Take Time to Smell the Shit

img_1699It’s been one month and 4 days since we got our puppy….not like anyone’s counting!  In some ways, it seems like she’s always been part of our family…she’s already got her favorite spot on the couch.  She’s already knows the route to the kids’ school, and she practically sprints there when it’s time to pick up her boys.  It’s been a pretty smooth transition.  That said, this is our first family dog, and there are few things we’re still getting used to.

Case in point: dogs sniffing poop.  Now, really….WHY?  It’s gross!  I can’t even handle my boys delighting in each other’s noisy farts.  Now, I have a dog that wants to smell shit…her own, others, you name it…she wants to smell it.  Finally, yesterday, I had to google….WHY DO DOGS SMELL POOP?

Answer: According to Rover.com, ‘Dogs “see” through their nose. With their acute sense of smell, they distinguish individual components of smell to understand the world around them.  Vetstreet.com adds, “Other dogs who come upon the scent can discern a lot about fellow canines in the neighborhood. With one whiff of urine, a pup can determine how many dogs have been there, how long ago they were in the area.”

Some of you are probably thinking my head as gone to the dogs!  (So sorry for the bad pun!)…..stick with me.  With this new information, I studied my puppy the next time she went out.  I realized that she was less obsessed with smelling poop and more interested in just understanding her world.

How does ANY of this relate to theology?  So glad you asked!

Suffering Sucks 

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The BEST chocolate croissants

Today, I was back at one of my favorite spots, Mademoiselle Colette (they have the best chocolate croissants, but I digress…), eating lunch with a dear friend.  We talked about a recent health scare she’d had, made all the more scary by the growing number of friends and family members we know battling cancer or some other health ailment.

It is alarming, even for those of us who have all the resources to manage these scares – if and when they come.  In confessing our fears, we acknowledged how much more terrifying it would be if we were fleeing a war-torn country, or if we were forced to live even in the shadows (because we didn’t have papers for this country), or if we were a young black man, wondering how to respond to a nation becoming less tolerant, rather than more.   Our suffering matters….it is not easy.  But, in the same breath, we must see those who are suffering just as much, if not more.

David Brooks had a great a great post in the New York Times called, What Suffering Does.  He wrote:

When people remember the past, they don’t only talk about happiness. It is often the ordeals that seem most significant. People shoot for happiness but feel formed through suffering.

This is true on an individual level and it’s true on a broader scale too.  This is a defining moment for both our country, as well as the church.  I firmly believe that as hard and painful as it may be, we need to not only align ourselves with those who suffer, but we must be willing to suffer ourselves.  The Bible uses the analogy of the ‘refiner’s fire’ – indeed, we can be ‘formed’ into something much closer to the Matthew 25 vision for the church.

img_1775For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’

The Bible is very clear about loving the least and speaking up for the vulnerable.  I was encouraged by the Washington Post article listing 500+ pastors, calling on the President and Vice President to support refugees.  Now, we need to not only add to that list, we need to keep showing up in tangible and vocal ways for all those who are suffering.  This call, it is not radical or optional – IT IS BIBLICAL.  As Ann Voskamp tweeted, “The call isn’t: deny your neighbor, take up your comfort and follow your dreams.  It’s, deny your yourself, take up your cross and follow Jesus.”  That’s the call.

Too Political??

fullsizerender-29Raise your hand….how many of you wish all the political posts on Facebook would go away and we could go back to watching cat videos and indulging in throw-back Thursday pictures of everyone’s cute kids?  ME, ME, ME!!!!!

Hands down!  Those were the days!  Right!?!?   fullsizerender-30I’m not even a cat person and I’d gladly take that over the video of an unarmed black teen getting shot or the image of a toddler refugee washed up on the sands.  We ALL would love to NOT see the suffering and heartache.

