What’s Your Story?

So, what is your story?  What has shaped and formed you in the past?  How do you make sense of what you’ve been through?   I remember working for Xerox selling, copiers and fax machines right out of college, and finding myself wondering, not how many copies they made or whether they needed one side or two, but how they made sense of their experiences and what they did with their joys and hurts.  Sometimes we live in the shadow of our past, destined to reencounter the pain because we cannot reframe the narrative even though it is a broken one.  One of the things that sets us apart as human beings is our capacity to reflect on and make meaning of our lives, which in turn makes possible the new creation God is calling forth in us always.

I’ve lived in many parts of the country, as well as in Cameroon. One of the most difficult things about being in a new place is not having anyone who knows my stories, who knows me well enough to appreciate how something in the present is very often woven through my past, for better for worse.  So, too, I appreciate when someone entrusts me with a part of their story, inviting me into the holy space of what is real and meaningful to them. Being able to tell our stories, and make space to hear the stories of others, is vulnerable work that is healing and life-giving.  It is spiritual as well.

Story telling is empowering, as my friend and consummate storyteller, Rebecca Anderson reminds us.  A pastor and someone who leads storytelling workshops, Rebecca understands better than most the true significance and power of learning to tell the stories of our lives. She shares:

At Earshot, we believe that telling true stories can save lives.  We’re empowered by telling our own stories, rather than consuming the stories others create about us. We find out we’re not alone when we hear about the lives of others.  We learn about the on-going work of God in the world when we hear and tell stories from the Body of Christ. 

Stories are important. For people of faith, they are essential.  A central part of our worship together is listening to and reflecting on stories, stories of those in our spiritual family as they sought greater understanding about themselves, the world and our God. This Sunday, as part of our Heritage Celebration, we’ll hear stories about who we are at St. Simon’s.  This is holy and important work, for knowing where we have come from informs who we are today and also who we are becoming.

We are also excited to have Rebecca lead us in a storytelling workshop on Wednesday evening, November 8, following Walk in Wednesday supper.   I encourage you to come explore your own stories and be part of forming deeper relationships with fellow participants.  She assures me we just need to come as we are, bringing our willingness to be present to the wisdom inherent in our own lives. As we do, we’ll have eyes to see how God is present with us and in us as well as in our community.

Hope to see you Sunday!

Pastor Elizabeth
10.19.17

Kingdom Math

I don’t know about you, but I am exhausted by the polarization and division that are the norm these days in nearly every arena. We are encouraged to focus on getting our needs and wants met in order for us to be happy. But it is never enough. In truth, we are more informed by competition and sibling math—that somehow including others means less for us—even though as Christians we are called to be conformed to kingdom math, the conviction that none of us is whole until we all are. Our challenges are compounded by our ego’s obsession with winning and ‘choosing sides’, which runs counter to the intentional practice of seeing Christ in the other so we may “be of the same mind as Christ, having the same love.”

What if we took seriously our call, as the Body of Christ, is to honor each one’s place and purpose within the whole?  Do we just give lip service, or do we believe it?  Being close to one another and engaging in open-hearted conversation and community is both challenging and essential. Our fears and inner critic open us to the temptation to polarize, zeroing in on differences, but Jesus calls us to lean in to one another in love—listening, honoring and learning from each other—so we may all be whole.

This struggle is not new.  The Book of Acts shows the early church struggling to know how to move forward faithfully following Jesus’ ascension and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.  Did faithfulness mean holding fast to what was already known? What did it mean to include others, particularly those coming from different backgrounds?  Stories of Peter, Paul and the early church show the Spirit’s insistence, in the face of this dilemma, to push the faithful to an expanding embrace of the other, placing a premium on loving above ‘rightness,’ self or even safety—just as Jesus embodied in his life and ministry.  The old and the new came together to be a whole new creation wherein both were changed.

Even our earliest Anglican roots are testament to this same insistence of weaving together polarities into something new, something whole and, at the same time, into something always in process of becoming.  In the preface of the 1549 Book of Common Prayer, the recognition that nothing is so “well devised or so surely established” that over time it doesn’t need change. Christianity is not a static faith but a living dynamic one, as our wonderful Anglican/Episcopal tradition affirms.

