Wednesday, November 26, 2014

An Advent Call to Worship for St. Louis & Ferguson

I know in the coming days I will start blogging again but for now I want to share liturgy I wrote today for worship this Sunday (the 1st of Advent) in my downtown St. Louis congregation.  I searched and searched online to find worship resources for a community dealing with the aftermath of the kind of devastation we've suffered in the last week here in the St. Louis area.  I found nothing! Great theological discussion is popping up using #StayWokeAdvent on Twitter and also on the website Theology of Ferguson.  Worship resources were much harder to find. Los Angeles riots were pre-internet boom era so obviously I wasn't finding anything from CA churches online.  

I hope by sharing this publicly I can lighten the load for other worship leaders in our community just a little. Use it, adapt it, share it, if it works for your context.  It is based on the popular Advent hymn O Come, O Come Emmanuel and includes a line from an article written by my very gifted friend and member of my church, Bill Powell.  If you know of other relevant liturgical resources please feel free to comment below with links.  

An Advent Call to Worship for St. Louis & Ferguson

Based on O Come, O Come Emmanuel and words from journalist William Powell

O come, Desire of nations, bind in one the hearts of all mankind; bid thou our sad divisions cease, and be thyself our King of Peace.

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

O Come, Be our refuge, comfort us as we weep over the ashes of our broken city, ‘tears for what we’ve lost, for what we don’t know how to find.’  

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

O Come, Great Counselor, guide us on, as together we move in expectation toward the birth of our Savior; may we labor for the birth of a new St. Louis.   

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel 

Friday, August 29, 2014

Raising non-racist kids in an almost-all-white town

“But discussing racism isn’t really relevant in my context because my whole congregation is white.”  What!?!  I cringed when I heard those words spoken by a seminary classmate as we discussed ways to use Spike Lee’s film Do the Right Thing in young adult ministry. To my classmate the idea that his all white community “back home” needed to have a discussion about race seemed totally foreign.  If there weren’t any people of color in his rural town, why bother discussing racism?   Discussion of racism is only relevant in a diverse setting, right?! 

Are you kidding me!?  Of course I spoke up, I tried to be respectful and speak in love to his ignorance but my anger was evident.   Afterwards the only person of color in the small class came to me visibly shaken and thanked me for voicing what she felt she could not without being labeled, as she said, “the brown girl playing the race card.” 

You may not think that discussions about racial equality matters in your town or in your household but they do, especially if you are raising children.  As one of my colleagues in ministry recently stated at a District clergy meeting, “We’re all just one police stop gone wrong away from having a Ferguson in our town.”  

I grew up in Kentucky, moved from town to town to city and back again.  I experienced rural white life, with only a small handful of African American students in my entire 8th grade class.  I then moved and began 9th grade in the largest and most diverse high school in the state, but that’s another story for another time.  The point is I understand that some Caucasian children growing up in small town America literally only interact with people of other races when on vacation, if that.  Raising your kids to be “good people” is not always enough to keep them from developing fears that may then spiral into racist ideologies.  

So how do we do it?  How do we raise non-racist kids in almost-all-white towns?   Here are some of my thoughts with links to far greater resources than any I could ever come up with on my own.  

1.  Start talking! 
Just because you don’t live in a racially diverse area does not make it any less important to talk to your kids about race and racism. 

In her blog Rage Against the Minivan, Kristin Howerton, a Marriage and Family Therapist, mom of an interracial family, Christian, and hilarious blogger has some amazing tips for getting the conversation started. Check out her posts How to Talk to Kids About Race and Racism and Resources For Talking To Kids About Race and Racism   
2.  Make story time a little more colorful!
What stories your children reading? Are all the main characters white? 
If your children aren’t able to build relationships with children of other races or cultures due to demographics of your community literature is an excellent way to help children make new “friends.”  

