But today, we’re going to hear from Rev. Jhon Freddy Correa – from Colombia like Pastor Betty – who was the previous Latinx pastor at EmausLutheranChurch before Pastor Betty. Brief and powerful – he reflects on not only Pastor Betty’s plight, but reminds us of lack of community that makes this possible. Read, comment, share, and help us #FreePastorBetty.
Normally I keep my Facebook profile on private so as to safeguard memories. But today I must change it from “private” to “public” in order to express my feelings, prayers and appreciation to the Latinx community, from Emaus Lutheran Church, Racine, Wisconsin, the ELCA and the USA.
What I have come to learn from Pastor Betty’s arrest and imprisonment, along with that of her family…
…thatour commitment to one another must be constant, not only in moments of immense need.
I ask myself what the bishops and pastors now assembled on her behalf were able to do before the vigil last Thursday.
What could have been done by the community before mobilizing a crowd for a vigil where Pastor Betty was detained, which could have been coordinated by other community orgs before they even had Betty’s name as a slogan.
What could Betty have done and if the family had known what to expect before they were apprehended?
What could I have done before I wrote these questions and reflection?
And now, the most important question is…
What I am willing to do not only today, but tomorrow and the next day?
The Promise of the Gospel is that God is faithful, that God continues to invite us to fight for a community anchored in unconditional love, community fully committed to who we are. When we read “Don’t be afraid” in the Gospels, it is both a daily reminder that Jesus is with us in every day, as much as in our day-to-live as well as every time we open a Bible.
“I’m with you! I have defeated the world!”
So, I wonder:
What will it take to live every day as a “beloved community”?
…to change ourselves from “private” to “public” with our faith?
…from letters, photos, and slogans to actions?
…to create spaces so that others can live life fully and not end up in a prison, hospitals, deported, or disillusioned from an serving institutions?
#FREEPASTORBETTTY – LINKS…
ONLINE DONATIONS: As expenses for Pastor Betty and her family mount, make a donation through – Emaus Lutheran Church, Racine. Simply click here,look for the line that says “Good Samaritan,” type “Pastor Betty” in the subject line, then click “continue.”
CHECK DONATIONS: write checks out to “Immanuel Lutheran Church” with “Rendón Family Fund” in memo line (or send cash) and mail to: Immanuel Lutheran Church, 1500 W. Elmdale Ave, Chicago, IL 60660
As the church in the United States has undergone significant changes in its finances, so too have the ways that pastors pay their bills. The Rev. Tiffany Chaney – of Gathered byGrace in Montgomery, Alabama – speaks candidly of what it means to juggle the needs of ordained ministry with work for the Montgomery hospital cooperative, Baptist Health. She doesn’t mince words – it isn’t easy. But in this piece she both speaks honestly of the blessings and the challenges she faces, as well as presents sound advice for anyone thinking to follow a similar path in word and sacrament ministry. Read, comment, and share!
Francisco Herrera, PhD student and Interim Editor
“You sure do make it look easy!”
About six months after beginning a call as mission developer of Gathered by Grace in Montgomery, AL, where I also serve simultaneously as business development director for a local health system, Baptist Health, I received this comment from someone about their perception of my experience in my new bi-vocational call. Their perception had been formed from following me on social media. I immediately realized I had done the thing – the thing people do on social media – tell all the good parts of the story without acknowledging the challenges.
There are social media posts showing me teaching Bible study in a restaurant with engaged young adults and posts sharing my excitement to teach nurse residents about cultural sensitivity. But, I do not recall posting the day I tried to adjust my weekly schedule to be off work at the health system on Good Friday but had to go in any way to walk through a contract that needed to be submitted by the close of business, which I tried to complete before the noon community Good Friday service but couldn’t get it done in time,so I changed into my clergy shirt in my office, left to go preach at the Good Friday service, and came back to finish the contract.
It has been two years since hearing this comment about making bi-vocational ministry look easy; and, it still sticks with me because as financial pressures increase for congregations, the matter of pastors being bi-vocational enters conversations more frequently. As one who shares periodically in the public space about my experiences being bi-vocational, I feel a certain sense of responsibility to do a better job of sharing my balanced reality. It would be irresponsible of me to only “make it look easy” because it is not.
It’s hard every day.
But, for me, it is also rewarding every day (well, maybe not every day, but certainly most days.)
I am blessed to serve in a unique situation. After being open to calls in a variety of places across the country, the Spirit led me back to Montgomery, AL for my second call, where I lived before seminary. I came back to Montgomery to explore opportunities for ministry, particularly engaging young adults, as I sensed a need to create space where the voices of young adults are centered as they discern their faith and are welcomed without judgment. Also, I felt called to exploring the possibilities for developing more diverse ELCA ministry in the state – I am currently one of two ELCA pastors of color serving congregations in Alabama. These needs and realities led to the development of Gathered by Grace.