Our unity is found in God, not in our uniformity or conformity. Jesus included those excluded by the powerful. Embracing unity means making space for all people, especially those not yet at the table, which can bring discomfort to those who have been comfortable with the way it was.  No one is outside of God.  The way to do this is by focusing on our own spiritual transformation—unwavering in our commitment to becoming a new creation—until we, too, have the same mind and love that is in Christ.

We must all be willing to change, letting go of our certainty in favor of finding our unity in love. It’s a high calling, and I know I too often fall short.  This passage from Philippians is a new favorite. It invites us to embrace Jesus’ humility and trust that what is emerging will retain all that is essential—and bear fruit beyond compare.

If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,

who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
  he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.

Pastor Elizabeth
10.12.17

Transforming Pain

This week, once again, we experienced a horrific act of violence on innocent victims enjoying companionship and music.  Drawing from a stock pile of guns, many that were modified to function as an automatic weapon, the shooter intended to harm as many people as possible in the shortest period of time. Perhaps you know someone who was there or who might have been there. Perhaps you, too, are sick and tired of these rampages, of the layers upon layers of violence in our world on both the individual and global levels.

Where do you hold these traumas?  Personally, I hold them in my gut, as if I’ve been physically kicked in the stomach with each event, which in a very real sense I have been.  Harm to anyone harms all of us. The violence begets violence and so the cycle continues throughout time.  There is more to say about violence, the way we glorify it as a culture and perpetuate it by failing to do the work of facing pain and healing the impact of what’s been done, but I want to go a different direction today.  I want to go personal.

Starting with Dale. Dale was my high school English teacher, mentor and advisor. I can remember studying Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness in her room at Episcopal High School of Jacksonville on the St. John’s River. She recognized that despite outward success, I was struggling with the unresolved pain of my Dad’s suicide when I was twelve.  She encouraged me to face that pain, to have the courage to allow love to transform it.  We have always connected when I visited Jacksonville, becoming friends along the way.

Dale rose in the school’s leadership over the years, and in the process helped me see first-hand what it meant to be an effective, compassionate leader.  Ultimately, she became head of the school whose heart she embodied. When people came with a problem, she would offer them a river rock, towards the conversation’s end, with a word written on it—words like hope, creativity, inspire, courage, love.  “Hold this until you are ready to let it go, then return it or pass it forward.”

Until March 6, 2012 that is.  On that day Shane, a teacher she had had to dismiss returned to the school, arriving in her office unannounced.  The person with whom she was meeting ran out the door as Shane pulled an assault rifle out of the guitar case he carried, but Dale, my beloved Dale, was shot and killed before he turned the weapon on himself.  She was 63 years old.  I can feel the horror, the disbelief, the kick, still to this day.  Three thousand people, myself included, gathered on the campus to honor her life. And there for the taking were thousands of river rocks, with words of love and hope written on them by teachers and students in the days following her death.

Dale knew darkness, and yet every day she chose—and inspired others to choose—a life dedicated to healing, joy and love.  I believe she did her best to encourage Shane to face whatever demons tormented him. She didn’t get to offer him something solid that day—an ordinary river rock lovingly etched with love and hope—to help provide an anchor in the storm, but she would have.  And her life inspires to this day those of us privileged to be touched by her love and her encouragement.

River rocks may not feel like much with so much pain and suffering.  But we need all the help we can get to choose healing, love and joy in the face of violence and heartbreak, to do the work within the darkness hidden in our own hearts so that we may break the cycle of violence, one person at a time.

As many of you know, we have river rocks around St. Simon’s. They have been quiet, hidden symbols of hope, healing and love all along. But I realize I’d like to have some rocks visible with hope to share as tangible reminders for myself and others to share in this most essential work, as partners with God in being healers in the world. This Sunday, I will have river rocks and markers available if you feel moved to share in this work, either to take one home or to make available St. Simon’s.

