Confession

** In the wake of the marches on Charlottesville, Virginia on August 11th and 12th I have decided to write about my journey (still in progress) of divesting myself of whiteness, and some of the things I’ve learned along the way. Before getting in to discussions explicitly pertaining to race, I believe it will be helpful to begin here – with a conversation on confession. 

I am a child of the American church. I was born into a United Methodist Church. I spent midweek mornings as a young child in an Evangelical Presbyterian Church while my Mom attended Bible Study. I spent evenings during elementary and middle school attending AWANA clubs at a Southern Baptist Church. The karate class I took was housed in a Pentecostal Holiness Church. My youth group years were smattered across time in Evangelical Presbyterian, Southern Baptist and Willow Creek-inspired churches. During college I was involved in Baptist Student Union, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and Campus Crusade for Christ. I have history in U.S. evangelical Christianity. It birthed me, it raised me and it gave me many gifts.

One such gift, is understanding the place for confessing sin. I heard about it every Wednesday night without fail during the Bible study portion of AWANA. Whomever was speaking would end their lesson with an “invitation” – as any good Southern Baptist would – some more jarring than others. The consistent theme in all of the invitations was the opportunity to confess ones sins to God and receive forgiveness. I did this when I was twelve. I was too embarrassed to even raise my hand, as the speaker had requested. Having established quite an excellent reputation at church throughout my elementary school years, I felt like I would be letting everyone down if they knew I had been doing this from a place of self-service rather than obedience to God. So I confessed quietly, in my heart, in my own chair and never said anything to anyone.

I shared a similar practice of confession with people on the beach in Panama City, Florida during spring break in college. Armed with a colorful packet of artistically shot photographs, I marched out on to a beach full of college students to invite them in to conversations about spiritual things over a beer. Except, they were the only ones drinking. I remember sitting cross-legged on a beach towel while debating the existence of God with a guy a few years older than me. His face pink and warm from the sunshine and alcohol. In my head, I silently judged him for his drunkenness and the profanities he wove into our conversation, and I prayed in my head he would confess his sins. He didn’t. And neither did I.

I had forgotten that sitting in a place of self-elevation and judgement of another isn’t the Way Jesus showed us to live either.

My experience of church has always been one where confession was something we talked about a lot, but practiced very little. The unspoken message beneath the weekly invitation was that if you had prayed the words of confession printed on the back of the bulletin once, then you were set for all of eternity. There was also little need for being specific about what we were confessing either. I learned to view humanity through a lens of “total depravity” which, at that point, I understood to mean that I and everyone else was completely sinful and broken and needed total forgiveness. When you believe everything about yourself is wrong and sinful and ugly, you don’t have to practice discernment or be specific when you confess. I had prayed and confessed that I was terrible and wretched without specification silently when I was twelve, so there was no need for further practice of confession as far as I knew.

Five years ago I stumbled upon the Book of Common Prayer, which records prayers and liturgies Christians have prayed and followed for hundreds of years. It gives a structure to a persons’ prayer life and guides a persons reading of Scripture. One of the prayers I discovered in the book was the prayer of confession, to be prayed – according to some – daily:

“Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We are truly sorry and we humbly repent, for the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us; that we may delight in your will, and walk in your ways, to the glory of your Name.”

Confession for things I have left undone? Confession as part of my daily rhythm of prayer? This was new to me.

Slowly though, I began to develop a sensitivity to the things this prayer spoke to, the ways in which my life does not line up with the example of Christ in the things I think, the words I say, the things I do and the things I fail to do. As I began to come to an awareness in myself of those things, I also began to be able to articulate them to others.

As I begin to look at the ways in which white supremacy is interwoven in to different aspects of our culture and worship in the U.S. I want us to begin here, with confession. Discussions around race and justice are challenging, and can often leave us feeling paralyzed. Confession is one of the paths out of paralysis. In Twelve Step programs, the first steps are to admit powerlessness, seek a Higher Power, turn ourselves over to God for God’s care and then to take a “searching and fearless” inventory of ourselves.

