The Church gives us Lent as a time to change, to become a better version of ourselves, and to become more like Jesus. This season is an invitation to a Spiritual Practice.
The Church gives us Lent as a time to change, to become a better version of ourselves, and to become more like Jesus. This season is an invitation to a Spiritual Practice.
This story is a moment in Jesus’ journey that is vital. It is the moment for which is he known.
It’s one of the most important stories of our faith tradition and a moment that is often overlooked. The mystery, is just too hard to explain. So why tell the story? It is the mystery, that I have been so drawn to, for me it is where the faith lies.
Here is a gal that was raised by the UMC. Not just raised but nurtured and cultivated for many years. The UMC afforded me gifts into ministry...I mean big gifts. I would not be a pastor without the remarkable experiences I had within the UMC community. I think of them often. I think of the local church I came out of. I think of the crazy awesome programming I was a part of and glean from in my own ministry today. I think of the mentor after mentor I had during my college years. I think of the people, oh, the so loving people. This gal, was also never taught to be exclusive. There was not one part of my upbringing in the UMC that I felt that God did not love all people. So, this news is sad. Devastating, in fact. An institutional failure, for sure. So, today and tomorrow I will put energies towards other big news of our LGBTQ community this week. Because if the UMC taught me anything it was to put my faith into action. I will pray for those in Washington doing the good work of resisting injustices by testifying before the House Armed Services Committee fighting for the rights of our transgender soldiers.
Onward my friends, we have work to do.
We did this thing at Black Forest Community Church beginning January 1. We decided to hire an Interim Director of Music and Arts. I will be honest and tell you that this is the first in many years that BFCC will be funding a full-time pastor- me. It will be a stretch for both positions. But, you can't have church without music and art so when the previous choir director resigned we crafted a job description with high expectation, low hours and low cost. It's a bit of a risk. Mandy works with me each week on worship, liturgy, themes, hymns and special music. We meet downtown at the Wild Goose Meeting House. She also rehearses with our choir of fifteen or so every Monday evening. A large choir for a church membership of 65. Mandy's hours with us are approximately 7 hours a week. Though her expertise brings more than double those hours, especially when Russ joins her. She will be with us every second Sunday of the month while maintaining her full-time role at a large downtown UCC church.
I have known Mandy for almost a decade. We worked together years ago and when I left that congregation, I said "we will work together, again." I did not know how or when or what that would look like. I walked into the sanctuary this past Sunday, preparing the space for worship while Mandy and her partner Russ led rehearsal. My eyes welled up at the music of our choir. I looked at Mandy and hugged her tight. I wouldn't let her go. I whispered prayers of gratitude and love over her shoulder. Russ finally pried us a part and said there is business to do. Mandy laughed at the shock of my tight hug. It was out of character. Probably because Spirit was moving in a different way. My eyes stayed wet with water throughout the whole service. There would be moments when I would glance at my mom or my best friend and even the children in our space through eyes on the verge of tears.
The waters in my eyes were the blessings of my baptism coming in the form of vision- literally.
I wanted to thank her a million times for sharing her gifts with me and us and all of them. I wanted to thank Russ for sharing of himself. His art and his presence. I wanted to thank the large downtown church for sharing a piece of themselves with the little church in the Black Forest. And, I mostly wanted to thank BFCC for being a place where we can experiment. For trusting in God, in the way that they do.
This is a special place, I wanted to declare.
It is special because Jack is running back and forth through the circle to share with his parent. This is special because the members of this community are sharing vulnerable stories out-loud. This place is special because choir members are crying at the sound of music. This place is special because the tears shed are the blessings of baptism coming in the form of vision- literally.
There were so many people I wanted to say hello to these past two days. And, not just hello,
but how are you?
what's your story?
what do you think of this and that? A hundred or so RMCUCC folks (lay, church workers and clergy) showed up in Denver to a conference called Congregations Alive.
I try to air on the inclusive Jesus. Every time.
This week, I reflected on biblical interpretation and the theologians that I have drawn from.
I would have called Bana. My college roommate from 1995-1999. We lived in a small dorm room, for all four years. She now lives in Cali with her husband and baby. Bana is from Cherry Hill, NJ. A suburb of Philly and NYC. I am from Fairfax, VA, a suburb of D.C. Two city gals that ended up at a small private school settled in the Blue Ridge Mountains of WV. I guess they thought we would be good dorm room mates. And, we were.
