Today, I am in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina at a women’s retreat just filled with love and light and hope and sisterhood.
Today, I am reading accounts of demonstrations at the University of Virginia wherein members of the KKK, Neo-Nazis, and Alt-Right carried torches and shouted declarations of white supremacy.
So, I don’t know what to do.
God called me to the mountains months ago when I registered for this retreat. I read Rachel Held Evans’ book in preparation for her to lead us in some study and prayer while we are here. I paid a little extra, so I could have my own room, so I might experience a weekend of reflection more than conversation. I signed up for a workshop on using liturgical art in worship because our council discussed that as a goal at our retreat in March. So, this weekend is about me: as a woman, as a pastor, as a mom whose nest is emptying this week, as a sometimes weary child of God.
But people are carrying torches and quoting Hitler in Virginia.
I’ve been crying about it. And, honestly, I am angry at the timing. I’m angry that my retreat for centering myself before a busy fall and for slowing way down for 48 hours has been invaded by violence and hatred…and that exceedingly familiar feeling of helplessness in the face of enormous problems that have layers and colors and textures far beyond the reach and power of my life.
That voice in your head asking, “Why didn’t she just turn off her phone for the retreat?” It’s in my head, too. But, I didn’t, so here I am.
That other voice in your head whisper, “Uh, her anger right now is ridiculous…how about a little anger that the KKK is assembling AT ALL, not that they are assembling during her retreat.” It’s in my head, too. I promise. It happens that I am captive to sin and cannot free myself, so imbalance and preposterous priorities are commonplace. Writing about them helps run a highlighter across them, so I can notice them better: this time…and the next.
So, here is what God did with this mess today.
First, my God brought me to breakfast with two women who are pastors in the Presbyterian Church (PCUSA), and the conversation in our little cloister of three women who long to follow Jesus included confession of times we have not welcomed people well, times we have be terrified to speak and act for justice. Maybe it was because we don’t know each other that confession came easily; maybe it is because we are tired of not confessing things that embarrass us as pastors who are called to work for peace and justice in all the world. Cate and Becca were my pastors this morning; and I suppose I was theirs.
Next, my God brought me to a book study where we broke into groups of four to discuss the ways we have experienced death and resurrection in our lives. We talked about life in the military where every move is a death of some sort. We shared our pain that our children reject the faith we hold so dear. We told of acts of unexpected grace we had received in ways we still carry in our pockets, pulling them out when we need to be reminded of our call to do the same for others. And we were reminded that this grace thing has already gotten out of hand. “Grace got out of hand the moment the God of the universe hung on a Roman cross and with outstretched hands looked out upon those who had hung him there and declared, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” (Searching for Sunday, page 40)
Then, God and I went to a workshop about liturgical art, and the leader, Lisle Gwynn Garrity used Brene Brown’s 10 Guideposts to Wholehearted Living while offering us the opportunity to play with art and be sanctified in the process. Together, my eight new sisters and I relinquished the messages from others that we are
not artistic or not artistic enough or there must be a better way or she is doing it better than me. We picked up oil pastels and drew our love and light and hope onto that cambric. Our gentle teacher offered us Brene Brown’s words and silence and tender music to coax us along this path. And after a few minutes, she would invite us to move to the seat to our left and add to that which our sisters had drawn. In the end, our fingers and palms were smudged with oil pastels, the cambric was exquisite, and I felt braver to be the woman God designed me to be.
Then, my God and I walked past the ducks on the lake and under the trees which couldn’t be
greener to get lunch in a room full of a few hundred women who had just been to one workshop or another…and I told God I hoped they all felt a little braver at lunch than they did at breakfast.
Then, we checked my schedule again – because my memory is not as good as God’s – and went off to the afternoon workshop where the facilitator used Brene Brown’s work in Daring Greatly to help us identify our top three values. That was the easy part (though it was far from easy). The hard part was this question: What behaviors you do engage in when you have lost sight of each of your three values?
So, God and I talked with the three women at our table about snapping at our children and gossiping about friends and numbing ourselves with food or alcohol or shopping or busyness. We confessed that our fear is debilitating at times. And we remembered how it feels when we have been brave and dared to speak truth to power or cross the threshold of a WeightWatchers center or told our adult child it’s time for rehab.
And God smiled when we remembered our strength.
So, today, I am not in Virginia. I’d like to be there with my clerical collar on, linked arm-in-arm with my sisters and brothers who are there standing and singing against hate. Also, I am terrified to be there with my clerical collar on, linked arm-in-arm with my sisters and brothers who are there standing and singing against hate. So, there’s that.
Today, I’m not in Virginia with my collar.
Today, I’m in Montreat with my sisters. We are learning (remembering) to be creatively, prayerfully, sacredly alive. We are praying and singing for God’s kingdom to reign. We are remembering our strength. And we’ll need our strength to muster courage when we are afraid, to link arms and sing against hate in our various lives when we leave here.
After I wrote the paragraphs above, I went to our evening session where Rachel Held Evans opened our evening by declaring that white supremacy pervades the systems and institutions of our nation, and the church is no exception…and that hatred, oppression, and declaring oneself better than any other human in the world is in direct opposition to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
And 400 people applauded. And applauded. And applauded.
Some of us shouted, “Amen.” Some of us whispered it. For Rachel had spoken our collective confession.
And Christ heard it.