For many who, like me, grew up in evangelical Christian traditions, our faith called us to the first three steps. We realized we were powerless to sin – in such ambiguous terms – and called upon God to save us. Many of us stopped there though, because our sin often tore apart our lives in subtleties and we believed ourselves recovered because our brokenness was not as visible as some. In these tense times though, we are invited to continue working the process. To take a searching and fearless inventory, in this case of the ways in which we are complicit in the system and practice of white supremacy.

May we continue to show up fearlessly to face injustice and evil wherever it lies in wait whether in our country, our cities, or in our own hearts.

 

Photo credit: Bored_Grrl.

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The Story

One of the most sure-fire ways to get under my skin is to cop a grandiose (and often far-reaching) “Well, the Bible clearly says…” in the middle of a conversation about the intersection of faith and policy and our shared life together as humans flying through space on a living rock. There’s not much about that scenario that is abundantly clear. We exist in tensions and grey areas, always learning from one another and from our mistakes.

And yet…

And yet…

And yet…

There are some things, written time and time again, forming a consistent arc throughout Scripture. These things we seem all too ready to overlook or cast aside.

That God is with us.
That God is for us.
That God, for some reason, chose and continues to choose to work with and through us.
That God moves to draw more and more people to Godself.
That the revelation of God’s grace gets bigger, and bigger, and bigger.

From a chosen family, to a chosen nation, to a priesthood of believers.
From a tent, to a temple, to an ascension leaving us staring into the clouds with wonder.

The table gets bigger time and time and time again until John has a vision of a giant feast with people from every tribe, and every nation, and every tongue gathered at around the table.

Within this arc there is no space for building walls and closing doors, that’s the wrong direction.

The table never gets smaller, only bigger.
Groups of people are not kicked out, only welcomed in.

First the Jew, then the gentile.
First a call to love your neighbor, then a call to love your enemy.

So for those of us who claim this tradition, that’s the arc of our story, too. It’s not just that we read about this expansion of the God’s grace and love in a morning quiet time, it’s the pattern our lives should reflect.

First your people, who sing the songs you like…and then the people who sing the songs you cannot even begin to sing along with.

First your people, who preach the messages that feed you…and then the people who preach the messages that make you angry.

First your people with whom you know which jokes will be funny and which values may be assumed…and then to the people who could not be more unlike you.

The table always gets bigger.
That’s how the story goes, the story we signed up not just to believe but to be a part of when we decided to follow Christ.

We decided that it was more advantageous to build bigger buildings than bigger tables though. The fastest way to build a bigger building is to gather a whole bunch of similar people. We blessed this idea and called it “church growth.” I’m not sure which hermeneutic we used to get there, because when I look at the growth of the Church in Scripture it hardly seems like a bunch of similar people who gathered. The Church seemed to grow when there were a lot of people with differences who gathered in defiance of the social constructs which pushed them away from one another. The Church seemed to grow when this rag-tag group of Jews and Greeks, free people and slaves, rich and poor gathered and shared and dared want and hunger to exist in their midst.

The Bible clearly says that.

Which is inconvenient, so we ignore it.

It is inconvenient for the table to get bigger. This is not a happy-clappy, Instagrammable feast with flower crowns and microbrews.

It’s hard to come to the table with someone who sees the world differently than you do.
It’s hard to break bread and pour wine with someone who may abandon you after dinner.
It’s hard to wash the feet of one who would betray you.
But this is the way we have chosen.

It is fine if you are compelled to work for walls and new policies to keep people out in order to “keep your family safe,” just realize that is a different story you will be living in when you make that choice.

It is fine if you chose to hold on to your anger because a person or a group has hurt you, just realize you are choosing a different story when anger become the center and the animating force.

The table always, only gets bigger in this story, and it is most inconvenient to continue to choose to live in it.

