Monday, March 9, 2015

Admitting as Much

Yesterday my friends Jack Sullivan and Sekinah Hamlin were among the thousands who crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, AL. They did so remembering those who crossed it 50 years ago, shining a spotlight on the brutal nature of institutionalized racism in America. Over the years of my ministry, many (well-intentioned?) church people have suggested to me that recalling the dark days of Jim Crow, or the horrors of slavery upon which much of white America's wealth was built, is dangerous and counterproductive. It has been suggested that we are better served to "leave the past in the past and move on." One person said, "I don't see what good it does to keep bringing this up."

Here at UniPlace we have been praying our way through Exodus as our Lenten discipline for this year. God's call to liberation is undeniable, and if you've seen one Pharaoh, you've seen them all. It's not an accident that the Civil Rights movement in this country was championed by a preacher who knew his Bible. 

What good does it do for people of faith to remember Moses leading a band of slaves out of bondage? Of what use was it for the people of Israel to erect a monument at Massah and Meribah to recall a nearly violent rebellion against Moses' leadership over the issue of water? To what purpose do we Christians partake of bread and cup reciting the words, "Do this in remembrance of me?" There is something about the spiritual journey which requires remembering -- remembering the dark days of slavery, remembering the heady joy of freedom's early days, remembering the quarrels in the wilderness, remembering how hard it is to unlearn the legacy lessons of oppression, remembering that love and liberation are both tethered to a tree.

I don't know what it means that in 2015 a bridge still stands lauding the name of a Grand Dragon of the KuKluxKlan. To think that in 1965, one hundred years after the thirteenth amendment outlawed the institution of slavery, a city could look up at the name of that bridge and be proud to recall, "that was our senator," causes my head to spin. But I think it is important to remember. Elected to the US Senate in 1897 and 1903, Edmund Pettus' senate campaign relied on his success in organizing and popularizing the Alabama Klan following Reconstruction. The brave men and women who crossed that bridge in 1965 did so as a statement that they were ready to unlearn the rote lessons of a people too long oppressed. This is American history, this is our Christian faith history, and we need to tell the truth about it.

I agree with our President who said yesterday that  we have made some progress in this country since 1965 in the realm of racial inequality. Citing the Justice Department's report excoriating the police department of Ferguson, MO, President Obama said in Selma, "What happened in Ferguson may not be unique, but it's no longer endemic. It's no longer sanctioned by law or custom, and before the civil rights movement, it most surely was." But while some progress has been made in some areas, we cannot just leave the past in the past as if racism has been defeated now. As our President said, "We don’t need the Ferguson report to know that’s not true. We just need to open our eyes and our ears and our hearts to know that this nation’s racial history still casts its long shadow upon us. We know the march is not yet over; we know the race is not yet won. We know reaching that blessed destination where we are judged by the content of our character requires admitting as much.”

Sekinah Hamlin and Jack Sullivan (thanks for the photos!)

Stand by Me

"Choose some men for us and go out, fight with Amalek." (Exodus 17:9)

Have you ever had to make a choice about who you would take with you to do something troublesome and hard? What guided your decision about who you wanted at your side?

In this week's scripture from Exodus we find God's people being sniped at from the rear as they wander, lost in the wilderness. A band of nomads known as the Amalekites are preying on the former slaves, only recently liberated from Egypt. Strangers and sojourners in a hostile desert, the Israelites don't know what to do. At the back of their caravan are the heavily burdened, the tired, the weak, children, pregnant mothers, the injured, disabled, and elderly. Rather than confronting the strong ones leading the refugees from the front, the Amalekites intentionally go after the easy pickins' straggling behind.

Moses singles out a young man named Joshua (this is the first time he is mentioned in scripture) and assigns him the role of army recruiter. Someone needs to stop the Amalekites. Joshua chooses those who will fight back against the marauders and Moses chooses two close relatives, Aaron and Hur, to accompany him where he will stand overseeing the battle ground. It seems both Joshua and Moses choose well. When Moses' arms grow weary, Aaron and Hur support him so Moses can support the "boots on the ground" with signs of God's strengthening presence while they fight for their lives. Joshua's newly formed army defeats the Amalekites and the journey of God's people continues.

