Thursday, August 13, 2015

"An eye for an eye is not our version of justice...."

..... began the heartfelt status message of the BlackLivesMatter facebook page in response to the tragic killing of two New York police officers by an African American man who, by many reports, was on a path of self-destruction even before this crime which was precipitated by an attack on his girlfriend that culminated in his final act which was to take his own life. Taken in context, this tragedy, pre-Trayvon Martin, pre-Mike Brown, pre-Eric Garner, pre-the many African Americans, both male and female denied equal protection and due process, would have roused the "too many guns" voices, or the "mentally ill people are dangerous" voices. Instead, on the heels of a massive largely peaceful response of like minded people to systematic injustice, this movement has had to defend itself against those who fail to think critically, who fail to learn from history, and who will never do what this statement implies, which is to look in the mirror.

I've had to look in the mirror for many days since #ferguson. I had to examine why I, a person who tries to live her life embodying peace and the love of Christ for all, while deeply troubled by the immediate response to the grand jury decision to not indict Mike Brown's killer, I still could find no words to condemn the immediate and violent response. I like to believe that I would have had the Martin Luther King response vs. the Malcolm X (pre-Mecca) response. Truth is, I'm not sure about that. One thing that I understand about human nature, given the right set of circumstances, we humans, left to our own devices, our own proclivities, are capable of just about anything.

Peace loving me, is also a survivor of trauma, I intimately understand what if feels like to be cowering in a corner, or living on verbal and emotional lock down as tools for surviving a hostile and volatile environment. I remember what it felt like when I finally said NO MORE. On that day it was less about peaceful coexistence, and more about surviving by any means necessary. ANY MEANS. The fact that I can still touch that emotion deep inside after more than 25 years is informative. And yes, there is perhaps, a difference between intimate partner trauma, and historical, generational trauma, but as anyone who understands the intricacies of trauma will tell you, it is not just an event, it is something that has lasting impact on your life, your relationships, your environment and yes, your community. Yes, healing is possible, but trauma forever changes you.

So yeah, like the folks at the BlackLivesMatter facebook page, I looked in the mirror first. Their conclusion, that this tragedy no more reflects what they are about, then does any other heinous act committed by one person, or 19 people, armed with a gun or a plane, or a bomb, or living with a mental illness, or simply with evil intent. Nor is this act indicative of the attitudes and belief system of a given racial, religious, cultural group or otherwise marginalized group. Their conclusion, should be, and was echoed by all peoples of peace. But for others who will not self-reflect for any reason, and because of this heinous act, committed by one person, will cast aspersion on all who speak for justice, who speak against systems that have negative, systemic, and disproportionate impact on other human beings, and will spew the company line--whatever it happens to be-- "the US is the greatest country in the world"-- yeah, that one-- well, frankly, I wish I could muster up some other emotion for you besides sympathy.

It takes a lot of energy to turn away, to shield your face, to bury your head in the sand. The wise and kind hearted man I am married to said that perhaps all of this turmoil, all of this devastation has been necessary to help the blind see. The miracle of light, working in the dark.  And so perhaps, when it matters, I would choose Martin over pre-Mecca Malcolm. When it matters, I would look deeper, ask more questions, seek to understand. When it matters I would see your Exodus 21:24 (eye for an eye) and raise it with Matthew 5:38, which calls me to a higher place of love and forgiveness for my enemies. When it matters, I will cast my lot with the ones who are blocking traffic with their "die-in's" and their peaceful marches, rather than the one's who want to burn down the town.  The fact that I have to think about that, says a lot about me actually, and I am grateful, grateful, grateful for the Holy Spirit that lives in me, who not only nudges me back into alignment with the way of Christ, but empowers the peacemakers, emboldens the truth tellers, and gives voice to the ageless wise ones among us .. the light bringers in this present darkness. Lord in your mercy .... come....


Ps: I drafted this post nearly eight months ago, then stepped away from it because it felt too dark and too heavy. I hoped then that the feeling would pass and I would have more hopeful words. I did not come back to it until today. This post is as it was in December 2014.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Hope in the land of "Other"

Today is the first Sunday of Advent. Many Christian churches begin this season with the lighting of the first candle of the Advent Wreath; the candle that represents Hope. Advent came to be one of my favorite times to be in fellowship with my fellow Christians, but it was not always so. Before I became committed to living authentically in racially integrated communities, before responding to the call to ministry, before seminary and before Church History and Mission and Evangelism classes, this was just the lead up to Christmas. I did what most did during this time; trees and lights and gifts and food and traditional "Joy to the World" Christmas carols at church. On a certain level I knew there were deeper meanings, but I was content to focus on the familiar. The familiar offered ritual. The familiar offered comfort. Once I became a part of faith communities that connected early church history with modern church practice, the season of Advent took on new meanings, offered new rituals, which became familiar and offered comfort.

