Can I Finally Speak About it?

In six days, Donald Trump will be our president. I have no shortage of feelings. I have wanted to write something profound since about 2am on November 9th. A few things kept me from writing anything: insecurity and uncertainty. But alas, as I procrastinate on a sermon ruminating over the words of a sermon by Rev. Barber at a local MLK worship, maybe even with the insecurity and uncertainty, I will still pen some words, add to the noise. As you'll see.... I've started and stopped this post before.

On November 9, 2016 in the midst of a fitful night/morning of sleep, I awoke to President-Elect Trump. 20 Days later(nearly 3 weeks) and maybe I can add my thoughts to this cacophony of think(and not so think) pieces on the inter-webs? Today I was headed to a meeting at Pullen Memorial Baptist Church that, an organizer I met  a day after the election invited me to. It was an assembled group for restless/maybe a bit broken pastor types(FYI, I fit the bill). I passed the church and end up turning around in the NC RNC Office (or maybe it was just Wake County Republicans). I immediately got to the church and sat down at a chair around a labyrinth and breathed a sigh of relief. I was at a meeting in a church that I knew as "the progressive baptist church" with a bunch of cynical Jesus-loving clergy types serving in my home state of North Carolina trying to figure out what it means to preach the gospel and be church in "times like these". As  I write that part of me thinks aren't we always in "times like these". 

So it seems fitting, that I finally just lay out the vestiges of what's been going on in my mind since then.  As a lover of nineties hip-hop and the mantra "keepin' it real"

Lemme lay out a few cards on the table:

1) I did not vote for Trump. I was reluctantly "with her".  In the primaries, I voted for Bernie. Why? As I told one of my favorite church ladies who watches too much MSNBC, " This might be the only time in my life I get to vote for someone who aligns with my ideology." 

2) I actively worked to not get Trump elected. I didn't do AS much work as I could but I donated  money, I did some door-to-door canvassing, I phone-banked, I did some GOTV, I was a poll greeter. It's not so much a love for Hillary but a fear of Trump that led me to this.

3)My life is pretty much an echo chamber. I don't usually get too riled up by my "racist uncle" or my "facebook friend". Although I've learned that who you vote for and what your politics are do not always aligned.

4) I'd say on a scale of "woke" 1-10 (1 being Rip Van Winkle), I'd put my self at a 6.5-7.

4a) I don't read all of the stuff or always use the right pronouns and names for various groups who I think I stand in solidarity with.

5) My main news sources are- NPR, The New York Times, and what folks share on Facebook.

 Also for good measure  Here is what I said on the Sunday after the election.  My congregation is made of people whom I assume are Democrats, and know are Boomers. Also they're black. 

SO NOW I'M  BACK AND IT IS FIVE DAYS BEFORE THE INAUGURATION. FIVE DAYS. I got caught up in the yuletide and just like I knew was going to happen, January and the reality of it seems like being re-traumatized. 

Some thoughts.

1. I've lost trust. I don't trust the media. By media, I mean all of it from NPR to FoxNews to the Atlantic and even(gasp) my beloved Robin Roberts (cause she works for ABC). I don't trust that people will choose compassion and empathy/sympathy over perceived self-interest. I don't trust that people know what their own self-interest is. I don't trust politicians. I think I had a thin trust in the idea of America or the American experience. I once teared up after a tour of the Liberty Bell and Constitution Hall. Full disclosure this was a few weeks after Obama was elected in 2008. And maybe because of all the other things I don't trust, I don't trust America.

2. I am exhausted from doing nothing. I've got friends who are organizer. And I dream that I am a justice-seeking revolutionary. I signed a few petitions on I made grandiose claims to a few people about what I am going to do. I did some "slactivism". You know hip shirts about current justice issues where somewhere between 0.0 and 15 % go of my purchase goes to help the actual cause. I think I will be come a revolutionary my being in earshot of people who are actually doing the work.

3. Speaking of exhaustion. I am tired of whiny liberals. I live in an echo chamber so I usually agree with people and their dense, overly-academic, further deepening the intellectual gulf articles.

4. I'm still angry. I have been working on my anger intentionally since maybe September. I'm black so this is helpful because I don't want to be an angry black woman stereotype. But, anger is ok. It's ok to be pissed. It's ok to not be ok. Because anger moves us toward action. I needed to hear one of the dopest people on the earth, Valarie Kaur say that last week to embrace it.  I want to stay angry because maybe it means I see myself in my siblings all over the country. I want to stay angry because I want to be part of the resistance.