But, just because it hurts and it challenges on so many levels, doesn’t mean we can turn our heads.  Just because we don’t see the suffering, doesn’t mean it isn’t there.  IT IS.  In response to some of the ‘I’m tired of political posts’ theme, a friend shared this:

I want my friends to understand that “staying out of politics” or being “sick of politics” is privilege in action….Your privilege allows you to live a non-political existence. Your wealth, your race, your abilities, your religion, or your gender allows you to live a life in which you likely will not be a target of bigotry, attacks, deportation, or genocide. You don’t want to get political, you don’t want to fight because your life and safety are not at stake.. It is hard and exhausting to bring up issues of oppression (aka “get political”). The fighting is tiring. I get it. Self-care is essential. But if you find politics annoying and you just want everyone to be nice, please know that people are literally fighting for their lives and safety. You might not see it, but that’s what privilege does.

fullsizerender-28Ignorance is not bliss – it’s just ignorance.  And, to borrow from Bonhoeffer, silence in the face of evil is not just silence – it’s evil.  The white, evangelical church has allowed its privilege to blind its eyes to the suffering of so many around us.  Not surprisingly, we can find truth and guidance from African-American civil rights leader, Ida B Wells: “The way to right wrongs is to turn the light of truth on them.”  Or, as Jesus put it in the book of John, ‘the truth will set you free’.  Church, we cannot claim to be leaders or truth tellers in arenas we are too afraid to talk about from the pulpit.  It is not enough to take an offering for refugees or say a prayer of reconciliation on MLK Day.  For such a time as this, we were placed upon the earth, to hear the voice of God, and DO HIS WILL, WHATEVER IT IS!!!!!!

Forget Franklin and Focus

fullsizerender-31I joined twitter a few days ago.  That’s been interesting.  One tweet that caught my attention was from Franklin Graham: “We have to realize that the president’s job is not the same as the job of the church.”  Say, WHAAAAT????

Shane Claiborne had the best response: “No.  It is theological malpractice to say that the president is exempt from the Sermon on the Mount or not accountable to Christ’s commands.”  Reality check….not only is the President accountable, we ALL are accountable.

Similarly, the Atlantic just published the story of Joy Beth Smith, a Focus on the Family employee fired for sharing on her personal blog, her experience with sexual abuse and reactions to Trump’s comments about women.  Joy’s experience has been replicated countless times at churches and Christian organizations around the country.  As another woman shared, “It seems like there is this silencing of evangelical women if we don’t stick with approved talking points.”  Ummm….NOT OKAY.

THIS IS A TIPPING POINT.  This isn’t about politics.  It’s about theology.  It’s about unapologetically loving the least.  This is about crawling into the trenches with those who are suffering, rather than offering token trinkets and words.  This is about resolving to not be goats or cymbals or whitewashed tombs.  

Back to that lunch with my friend at Mademoiselle Colette.  Call it morbid, but we both have been thinking about the day we stand before God and are held to account.  We’ve both wondered, will my reasons for why I didn’t do more suffice?  The short answer: NO.  We both have felt this deep conviction that it is not enough to volunteer periodically in Sunday School or put an extra $20 in the offering basket when there’s a collection for a missions partner or post an MLK quote on January 16th.  It is time to get down in the trenches.  To quote Shane Claiborne again, “all that’s necessary for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.  #WhyIResist.”  It is time for the church to resist.  We must lead by loving the least – it is what we should be BEST at! 

So, farewell to the Dobson’s and Franklin’s.  Never again will I send a dime to Samaritan’s Purse or Focus on the Family.  #WeAreNeverEverGettingBackTogether #WWJD  Franklin, you forget the very story, for which your organization is named.  In the story of the Good Samaritan, God praises the foreigner who had compassion on the man attacked by robbers.  The American church has become too much like the Levite and the Priest.  The whole premise of the story was to answer the question, ‘how do I get eternal life?’.  And, the answer was, HAVE MERCY.  This is our template.  This is how we can love the least.  To borrow from Matthew 25….we gotta lot of goats in America right now.

So, seriously… What Would Jesus Do?

fullsizerender-27In my last post, I shared Brene Brown’s comparison between sympathy and empathy.  When we sympathize, we look at the person in a dark hole and say, ‘gosh, that looks tough down there….want a sandwich?’.  When we empathize, we get down in the hole with them.