Pastor Elizabeth
10.04.17

Participation

Just yesterday I shared a prolonged time of laughter with some others, and it felt so wonderful to let the laughter come from deep in the belly as we allowed ourselves to become caught up in the delight.  While it is true that there is a lot going on in the wider world that is deeply troubling, it is also true that laughter is a rich and necessary part of our lives.  Laughter signals our participation beyond words in the mysterious wonder of the moment.

In one of his talks, my mentor and teacher Jim Finley shared this insight—as we were laughing uncontrollably during his session at one point:

Thomas Merton once told me, because he was very funny, and he said: ‘It’s as serious as death, without a sense of humor you won’t make it.’ There is a pedagogy to laughter because laughter is participation.  You’re laughing because you get the joke, and the joke’s on you!  A joke is God’s surprise party; that he is unexpectedly closer that you ever imagine.

Laughter and joy are woven through scriptures. I think of Sarah, the wife of Abraham, laughing at the idea that she would bear a son in her old age, an outrageous promise that does come true.  Or Jesus reminding us “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete.”  In challenging times it can be difficult to remember that God yearns for our joy and continues to work to bring it about in our lives.

For many of us, pets bring us joy.  As we approach our pet blessing this Sunday at 5pm, held near the feast of St. Francis, we take some time to honor the gift our pets are in our lives—those we may have today as well as those in the past.  So often our pets reflect God’s unconditional love for us or perhaps they simply bring us to laughter at their sweet and silly ways.

One of the things we do in our household is speak for our dogs, Howie and Bailey. We have different voices for them and put words together with their actions and facial expressions.  One of my favorite videos floating around the internet—most of which I avoid like the plague—is that of an owner in dialogue with his German Shepherd.  If you want an easy laugh, or at least a chance to see what cracks me up, the clip is here. It is only 1.19 minutes long and even has something for cat lovers.  I just wish I could be in the room watching it with you and sharing a good laugh.

Laughter is important even during the most difficult times, although at those times it can be hard to come by.  Perhaps we can put Psalm 118:24 up where we see it in the mirror each morning:

This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.

And as we brush our teeth in the evening, perhaps we can name one thing for which we were glad or that brings rejoicing.  And I’d love to hear what has moved you to laughter recently!

Hope to see you Sunday,

Pastor Elizabeth
09.28-17

The Master’s Path

Well, I’m stuck. I cannot seem to get out what I want to say. In my head echoes the promise that God’s strength is made perfect in my weakness. Right now the only thing made perfect is my perfect weakness. Sometimes reflections just flow easily. Other days are, well, more like hardened molasses. This is one of those days.

So, I’m going to get out of the way and share some of Jim Finley’s teaching on Thomas Merton that helps me begin to see, in some tiny way, the invitation hidden in this promise. Merton was Jim’s novice master for several years at the monastery. While he “doesn’t remember 98% of what Merton said, he will always remember who he was.”  Jim shares his experience: “…sitting in his presence either this man was crazy–and I’ll take crazy any day–or God is a reality.”

A master is one in whose presence you experience the reality of God and of the rich beauty of everything, including yourself. But the master isn’t perfect. Far from it. In fact, he or she limps. But the master is not in the least concerned by their limp, it’s only a limp after all. So, too, the master may be afraid or confused or weak, as much or more than you, but the master knows these things are not the point. They do not have the power to name us or define us. They are only fears or confusion or weaknesses after all; why give them so much power?

I yearn to live like this–to be set free from preoccupation with my weaknesses – which is different from saying I won’t continue to faithfully work on them. I desire to live fully trusting in the truth that my fears, my confusion, my mistakes and my frailty truly have no power over me, to define me or shame me. I yearn to see clearly this truth in those around me, and to create spaces for all people to live in this way.

Long ago and far away I learned how to fly a small plane. Although I stopped just shy of getting my license, I did log 40 hours, flying solos, even going cross country to other parts of the state by myself. It was exciting and beautiful and occasionally a bit nerve-wracking, especially the landing.