Today is the first Sunday of Advent. I am not sitting among a congregation participating in the traditional production of lighting the first candle, the candle of Hope. I had no plans to do so. Today, I am at home. I have turned off the news. I am wrapped in a blanket because, even though the temperature outside is more Autumn like, the house feels cold, or maybe it's just that I can't get warm. There was a time in the not so distant past that I would find comfort in the rituals of my faith. Today comfort is not what I seek. Comfort, I have found, has a way of lulling us to sleep. Not the sleep of rest, but the sleep of complacency; the sleep of fatalism; the sleep of pessimism; the sleep of helplessness; the sleep of apathy; the sleep of piety.

Today, this first Sunday of Advent, I am like Rachel in Jeremiah 31:15, "weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more." There was a time in the not so distant past where I allowed piety, my religious devotion, to sooth my spiritual disquiet. My own personal earthquake (the reasons for starting this blog) forever altered that landscape. I can no longer look to the familiarity of ritual for comfort. This is not to say that the Word of God no longer speaks or teaches me. As my UCC friends will remind me, "God is Still Speaking".

The last post to this blog was close to a year and a half ago. That post was the sermon I preached one week after the Zimmerman verdict for the murder of Trayvon Martin. A year and a half later, it is one week after a similar "verdict" of sorts, when a US grand jury has simply refused to hold a supposed officer of the law accountable for denying due process to a US citizen. So, today, on this first Sunday in Advent, when traditionally the first candle is lit, which represents the candle of Hope, I find that I am short on Hope and long on anger and frustration. And I am refusing to be comforted. Why should I be comforted? As an African American woman, the spouse of an African American man, the mother of African American children and grandchildren, the aunt of African American nieces and nephews, there were certain things that I did not expect to have to deal with in a post Obama America. In truth, racial equality has not been an issue I was focused on in my long career as a Social Worker. I have focused on a myriad of social justice issues for many communities, including my own. I chose to practice racial reconciliation in more personal ways. Yet I was somewhat unprepared for the rejection that would follow when I reminded people that I sat beside in worship, that my experience as an African American in the US was different from their experience. In my naiveté, I believed that the time of water hoses and attack dogs being used as weapons against people of color in this country was over. There are no dogs or water cannons now, but the so called systems of justice are now being wielded with as much deadly force.  In my naiveté, I believed that living, working, playing and worshipping in racially integrated communities meant that we the people were moving forward. Today, on a day when I should be thinking about Hope, I am finding it difficult to get warm; I am looking around for constructive ways to channel my energy and to reconcile my feelings with God's call on my life, to seek justice, to love mercy, to walk humbly. Today, I am trying to remember to breathe. 

Today is the first Sunday of Advent. Today candles for Hope have been lit across Christendom. Here in the land of "Other", I intimately know what the Lord requires. On this day for Hope, I will weep. I will grab another blanket. I will make myself a cup of tea. I will let the Christmas tree lights burn all day and maybe through the night. I will do this today, because tomorrow there are people who depend on me to lead by example, to serve them no matter their race, creed or culture. Tomorrow I will suit up for justice and mercy and hope. Today, I will cry.   

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

What Does the Lord Require??

What follows is an expanded for readability purposes version of a sermon delivered at New Song Community Church (Columbus, Ohio) on July 21, 2013, one week after the verdict of the George Zimmerman trial.
God of Grace and Mercy and Might-be here now for these your people. I yield myself, all that I am, to your righteous will and way.  Let your message go forth to ears that would hear. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen. Amen.

I, like many of you, have had a tough week. This week, I found that I was so angry that I couldn’t speak.  Do any of you remember the “pressure cookers” they used to have back in the day? I don’t know maybe they still have those. You would put the food in the pot with the special lid, that had the little thingy on top that would spin and hiss every few seconds, so that the food in the pot would cook at a consistent pressure.   Made great pot roast as I recall!  That’s what I felt like--a mini pressure cooker.  I knew on some level that it wasn’t even safe for me to speak.  I intimately understand the power of words, and how words are alive and have creation power in them.  It wasn’t that I didn’t have words to say. It’s just that the words in my heart and in my mind were in conflict with my inner Christian witness. 