5. All of the Christian rhetoric I've heard that tries to make meaning of this all can feel sorta pithy and pie-in-the sky but I have no other alternative because of my above mistrust to believe it.

I have a seven point plan for the first 100 Days. It seems SMART. 

I do wanna be the change I wish to see in the world. I'm also scared. I think I am scare of my own potential to be a bad-ass justice seeker, shalom loving, Jesus person who wishes I could twerk better. I don't want to hate people that voted for Trump but I still kinda do. I wonder how love overcomes hate? Even though I know it does. I wonder  how I will resist, how I will be in solidarity. I wonder if I'm not as open-minded and progressive as I think. I hope I will surprise myself with what I learn about God, our country, and people over these next 4 years. 

I'm still not sure if I can finally speak about it but, i also think that's ok. 

"Here I Raise My Ebenezer"

He named it Ebenezer, explaining, “The Lord helped us to this very point.”
— 1 Samuel 7:12

I remember yawning through a sermon during my internship at Riverside Church, being just alert enough to hear the preacher explain what an "ebenezer" was. I've known the word forever, thanks to one of the best darn hymns ever, "Come Thou Font". You know the line, "Here I raise my ebenezer hither by Thy help I come".   So turns out an ebenezer is both a stone of remembrance and a stone of help.  During one of the many battles that the Israelites were in, the prophet Samuel was asked to pray for God's help as the Philistines pursued them. Samuel did, the Israelites defeated the Philistines and Sam finds a rock and places it as a point of reference to remember where The Lord helped the Israelites.  Ebenezers are amazing! I hope that your life is filled with many stones that help you remember that and when God helped you. Mine certainly has but I am always tempted to forget my own ebenezers. All this forgetting would make me a great Israelite. 

I'm at an ebenezer now!

I am going into my 4th week of being in Montreat, NC for the Montreat Youth Conferences.. Almost 16 years ago to the date, I traveled with a church for my very first youth conference. I know this because, I turned 16 here and now I am 32(today-August 1). I was a rising junior in high school, the theme was "Weaving God's Vision".  My first youth conference changed the trajectory of my life. That was the week when I first felt the nudge/call/shove to go into ministry. I wanted other people to feel the power of God in the same ways I felt it in those "older-than-my-grandmother pews" of Anderson Auditorium. J Herbert Nelson was the preacher that week. He said a lot that I still remember but most importantly he said "God don't make no mistakes." I needed to hear that at 16, always feeling not enough and frankly I need to hear that now. Feelings of inadequacy have always plagues me. What if God was calling me to one day be the vessel through which others came to know just how much God loves them? Scary stuff then, scary stuff now.  I came for two more years as a youth, 1 year as planning team. Took a break, came back, took a break and now this is my third summer coming back as an adult in various capacities: Small Group Leader, Individual Back Home Leader, Conference Pastor. Not every youth conference was amazing. I have grown cynical, jaded, and bitter towards many elements of youth ministry but still the Montreat love beats strong in me.

Since Montreat is in the mountains and mountains tend to have a good deal of rocks, there is not so much an ebenezer to raise but an ebenezer that raises me. An ebenezer in Western NC that  raises me to listen a little more intently to this God that calls people even when the world doesn't recognize their call. At 16, I left Montreat curious about this Jesus that loved me,  this God that created me, and this Spirit that moved in and through me and that just as personal as the it all felt to me, it was/could also as/be true for everyone else. 16 years ago, Montreat became an Ebenezer where I experienced God's help and provision and remembered God's promises. Those late teen years and early twenties, I was often more than not eager to listen to God, curious about theology and faith and church. With each return to Montreat, I was more and more geeked about it all.  I talked about it ad-nauseum in high school. In college, I even instituted Montreat mondays where I'd only wear Montreat paraphernalia.

But the older I got, the more I realized how much I could be hurt by the church, how hard it would be for me to stay eager about the call, if in fact I was/am called. Montreat eventually became this thing that once meant something to me but was becoming more and more a symbol of the hurt/lies/deceit of the church. The love songs always say, "If you love something let it go, if it comes back for sure, that's how you'll know." After 2007, there were 7 years before I returned. I went to New Orleans. I went to seminary. I got rejected from over 60 + (and counting)PCUSA churches. Montreat, "the Presbyterian Mecca" was a symbol of all the times I was let down by the denomination I had put so much faith and trust in. 

