Between the calling and the blessing

If ever there was a week to hold the newsfeed in one hand and the Bible in the other, with your mind in your heart and your heart in God, this was it. Let’s see what the word of God has to say to us today.

We’ll start with Micah, because I love Micah, the prophet himself and the words, especially Micah 6:8, which feels like a little 8 word gospel.

Micah was a small town guy, if not a farmer then from small farmer stock. I picture him kind of like my dad, short and stocky but brown and strong, with scarred up hands and sun-squinted eyes.

Micah was a mad farmer … not the first and not the last. He was mad people were getting pushed off their land and squeezed out of their markets by dishonest business people. He was mad about greedy priests and crooked preachers. And Micah was furious about a royal regime that connived to further oppress poor people.

I know what you’re thinking. And you’re right.

It’s also good to know that Micah loved his people … and his God. Even though he could get exasperated with them, too. Which is how he sounds here in chapter 6, quoting people who feel put out and ripped off by the never-ending demands of their high priests getting between them and God:

“With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”

Naw, Micah says.

He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

We can just see him, standing there in a field with his farmer friends. “Let’s keep it simple,” he says. “That’s hard enough.”

So … here is Micah’s call. Not original, but simple enough that even I can remember it. What does God ask of us? That we do justice … love kindness … walk humbly with God.

And when you think about it, this gospel-in-a-nutshell is not too far off what another prophet said about 800 years later. When the Pharisees were making Jesus crazy with questions, he said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind … and your neighbor as yourself.”

There you have it.

Love the Lord your God … i.e., walk humbly with God.

Love your neighbor … i.e., do justice.

Which leaves loving kindness … as loving ourselves?

We all do that, right? Be kind to ourselves? No? Okay. Well … tell you what. We’ll come back to that.

Because we’ve kind of jumped to the end of Jesus’ ministry, and our actual text for today is from the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, the beginning of his Sermon on the Mount.

The Beatitudes … a set of blessings. Now, like my chef friend Deb, I want to tell you about the food before you eat it, so you can notice the finer points.

  • The Beatitudes are declarations … they declare an objective reality, not a subjective feeling. It’s not that we feel this way: it’s that things are this way.
  • The Beatitudes are performative. The saying of it, the naming of it actually establishes that it is so. When Jesus says, “Blessed are …” he is making it so.
  • The Beatitudes are invitational: we can’t hear it without wanting to live toward what God has declared but which has not come in its fullness yet.
  • Finally, the Beatitudes are community language. These blessings cannot be fulfilled outside of the community.

And, like the connection between Micah 6:8 and the love commands, there’s a connection here between the calling of Micah’s mini-gospel and these blessings. Let’s look.

The call is, do justice … Because “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. And “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.

The call is, love kindness … Because “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. And “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. And “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

The call is, walk humbly with God … “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. And “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

So … here’s my question … what is between the calling … and the blessing?

Well, I think we are. If the calling is behind us, and the blessing is before us, we are right here, in the between.

So, is there something we need to do, in response to the call, to get the blessing?

Yes … and no.

Remember, these blessings are declarations, in fact annunciations of what is, simply because God is, not because of anything we’ve done. Because God is … here and now … love is, here and now, and always.





That is the reality we live in, all the time, whether we feel it or not. The beatitudes are not feelings. They are the reality of God’s love, filling us and finding us always.

So. It’s not that there is something we need to do to get the blessing … it’s now that we know it is ours, what is our response?

Because, as Eugene Peterson, author of the Message Bible translation says, that is your prayer. He’s riffing on Karl Barth, saying “when you pray you don’t ask God for things. You pray to listen, and then when you’ve listened, you can hear God speak, and take you into paths you never thought about. So, God speaks to us, and our answers are our prayers.”

I’m reminded of what Abraham Joshua Heschel said, after walking with Dr. King at Selma: “I felt my legs were praying.”

Are our legs praying? So that God’s love and grace, that goes before, comes after, and flows through every moment, can wash up against hate and division and exclusion?

