Biblical Womanhood

         I like to have snazzy introductory stories for sermons. Something to really hook y’all in. But I didn’t like what I came up with for this sermon. So instead I’m just going to preach. Consider this the “insert intro here” part. Just know that if I’d done this well, you would have laughed and were hooked immediately.

         Mandi inspired me last week to take a deep dive into Proverbs, and I think Proverbs has a lot to say (and say by not saying) about something near and dear to my heart: the influence of the patriarchy on how we interpret and understand Scripture.

I’d like to focus this discussion on an often misunderstood and misinterpreted phrase: biblical womanhood.

There are certain words or phrases that we can say that evoke images and feelings; visceral feelings for some of us. For me, and many who have spent time in a conservative church, the phrase “biblical womanhood” is one such phrase.

         Readings such as the one with have from Proverbs from today have been used to shape the idea of what is biblical womanhood for centuries. Centuries where the only ones who were given permission to read, interpret and teach Scripture were cis-gendered men.

         For those who don’t know, cisgender refers to identifying with the gender assigned to you at birth.

         Biblical womanhood. I don’t know about you all, but what comes into my mind is a 1950’s housewife with perfect hair who does everything in the house, makes it so her husband never has to do anything but work and sleep, and never complains.

         Honestly, I have no idea where this came from.

         Because when I read the Bible, I see the bond of Naomi and Ruth; I see how Mary’s brave was bigger than her fear in having Jesus as an unwed teenager; I hear the voice of Mariam writing poetry and singing hymns that her brothers (Moses and Aaron) get credit for; I see Jael and her ability to save her entire people by drugging and then driving a tent peg through a conquering general’s skull.

         I see how Mary Magdalene was made to be a sex worker to discredit her, rather than venerated as the disciple to the disciples and a woman who helped love Christianity into existence.

         And this Proverbs reading.

         When I read this reading this week I thought two things to myself:

  1. This was clearly written by a man; and,
  2. This is who we should ALL strive to be.

I’d like to point out that this reading is actually an acrostic poem, meaning the first letter of each line is an alphabetical list of the Hebrew alaf-bet. So, this is the “a,b,c’s of” biblical womanhood.

     This is also a highly privileged woman. We don’t have it in this portion of the reading, but these words are being said by a queen to her son as he looks for his queen.

     And the queen should have courage and valor. She should be trustworthy. She should be fierce. Honest. Strong. Capable. Intelligent. Skilled. Able to support herself but with her husband out of choice. She provides for the family and herself. She speaks her mind and will quite literally gird her loins for battle. A battle she is perfectly capable of winning.

     But she is not necessarily a person who meets an artificially decided standard of beauty, nor is she described as being an obedient, well dressed, person who’s job is to make children and dinner without ever saying a word in disagreement to her husband.

         There are some places where I think we can really see in this reading that it was written by a man. The woman literally never rests. She props up her husband and never herself. While she does things for herself, she only does them after caring for everyone else.

         There are places where the Bible is written as though it is prescriptive of how people should live, when in reality it is descriptive of how people are living. And I think this reading is one of those descriptive places.

         What this reading shows me is not that women must be dutiful housewives, but that the can be if they choose. That women can be fierce and incredible, and are capable of an incredible amount of live.

Since before history was being recorded, women’s tendency to love has made us seem weak to some. When in reality, what patriarchal societies have deemed weakness (love, compassion, self-sacrifice), is in reality a strength that allows the bravest among us to accomplish what is impossible. To care beyond ourselves. And to sacrifice when needed.

         That sacrifice comes at a cost though. Readings like this miss that cost. They miss that at times even the strongest around us need to rest and recharge.

         I wasn’t raised in a way that taught me to sacrifice myself for a man. But I was raised in a way that said the things we love are worth the sacrifice. I was also raised to be one of those tent peg women, but it has never come to that.

         I think, and this is important, that love goes both ways. You give to love and love gives back.

         While I was out recovering I watched several documentary shows about different English Football clubs. The fans of those clubs love them with a passion I’ve not seen equaled in American sports. Though love of Boston area fans for the Red Sox and Patriots comes close.

         These clubs break their fans hearts on a regular basis. And they also give them moments of unbridled joy.

         Children take a lot, but they find ways of giving joy and love back to their care providers.

         Romantic relationships SHOULD be places where everyone can thrive, and where someone picks up extra slack with another or others within the relationship need help. Everyone should have the opportunity to grow, and to be supported in their growth.

         Relationships that don’t do that, ones where one person is expected to just give all of themselves, to lose or diminish themselves, those are not healthy.

          I think there’s a difference between the ideal woman as presented in this reading, the one who gives all of herself, but is still fierce and as able to go in to battle as she is able to weave and knit – there’s a difference between this woman and the ideal wife that has been passed down throughout the centuries as what a Christian woman should be.

         Jesus told us to live like him. And he was strong, fierce, kind, compassionate, loving, giving, and also knew when it was time for self-care.

         I think all of us should be like Jesus. I think this reading from Proverbs says that we should all be like Lady Wisdom. I think they both are lofty and difficult goals, but things we are perfectly capable of achieving.

         This is the part where I would tie in that introduction that I didn’t write. So I’m going to skip that part and say: our homework for this week is to read from the book of Sirach. It’s in the Old Testament. It’s great. And one of my favorites. Go have some fun!

Amen

Enabling and Accountability and King David

         Have you ever spent an incredible amount of time, too much time, really, searching for something, only to find it in exactly the place where you always leave it and for some reason you just didn’t see?

         Me neither.

         It’s one thing when it’s your keys, and it’s another thing when it’s a life choice that someone makes because they are totally deceived, either by themselves or others, into thinking they are absolutely right, or have absolutely done nothing wrong.

         In the readings today we have versions of all of this. Though, the Ephesians reading I think is one where the lectionary people are enabling the making of a poor choice.

         Let me explain.

         This week the lectionary cuts of the reading from 2nd Samuel in the middle of a verse. The chapter doesn’t end with David declaring “I have sinned against the Lord.” No no. The verse goes on and concludes with Nathan saying to David, “Now the Lord has put away your sin; you shall not die. Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the Lord, the child that is born to you shall die.”

         That, my friends, is a remarkably difficult thing to preach on. The idea of God sacrificing a child in atonement for sins. So, instead of including that difficult verse, the lectionary omits it entirely from the cycle of readings.

         And! The lectionary people also give us Ephesians 4:1-16, a beautiful verse, filled with lofty words and ideas. A verse which gives everyone a place withing this crazy world and unites us under God’s love.

         It’s beautiful. It’s all true. It’s a lot more fun to unpack.

         And it’s a cop-out. Offered to allow us Pastor types the opportunity to avoid preaching on a text that is really hard.

         But friends. We can do hard things.

         In fact, we must do hard things.