When I left Montgomery seven years prior to go to seminary, I continued to work remotely with Baptist Health in a consulting capacity. This relationship was still in tack when the opportunity emerged for me to return to Montgomery to explore developing a new mission. As a result, I was able to return to serve in the same role I left to go to seminary, this time in a part-time capacity, as System Director of Business Development for the three-hospital health system.
Immediately, I was aware of the complementary nature of both my calls, both centered on exploring and starting new opportunities to serve the people of Montgomery. My health care career involves market research, long and short term business planning and strategic planning, working with first line staff to enhance patient experience; and, writing and presenting the case for new health services in our state regulatory process. These skills are helpful to Gathered by Grace because I have a strong awareness of the community we serve, the ability to cast vision and work with Gathered by Grace’s Connection Team to live it out, and grant-writing ability that has resulted in successful grants to fund mission.
Both roles put me in spaces in the community that help to benefit the other.
Also complementary is the opportunity for my non-pastoral job to be in a health system with a mission rooted in faith. The leadership of the organization I serve respects and values the dual nature of my work, which has been essential as I strive to achieve balance.
As the conversation around finding creative ways to fund ministry continues and bi-vocational ministry rises to the forefront as an option, there are values to serving bi-vocationally that I have found to be essential.
Determine focus. When I began serving in this call, I knew I would not be able to participate in as many different ways in the wider church as I had when I was a full-time pastor. I also knew it would be difficult to say no to potentially exciting ways to serve the church, so I found it best to decide ahead of time how I planned to focus my time outside of my mission development to make decision-making easier when faced with new opportunities. I chose two areas of focus I feel called to – strengthening vitality of congregations and helping to make the ELCA a place welcoming to people who find themselves on the margins of church. I have worked to stay within those foci as I determine how to use my time and allocate limited vacation days. It’s not easy but it is necessary in this call.
Be a good steward of time for both calls. I am called by God to serve in both my mission development work and my health care work and I take seriously the need to be a good steward of time for both calls. Because there are times when it is necessary to be fluid in scheduling, I choose to maintain an accounting of how I spend my time each day. No one sees this calculation but me; yet, I maintain it, because I want to ensure I am, over time, maintaining the balance I have committed to both calls.
Give myself grace. l often feel like I should be somewhere I am not. There have been times when I had to leave work at the hospital to attend clergy meetings scheduled in the middle of the day or missed the meetings because leaving wasn’t an option. Last year I missed the Mission Developer Retreat in my synod because it was scheduled for the same time as the state hearing for a health care project I had been working on for six months. While I have always had a good sense of awareness that I can’t be in two places at one time and can’t be everything to everybody, this has been even more pronounced in this call. I have learned to give myself grace.
Resist pastor fragility. This may be an unpopular opinion; but, I think during the busy seasons of Holy Week and Christmas, pastors sometimes lean in to the fragility of our busyness. This feels particularly apparent to me in this call where I am not only regularly immersed in work with pastors but also regularly immersed in work with people in a non-church setting. I serve people who work multiple jobs and side gigs, who are involved in a host of community initiatives, who are in grad school and work full time, who are raising families. They are busy and still dedicate time to serve in ministry. There are times of the year that are more hectic for me as a pastor; but, the same is true for the month-end of an accountant, the end of the semester for a teacher, trial time for a lawyer, holiday time for a retail associate, and every day for a single parent working multiple jobs to make ends meet. And, people with all these experiences still regularly show up and offer their gifts for ministry in churches in a variety of ways. Sometimes I show up tired for Gathered by Grace’s Tuesday night Dinner and Dialogue after working all day but so do the people I serve. And, God shows up, renewing and restoring us all.
Practice radical self care. With rare exceptions, I take a full day off each week. I go on vacations. I show up at AquaZumba class as often as possible. I spend planned and unplanned time with friends and family. I read regularly. I am active in the community. I watch TV movies with unrealistic love stories (spoiler alert: the 1980s child star in the movie will always find love in the end.) Yet, my language of “practice” is intentional. Self-care requires constant intentionality for me. There are plenty of ways I still need to work on better self care; but, I continue to practice it unapologetically.
As the need continues to emerge for creative ways to afford ministry in an environment of increased financial pressure, I am grateful for this bi-vocational ministry experience. It has helped me better engage conversations about what it takes for bi-vocational calls to be nourishing and life-giving for both pastor and congregation.
I find it important to emphasize that bi-vocational ministry experiences are not monolithic. There are unique aspects of my experience that are not the same for my colleagues who also serve in bi-vocational calls. For instance, because I develop new ministry, I have had the opportunity to shape the culture of the ministry I serve. Gathered by Grace has always had a pastor with two jobs, so there has always been the awareness and expectation among participants that there are three days each week when my availability is limited during the day. This is a different experience from an established congregational setting used to having a full-time pastor in the past and now shifting to a new cultural reality as they transition to a part-time, bi-vocational pastor. These kinds of realities are needed in order for a healthy bi-vocational relationship to be established. It won’t work to have full-time expectations from a part-time pastor.