God’s love surrounds the orphan, the alien, the widow … God’s comfort surrounds the man who’s lost his wife … or his mother … the women and children and men walking in the millions for justice, who felt their legs were praying … the student caught in an airport waiting room … the family taken off a plane after two years of vetting …

the Jesus whose family fled to Egypt as political refugees knows your pain …

the God who lost his son knows your pain …

and the Spirit of this God is with you in your pain, praying with you and for you in groans too deep for words.

That is God’s word to us. Our response is our prayer.

What is our response?

We do justice for the poor and outcast. We love kindness, for the grieving and the aghast. We strive to walk humbly with God, with word and witness and work.

And we can do more, can’t we. Just this morning, many of us are remembering those fateful words of Leviticus 19: 33 When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. 34 The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.

Maybe, like me, you had friends who went to airports and said God’s no to oppressing the alien, who risked persecution to say yes to sanctuary and welcome and comfort for all.

Yes, this God is calling us … to make of our life together a sea of love washing up on the shores of a dry and thirsty land, a flow of God’s beatitudes.

What shall we say together?

Blessed are the undocumented … for you shall find a home with God.

Blessed are the unsheltered homeless adults, children and teens … for God shall be your mother eagle, your sheltering hen.

Blessed are the trans folk … for God shall give you an everlasting name that shall not be cut off, beloved Child of God.

Blessed are the queer ones, for God finds you altogether beautiful in your creative joy.

Blessed are the Muslims, for God will reward your faithfulness with courage and mercy and abundance.

Blessed are the Jews, for God never forgets God’s first love.

Blessed are the Black lives and the Latinx lives and the lives vibrant with color and culture, for God has made your sacrifices a living grace for all.

Blessed are the refugees, for God will give you sanctuary … and so will those who love, honor and obey God.

Blessed are the allies, for God is working out your salvation with you through your fear and trembling.

Blessed … blessed are you, for your desire for God, your holy discontent, your wordless longing is your prayer. Walk humbly in it, with God, all the days of your life.


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Pray always. Don’t lose heart.

The story we heard from Genesis  a little bit ago is probably my favorite Jacob story, although that’s not saying much. Jacob is such a trickster, he’s just not my favorite guy in the bible. He does have some cool dreams; the angels on the ladder thing was pretty great. And this story … well. I am glad to know I am not the only one who only seems to catch sight of God in the rear view mirror … isn’t that how it is for most of us? We only recognize God was there sometime after the fact?

Who among us has not been in Jacob’s dusty shoes, sleeping on a stone pillow, tossing and turning in fear over the coming day of reckoning? Wrestling all night long, desperately seeking peace of mind, body and soul?

Genesis says Jacob was wrestling with a man … Jewish midrash says it was an angel … on the morning after, Jacob swears he was wrestling with God’s own self, and has survived … although he’s walking away out of sorts, and limping.

I’ll say this for him; Jacob doesn’t give up. When his sparring partner hollers calf-rope, says “Let me go, it’s daybreak,” Jacob says “Nope. Not until you bless me.”

Which may be why we get this story with today’s Gospel reading … Jesus is telling a story to say something about prayer, a story with just this kind of insanely stubborn persistence.

“Pray always. And don’t lose heart!” Well. We’ll come back to Jacob. But let’s hear Jesus’ story.

“In a certain city, there’s a judge –” … who is not doing his job. The judges in Israel are supposed to be fair, and dispensing justice, especially for folks who can’t get a break. But this judge doesn’t fear God and doesn’t respect the people. So, we already know he’s not a good judge … maybe not a good guy at all.

And there’s a widow. Again, Jewish tradition has a lot to say about widows, all of which Jesus’ listeners would have known. Deuteronomy 10 gives it to us straight: God is the one who executes justice for the orphan and the widow and who loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing. In other words, in a patriarchal society where you need a man to protect and provide for you, and you have neither, somebody has to be looking out for you. If the community doesn’t do it, God has to. Right?

So, this widow comes to the judge and says, “Give me justice against my opponent.” And then she comes and says it again. And again. To this judge who doesn’t fear God … or respect the people. We might guess what would happen; in this case, we might be wrong. This judge says, “Because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her what she wants.”

Not because her cause is just. Not because she is a human being. Not because God said to look out for the widows and orphans and strangers … but because she is bothering him.

You might be wondering … is that it? That’s the story? That’s going to teach me something about prayer? That I have to pray and pray and pray and God may give me what I want so I’ll stop being such a bother?