 

When Jesus came to earth, the angels called him, ‘Emmanuel’ – God with us.  Jesus got into the whole with us.  But, when that baby grew up, he took it one step further.  He said, ‘You know that dark hole that you’re stuck in….I’m gonna take your place.’  Jesus, the son of God, who was without sin, said, ‘I’ve got this’.  Or, as the old hymn puts it, ‘Jesus paid it all.’  He took our place.

Want to know what Jesus would do?  At the very least, we come alongside the hurting and oppressed….we get in the hole with the Syrian refugee and the African-American teen….when possible, we take their place.  I am honestly not sure what taking their place looks like, but I can tell you it looks a hell of a lot different from our posture to date.  And, I’d like to be part of a Christian community that can create safe places where we can talk about what that looks like and then actually go DO IT.

Shit Happens

Dogs smell because it’s how they understand their world.  And, while dogs cannot selectively smell, we humans have gotten pretty good at selectively seeing.  All too often, we decide what we want to see and what we want to avoid.  We have become blind to the poor, the undocumented, the African-American man, the LGBTQ teen, the victims of sexual abuse.  There’s nothing wrong with stopping to smell the roses, but there IS something messed up about acting like you’re in a field of flowers rather than a pile of shit.

fullsizerender-32As Ann Voskamp (who signed the letter in support of refugees) said, “I have felt it—how no one wants anything of anyone but to be honest and real and to trust enough to take off the mask.”  Wearing a mask won’t shield you from the stench of suffering.  So, wake up, church.  Shit happens.  Suffering happens.  Our avoidance won’t make it go away.  But, we CAN use this moment to reorient our faith around loving the least, not just in word but in deed.  If we think history will be unkind to our indifference, how about heaven?  (I suggest re-reading Matthew 25). As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable… Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.”  #StillShePersisted.

 

This weekend, my church is going to talk about how we as a Christian community respond to everything that is going on in our nation today.  We should all be praying for our pastors, as these are difficult days for them.  But, I know that I, and I alone will one day be held to account….there will be no excuses for what my budget allowed or what my pastor did or did not say or what my view of national security did or did not permit….there will just be ME.  And, so, we are back at Micah 6:8…

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.

In this, we persist.

 

Make America Great Again

fullsizerender-14It doesn’t get much better than Jon Stewart on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert. We are less than two weeks into the Trump administration and I’m even more panicked than I was the day after the election. As Salena Zito wrote in the Atlantic, back in September, “The press takes him literally, but not seriously; his supporters take him seriously, but not literally.” Well, guess what folks…he meant what he said. So, I guess it wasn’t so crazy for those of us on the left to freak-out over some of his more outlandish statements….it wasn’t hyperbole. Which, brings us back to Stewart and Colbert….two of my favorite satirists, always, but especially these days. Stewart ended his bit by saying that we’re gonna make America great again….just not in the way Trump envisioned.

fullsizerender-20I sat in Mama Coco, a Mexican restaurant in Menlo Park, the day of the inauguration. I was joined by friends who are studying white privilege with me. We were numb with sadness…..our usually chatty group had no words. We watched, as a large group of protestors stood along El Camino Real. Some planned to participate in the Women’s March in San Francisco the next day. Some were not sure whether protesting was something they were comfortable with. For a collection of left-leaning white evangelical women, the world of ‘protest’ is a new one. We all felt called to resist – we just varied on the ways in which we felt we could best make fullsizerender-18a difference. As we left, I told one of the gals that while I’d never in a million years wish for a Trump victory, I confessed that the silver lining was that now we’d have to actually put our faith into action. Now, it was time to be the Church and the People.

Since that day, we’ve begun exchanging ideas on how we can make an impact. For those who also reside in the lonely land between traditional evangelical alliances and progressive politics, here’s are some ideas for making America great again….just not in the way Trump envisioned.