Truthfully, this pressure cooker in my heart and mind had been bubbling for a few weeks prior to the Zimmerman verdict.  As a Social Worker by trade and training, I was already pretty steamed by the gutting of the voting rights act that put the constitutional right to vote in jeopardy for thousands, potentially millions of the poor, the marginalized and populations of color.  Following that, the powers that be in this great state of Ohio blindsided us, we who are pro-reproductive freedom, with restrictions that set back the women’s movement by 40 years.  As if that wasn’t personal enough, the two by four upside the head of the Zimmerman verdict might have been enough to simply push me over the cliff of good sense. 

Fortunately, the steady and grace filled voice of Sybrina Fulton pierced through this place of righteous anger I was locked in, and by connecting with her grief; I was able to connect with my own.  Sybrina Fulton leaned to her faith by quoting her favorite scripture passage Psalm 3:5-6, which from the NIV reads:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
    and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
    and he will make your paths straight.

And .. this  same passage from “The Voice”:

Place your trust in the Eternal; rely on Him completely;
    never depend upon your own ideas and inventions.
Give Him the credit for everything you accomplish,
    and He will smooth out and straighten the road that lies ahead.
And don’t think you can decide on your own what is right and what is wrong.
    Respect the Eternal; turn and run from evil.

Sybrina Fulton stood, not only as Trayvon’s mother, but also as the mother of us all in a way – teaching us that if she can stand there, head held high, with her heart breaking, with her dignity intact, then we as a people can do the same.  Trayvon Martin’s parents stood 
up for him, and became walking candles in the darkness … pointing the way, leading us …taking their place in line to STAND, not just for Trayvon, but for a long list of martyred children and adults in African American history.   

So, now, here, in 2013 we ask that age old question ….. what do you do when justice is denied? Do you fight? Do you flee? Do you bury yourself in food, drink, or potentially negative social engagements?  I couldn’t give energy to any of those actions or re-actions because there was nothing that I could step up or down to that felt effective for dampening my fury or to assuage my grief.

These two emotions were kissing cousins for the better part of three days before finally the grief won over, and I was quiet enough to feel the gentle nudge of the Spirit and to look to scripture for the balm for my own hurting heart.

I make an effort to follow along with the lectionary readings for a given week. And of course it is always my first stop when doing sermon prep. In my emotional turmoil, as I scanned “the text this week”, looking to scripture to grab hold of a little peace and calm, the last thing I needed was the prophet Amos (Amos 8:1-12) doing his smack down to Israel about their idolatry and inhumanity to the needy.  But for a while, I have to admit, it felt good to know and to remember that Almighty God is a God of justice, and is always on the side of the poor, the powerless, the marginalized and the oppressed. But God, in her infinite wisdom, will meet me at a place, only to take me to a new place where he wants me to stretch and grow and heal. 

What I also didn’t need was an image in my head of Jesus the Christ, arms outstretched and nailed to a wooden crossbeam, asking God the Father to “forgive them for they know not what they do”.  I didn’t want that image. I wanted something or someone to answer for this travesty. Yet that is the image that remained, firmly imprinted.

With that image, Holy Spirit spoke saying …. time to breath, time to let go of the rage, time to cry and sit with the grief – look at it from all sides—look and listen, make note of the ones talking, make closer note of the ones who are silent. 

In this place of tears, breathing and stillness … blessed and surprised was I to find the voices of those who didn’t share my culture or my history, but shared my pain; blessed and surprised was I to find that the God of Grace and Mercy and Might, had wrought a new thing right under our complacent noses.  So many progressive prayers and voices raising questions about judicial fairness and how the lack of it it serves to deny justice to the poor, the powerless and the marginalized. 

Iyanla Vanzant has a saying.. “All things are lessons that God would have us learn”.  So finally, my prayer and my plea, for you, and for me this week, was, “God, what would you have us learn out of this devastating turn of events?”  What, Dear God, do you require of us?  And when I say us, I don’t mean just any “us”. I mean the “us” that are the ones called to the way of Christ.  The ones who can put themselves at the foot of the cross and see the image of the outstretched arms of a dying Christ.

