Growing Up Racist – #3

“So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” -Genesis 1:27

I love the first creation story in Genesis. I love the poetic way the writer describes order coming out of chaos. I love the way the early understanding of the world meant the sky was seen as a great dome. I love how after each day of creation “God saw that it was good.”

This creation story is not about science. It is a story about God bringing order out of chaos. It is a story of love. It is a story that allows us to think about beginnings and the wonder of this world. But mostly I love the egalitarian description of our creation.

Humankind, men and women, were created in the image of God. As we, together, are created in this image it is only possible to reflect that image when we are together.

When I meet with people who have been hurt by the church, it is often because someone has told them that they are “less than.” I always say, “you are created in God’s image and God loves you the way you were created.” This has been important for me to share with those sisters and brothers of mine in the LGBTQ community.

Today I am thinking of the awful human made idea of “race.” This idea that our skin color makes us different from one another, with those possessing white (or light) skin being created as superior. This is not true. This is not biblical. This is sin.

A struggle with this sin is that its debasing ideas are so steeped in our culture that we don’t always recognize our own thoughts as racist.

I remember the first time I consciously thought about skin color. We had moved to Texas (outside of Chandler in East Texas) and I was in 2nd grade. This would have been in the late 60s so the schools had already been desegregated.

I rode the bus…for a very long time. We lived 13 miles out of town and so were the first picked up and the last dropped off. To this day I’m not a fan of riding busses.

I discovered quickly that the busses were segregated. There were two African American boys, twins, in my class. They lived a little ways down the highway. In fact they were the only children who lived near us. But they rode a separate bus. We never played together.

In my childish naiveté, I hadn’t considered different skin color as representative of different “race” and thus the need to be separated. My first thought had been that an older sister of mine had darker skin than me. I was thankful she still lived in California because if she had come to Texas with us they would have made her ride a separate bus. The logic of a 2nd grader.

The 2nd grade me lost the opportunity to play with and be friends with the boys down the highway. Just because of skin color.

The other loss for the 2nd grader was the subconscious learning that there must have been something wrong with these boys. Why else would they and others need to be separated?

“So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” -Genesis 1:27

There was nothing wrong with those boys. There was something wrong with the adults. There was something wrong in a culture that perverts the truth that ALL humans are created in God’s image, and thus are precious. I wish I knew these boys. I pray for them. I pray for me. I pray for the day when we see our neighbors as precious in God’s sight and thus precious in our sights as well.

By the way, after God created human beings…male and female and with different skin, eye, and hair color, “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good (Genesis 1:31).”

When did you first become aware of racism?

Quit when it’s hard? No Way!

IMG_3672.JPGMost of us have contemplated quitting something. Sometime our reasons are perfectly valid, but not always. I’ve been thinking about this topic, quitting, after my latest fall while hiking (read about it here: Overdoing It).

I confess that while picking myself up, rinsing off the blood, and brushing all the dirt off my clothing I thought that maybe I should give up trails…running and hiking them. Once we started walking again I voiced this defeatist idea to Scott, who responded, “but one of your falls wasn’t on a trail.” Oh yeah. This is a perfect example of why we need to share our thoughts with others.

I’ve still been thinking about it though. Not because I want to give up trail running but because I wonder if maybe we are too quick sometimes to quit. We face difficulties in all areas of life: work, home, trying to eat healthy, relationships, societal, basically anywhere we want to improve on something we face difficulties. Or maybe a better way of looking at it is that positive change is hard.

Those of us born with a stubborn gene (I’m sure there is one) are probably at a bit of an advantage here, because we don’t like to admit defeat. But still there are times when we’ve contemplated giving up on something.

While I have many stories of persevering, and stubbornly holding on when I shouldn’t, I’ll just share two for you. One when I quit and one when I didn’t. They’re both related  to my Call as a pastor.

First, I wasn’t raised in a church. And as a teenage and young adult I didn’t like Christians. (This is a long story that I’ve shared in my church, and maybe will share in a blog post some day). Anyway, when I was in my late 20s-early 30s I sent my children to a Lutheran preschool and that was the beginning of my slow, slow, slow immersion into the Lutheran church. This mostly happened because I met Lutheran Christians who were very different than the stereotype that I had of Christians.

Eventually I became more involved, participated in Bible studies, participated in ministry training programs, and began to feel a call to serve in some greater way. At the time I was a member (and now staff member) of a Lutheran church in a denomination that does not recognize God’s call on women leaders. I went to seminary (Fuller in Pasadena) “because I wanted to learn more.” While there I began more and more to discover that God was leading me to something far different than I had ever imagined. Unfortunately I was in a church that said, “no you are wrong to think that God would call you in this way.”

Some in this denomination told me “if you don’t like it then leave.” Yeah, saying that to a stubborn person usually insures they’ll stay! Others wanted me to stay and work for change. But I eventually came to the conclusion that God did not call me to “bang my head against the wall” trying to change something, when in reality I had no voice. This denomination needs men to step up!

So I quit. Not because it was hard but because I recognized that I needed to be elsewhere. Maybe it’s the seeing another path that is a good sign for those times we do need to quit whatever it is we are struggling to accomplish.