One of our 16-month old sons favorite books is Whose Knees Are These by Jabari Asim.  My husband and I agreed it is important for our children to see other faces looking back at them from the pages of their books from a very young age.  These images are shaping their impressionable young minds.  I’ll admit the first time we read it aloud to them and reached the words, “so brown and so strong, to whom do these fine knees belong” it seemed a little strange, as if as pasty pale white people we weren’t allowed to make this story our own.  To our boys it’s just another story about a little boy on his momma’s lap that makes them smile with glee when we reach the end and finally get to see the boy standing tall across the vertical page.  However, to us it is a chance to instill in them the beauty of all skin tones, the value of all bodies, and the simple fact that black bodies matter. 
For more storytime books with African American characters check out this list compiled by a children’s librarian.  More extensive lists exist but this is a good start!  If your public library is not stocking diverse books, consider speaking up and requesting that they do even if the books you are requesting don't reflect the culture you live in.  
3.  Pay attention to leading roles in the movies & television shows your children watch. 
Is your little girl (or boy) obsessed with Disney princesses?  Make sure she (or he) sees
The Princess and the Frog not just the princesses that look just like her.  Cartoons like Doc McStuffins and Little Bill may not seem like a big deal, your kids are probably already watching them, but they matter.  Our children need opportunities to break out of a world of sameness. If opportunities to do so in "real life" are hard to come by, why not build empathy and relatability by watching diverse cartoon characters?  

4.  Diversify the toy box.
It’s great to find a doll that looks just like your kids, that’s part of the reason American Girl dolls are so popular but if your kids rarely have the opportunity to play with children of another race why not diversify their pretend playmates? 

It is not only okay to buy a doll of a different race for your child it is a good idea. This image of Angelina Jolie & Brad Pitt's white daughter holding a black doll got a lot of attention and started a firestorm of conversation. 
In her article Why It Matters That Angelina Jolie’s White Child Plays With Black Dolls Keli Goff talks about the positive influence white children playing with black dolls can have on others stating, "the simple act could raise cultural consciousness and promote positive self-esteem for girls of color." My boys have dolls so in my opinion the same can be said for boys as well!  
For more ideas of culturally sensitive toys that promote diversity go here.  

5.  Live by example!  Become a white ally to black people.   
I spent much of my childhood living in almost-all-white small towns.  So why did I become so passionate about racial equality?  My greatest influence was my father who lived by example as a white ally to the African American community.  Hands down one of the most helpful articles I have seen come from aftermath of Ferguson is Becoming a White Ally to Black People in the aftermath of the Michale Brown Murder by Janee Woods.  Please check it out and read carefully through the details of her suggestions to; 

1. Learn about the racialized history of Ferguson and how it reflects the racialized history of America.  2. Reject the “He Was a Good Kid” narrative and lift up the “Black Lives Matter” narrative.  3. Use words that speak the truth about the disempowerment, oppression, disinvestment and racism that are rampant in our communities.  4. Understand the modern forms of race oppression and slavery and how they are intertwined with policing, the courts and the prison industrial complex.  5. Examine the interplay between poverty and racial equity.  6. Diversify your media.  7. Adhere to the philosophy of nonviolence as you resist racism and oppression.  8. Find support from fellow white allies.  9. If you are a person of faith, look to your scriptures or holy texts for guidance.  10. Don’t be afraid to be unpopular.  11. Be proactive in your own community.  12. Don’t give up.

Have more suggestions for parents living in rural or almost-all-white small towns?  PLEASE leave a comment below! Let's learn from one another & keep this very important conversation going.  

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Politics or Devaluing Life? Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, and the US Soldier

I am angry. I am sad.  I am troubled.  Why are some brothers and sisters in Christ using the death of a young black man to further drive home their distrust and disdain for President Obama?  As a resident of North St. Louis County I can tell you firsthand that the death of Michael Brown is NOT a liberal vs. conservative fight to be fought.  So why then are people trying to make it one?   The fact that Obama chose to send a White House representative to the funeral of Mike Brown seems to have a great number of conservative social media users upset.  