Flowing between the two ways I am called to serve can be stressful at times because time is a limited resource. But, having this experience of being bi-vocational is a gift from God that has been an essential part of my ongoing formation as pastor and leader.
It is not easy; but, it is rewarding!
Tiffany is Pastor Developer for Gathered by Grace, an ELCA mission, and System Director of Business Development for Baptist Health,a three-hospital health system, in Montgomery, Alabama. A life-long Lutheran, Tiffany strives to engage in ministry that reaches to the margins and welcomes all. She has been invited to preach, teach, and write about topics including racial justice, evangelism, and strategic planning. Tiffany is encouraged by Romans 8:38-39,truly believing nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
For the month of May, We Talk. We Listen. is presenting a special series on mission development, also known as “church-planting.” However the idea of simply planting churches doesn’t exactly fit with any of our authors – case in point, meet our first author – Jen Jesse, who describes herself as a church disruptor – and share some of her thoughts about how the life of faith is a form of recovery, recovery from a world (and churches) that try to make people forget that they are loved by God – and that when it comes to creating community waiting for permission and sanction isn’t an option. Sometimes you just have to do it.
Read, comment, and share!
Francisco Herrera, Interim Blog Editor
“All are welcome,” right?
There was a time when I was settled at a church here in Utah – active in various ministries and activities, including leading contemporary worship – and this idea came to me for a modern, inclusive, ecumenical worship service. Yeah, that’d be cool, I thought. Maybe with dinner. Sunday evenings, for people who can’t/don’t attend Sunday mornings. These thoughts trickled in over several months, as thoughts do.
Then one day, while I was working on something completely unrelated, this word appeared in my mind: Recovery.
I’d always hated when churches “name” a service – it usually just comes off as trying too hard to be relevant, and there’s almost never an explanation for the name, just a random word like “The Edge” or “Summit” or “The Point” or anything else that sounds fancy.
But “Recovery” was like the first spark of a lighter that catches a flame. It held firm.
So many of us are recovering from harm and abuse thrust upon us by society and by the church. So many of us are recovering from beliefs and traditions, man-made as a method of control, rather than living God’s liberation and love for all.
So many of us are recovering from our own sin, our own part in the kyriarchy, our own learned behaviors and attitudes that we inherited; trying to overcome these misconceptions so that we can practice love instead of exclusion.
Many of us also feel the need to recover, as in reclaim, what has been given to us by God and what man has threatened and attempted to steal away. Our rights, our freedoms, our liberation, our grace, our call.
And, as a friend in AA pointed out, recovery is also about coming together as a community, open and vulnerable.
Is faith itself not exactly this – recovery?
My spouse and I have tried to attend various churches, but something had changed inside – whether something great had broken or whether something broken was healing is debatable, but I suspect it’s a looping cycle of both. As the song goes, “I once was blind, but now I see.” I couldn’t help noticing things that were exclusionary and limiting. And I couldn’t stand idly by.
Microaggressions and overt harm abound in churches as they do in society at large, and a single person cannot even perceive them all. The walls of the church do not block out the kyriarchy, the false lords of whiteness, male-ness, cis-ness, hetero-ness, rich-ness, Europeanness, English-speaking-ness, grad-school-educated-ness, able-bodied-ness, allistic-ness, elite-ness… Kyrie eleison.
One Tuesday morning in January 2018, I wrote the following intro/explanation into a Word document:
A new worship service with some liturgical structure and traditions at its foundation, but stripped of man-made exclusivity and kyriarchical influences as much as possible, leaving God-given grace and mercy given for all souls.
A space and time for progressive Christian worship where every individual is affirmed as inherently valuable to God, and our call to love God and love one another is kept a focal point.
A worship service for deprogramming; for unfundamentalists; for those pushed aside by historical man-made structures; for women; for people of color; for the LGBTQIA community; for people with disabilities; for immigrants; for indigenous peoples / first peoples; for families of one and families of many; for children and youth, the elderly, the young-ish, and the middle-aged; for the oppressed, the recovering oppressor, and those who are both; for the love of all humankind.
Whenever I briefly mentioned the idea, people perked up and asked for more details. They were all interested. Some even signed themselves up to help every week, not having attended yet but so drawn to the mission and vision. People said they needed it.
So in early 2019, after countless calls and emails and meetings and visits, I grew tired of waiting for existing churches and clergy to be on board. I grew tired of waiting – yet again – for “The Church (™)” to accept this community that was begging for space. God makes room. Where institutions do not, where individuals do not, where oppression reigns, God disrupts the status quo and makes room.