I don’t much care for that. I don’t like thinking I’m a bother … or that that’s how God feels about me … or that God is someone I pester to get what I want. I’m honestly not crazy about that God … or that interpretation.

Well. Maybe thinking about the Jacob story for a minute will help. Remember, Jacob only saw God in the rear view mirror. Maybe we don’t always recognize God … or even know where to look.

Salvadoran theologian Jon Sobrino has a word about this. When you are trying to find God, and wondering where God is, look for the crucified ones. Just as God was present in Jesus Christ crucified, God is present in and with the ones being crucified today.

In natural disasters like Hurricane Matthew, it’s our poorest folk – whether in long-exploited Haiti or down-east North Carolina – who are flooded, lost, sick, crucified.

It’s our black youth, profiled from kindergarten on, excessively suspected and arrested and investigated and incarcerated, or just plain shot … crucified.

It’s our queer or otherwise different children, shamed, bullied, suicidal … crucified.

It’s our trans kindred, attacked, mocked, dehumanized … crucified.

Who is praying for and with and in the crucified?

God is.

* * *

Now. With Sobrino’s eyes, look again. Where is God, in the story of the widow and the judge?

With the widow. In fact, by Jacob’s logic, in seeing the widow, we have seen God.

God is the one crying out for justice. God is the persistent one, praying up front and out loud.

So … then … you might be wondering … who is the judge?

Whoever does not fear God, or respect people.

I confess … there have been too many days I have sat on that judge’s bench.

* * *

At the end of this story, Jesus asks, “When the Son of Man returns, will he find faith on earth?”

Yes. Yes, actually, he will. Because there is faith on earth. We see it wherever we see people praying like this widow, and not losing their hearts to fear or apathy or pity.

I think of Abraham Joshua Heschel, the rabbi who walked and worked with Martin Luther King, who said after Selma: “I felt my legs were praying.”

Are we praying with hands and feet, hearts and minds?

Many of us are … Binkley folk are working for living wages and against gun violence, caring for children and elders, caring for the earth itself. This is faith on earth.

I think of Alicia Garza, Opal Tometi and Patrisse Cullors, African-American women, two of them queer, who founded Black Lives Matter after the death of Trayvon Martin. In the words of Patrisse Cullors, “When you are working with people who have been directly impacted by state violence and heavy policing in our communities, it is really important that there is a connection to the spirit world. For me, seeking spirituality had a lot to do with trying to seek understanding about my conditions — how these conditions shape me in my everyday life and how do I understand them as part of a larger fight, a fight for my life. People’s resilience, I think, is tied to their will to live, our will to survive, which is deeply spiritual. The fight to save your life is a spiritual fight,” she said.

Are we praying to understand our conditions? To save our lives?

Many of us are … we study what it means to be safe allies and anti-racist white people, because we don’t want there to be anyone we can’t love. No one out there. And no one in here. This is faith on earth.

I think of Southern Freedom movement leader Ruby Sales, who says she “doesn’t hear anyone speaking to the 45-year-old person in Appalachia, who is dying [at] a young age, who feels like they’ve been eradicated because whiteness is so much smaller today than it was yesterday. Where is the theology that redefines to them what it means to be fully human? I don’t hear any of that coming out of anyplace today. As a black person, I want a theology that gives hope and meaning to people who are struggling to have meaning in a world where they no longer are as essential to whiteness as they once were.”

Are we praying to become fully human?

Prayer that is full of courage and full of faith sees those who are hurting, even when we are hurting too, and seeks their justice loudly, persistently, disrespectfully if necessary, because while the arc of the universe does bend toward justice it does not bend without all of us leaning on it and putting our backs and our hands and our feet into it, until we rise from our prayers limping because we have wrestled our way into our better natures, and our better future, the one we all need, the one God promised us.

Pray always. Don’t lose heart.

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Blur and Cross the Thin Blue Line

“We call the police the thin blue line. Let it not be a line that divides us.” – Eric L. Adams, NY police officer and guest columnist

Eric Adams describes his experience as an African American citizen and father as well as a police officer in blue uniform in this guest column; what can only be a painful intersection every day has become searing this week.