Jim recalls a study done by professional sky divers. That the novices measure increasing levels of fear at each step that brings them closer to the point of jumping out of the plane. Their fear continues all the way to the ground. Experienced jumpers, however, don’t register any fear until just before they land. After all, why ruin a perfectly good jump when it’s only landing on the ground that could be the problem?

Masters have learned how to live unafraid of the landing because they trust God all the way through, even as Jesus taught and lived.  Not that there won’t be fear, pain, suffering and weakness but that these won’t ever have the last word.  The only way to learn how to live this way, Merton and Finley say, is by falling over and over again and by learning along the way that we can live in the flow that is our life without giving authority to anything but the love of God to hold all things, including us–and our reflections.

Hope to see you Sunday,

Pastor Elizabeth
09.21.17

Seeking Balance

Several of us were brainstorming not long ago about ways to weave music into the fabric of our children and youth ministries when suddenly I burst into song:  “Jesu, Jesu, fill us with your love, show us how to serve, the neighbors we have from you. Kneels at the feet of his friends, silently washing their feet, Master who acts as a slave to them…” And I didn’t stop there, I kept right on singing the verses because it is a song I learned as a child and remains very much alive in me to this day.

As I reflect on that, I realize that the song is important in several ways:  my image of God is informed by the words I sing—that God is humble, giving, loving; not demanding, remote or scary—and also that the years I sang in the children’s choir, and every time I dare to sing within a group, was and is an act of participation in the Body of Christ in a tangible and powerful way.  Often I think we lose sight of music’s power to inform us and to enable us to participate in communion in a powerful way.

One of my favorite memories happened my first year here at St. Simon’s when, during the sermon on the first Sunday after Christmas, I invited the community (in their PJs) to gather around the piano and gustily sing Christmas Carols.  It was wonderful to see the delight transforming the faces and experience the individuals who had come to participate in  worship suddenly participating in one  another, experiencing  profound communion that awakened within a larger unity and intimacy.  I heard comments for weeks, the vast majority of which were positive, and still occasionally someone will remember how they felt in that moment of one-ness.

Music and liturgy are important; both shape us and have the power to unite us as we say or sing together prayers and responses.  As I child, I knew the ‘old’ prayer book prayers by heart, and for a long time if I started the Rite One post communion prayer I would say the older version.   One of the gifts of the Episcopal tradition is that we do use prayers over and over so that they sink deeper into our hearts.  So why do we use different prayers in each season at St. Simon’s and why do we bring in ‘new stuff’ that isn’t familiar and doesn’t just flow off the tongue?

Because as powerful as knowing things by heart is, ours is a living tradition. Jesus implored us to draw from that which is old and that which is new, just as he himself did.  As we plan the whole season and each liturgy within it, we pay close attention both to the words and to what the music evokes, seeking to balance that which is familiar and that which we hope to grow into being known by heart.  Many of our beloved songs and prayers were formed in a different era and articulated an understanding of God that made sense in that time. The familiar can become an idol and lure us into a museum philosophy of church rather than an ongoing new creation. In our understanding of God and of what we are to be about as kingdom people, it is important to embrace newness interwoven in the familiar and for our liturgy and music to shape us and expand us, saturating us in God’s love.

Listen closely to the words this season and allow yourself to experiment by participating with your whole body—sing with gusto and intention, allows the words to permeate.  Enter worship with an expectation that God is present and revealing Godself, and be open to communion with God and one another, that you may experience the wholeness and rebinding that is at the heart of what religion promises.

Hope to see you Sunday,

Pastor Elizabeth
09.14.17

Choosing the Kingdom

Have you ever wondered what God has to do with it all? Wondered why, for example, doesn’t God heal this hurting world or answer the prayer of our hearts?  Every time we pray the prayer Jesus gave us, we pray ‘thy kingdom come.’  Have you wondered why didn’t Jesus simply come as a powerful political leader?   God is both apolitical and at the same time entirely political.  Many of us have been raised to think of the Kingdom of Heaven as a place we go when we die, when we finally get to be with Jesus “for real.” We are still looking up, but that isn’t where Jesus is, nor where the kingdom is to be found.