Make the Church Great Again

As Shane Claiborn tweeted today, in response to a statement by Franklin Graham (don’t get me started….), “No. It is theological malpractice to say that the president is exempt from the Sermon on the Mount or not accountable to Christ’s commands.” We are ALL accountable. I’m not sure why I even have to say that, but newsflash…there are no exemptions. For the those of us who love Jesus and are aghast at Trump’s first 12 days, we must stand up.  Even as we preach, we must hold ourselves to the same standards we’re asking of others. With that said, what shall we preach?

How does the church ‘show up’ in this moment?  We must stand with the oppressed.

1. IT’S TIME TO BE THE CHURCH.

Jim Wallis was in the Bay Area this weekend, teaching on Matthew 25. Here are verses 35-36:

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.

These verses are not only compelling on their own, but especially when read in the context of the rest of the chapter, where Jesus essentially explains how to get into heaven. Near the end of this chapter is where Jesus says, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.”

Church, there’s no ‘out’ for national security or political ideology or personal finances or any other consideration. What we DON’T do for the least, we DON’T do for Jesus.  As Jen Hatmaker tweeted this morning, your chance of being killed in a terror attack carried out by refugees is 1 in 3.6 billion.  Sit on that for a second…..

We probably don’t need lessons in public policies from the pulpit, but we do need reminders on what the scriptures actually say, as they relate to current events in our nation today.  Talk to your pastor or church leaders.  I am so grateful to the Pope, among others, for being respectfully direct in his statements on immigrants and refugees.  We need more Christian leaders to join him.  

You can take the Matthew 25 Pledge here.

2. Learn.  

Church, lives are at stake here.  The least we can do is educate ourselves.  If these ideas are foreign (pardon the pun) or scary to you, commit to at least educating yourself. A recent Christianity Today article provides not only a good summary on this issue, but some great links to books by Christian authors on this topic.  Or, here’s a great article in the Washington Post, just out February 1st, explaining the already robust vetting process.

3. Skip the BS. Consider actually doing something.

Seriously, don’t be a goat. (Read Matthew 25) God isn’t fooled and the rest of the world isn’t either. For heavens sake, we’ve seen more protests in the last few days than in decades prior. The Women’s March is being called one of the largest demonstrations ever. So, we can’t afford to sit on our laurels and do nothing. And, even as we do something, we must recognize that our credibility is one the line if we talk the talk without walking the walk.

To walk with others, especially migrants and refugees, here are some ideas.

  • First, churches can shed their reputation for being irrelevant religious relics by teaching about these topics and creating forums for conversation. If we can’t apply the scriptures to our present day, what’s the point? The word ‘sanctuary’ originates in the Bible, and it doesn’t just mean the fancy auditorium where we sing worship songs. In the scriptures, the words sanctuary and refuge are often used interchangeably.
  • Second, if we can’t have respectful dialogues within our faith communities, we should seriously close our doors.  How can there be reasonable hope in elsewhere if we can’t do it ourselves???
  • Lastly, in addition to talking about these issues from the pulpit, can become literal sanctuaries, of learning, support and protection by sponsoring immigration clinics or supporting refugee relief organizations (thanks to Laura Ortberg Turner for this list: CAIR, IRC, and The Bread Project) and to even physical protection and refuge. As one Methodist minister said in a recent RNS article, “It’s really key that people of faith be active, especially white America….It’s time to put your bodies, buildings and assets on the line.”

The Bible is pretty clear that we become great when we come alongside the least. Period.  Now would be a good time to put that concept into practice.  As we do, let’s remember to encourage one another.  Whether you take your stand on Facebook or behind a pulpit, progressive Christian leaders have been punished in recent months for their views.  There’s no getting around the fact that 81% of evangelicals voted for Trump.  The 19% that spoke out before and after the election have paid a steep price, whether it’s Russell Moore risking his position with the Southern Baptist Convention in the wake of Trump criticism or Jen Hatmaker being pulled from Lifeway bookstores for her LGBTQ comments or Shauna Neiquist for her expressed enthusiasm over the Women’s March…  Visit the Facebook pages of Rachel Held Evans or Sarah Bessey, and you’ll find plenty of vicious attacks, all uttered in the name of Jesus, of course.  NOT OKAY.