Fast forward many years… I am now a pastor in a different Lutheran Church (ELCA) and have served for a little over seven years at my congregation in Oxnard CA. I honestly can’t say that I’ve been an awesome pastor, but maybe I can say I’ve been a human pastor. Maybe that’s all we can expect.

It’s interesting to become a pastor at a time the church (not just my congregation) is declining. There are all sorts of reasons for this and many have ideas of what we should be doing…I could go to conferences on this probably every month.

I often say (and believe) that the church will always exist, but not as we know it today. Yet I don’t know what that future church will look like. Some leader!

So, it’s hard.

I never, before becoming a pastor, thought I’d be addressing massacres and racism and terrorism. Naive on my part! I still remember my hands shaking as I got up to preach on the Sunday after Sandy Hook…then again and again.

I’ve tried mightily to explain why Black Lives Matter as a movement is so important…and that I know Black Lives Matter to God.

I helped lead us to become a congregation that welcomes and affirms our LGBTQ sisters and brothers. We are a safe place in this regard.

Then last November’s election happened and I had to question my call. Every day I had to start the day with remembering my gratitude, because what I really wanted to do was to quit trying. I grieved…not so much for myself but for my brothers and sisters who are not white cisgendered middle (or upper) class Americans. I could not understand how those who follow Jesus could support someone who was so hateful towards others.

For most of November I wondered if I really did have a call. I talked. I ran. I prayed. I ran. I read. I prayed. And I ran some more. And I came to the conclusion that I do have a call. To use my voice (even in a small church) to speak of God’s love for the oppressed, the marginalized, the immigrant, the orphan, the widow, the poor.

It’s been hard.

I’ve been reading more about racism lately. I’ll share some discoveries later. After Charlottesville I believe that it is even more important. I also believe that it is not the responsibility of my African American sisters and brothers to convince me (and those like me and in my church) that change is needed. I believe that this is a call from God, not just to me, but to the church. I’ve said this to my congregation. Will we respond to this call? I hope so.

Do I fully know what to do? No. But in every hard thing that I’ve done, I’ve not known fully what to do. I can even think of instance where if I’d known, I may not have started. So I’m ok with discerning with others the next steps. The lives of people who God loves depend on this. The church depends on it as well even if her members don’t realize it.

It’s hard…but I’m not quitting.

And…I’ll keep trail running too, hopefully I’ll be better at picking up my feet.

How Long Does a Dead Tree Stand?

On a recent vacation to Yosemite we witnessed the overwhelming number of dead trees in California. I read an article that places the number at more than 100 million in the state. Dead trees are normal, but not usually in such large numbers. The current dead tree phenomenon is the result of drought weakening trees and then bark beatles killing them. But they don’t seem to fall… standing tall… and dead.

As I looked at tree after tree, I couldn’t help thinking of them as a metaphor for some of our institutions. Standing tall, but really dead. Is the church one of these dead institutions? It is for those who don’t believe they can experience unconditional love and community at a church. It is if it chooses to remain silent in some misguided effort to “be nice” in the face of today’s rising intolerance. It is if it’s members don’t leave their pews and build relationships in their communities.

See these new trees? They’re a hopeful sign… a sign of new life, of God’s grace… a sign that God is indeed active in the world. Will we go out and join in that work? Or will we continue to admire our dead trees until they actually fall? 

No, that is not ok

This morning and last night white supremacists demonstrated in Charlottesville Virginia. That is a very long way from Oxnard California, but both cities are in the United States. For this reason what happens there is important here and everywhere else. As a white middle class woman I denounce the racism of white supremacy. It is not the responsibility of my brothers and sisters of color to denounce racism. They have enough to do in living the effects of racism. I call on all white people who hear the command of Jesus, to love God and to love neighbor, to come to the defense of their non-white neighbors and denounce racism in all it’s forms. This is our call for these times.

What I Used to Think and What I Now Believe… Sexuality

opchristmas ch

Last week I shared a link on Facebook that gives reasons to not support Operation Christmas Child this year. Along with sharing this, I commented that a much better choice would be making a donation to Lutheran World Relief. Here is the link: http://emilyjoypoetry.com/7-reasons-not-to-participate-in-operation-christmas-child-this-year?utm_content=buffera6fd8&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_campaign=buffer

A few days later I received the following request via message on Facebook. I replied that I would compose a response when I had some time to sit at my computer.

I have been pondering your post about Operation Christmas Child.
Can you help me understand what your position on homosexuality is,
it sounds different than what I read in my bible.

After thinking about it for a few days, I’ve decided to share a bit of what I used to think and how, through faith, I’m able to see a bit differently. So follow along as I a share a bit about how Jesus has opened my eyes.

What I Used to think: 

  • I have to first confess that I never really thought about sexuality much. I don’t remember having any gay or lesbian friends when I was younger.

What I Now Believe:

  • Upon reflection, I’m sure that I did have such friends (or at least acquaintances) but I was unaware…my loss.

