Out of the Sanctuary, Off of the Couch

I have been thinking much about Jesus lately. I know I should have said I do that all the time but the truth is I think about being a Christian more often, about the good works associated with that title. I consider the ways my church has sneakily tied bits of silk around me and ever so gently pulled, tugged, eased me back into ministries, so many that when a friend asked what I was involved with at church, I realized the list was quite long. It seems that the very act of showing up there for one event allows your face to be present when a need arises, when a slot comes open. The more you enter the building, the more you have opportunity to get involved. Before you know it, ministry events occur most every day, church is no longer a place you visit on Sunday but a people you socialize with, a call you need to make, a group you lead, a meal to be prepared. Easy then to become complacent in that place, to feel comfortable in Christianity, to take a bit of pride in all the good works and forget the point. I love that my church has lured me into the web of deeds, they saved me. But now I am thinking about Jesus more, about that man who walked this same earth and did his own good works, an action packed 3 years that didn’t lead to elevation to committee chairman or board president, He didn’t retire and sit back to let the young folks take over the tough jobs. He promised to keep going and set the example for all of us to do real ministry. He was a servant first last and still.

I have been searching scripture for places where Jesus shouted out at his opposition, refused to listen to the people, deleted those who didn’t understand his message. I can’t find anything. He didn’t practice intolerance even in the face of the Pharisees. He knew their way was against His, He knew they practiced a dangerous religion, rooted in the same beginnings, the same core of what HE was teaching. Yet still He engaged them to allow for discussion, He answered their questions, He listened. He knew their beliefs had been corrupted disrupted coopted into something no longer at the core of His God. I want to be a Jesus Christian, just that simple. I have heard many conversations recently that include a reticence to openly own our label as Christians, a name that has come to be more associated with intolerance and judgement than the love and radical hospitality my friends are seeking to live out. I get that fear, I know that desire for a new term to describe who we are, one that distances us from them, those Pharisees who stand above and not with the marginalized. Yet all that pulling and tugging over the last year or so has readied me for action, for using my voice to speak above a whisper, to proclaim that I follow Jesus rather than announce a denomination for easy classification. I want to be the kind of person who sees those in need, who sees those hurting, and sees myself and not other. I am aching with the hurt I see around me, my soul is bursting with the fear and pain of the marginalized who know life is getting even harder, scarier. I want to scream and shout, demand that we all see them and us. Also, I want to listen to my friends and those who sit in church across the country under the cross. I need to resist the temptation to delete and turn my back, label them Pharisees and lost Christians. I want to show up with my Jesus face on, offer a cup of soup and hear their concerns. Maybe they will listen to mine, maybe we will pray together and God will bring Jesus back into our faith.

Realistically, it hasn’t always been easy to announce participation in the Christianity club especially when it was known only as the God group. It was an underground movement, it was one fraught with danger and imprisonment, one that required those who knew the truth to speak it to power and the masses. It meant followers had to risk much to gather in small groups to bolster and teach each other and then risk even more to go out and speak truth to those who didn’t know or believe yet. Being a follower of our God is not meant to be easy or profitable or safe. There is no promise of resting in riches or celebrating in comfort. These times now are hard again, the Sabbath of sitting in the sanctuary on Sunday counting our good deeds for the week are over. Our very existence as a movement is being threatened, our history and faith taken over by those who want to build walls to keep the others out, those who want to ignore that people are still enslaved by our hands, those who want to define love narrowly narrowly more narrowly still until love only looks like hate.

My friends, if you are a Jesus Follower, we cannot afford to rest. We did that. We waited and hoped and expected that someone else would take care of all the injustices. Can you feel the silk strings wrapping around you, puling you into the movement? Tugging us into a place of awareness that frankly is making me weary and sad and outraged already and I am just getting started. I can bake cookies for meetings all I want, Jesus is just not going to accept that anymore, not good enough. Sure, everyone likes cookies but there are children outside our building who don’t know what a home baked cookie tastes like while we grow fatter with each meeting. I can minister within the building by taking a meal to a sick congregant, but Jesus is just telling me that is not enough. The ill outside of our sanctuary are growing sicker and do not receive homemade soup, ever.

Frankly, the work within my church was practice, a warmup to get me going. The game is on, the buzzer blasted when black men were being killed and I cried at home on my couch but didn’t protest or even write letters. The buzzer blasted when bathrooms became an issue and I shook my head but did not call legislators to register my disgust. The buzzer blasted over and over, I did not move out of church to show Jesus, to be Jesus to power. Game on, maybe I missed the first quarter, but I am in, on team Jesus. A second string player whose skills have been honed, I am ready for action and I am aching with anger and hurt for humanity, fueled by my own complacency. I don’t know about being a Christian, but I am a follower of Jesus and it is about to get rough. That my friends is how it is meant to be.

 

Hippie Heart Broken Feet

My friend aptly stated that if the March had been scheduled days earlier, before my birthday, I would have been fine. Just that one year more of age seems to have put me in the elderly group, mostly because she is 6 months younger and delighting in this time of her youth, in comparison. Sill, I am confronting the fact that the hippie heart that resides within does not match the broken down body surrounding it. I can barely walk, my feet are reacting to missed medication (a necessary choice to stay awake for the 9 hour drive) and the excessive time spent upright. I wish I could say I am floating on the passion of the experience but mostly I am sleeping, falling into deep stupors as if I missed weeks of sleep instead of one night. I am stumbling, not drunk on hope but rather unable to establish balance again on feet with funky nerve responses. I am maybe too old now to drive all night and protest all day, more suited to a life behind a keyboard with legs propped up and a nap of restoration available at 1:00 each day.

