Whose side is God on?

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?
Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 
(Matthew 10:29)

Last week, in my home town in Virginia, protestors pulled down the statues on a Confederate monument just a few blocks from my childhood home. Chris Green, a Black man, tried to keep others safe; he suffered a terrible head injury when a statue fell on him, and he is in a coma. In Philadelphia, in my new home state, Dominique Rem’mie Fells, a Black transgender woman, was horribly murdered. In Palmdale, California, a young Black man, Robert Fuller was found hanged in a public square, and I cannot believe it was anything but lynching. I’m sitting with these stories and more like them and asking myself one question as I hold them alongside the scripture texts for this week:

Whose side is God on?

On Twitter this week, my friend and co-author Rachel Hackenberg offered this.

That’s a very apt and uncomfortable take on the Genesis passage for this week. It’s too easy to say God had a plan for Hagar and dismiss the desires of Sarah and the complicity of Abraham as they cast out the mother of Abraham’s first-born son. We have probably heard many different ways to understand what happens to Hagar, but in this moment, we need to stretch ourselves not just to empathize with her position but to understand where we are in the narrative. 

Who do we align with when we read this story? 

I’m particularly taken this week with the psalm read alongside Hagar’s story and the words of Jesus.

Incline your ear, O Lord, and answer me,
    for I am poor and needy.
Preserve my life, for I am devoted to you;
    save your servant who trusts in you.
You are my God; be gracious to me, O Lord,
    for to you do I cry all day long.
(Psalm 86:1-3)

We want the psalms to be about us. When we read the lament of a person who is oppressed, we look for the ways our stories connect, and we ask for God’s help in their words. If they are in danger, we must be, too. If they are needy, and God helps them, won’t God help us? 

We read Jesus’ words about the sparrows and take comfort because we deploy the gospel words in a manner that serves us. He is warning his followers of persecution to come and division from their friends and families because they believe in him. 

This is a crucial moment for the church. If your congregation is like the ones I’ve served, there is a high level of resistance to seeing ourselves as the persecutors, the powerful, or the privileged. We don’t want to think of ourselves as the ones who are causing harm and bringing sorrow. We don’t want to see ourselves as the ones who injure the helpless and do violence to the vulnerable. When those thoughts cross our minds, we react defensively and shut down, or we close them off and pack them away, or we wallow in them, paralyzed by the guilt we feel.

It’s time for us to repent of the compartmentalizing and the navel-gazing. It’s past time.

When we know whose side God is on, when we can admit it to ourselves, we will be changed.

We can’t honor God by telling the old stories the way we always knew them. Those interpretations are not just outdated but untrue. It’s time to write a new story with our lives. It’s past time to write a new story with actions that glorify God’s holy name.

Prayers for Pastors

Would we open the doors?

Dear God,

I ask myself,

Would we open the doors
On a Friday night
And shelter protestors?

Or would we stop short,
Worried about the police,
Or angry neighbors?

Would we turn off the lights,
Draw the blinds,
Hide in the office?

Or would we be ready
With water and cookies,
And first aid kits?

Would we welcome strangers,
For Your sake,
And keep them safe?

O God,
who opens doors,
I hope so.

(Offered with thanksgiving for Central Reform Congregation and University United Methodist Church in St. Louis and their hospitality to protestors this weekend.)

Ministry, The Inner Landscape

I bought this t-shirt

I bought this t-shirt at UCC General Synod in Baltimore and wore it home yesterday. I’ve admired it on friends’ social media and went to the Exhibit Hall looking for it on Monday. The back of the shirt lists all kinds of Black Lives that Matter, including women and trans* people. I especially feel convicted by the line on the front in smaller print, “White Silence is Violence.”
When I stopped in Shrewsbury, PA, to get an iced coffee, I got out of my car in the Starbucks parking lot and wondered if anyone would react. I don’t wear politics on my clothes much. In the town where I live, I’m running an action as an LGBTQ+ person every time I grocery shop, go to the doctor’s office, or attend a school or sports event with my wife. When I was in a pulpit, I preached Black Lives Matter, but I’m not in a pulpit now and don’t know how likely it is that I ever will be again, at least around here.
At Starbucks, the family parked next to me included a White dad, a Black mom, and their two teenaged daughters. I stood in line with the dad while the rest of the family used the restroom. I wondered what they thought of the shirt. I know in my town we’ve heard People of Color say they don’t want attention drawn for fear of getting racists more riled up than they already are. I don’t want to make things worse for any particular person in order to make a larger point, do I?
While I stood waiting for my drink, the mom passed me on her way to the door. As our eyes met, she said, “I like your shirt.” Then we both said, at the same time, “Thank you,” and she touched my arm, and we both had tears in our eyes.
I am not looking for cookies here. That moment in the Starbucks felt unearned, although I appreciated the moment of connection. I’m pondering the difference between sharing articles online, which is easy for me to do, not only because I do a lot of my work online, but because it feels safe, and actually showing up, which I don’t often do because … why? I have a list of reasons (a few) and excuses (quite a few).
Mostly, being transgressive feels scary, which I conclude is the point. We can’t make change by staying in our safe zones.

The back of the shirt. Buy it here.