It reminds me of a conversation I had thirteen years ago with a fellow seminarian who was a former police officer. She was as intrigued with my background as a Baptist turned pacifist Mennonite as I was with her story, cop turned minister. Our conversation went from curious to passionate when we engaged the question of guns and violence. She spoke about her training to meet what she faced, and only escalate as needed to contain a situation. “What would you do,” she asked, “if you responded to a domestic disturbance, and walked into a house and found a man waving a knife at his wife?”

“Well,” I said, without having completely thought it through, “I wouldn’t want to walk into the house alone. I’d want 25 of my neighbors with me. I’d want us to put overwhelming numbers of people who care about both of them in the room. We’d need to be physically willing to put ourselves in the middle of the fight, and help each of them move away and cool down.” Her eyebrows went up. Mine did, too, as I contemplated being close to the knife, or whatever other weapons might be in the house.

“But there’s not 25 people. There’s one of me. Maybe two if my partner is there. Maybe four if we call for backup,” she shot back.

And therein lies the problem.

We as a society have created chasms of inequality and estrangement that benefit some of us at great cost to others. And those of us with privilege don’t care to know those oppressed, because we don’t want a claim laid on us: to listen, to care, to help, to be at risk in the way experienced by the one we paint Other.

And we draw a thin blue line between us, to keep us apart, to protect our Things, our Property, while the Lives on the line and the Lives on the other side of the line matter less and less.

For things to change, we will have to do three things.

  1. Lessen the pressure on either side of the line. Shift economic resources from the advantaged side to the disadvantaged side. Significantly.
  2. Add civilians from both sides of the line TO the line. Blur it with shades of other colors than blue.
  3. Reach across and through the line.

Sound impossible? Not really. What needs to be impossible is living through another week like last week.

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A prayer of breaking, and entering

cropped-p1010151.jpgHoly God

We make bold to call ourselves to your notice
before we have a chance to ask for mercy.
And yet, you meet us with grace
before a word is on our lips.

And so we come to your mercy …
We come, together, to bear together,
what none of us can bear alone.

Some of us are still weeping, Lord.
Some of us are still deep in night
and far from joy.
Be in our sackcloth and our sighing.
for you have promised that
even if I make my bed in Sheol,
you are there.

We pray not to be complicit in our silence, Christ,
so give tongue to our anguish.
We pray not to be culpable in our apathy, Sophia,
so enliven our feet and our votes and our wallets.
Break our hearts of stone, that your light
might enter in, melting us and our weaponry
into ploughshares of peace.

Like trees that stand in a wood,
we have no need or word to invoke your presence.
You are through all and in all, slayer and slain alike.
We grow toward the light of your love
and in the dark of your nourishment.
When we fall like leaves to the ground,
the wind of your Spirit bears us up
and dances us to rest.

Lift us now, Holy One,
that we might bear together
what none of us can bear alone.

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Invocation in the days of empire


O Holy God
In this season
when we are contemplating those
who would lead us
their gifts and their limits
draw our eyes and our visions
our minds and our thoughts
our hearts and our love
toward you.

Like Hannah, let us cry out to you
for our heart’s desire
Like Esther, let us respond to your call
with risky action.
Like Job, let us fall silent
at your majesty.
Like Moses, let our faces shine
with reflections of your glory.

Sing to us Lord, over the siren call of empire.
Remind us we belong to the earth
far more than it belongs to us.

You hold dominion over all the worlds
and all the ages.
What kind of God are you
that you are mindful
of us?

You reveal yourself to us in Christ,
vulnerable baby, dusty preacher scribbling in sand,
praying from the waves,
making breakfast for betrayers on the beach.
You loved us, and you love us still,
beyond our imagining.

And so you come to us,
wild and troubling Spirit
who inspires prisoners to sing
and then breaks their chains.

You come among us,
dancing fiery Spirit
through the locked doors
of our upper rooms
setting the fearful to singing
setting our stories free.

You move among us now
setting us to music
like notes of the most beautiful song
and then you give us to each other
a love song to the world.


