people should not be together. She’s five years old. Please keep this in mind because there is a truth that children can speak in our churches that adults cannot.
  • The 2014 edition of The Best American Nonrequired Reading included this story about Dave Chappelle’s hometown of Yellow Springs, Ohio of which there are several gems but it’s what Chappelle says about his dad — and this community — that seems to speak most vividly to the gospel’s hope that we go out two by two relying on each other.
  • Let’s not forget the power of popular culture and especially the little bit of good news we can find in Hollywood. There are recent two films in which individual scenes could be highlighted as images of a better world including Selma and Lee Daniels’ The Butler. (I know I said real people and real stories. These are more true than the last suggestion that I’m going to make.)
  • Finally, I would encourage dusting off your copy of The Help or The Secret Life of Bees or even The Color of Water to find a snapshot of confronting racism. Oprah has recommended these stories to every woman in America so that anything from these books will be incredibly safe to preach — and it just might hint toward that possibility of breaking the cycle of racism.

What stories have you found that might subtly hint toward the better world we dare to dream is coming soon?

I Needed This Sacred Pause

Way back when in the beginning of Lent, I was looking for words. I was hoping to inspire the writer within me. I was hoping to release my creativity with words. So I wrote morning pages and picked up a copy of this book.

In truth, I had pre-ordered it from the good people at Amazon. Because I had so loved her first book. It kept me company during another Lent some time ago. In just a few words, Rachel G. Hackenberg had inspired playfulness and wonder with the magic of words.

And now, she’s done it again. In her new book, Sacred Pause: A Creative Retreat for the Word-weary Christian, there is this same playfulness. There is same sense of wonder. In a book about words, it is not heavy with words. I don’t know how she does it. But, somehow, she manages to explore the gifts of language and living. There are these wonderfully keen observations about social media. Social media, of all things! Even as she comments upon this changing world, so that it might seem easy to be burdened by the weight of change, reading these words truly feels like a retreat. I was suspicious of this — especially after being led in a retreat on this very same material on a Clergy Retreat during my time in the Pacific Northwest Conference of the United Church of Christ. Because her energy was contagious and silly. It was delightful to hear these words leap off the page. (This manuscript preacher was also delighted to see her pay such careful attention to the page in this retreat.) I wasn’t sure if the same energy could be read. Because you can’t always hear the author when you’re reading. You can’t always hear her careful guidance and her gentle pushing. You can’t always hear the voice of the author. But, in this little retreat book, you can.

There is a presence in her words. She truly embodies each word and gives it her own flesh — just as she encourages the participants on this retreat to do. I needed this sacred pause. I didn’t finish it before Easter. I finished it several weeks later. But I really did need this sacred pause — and I bet you do too.