Some forces are too strong and inevitable for mere mortals to control. Can you keep a baby in the womb when the time has come for birth? Can you hold back floodwaters when the dam breaks? Can you withhold God-given grace and mercy and acceptance?
I acknowledged myself out loud as “dechurched” and set my mind: “f— it, I’m just gonna do it.”
It was time to light the match. This is literally a salvation issue.
There is simply no other way to explain it. When the church excludes people, regardless of the church’s intention, those people receive the message that they are excluded from God’s grace and mercy. This is a lie, but having been in that situation myself, I can testify that it feels like probably the deepest, most permanent wound.
We had to do an Easter service. Celebrating the resurrection, Easter is hope, new life, and promise. We’d sing praises from a random rooftop or parking lot if we had to, but people needed this.
I wasn’t sure how many people to expect – 10? 200? (With dinner planned, there were lots of loaves & fishes jokes.) I admit, I was worried – what if nobody attended? What if it was just the band and the readers and the preacher, and we were just presenting a service for ourselves? “It’s okay – it’d still be worth it,” said one of the guitarists.
So the day came. April 21, 2019. Easter Sunday. We had all sorts of people! From ages 4 to 70-something. LGBTQIA+ people and straight people. People of color and white people. People who speak Spanish and English and ASL. People who’d attended other Easter services earlier that day, and people who hadn’t been in years (or maybe at all). People who are part of a Christian denomination, people who are simply “Christian,” people who are Pagan, people who don’t really know what label to use. Autistic people and allistic people. People with disabilities, visible and hidden. Radical leftists and conservatives. Cat people and dog people and reptile people. All of them God’s people. We ate dinner together, and when we had all finished, we moved into the sanctuary together for the Gospel, a brief sermon, and prayers, interspersed with a variety of music.
And now the coals are smoldering.
We are trying to practice what Jesus preached. Open commensality, where everyone has a place at the table. Where space is held. Where room is made. Where we love God and love our neighbor (and everyone is our neighbor). We won’t be perfect, but we are going to continually try to be better. To love better.
The next immediate plans for Recovery are to participate in some local Pride services happening in May-June; do some fundraising(ahem); and line up resources so that we can finally start with weekly services!
Continually, constantly, I am trying to break out of the restraints of “tradition” and kyriarchy, to let God’s radical love make room. I am dechurched, but never de-faithed.
Mary grieving the death of Jesus – the pieta – is has been a common subject in art for well over 1000 years. However, rarely do we wonder about what happened to Mary post resurrection (there is little to no information about this in Scripture) nor how her pain might have still affected even after her son had risen again. Posing some of these questions in most eloquent form for us, the first week of Easter, is Rev. Melissa Gonzalez – Pastor-Developer of Tapestry, a multicultural ministry outside of Minneapolis.
Francisco Herrera, Interim Editor
Three years ago I was asked to preach as one of seven pastors at a Tre Ore Good Friday service in Minneapolis. During three hours we each preached about one of the Seven Last Words, as Jesus’ last words on the cross are known. I chose “Mother, behold your son. Behold your mother.”
I recounted that day how I imagined Mary pondering Jesus’ birth, and how she felt as she watched her beloved oldest son grow up. I imagined it must be how we watch children grow up, ours and others. How they can be precocious like Jesus when his parents were upset he stayed behind at the temple without telling them. How Jesus scolded his mother for sticking her nose in when there was no good wine. And how she would have loved him just as he was.
Then when his ministry began to have an impact, she would have been proud, but then as Jesus became more renowned and popular. and he became the subject of intense fear and hatred, how she must have begun fearing for him. Even in her worst moments, though, she could have never imagined the cruelty of Jesus’ betrayal by a friend, the gross injustices in court, or the physical and spiritual pain that Jesus suffered that Mary would have felt to the very core of her being.
I preached about how Mary would have laid at the foot of the cross and felt so alone. And how Jesus saw his mother’s pain and suffering and made sure she was not alone, that her beloved community was there to care for her. And in that, I caught a glimpse of the importance of beloved community.
But as far as I can remember, I left the story there at that time, as in my mind I’m sure I was already reaching forward to the resurrection. I left Mary’s story there at the foot of the cross, probably with some vague understanding that since Jesus was raised from the dead, there Mary’s story ended.
But you see, I was missing something that I didn’t even realize was missing until this week, this holy week, this week just after what would have been my beloved older son Chris’s 24th birthday. This week that is approaching the two year Sadiversary of my own beloved son’s death. I had looked in that sermon at Mary’s BEFORE-life. I hadn’t even considered Mary’s AFTER-life.
My older son Chris was lost in the Mississippi River on April 25, 2017. His body was recovered May 4, 2017. (I’ve written extensively about my son’s death on my personal blog here). This was the dividing line between my own before and after. And in this after, I have been so immersed in my own grief that I have only briefly begun to think about Mary. Mary, mother of Jesus. Mary, bereaved mother.