Jesus came to help us see more clearly—not to see God through the lens of our party affiliation and our own preconceived notions—but rather to see the world through God’s lens.  When we allow God’s view to permeate our vision—Jesus called this way of seeing the Kingdom of God—it changes how we see everything.  Jesus refuses to be co-opted by a political party and used as a weapon against the other side, because in God there is no other side!   We don’t build the kingdom of heaven nor make it, rather we are invited to choose to participate in it every single day. The main reason we miss it, Jesus says repeatedly, is due to our spiritual blindness—how we view God impedes our ability to see and experience his reign.

In his book Choosing the Kingdom, scholar John Dally reminds us that over and over the New Testament authors offer a central proclamation that “in Jesus, God was present in history offering an alternative to human notions of power and destiny and forcing a choice of allegiance…a ‘krisis’ (judgment) that they greet with joy…that is a perpetually available choice afforded human beings to discern the action of God in history and choose to embrace it or walk away from it.

In the midst of our hurting world, we see evidence of people choosing this kingdom—choosing to see it, to participate in it and even to embody it. We know the difference it makes when people embrace love over fear, respect over violence or trust over power.  We pray for eyes to see the alternative worldview God is offering in this moment, coming back to be re-grounded in God’s desire for us as witnessed in Jesus.  As Cynthia Bourgeault reminds us: you don’t die into the kingdom, you awaken to it.

As a community, we commit ourselves, in the words of our identity statement, celebrating God’s love for all, seeking to embody Christ in the world.  We commit ourselves, in other words, to kingdom living, to waking up to see as God sees.  This fall there are many opportunities to open ourselves to seeing God’s kingdom in the midst of our lives as we continue to deepen into our identity statement—through our liturgy and teaching, through our interactions with one another and the world beyond these walls.  Jesus invites us to see through his eyes, the eyes of Love, and to let our concrete actions in the world flow out from there.

Hope to see you Sunday,

Pastor Elizabeth

09.07.17

 

Floodwaters

As images of Hurricane Harvey’s destructive path have flowed before our eyes, floodwaters of incredible magnitude have flowed through an estimated 30-40,000 homes and impacted the lives of 13 million people.  56,000 calls to Houston 911 came within the first 15 hours, with additional Good Samaritan rescues too numerous to count.  Having taken a mission trip to a flood zone years ago, I have a tiny sense of the miserable and heart wrenching devastation floodwaters cause, but the enormity of the impact is hard to fathom.  I know many of us feel helpless.

In response, I offer two things. The first is an important message from the director of Episcopal Relief and Development that can be found here.  In addition to reminding us that this is a marathon, not a sprint, he outlines the three overlapping phases of Rescue, Relief and Recovery as well as concrete ways to help, including what not to do.  I commend it to you.

The second is a beautiful reflection by Shellee Coley, who lives in Houston. She created a moving video during the storm on her cell phone, and shared it through Work of the People. I found her longer written message, including a practice to consider, to be incredibly moving.   I’ve included it below my signature.  I hope you’ll take the time to read it.

I invite you to join in praying, and in committing to practices such as Shellee outlines below and in giving generously to a relief organization like Episcopal Relief and Development. This Sunday we’ll be both offering prayers and will be directing the loose offering to Episcopal Relief and Development. We affirm in our baptism the truth that out of the waters of chaos comes a new creation. May it be so.

Hope to see you Sunday,

Pastor Elizabeth
08.31.17

Shellee Coley’s Reflection

Like many of you, I have been at home, glued to my tv, feeling helpless and devastated about what is happening all around me in Texas this week. I went to bed exhausted the other night from watching story after story of people losing their homes and businesses and dignity.

As I tried to sleep, images of families with children, elderly and pets, displaced at gas stations, on roofs and in shelters, flooded my mind and I just could not sleep. I turned the news back on to an interview of a woman and children coming off of a rescue boat and the woman said to the news anchor, “please don’t try to hug me or I might cry and I gotta stay strong for my babies”.

Heart broken.