Bana taught me a lot about what it was like as a black young women. Though none of it was explicit teachings. Only experienced as we did college together. Things like Tae Bo classes, late night hot cocoa runs, Chinese restaurant dives and the local town bars. We were in our early twenties and we did not know about the words or terms, systemic/institutional racism and white privilege. Bana still taught me about her world, what it had been like before college and what it was like in college. The word ally wasn't used either. I was her friend and she was mine. Perhaps I was her white partner on a particular part of her journey as she was my partner too. How fortunate. For years after college, Bana called me every month. I was having babies then and was underwater with exhaustion.
Instead I called Beth. She put me on speaker phone while she did the dishes. Her college-age daughter Amelia held court on the speaker phone, while her husband Bill chimed in. I have talked to Beth multiple times a day for many years. She too, has taught me about her world. Her world of being a white mama and raising bi-racial children. Three girls. We talked for about an hour as I drove home from Denver after a workshop called Sacred Conversations on Racism this past Friday.
Mostly I talked about the video we watched on the origins of homo sapiens. Science tells us that modern humans originated on the Continent of Africa and it is where humans became civilized. I also told her about conversations I had that day. One Jamaican women suggested within the context of a larger conversation "black people are getting tired of teaching white people how to do this." Meaning, how to diversify, how to welcome, how to undo systemic racism in this country. I was jarred by this. And, have sat with it for the past twenty-four hours.
I also told Amelia about the author we listened to that wrote the book White Fragility: Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism by Robin DiAngelo. DiAngelo was hilarious and made jokes about white progressive people. She did this because it gave levity to the crowd of white progressive people as she talked about racism. I will be downloading this book next.
We were all reminded (the white progressives in the room) that we are all racist. Multiple times, in fact. It was hard. It still is hard. Step 1 of a 12 step program: Who cares to admit complete defeat? Practically no one, of course. Every natural instinct cries out against the idea of personal powerlessness. It is truly awful to admit. Even the most well-meaning white people are drunk on racism. It is our countries addiction and illness. We are so drunk and sick. Even, when we try, we can't see it. This is what addiction looks like.
And, then I talked to Stephany. Just for a minute. With whisky in hand, I said, I have got to talk to you about this workshop I did with the racial justice minister of the UCC. It was hard, because I, too, have white fragility. Because, I am Marta, and I am racist. Stephany is a lovely, powerful, educated and a political black women. Most of all, she is faithful. She said something like, I guess it was not about white-people's feelings. And, then I took another sip of whiskey.
Step 2 of the 12 step program: Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. Sacred conversations happen when we acknowledge God at the center and all the love that God brings. Sacred conversations happen when we not only acknowledge God's love but then recognize that love as safe. I remembered my friend Bana and then talked with my people. I am deeply grateful for Bana and Beth (and all her people) and Stephany. People I trust and see and then hear. It is in those moments that there is a Power greater than all of us working to restore our racist insanity.
This week I write with a humbled heart. This week, in rural El Paso County, I sit in my little church among the Ponderosas and falling Aspen leaves and pray. This week.
Before Thursday. Before Sunday.
On Tuesday, I began to engage Micah 6:8. Do Justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God. The Rabbi last night quoted Jeremiah. Be righteous and kind. Because this week required the voices of the prophets.
On Tuesday I began to craft a sermon on Micah 6 using the stories of our country on that day. A day when our government risked navigating human dignity and equality of our Transgender siblings. Siblings, because we are all children of God. Related in love and compassion. Related in hope and mercy and most of all a ton of Grace. All of those things being the blood of faith;
shed for us,
blessed for us,
poured for us in remembrance of who we belong to...each other. I began that day with wonderings and musings not knowing what lie ahead.
Friday morning, I sit to write. I write about requirement. I write about covenants. I write about the stories of our bible. Neither is there Male, Nor female, for you all are all one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:28. I write about the stories of our world. Did I mention, it was also the last Sunday of our Stewardship Campaign? I write about these things and then I write about the importance of investing in a community such as this, in times such as this.
Saturday morning-Saturday afternoon and then into the evening. Seventy-two hours of hell. Defeat. The valley. The world turned upside down, feeling like eternal torment. Living fiery portrait of the devils world. Theology of hell at its best.
Mail box bombs. Racism. Antisemitism. Mass shootings.
Had the events of our transgender community upset the empire? Then, they came home to their white, male, wealthy, cisgender kingdom to "kick the vulnerable (dog)." Perhaps misplacing their grief of a world fighting against dominance? Kicking the opponent, kicking the marginalized, kicking the ones with historical trauma. Kicking the ones that don't claim power and privilege in this place and time? When someone in power over you forces something upon you, and you in turn force something on someone under you. Might this be, what happened?
Sunday, I preached the sermon, I wrote Friday morning. Though, I did arrive early to church. I gathered eleven white candles, a plate full of t-candles, matches and a hymn of grief. I sung the singing bowl. We sang the hymn together, lit the candles and brought heaven to the hell. Replacing the empire with God's Kin-dom, if only for an hour.
