reflections from a weary heart

Children, don’t grow weary / Children, don’t grow weary / Children, don’t grow weary / till your work is done — African American spiritual (Keep your lamps trimmed and burning)

Last night we were going to go to The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1. It seemed like just the kind of escapist thing I needed after expending most of my spiritual, social and mental resources at the Fabulous, Fierce and Sacred gathering of LGBTQIA+ Mennonites in Chicago over the weekend.

But sometimes the spirit calls us to stay present for a little bit longer. During the day we received news that the Grand Jury decision in the Ferguson, Missouri case would be announced imminently. Clergy, activists and the local NAACP invited the community to gather at Second Missionary Baptist, and we decided that was actually the place we were supposed to be. So that’s where we went.

We arrived and began to visit with friends (old and new). As the time for the decision approached, we all began to sing:

We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes — Sweet Honey in the Rock (Ella’s Song)

CoMO ProtestAfter the non-indictment was announced and after we shared four and a half minutes of silence at the request of Michael Brown’s family the leaders of our local movement revealed their fear and anxiety. They argued among themselves over whether to march or not, fracturing into factions. Some left and some stayed.

As people left the church, Jamie and I decided to join the outside demonstration, which was led by students from Mizzou. We walked up on an energetic and passionate crowd. It takes me awhile to lower my inhibitions and join the chanting, but I was ready by the time they got to this refrain:

Indict. / Convict. / Send that killer cop to jail. / The whole damn system / is guilty as hell.

So many people I’ve talked to here in Columbia understand the complexity of this unfolding story. Of course it’s about one young black man and one young white police officer, but of course it infinitely larger. The first three lines of the stanza aside (that’s another topic), I’m in awe of the lucidity of those last two lines of this chant heard ‘round the country. The whole damn system is guilty as hell. I don’t know what else to say but that this is the truth. We are embedded in a violent, racist, evil system. It’s a brilliant way to turn the question onto the system itself, which is deeply fallen. The system is guilty. We need to continue to expose and challenge, renew and transform.

Someone asked me to speak for Columbia Mennonite Fellowship at the next day’s rally. Tonight I really do needed to stop and rest, so instead of me, it will be another from our group. Together she and I wrote this message for our community:

If you know one thing about Mennonites, know this: we are people of peace. But peace should not be confused with passivity. The Jesus kind of peace does not mean avoidance or acquiescence. The Jesus kind of peace does not mean we sit back and leave the work to others.

Ferguson calls us all to remember that peace must be active. Nonviolence is something to live and be, something to choose every day.

Today we choose peace by questioning the violence of the state. Yesterday it was once again declared legal for a police officer to wield lethal force. The logic of violence is embedded in the ruling that said it is lawful to take another person’s life. By questioning the use of violence by police, today we choose peace.

Today we choose peace by challenging the violence of racism. We know the grand jury decision is the product of a system and culture that does ongoing harm to black bodies and black lives. By naming this injustice, by calling for a different reality, today we choose peace.

Today we choose peace through unity — perhaps the hardest task of all as we come with vastly different histories and experiences.   We stand with you, friends of all ages, colors and faiths with the certainty that we must bring to bear not only tenacity and passion, but every creative thought and action in order to make our community and our country safe, life affirming and enriching for every citizen.  At times we may need to help one another stay on track in order not to fall into the sometimes tantalizing trap of consolidating power for the sake of our religious, civic, or educational institutions.  If we are to free our children from the terror of racial oppression and hatred, we must begin to show them peace through unity the likes of which they have never seen and we have never lived.

We, the Columbia Mennonite Fellowship, stand with you in Columbia, Ferguson, St. Louis and beyond. We as people of peace stand with you in unity. We recommit ourselves to choosing peace. Today, with you, we choose peace.

One of many transcendent moments at Fabulous, Fierce and Sacred involved clapping and dancing through the aisles of the sanctuary at our Catholic retreat center host site. And I think what we were singing about there connects to what we are singing about here today in Columbia, Missouri:

Come walk with us, the journey is long / Come walk with us, the journey is long / Come walk with us, the journey is long / Come walk with us, the journey is long — South African traditional

So step by step, we keep walking.


my other job

For the last little while, I’ve been some version of what you might call bi-vocational. It partly started with a note from Doug over at Fulton United Church of Christ. One of their regular preachers had taken a job and wasn’t able to continue her first, third, and fifth Sunday pulpit supply. “I was wondering,” wrote Doug, “if you would be able to help us on any of those times, and if so, when could you start?”