 

 

(Image: mrhayata)

Justice in Education for All

Evangelical Christians often champion the ‘sanctity of life.’ This phrase typically refers only to abortion. Many Evangelicals argue that a culture that allows legal abortion does not truly value human life. While many Evangelicals have fought against abortion for decades, we have yet to see a movement that expands the idea of ‘sanctity of life’ to fighting for the ‘quality of life.’ If we truly believe that all life is sacred, then the logical conclusion is that once a life is born we continue to fight for that life to have equal opportunities to live up to its potential.* – Nicole Baker Fulgham

When I think about the disparities in the education system, I don’t just think about how some schools succeed and others fail, I think about the ways that our perceptions skew which schools are capable of success or failure. How the way we perceive certain students or certain neighborhoods determines whether or not we ascribe value and sacredness to their lives…

Read the rest at A Sista’s Journey.

Riding in on a donkey

“It just all seems so…divided.”
The descant rolls on and on from so many of my friends and peers; believers from all walks of life.
The words are paced with shocking consistency. They are set to a meter like a metronome, the rise and fall undifferentiated.

And it’s true, I can’t remember a time in my short life when things seemed this hotly debated and starkly contrasted in the “big C,” universal Church.  We can barely even break bread with one another any more, and you can just forget about even suggesting we discuss some topic of significance while we feast on the bread and wine.

But maybe, just maybe, Jesus knew it was going to be like this all along.

Perhaps this is why He took the time to pray that we would be one and He and the Father are one.

Perhaps we need only to look to the coronation procession of our King to see what kind of march His kingdom would have.

Look, your king is coming to you, humble and riding on a donkey…”
Declares the prophet Zechariah as quoted in the book of Matthew.


Image

Photo: Sea Turtle via Flickr

Have you ever seen anyone try to ride a donkey?

Or just watched someone try to lead or direct a donkey to a certain location?

It’s comparable to herding cats or catching chickens or getting small children to stand in a straight line, only it’s slower, smellier, more awkward and you may get kicked.

Can you imagine how long it would have taken for Jesus to parade into Jerusalem?

Did the donkey balk at the crowds, stubbornly refusing to budge in any direction?

Was the animal braying loudly as the people cried “Hosanna!” nearly drowning their praise with its own contribution to the chorus?

I’ve heard people talk about the significance of the donkey multiple times, how the donkey was a sign that Jesus was coming in peace, not with the political, militaristic take over they expected the Messiah to have.  That the donkey shows us Christ’s humility.  And these things are true.

But as Christ marches into the city, a royal procession to ring in the new and yet coming kingdom, He chooses to ride in on the most awkward, misstepping, stubborn creature possible. (Which sounds incredibly liken to another creature I know of that has been commissioned to carry Christ to the masses.)

Maybe as He rides in on a donkey, Jesus isn’t just making a statement of peace or humility, maybe He is once more poetically, prophetically declaring “The Kingdom of God is like…”  as He did so many times before.

The Kingdom of God moves painfully slow…
Like a kingly procession mounted on donkeys.

The Kingdom of God is awkward and wayward…
Like a colt not yet ridden.

I imagine the entry into Jerusalem looked less triumphant and more gauche.
The Word that called the donkey into being now coaxing it one deliberate step forward at a time.

Isn’t this what the Kingdom of God is like?

That Jesus coaxes us forward, one step at a time?  Slowly, graciously, with heart wrenching patience.

This Kingdom does not come swiftly with domineering power and prestige, but slowly, with obstinance binding each move.  The King gently nudging us along.

As we step into a week of remembrance, I think back on the things I would rather forget in the history, and deny in the present, of the global Church.

The oppression and violence of the Inquisition.

The Crusades.

The Salem Witch Trials.

Culpability with slavery and genocide on several occasions.

Our affinity for segregation of many kinds.

Yet, even in remembering the seemingly irreconcilable mess of misguided worship and injurious evangelism of my Kingdom, I find hope.

Because the King is riding in on a donkey.

This slow, awkward, reluctant gait is how Jesus chose to usher in the Kingdom in the first place.

So we live in anticipation of the coming King and His beautiful, terrifying, upside-down Kingdom.

The lament of division and tension rolls on while we cut down our brothers and sisters as though they were palm branches to wave on high, creating a spectacle. But even now, in the midst of all this, we join in the ancient chorus “Hosanna! God save us! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.”