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Out of the mouths of babes …

Meditation for UNC Chapel
World Communion Sunday
October 4, 2015

When I was a kid sitting in church, my favorite thing was to find a puzzle in the Bible. Which usually meant trying to figure out the length of a cubit. Our Psalm today has a puzzle in it … it’s the first praise hymn in the Psalms, and it’s full of wonder at the good gifts God has given us.

creative commons license

creative commons license

But there’s this funny business in the second verse:

Out of the mouths of babes and infants,
You have founded a bulwark because of your foes,
to silence the enemy and the avenger.

That’s odd. What does it mean? What comes out of the mouths of babes? What is a bulwark? And who are the foes?

Well, the first question we can get. What comes out of the mouths of babes? Cries! Babies sleep … except when they are hungry or wet or tired … and then they cry. We’ll come back to that.

What’s a bulwark? It’s a wall or a barrier, a defense.

Who or what is God’s foe? Old Testament scholars say God’s enemy is chaos, another way to describe the void that was the wild emptiness of the universe before God created light … and land … and love.

So … how can a baby’s cry become a defense against chaos?

Daniel Stern, an expert on infant psychology, says that chaos is how a baby experiences the world. A baby is its feelings: its hunger is a hurricane of feeling washing through everything, its tiredness is a torrent tearing the baby apart. A mother hearing the cries of her baby feels an instant response. Her brain begins producing oxytocin, sometimes called the compassion hormone. Her breasts produce milk, she reaches for the baby and gazes into the baby’s eyes. They bond in love, all over again, her nervous system regulating the baby’s system, with soft sounds, gaze, heartbeat, breath.

When a mother or father picks the baby up and feeds her, soothes her, this care is everything to the baby, turning her world right-side up and making everything okay. Kind of like the spirit of God moving over the face of the waters, soothing chaos into the order of creation. Just as there is deep joy and contentment in the parent caring for the infant, I have to think God felt deep joy, too, in God’s work of creation. Why else create, except to have something to love?

It is the cry, whether of a single baby or of a world in chaos, that gives God purpose and movement and a reason to care. It is our cry that triggers God’s creative, compassionate response, giving us – as Jesus says – the kingdom.

And this brings us to our reading in Mark. Jesus has been feeding people, like a caring parent. The disciples have been arguing over which of them is the greatest. The Pharisees have been fighting over which law is the most important. And then some parents come walking up to Jesus, bringing their children to Jesus so that he might touch them. And the disciples wig out, getting all stern with the mothers. See, in that time, children weren’t the point. They didn’t have Baby Baby stores and $200 strollers. A child was a non-person, until they were old enough to work or be married off. So, the disciples were completely in line with the times … but not with Jesus.

Let the little children come to me.

Do not stop them.

It is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.

Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God
as a little child, will never enter it.

And he took the children up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.

Jesus is following the law of the heart, the same heart as was in creation, brooding over the face of the waters, responding to the cry of chaos by creating compassion and comfort and care. The same heart that heard the cry of the Israelites in bondage in Egypt, and said “Let my people go.” The same heart that spoke through the prophet Isaiah, saying “Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands; your walls are continually before me.” (Is 49:15-16)

Jesus speaks from the heart of God when he says “Let the little children come. Do not stop them. Don’t stop the refugee children. Don’t stop the immigrant children. Don’t stop the children who don’t have enough to eat. Don’t stop the children who can’t bring themselves to eat. Don’t stop the abused children, the homeless children … do not stop them. Because all the children can do is receive. Everything they have is a gift.

The kin-dom of God, our belonging to God, this we need to learn to receive as they do … as gift. Unearned. Not about who’s first, or right, or wrong. Abundance, freely given. Gift.

This is the law at the heart of God’s world. God’s nature is an eternal readiness to give. Our nature is to cry out of our chaos. When we do, God responds. As Hagar said, God is the one who sees, the one who hears. God is a God of response. If we don’t cry out, God can’t be who God is. It is in our nature to need God’s love, and to cry out for God. It is in God’s nature to respond. This circle of love is the nature of the world created for and held in God’s compassionate embrace. Like a mother whose body aches to feed and hold her child, God aches to draw us near. And freely give. Thanks be to God.

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Improv (for) life, listening for justice

photo credit: Getty Images

photo credit: Getty Images

Whether we are facing personal conflict in our relationships, or leaning into the harder conversations of our society – like those around racial injustice and sexual identity – many of us struggle to listen to what needs hearing and speaking what needs saying.