         We can’t just go through our lives refusing to see anything other than the things we want to see. Nor can we go through our lives not having the conversations we don’t want to have.

         Actually. That isn’t true. Some of us can. Some of us are born white and privileged. We can avoid a lot of things that we don’t want to deal with.

         We can avoid racism. We can avoid “politics in church.” We can avoid the major repercussions of a global pandemic.

         But just because we can, doesn’t mean we should.

         Take David, for example.

         David, for a quick refresher: was the last born son of a wealthy land owner and sheep farmer. David was a shepherd, who from an early age spent a lot of time in the outdoors with the sheep. God saw David, said oh, this one is nice, let’s make him king (even though God had repeatedly insisted that Israel really shouldn’t have a king). Also, Israel also already has a king, Saul. David becomes a war hero, he and Saul become friends, Saul realizes David is a threat to his power. Saul tries to have David slaughtered in battle, this fails, and ultimately David becomes King after the death of Saul and several of his sons.

         David conquerors a lot of land as King. Becomes wealthy, has a lot of wives and sons, brings peace to Israel. Then he gets bored. Stays home from war, does several things he’s not supposed to do, including raping Bathsheba, trying to trick her husband, Uriah, into thinking the baby Bathsheba is carrying is his instead of David’s, and when that plan fails, has Uriah slaughtered in battle.

         That brings us up to today, when Bathsheba was given 7 days to mourn her husband before being taken into the Royal household as David’s 8th wife.

         The thing that I think it’s important to talk about with this today is that David has no idea he has done anything wrong. And in David’s defense, he probably honestly had no idea he had done anything wrong. He’d lived a charmed life, and privileged life, he’d likely never been told no, or that he was wrong before. Not that he hadn’t been wrong before.

         But he had never faced repercussions for his actions. He’d never had to.

         The modern correlation that I can think of is that Stanford swimmer, Brock Turner, who raped an unconscious woman and got 6 months in jail for it. He’d never been in trouble, the judge who gave him the lenient sentence, said he didn’t want this to ruin Turner’s life. That Judge, by the way, lost his job.

         David had never been forced to recon with his own ramifications before.

         Nathan figured out a way to reach David.

         David hears, acknowledges he is wrong.

         And then the reading that we have cuts off.

         It cuts off like simply acknowledging the harm is enough.

         What this says is: saying I’m sorry is enough. But it is not. When you harm someone it is not enough to say “my bad” and then move on like nothing happened. You have to actually change; prove that you are actually sorry.

         Now, I do not like the insinuation that God killed this baby to punish David. I don’t like it for a lot of reasons. But pretty high on the list is that this baby’s death is ANOTHER blow to Bathsheba, who is having a really difficult year.

         Bathsheba is not a pawn in the story of God teaching David humility. The baby is not killed for atonement.

         I don’t know the reason for any of the parts of this story, but I know God. I know God as the brown skinned carpenter who in this Gospel reading sees that the people are blinded by their physical needs, their hunger. And so instead of getting angry at the people, Jesus works with them to see that he is not really here to offer food but a different way of life. And also feeds them with real food.

         That’s the God I know. That’s the God I follow, and that’s the God who is using human prophets, like Nathan, to work throughout the Old Testament. To reach us humans when we repeatedly just don’t get it.

         But I also know that I’m not God. And I shouldn’t offer my understanding as the Gospel truth.

         I’ve spent a lot of time with texts like these and have wrapped my mind around it by believing that humans attempting to make sense of God, or to give meaning to terrible tragedies, is why there are stories like these and Scripture. I wholeheartedly disagree with the idea of God’s plan and everything happens for a reason, which are two logical takeaways from this reading if we decided that God was punishing David, and only David, for his transgressions.

         David really should have known that he was wrong. He didn’t. He should have known he was wrong in literally everything he did in last week’s reading. He didn’t hold himself accountable, the people around him enabled him in his behavior and self deception.

         This is the moral of this story for me. That God will find a way to reach us when we need to change. We will be offered opportunities. It’s up to us if we take them. And, we need to take responsibility for our actions, decisions, and the ramifications.

         Our homework this week, maybe for far longer than a week, is to consider what it means to take accountability for our actions. And, what we need for an apology to be genuine. What do we need to offer, and what do we need to receive.

         Accountability. What does it mean. What does it look like.

         Nice and light!

Amen

Cara+

David and Bathsheba

         Just a heads up: this sermon covers sensitive topics and will be trigger to some people. Please don’t feel you MUST read it.

         Something that I haven’t mentioned to you all before, not really, is that I was wildly in love with Harry Potter for nearly two decades. This Gospel story reminds me of a moment in Harry Potter, when the ministry of magic has given cars to get Harry and the Weasley’s to the train in book 4, and somehow those cars always seem to be at the front of the line at red lights.

         That Jesus showed up and suddenly they were ashore reminds me of that.

         I mention Harry Potter though because despite being a loyal and loving fan for many years, something happened recently that deeply hurt my ability to love the magical world of Harry Potter.

         JK Rowling, the author of Harry Potter, came out as being anti-trans.

         And this absolutely broke my heart.

         Until last summer JK had been, at least publicly, pro-LGBTQ. She wrote words about never fitting in to the world you are in and then discovering that the reason you never fit in is because you are not what the world says you must me.

         This heart break caused a split between Harry Potter and I, which has resulted in throwing out a lot of clothes, and having to get a tattoo covered.

         And JK’s words caused me to look with fresh eyes at this person, who seemed so great, progressive, and kind. And while she did create this magical world where I and so many found such joy, she also refuses to acknowledge the full humanity of everyone.

         That’s not ok.

         I didn’t know about this when I fell in love with the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. But I know it now. And refuse to ignore what I now know in order to continue to support this thing that I love.

         There are a lot of different ways I could relate my story about my love and heartbreak with Harry Potter, and realistically, I’m going to preach on this again someday. Probably more than once.

         For today, I’d like to use the way I had to look back on JK Rowling to how the story of David and Bathsheba is told.

         We have been told that Bathsheba seduced David. That their relationship was consensual, tender, even that Bathsheba sought it out for her own upward mobility. We’ve even been told that their relationship was, in fact, a relationship.

         Even the translation that we have today buys in to the narrative of a consensual, wanted relationship between David and Bathsheba.

         Saying that David sent “messengers to fetch her.” When in fact he sent soldiers to take her. The word in Hebrew, la-cak, has a violent connotation. It means “to take.”

         This story has been interpreted, or at least presented, in patriarchal societies as being driven by lust, and a mutual lust at that.

         That’s how many of us learned this story.

         We learned of Bathsheba’s seduction, David’s lust, David’s desire to preserve Bathsheba’s dignity and social standing, and then their love for one another.

         However, that isn’t the truth of this story. At least not how it is presented in Scripture.

         What Scripture gives us, what I think we as modern listeners and people of faith are supposed to do with this story, is to take examine power, and the ways that otherwise well-regarded people can abuse their power.