Hear this familiar reading from “The Voice”
Micah 6:6-8
Israel: What should I bring into the presence of the Eternal One
        to pay homage to the God Most High?
    Should I come into His presence with burnt offerings,
        with year-old calves to sacrifice?
    Would the Eternal be pleased by thousands of sacrificial rams,
        by ten thousand swollen rivers of sweet olive oil?
    Should I offer my oldest son for my wrongdoing,
        the child of my body to cover the sins of my life?
No. He has told you, mortals, what is good in His sight.
    What else does the Eternal ask of you
But to live justly and to love kindness
    and to walk with your True God in all humility?

And more from Psalm 15
O Lord, who may abide in your tent? Who may dwell on your holy hill? 2Those who walk blamelessly and do what is right, and speak the truth from their heart; 3who do not slander with their tongue, and do no evil to their friends, nor take up a reproach against their neighbors; 4in whose eyes the wicked are despised, but who honor those who fear the Lord; who stand by their oath even to their hurt

Many do not know, and choose to dismiss the hurt, the pain, the anger that fueled the wave of protest following the verdict. They have not lived our history. They do not know that the story of Trayvon Martin is a familiar one. They do not know and choose to dismiss that this grief of injustice has touched us intimately, and with this event, we are forced to relive our own unhealed history.

For many of us the grief of injustice has a name.  For my husband’s family the grief of injustice is named Gilbert Williams, Jr.—an older brother who, though unarmed, was shot down and killed by police some 40 years ago. These words from my brother-in-law were shared on our family Facebook page this week:  
“He had no weapon but did run and was shot in the back and killed.   
Remember how well natured he was? He was in the Navy, protecting our nation,
 right after the Viet Nam conflict. He was a wrestler, a member of the state 
championship 440 relay team. He was a good son, and he was my brother 
and my protector because I was the baby boy then. My father hired a 
private investigator to handle this case (a young Johnny Cochran) but 
two weeks into the investigation, Mr. Cochran gave my father his retainer back
 stating that he (Johnny) was told to leave this one alone… 
Why does Justice have to hide?” my brother-in-law asks.

Grief has a name … for me the grief of injustice is named Marqus Anthony Ware … 
a tall, proud, military veteran, also known as my godson, or my nephew, 
depending on who he was talking to. Marqus was the only son to 
my sister-friend who I’ve known since we were 15 and 16 respectively. 
I had known him all his life. Just as his mother and I were “sisters”, 
my daughter and he claimed each other as “siblings” or as “cousins”, 
depending on whom they were talking to.  Marqus was a natural leader, 
a loyal friend, a beloved son and confidant, one who loved hard. If he claimed you, 
he stood up for you.  He didn’t back down.  Three years ago he didn’t back down, 
and was shot and killed.  He was unarmed. The man who shot him 
was never charged. There was barely an investigation.  
 His life didn’t warrant an investigation. Just another Black man dead.

For many, many millions of us this day …. Grief has a name.  


And through these experiences, we carry our collective hurt and grief and our cry for justice, and God calls us to something else.  For this time, during this hour, I think God calls us not to stand our ground, but to stand and bear witness. I think God calls us to stand for our loved ones, stand for those who came before us, to speak our truth, but to stand as representatives or allies of living history. 
And while we do that, we draw strength from the knowledge that out of our pain, comes our purpose.

God reminds us that the way of the cross is not a journey of sweetness and light, meadows and wildflowers.  The way of the cross is rocky and rough shod.  But God does not leave us defenseless.  God asks us to lean not to our own understanding, but to yield to the call, draw strength from God, slap on our armor and war with the powers of spiritual darkness.  We war by staying prayed up – we pray for ourselves, we pray for our loved ones, we pray for God’s people everywhere.

We stand for justice.
We stand for the ones who have paid the price.
We speak truth to power.
We do not suffer in silence.