What a difference it makes --- choosing the right people to have at your side.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Slip Sliding Away

Driving to church on Sunday morning I was singing aloud Paul Simon's Slip Slidin' Away when my 16 year old son, obviously annoyed, said, "WHAT are you singing? Is that even really a song?" I know the fault was entirely in my singing, not Simon's song-writing.

We drove slowly and made it to UniPlace without incident. This was due primarily to the lesson learned on Thursday when we slip-slid right through a stop sign only a few feet after starting out from home. That scary moment ended with the Prius nose-first in a snowbank. Thankfully, a charming neighbor in a big blue pickup came along about 90 seconds later and showed Luke how to push me back up on the road. We were grateful both for the helping hand and the wise counsel.

It's good to have friends in high places, low places, and on the plain in between.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Let Us Serve the Egyptians

I've been thinking all week about those Israelites at the seashore and their second thoughts about leaving Egypt. Faced with the vast uncertainty of what awaited them on the other side of that frightening sea, they were quick to wax nostalgic about the life they had left behind. Whitewashing the memories of brick-making quotas, the whips of their masters, and the greed of Pharoah, they only remembered the security of sameness.

"Let us serve the Egyptians." How many times have I chosen the predictability of the past rather than risk walking off that set? How often have a taken tentative steps toward freedom only to look over my shoulder and wonder if I could sprint back to where I was? God help us, lest we forget that freedom lies on the other side of the sea change.

Humility Plate

I drove to church this week behind this guy. Kinda turns the whole "vanity plate" idea on its head, doesn't it?

People on a Journey

“Ours the Journey” Sermon Series
Beginning February 15 the congregation at UniPlace was invited into the prayerful discernment process of our Visioning Team as we reflect each week in worship on the theme “Ours the Journey.” The book of Exodus guides us as we consider how God calls us forward to discover our true identity as well as our purpose in the world.

February 15        Exodus 3:1-15                    Journey into God’s Presence
February 22        Exodus 14:10-31               Journey through the Waters
March 1                Exodus 17:1-7                    Journey through Doubt
March 8                Exodus 17:8-13                  Journey with Partners
March 15             Exodus 19:2-8                    Journey with Intention
March 22             Exodus 22:20-27               Journey into Neighborliness

Join us in worship!

Welcome to this Table

Thanks to my wonderful husband, Ed Taylor, for sharing this poem with me today.
A Welcoming Prayer
by The Ponderer

And so we gather at the table.

We come from many places,
differing in age, differing in race,
differing in orientation, politics and even religion.
As we come together around the table
we discover that our differences 
are not something we tolerate
but that our differences are indeed a blessing,
the more difference we bring, the more fully we experience
the presence of the sacred in our midst.
So come, children of God, just as you are.
Wherever you are on this journey of life
you are welcome here,
here in this place, 
here in this community, 
here at this table.
Come, children of God, 
come and remember with us.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

More than I Can Be

When God tells Moses to head back to Egypt (which he has wisely left after committing murder there) Moses replies, ‘Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?’ It seems a fair question. At the moment, Moses is no more than a fugitive from justice hiding out in the wilderness, pursuing the lowly occupation of shepherd to his father-in-law's sheep. But God sees in Moses what Moses cannot see in himself. Requiring him to remove the sandals from his feet, God grounds this experience of holiness in the very soil from which every human has come. With no barrier between Moses and the earthy reminder of all our beginnings ("from dust you have come and to dust you will return") Moses is simultaneously brought low and lifted up. 

On Ash Wednesday at UniPlace we each received the sign of the cross on our foreheads to these words: From dust you came and to dust you will return. On the journey between, go with God. Standing on holy ground, Moses' call is grounded in God's passion for justice and his identity is lifted high, to be more than he thought he could be.
 Josh Groban
Josh Groban

Turn Aside and Look

When I walk into a restaurant or store, I admit, I am usually focused on my own agenda and may not look side to side. This sometimes results in offending someone two feet away, trying to get my attention.