I’m not very good at making firm decisions. It’s hard for me to close off possibilities and even harder to think I might be letting someone (or a community of someones) down in the process. I had to talk to a few folks from my church. I’m one of the elders there, which means I take my turn taking communion to the home bound and presiding at the communion table with the pastor and delivering the offering invitation, among a few other things. Despite my worries, the church folks granted me their grace to take this additional call, and so I did.

fulton stained glass

Fulton UCC’s Stained Glass Window

I started in February, mostly knowing what I was getting into. The small and relatively progressive church in this town of 12,000 has between 12 – 20 in worship on a given Sunday. Easter attendance exploded to a vibrant 43, but despite their persistent desire for evangelism, their current environment doesn’t seem to have much in the way of growth.

During worship folks spread themselves across the pews in their usual spots in the blessedly small sanctuary. The faithful come, as some of them have been coming for over fifty years. The musician comes and splits his time between piano and organ on all but the third Sundays. We take communion and then commune for a potluck on the first. I preach at a lectern on the floor, my microphone connected to stereo speakers in the back, which sit directly underneath the large stained glass Jesus who stares me down each time I speak. After six months, I know most everyone’s name. And that’s about it.

Pastoral care: nope. Lunches and dinners in homes: not with these folks. Council meetings and 125th anniversary planning: not for me. Creative worship ideas: mostly regulated to the realm of readers theaters with participants recruited five minutes before the service begins. (I should say we have some excellent readers among the faithful twelve.)

I’ve quickly learned that it’s one thing to serve a church you know and entirely another to show up every other week to preach and pray. In fact, it’s a bit muddled for me, not participating in the larger life and vision of a place to which I am supposed to bring the good news.

To be honest, there are times I wish I could insert myself, lend a voice and a hand to the tenor and identity of this place, but it’s just not what I’m called to do. At least not here.


Reflections prompted by Chick-fil-A’s association with anti-gay faith groups. Read the whole article here.

“…churches that speak hate through exclusion are ‘guilty as charged’ for the violence we incite. By promoting (or simply ignoring) speech that marginalizes people — any people — we deny that we are all made in the image of God, deserving of human dignity and human rights — no matter who we are (or aren’t) having sex with.”

-Melissa Browning, Graduate Program Director for the MA in Social Justice and Community Development, Loyola University Chicago 


prayer for transformation

 Western District Conference 2012

Context: Worship before the delegate session at which Pastor Joanna Harader’s credentials were being discussed because she officiated at a same-sex commitment celebration

(a prayer for three voices)

1: Creating God –
2: Creating God –
3: Creating God –

1: we give thanks and praise for voices lifted in song
2: for hearts longing for justice
3: for people praying for peace

1: Today we celebrate our holy calling to risk,
to stand on the edge of acceptability and acceptance
to come out with pride
and speak up even in the midst of conflict

2: We celebrate our sister and friend and pastor Joanna,
honoring her gracious and faithful witness
and gentle yet bold testimony in Western District
Conference and beyond

3: We celebrate those who wear pink
and those who dare to think

All: that all people have a place at the table of our Lord

1: Sustaining God –
2: Sustaining God –
3: Sustaining God –

2: You are the divine mystery that knits us together in unity with each other and with creation. And yet we find ourselves uncertain as we prepare to enter this delegate session. We do not come as impartial decision-makers but instead bring with us

All: many pieces of ourselves:

1: Today we bring our fear
that inclusion will be replaced
by a false unity that appeases loud voices

2: Today we bring our anger and resentment
that real voices and real people are lost
between the cracks
of debates and resolutions about authority
and singular truth 

3: Today we bring our pain and our grief
that our beloved church is sometimes a place of
violence and exclusion
toward those of us who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and
transgender people
and toward those who love us

1: Redeeming God –
2: Redeeming God –
3: Redeeming God –

1: It is here and now
That we need your peace

2: Break into our midst and redeem us
3: Transform our fear into resilient hope
1: Transform our anger into a wide, wide mercy
2: Transform our resentment into gracious dissent
3: Transform our pain into confidence that we are all members of the household of God

1: Let your extravagant love and unending peace descend
upon us and upon all who are gathered here.

All: In hope we pray… Amen.