My city senses that the world is watching us as a pivotal battleground for urgent racial reckoning. Nonetheless this does not take away the initiative of each and every one of us to do our part in overcoming white supremacy. Violence to people of color has happened for centuries, but the current crisis demands that I examine my white body consciousness like no other time. I live in a transracial family and reside in a diverse community, but I would be fooling myself if I didn’t see the blind spots of my own prejudice and the reality of inequity in the environment in which I live and move.
She said, “In the midst of discomfort, in the midst of uncertainty, God is saying take my hand and do something. There’s a role for everybody to play. Each and every one of us is responsible for doing our part. What is not an option is sitting back and waiting for someone else to do what God has called us to do. With everything going on, God is asking us, ‘how are we in service to God?'”
Civil rights movements are opportunities for everyone to get involved. This is not the work of any one particular community. This is our work. This is our time. This is our world, and it is time to contend with injustice in the way that our God calls.
When I was 22, I ventured off to Washington DC to live in community in inner city DC with seven amazing women in the Lutheran Volunteer Corps. My placement was a vibrant place of ministry called Bread for the City, which proved to be transformative in ways I had no idea were coming.
One of the first clients assigned to me was *Celia, a large black woman with a wide embrace and wide smile. She welcomed me with literal open arms, a big hug from a big woman with a big heart. Many times I visited Celia’s one bedroom efficiency in a tough part of DC. I could see right off the bat that she was not lacking for clothes. She visited our clothes closet daily, and clothes filled every spare corner of her tiny living abode, including lamp shades and chairs. I also concluded that she was not in need of food, as she had access to our food pantry. She also had Medicaid, and was a regular patient at the free medical clinic at Bread for the City. So my quandary became, what was I supposed to offer to Celia? I had what I thought were good ideas (hatched from all my life experience as a white girl from Iowa). Every time I pitched an idea to Celia, she would rear back her head and laugh- “girl, all I really need are some pictures of Jesus.”
When I finally resigned myself to the fact that Celia knew something deeper than I did about what was called for in these times, I began the great hunt to find her some pictures of Jesus. I enlisted all my housemates to help find pictures of Jesus in thrift stores using our limited volunteer corps monthly stipend.
When I finally encountered the big prize- a large portrait of Black Jesus with his hands outstretched, I knew Celia would approve. I brought it to her efficiency one afternoon, and her words were these: “you finally believed what I really needed.” Her eyes filled with tears, and of course she held me in a big warm embrace. I felt a flood of satisfaction, that I had been a part of this project that Celia ordained of finding Jesus in thrift stores in Washington DC.
I share this story in the backdrop of the Passion Palm Sunday, against the story of Jesus asking for a donkey to ride on the road into Jerusalem where he knew he would face his death. There are just so many ways that I want to question Jesus’ sense of what is needed at this time, and a donkey is just the start. Why a donkey? Why Jerusalem, with all the Roman soldiers and the controversial temple? Why the fanfare in the procession where Jesus rode the donkey? Why the death? Why not fight back? So many questions are raised in the Passion story, and so many ways that I want to question Jesus’ authority about his sense of what was right in these times. Could there have been another way? A less painful way? A way with more ease? A way without a cross, without a death? My mind wanders to all the alternative ways that salvation comes about, ways without all that suffering, the blood, the trauma.
Enter Simon from Cyrene. Simon is the one who becomes conscripted by Roman soldiers to carry the cross for Jesus, a job that certainly I would never want to have to do. He develops a unique role in this story of murder, an unwitting accomplice in this event that is about to unfold. He becomes part of the procession, part of the problem, part of the story. I would imagine that there were a hundred other places Simon would rather be.
I find myself in this Passion story, not truly able to distinguish what role I want to take on in this story. Should I stand at the sidelines, and cheer on this popular hero? Should I carry the cross and become an accomplice in this death sentence? Should I stand and jeer at the crowds, and mock Jesus’ followers? Am I in actuality a Roman soldier, being a participant in the killing process by what I either do or omit to do? Am I one of the robbers on either side of the cross where Jesus hung, who committed real crimes that may deserve real remuneration?
The Passion story surfaces all the ways that I feel conflicted about my role in relationship with this suffering servant named Jesus. I don’t know whether to stand with the crowd, loan him a donkey, insist on serving him some water, commit a nonviolent protest, or what. I am left feeling a little like I felt with Celia. What have I truly to offer? What am I willing to receive?