When you have lost your way, it is always a good time to find your ebenezer to remember when God helped you, when God seemed real. Almost 2 years into my time as a youth director and as 30 came knocking, I came back to Montreat as a small group leader. Small Group 17, Week 1 is one of the best experiences I've ever had in ministry. I was renewed. I had an amazing group: funny, deep, smart, kind, compassionate. I wanted them to be my youth group. I felt called again even in the muck and mire of an increasingly crappy situation. Yet again, Montreat was my ebenezer.

This summer I was/am here for 4 weeks. As much as I love Assembly Inn rolls, that's alot of time. I didn't know when I said "yes" to all these various weeks and roles, that I'd be at a low point when the summer rolled around. I came in a wilderness time, depleted of energy,  more or less over the church(little c and big C) but still in these weeks of energizers, small groups, and weird PCUSA norms and small talk, I remember that God has provided, and will provide. It's hard to stay angry at the world, when you look at the mountains, when you rock on a porch with people who have known you since that very first youth conference and been part of your ordination, or when you rock with seminary friends who whisper "it'll be OK", "i know how you feel", when you laugh with teenagers about you tube videos and discuss church with folks still able to dream.

Rambling, disconnected thoughts but alas... here i raise my ebenezer hither by Thy help, I've come.


"I Have A Voice"

A few hours ago one of my beloved friends called. This particular friend lives on the West Coast and more often than not we play phone tag. Since I spoke to her last night, it was a real Christmas in June treat to hear her voice two days in a row. She had asked to hear one of my sermons. I sent her the most recent one. Even though it is part of my job to proclaim God's word to God's people,  every week I am nervous and scared beyond belief  to preach to my congregation. I answered the phone and she says, "I listened to your sermon, it was so good, you have a gift". Not one to know what to do with compliments I fumbled around to a "Thank You".

The sermon she spoke of was the first time I had preached sans manuscript. I had two friends last weekend while I was going through my Saturday afternoon and Saturday night routine of "WTF am I going to do tomorrow?" say why don't you just tell 'em what you told me. The text was 1 Kings 17:8-24. The story of Elijah + the widow at Zarapheth. SN: Don't you hate when people cite scripture like anyone really would have known what was 1 Kings 17:8-24 without me saying what it was. That story is ridonkulous. It's got crazy prophets mansplaining, a mother and her son preparing to give up on living, a woman giving a l man and his God a piece of her mind, and a resurrection and before that the crazy bum prophet is eating from the mouths of ravens. Ridiculous. I will (gulp) post the sermon at the end of this here blog.

My point is despite the t-shirts that say I am a feminist, my love of Beyonce, my frequent references to Lean In and Chimanda Adichie, I am afraid to use my voice. Scared not that I have nothing to say but too much to say. Scared that when I speak my mind, my truth, my opinion that it will be misunderstood and that people won't like me. So when I speak, I apologize. I don't want to offend, right? When I preach, I use a manuscript because I like the written word, I trust my written word. But lately, the Universe or great Mother God, or something/someone has put on my heart this desire to find my voice, use my voice and be myself. I am not there yet. 

Just yesterday I used my voice to express a theological and scriptural argument about who/what/how the Holy Spirit works in what we call church and someone told me that I got into a "pissing match". I thought of it as a teachable moment, a victory for us who hope to Lean In, and using their/my/our voice. As soon as it wasn't received well, I began to second guess (let's be honest 700th guess) myself. 

But what if I am supposed to speak? Speak up and Speak out, maybe even speak over. What if this word really is like a fire shut up in my bones, what then? People who speak up, out, and over tend to have haters. Is it par for the course? As a woman can I speak my truth directly or does that type of  power come from the penis? Let's not act like patriarchy isn't alive and well, even in spaces where we have polity and confessions that speak against it.  So many times when I have found the courage to speak up or out, my words have been devalued, discredited and dismissed by men and then affirmed, lauded, and deemed as inspiration when another man says the same thing. It makes the INFP, who doesn't trust her voice go inside herself. But I have a voice, it gets angry and passionate, it wants, wishes, hopes. It quivers when it goes off script, it fades and trails off in the ends of sentences but it demands to be heard. 

That particular Sunday for about fifteen minutes, I risked believing that I have a voice, trusting that voice, and letting it speak. May it be so that we all find our voice, our particular one and speak out, up, and over. 

My voice is deep, sometimes mistaken for a males. My voice is cautious, when I write i wonder about words and alliterations, metaphors and similes. When I speak, I am afraid to cry. When I'm angry, I'm afraid I will scare someone. All of that may be true and none of it may be true but regardless it is still my voice, i have a voice and i must not be afraid to use it.

Actually Sermon entitled "Ridiculousness" is posted in the sermon section as well.