         David had a lot of power at this time, and he abused some of that power, and misused more.

Kings were expected to lead their armies into war. David elected to stay in the comfort of his palace, with his 7 wives and many concubines.

         David would also have known the time of day when women would bathe on the rooftops, and that he should not be on the roof at that time. He went out there anyway. Women were unable to bath in their homes when they had their periods because of purity laws. Bathsheba was bathing on her roof, where no one should have been able to see her because of the height of the roof and the proximity of her house to the palace. And, David was not supposed to be there; he was supposed to be at war with the troops. Leading her husband.

         For Bathsheba’s home to be close enough to the palace that David could see how beautiful she was, the house must have been close. At the time, houses were in concentric circles around the palace, with the most important households closest to the palace. Bathsheba and Uriah lived quite close to the palace; they were important people.

         David then took her. He sent guards to bring her to him. Bathsheba had no choice but to go. The guards had no choice but to take her. David then saw Bathsheba in person, then took her again.

         At no point in this could Bathsheba have said no. In his home, in that very palace, David had 7 wives and several concubines. This was not about sex. This was about power. An utter abuse of power.

         A child was conceived. David then misused his power to try to save his own reputation, and as a result murdered Uriah, and then without giving her a choice, forced Bathsheba to marry him.

         The story doesn’t get told this way because of the way the English translates a lot of these words, and because the people who stood in this spot for nearly 2,000 years didn’t see this as a story of rape. The murder of Uriah to save Bathsheba’s dignity, is what is passed down.

         But now, more of us can look at these stories, we can even read them in Hebrew, and we know that there is more to these stories than what’s easy.

         What we must reckon with is the depth of the abuse of David’s power, AND the reasons why the stories were passed down the way they were for so long.

         On Thursday we celebrated the Feast Day of Mary Magdalene. Until 591, when Pope Gregory called Mary a sex worker, she was venerated and celebrated as the most important Disciple. The Apostle to the Apostles. The one whom Jesus chose to reveal the resurrection to first.

         One man misunderstood her story, or intentional misrepresented her in order to further limit the ability of women to have any power and position away from being wives and mothers. One man, and Mary Magdalene spent 1,500 years being dismissed as a sinner – in a faith that claims all are sinners.

         In reality, Mary Magdalene was remarkably important to Jesus and his ministry. It doesn’t matter if she was a sex worker or not. What matters is how amazing, important, and impressive of a follower of Christ she was. She was discredited in order to move power and importance away from her. We know that now.

         David did great things. But he also wildly abused his power. He was a remarkable leader and a remarkably imperfect man. His story was spun and told to address some of his imperfections, but not all.

         At some point, JK Rowling decided that gender can only be decided by biological sex at birth, and that only women who menstruate can understand what it’s like to be a woman. She is not open to any conversation that in anyway differs from that perspective.

         She’s wrong.

         Trans women are real women. Trans men are real men.

         Gender and sex are not the same.

         Power can be abused in many, many ways. And when we take a deep look at those abuses of power they shape how we think of people.

         Taking a deep and intentional look at abuses of power can force us to take a look at things we’d rather not look at. Beloved Biblical figures, cherished literary works, even the founding Fathers of our Country and their views around race, racism, and slavery.

         All these things must be examined.

         And sometimes that means you have to change behaviors, or even get tattoos covered up.

         It’s painful, all of it.

         It’s worth it.

Amen

Cara+

On Rest

I watched a documentary this week on ESPN about an incredible basketball player, Maya Moore. Maya played at UConn. She has won high school, NCAA, WNBA, and even Chinese league professional titles. She’s been the WNBA MVP. Maya Moore has been called the best basketball player. Not female player. The best player.

She is this remarkable athlete and also a genuinely good person. And she plays the game of basketball with a grace and ability that few humans are ever able to master in any field. I’ve never heard Yo Yo Ma play the violin, nor seen Frida Kahlo paint. But I imagine that watching Maya play is like watching Yo-Yo Ma or Frida do the amazing artistic things they do.

I have seen Pedro Martinez pitch a masterful game. I watched him strike out 15 Orioles one night in Baltimore when he threw a 2 hit shutout for the Red Sox. The ball flowed from his hand like water that night. Seamless. Easy. With movement like breaking waves you could see in the stands. Watching that performance, even Orioles fans gave him a standing ovation. We all knew we had seen greatness.

Maya Moore plays basketball the same way.

She just flows, like water, and makes incredible things happen without making it look at all difficult.

And so it was quite a surprise when in 2018, at 28 years old and the absolute height of her career, she decided to take a break to “rest.”

I actually highly recommend the documentary, Breakaway, which goes into a lot of details about what she’s doing and why.

But it’s this idea of resting that I want to, well, rest on, today.

This week I asked everyone a question in the Newsletter. I asked, what does it mean to rest?

            I did so because the word “rest” just kind of jumped off the page at me each time I read the Gospel for this week.

            When words stand out like that, especially words of Scripture, I try to sit with them. And so this week I tried to sit with the word Rest.

            And here’s what I think:

            I think we live in a world that has somehow put a premium on being exhausted. Working hard, at certain jobs, is seen as a status symbol.

            And yet, being tired is genuinely frowned upon.

            In the Gospel today we have a story where Jesus is doing his best to make time for his disciples and himself to rest.

            And in a moment that clearly demonstrates to me that 1st century life did have some things in common with modern life, Jesus couldn’t find time to break away from work in order to rest.

            Things just needed to get done. Things he enjoyed doing. Healing, teaching, caring. And yet, he was tired.

            Jesus didn’t have time to rest.

            I don’t think I’m alone in also feeling like there are times, maybe even most of the time, when I don’t have time to rest.

            There’s always more to do.

            In the course of the pandemic we’ve all had our schedules and daily lives thrown for a loop. In that time many of us have been able to reevaluate the things that matter most. To reprioritize the things that we love and enjoy.

            But, as the pandemic dragged on and as we’ve gone back to commuting and other time-consuming pre-pandemic behaviors, those rediscovered priorities have taken a backseat to the things that need to get done.

            Part of why I brought up Maya Moore in the beginning is because she did a remarkable thing. Not just stepping away for a season, now 3 seasons, to rest. In her time away Maya took a look at her life priorities, and she realized that for her in this moment of time, pursuing criminal justice reform and using her notoriety to bring about change, at first for one wrongly convicted man, and now to change the criminal justice system, is more important than playing basketball.

            The man that Maya helped free from prison, Jonathan Irons, had been wrongfully convicted of a crime when he was 16. Upon his release Jonathan said that he wants to help others, but first, he said ne needs to rest.

            We can only give what we have to give. If we don’t rest, we simply don’t have much to give.

            Resting is part of how we love ourselves.

            Allowing others time and space to rest is how we love others as ourselves.