Soon after Chris’s death, I was preaching about John 3. In my “after” I rarely write sermons, so while I prepare for them, I never know what will come out of my mouth. That day, I recited John 3:16 from memory:” For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son…” and I gasped.Through my tears it became clearer to me what the love of God the Father was for his son and what He had lost. I still didn’t think about Mary.
Until this week. The last time we were together as a family was on Easter, April 16, 2017. Last year Easter Sunday fell on Chris’s birthday, April 1st. This year Easter falls in the in-between, the days of mourning coupled with the day that brings with it the promise of the Resurrection.
So this week I began to ponder Mary in her “after”-life. I imagine her cradled in John’s arms, not wanting to get out of bed to face another day. I imagine Mary walking dazedly through her mornings when time became relevant and irrelevant at the same time, where Jesus’ death would have felt to her like yesterday and forever-ago no matter how much time had passed. I wonder what the changes would have been within her that would have made her unrecognizable to herself and to those around her. I wonder if she could still pray to the Father to whom Jesus had cried out, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”) or if she relied upon her beloved community to pray for her, just as I had to do for so long.
I wonder if her friends told her she should “get over it” and “move on” and “heal” and “be happy because her son was in a better place” and “everything happens for a reason” and “God had a plan.” And sure, God has plans, but not for death. God’s plans are for light and life and love and hope and peace. And “Mary, if you were really faithful and believed God’s promises, then you wouldn’t cry anymore. You would be happy because Jesus is with his Father in heaven.”
Would Mary ponder all of these things in her heart and hold her tongue?
And I wonder how Mary responded when people inevitably told her how strong and courageous she was. I wonder if she responded as I do. “No. The death of my oldest son has brought me to my knees. I lie prostrate at the foot of the cross.” I wonder if she felt in the deep marrows of her bones that the love of God and the support and prayers of her beloved community were the only things holding her together, the only things that allowed her to stand, the only things that allowed her to speak in loving memory of her son, the only things that brought her any kind of peace.
The last time we hear Mary mentioned by name in the Bible is sometime around the Ascension of Jesus into heaven and the Pentecost. We read that Mary was with the disciples and Jesus’ brothers constantly devoting herself to prayer. I wonder if she was there when her beloved son ascended into heaven. I like to think she was. I like to think God granted her that tender mercy.
And I like to think she was at the Pentecost. I like to think that the Holy Spirit rested on Mary as a tongue of fire so that this mother who certainly still grieved the death of her beloved son would be comforted with the Spirit and moved to share the good news of her son, of his birth and life and cruel death, but most importantly, the resurrection. Because it is in Jesus Christ’s resurrection that all who grieve death will find the promises of new life. New life that is only in Christ.
Blessed be the memory of Mary, this grieving mom who was given hope and who, I am sure, spoke her son’s name any time she could so that she might remember him. and we might remember him. May we, too, even in our grief, speak Jesus’ name so that all who grieve in this ravaged world might know that death does not have the last word.
On April 25, 2017, 22-year-old Chris Stanley was lost in the Mississippi River. He was planning to bike from Minneapolis to the Gulf of Mexico. In 2019, Melissa (Melnick) Gonzalez, 52-year-old mom, pastor, and non-biker took this 1500 mile journey by bike with the support of friends, family, and strangers. Melissa blogged, preached, and video-logged while training and completing the journey. She now speaks and preaches about: grief. cycling, and most importantly, about love, hope, light, and life.
Palm Sunday is coming soon – and with it the Church makes the final, heavy steps that culminate in the final days of Jesus’ life among us. What does this have to do with the environment, you may be asking? The Rev. Dr. Leah D. Schade of Lexington Theological Seminary has some rather poignant thoughts – giving the church not-so-subtle reminder that planets can be lauded, betrayed, and crucified just as human beings, and we mustn’t ever forget it. Read, comment, and share.
Francisco Herrera, Interim Blog Editor
On Palm Sunday, thousands of churches will use sustainably-harvested palms in their worship services marking the beginning of Holy Week. It is right and good that more congregations are recognizing the need to exercise environmental responsibility when it comes to liturgical practices. Organizations such as Eco-Palms protect important forests and sustainable livelihoods in the harvesting communities. But let’s not end there. The sermon, too, can incorporate ecojustice themes that highlight the connection between Jesus’ crucifixion and the eco-crucifixion happening today.
We begin our Palm Sunday services with our palm fronds and branches lifted high, singing “All Glory, Laud and Honor.”Our voices echo those of the crowds gathered outside of Jerusalem waving branches, spreading their cloaks on the road. They were cheering on the man they hoped would lead them to a glorious military victory over the Roman Empire.