Simon of Cyrene, ordered by the Roman soldiers to carry the cross, did not really have much choice in the matter. Carrying the cross was both a burden and a gift. Those of us in privileged positions are often given more choice about how we show up in the world. We are also given choice about the kind of relationship that we want to have with Jesus. Maybe Jesus is your friend, or your wisdom teacher, your messiah, your critic, your guide, your confidante, or he may be merely a literary figure that you have heard of- the range of relationships with Jesus is wide. But no matter where you land on the spectrum of affinity to Jesus, the Passion Story invites you to consider your role in this scene of injustice and murder.
Many of us, myself included, may not be as heroic as we wish that we were. For example, I may feel fine about waving palm branches in a parade as Jesus and the awkward donkey ride by, but ask me to counter the Roman soldiers who await him, and I go weak in the knees. Others among us have much more experience in countering Roman soldiers, but they may not be as skilled at standing at the foot of the cross as Jesus dies.
We are all asked to figure out our role in this story of God that is unfolding. We don’t have all the answers. Goodness knows, I did not hold the answers for Celia, as she knew herself exactly what she needed and how I could show up for her. But we are given clues along the way, if we truly listen.
In this season of the pandemic, as we are beginning to come up for air, we may sense a cavern of grief and loss inside of us. I felt it recently inside my parents’ home where I had not been for a year. I acutely sensed the loss of a whole span of a year. Our spirits have been tested, and we have all walked the road to Calvary, some with more loss than others. How do we show up for ourselves with self compassion? For our loved ones? With our faith? With our faithlessness?
I have a friend named Susan who works in mental health and lives along the ocean. I listened to her give a talk a few weeks ago, and she shared about the practice of beach combing when the tide recedes. What is left behind is often anyone’s guess, when the tide goes out. Random sunglasses, strewn garbage beaten by the surf, creeper crawly things that burrow in the sand whose names I don’t even know, sometimes jellyfish, sometimes beautiful shells, sometimes wampum which Native people used to trade for currency, and sometimes- if you are very lucky, beach glass. Beach glass is shards of glass worn by the pulsing of the ocean into a very smooth, very beautiful piece. A receding ocean leaves behind debris, but there is the occasional gift of seeing a sparkle in the sand.
Celia inspires me as I think about this time looking ahead and rebuilding our society in months to come after the upheaval of pandemic and racial reckoning. She was a woman who knew her own trauma, but she also knew her own needs. She knew what she truly needed to feel healing and love in her life. It was a good laugh, a good hug, and some images of the Jesus who walked with her through her own Calvary.
May there be sparkle in the sand amid the debris. May we trust in our own callings that come forth from deep within, but listen for what is most needed. May we embrace self-compassion as well as compassion for friends and strangers in our midst.
In this season of the cross, in this global season when we will look ahead to social recovery- how will we mobilize our faith, our resources, our spirits, our compassion? When we are asked like Simon of Cyrene to carry the cross, what will we do? What is our relationship currently with this suffering Jesus of the cross? What do we lay at the foot of the cross from our own lives?
Love has its prickly side- the times when love is not reciprocated, when love changes from what it began, when love does not meet the deep need of the heart. Valentine’s Day brings up not just sweet, romantic feelings that cards and candy represent, but also emotions like anguish, longing, and brokenheartedness.
February 14 was the the due date of our first baby Gabriella who ended up being born far too early and never lived to see that Valentine’s Day that we had awaited. Love has its losses that seem sometimes too much to bear.
The loss of that time has made its mark on me, and shaped me in ways that I could never have imagined. Loving Gabriella has been a lifelong adventure, with its joys and sorrows like any other relationship. It has changed me indelibly, etching its mark on my heart in a way that my other two children have also done to me. I will never forget standing at the Pacific Ocean knowing that we were going to lose our first baby, seeing the power of the ocean billow repetitively and with such strength. With my hand on my belly, I could not reconcile the power of creation, and the powerlessness that I felt and that I perceived my baby felt.
What I learned in the many years following this loss is that true love remains a part of one forever, even in different ways. To me this is testament to higher love, a love that has to do with the infinite and the universal. This higher love allows me to trust that even painful love can metamorphosize into something new with patience, persistence, and support. I hope that Valentine’s Day can commemorate that kind of love too.
Photograph used by permission from Karla Twedt-Ball, “Prickly Pear in Texas”
We have arrived at the end of 2020 as a people waiting for light.
Light bearers come when things are at their lowest ebb: they are nurses who hold goodbye ipads for families bidding farewell to their loved ones. Light bearers arrive as an eddy of hope: they are the first responders who hurry toward the fire instead of away from it. Lightbearers faithfully appear with good courage: they are our janitors, they are our child care workers.
Light bearers use energy to provide hope for others, but they do not extinguish this energy in the effort. While holding lamplight for others, they acknowledge that their energy is much more than their own personal light. They are aware of Inner Light, of communal Light, of Light beyond.