            In a world where we are inundated, constantly, with information and stimulation, taking a moment to rest is remarkably hard to do.

            We have to find a way to do it anyway.

            Jesus didn’t rest in this story the way he’d planned. But we know from other stories in Scripture that he was very intentional about taking time to rest, meditate, pray, and to connect with people in a way that recharged him. Healing and ministry took a lot out of him, he could feel when his power was diminished. So Jesus made sure to rest and recharge to allow him to keep doing his work.

            We all need to be connected enough with ourselves to know when we are getting low and need to rest and recharge.           

            It’s when we run out that we make decisions that we aren’t proud of, maybe do things that hurt ourselves or others. Or maybe when we are truly exhausted we can’t do the things that we absolutely must do.

            We need to rest. To prioritize, and to rest. And, at the same time, make space for the people we love to rest as well. We must rest even though that means we will be left with our own thoughts. We might even be bored.

            This is possibly the hardest thing I have asked of you all yet, to rest.

            But if we can, if we can find time to recharge, relax, reconnect, to rest, then we will be better prepared to do the work God calls us to do.

            I don’t want to look busy when Jesus comes back.

            I want to be ready.

            Rest is how to become ready.

            Let’s be ready.

Amen

Cara+

When God puts things on our hearts…

Some amazing things happened this week.

I was able to say hello to a good friend of mine from Seminary part two. What’s remarkable about this is that Pearson is in Tanzania and I haven’t seen his huge smile in 4 years. It was because of the internet that I could see Pearson, see the new church his congregation is building. I could hear the fear and uncertainty in his voice, and he could hear mine, when he shared fears about the Delta variant of Covid, and that vaccines have still not made it to Tanzania.

          As we ended the call I had a very powerful moment where I realized how much I miss that man and how worried I have been for him and his family.

         And it got me thinking about some of the lessons we have learned and embraced over the years. At first I thought about all the changes in just my lifetime, but then I thought about more than that.

         Like how when the scriptures were written, the primary way that information was shared was through word of mouth. Today I can’t even remember what days I have meetings without writing it down, and in the ancient world, they could memorize thousands of hours of lessons and stories and history. It was part of their culture. The way that smartphones are a part of ours – most have them, though not all.

The lesson we have today from the Hebrew Scripture was a completely oral history; passed down from generation to generation through stories and lessons. Eventually it was written down, but not for hundreds or thousands of years.

         The Epistles are letters that were sent, and each one cost in the neighborhood of $2,000 to write and send.

         The Psalms were sung in religious services, but there weren’t hymnals or bulletins to share the words. You had to listen, remember, sing.

         The Gospel of Mark was the first Gospel to be written down, and even it was written 20-30 years after Jesus died. It was shared via word of mouth before then.

         Churches didn’t start to be built until the late 3rd century. Probably.

         The ancient world that we get a glimpse of in the Scripture is so different from our world today. And yet, somehow, there are threads that unite us to the people who lived these words, and those who heard them in 1st Century Palestine.

         Sometimes I read Gospels like the one we have today, and I am absolutely struck by how the love and faith in God that is exhibited in these words, how that love and faith in God still resonates as absolutely true to me 2,000 years later and 5,500 miles away.

         One of the things that I believe unites us to those people whose stories are told in the Gospels, one of the reasons those stories are still relatable all these years and half a world away, is that for most of us, there comes a point when all we have is hope.

         It is hope that unites us to 1st century Christians, and 21st century Christians in Tanzania. We don’t all believe the same things, our day-to-day lives are vastly different, and we don’t necessarily live out our beliefs in the same ways. But we are all united in this one idea: hope.

         Now, here’s the thing about hope, it’s not as simple as what we have been lead to believe. Hope is not making a wish and sitting back to make it come true.

For Christians hope is the belief that God will always be there for us; always be with us in the midst of the joys, pains, struggles, the despair. Hope is that when we hit rock bottom or find ourselves trapped by the poor decisions we have made, God will be there waiting for us, extending a hand.

         Helping us heal our wounds and the wounds we have caused.

         Bringing us back from the brink of death.

         Hope is why I am standing here looking at you all, some in person, some who are magically here via the internet, I can look at you all and say after 16 months of a pandemic and trying to put the pieces back together, “I don’t know how, and I don’t know what it’s going to look like, but God is in it and it’ll work out.”

         In saying that, if it seems like I’m putting my feet up and sitting back to wait for what’s to come, that is not what I’m going for. We still have to do the work, but, God is with us.

         In this Gospel, It wasn’t Jesus that saved this woman, nor that resurrected the child. It was faith. It was the ability to truly believe that God is with them.

         They could lay eyes on God and we can’t. And being able to see with your own eyes, that helps.

         But this week, I saw the face of a friend who is roughly 7 thousand 400 miles away. With a giant body of water in between us.

         And I got to see the beautiful face of a great friend’s newborn baby.

         God is in that.

         God is with us, right now.

         I’ve heard it said that integrity is what you do when no one is watching.

         And it makes me wonder what would happen if we spent a week making choices while actively considering that God is watching us; not no one. God.

         Would we pick up the litter that we didn’t drop?

         Would we let someone in in traffic?

         Would we take a moment to listen to what someone is saying, even when we disagree?

         Would we come to Church a little early to help set up and learn how to run all of the new technology?

         Would we call that person who randomly pops into our head, just to say hi?

         Would we stand up for love, for equality, for our neighbors of color?

         This is our homework this week. Act like God is watching.

         And I’m doing this myself. I actually got this idea because my first grade teacher, Mrs. Leake, popped into my head on Friday. And so you know what I did? I called her. Well, I called my Mom, and got her number, and I called her. She’s in her 90’s. Still remembers me. She’s proud of me. Keeps a picture of me in her bathroom, tells me every time I call.

         It made her day and it made mine that I took a moment to reach out to someone; to make a call I didn’t have to make.

         God put her in my heart randomly. And I ask us all: what is God putting in and on our hearts?

         Why aren’t you doing something about it?

Amen

Cara+

When Sunday is also July 4th…

            There’s a chance that by now you all have figured out that I don’t always do things in the typical ways. It’s why I am such a lovely fit to be the priest in charge for you all! I don’t always do things differently to be difficult or contrarian. Usually, I do things differently because they make more sense to me that way. Or, because something needs to be done or said.

         For example, I know in a lot of churches today patriotic music is being played, and that’s ok.

         But for me, being a patriot means standing up and being willing to do things differently. Being a patriot means, to me, that I love my country enough to encourage it to be the things it professes to believe: a place of Liberty; Equality; self-actualization; diversity; unity.

         I believe in transformational change. I believe it is possible individually, corporately, institutionally, nationally. God cries out to us to work towards and for transformational change. And, when we cry out to God for help, God offers us help, if we are willing to see and to do the work, to change. That help though, it may way look totally differently than what we expect.