I felt helpless. I was questioning god. I was questioning humanity. And I was quite frankly, feeling guilty for not having a boat to go rescue people. So I did the only thing I know to do when I feel desperate and I wrote a song about it. Here is my version of a “boat”. I hope it brings you a moment of peace or comfort or whatever emotion you need to feel.

Hold somebody. Let them cry. And then PLEASE get out there and be THE HANDS AND FEET. Heal each other. Seriously.

A Contemplative Practice to Consider…

Often when I can’t breathe, I will go for a drive and roll down the windows or walk through my neighborhood and start naming things I am grateful for. Literally anything that comes into my sight, I will try to figure out a statement of gratitude for it. When I went for a short drive the other day to see some of the aftermath of the devastation, I was struggling to find gratitude in seeing so much of my community’s loss. And even my gratitude for my own personal safety, left me feeling guilt for the little to no damage my family and I had sustained. And so I just drove and breathed and allowed the sadness to move in, to be felt, to be honored and to be named.

Naming emotions is one of the most powerful meditative practices I have found, because it gives me the freedom to call things out and let them slip though me instead of getting stuck. I felt the guilt, but didn’t let it turn to shame. I felt the sadness, but didn’t let it turn to isolation. I felt the anger at god, but didn’t let that keep me from asking “WHY”? (After all, you don’t get answers unless you are brave enough to ask the questions) I felt my helplessness, but didn’t allow myself to stay helpless. And then by the time I got home, I was looking up shelters and donation sites and planning out what I could do the next day to turn my raw emotions into actions and healing, both for myself and others.

We are at a time in history where we are slammed with thousands of negative words and images every minute that effect our emotions and it’s easy to lose faith in all the beauty that humanity embodies. That beauty and service of one another is where I personally find god. Friendship IS SALVATION. Community IS SALVATION. And we are all saving each other, one complicated interaction at a time.

My hope in the coming months of clean up from this catastrophe, is that we would stop tearing each other apart with political, social and racial differences and go out and look for opportunities where we can co-create through our pain, and watch the vapors of beauty and hope RISE UP out of that work. Are we finally ready?

Love Hard. Be Human. Find Beauty.

Deepest Truest Self

We saw the movie Wonder Woman recently and like many people found it to be a story full of beauty and meaning—far more than I expected. It’s a story of good and evil, of violence and love, but most of all it is about defining moments and the clarity and wisdom that emerges from them. Diana believes human beings are simply under the influence of Aries, the god of war, and when he is vanquished all shall be at peace.  Along the way, she discovers we are more complex creatures than she thought, filled with tensions and challenges of our own making, that no external hero can resolve for us.

Within our own nation, competing views vie for our attention and ultimately our allegiance.  Are we the nation with an unyielding commitment to the conviction that “all men are created equal” and who welcomes “your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore” or are we a nation where some are more equal than others?  Is our allegiance to what binds us together stronger than what seeks to divide us?  Depending on your news channel of choice, you hear played out differing views of who we are—from our founding stories to our tomorrows. Fundamentally, our identity is at once forged in how we choose to live and revealed by those choices.

Who are we really?  I love the way Richard Rohr says it:

I do not think that violence and negativity are natural to us. I believe you are made for love, that your natural abiding place is love, and that you in fact are love. Your absolute foundation is communion with God and others. This is the “deepest me” to which you must return before you act. From this foundation, you know you must act and you will act, but now from a place of positive, loving energy. You must start from a deep place of “yes.”  The first step to moving beyond our temptation to negativity, which is really a death wish, is to recognize it is there.

What is at the heart of your life?  What is your absolute foundation?  The church is not the place you’ll find perfection. It isn’t without its struggles because it is made up of us—all of us who are human and fragile and doing our best with what we have.  We gather as a Christian community because we are reminded of the love God has for us—for each and every human being—and that we are created to love and to be loved.  We don’t have an external hero saving us either. We have Jesus, who shows us the way of life—which is the way of love—and invites us to follow him.  It is always ours to choose.