Still, I think of all who have protested before me, all the women who have stood up so that I can vote and bank and drive and use the pill back in college when I chose to. I am confident it wasn’t easy for them, I know there were real costs to body and life. I consider those who have fought for the freedoms of my friends of color, the risks they took to send strangers onto the railroad to freedom, the incredible costs of standing up to be heard at counters and on busses. I think of those who even now brave harsh elements to protect the environment, those who sneak across borders not to commit crimes but to find employment in order to feed their families. My aches seem so minor in light of all who have come before me, who have protested wars and wrongs not just for a day but until their voices were counted, until they achieved the change they sought. I draw inspiration from their selflessness, their push forward that brings us all closer to the garden God created, a place of equality and love with no knowledge of evil.

I may be too broken down physically to make overnight road trips and stand all day but I pray I will never be too aged, too hobbled to speak up for those whose voices are mere whispers. Babies leave the womb demanding that we acknowledge their voice, a shriek to say ,”Notice me” that we slowly teach out of them. Hush, shhh, quiet down. History is rife with examples though of just that need for whispers turning into roars, of the collective sounds of  young old and broken down rising up to say, “Notice us, we must be heard, this is important.” Those voices turn into hymns that sing us into the promised land, a place there the water is clean, the air is pure, the earth is lush, where people of all color play together and love one another, where gender is not a barrier, where education is shared freely to all children.

I may be too broken down to ride all night with no sleep but my aches are battle wounds that remind me there is work to be done, my keyboard and phone can help continue the push while I heal.  When I am rested up, I may just march again. Hippie hearts really never quiet, they just beat to a new cause, unable to settle into success of the past when  injustice is evident. I may be napping today, but Please, let your voice grow loud, louder still. No need to hush on my account. I am with you in spirit.

Speaking from My Gut

Chef and I have one phrase that can stop a debate, a disagreement, a battle of wills. We never pull it out willy-nilly, it is the big gun. Fortunately we both respect the rules of engagement, we understand the force of these words. They mean something. “My gut is saying…” means there is something deeper happening that maybe I can’t fully express and I don’t have to. I have a twitching, a twinkling, a clenching, that says,”Listen.” We trust not only our own gut-warnings but each others. That message means back off, let go of the argument, your spouse is hearing something and you need to pay attention. We have never gone wrong with this system, only the times we have individually ignored those warnings. As I talk to many of my female friends, I notice a tendency to dismiss that inner voice, to minimize their own early warning system, to find ways around it. But what if this is the Holy Spirit, what if this is God with us, speaking directly to us? No lightening bolts, no burning bushes, no angels, our own connection to God through an opened soul ready to hear Him say, “Be aware.” Would we dismiss this voice so easily?

My sweet friends are conditioned to ignore their inner voices, to challenge their own motives and look for the greater good. This is important, this is work towards a selfless life, one that Jesus asks us to live. Becoming accountable to each other is critical in our walk, ensuring our motives are not based in old drama, yucky patterns that distract us from growth and true soul searching. Yet my friends are just that self-aware, I think so many women are, and still they allow the external voices to drown out what is whispering inside of them. Excuses, allowances, bending, finding space for what feels wrong because that seems like what we are called to do. Yet I think we are so busy being nice we forget to be strong. The bible is filled with women who listened and acted, made some folks mad and furthered the work of God. Why are we afraid of making anyone mad? Where does our fear come from? Why do we have culture of being nice, of going along within the church?

When you speak up and are dismissed, when you ask questions and are gently rolled over, when you are not even invited to the table, you learn what is expected. You learn that while liberation may have come to the country, it may not have fully settled into the church. Just as we have a long way to go to find equality in government positions, look at leadership spots within the church, does that reflect the true make-up of the congregation? Do women handle education and men the finances? Is it really biblical that women follow quietly while men lead?  I am a rebel, I want to find our Jaels, our Abigails, our Esthers, Lois and Eunices. I want to hear the voices of our strong women whom I know God is speaking to, I want to listen to what their guts have to say. I trust their wisdom.

I think about what my former pastor always said at each baptism, what if this is the one? The one to cure cancer, the one to stop wars, the one. He allowed us to see each babe as full of possibilities, swaddled in a purpose only God could see. Our job was to nurture that child along the way, to open the doors so that God could speak freely to this child. He didn’t just do this for the male babies. All babies. Somewhere along the way, we as women stop trusting our guts and so does the church. What a loss for us all.

What if you are the one? Would anyone know because you are too nice to speak up? Prayerfully considering what your gut tells you and then using the voice God gave you may just change the world. We might have to get louder, we might have to get mad. We might even have to flat out ask that our voices be heard. Thank God Chef accepts my gut as worthy, as enough. May we all be so generous to each other.  May be find room at the table for loud women, strong women, women who are followers of Jesus, not men. That is a revolution I believe Jesus can get behind. My gut just tells me it is true.