Less than thirty minutes later, we’re all yelling, “Crucify him!” when the dramatic reading of the Passion story calls for us to call out these words.What happened? Why the sudden 180-degree turn? As soon as the crowds in Jerusalem realized that Jesus is a leader of sacrificial peace instead of bloody war, they turn on him. One minute their chanting, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” Soon after that they’re screaming, “Crucify him!”
For some people this sudden move from Palms to Passion is jolting. We feel uncomfortable calling for Jesus’ death. We don’t want to be identified with that crowd. Some Christians and certain churches even avoid the entire Holy Week journey altogether. They have Palm Sunday, alright. But they skip over all the dark, ugly, graphic parts of the story on Good Friday. They go right from palms to Easter lilies. None of that messy stuff in between.
Lutherans call this “cheap grace.” Because it requires no change, no response. It provides no means for a change of heart, for a transformed attitude, for a moment of self-awareness, repentance and a decision to lead a life of reconciliation.
But we choose not to ignore the suffering of Jesus. We believe it is vital that we tell all parts of the story, and that we recognize ourselves as part of both crowds – the ones who cheer, and the ones who call for crucifixion. Especially as our planet is undergoing an eco-crucifixion, it is imperative that we tell that part of the story as well. The crucifixion of Jesus happened once in history. But the crucifixion of Earth is carried out daily.
If God’s body – this small planet that is now under siege by continued global warming, deforestation, the spread of toxins, the chronic loss of habitat – continues to suffer and bleed, then does not God, in some sense real but still unknowable and mysterious to us, also suffer and bleed? . . .
If it is the case that when the earth, God’s body, suffers, then God’s Spirit suffers as well, then we can say that the Spirit of God is ‘Christ-like’ or ‘cruciform’ because the Spirit suffers the same violent fate as did Jesus – but now a suffering not confined to a onetime event of the cross, as in the case of Jesus, but a suffering that the Spirit experiences daily through the continual debasement of the earth and its inhabitants . . . [T]he Spirit bears the cross of a planet under siege as she lives under the burden of humankind’s ecological sin (Wallace, 23 – 24).
Wallace warns of a “permanent trauma to the divine life itself” through the crucifixion-like ecocide that humans continually inflict upon Earth and its inhabitants (Wallace, 129). His powerful equation of God’s suffering through Jesus on the cross with God’s suffering through the embodied Spirit in Earth is meant to spurn “a conversion of the heart to a vision of a green earth, where all persons live in harmony with their natural environments” that persuades us “to work toward a seamless social-environmental ethic of justice and love toward all of God’s creatures” (Wallace, 136).
So on Palm Sunday, we tell the story of the Passion to remember. We tell this story to our children so that they remember. Lest we think ourselves so much more advanced than the rabid crowds in Jerusalem, we must recognize that we are no different today. What was done to Jesus is still done to people and our planet. Native Americans continue to lose their sacred land sacrificed to the colonization of the oil and gas industry. Communities of color continue to be targeted for polluting industries and toxic landfills. Island nations such as Puerto Rico are raked by catastrophic storms super-charged by climate change and given little help in recovery. Coral reefs worldwide are bleaching and dying. Billions of populations of plants, fish, and animals have been lost in recent decades in what scientists are calling a “biological annihilation.” We are in the midst of the sixth mass extinction event since life began on this planet. So, yes, the crucifixion of our planet and people is real and ongoing.
On Palm Sunday and Holy Week, we consciously and intentionally remember that we are guilty and have committed eco-crucifixion against people and planet. The pain of eco-crucifixion is real, and that the voices of those who suffer need to be heard. We must speak of this in our worship service so that we do not become numb to the pain and thus apathetic towards our sisters and brothers. Because if we cut ourselves off from their pain, the cycle of violence will only continue.
But there is another reason why we tell this story. We do this to remember what God is doing in response to this crucifixion. Some might say, “Well, yes, God sent Jesus to die for our sins. God allowed Jesus to die in order to make payment for our sins. That’s what God is doing here, right?”
However, I would again argue that this is also “cheap grace.” Because this theory of atonement requires no response from us. It provides for no change of heart, or a transformed attitude, or a moment of self-awareness, repentance and a decision to lead a life of reconciliation.
Does God really require the killing of Jesus in order to be satisfied for our sins?
No. But humans do.
The Jewish and Roman domination systems had to kill Jesus because he was a threat to their power. And we continue to sacrifice lives for the sake of institutional domination, imperial arrogance, economic and territorial greed, and petty pride.
But God answers all of this in the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.
The answer is:this must stop! If God wanted sacrifice, then Jesus would have remained dead. That’s not what happened. Jesus was resurrected. Jesus lives.
This means that God does not condone violence committed against God’s Creation. God submits to it, absorbs it, and lives right through it in order to be in solidarity with those who suffer through it.