Comparisons are being made to the funerals of fallen law enforcement officers in photos like this…

And once again the name of Trayvon Martin is being drug through the mud with photos like this…

There are those that say we live in a post-racial society.  They say, “race-baitors” want us to believe otherwise.  No true Christian wants to believe that prejudice lives within them.  No true Christian wants to believe they themselves are “racist.” However, racism at its most basic form is the belief that one race is superior to another.  It means valuing one life over another.  

Is the life of a soldier more valuable than the life of a young black man?   

Is the life of a police officer more valuable than that of an unarmed civilian? 

Even still, is the life of a police officer more valuable than that of an armed criminal? 

Still not understanding what I am saying?  

This is the face of a parent that just laid his child to rest...

This too is the face of a parent that just laid her child to rest...

See a difference?  I don't. Grief does not discriminate. 

If you, my Christian brothers and sisters, believe in the value of life from conception to the grave and beyond, then please, I beg of you, STOP using ANYONE’S death to push forward your own smear campaign. ALL life has value thus every life should be respected in death.  

Matthew 22:37-40   “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the greatest and first commandment.  And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

Thursday, August 21, 2014

God is STILL Moving: A Sermon in Response to Ferguson

Well friends it's certainly been a while!  Welcome back.  Many of my friends have reached out to me asking me to express my thoughts about the crisis happening in my own backyard.  You see I live in Bridgeton, MO better known as North St. Louis County, or the Greater St. Louis area.  While I serve in ministry in downtown STL I live just 10 minutes from Ferguson.  So this is my official return to blogging.  The following is the revised manuscript of what I preached Sunday 8/17/14 at Centenary United Methodist Church, St. Louis.  *Revised because typically I don't write a word-for-word manuscript to preach from but rather use bullet points.   It is impossible to express in words the passion that was expressed through my voice and body language on Sunday.  Nonetheless here it is. Thank you friends for encouraging me to raise my voice through the blogosphere. 

If I’m really being honest I haven’t prayed this continuously since my son Connor was in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.  As a youth minister I have felt tortured and am certain we all have stories of how this week has affected each and every one of us. I hope we’ll begin to share those stories with one another today.

Our community is in the beginning stages of Grief, first denial, for those unfamiliar with what it’s like in our black neighborhoods, “not in our community, not in our backyard.” Then anger, anger toward the horrible injustice, anger toward the response of police, anger toward the looting, anger toward the lack of answers, anger toward the way our community is being depicted around the world in the media.  The anger of a population of people who feel ignored and undervalued, of young people that fear for their lives and feel they have no voice.  Anger of mothers who wonder if their black sons will make it home from a walk to the store today.

So how do we begin to look at the complexity of this horrific week?

Where do we go from here? 

The task of a preacher is to proclaim Good News. To bring Hope. 

Where do we find good news in this situation?

What hope is there in any of this? 

Where do we see the movement of the Holy Spirit? 

Where is God at work in the midst of this nightmare? 

Because deep down I know that God must still be moving…

Honestly I had no idea what I was going to preach this week. I felt a little helpless, until the other night when Captain Johnson came into authority.  As a 40-year resident of Ferguson he promised to demilitarize the police presence, to walk and talk with protestors.  And though it didn’t solve everything, there was a very different response from crowds that night. It was a lesson for us all...Peace comes when we truly listen to one another, when we truly see one another.

People need to be heard, to truly be seen.  So how do we do that?

Yesterday Rachael and I answered the call put out by clergy to come together for a prayer walk in the Canfield Green Apartments, where Michael Brown was killed.  We gathered for group prayer and then were asked to spread out into the community to stop, listen, and be a presence for residents. 

As we approached a group of young men I said to Rachael, “Don’t feel bad if this feels strange or awkward…even some of the pastors feel that way” 

That night I went home and thought a lot about just how scary that can be for people. Especially the first time you do something like that, walking up to total strangers to extend care.  It takes practice and so I think we need to be practical today with our theology.  So I’m going to talk about 3 steps we can take to move toward truly knowing our neighbors, listening to one another, and hopefully being a small part of bringing unity to our community. 