So, let’s drown out those voices (the mean ones, not necessarily the dissenting ones) by walking humbly through this process, giving a lot of grace along the way.  There’s the phrase, iron sharpens iron.  We can do that for one another, but not so successfully when we are constantly trying to stab one another in the back.

Make America Great Again

I don’t know why young people or minorities don’t vote. Truly. I know that access has been seriously curtailed by a variety of factors, for African Americans, in particular. But, even still, that doesn’t explain why so many didn’t show up on November 8th.

But, that was November 8th….. I have a feeling that President Trump will inspire more young people and minorities to get involved than any prior voter-registration or citizenship drive ever could. Citizen participation in the last 11 days has been off the charts.  IT’S TIME TO BE THE PEOPLE.

According to the latest Pew Research Center polls, cited in NY Magazine, the Women’s fullsizerender-17March not only made a better impression than the tea party movement and marches of 2010, it made a BETTER one. In addition, 40% of democratic women say they plan to get more involved in political causes this year. Newsflash: women are busy….we needed another project as much as Alec Baldwin needs more Trump material. That’s huge that 40% would say they will make space for greater political involvement.

To paraphrase the Japanese commander Isoroku Yamamoto, after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, we may have awakened a sleeping giant.  If events of the last few days are any indication, we may have finally awakened a bigger chunk of our nation’s citizenry.  And, that’s a good thing.  Democracy was never intended to be a spectator sport. 

At the local level, folks on the Peninsula have a wide array of organizations they can plug into.  There are three near and dear to my heart that I want to plug here.

  • Able Works: This group, led by my friend Sue, equips individuals with financial education, life skills and assets that enable one to live free from oppression and poverty. FYI, they are hosting an event on February 9th, FINDING A WAY FORWARD: Mass Incarceration, Community Policing and The Effects On The Family.  Go if you can!
  • Life Moves Opportunity Services Center: This is the spot where my journey began in the fall, to help ‘the least’/Bay Area homeless by serving lunch.  There are lots of ways to plug-in; they do excellent work in striving to break the cycle of homelessness.
  • My New Red Shoes: Founded by one of my best friends, this amazing group works to give kids the tools they need to be confident at school.  One of the main reasons of absenteeism, is adequate clothing/shoes.  My New Red Shoes works with local community partners across the bay to provide kids with clothes and shoes at the start of each year.  They work year-round to prepare for the 1st day of school.  At Mothers Together last Tuesday, we donated shoes, sewed bags and made cards.  In addition, My New Red Shoes is one of the few charities you can bring your kids, if you want to volunteer at their warehouse.

There are countless ways to get involved.  These are just a few.  But, if the last 12 days are any indication, those at the bottom will get hit the hardest in the coming four years.  Some folks are taking the bold step of running for office.  Some are writing letters and making phone calls. Others are plugging into activist roles with various organizations.  As Americans, it’s time for us to wake-up, smell the coffee, and get involved.  Even if I don’t always agree with you, I believe in our democracy enough to know that if millions of Americans get engaged in the process, we will come out ahead in the end.

While I think engaging in person is the best way to get involved, I’d be remiss if I didn’t list a few ways to let your money do the talking.  You can support, with your purchases, these companies and organizations working to help refugees or immigrants:

  • The CEO’s of Netflix, Apple, Airbnb, Nike, Ford, Starbucks and many more have all been critical of the refugee ban.  Starbucks is also vowing to hire 10,000 refugees. fullsizerender-19 Airbnb is offering free housing to refugees.  Support companies that have taken a stand on this issue, even in the face of a president determined to punish those who oppose him.  I’m using this as an excuse to drink more Starbucks coffee!
  • One of my new favorite groups is Preemptive Love.  Refugees actually make these fullsizerender-16amazing soaps.  Your purchase helps support them.  I gave several bars out at Christmas, and folks loved them.  They also have some great t-shirts, among other things.
  • Support organizations providing help on the ground AND create a conversation starter buy purchasing a cool t-shirt from either the ACLU or Southern Poverty Law Center.