This is why we invest in a place such as this, in times such as this.
We were talking about the PRAYground, the Mid-Week Ministry on the first Wednesday of the month and perhaps a new idea called Faith Lab Centers during fellowship hour. It's not youth group and it's not Sunday school but it is faith learning. As one wise women in the church said: "it's Jesus outside the box."
When she said that I imagined a crayon-drawn- box moving in thin air while Jesus danced on the outside of it's perimeter. There was a little word bubble above Jesus' head that said: Gottcha! You can still know me outside the box.
Many questions have been asked in the past few weeks, since discontinuing (at-least for now) the traditional Sunday School model at BFCC. Sunday school, created at the industrial revolution, to teach children how to read, has changed in pedagogy (in some ways) but stayed the same in model (mostly). These children spent their days in the factories working and, so Sunday and church was a perfect place to be educated. After the industrial revolution church-culture thrived. It was one of the main sources of entertainment, activity and tradition for nuclear family. Sanctuaries over-flowed. Providing "age-appropriate" church for children in a "traditional" school manner. Sitting at tables or desks reading the bible is how Sunday school was always done and would continue. For several generations these children got stars for learning bible verses, knew the parables and memorized the hymns. This form of faith learning, worked for some and turned off others. Some returning to church with their families as adults and some not.
Did it teach them about God? Who God might be for them? How they might relate to God in life's darkest moments? Did it teach them about the person Jesus was and how we might be followers of someone like him? Did it teach about Jesus' passions, his prophecy his wisdom and how we might use those teachings in our daily life?
I loved church so much as a young person that I entered an undergraduate program in Christian Education. And, the program, taught us how to examine traditional Sunday school curriculum. It taught us sophisticated ways to organize a Christian Education program (particularly in large congregations). It taught us how to train others to use the traditional Sunday school curriculum. It also taught us about the liturgical calendar, story-telling and what to do with a "one-room" Sunday school. It taught us that one size does not fit all.
Over the past couple of decades education has changed. Families have changed. Young people have changed. The church Sunday school model...not so much. And, we measure our success and failures from this traditional model.
The idea of multiple intelligences is recognized, we value process over content, experience over curricula. Our families are no longer simply nuclear. Capitalism is at an all-time high, meaning education is competitive and extra-curricular activities provide no time for faith-education. Parents have less time with their kids and whole families less time together. Churches are shrinking and when families want to go to church on a regular basis they often don't want to be sperated (once again) from their kids. By the way, the adverage church attendance of a whole family is once a month. Not enough to learn a bible story, embody it and apply it to their lives. The adult Sunday school teachers are exhausted and lack creativity. They too don't know how to apply God to their personal story and share it with our young ones. Recruiting dedicated teachers that want to teach faith, is hard.
Why are we putting Jesus in a box?
None of this is an excuse to not offer anything for families with children and youth in the home. It is an opportunity to think about other ways we can teach faith. It is an opportunity to be radically hospitable for this time and this place. The same women who provided the Jesus outside the box image said, "just by entering the faith community, Spirit is activated, and God is known. What more do folks want?"
The reason that I wanted to work in the church was because of my experiences. But, what I will tell you is that I don't love Jesus because of my third grade Sunday school class room. I love Jesus because there were adults in the church that took an interest in me. I love Jesus because the space felt like a sanctuary from the secular culture. I love Jesus because I went on mission trips and to soup kitchens. This is where I met Jesus. I had an interest in the teachings of Jesus because I served a Sader dinner one Lent, volunteered in worship and generally felt like I belonged. That I mattered. That feeling of belonging...that was God. I did not encounter God in a Sunday school classroom and by a traditional curriculum. It was in the activity of the church, that made me fall in love with the work of the church.
What can we create that is faith learning but not Sunday School and not Youth Group...?
When will it not become a failure if a Sunday school program does not work exactly the way it worked twenty years ago or even fifty years ago? When can we take Jesus outside the box?
An older gentlemen came to my office. He asked to meet. Though, when he entered, I immediately began talking. This is what happens when you are used to a large full time staff. I had been sitting in the Old Log Church for several hours in my cozy office (heated with a small space heater at my feet), watching the snow flurries turn on and off outside. It was magical but I welcomed the company.