1. We have to recognize our fear of strangers, our fear of “the other.”  From a young age we’re taught about “stranger danger” which is a very good thing for children but doesn’t really work for adults in a Kingdom Culture, people who are trying to live and love like Jesus. 

I don’t know what caused officer Darren Wilson to shoot Michael Brown multiple times, I have my theories based on hearing so many witness reports, however, I do know that there is a pattern in our nation of violence against young black men, often based out of fear, a reaction to fear.  As a former youth minister that spent the 3 years prior to moving to STL primarily working with black teenagers the thought of someone fearing a young man simply based on his dark skin makes my stomach turn, my blood boil, and causes me to shake with frustration, but I know that it’s a reality we have to be honest about and deal with. 

Martin Luther King Jr. said,  “Men often hate one another because they fear one another.” 

I think if we are honest about who or what we are afraid of and begin speaking about it, we cast light into darkness and expose it, we can begin to deal with it and heal and move past it. 

1 John 4: 18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear;

It is God’s perfect love extended to us that transforms us into people who are able to love others as we were first loved by God. 

We have to allow God’s light to shine into the darkness of our fear of others and expose it and talk about it. It’s time to get real, and get honest, brutally honest and face up to our fears. You may have grown up hearing “don’t trust the police”, or “don’t trust the immigrants”, or the black people, or the white people, or the rich people, or the poor people, and you know it’s wrong but those thoughts still linger deep in the back of the darkest places of your mind. We need to allow God’s light to expose those dark places and start talking about them in a safe environment. 

2.  Begin to see others as children of God and as God sees them…

In the book Jesus and the Disinherited Howard Thurman uses the example of Jesus’ interaction with the woman at the well, 
“He met the woman where she was, and treated her as if she were already where she now willed to be.  In dealing with her he “believed” her into the fulfillment of her possibilities.  He stirred her confidence into activity.  He placed a crown over her head which for the rest of her life she would keep trying to grow tall enough to wear.”

When we see looters do we refer to them as the scum of our city, or dumb thugs coming in from the outside, or are we able to look past their indiscretions and see that even they are hurting, misled, misdirected young men and women?   

Friday night there were young men that stood and blocked the looters with their bodies. But still the temptation among these young men had to be so strong to join in, and the temptation to fight back against police that were facing them down again with tanks and weapons drawn had to be intense.  Some of the young men peacefully protesting did grow tired of the force they saw from police and began to try and face off with them.  Alderman Antonio French, who has become a household name in our community through this crisis, is known for his work with youth in North County, in the midst of this face off grabbed some of the young men and looked them in the eyes and said, “you’re better than this. I believe in you. You have a future. You’re better than this.”

He believed in them and they lived up to his expectation and backed off. 
He saw them as valued human beings capable of a future better than what a few angry youthful mistakes could result in. 

If you hear me say nothing else this morning, let me tell you what pastors have been saying all week,  Black Bodies Matter.  Young Black men matter! 

Seeing all people regardless of our fears, or their indiscretions as children of God is not an easy thing to do, especially if we have grown up with an ingrained hatred or distrust.  The good news is we aren’t the ones changing our outlook toward others, God is.  Romans 12:2 says, Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Be transformed.  It doesn’t say go transform yourself, but BE transformed, allow God to begin to renew your mind and transform you.  Give God the power and Let God do the work of transformation.  I think we can all agree that there are prejudices we hold that we need to turn over to God.  Maybe they have nothing to do with race but instead have to do with politics, or social status, or even differing religious views.  God can transform our minds to love like Christ.  

3.  Extend Hospitality to Strangers and Enemies. 

As we begin to see others as children of God, regardless of their actions. We can then begin to extend hospitality to others.  Radical Hospitality as we often call it.   

