Posted in Ordinary Holiness

Evolving Responsibility

~ make yourself at my home, tell me where you been ~ Flo Rida

Many months ago, I registered for a conference led by Rachel Held Evans and Sarah Bessey at a beautiful conference center in the Blue Ridge Mountains. My wonderful congregation affords me a week for continuing education each year, and I knew that I wanted to spend three of those days with two authors that have formed my own faith in the last few years.

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Just a stage filled with a dozen authors, bloggers, and podcasters I read and listen to regularly. No big deal, you guys.

Their gentle invitation was something like: If you are a doubter who believes or a believer who doubts, if you have been hurt by the church or just can’t make sense of some things, if you are deconstructing unhealthy faith patterns or reconstructing healthy ones, come to the mountains with us and explore what it means to be living out an evolving faith. Thus was born the conference called Evolving Faith 2018.

I’ve been looking forward to this for months. I’ve been reading the books written by many of the presenters (click that link above and see the list of speakers). Some of my sweetest-friends-who-are-also-my-colleagues were going to be there, too!

So, it caught me off guard two days before the event when I got very nervous, and my normally positive self – who loves to gather with people and learn new things – started to feel a bit of…dread? Was it dread? If so, then why?

I asked my daughter to talk through some of my odd feelings as I packed my suitcase. And in the end, I discovered that I was feeling…

Responsible.

You see, the organizers of this event created a Facebook page where those who were registered for the event could get to know each other, find roommates for housing, etc. So, for months, I had been getting to know some of the folks who would be gathering on the mountain with me.

One person posted this question: Anyone else nervous about coming because you carry so much pain about church you aren’t sure you can handle hearing people talk about it?

Dozens of people responded with their own expressions of fear. And if dozens of people commented on the thread, were there actually hundreds of anxious, worried, hurting people coming to the mountain afraid that the truth will be too loud or sharp or icy?

I cannot overstate how kind all these people are. Seriously. They were offering to carpool with each other, be roommates with strangers, share expenses, and all other manner of favors and encouragement. 900 people with only this conference in common became a community of vulnerability out there in cyberspace – and soon we would inhabit the same physical space, we would be the incarnation of the thing we longed for: real community.

So, to learn how much pain people were bringing with them made me feel a lot of feels. A. Lot.

Firstly, they were all coming to North Carolina. They were flying from Canada and all over the United States (one woman came from Somaliland!) to come to our home. It made me feel like a bit of a hostess. You can tell me that’s ridiculous because I was not on the planning team, nor do I work at the retreat center. You can say that, but that doesn’t change the fact that I was feeling it. And Flo Rida was singing, “Welcome to my house…” in my ears whether it was reasonable or not.

Secondly, and way more importantly, I am currently a pastor, a leader in the Church (specifically, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America). Many of the people traveling toward “my house” when this sense of responsibility was settling over me had been hurt – really hurt – by people who had been leaders in the Church. I’m a member of this cohort of clergy that crosses denominational lines, and I benefit from the respect generally afforded clergy. I cannot point over there to some other group of people who have (and often abuse) authority over the spiritual spaces where people gather to worship, study, and pray. I’m IN that group. Clergy are “my people” and my people have steamrolled over far too many precious lives. And those steamrolled lives…steamroll over others. The generational reach of our manipulation and spiritual abuse cannot be measured.

When I was packed and ready to leave the next day, I laid in bed feeling heartsick.

The next morning, I went to my local store that only stocks goods made in North Carolina. I got small bags of Blister Fried Bertie County peanuts, small bottles of lotions made and bottled in Raleigh, muscadine flavored hard candies and peppermint puff candies made in Lexington, Chapel Hill toffee, and Moravian cookies from Winston-Salem. I didn’t really know what I was going to do with them. I mean, there were maybe 50 items in my bag, and there were over a thousand people registered for the event. But, I packed them into my backpack because…I guess because I needed to do something.

As I drove to Montreat, I tried to figure out why I had bought all that stuff and what in the world I was going to do with it. And I decided that I would simply walk up to a stranger and say, “I’m a pastor in North Carolina, and I’m glad you are here. Here’s a little gift made in North Carolina.” It promised to be awkward, and I guess it was.

Today, I had several of those short conversations as I handed out little gifts. The recipients were kind and funny, and there in Anderson Auditorium, with the incarnational gifts of eye contact, laughter, awkward stumbling sentences, and the physical gifts of candies, peanuts, cookies, and lotion, Spirit had her way with me.

My dread was gone.

My responsibility had become hospitality.

Evolving faith is the best kind of faith.

 

Posted in Ordinary Holiness

Creativity as Non-violent Protest

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.

Or feel.

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?

Ouch.

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.

At the book signing before her speaking session

***

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.