We raise a ruckus and lay down the very clothes off our back because we can see in a distance the King is coming.

…But He is riding on a donkey.

#Justice: A Peek into Urban Violence w/ Megan Westra

“Do you feel safe?”

Well, not always.
I’m getting used to it now. The wide eyes and once-in-awhile gaping mouth. “Where do you live?”
I live in the inner city. On purpose. And I have no plans of leaving.

I have been robbed five times. I have witnessed a drug deal while sitting on my front porch. My block has been taped off with police line while the cops hunted down an armed assailant.

This is the inner city people think of when I talk about where I live, and they’re right. That is part of it.

There is violence and corruption in the inner city, but that’s not all there is…

Read the rest at A Sista’s Journey. 

Thanksgiving Reading (for when you’ve had too much turkey and football for one day)

Best reminder:
Kid President’s 20 Things We Should Say More Often
“I disagree with you, but I still like you as a person who is a human being and I will treat you like that because if I didn’t I would make everything bad.  And that’s what lots of people do and it is lame.”

For as we enter the season of consuming to celebrate Christ:
A Boundary is the Best Present You Can Give Yourself This Year
“Consumerism and indulgence have a cost. We need to stop looking at buying gifts as right or wrong. We need to add up the costs of our lifestyles and how our lifestyles impact our time with God and with one another.”

Don’t read if you’re too full to laugh:
It’s Thanksgiving So We Asked Brits to Label the United States – We’re So Sorry, America

Americans Try to Place European Countries on a Map

Worth It!

This is my brain on hugs

Thought provoking:
Kids don’t play any more
“‘In play, children make their own decisions and solve their own problems,’ Prof. Gray writes. ‘In adult-directed settings, children are weak and vulnerable. In play, they are strong and powerful. The play world is the child’s practice world for being an adult.'”

The world if there were only 100 People (Infographic)

How To Build Something Out of Nothing
“They asked how much money they had to spend and I told them – ‘not much’. They asked how many trained construction people they would have to help them out and I told them – ‘none’. Then they asked who would train the workers if they could find some and I said – ‘you’. So they asked when they had to finish the school construction by and I told them – ‘Next February’.

THEY LOOKED AT EACH OTHER, LOOKED BACK AT ME, CROSSED THEIR ARMS AT THE SAME TIME AND SAID WITH ONE VOICE: ‘WE’RE IN.'”

Too Much Love
“We act shocked when teenage rape/sexting cases hit the news, or when a forced prostitution ring is uncovered. What blissful and damnable ignorance…Why should we be surprised, when the hymns are of rape, and the liturgy on stage is one of assault?”

Why Poor People’s Bad Decisions Make Perfect Sense
“I make a lot of poor financial decisions. None of them matter, in the long term. I will never not be poor, so what does it matter if I don’t pay a thing and a half this week instead of just one thing? It’s not like the sacrifice will result in improved circumstances; the thing holding me back isn’t that I blow five bucks at Wendy’s.”

What We Get Wrong About Submission
“A woman’s worth is not built around the kind of man she marries, but on who she is as an individual person and female entity. And when a woman has an equal say in a relationship, that coming together of bodies and souls is strengthened in ways that far exceed that of a man doing his best to lead alone.”

What Does it Mean that Most Children’s Books Are Still About White Boys?
“How many people would never consider buying Anne of Green Gables or Island of the Blue Dolphins for their 10-year old boy, but don’t pause before giving a daughter Treasure Island or Enders Game? Books featuring girls are, for the most part, understood to be books for girls. Which is interesting as well because, in addition to there not being enough, books featuring girls as protagonists are disproportionately among the most frequently banned children’s books. In a recent Buzzfeed list of 15 commonly banned books for kids, almost half were about girls. Girls who do things apparently scare a lot of people.”

In which this is also about the men
“Women cannot be the ally our men deserve in the Kingdom of God when we are bowing down in a misguided attempt to lift them up.”