Here these words of Ephesians 6:10-18 from The Voice:

10 Finally, brothers and sisters, draw your strength and might from God. 11 Put on the full armor of God to protect yourselves from the devil and his evil schemes. 12 We’re not waging war against enemies of flesh and blood alone. No, this fight is against tyrants, against authorities, against supernatural powers and demon princes that slither in the darkness of this world, and against wicked spiritual armies that lurk about in heavenly places.
13 And this is why you need to be head-to-toe in the full armor of God: so you can resist during these evil days and be fully prepared to hold your ground. 14 Yes, stand—truth banded around your waist, righteousness as your chest plate, 15 and feet protected in preparation to proclaim the good news of peace. 16 Don’t forget to raise the shield of faith above all else, so you will be able to extinguish flaming spears hurled at you from the wicked one. 17 Take also the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

The bible commentary from this passage offers much:  Paul knows that the real battles and dangers we face are not against flesh and blood. The enemies we see are real enough, but they are animated by spiritual forces of darkness that stay strategically hidden from view. These powers often reveal themselves in institutional evils—genocide, terror, tyranny, and oppression—but the weapons needed to combat them are not earthly weapons at all. What is needed, Paul advises, is to stand firm in God’s power and to suit up in the full armor of God. Although the devil and his demon armies are destined for destruction, they are serious threats now and must be resisted and beaten back. For Paul, the best offensive weapons we have are the word of God and prayer.
18 Pray always. Pray in the Spirit. Pray about everything in every way you know how! And keeping all this in mind, pray on behalf of God’s people. Keep on praying feverishly, and be on the lookout until evil has been stayed.

These powerful weapons are tools we need to make sure that our fight remains righteous. We do not fight institutional evil with the world’s weapons of war. We who are called to the foot of the cross are the same ones who are called to be bold warriors on the battlefield of justice. We resist evil by not letting it stand unaddressed. Standing our ground means meeting the power of spiritual darkness with the power of a resurrected Christ. We cannot do that in silence.
There is work to do my friends. We have just been given a wake-up call. 

DO NOT GO BACK TO SLEEP.                    

And all of God's people said …Amen.

Friday, April 12, 2013

The Miscellaneous Children

“Congratulations”, the email said, “I hope you feel validated in your ministry.” We celebrated with you in spirit”.  This in response to my email indicating that I wouldn’t be present for regular church service because the agency I am blessed to be the leader for, had been nominated and selected for an award, and I would be accepting the award that day.   

That congratulatory email sent me into the cave—that cave of silence and introspection—that place of silence I retreat to when things are too hard and too heavy to bear.  No way for the sender to know that I would somehow be triggered into doubt and despair and the ever spiraling “what if’s” of my interrupted path to ordained ministry in the church denomination that owned my heart.  No way for the sender to know that, though I had begun the process of thawing out from the big freeze that had become my latest coping mechanism, that simple sentence – “I hope you feel validated” – would send me back into lock down, and into a hole from which the only way out, was to crawl out on my hands and knees and to prostrate myself at Jesus’ feet in surrender to whatever it was that God was saying, whatever it was God wanted me to see, whatever it was God needed me to surrender to—again.

All this frozen in the cave-ness, in the middle of the time that I should be writing a sermon because somehow I am now on the rotation and it’s my turn. OY!

Routine is generally a good antidote when one is on spiritual lock-down. My routine is running a busy agency where no days are exactly the same. My agency is such that the running joke is that we show up every day just to see what’s going to happen next. There is nothing really routine about my daily work routine. We do what needs to be done, we do it with care and with heart, and occasionally something magical, mystical even, happens. 

The mystical happens for me a lot at my agency. I am spirit-led so I recognize it when I see it. Daily, I lean into the Holy Spirit to lead, guide and direct me. I do this because for the most part, I generally don’t know what I’m doing.  This perhaps seems an odd thing to say or even admit. But the simple truth is that the work unfolds and evolves and is only slightly predictable. On any given day we gear up, prepare as best we can, and simply move from one task to another because we know what needs to be done, and we are reasonably sure we are doing the right and appropriate thing.  Nothing is ever certain. The work, is very like life; you go on – day by day—doing what’s necessary—because to not do so is irresponsible—there are people depending on you—lives in the balance—bills must be paid—people must be tended to—and even if the world ended tomorrow—that’s tomorrow—this is today—and stuff TODAY needs to be dealt with.

So, while turning my face and attention to my routine, a story unfolds smack in the middle of the team meeting – during the round the table check in—a story – a life story about families, about alcoholism, about mental illness, about abuse and childhood neglect—and how one team members son, until very recently, never wanted to go to his grandmother’s house out of fear of being left there like the other miscellaneous kids that were there. These miscellaneous kids had found a haven at the grandmother’s house.  This grandson, even at his tender young age,  knew on some level, that these miscellaneous kids had been abandoned,  maybe not physically, maybe not completely. But for some reason, those children had found a safe haven in the house of someone not officially their family.  That inner sense of possibly being abandoned made him afraid. So he simply refused to go, or be left there without his parents.  