In his book, I Was A Stranger, Arthur Sutherland talks about the task of hospitality toward those we consider to be strangers and even enemies.   His definition of hospitality: “In the light of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and return, Christian hospitality is the intentional, responsible, and caring act of welcoming or visiting, in either public or private places, those who are strangers, enemies, or distressed, without regard for reciprocation.” He writes, “Christians were once both strangers and enemies to God who now have been brought into relationship with God through an act of divine hospitality.”  He goes on to say, “The more clearly I see myself as having been once an enemy of God, as having been once far from God, the more I see my reason for being hospitable toward others.”

This means the hard stuff, that won’t happen easily. It means extending hospitality to ALL people whether they are looters, thieves of cigarillos, or even police officers that kill unarmed teenagers.  Notice I didn’t say “forgive them” I said, practice forgiveness because forgiveness isn’t always a once and for all action on our part it is something we need God’s help in, continuously, as we work through our own anger and distrust with the situation. We have to continuously turn it back over to God, knowing it is God who will to work God’s love and grace through us.  

This is the radical message of Jesus that is so completely countercultural and such a turn off to those who feel they have to hold on to their hate.  The hate is what fuels us, or so we think, when in actuality it is the hate that will eventually eat us alive from the inside out.    

4.  Listen to one another. 
People simply need to be heard, to be truly seen.  We cannot understand our brothers and sisters unless we are willing to LISTEN. 

When Captain Johnson listened, things changed. 

Last night someone posted something so relevant to this on Facebook about her day at the prayer walk…

“As we were leaving the prayer walk in Ferguson today, my daughter up on my husband’s shoulders still holding her sign, we approached a small group of African American teenagers on the sidewalk near the QT. One of them, with a football player build and a baseball cap says to us, “Excuse me…”
We stopped, and he said, a bit timidly, “I like your sign. It’s so simply made, but it says so much.” We said thank you, the teen offered up his forearm for Josh to bump, and we went on our way.
It was then that I really looked at the sign, that I at first thought was just made with whatever poster board was readily available to our freshly moved friend and saw what this young man saw…2 white pieces, 2 black pieces, taped together with the word EQUALITY written across it. And that’s when the ugly cry started, mercifully behind my sunglasses.
What if we hadn’t stopped when he spoke to us? What if we listened to all those years of voices that told us, That’s how people get robbed. One person distracts you and the others will rob you. Don’t listen. Don’t stop. Keep walking. I’m so glad we stopped to listen to what he had to say. We all need to listen more, even if we are afraid or it’s awkward or uncomfortable. He might have been afraid to talk to us nerdy white people, to compliment our sign, to look silly in front of his friends. We could have been afraid to stop because they were black teenagers, dressed how teenagers dress, looking how teenagers look. Because no matter how conscious our efforts to not judge, we are all dealing with years of biases and stereotypes and media feed that just.won’t.go.away. It won’t just disappear; it will take work and courage and self-examination and effort and dialogue to have actual, meaningful encounters with people who are different than us, to not just pat ourselves on the back because we have friends who are a different race, or because we live in a city with a diverse population, or because we don’t use the N word, so we can't possibly be racist. We have to listen. We have to HEAR. And we have to LOVE one another. Peace.”

Powerful powerful lessons are being learned right now.  Discussion that has been needed for decades is happening.   God is still moving!

Realistically I know that the steps I’ve laid out may seem impossible when we are facing injustice, anger, depression, and all the high emotions that go into a week of watching our community fall apart with the eyes of the world on us.  And maybe it’s too soon, I honestly don’t know.  But we have to start somewhere. 

The truth is none of these steps are possible if we aren’t growing in our relationship with Christ.  Because it is only through Christ that we are able to see a stranger, or enemy as created in the image of God.  It is only through Christ that we are able to seek justice while still forgiving unthinkable acts of violence.  It is only through Christ that we are able to extend hospitality to strangers and enemies and truly begin to listen to them, even when we don’t agree with what they are saying or are deeply wounded by their words.   