Today I was reading Exodus 3:1-15 and was struck by the words, Moses said, "I must turn aside and look at this great sight." The great sight was a burning bush, ablaze but not consumed. We know the story. The bush was a revelation of God's call for justice and liberation. By choosing a diversion from his own agenda, by turning aside and looking, Moses opened himself to the risky business of answering God's call.  I wonder what it will take for me to interrupt my daily routine and notice what is two feet away, hear the cries of God's people, and receive the summons to action.

Here's another verse from our theme hymn for Lent, Ours the Journey:

Through the flood of starving peoples, warring factions and despair,
who will lift the olive branches? Who will light the flame of care?
God of rainbow, fiery pillar, leading where the eagles soar,
we your people, ours the journey now and evermore.

Ashes, Ashes

As a child I played the game "ring around the rosies" and delighted in the final twirling of the circle as we sang, "ashes! ashes! we all fall DOWN!" Then we would release our hands and tumble to the ground.

Every Ash Wednesday as I mix the oil and charred leaves from last Holy Week's palm fronds, this chorus fills my mind. I think of the humiliated disciples of Jesus who fled when he was arrested. I think of the fallen preachers and teachers who didn't live up to the expectations others had of them. I think of my own failures and remember, "we all fall down." Tonight as I smudge the foreheads of people in my community, people I love who make my journey more precious, my heart swells with grace knowing we are, every one, twirling in the same circle.

Journey Into God's Presence

For our Ash Wednesday time of worship I have set up guided prayer stations throughout the sanctuary. At this one I set out a rosary, a candle, the cross which usually adorns our communion table, stones, and a cut paper art piece I acquired from a nun/artist at Kentucky's Lorretto Mother House retreat center 32 years ago. While on a spiritual retreat at that Catholic institution I first discovered the gift of centering prayer. Each item on the table reminds me of important markers on my own spiritual journey.

The rosary was a gift from a dear friend and Disciples clergy colleague in Atlanta who knows the deep joy of a disciplined prayer life. When I see the candle I remember the countless youth functions, congregational retreats, Sunday worship, and private devotions when I lit a candle to remember God's presence in that place. The cross from the Lord's table reminds me of the central place of communion in our worship life and the cross' shadow on the wall draws attention to the sacrificial nature of divine love. The stones bring to mind walks on Lake Michigan beaches, picking up stones and fossils, contemplating the vastness of life on this planet and its evolution over millennia. God is there, too. The simple cut paper art is titled Into the Light, reminding me that prayer may call me first into the reverent darkness of a quiet sanctuary only to bring my soul back into the light transformed.

Journey Partners

Our sanctuary at UniPlace

With Lent fast approaching it has been rewarding to prepare our sanctuary for the holy season. Looking through beautiful banners we have used in the past, we found these lovely ones created years ago by Mary Wallace. We were able to modify them for our Journey theme. Don't they look great!?

The first word we added to the banners was "Ours." Notice the plural. In our individualistic society we easily fall into thinking that the spiritual journey is a solo pursuit. Christ calls us into partnership.

As part of our visioning process the whole church is called into discernment together this holy season. We are forming teams of 3-4 folks who covenant to pray together about once a week with and for one another and with and for the rest of the church.

Join us on the journey as we listen for God's call to mission and ministry. Here is another verse from our theme hymn:

Should the threats of dire predictions cause us to withdraw in pain,
may your blazing phoenix spirit resurrect the church again
God of rainbow, fiery pillar, leading where the eagles soar,
we your people, ours the journey now and evermore.

The Journey Is Ours

Do you know where you're going? I've been asked that more than once when I've gotten behind the wheel.

On Sunday, February 15, folks at UniPlace were invited to join the visioning team of our church on a journey toward transformation. We are asking that question of one another, as a church on the journey.

February 15 I began a sermon series titled "Ours the Journey." I took the title from a hymn in the Chalice Hymnal by the same name. As we seek a clearer picture of what God calls us to do and be in the future, the first verse of that hymn speaks volumes:

In the midst of new dimensions, in the face of changing ways,
who will lead the pilgrim peoples wandering their sep'rate ways?
God of rainbow, fiery pillar, leading where the eagles soar,
we your people, ours the journey now and evermore.

With God's help, this Lenten season of prayerful discernment will help us determine together where God calls us to go next. Join us on the journey!