And since we were clearly off the agenda of the meeting—and because this is actually how we roll at our agency—we stopped; we paused in that time and space where the Spirit of Truth showed up – we paused for that spirit to spirit connection that was happening …and I spoke up ….”I was one of those miscellaneous kids”, I said, I was one of those kids that found a safe haven in the neighborhood—that house where that lady lived—who let you play and gave you cookies and really looked at you when you spoke.  That lady – an angel from God really—who didn’t ask why you were there, just enfolded you in with the rest.  The moment passed, we carried on with our agenda. Tasks were delegated. On to the next thing.

But the story of the miscellaneous children, of which I was one, wouldn’t let me go after that meeting.

I tried and tried to write a normal type sermon, a text, a title and three take home points, but the words wouldn’t come together in a way that seemed real or true.  So, I went to the text this week to see what David or Paul or John had to say about miscellaneous children and their journey through life.  And there, right there did Spirit speak --and pierce through the veil ---and demolish my unbelief and my lack of faith.
For like Paul, or in his earlier incarnation, Saul, I have been a true believer. I have been a grasping on with both hands soldier for the church.  Some would say, simply by virtue of my membership in some of the most fundamental Christian denominations, that I was very, very orthodox or conservative, if we want to go there, in my Christian belief and practice. My daughter could tell you old stories of my “issues” with Halloween, and of my being firmly in the camp of “keeping the Christ in Christmas”.  I’m BETTER NOW.  Somehow though, even though I was very fundamental, I have always been a social worker, even before I was officially a social worker – because we are BORN not MADE—and the realities of people’s lives dampened my enthusiasm for “all they need is Jesus”.  Because even back then, I knew that, yeah, they needed Jesus, but they also needed someone to help them get their faces out of the mud, and to help them get food in their bellies, and to help them get to safe shelter FIRST—and then maybe I can tell them about Jesus.

So, reading about Saul, before he was Paul, I understood Saul’s zeal for the Jewish faith.  The Old Testament historical account of the journey of the Children of Israel, had taught the Jews of Saul’s day, that disobedience of God’s laws and God’s ways would cost them dearly, so they held fast to what they thought they knew.  It was Saul’s job to root out and destroy that which would endanger the nation, that which would tip the balance of that tricky little dance of home rule that the Jewish authorities had worked out with the Roman authorities. Saul, and his Jewish countrymen and women were children of trauma, historical and culturally embedded trauma.  As a survivor of trauma, I understand the language.  I understand about clinging to a person, clinging even to the dogma of the family, because this is what you know, and it is terrifying to know or even think of the consequences, the known consequences of straying off the path.  Straying off of the path will get you exiled away from your land, all that you know, all who you love. You will be abandoned by your God, and cast out to spend your days outside of the city gates, away from love and safety, separate, apart, no longer considered worthy to be cared for. Trauma. Those lingering effects will keep you lock step committed to a cause, a person, a country, a political system, a way of life, because THIS. IS. ALL. YOU. KNOW.  THIS is all you’ve been taught. There is safety and belonging by staying within the lines of all you know, all you’ve been taught.  So, Saul, in his zeal, pursued to the death, those who, in his mind, would rain down punishments on his country, on his people. Saul was good at his job. Saul, by all credible reports was a smart guy, a dedicated guy, a passionate and determined guy. A guy who embodied the mission, and pursued it with all he had.  This was how he came to be on the road to Damascus. Pursuing to the death those who would tear down the fabric of safety and security he and his countrymen and women fought and died for across the centuries. 

The Road to Damascus, the text says, is where Saul’s life, got turned upside down and sideways, and all he knew, all he understood was ripped away by a supernatural visitation by none other than the risen Savior himself, who blinds him with his holy illumination and at once separates him from all he knows, and chooses him for divine purpose.   When Saul is healed by Ananias, the text says that “scales fell from “ Saul’s eyes. I submit that those were more than physical scabs that fell, but Saul’s heart and mind were changed—in that moment, Saul, now Paul, was given new sight, new INSIGHT about God, the world, his life, his purpose. 

