Many privileged American Christians like me are revving up our metaphors of going to the desert with Jesus for 40 days. We’re “fasting” from Facebook, sugar, or alcohol, and taking on a new spiritual practice. But it feels like more of a scandal of disparity this year: Curling up in my cozy home with Lenten meditations on the wilderness while people try to survive crossing literal deserts; not having that glass of wine at dinner while people die of dehydration.
Every International Women’s Day, Sojourners has the honor and challenge of selecting the women who are most inspiring us in the ways they are leading the church, and through it, the world. This year’s group of women includes pastors and artists, professors and activists, lawyers and painters. Collectively, they are shaping the church into a more inclusive, daring, honest, and action-oriented community of believers. We thank them for it. Below, learn why their work is so important, and pray along with these leaders as you receive their blessings for 2019.
This Lent, I urge you to:
- Create a book club.
- Gather with a few friends over coffee and talk through ideas of decolonization.
- Challenge yourself at home and in the workplace to fight toxic stereotypes.
- Re-educate yourself about the history of the United States and the church’s role in empire.
- Grieve, and don’t be afraid of what the wilderness might show you.
Books are always a great place to begin the journey.
Timing is important. Sometimes timing is everything. That may be true now with the likely release of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report on President Trump and his campaign’s possible coordination with Russia during the 2016 election season and potential obstruction of justice. It seems the report is likely to be delivered to Attorney General William Barr during the Christian liturgical season of Lent. This Lent a group of Christian elders have issued a pastoral letter calling for “prayer, fasting, and action,” all of which are appropriate for the Lenten season but are also particularly well timed this year to anchor us for a potential national and even constitutional crisis.
Scripture reminds us that we’re formed from the dust of earth and thus bound intimately to all creation. Science describes how in our elemental form, we’re made of the same stuff as everything in the universe. Yes, we’re earth dust and star dust, too. Everything follows a path of endless transformation.
I worshipped at Seoul’s Myungsung Presbyterian Church, the largest Presbyterian church in the world with a membership close to 100,000, and preached at its English-speaking service. At the main Korean worship service I attended (one of five services that they offer each Sunday), I heard prayers for the reunification of Korea at least three or four times, which is a repeated intercession. Moreover, Myungsung is known for its daily prayer services. One of these gatherings that takes place every Monday is focused on praying for re-unification. It has been doing so for 10 years, normally drawing about 3,000 people.
Luisa bought a ring for her daughter Katherine’s quince. She hopes to give it to her in a few months on her 15th birthday. But just in case she is not able to do so, she mailed it ahead of time to friends in the U.S. The two were separated on Christmas Day 2017 at the U.S.-Mexico border.
In that small town, we were told that we were in "God’s country." The physical and spiritual evidence that surrounded us made us all the more certain. If this was "God’s country," then this too was God’s community, God’s actions, God’s relationships. The community, its actions, its families, its relationships were sacred. Nearly every aspect of the community was transformed into some great action of the Kingdom. And we were reminded, almost as often, that The World was a threatening force trying to make its way in and it was our duty to keep it out.
The landscape of social change is evolving. While effective activism and spiritual vitality have long been positioned in opposition to one another, today’s social movements are investing greater attention to their interdependence. At this intersection of personal and collective well-being, justice doula and movement chaplain Micky ScottBey Jones holds both deep conviction and embodied wisdom.
There’s no way I could imagine forgetting this baby nursing at my breast. Not only wouldn’t my body allow me that, feeding my son wasn’t an obligation or a duty. It was a time I looked forward to with joy. Even those middle of the night wake-ups were still one more opportunity to snuggle that sweet little boy.
One could ask whether taking a vote from 800 delegates from different regions, cultures, and countries, but all part of an increasingly global United Methodist Church, is the best way to discern the will of God or how a denomination should move forward. That’s what former Methodist Bishop Will Willimon wondered to me yesterday, the day after the historic vote to strengthen the church’s “traditional” ban against LGBTQ clergy and marriages. Willimon was disappointed that “once again, the Methodist Church is a mirror of the culture.” The vote showed again how divided the church is, as the vote was nearly split down the middle. That split shows, painfully, that the church is no better place to heal division than anywhere else in our culture.
The semantics are important to understand because the different terms present two completely contrasting paradigms. One is based on textual interpretations and opinions, while the other is founded upon the words and actions of the living savior of the world. If you’re a Christian, you should always err on the side of Jesus. But if we’re not careful, it’s easy to idolize the bible while simultaneously ignoring the very message of Christ.
As a multiracial Christian, growing up in white evangelicalism challenged my sense of belonging. Fitting in was dependent on how well I could match the church culture. Minorities understand that being accepted by the dominant culture means living out a characterization of ourselves rather than our whole selves. We must think and act with sameness to the dominant church in order to belong.
Where are the safe and brave church spaces for Christians of color?
When I began my theological education, I encountered an even more disturbing reality: the presence of “texts of terror” as Hebrew scholar Phyllis Trible calls them. These heinous sexual crimes and acts of violence committed against women were captured right there, plain as day, in the holy book I treasured.
I’m always very curious about what belonging truly means to a community, and how it is demonstrated. I always wondered, who makes the rules of belonging? Who decides what is and isn’t allowable? Can it go so far as to diminish our humanity or cause us to diminish someone else’s? Many of my early talks with God included questions like these. I still don’t have the answers to all of them, but I’ve spent the past several years trying to find a home inside of the tension between our revolutionary capacity for love as human beings, and our frequent tendencies toward exclusion, destruction and harm.
Many people, both inside and outside of the church, spoke about the problem of child care according to the same reasons. They viewed it as a complex, local problem with complex, local solutions. A team of parents attempted to create a new center and soon discovered the massive amount of capital, time, energy, and attention it would take. Everyone involved insisted that some solution must be possible if only we could bring together various stakeholders in the community to find a way to provide child care for those that need it. But this obscures the truth about the problem of child care in capitalism: It’s not complex and local, but big and universal.
As thankful as I am to see Greear speaking clearly and mournfully about sexual abuse in the SBC, I feel concerned by this praise-swirled-with-certainty-of-divine-intervention. It seems to surpass encouragement and land at a premature rendering of Greear as a hero. I fear that too many are equating words of sorrow over sexual abuse with a proportionate, justice-oriented response.
So now, here the church sits staring in the face of human rights violations being committed in our national name. Here we sit privy to the betrayal of anything we could possibly claim the gospel to be about — from the actual life story of Jesus and his dark-skinned, refugee family to the theological imperative to love one’s neighbor and stand with the most vulnerable. Here we sit bearing witness to breathtaking levels of racialized, religious violence being emboldened by this administration’s rhetoric and policies.
It is also from this rage and this discontent that Black people in America created and orchestrated their own culture, ensuring that legacy and heritage would exist for their children. They gathered in “hush harbors” to worship their God and Maker, absent of slaveholder religion and influence, tapping into the untampered presence of the Holy Spirit and the deities of the Motherland. They took the slop and remains of the plantation and created a delicacy now known as “soul food”.
I left the memorial and museum wondering what will be next? Will my 6- and 8-year-old son’s generation decide to construct memorials to the black men and women who were slain by racialized policing and police violence during the era in which they came of age?