Colossians 3:12-17
12 As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. 13 Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

When Paul writes, “clothe yourself” he is referencing the idea that when we accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior we are stripped clean by God’s grace and forgiveness, we are given a new life, we let go of our old self and now need new clothing. And so this clothing we are now to put on as new creations following the way of Christ, are compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.  We are to bear with one another, bringing our grievance to one another, sorting them out and forgiving one another freely just as Christ first forgave us.  Paul goes on to say, “Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.”  It is this love that empowers us to see others as God sees them.  “And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body.”

We can’t extend that peace to others if we ourselves cannot find peace from within.  This week has been hard to find peace within, I’ve spent many nights unable to sleep as I am sure many of you also experienced.

Peace comes in recognizing that Christ is still on his thrown as Lord, and though we may not understand all that God allows to unfold we cling to God’s promises of faithfulness and daily cast off our fears and lay them at the foot of the cross.   And daily we seek ways to extend that same love and grace we’ve received to our neighbors, strangers and enemies and then work together in unity for justice and peace for all. 

In the Benediction/Close of the service I encouraged the congregation to stay and fellowship with one another over a meal (as we do weekly) but this time at our tables focus on discussion of two questions:

What fears have you struggled with this week? 

How can you be a peacemaker this week? 

Wherever you are reading this, PLEASE start talking and more importantly start listening.  God is still moving, stirring conversations and movements that can lead to true healing in our communities.  Thanks for reading.  

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

TODAY- A "New" Mom's Declaration

Today I will trust my instincts and do what I think is best as a “new” mom. Today I will let the dog clean up the baby food that is stuck to the kitchen floor.  Today I will not freak out every time said dog drags in debris from the yard and simply consider it nutritional fiber for my boys.  Today I will let the dog lick clean the prunes from the babies’ hands and faces and save myself the trouble.  Today if a baby finds a dog bone I will consider it a teething toy instead of breaking my neck to get it away from him for fear of grossness and God only knows what germs.  Today I will tell the new UPS guy to STOP knocking during naptime, or any time for that matter, and I will do so without brushing my teeth or hair first so as to drive home the fact that this desperate woman means business, old UPS understood.  Ain’t nobody got time for the new UPS guy! Today I will use naptime to eat whatever is edible and doesn’t have to be prepared, rest, and watch mindless television because the dishes can wait yet another day, it’s winter the bugs are in hiding.   Today I will eat lunch BEFORE my boys do because feeding twins takes forever and I refuse to feel miserable all day because I have neglected my own self-care!  Speaking of self-care, today I will let the babies cry while I use the bathroom because I just CAN’T keep “holding it” any longer! Today I will not stress out over a full diaper if no one is crying because wet pants can be laundered and I have a full stock of Desitin if a rash starts to emerge.  Today if I catch one of my babies staring at the TV I will not turn it off or try and engage him in something more “interactive” I will let his brain temporarily turn to mush and try not to worry about him developing ADD later in life.  Today I will remember that the Mongolian baby in the movie “Babies” seemed to turn out ok after eating rocks and climbing in cow dung.  Today I will laugh at irrelevant advice given to me by parents of singletons rather than getting annoyed and resenting them for how much easier their life with a baby seems to have been.  Today I will remember that “new” moms of singletons or twins ALWAYS “get it” because they are in the trenches and haven’t forgotten the vulnerable state all new parents are in. Today I will stand up for Mom’s of NICU babies when I read insensitive comments online with phrases like “you’re going to be a great Mom” –Newsflash: said person is already a great Mom making life or death decisions on behalf of her child/children daily!  Today I will let myself cry when heart broken over the fact that I can’t hold both teething babies that are crying in pain at the exact same time and I will allow myself to mourn the fact that neither of my children will ever get to experience the special attention that comes with being “the baby” of the family but rather will always be “one of the babies” while home alone with Mommy.  Today I will accept the fact that I am doing the best that I can and that just has to be good enough.  Today I will accept that love and grace cover a multitude of “new” parental mistakes. Today I will remember to trust God more than I trust myself to care for my little miracles.  Today I will remove the word “new” and refer to myself simply as a Mom, a “real” Mom.