Listening is a core competency for me as a pastor and chaplain, but I am finding listening also can be a revolutionary and democratic act: revolutionary in the sense that it can lead to transformation, and democratic in the sense that it is a responsibility that attends the right we claim to free speech. As Jacob Needleman sagely put it:

Inwardly, I have to work at listening to you. That means I don’t have to agree with you, but I have to let your thought into my mind in order to have a real democratic exchange between us. And that is a very interesting work of the human being, don’t you think?

I agree with Needleman’s thinking, and I also know I find all kinds of ways to not listen and not let the other’s thought into my mind, particularly when I disagree — or think I am going to disagree — with the speaker. (Of course, some “conversations” need to be shut down. But when they don’t, continuing to engage can feel stressful or even scary.)

I’ve found help in a couple of places. One help comes from the SAVI (System for Analyzing Verbal Interaction) approach to communications analysis, which suggests a way of engaging conflicted communication. In the SAVI approach, a controversial statement is met by the listener finding and naming three positives in what they’ve heard, and then opening up with a broad question.

This reminded me of the technique I learned at DSI Comedy for working with an improv partner’s offering: three key ways of doing “yes, and …” builds. To build on or heighten your statement (“We like ice cream!”) I can add a detail, emotion, or consequence of your statement.

Detail: “Yes, we like ice cream, especially chocolate!”

Emotion: “Yes, we like ice cream so much, we love it more than anything!”

Consequence: “Yes, we like ice cream so much, and if we don’t get it, we’re not happy.”

As you can imagine, these are also ways to connect in a situation of conflicted communication, when you might be hard put to identity three positives about a controversial statement or one you personally disagree with. This is common for me in my chaplaincy work, where I often hear a theologically tinged statement that I can’t agree with (but which it would not be helpful to critique in that moment). It is also common for me in political conversations. Here are a couple of examples.

Many times when someone is in a crisis situation, their reliance on their faith background may lead them to say things like, “I know this is part of God’s plan.” This can be heartbreaking when said in the wake of a life-threatening diagnosis, injury or even death. But I can’t just disagree; that would be like taking away a patient’s oxygen. So, how can I engage? Right. Three builds and an open question or invitational question … which might look like this:

“I hear you relying on God in this painful time.” (detail) “I am glad your faith is helping you.” (emotion) “This is such a tough situation; I might be having a hard time accepting it’s God’s plan.” (consequence) “Can you tell me more about how you are feeling?” (open-ended question)

I feel more connected to the person I am listening to – in the way Needleman describes – when I take this approach; I certainly have not shut them down or shut them out. Our conversation has a chance to continue; we may even get somewhere that may provide more comfort to the person.

This approach can work in situations of greater conflict in values, attitudes or behaviors, even situations where someone says or does something offensive or unjust. For instance, if you are in conversation where someone says something racist or sexist, one approach is to just call them on it. Sometimes the relationship (or lack of a relationship) may mean you need more nuance. Or maybe it’s just hard for you to speak up in these situations, and this structure can help you.

For instance, you may have heard comments like these recently: “I’m so tired of all this ‘black lives matter’ stuff, and crap about the Confederate flag. I mean, really, can we stop overreacting?”

If you wanted to use this technique, your reply might look like this …

“I can hear you’re tired of hearing about racial injustice.” (detail) “I can only imagine how tired people of color are, of bearing the brunt of our racist society.” (emotion) “I see people, African Americans and trans people of color in particular, pay with their lives … and I feel the need to respond, though I don’t always know how.” (consequence) “I wonder who you listen to about these issues?” (open ended question)

The point is to find places where you can identify a detail, feeling or consequence in their statement, or in your own stance.

Which, of course, means you first need to listen. I did not know when I took my first class how fundamental listening is to good improv. In fact, it is the heart of the game. When the leader calls out, “Players, are you ready?” … the unspoken part of the question is, “… to listen?”

And in listening, to hear each other into our truer, better, more joy-full selves.

Yes! And … ?

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Week of Righteous Resistance

SURJ_color_logoShowing Up for Racial Justice is an organizing/activist group I follow and support. The following is drawn from a response they have developed for white people of faith against the burning of black churches; I hope you’ll find it useful. Let’s do everything we can to interrupt and prevent the next assault on black humanity.