What helps you stay in touch with the ‘deepest you?’  For many of us, the more we are surrounded by those who radiate love to us, the more we can trust in and live from that place of positive, loving energy as we find our way in the world.  We all have wounds and struggles and failures. We all have times when our pain makes it impossible to return to that abiding place, but we are nevertheless called to do our best to move beyond the insidious temptation to negativity and division.  And in and through it all, we are called to abide in love and to be people of love—expansive, joyful, life-giving love.

What helps you remember and act out of that deep truth?

Hope to see you Sunday,

Pastor Elizabeth
08.24.17

What We Do for Love

A long, loving look at the real. That’s how theologian Walter Burghardt described contemplation. And it is more essential than ever that we who call ourselves Christians—and all who call themselves Americans—have the courage to engage in contemplation in a way we’ve not been able or willing to do. It’s time. No, it’s way past time. It begins with a question. What kind of world do we want to live in? What do we want our community, our nation and our world to look like and feel like?

White supremacists and neo-Nazis are clear—they want a world without ‘assorted genetic refuse’ where ‘that which is degenerate in white countries must be removed.’ The only way to embrace this worldview is to dehumanize anyone who doesn’t fit within your definition of who gets to be included. Theirs is a zero sum game where one group’s loss is another’s gain.

At the other end of the spectrum is a world where the incredible diversity evidenced in creation—and visible within the whole human family—is celebrated, honored and respected. Where difference is seen as a gift and a blessing that makes us all more, not less. Where we live into the reality that we are all interconnected and interdependent, indescribably precious to one another and to God. And where any one of us is suffering, we move to come alongside and care for the one who suffers, because that’s what love does.

For Christians, the question gets to an even deeper question about what we believe God’s dream is and what is at the very heart of the Gospel. What does your God look like? Many of us grew up with some sense of God as ‘a big person—a big white man—lording over little people.’ When we conceive of God as wielding power over us, then it flows that we would think what it’s all about is having power to wield over others, and the one with the most power wins.

But that is not the God whom Jesus reveals at all.  Jesus let go of all power, even the power to overcome those forces of hate that consorted to crucify him. Jesus wandered the earth looking for people on the outside to welcome them in, including all those pushed to the outside by the powerful.  In fact, what truly brought him to anger was any time he encountered those committed to excluding others, most especially when done in the name of God.  It isn’t a zero-sum game with winners and losers; it is a whole new understanding where we finally get that winning only happens for any of us to the degree it happens for all of us.

Personally, I think it is clear what kind of world God desires.  And I want that world too.  God is not a noun but a verb—loving creation into being every moment. The real question, and where the real work comes in, is what I’m willing to do personally to help foster that world, birthing it into being with all those across the world who share the same dream. It begins with being honest about the reality of white privilege that supremacist groups espouse and desire to expand. No, thankfully most of us don’t spew vile and hateful things to and about those who look different than we do. Nevertheless we participate in systems great and small that keep our world from reflecting God’s dream.

White privilege is being able to ignore the reality of ‘our unearned access,’ pretending it doesn’t exist and that we ourselves don’t benefit from it.  In the end, the number of white supremacists and neo-Nazis is pretty small relative to the whole population. It is a fact that the rest of us good-hearted, ‘nice’ people have the privilege to walk away from the problem; that is the real reason we cannot heal and flourish and live into our true calling to be, as Archbishop Desmond Tutu said, ‘the rainbow people of God.’

Are we willing to take a long, loving look at the real in our local community, in our country, in our world?  It takes courage, true courage born from great love, to even ask the question—with great humility and openness of heart—and to be willing to listen and learn from our beautiful sisters and brothers about what life in this great country of ours is like, really like, when you are not white and straight.

Let me be clear.  This is not about shaming or blaming. This is about being motivated by love to do what we can to be more conscious and intentional about what is, and how we make room for the ‘other’ even as God, Love, makes room for all of us.  Only then will we truly know joy in our hearts and in this world.  I confess that I am a little scared of what I will find and what it will mean for me.  But love is calling.  Who will join me?

Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. 
Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Hope to see you Sunday,

Pastor Elizabeth
08.17.17