         As a step towards transformational change, today I want to invite us all to consider something differently. Something maybe we don’t consider at all.

         But that we should.

         It’s in the last line of the reading from Samuel. It’s also one of the first things I say as we start service, and what is said to begin the celebration of communion.

         Today, I invite us all to think of what it means for God to be with you?

         And I mean it. When you hear the phrase, God be with you, what do you think?

         (When I wrote this sermon I thought we’d be spilt in-person and online. But since we’re all online, I invite anyone who wants to answer to do so, or to type it into the chat.)

         How does that change when the sentence is instead “[a]nd David became greater and greater, for the LORD, the God of hosts, was with him.”

         I think, over the millennia, we have come to accept that a mark of God being with someone is wealth, success, greatness, athletic ability. It certainly was for David. He was handsome, successful in military endeavors, he had hundreds of wives and concubines, hundreds and hundreds of children, money, palaces. Things that at that time, and even today, are a mark of greatness, a mark of God being with you.

         But I think, truly, that wealth, earthly success, perceived greatness, those are signs of things that humans lift up, rather than being signs of God being with them.

         Today, I challenge us to approach this idea differently. Today, I invite us to take a moment to think about instances where God was with us. Not because we became greater and greater, or wealthier and wealthier.

         Instead think of the moments when you noticed something subtle, something easy to miss, and it ended up being good that you did.

         Think about the moments when you got a hunch about something, someone, and you were right.

         Think about the moments when you found the strength, the courage, to do or to be different.

         On Thursday I talked with my Mom as she drove home from work. A few minutes later, she was in a bad car accident. She walked away, because of a series of small things, small things that seem, well, small, on the surface. But those things add up, and they add up over time.

         It is in the adding up of small things that I can look at that accident and see that God was with my Mom. That God is with my Mom.

         I can’t tell you how I know, but I know that accident has the marks of God on it (the other driver, who swerved into my Mom’s lane, also walked away).

         Now, a thing to remember in this is that God didn’t cause the accident. The accident happened because of rain, and speed, and a person losing concentration for a split second.

         God also didn’t stop the accident. The accident happened. It was the small decisions that my Mom said yes to, which shows me that God is with her. Those decisions, those things she said yes to, are what added up to surviving that accident. Not one miraculous and easy to see event.

         Lots of small decisions.

         God doesn’t cause disease, war, abuse, accidents, addiction.

         God is constantly offering opportunities to change, to be different, to make different decisions, big and small. And God offer those opportunities before, within, and after disease, war, abuse, accidents, addiction.

         It’s up to us to take advantage of those opportunities.

         Taking those opportunities to change, that is when transformational change happens.

         Sometimes, an opportunity to change comes about by looking at something with fresh eyes.

         And, I think this is happening in America today.

         We are beginning to look at practices, laws, systems, that were set up long ago and were deemed perfectly acceptable at the time. Now we look at them and say “no, no that really wasn’t ok.” And, those things we thought were ok are now obviously in the way of equality, liberty, self-actualization, diversity, and unity.

         Slavery and Colonialism are easy to identify as things we look back at and now know are not ok. The same is true of the treatment by colonizers of Indigenous people. Just this week the remains of hundreds of native children striped from their families in the 1800’s were found in Canada. And the US had a program even more brutal towards Native Americans and their children.

         We look at these things now and we know they were not and are not ok.

         I think, what we as Christians, and what we as Americans, must do is to take the next step. That next step is to look to see what the present day impact of those policies are. Because there are present day ramifications.

         We can’t make it right until we acknowledge that it still isn’t right. Not merely that it wasn’t right. That it still isn’t right.

         God didn’t cause slavery, nor did God ordain slavery. God was with the enslaved, offering hope, love, meaning in life. God was also with the enslavers, whispering in their ears, pleading with them to do and to be different.

         Some of them did. Most of them did not.

         Transformational change happens when we listen to God’s whispers and pleadings. When we allow ourselves to feel where God is pulling or pushing us, and then we wade into the hard work.

         There is no skipping the hard work. We don’t get to start on go, stay on go but say we see that there’s a trip around the Monopoly board to do, and collect $200.

         We have to actually work our way around the board.

         Because it’s the right thing to do.

         Because it’s what God is calling us to do.

         Last week I invited you to consider that God was with you in making your decisions.

         This week, for homework, I ask you to consider those moments when you could tell God was with you. Or with someone you love. Consider what does it mean for God to be with you? How do you know?

         And then, consider what it looks like for God to be with someone else. What are the marks of God in others, to you?

         Do those things match?

Amen


Cara+

Trinity Sunday, 2021

         In my first year at Wesley Theological Seminary, I was sitting (front row, because that’s what I do) in my Hebrew Bible class. The class was taught by the amazing Dr. Denise Dombkowski Hopkins.

         That day we read together and acted out a bit, Isaiah’s call narrative, as found in the New Revised Standard Version of Isaiah 6:1-8.

         As we read: “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple.” We imagined a long robe filling a room.

For “Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew.” We waved our hands over our heads.

And we called across the room to one another “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of God’s glory.”

And when “The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke.” We started banging on the tables with our hands.
         Loudly we said together: “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”
         From the front of the room, Denise called over the noise: “Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.”
         And just as Denise said “Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying,”

The lights went out in the room.

Actually, the lights went for the wing of the entire building.

We went from this loud, almost joyous noise, recreating this moment, to this stunned and shocked silence.

Instead of Denise finishing the call narrative by reading the last line: “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And “Here am I; send me!” instead, after a few seconds that felt like several minutes, my shaky voice spoke through the silence and said “what… just happened?”

         It was one of those magical moments in seminary. One where you could almost hear God standing in the corner and laughing hysterically.

         Eventually we resumed our class and I learned one of my favorite fun facts about the Prophet Isaiah: he’s the only one who volunteered.

         One could argue that Jesus volunteered as well. However, and this is an important distinction: Jesus is God, God in human form, who also happens to be fully human and fully God. A prophet is fully human, and that’s all.

         I love Isaiah’s call story. It’s fun, it’s kind of trippy. It has the amazing line of “Here I am; send me!” Which is definitely a theme of my life, as well as a great hymn that was sung at my ordination.

         But I really struggle with having a reading from the Hebrew Scripture on the Sunday when we celebrate the Trinity.

         The lectionary people had to do some mental gymnastics to even come up with a reading from the Old Testament that fits for Trinity Sunday! Because, this is a Sunday that is totally and utterly devoted to the Christian understanding of God.

         However, thankfully for all of us, we also have John 3:1-17.

         For this Trinity Sunday, I’m going to talk about John rather than Isaiah, but I want all of y’all to keep imagining God standing in the back corner laughing as I attempt to explain the Trinity. Because I’m pretty sure that’s happening.