Light comes with the Christ light in this season, and we are told to let our light shine. In this way, we become lights in the windows for others. Sometimes we are that lighthouse, and sometimes we scan the horizon to find our own lighthouses. We take turns being lights for each other.
May Light find you on this cusp of the winter solstice, in the midst of this pandemic, in this year 2020. May you be well, may you be at ease.
Image from Ansgar Holmberg firstname.lastname@example.org
We begin lighting Advent candles this week, and the first candle represents hope. Not sure about you, but I have been borrowing hope from people from the past – ancestors, prophets, and rebels. And borrowing and lending hope back and forth with my faithful coworkers at the hospital where I work during this pandemic.
December is a dark month, and living well in its darkness asks for a combination of grit and hope. I once asked my childhood friend Missy what it was like for her to be blind. She told me that she sees sparkles, and that provides some beauty. She held my hand when we walked to the park, and she took courageous steps.
These days, we are all finding our way in the dark. None of us really knows what the next months will be like. Barbara Brown Taylor has talked about a “lunar spirituality”, which embraces the dark and needs darkness as much as light She believes darkness provides opportunity for growth and nourishment. In the darkness is a beginning, the seed hidden in the soil.
May you find sparkles of light in this darkness, and hope enough for your circumstance.
The Dayenu is a Jewish liturgy with a powerful refrain: “It would have been enough…”
Imagine the Dayenu seeping into our lives. Enough time, enough love, enough resources. Enough for all of us, enough to share.
Throughout my life in work in impoverished communities, I have witnessed bold people practicing this ethic in a philosophy of: “You make do with what you have.” I heard it again last week from a mother describing plans to create a special holiday for her child even despite hardship.
Practicing gratitude in the midst of a pandemic asks a lot of us. Worry and concern can overshadow gratitude. The practice of Dayenu offers a lens to experience a healing perspective. It honors that which is “enough” and offsets the experience of missing what we do not have.
An image of Dayenu stands out from a time when my family visited Guatemala. As we came up to a bus stop at the top of a steep mountain path in Antigua, we came upon a community well. A large family gathered around washing their clothes in the well, talking and laughing together while they did their weekly laundry. No one seemed bothered by the work at hand. They simply seemed to be enjoying each other’s company. It was enough to be together on a beautiful mountain with each other.
What is enough in your lives at this time in history? How do you live your life so that others have enough? The Dayenu regrounds and refocuses. May it be enough.
I have the unique ability to grasp a Daddy long legs by its spindly legs and gracefully move it from a sleeping bag in the tent to the great outdoors. In my family there is a general fear of spiders, and I am chief spider remover in the household. I inherited this skill from my mother, who was the relocator of spiders in my family of origin.
Fear is in the air these days, and it is not just Halloween. Partly the pandemic, partly the upcoming elections, partly the need for racial reckoning… all the unknown in our season forthcoming. Some people are energized by fear. Others do all in their power to stop fear from being a factor in their lives. We move back and forth on a pendulum of courage and timidity. Hard times increase a desire for comfort; however, voices in our society are simultaneously demanding change.
I have always been drawn to the phrase from the Bible, “Perfect love casts out all fear.” To me, it illuminates a quest to move us beyond and through fear, and arrive at something new. I imagine love as an enchantment that convinces fear to become its better self. Bravery does not require sweeping strategy or large scale impact. Sometimes fear is cast out simply by walking through the front door.
Spiders will exist long after the pandemic, as will racial inequity and poverty. While it may seem prudent to wait this out, to bide our time, there is a deep societal plea to rise to the occasion, to summon our energy in the face of deep need. May we begin even now, in what seems to be a scary season of our world to find inner resolve, communal agency, and courage that lies within our grasp.
Photo Credit: Maia Twedt, Night Sky in Lake Atitlan, Guatemala
So much pressure to accelerate, as if speed were the archangel of our human experience. Taking a sloth day implies great waste. Priority is placed on expedience, productivity, output. Measuring our lives in accomplishments becomes the yardstick by which we make choices, and by which we develop relationships.
What value is there in simply existing, simply being? Are we sacred by the very nature of having breath, of filling space, of being a person? Or do we in essence have to earn our keep, fulfill a function?
Rick Hanson in his book Resilient: How to Grow an Unshakable Core of Calm, Strength, and Happiness writes, “Be mindful of green zone experiences, value them, and stay with them. Let them into yourself, taking half a dozen seconds or longer to begin hard wiring their way into your brain….Center yourself in the Responsive, green zone by having and internalizing many experiences of safety, satisfaction, and connection.”
To follow this guidance asks us to slow down and soak in the experiences, not to stack one experience on top of another as quickly as possible. Consider creating a sloth day soon!