SURJ is co-sponsoring the national  Week of Righteous Resistance (WORR) beginning this Sunday, July 12th and ending on Saturday, July 18th.  Please join us and our partners at the PICO Network and others by organizing or participating in one or more of the actions this week, found in this new Action Kit for White Communities of Faith.  It includes resources from 15 faith traditions as well as resources for participating in the week of action.

Our focus continues to be on centering black leadership in this moment and engaging more white people in moving from what do I do (individually) as a white person to how can we, as white people, collectively be showing up and dismantling anti-black racism and white supremacy. Please join with faith and lay leaders in this week fo action and use these resources to bring our whole selves into this struggle for our shared liberation.

In struggle —

Dara, Sam, Meta and the whole SURJ team

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No cheap grace

The key to life abundant, y'all ...

Old idea. New struggle every day.

Most of us are struck by the words Emanuel AME members speak to Dylann Roof, words that speak peace to the man who killed their loved ones, words that attempt to redeem pain by the example of a loving and suffering savior.

Without a doubt, offering this grace came at a significant cost: to rise out of the ashes of pain and show lovingkindness in this moment was an expression of the faith that has saved the lives of these people, and given meaning to years of racist oppression as well as the strength to continue to bear it.

As a white person, I don’t want to hear those words of forgiveness and feel anything more or less than called to rise to my own work: which is not to demonize Roof as so very different from me, but to understand the roots of white supremacy in the ground of my being, and continue to do my best to pull them out.

I don’t want to hear those words and think they mean I am okay and I can live my white life, without wondering every day what I can do today — not to merit that grace, but to keep from cheapening it.

The Christian faith I share with these saints not only offers grace and forgiveness, but calls me to do something with that grace and forgiveness. What am I forgiven for? How is my graced life meant to transform? Where will my love for these neighbors and the God who created us show up?

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Rachel Dolezal, Dylann Roof … and us

rachel roof

What does an impersonator of blackness have in common with a white supremacist?

Warped white responses to the racialized reality we live in. One rejected the white race card she was dealt and wrapped herself in an appropriated black life; the other rejected the humanity and right to life of black people.

White people, let’s not kid ourselves. Let’s not be distracted by psychological evaluation of these particular pathologies. Let’s wake up and realize racism is our problem, and we are only shades of denial away from this kind of crazy on the continuum that is white supremacist culture. Until we get a critical awareness of this reality and take responsibility for transforming it, these insanities will only continue, because they arise from a craziness embedded in our very soil, air, water, history.

I am too brokenhearted tonight to say more than that … I have written so many words, so many blogs, articles, books … and they have made so little difference.

I won’t stop; I’ll keep speaking whenever and wherever I can. But I have to confess, I have wearied of words, and rely on the real gestures I can and do make every day.

I make eye contact with, speak to, and respect every person of color I encounter in the hospital where I work and out in the world. I privilege the patients of color. I teach my fellow staff and chaplain students about social location and power in ministry, so that I can teach them about white privilege and how it warps us, as well as how to love through it and despite it.

I speak up in my white church, and offer myself as an educator. I will go anywhere and teach anyone the lessons I have learned about how to be an anti-racist Christian and how to move a church toward an anti-racist stance. And no, I don’t make money at that, because — as Andrea White said — we should not profit from oppression.

I have done my best to raise anti-racist kids, since I helped bring two more white people into the world — at the very least, they are race- and privilege-conscious. The stance they take will be up to them. I fuss with my loved ones and friends and hold my own stance — in a way that can be heard if possible, and if not, then annoyingly.

And none of it is enough, none of it, none of it. And I will keep on, with the little bit within my reach, over and over, every struggling day and every broken-hearted night.

I don’t let the fact that I can’t undo white supremacy keep me from committing each day to doing my part to dismantle a corner of it. I do use my personal pain to connect me to others who are OUTRAGED, FED UP, DONE with with deadliness of what racism does.

We can’t un-become white. We can’t win anything of lasting value through violence.

We can — and we must — change what whiteness has come to mean.

We can — and we must — change what whiteness does.

We can — and we must — change.

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