         Quick show of hands, who thinks they have a pretty strong grasp on the Trinity?

         To me, trying to adequately explain the Trinity is like trying to catch fog in your hands. You think you’ve caught it, but you haven’t, because it’s air. And you just can’t capture air with your hands. No matter how thick it looks.

         Last week we talked about labyrinths and how they trick you in to thinking you’re a lot closer to the end than you really are.

         The Trinity tricks us in the same way.

         Saying the Trinity is the creator, redeemer, and Sustainer; or, God, Jesus, and Advocate; or even Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Those are all good starts, but far from the whole Trinity.

         When I was in seminary, in a very different class than the one where we recreated the Isaiah call narrative, I learned about the ways in which a few different theologians describe the Trinity.

         For whatever reason, one stuck with me. And only one. It happens to be how a Catholic theologian explains the Trinity. Now, to be clear, this is not my idea. I learned it in seminary, and, I don’t remember the theologian’s name. I know he is a Catholic priest, and that his job is or was at one point teaching other Catholic priests what the Bible teaches about faith. I also vaguely recall that he was based out of Washington, DC, but wasn’t a professor at Catholic.

         I remember all of this. Just not his name.

         Anyway, he describes the Trinity like this:

         God is the Speaker

         Jesus the word

         The Holy Spirit is the breath.

         Three parts of the same whole. Each with a unique, different, and important role.

         Speaker, Word, Breath.

         In this last year, a year of a pandemic that attacks the lungs, a year where chants of “I can’t breathe” brought about a renewed and overdo look at race relations in this country, in this last year the idea of speaker, word, and breath, took on new meaning to me. And I believe to many of us.

         In a lot of ways, this last year has made us uncomfortable.

         We were forced out of our routines. Our eyes and ears were opened to things that many of us had not been able to see before. We lost people we love, we lost the freedom to do things that we want to do when we want to do them. 

         This discomfort and dis-ease, is an invitation. It’s an invitation to consider who we are listening to, what they are saying, AND the lasting impact of those words.

         Speaker, words, breath.

         7 or 8 years ago I sat in a classroom and the lights went out.

         In the silence that followed, I heard God more clearly than I had at any point in my life until that moment.

         God calls out to us in many different ways. God reaches out to us in many different ways.

         It’s up to us if we listen.

         One of the ways that we listen is to truly consider what we hear someone say, and what the continued ramification of those words might be.

         What we say matters. What we hear matters. The intent of the person speaking, matters.

         Words matter.

         Speaker, word, breath.

         God spoke. Jesus was. The Spirit continues to flow.

         Your homework this week is to take a moment, a loud one or a soft one, and consider where you might just feel the Spirit moving. And to also look for those moments when God is calling out, asking “Whom Shall I send?

         And also maybe for the moments God is standing in the back of the room laughing.

Amen

Pentacost 2021!

         I did something Wednesday afternoon that I hadn’t had the chance to do before: I walked our labyrinth. It’s a beautiful labyrinth that we have back there. Jack Blay, if you watch this, you did a great job!

         There’s a funny quirk that most labyrinths have, including ours, they sometimes trick you in to thinking that the walk, the journey, will be quick and easy. As you enter the labyrinth almost immediately you go towards the center, tricking your mind into thinking it’s going to be a very easy and quick walk.

         This happens again, when you’re nearing the middle of the labyrinth; there’s this moment when you think you’ve made it, only to be turned in another direction instead.

         Finally, the euphoric moment when you reach the middle, and believe the journey is complete. Only to realize, you’re only halfway there. You must follow your feet back out again.

         Its tempting to leave the labyrinth at that point. I was certainly tempted.

         I think, the labyrinth is a truly fitting metaphor to talk about on this day when we celebrate Pentecost.

         There’s an unintentional teaching in Christianity, one that we are faced with on Pentecost. The teaching is that the story ends with Jesus.

         But in reality, Jesus’s life and death, that’s the first turn in the labyrinth of Christianity.

         The story didn’t start and end with him. We keep writing this story, every day, every breath. We are writing this story, but we aren’t doing it alone.

         The Holy Spirit, the Advocate whom God sent to guide us and to advocate on our behaves. She is part of this story. She’s the continuing guide to help show us the way now that Jesus has returned to God.

         I don’t know how y’all feel about this, but for me,  I don’t know that I can overstate the importance to me of knowing that someone is on my side. Of knowing that I have an advocate.

         Roughly 10 years ago I was a fairly consistent runner. And at one point, just before seminary started, I ran a half marathon. Very slowly. And in a nor’easter. In Providence (a hilly city to which I had never visited before).

         I ran the race with my friend Bridget. She had really been the one to get me into distance running and was committed to running by my side as I attempted my first half (it was somewhere around her 30th).

         As we ran we ended up going about the same pace as a man who had competed on a season of “The Biggest Loser” and his best friend, who had lost weight along side his friend, just not on TV. I don’t remember either of their names. They were lovely people. We ran with them for a bit, and then separated.

         As Bridget and I trudged along in the driving rain, Bridget developed a terrible blister. And I mean, bad. She had to walk or drop out. We talked it over, and we decided that I would keep running.

         Around mile 10, I started to feel pretty rough. I was exhausted. I was drenched. My feet each felt like they were 10 pounds. I was somehow both freexing cold and hot. And the crowds of people who usually come out to watch the racers and cheer had stayed home. I was alone. And about to just start walking.

         And suddenly, like he was plopped down by the Spirit herself, the best friend from the biggest loser contestant appeared next to me.

         Now, I wasn’t alone.

         We mostly just ran silently next to each other for 2 miles.

         At mile 12, facing a decent sized hill and another mile of running, he looked at me and said “I have to stop now. But you don’t. You can do this. And if you do this, you can do anything.”

         And I did. I finished. I was wet and exhausted and every part of me hurt for a week. But I did it. Bridget finished too, on one foot and everything!

         I’ve run a half marathon.

         I may never do it again, but I did it once.

         And while I did it alone, I couldn’t have done it alone.

         Bridget talked me into the race and helped to calm my anxiety before we started. This mystery stranger suddenly appeared to help me through a challenging part of the race. Medical staff taped up a couple of different parts of me before and after the race as well. People handed me water, and salt, and those energy gels that no one really likes but really help during long periods of physical exertion.

         Plus, I had friends who trained with me and gave me advice on training and nutrition. My friend Katrina who helped me pick out the outfit I wore for the race and made Bridget and I a carb-loaded dinner the night before. Lady Gaga, who’s voice showed up in my iPod around mile 4 and lifted my spirits.

         I ran that race. By myself. But I wasn’t alone and couldn’t have done it alone.

         Faith, to me, is exactly the same thing.

         We are each a Christian.

         But we can’t be Christians alone.

         At it’s very best, Pentecost is a recognition that we aren’t alone, even when we feel alone.