Make Our Families Great Again

Part of the reason I started this blog, was because I wanted to be publicly accountable in my effort as a mom to teach my kids what it looks like to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly.  I shared in my last post, how my kids aren’t always jumping for joy when I suggest a book, film or activity that isn’t somehow related to Disney, Marvel or Legos.  But, they also don’t like veggies.  That doesn’t mean I give up.  I keep trying.  I get creative.  This matters.

For me, this is my most important measure as mom….did I teach my kids how to truly love God by loving others?  Not in the, show up for Sunday school each week way….but, in the tolerance for others not like you or compassion for the person on the corner or in sacrifice giving to those in need….  We are called to love one another, regardless of how they’ve messed up or if they look like us or pray to the same God as us or the color of their skin…..loving God means loving ALL His people.

Since this is Black History Month, I wanted to invest in some books for my kids that would heighten their awareness of social justice issues.

I’m looking for options other than just books.  But, during these rainy winter days in California, it’s a start.  Going back to Black History Month, here’s a Frederick Douglas quote that Shane Claiborne tweeted yesterday: “Between the Christianity of this land and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible difference.”  I guess some things take a long time to change….but, we must be the change we want to see (to quote Ghandi).

Be Bonhoeffer

One of my friends from the White Privilege study encouraged me to read Bonhoeffer’s biography.  While I haven’t read the whole thing yet, my initial inquiry into this storied leader in Christian history readily reveal why my friend felt we might be inspired today by his example.

It’s one thing to quote Bonhoeffer, it’s another thing to emulate the minister that stood up to Hitler.  Now, before some of you jump off the deep end….I’m not saying Trump is Hitler.  (I do wonder sometimes, but that’s not my point.)  My point is that we can’t pretend that if we could go back in history to the periods and people we extoll, that we’d be right there with them….but, then we have 101 excuses for why we can’t take the same risks or emulate in any fashion the courageous men and women we admire.  Not all of us were cut out to pick up picket signs and protest.  But, that doesn’t mean we don’t have spheres of influence and places where we can take a stand.  WE MUST TAKE A STAND.  Here are a few quotes from his biography that cut to my core:

  • Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.
  • Christianity stands or falls with its revolutionary protest against violence, arbitrariness, and pride of power, and with its plea for the weak. Christians are doing too little to make these points clear … Christendom adjusts itself far too easily to the worship of power. Christians should give more offense, shock the world far more, than they are doing now.
  • Those who love their dream of a Christian community more than they love the Christian community itself become destroyers of that Christian community even though their personal intentions may be ever so honest, earnest, and sacrificial.
  • Being a Christian is less about cautiously avoiding sin than about courageously and actively doing God’s will.

I’ve always loved listening to Christian music.  In my car, NPR, the classical station and KLOVE are the three stations I tune to most often.  But, these have been difficult days.  As one evangelical friend who is half-Indian recently told me, I’ve never felt so lonely at church.  I get it.  Sometimes, it’s like the WASPY world would love for the dust to settle, so we can get back to business as usual.  But, when your kids are half Asian or your husband has a green card and you worry whether he’ll be allowed back into the US when he travels or your African American best friend is torn apart by the racism in America or you find out that a precious child in your class is undocumented and living in daily fear….when you dip your toe outside of the WASPY world, you see things differently.

Whether I’m in the car or in church, I wonder if the words mean the same thing to others that they mean to me…if they take them seriously or just figuratively.  These days, I take them more and more literally.  As much as I feel somewhat alone in my faith, I am reassured by the small but passionate band of friends who share my deep devotion to the Jesus who came and gave it all for all.  The other day, a new song called Giants Fall by
Francesca Battistelli, came on the radio.  Its words soothed my overwhelmed heart, reminding me of who God is and what He can do.

Don’t you be afraid
Of giants in your way
With God you know that anything’s possible
So step into the fight
He’s right there by your side
The stones inside your hand might be too small
But watch the giants fall

I’m clinging to these words.  I am not afraid.  Anything is possible.  GIANTS WILL FALL.  It’s not just about America….it’s about all of us across the globe.  God always has been, He is, and He always will be GREAT…just not always the way we initially envisioned.