A Spiritual Survival Guide for the Suburbs
“They don’t need me, but I need them. I need a life that is free from the facade of lukewarm vanilla living. I need to measure something other than the length of the grass on my lawn and the shade of paint on the walls of my suburban home. I need to measure my life in things that actually matter. I need to un-Martha Stewart myself until I can actually feel again. Until I can admit my own weakness and laugh at my need for control. Until I can see others for who they really are and stop judging them on what they are wearing or their latest highlights.”

A Guide to Sustainable Christmas Celebration: Part 2 Experience not Excess

According to Business Insider, Christmas  is the biggest commercial holiday celebrated in the U.S.

In 2011, consumers spent just over $700 in gifts alone. $400 of that was spent on gifts for children.

We spent another $2.6 billion in paper to wrap all that crap up.  Paper that would be promptly torn, crumpled, shoved into black plastic bags and kicked to the curb.

$2.6 billion dollars sitting in our garbage cans, people.

$2.6 billion dollars would also provide the means to dig clean water wells in over 433,000 villages around the world, literally saving millions of lives.

$2.6 billion dollars would lift over 866,000 girls and women in East Asia out of sexual slavery. $2.6 billion would support these women from rescue, to aftercare and rehabilitation, all the way to establishing her feet on the ground independently.

$2.6 billion invested in the right places would literally change the world.

Or, it can wrap up things we don’t need, only to be ripped off, discarded and shipped off to a landfill.

Happy birthday Jesus.

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(Credit: Diane Cordell via Creative Commons)

Rethink: Give Experience

Last year Ben and I did not give gifts.  We threw a big party and invited everyone we knew to come and eat and spend time with us.  It was amazing!  It took a lot of effort and planning, but we were able to spend time with so many people we love.  We decided the party was our gift to ourselves and to our loved ones, because we value relationships. And what better thing to give to someone you value than your time.

$400 of each Christmas shopper’s budget goes to gifts for children.

But as adults, do we remember more about the toys we owned or the time our parents and loved ones spent with us?

As we launch into the season of more! more! more! and gimme! gimme! gimme!  let us pause to think about
1) what we are really giving
2) why we are giving in the first place.

What if…

Instead of spending 5 hours shopping, fighting lines, searching for the right size and color and batteries to fit
You spent 5 hours exploring a museum or zoo or taking a day trip to explore a new place with your family or friends.

Instead of racking up debt you’ll be paying off for the next six months
You blocked out 2 hours each week to cook and eat dinner with friends and neighbors for the next six months.

Instead of mailing each other boxes of things we don’t need and skyping to wish each other well
We hopped on a plane or in a car and actually saw each other instead.

What if instead of giving presents, we gave presence?
What if we gave experience instead of excess?

What if instead of another toy, sweater, game, trinket or gadget you…

– Invested in a season pass to a local museum or zoo, and then blocked off time to use it for the next year.  (Schedule these times now.  Mark the dates in your phone or planner.)
– Purchased season tickets for the theater, ballet, or a sports team.
– Threw a party! People don’t need another trinket or favor, they need your time and attention.  Eat together, talk together, listen, laugh.
– Went to visit a family member or friend whom you haven’t seen for awhile.
– Took a trip to that place you’ve always wanted to go to.
– Took a vacation.  A real one.  Away from phones and emails and screens.  Unplug for a day, or a week. You don’t even have to go away to do this, just stop and focus on the people physically present with you.

And then, what if, as we are together giving the type of presence that needs no wrapping, we spent that $2.6 billion on something other than filling our city dumps?

What if we threw a party and built a well with the money we saved?
What if we unplugged and spent time with loved ones and freed a girl from sex slavery with the money we saved?
What if?  What if? What if?

$2.6 billion is a lot of money.

What would you do with it?

This year, consider giving presence in place of presents.  Give the money you save on gifts and wrapping to do something great in the world.
Advent Conspiracy has been helping people do just that for the last five years and their website is full of ideas on how you can make this Christmas one to remember for all the right reasons.

Check back later this week for part three of this guide which will cover charities you need to know about and things to consider when choosing to financially partner with an organization.