So as I kept trying to put together a regular sermon, with a title, and three take home points, I continued my review of the lectionary text for this week when God coaxed me out of the cave of frozenness with Psalm 30, where through the words of David, God spoke plainly and gave me new eyes to see--- that in the year of my defeat, awards and accolades abound.  Because you see, this most recent accolade, for which I received the congratulatory email, was not the first. In the 16 months that I have been sitting outside the city gates, set adrift by the church of my heart, there have been several awards, and magazine features, books launched – lot’s of praise and fanfare for me, and for this agency where I serve, and where I lead. And that was all fine and wonderful, but it was still not ministry, or at least not considered ministry, by those with the power and authority to name a thing as such. It didn’t matter that I believed the work I was involved in was sacred, it only mattered that what I was doing was not leading people to sit in the pews of a local church, somewhere—or at least that’s what I was told.  

So when you are in the cave, you need for The Word to talk to you, and from the words of David in Psalm 30, came this prayer of praise:
“God—you brought up my soul from the dark cave, you did not let my foes rejoice over me;  O’Lord – awards and accolades abound for this sacred work, in the year of my defeat.  You, O’God, thawed out my heart through the love, acceptance and validation of my gifts, you allowed me to experience Resurrection – you ended my exile, my isolation from your house.  You reclaimed me.”

It was like the scales falling from my eyes.

After Paul's encounter on the road to Damascus, this adult child of cultural trauma became a miscellaneous adult child of trauma. Abandoned by all that had been his foundation.  Now having to rely on the help and kindness of strangers, strangers who offered their help, reluctantly, but out of obedience to the risen Savior, stepped past their own comfort zones to aid in the healing and help of this enemy, turned brother.  And for Paul, accepting help from those who would give it, even those who gave it reluctantly was only the beginning of his journey of going where he was led, talking to people who mistrusted his motives, never again being accepted back into the family of his birth.  Paul was now a part of the miscellaneous community. That community that Jesus built with his body and with his blood.  Those reclaimed to the heart of God.  Partnering with people he didn’t know, humbly, because of his past misdeeds, Paul didn’t necessarily feel worthy to be among their numbers.  Many of these, who might have been his family of choice, could not accept who he ultimately became.  Paul was a miscellaneous adult child, called to do a great work, without the grounding that had served him his entire life.  Yet, in the end having the legacy as perhaps the greatest disciple of Jesus.  

Miscellaneous kids often have trouble with acceptance and belonging. It's hard to trust anything but your own truth. Many times they are difficult to understand. Hard to know.  Once they believe something, unless they have an encounter on the road to Damascus, they are often immovable forces.   God has to get their attention in a big way, to bring a new level of awareness.  Before this latest award, I had been living in my own version of the road to Damascus.  God’s illumination kept growing ever brighter, the longer I resisted coming out of the cave of frozenness, that place of safety and retreat.   

This text, marks, only the beginning of Paul’s ministry. All that he initially feared would come to pass—he would be rejected by family and friends. He would be ousted from his faith community. Even the new people that might have been his friends because of their now shared belief system, could not forgive him for his earlier misdeeds and did not fully welcome him into the fold. But then that was not his purpose.  Paul’s purpose was to be the instrument God used to bring to pass the Gentile Church, and he fulfilled that mission, unto death.  Paul had to go his own way to fulfill his mission.  Scripture tells us that he knew, in the end, that he had fought the good fight.

In true miscellaneous kids fashion … the writings ascribed to Paul are hard to understand at times. His motivation often comes to question. His purpose is often challenged by the powers that be. But if there were ever a take home message from the text this week, it is that even though the powers that be doubt you, reject you, count you out, we still must show up every day, to whatever work God has called us to, and present ourselves as willing servants of the most High.  We still, no matter our circumstance, “affirmed”, lauded and celebrated or NOT, we still must SHOW UP fully each day to meet the DAY.  We show up, if for no other reason then, just to see what God’s going to do NEXT. We remember that we are simply grateful that God chooses to use us in the feeding of His sheep.  We are not sure, when we are being brutally honest with ourselves if what we are doing is ministry in the traditional sense—but we absolutely know that when we look into the face of the one standing before us expecting rejection, but receiving acceptance instead—we know for sure—that the work we do is holy.  And in that moment, graced with a sense of the sacred, we can surrender to calling it, not a work, but a ministry.  And after all that, the only thing left to say is, Amen. Amen.