"The Lord will provide," he said to me on a number of occasions and on this day too. Easy for a successful business man and accountant to say. On some days I am an ESTJ. For those of you who don't know the Meyer's Briggs personality test, it means: extroverted, sensing, thinking and judging. Apparently, today I was this. So, along with verbally processing the workings of the church, I was also a little skeptical with the phrase, "The Lord will provide." I might have inwardly rolled my eyes. "Okay," I say. Then I paused. "That should be my motto," I said. Then I imagined (because sometimes I am an INFJ, introverted, intuitive, feeling and judging) painting the phrase on a large board and bringing it to every board meeting, committee meeting and small group gathering. Placing it in the center and lighting a candle. I also might have imagined getting a t-shirt and across the front, I would have printed "the Lord will provide."
The problem is that my love language is: acts of service. Yes, the Lord will provide and, what are we going to do? How are we going to be in service to each other. How we going to act in order to move the organization forward? To his credit he also said, "the Lord will provide," means "we" will provide, the church will provide.
He really came to visit me because he wanted to tell me the things he wants me to stop doing and the things he wants me to do. Because, my love language is acts of service, I can do all the things... sometimes. A humbling moment for me as I held my breath and received the professional feedback. He had a file of papers and our church budget, scribbled notes and typed thoughts, so he could remember to impart all of his wisdom. And, he did. And, there was something about him beginning with the phrase "the Lord will provide" that disarmed me. For one of the first times, I was able to fully receive feedback. He ended his time with me saying, "I might not be able to offer Spiritual service or worship leadership, but I can offer this." I responded, with slightly misty eyes, "this feels spiritual to me."
The work of a small church is saying "the Lord will provide" all the time, printing it on signs and making t-shirts with large words across our chest. The work of a small church is being reminded of this over and over again because the Lord will provide. We will provide. The church will provide. This, my friends, is the Sacred Season of Stewardship.
It was church of the arts. It was also church of hope and grace and love. Mid-week church is the best.
Texas is hot like hot yoga in Colorado. This is Nevertheless She Preached, Part II.
I might have found my people. I say that tongue and cheek because I did not really talk to anyone. I was that church-goer that drives every pastor crazy. I would sneak in the back, right before the next lecturer or worship began. I then, enjoyed every ounce of word and music and visual. I would even salivate with hunger for more, yet nobody knew. Because, I also wanted to be on retreat.
I wanted to enter the hot yoga studio, be grounded or rather devoured by the immense heat. Sit in exhaustion, inviting the rest. Move through the ritual of sacredness, inviting every sense to feel all that is holy and sacred. And, then let the demons loose because that is what heat does, it loosens the pores. And, as it turns out, so does Texas. Everything got real in Texas.
constructs broken down,
ego questioned and of course my curly hair gone wild. Heat can do that.
The thing about women....is that, I can say that these are my people, without a conversation because they bring all the senses. All the feels. I walked into University Baptist Church and before a word spoken, knew this trip was worth it. The outside of the church (picture below) non-descriptive but intentional. An old Safeway turned house of worship.
In every space there was a chandelier. Did you know that the prisms of a chandelier throw off rainbows? And, did you know that many lights (aka crystals) represent the earth's purest and highest form of energy, which is also a source of abundance? Every space in the old Safeway or rather this house of worship had a different and unique chandelier. Symbols of hope and an abundance of source was sensed without a word spoken.
The words of one Latina "I am too much" spoken the last morning. Yet we sat in a church that was way too much. Red-walled bathrooms, zebra print youth rooms, saints adorning every corner, non-traditional chandeliers and their over abundance of source.
Women are too much because we have pushed the boundaries of patriarchy in the church. Women are too much because we emit too much source of love and affection and emotion. Women are too much because we are loud with laughter and tears and bodies that move with creativity. Our stories pour out like rainbows thrown by chandelier prisms.
This was professional days well spent. With deep gratitude to those women leading and practicing radical love.
Next year (2019), Austin, Texis, September 22-24
I am at a conference called Nevertheless She Preached. Two hundred women, whom, I assume preach. Want to preach or are learning to preach. Maybe they practice preaching each week or are just generally interested in the ideas that come out of preachers and their preaching-style.
This past Sunday, the guy who was going to tell the sacred season of stewardship testimony called "Let's Talk About Money" couldn't make it.
We decided to go apple picking on Labor day. Work for someone, recreation for us.
Have you ever noticed that the advice you give your best friend, the words you say as a parent or the sermons you preach to a congregation are often words that you need to hear yourself?
I am not sure if I like being within and surrounded by an Aspen grove more or being within and surrounded by diverse people in an urban setting. The dense and populated life of both terrains gives me energy.
When the hour came, we took our place on the streets of Colorado Springs, one of America's most conservative cities. We stood with all those who have been marginalized and all those who suffer.
A newspaper reporter, journalist interviewed me yesterday. As it turns out, he already new everything about me.
This summer I got new red couches to go with my red house, red dining room wall and red glass tile around my fireplace. This summer the red petunias in my front window box have never been so vibrant.