And then God resurrects the condemned one, the betrayed one, the crucified one in order to show that this act of violence is not the last word.
I have to believe that God, who has brought us through 14 billion years of time, will not abandon us now. That somehow God is working through even this human-made catastrophe of global climate change, deforestation, massive extinction, and toxic poisoning to find a way for life to push through once again. So I make the choice to believe – and act on my firm belief – that on the other side of the Good Friday of the eco-crucificion, there is an eco-resurrection.
Stay with the journey to the cross. Don’t turn away from it. It will not be easy. But this is part of God’s plan to transform the worst of humanity into the very best that God intends for God’s people, for our planet, and for our future.
Francisco Herrera – PhD student, Interim Blog Editor
Trustworthy Servants, a new standard of behavior for rostered leaders and candidates for ministry has been a buzz among rostered leaders, seminary students, and candidates for ministry. As I write this, the document is being challenged on several fronts. I want to specifically address the section Trustworthiness With Creation, which begins at line 290 of the draft.
The section focusing on creation is consistent with previous eco-expressions within the denomination. There was the 1993 social statement Caring for Creation: Vision, Hope and Justice. There is the Living Earth devotional series and a host of curriculum resources. The previous standards manual, Vision and Expectations also included creation care as an expectation for the leaders in the church. What we are hearing is a sincere yearning for greater care for the creation God calls good.
All of this emerges from the voices that shaped the first Earth Day in 1970. Air pollution, pesticides and oil spills were the dominant issues that spawned an ecological teach-in day.
The impact was impressive as the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts were all passed later that year and the Environmental Protection Agency was formed. It was in this spirit that environmentalism went mainstream – so much so that by the 20th anniversary I was planting trees at my junior high. We all loved trees and clean air and clean water.
These elders shifted the conversation – and the policies – of the United States of America. Yet much of the conversation around environmentalism – like the Trustworthy Servants document – focus on personal responsibility. Are you taking shorter showers, recycling your single-use plastic, driving a Prius? Are you doing your part to help the environment? The document states:
As leaders in the congregation and in the community, pastors and deacons are in a unique position to raise awareness of the human impact on the environment and lead people towards behavior and practices that minimize damage to natural resources. (lines 294-296)
It goes on to say recycling, reusing, and energy-conservation is a witness to the care of God’s creation.” (lines 297-298)
And this is problematic AF.
First off, this call centers the role humans play on impacting the environment. This is sanitized language that does not take into consideration the constructs around human impact. The impact of industrialized nations look vastly different than the impact of developing nations. The pollution of creation is tied to when native water rights are violated, coal-fired power plants are sited in African American communities, and fracking in poor, rural areas. We are not only devastating God’s good earth but specific communities are being destroyed by this action. Just ask the people of the Maldives Islands.
The goal of Trustworthy Servants is to have leaders raise awareness and shift personal behavior. That behavior is tied to a consumer-driven understanding of recycling, reusing, and energy-conservation. With China refusing to import our recyclables, cites like my own, are looking to dump recyclable materials into landfills. While reusing and conserving are great household ideals, they seem weak when our country has pulled out of the Paris Climate Agreement.
Being trustworthy with creation needs the radical roots of a movement that changed the environmental policy of a nation for a generation. We need churches to be following the students leading climate strikes like the one last month or in Germany last week. We need to name the corporations in our communities that are contributing to a climate crisis. We need to say I don’t care how much funding comes out of North Dakota fossil fuel driven communities, the protection of creation is more important than our institutional endowments. We need to denounce leaders that deny climate change. We need to hold crafters of a green new deal to a standard that moves beyond feel-good personal responsibility quips and toward an entire overhauling of our economic system. It isn’t just that what we’re doing isn’t working – it is that it is literally killing us.
We are beyond raising awareness and starting recycling programs in our congregations. We need to be mobilizing our communities against the very powers and principalities that seek to destroy us.
The Rev. Alaina Kailyn Cobb– pastor and director of the radical liberationist collective Mercy Junction Justice and Peace Center in Chattanooga, Tennessee – starts off this last week of Women’sHistoryMonth with the history of trans women and how so often their stories are lost under literal mounds of ashes. And as we near the end of Women’s History Month, it is a clarion call that, as much as they have been erased, trans women and femmes have always been among us and will remain. Please read, comment, and share.
Francisco Herrera – PhD student, Interim Blog Editor
The first time I saw a woman like me was on Jerry Springer. There was no poetry in that and no grace, no poetry but the fumbling drunken poetry of a bar brawl and no grace but that of vinegar upon a sponge. Yet somehow, along with the harsh words of disgust and the sideshow antics, I saw hope.
I wonder what it means to me, to my soul, that my first image of hope was an icon offered up for mockery, shame, and derision. My Christ, my sacrificial lamb, was crucified with a thrown chair and a cheap wig. The crowd was surely chanting “crucify her” even though they only needed one word.