What I Used to think: 

  • I also have to confess that when I began my own journey of faith towards ordination, I kind of resented my LGBTQ brothers and sisters without even knowing them. This was because I was in a church denomination (Lutheran Church Missouri Synod-LCMS) that did not recognize the call of God upon women leaders as pastors. A common argument against female ordination (that I heard often) was, “if we ordain the women, then the gays are next.”

What I Now Believe:

  • Really? What a self centered _______. I was very much tempted to not make this confession. But I believe in a God who not only forgives but lovingly gives us opportunity after opportunity to grow and to see the world differently. I now recognize that argument against women’s ordination in the LCMS to be logical. Only now I see it, not as a slippery slope to traverse but rather as an issue of JUSTICE. God loves me, just as I am and God has called me to be a religious leader…a pastor…even if I have the wrong body parts for some people. In the same way God has created, loved and called my LGBTQ sisters and brothers.

What I Used to think: 

  • But what does the Bible say? The Bible doesn’t really say much about homosexuality. There is a verse in Leviticus…there is something in Romans… and I’m sure there is something in another place. Just as there  are a few verses that people have used to justify the forever subordination of women, not only in the church, but in the home. I was actually told, in the LCMS, that women cannot lead men because of the order of creation (Genesis 2). The first time I heard this argument, I was still a long way away from thinking that God was calling me to be a pastor. It probably had the opposite of its intended effect. Read Genesis 2…so according to the logic of order of creation, women must be subordinate to men…and all the animals too?

What I Now Believe:

  • I am thankful to have learned, at my non-Lutheran, non-denominational, evangelical seminary (Fuller), how to read the Bible for the whole message rather than pull out verses here and there in an attempt to prooftext. I also believe that it is completely impossible to, as many like to say, “interpret the Bible literally.” The Bible is made up of many types of literature, was written over centuries, and reflects the context of the times that the books were written. Plus, we are faced with contradictions within this sacred text and so we must work together to discern the meaning of the text for us today. Take creation for example. Read Genesis 1 and Genesis 2. Which one is correct? Why are there two accounts of creation? Personally, I love that right at the beginning we are forced away from a literal interpretation. I also see God’s grace right there at the beginning (ahh…maybe that is a purpose of these stories).Super important for me is the end of that first creation account, “Then God said, ‘let us make man in our image, in our likeness…So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Gen 1:26a, 27 NIV).

    Isn’t that awesome? We – all of us – were created in God’s image. Male and female were were created! So to fully reflect God’s image we need to include all people… male, female, gay, lesbian, black, white, brown, short, tall, you name it! Not only that, but God looked at creation and called it very good. That is Grace!

What I Used to think: 

  • But the Bible (some more)…our scriptures speak far more about justice for the oppressed, and greed, and gossip, and the general failure to love those around us than it does about sexual behavior. Once, as I was learning…and not seeing fully, I made a personal analogy. You see, I have always struggled with my weight. I firmly believe that if I hadn’t been active for most of my life I would probably be morbidly obese, and when I have occasions of inactivity my weight will raise pretty quickly.So, it was a bit disconcerting to read about the sinfulness of gluttony in my bible. Here is a nice verse from Proverbs (23:20-21): “Do not join with those who drink too much wine or gorge themselves on meat, for drunkards and glutton become poor, and drowsiness clothes them in rags.”

    I was certainly thankful to understand that Jesus loved me and forgave me. I also saw, and continue to see, overweight people in the church, and I would wonder why their sins were forgivable and why they were welcome, but gays and lesbians were not (please keep reading!).

What I Now Believe:

  • That last paragraph is an example of someone good heartedly not understanding something important and thus being incredibly stupid and offensive. Here is an important truth (and a bible verse, Romans 3:23-24): “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by God’s grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” This is good news for us all, as all of us sin and need forgiveness.But it is important to recognize that being lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgendered is how our dear sisters and brothers were created. So I cannot use my analogy of overeating. The truth is that it is not a sin to be who you are. The truth is that we are all created in God’s image and we are precious and valuable and lovable… all of us. Yes we all sin and thus need forgiveness. I am thankful for the gift of grace that we all receive and may I live out that grace in ways that are pleasing to God.

One last one! What I Used to think: 

  • It’s ultimately about God’s grace.

What I Now Believe:

  • It’s still all about God’s grace! This is why I am a Lutheran…this understanding of grace. So, as Lutherans we believe that grace (and thus being made right with God) is a completely free gift from God through Jesus. There is nothing that we can  do to earn this gift… it is truly free. So we don’t have to say a special prayer that accepts Jesus into our heart. Really, we don’t have to do anything…because Jesus has already done everything. What wonderful news for us all… and for my LGBTQ sisters and brothers as well.Jesus loves us and accepts us just the way we are. Anything that we do is a response to that love. And how does Jesus want us to respond? By loving the Lord our God with all our hearts and by loving our neighbors as ourselves. We don’t really need to know more than that.

And with all of this I am eternally grateful that God, through the years has opened my eyes so that I may see this world in all its glory. And some of that glory is reflected in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered folks that I have had the privilege of knowing as friends and colleagues and especially as beloved sisters and brothers in Christ.

I hope this answers the question.