         The Spirit of God, Wisdom herself, continues to be present with us. So that even when we feel alone, we aren’t alone.

         There’s a tendency in America to take pride in having accomplished things all by yourself. This rugged individualism. This idea of pulling yourself up by your bootstraps.

         But I think this is really a shame, and, also, not in any way true.

         Saying we’ve done something on our own cuts out the community of people who helped us along the way. It insulates us. And teaches us to not recognize when we have been helped. It cuts out our teachers, our friends, and the random strangers the spirit plops down next to us to help us through.

         This individualism teaches us, as Rev. Dr. Delman Coates taught me, to ignore that in order to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, someone must first give us the boots, and the straps.

         Our individualism makes it easy to ignore the staggering illness and death rates from Covid in India. Our sense of othering makes it easy to look at what’s happening in Israel/Palestine and judge, or pick a side, without looking at the incredible complexity of what’s happening. The same cane be true of unpacking racism, homophobia, and transphobia.

         Really, our individualism makes it easy to ignore a lot of different issues because it isn’t us, it isn’t me, it’s them, it’s him.

         What Pentecost seeks to show, I truly believe, is that the answer is truly “us”. There is no you, or me. There is us. And God speaks to all of us in a way that we can understand.

         Thinking that it is just me, just you, that’s like getting a few steps into the labyrinth and thinking we’re almost done.

         It’s easy to think it’s just us and the work is done. It’s easy to think being Christian is an intellectual exercise.

         It’s a lot harder to recognize our neighbors, and to extend a hand when they are in need. But that’s what we must do as we continue to walk this labyrinth of faith!

         Post covid, we know that it’s okay to extend a hand to a neighbor.

         Today, as we gather together for the first time in over a year, we understand that to be in community doesn’t necessarily mean being physically together.

         Your homework, is to take an honest look at where you are in your faith journey. Are you a few steps in, are you many steps in, are you standing outside the labyrinth trying to decide if you want to step inside?

         Please know, where ever you are, with whatever you bring, you are welcome here.

Amen

Cara+

Hospitality and the 22nd Psalm

            I have a bone to pick with the lectionary people today. Because, the beauty of the 22nd Psalm is not found in these final verses. The beauty of the 22nd Psalm is not in saying “Yay God!” and moving on.

            The beauty in the 22nd Psalm is that it starts with “My God My God why have you forsaken me?” and it ends with all people being fed and a worldwide recognition that God is good and loving.

            We have a tendency to do this in life too, to skip pass the ugly, the murky, the messy work. We like a happy ending but the gritty story of how we get to the ending, unless it’s as pretty as a Disney movie, we aren’t particularly interested.

            Speaking of Disney; who has been to a Disney theme park? When we enter through the gates of Disney world, we get this curated, meticulously orchestrated view and experience. But what we don’t see are the scores of people working tirelessly and out of sight. We don’t see the months and years of planning that go into Disney creating an experience that is the same for everyone when they come in from the outside.

            Disney does what the lectionary people are doing with the 22nd Psalm. Each week the lectionary people are trying to convey certain meaning and to get a point across. To do that they pick and choose, and cut out parts, or skip ahead in many of the different readings. The lectionary shows what it wants us to see.

            Disney is trying to do the same thing.

            Disney has worked hard, and invested heavily, in creating an accessible experience for all humans who enter their gates.

            It is important to mention that not everyone can afford to go to Disney and certainly many people have a different experience of Disney than one of accessibility.

            But, that doesn’t take away from what Disney is trying to do. And that’s what I’d like to talk about today. Well, what I’d like us to talk about today.

            Disney curates an accessible experience for humans of all ages. This requires making sure there is physical access to all parts of Disney, and, making sure that the content is accessible for people of all ages.

            We tend to think of accessibility as being a disability issue, but it’s not. It’s a human issue. It’s how do we treat others. It’s how we value those who are different from ourselves.

            We need to ask ourselves are we creating a world where everyone can experience that world, or are we creating a world that works for us, and then expecting others to adapt.

            Have we created a world that leaves some to cry out “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” Or a world where everyone can rest beside the still waters of the 23rd Psalm?

            Disney, in their various theme parks, and in their approach to movie making, aim to create an experience that is enjoyable and accessible for people regardless of if they are young or old, walk around on 2 legs or roll around on wheels, or everything in between.

            A question I ask myself, a lot, is why church doesn’t do the same?

            Why do we, as church, put barriers between God and God’s people?

            Why do we justify having physical spaces that only some can access by saying “well it’s too expensive”?

            Why do we expect people who come in off the street to understand the different things we do in our services? Especially in the Episcopal tradition! We have unique patterns of saying the words, of standing and kneeling, of talking or listening, we even have multiple books in the pews, none of which are Bibles. And, there are certain pews that people can sit in, or not! Plus, we have beliefs that we carry and expect others to just know, without explaining what those beliefs are and why we hold them.

            I could actually go on about this for a long time. Instead, I’m going to stop here and ask you all: What does accessibility mean to you?

Why is accessibility important?

Do you think there are ways that church could be more accessible?

Is it more difficult to make a space physically accessible or to make church itself more accessible?

            I ask these questions because its time for us to start thinking about what’s next. I believe, truly, that there are lessons to learn from this period of pandemic induced social distancing.

            There are things like cherishing hugs and not taking for granted opportunities to be near the people we love.

            And there are also lessons to learn about embracing the technology that has allowed us to remain together while we are apart.

            I know zoom church doesn’t work for everyone, but it also allows us to be present with people who aren’t able to physically be with us.

            And, I must honestly say, having evening meetings via zoom is truly wonderful. I can have dinner at home. I get to avoid driving in and around Boston, and fighting for a parking spot.

            Accessibility wise, people with physical limitations are able to participate much more. People who have been harmed by church have been able to attend a service without physically having to enter a church.

            There are lots of useful things to come from this time. And I don’t say them to diminish how difficult the last 14 months have been. I say them because I think this is a moment where we can, like Disney, open our world and say “be our guest” to everyone who walks through our doors and be able to meet them where they are.

            The pandemic allows us eyes to see this more clearly.

            It’s up to us what we decide to do with these things we can now see.

Amen

Cara+

On Justice

         I don’t know about you, but this was one of those weeks where it was just really hard for me to make heads or tails of anything. I had a hard time keeping track of the day of the week. Wednesday felt like a month.

         I think, though I don’t know, that I’m not alone in occasionally feeling like this. Especially in these Covid days. Things run together. Some days are a year-long, and some days are gone as soon as we wake up.

         Part of why I think this week is such a blur to me is that this week the different parts of who I am came crashing together.

         It’s a strange thing to be kind of plopped down into the center of a community. You all look at me and see the parts of me that I want to show you. Really, we only get to see the parts of one another that we want to share.

         You all haven’t been with me to see how I’ve developed as a person, just as I haven’t been with you all individually or as a community.