Years later, just like her, I took up my cross and set my whole and holy self towards bearing the sins of our society knowing there was no hope but that which I wove together from the tattered edges of my faith. Like our early mystics I set my face to the emptiness of the desert and dared to believe there was a life to be found there, a life more closely tied to the divine.
In those early days I believed that there was no path set before me. No ancestors, no legacy, no saints to guide my way. The narrative of my history, the history of my people, has been buried, burned, stabbed, gutted, and reburied so many times that dredging it from the past is a work of forensics as much as it is archeology.
Often we know more about what killed us than we do about who we were.
Even so, the tidbits that survive swell my heart to the point of bursting. Simple allusions to our existence are enough to set my pulse racing, to sustain me for days.
We are so starved of recognition, not just of our greatness or our accomplishments, but of our mere existence that even the subtlest glimpses of an ancestor reverberate like a thunderclap across the drought stricken plains of our hearts.
When I think of other women, cisgender women, I have a harder time considering them as ancestors. While I can connect with their experience of womanhood, it is with a constant mindfulness that they were often complicit in the erasure of my trans ancestors.
That is not an easy thing to overlook.
When we first come into our selves, our womanhood, we often feel as if we are locked away from it by cisgender gatekeepers. We crave the recognition of our cis sisters, begging crumbs like dogs beneath the master’s table. But the more I live in cisiety the more I wish to lock the gate from my own side. To barricade my femininity against the thieving hands of those I once wished to join. My womanhood is a feast of my own making, the culmination of years spent working the soil out here in this desert, watered with the blood sweat and tears of my sisters. My table bears the names of our dead, and it is in their name that I welcome you to communion.
When I invite you in, bow low, for this is deep hospitality.
It is from that place that I want to speak to you. From within that recognition of our erasure and our resilience.
The only solid stories of my people, fully fleshed out and fully human, date back fifty to a hundred years. Not because we haven’t been a part of this culture. Not because we didn’t exist, persist, and resist. But because we have been erased with precision and brutal efficiency.
I remember talking with a friend of mine who is a scholar of ancient texts, and hearing her lament the destruction of the Library of Alexandria, the loss of history, the tragedy of knowledge destroyed that we can never regain.
I was moved by her real grief at this loss so far removed from her time.
The burning has become famous because of a well publicized photo of Nazis destroying books. It became a symbol for the Fascist desire to censor scholarship. I remember seeing that photo countless times in my childhood as my father watched the History channel and I always wondered what those books were. Oddly they never mentioned it, and almost no one can tell you what those books were, their loss overshadowed by the bigger picture.
But trans folk can tell you what those books were.
The Hirschfield Research Library and Institute for the Science of Sexuality performed the first modern gender confirmation surgeries, and was the first place to research and give affirming counsel to those with trans identities.
Those books were our history, our birthright; they were the first scientific texts dealing with trans people. The burning of those books was the beginning of our small fraction of the holocaust. It was the lives and courage of my people, become ash.
So what does this have to do with anything? What is the purpose of this lamentation, this recitation of misdeeds and loss?
The purpose is that I want you to understand. I want you to understand that this is the lens we bring to scripture. This is why we get so angry with those who accuse us of “reading queer people into ancient texts”. This is why I parse the Hebrew with a fine toothed comb as I wash the pages with my tears, my hair, and spikenard. Somewhere in those pages are my ancestors, covered by the ash and soot and sneers of centuries.
Though their bodies, their selves, their identities have been stolen, covered up, put away, and destroyed.
I know they are in there.
Because I exist.
Because I refuse to be erased.
Because my people live.
Erasure is how we keep people oppressed. Erasure is how we keep people powerless. People need a history and a culture to build power, to believe their selves powerful. It’s the very reason my European ancestors destroyed the cultures they invaded. Why they separated people they enslaved from those who spoke their language.
Erasure is evil and insidious. It always is. But it works.
That is why we must fight against it.
We must grasp our history and wrench it free. Loving our hated ancestors is a revolution, it is the kindling on a fire set to burn the empires. But to love them we must first find them, we must suss them out, even if we must snatch them from the wispy fog of myth and rumor.
So when I talk about my history, about the history of women like me, I’m not looking for solidity. I’m not justifying every claim to those who don’t understand the pervasive nature of erasure. Instead I am loud and proud and firm when I rejoice with Rachel at the birth of her beautiful Non-Binary princess Joseph. I converse with joy in the fullness of intersex Ha-Adam. I revel in the feminine hospitality of the Trans Woman who hosted the Lord for his last supper. And I claim these as my birthright.
These are the Women and Trans Folk stolen from my history.
These are who I celebrate, who I cherish, who I have clawed from between the pages of a book used to justify the same erasure I stand against. So yes these belong to me, they are my people, and you can take them from my cold dead exegesis.