         So, if you don’t mind, and honestly I can’t see your faces anyway, so I don’t know if you mind or not, today, I’d like to give you all a glimpse in to some of how I became the person I am. I’d like to share a look into some parts that I don’t often share, certainly not publicly.

         I’m a lawyer. I practiced criminal defense before heading off the seminary.

         I went to law school out of a desire to help people and to give a voice to those I understood to be voiceless – victims of crimes. To do this, I’d planned to be a prosecutor. My criminal law professor was a lawyer named Jonathan Rapping. Professor Rapping is an incredible trial attorney, and co-founded Gideon’s Promise, which is a wonderful organization that trains public defenders to be better equipped to pursue equal justice under the law. He actually just published a book, Gideon’s Promise, that I recommend.

         He challenged me, in many ways, and offered me multiple opportunities to see that a world existed outside of my own experience.

         I went into that class as a fairly privileged white woman; as a person who trusted the police because that was what my experiences and socialization had taught me to do. In that class I admitted that as a prosecutor I would have a hard time prosecuting a police officer who killed someone while working, regardless of the circumstances. I would trust the officer and assume they did what was right.

         That’s where I was.

         Professor Rapping taught me to always pursue justice first, whatever that may be. And it took years for me to understand that justice could be anything other than what my limited life experience meant it might be.

         In law school I work in a prosecutor’s office, and after school I clerked for a judge. Up until that point, the majority of my interactions with police were positive.

         And then, I decided to take some of Professor Rapping’s advice and I volunteered with a Public Defender’s office to get trial experience and to see a full picture of the criminal justice system before becoming a prosecutor.

         Jesus says this thing, a few times, in the gospels, let those with eyes to see, see.

         I didn’t realize until I allowed my eyes to be opened how much I wasn’t seeing.

         Two weeks volunteering a few days a week, and my eyes were opened. I won’t get into specifics, but, it became very clear very quickly that things weren’t what I was lead to believe. I saw very quickly that the deck is just stacked against some people. Generally, those people are poor, and often of color.

         Prosecutors are not to blame for this; most of the prosecutors I met are wonderful attorneys who are doing their part to help find justice in this world.

         But policing, the training of officers, cycles of poverty, cycles of addiction, the cycles of incarceration, those things and many more stack the deck against some people.

         My eyes were opened, are opened, and I can’t unsee it. I see it everywhere. I see systemic injustice everywhere.

         And honestly, the reality of it made me shut down to further growth. I studied a lot about just this one section of the reality of white supremacy in this country.

         But by studying I was able to keep myself out of what I found. I was able to see flaws in a system that I didn’t design, and therefore, I could avoid my own role, my own complicity, my own bias.

         By studying, I was able to keep myself firmly out of what I saw.

         I didn’t realize I had done this though, I didn’t realize I had stopped, until one afternoon in early June when I went to a protest and for the first time heard someone chant “Defund the Police.”

         Now. I know that many listening, much like I did, will have an immediate reaction to that phrase, Defund the Police, and shut down. I shut down when I heard it. But please, stay with me. If your mind has wandered, or shut down, I understand, please come back.

         Hear me when I say this: my reaction to the phrase, defund the police was, no.

         I try, very hard, to understand perspectives that are different from mine. I also knew that I was there to support the people who were chanting this phrase. This felt like a learning moment for me. And so, I spent time looking at all the issues surrounding the funding of police departments.

         And this meant that I had to do something that’s very hard for me, and for many of us: I had to listen. I had to ask questions that showed my ignorance, my bias, and I listen to responses.

         I listened and learned about the way the militarization of police, and the expense of over policing certain areas takes away from needed social services, from health care, from mental health, from education, from programs to clean up the environment, or even to plant trees and have green spaces. And this is particularly pronounced in poor areas where people of color live. A direct correlation exists between over policing and not cleaning up pollution. People of color are more likely to live closer to toxic waste facilities, they are more likely to lack access to clean, or at least lead free, drinking water (in America), and people of color are more likely to live in areas that are more prone to destruction from natural disasters.

         I also listened when people of color told me that they talk in these communities, all the time, about how to lessen crime. But that the police and the government, they rarely if ever talk with the people in those communities about what they need and how resources would best be allocated.

         This had never occurred to me, as it hasn’t occurred to many white people, because we don’t need to think about the police and how police departments are funded unless we are or are related to an officer. My own white supremacy made me assume that people of color weren’t already thinking and talking about these things.

         I don’t live near industrial areas and so I’ve never needed to think about the health impact of growing up near places where there is industrial waste and polluted air.

         I didn’t have to think about the disparate impact of covid on poor communities of color and could be aghast that wealthy white people are going into those communities to get covid vaccines designated for the hardest hit communities because we have access to the technology that makes it easier to get appointments, and jobs that allow us the flexibility to get a shot during working hours.

         If you don’t believe me on that, that wealthy white people are scooping up those appointments and vaccines, please know that I made an appointment in one of those clinics. After realizing what happened, that I signed up for a shot meant for someone at much higher risk than myself, I canceled that appointment. But it happened; I did it.

         This is Good Shepard Sunday.  I love Good Shepard Sunday.

         Right now, for me and I believe for all of us, Jesus is calling out to His people. If we listen, if we truly listen through the noise and distractions, we can hear his voice.

         He is calling us to do something we don’t want to do. To see things we don’t want to see. To do things, we don’t want to do.

         This week a white police officer was convicted of intentionally killing George Floyd, a black man, over a counterfeit $20 bill. And while the nation waited for that verdict, two teenage children of color, Ma’Khia Bryant and Adam Toledo (ta-lay-do), were shot and killed by police. Adam was killed while running away with his hands in the air.

         The word justice has been tossed about this week with the idea being that a police officer being punished for murder is justice.

         But that’s not justice. Jesus is screaming out to us that this isn’t justice.

         This is accountability. This is forced accountability.

         Christ is calling out to us to take a look at the ways that we unintentionally, or inadvertently, or intentionally, perpetuate systems of injustice. And then, to hold ourselves and one another to account. God is calling us to account.

         I assure you that if we don’t do this now, God will hold us accountable in the end.

Someday we will be asked to give an account of our lives. It’s the ultimate homework. It’s what I, as a preacher and teacher, try to prepare us for; it’s why I assign homework!

         For us, this week, for our homework, I’d like us all to consider the difference between justice and accountability, and to look to see how or if, criminal justice factors into what we all determine is justice.

         If anyone would like to talk with me about this, please make an appointment. If anyone is interested in learning more about this with me, please join me in the Faith Rooted Justice training in May.

         Jesus was a poor, brown skinned Middle Eastern man who was wrongfully executed by the state. Take a look at the Gospel through that lens. This is the man we follow.

         How would Jesus define justice?

         What would Jesus say about the world we are living in and our role within it?

Amen

Cara+