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On This Day

This is one of those days when I still cannot decide. What was the spirit that led me to leave my bed and venture into the world on this Father’s Day? At first, I thought it was God. After deciding I would hibernate for the weekend, I had received a text on Friday to read a scripture passage this Sunday. Of course, I said yes. I love to be a worship “leader” whatever that means. I love to read scripture aloud. And for better or worse, I love to please. It must be the Great Spirit, I said as I responded “yes” on Friday and as I made my journey to worship today. The reading went okay but everything else before and after seemed to go wrong, not in a major way but with small signals. By midday, I wondered, “What spirit had this been?”

After worship, I made my way to lunch ahead of the rest of my lunch group for the day. I could not meet and greet or do the cocktail party type chit-chat. I needed to leave, to find a space to let go of the hurt and anger and despair. As I parked at the lunch venue, backing in near a modest incline, an individual standing on the sidewalk below assisted me with the ordinary stop and go hand motions. When I exited my car and thanked him, I realized that he was an elderly man and a Vietnam War veteran (thanks to the words on his baseball cap). We chatted briefly and for some reason, his words cheered me. Only a few words about people each of us knew who fought in Vietnam and about being childless on Father’s Day were shared but those words were heartfelt, I believe, on both sides.

After chatting with a few other people at the restaurant before and after meeting my lunch group, I journeyed home, hardly able to hold back the tears. I made it in, let the tears flow, and then began to wonder what motivated this mood. Was it limited to another Father’s Day without my father and without my uncle, who had raised me like a father? Was it the sadness of sitting “alone” in worship in the midst of a room full of people? Was it the ongoing struggle of going to any worship service and not using the gifts I have been given and yet knowing that those gifts do not fit within a “traditional” or even “contemporary” worship structure? Was it the current political climate, a feeling of being trapped between worlds with so many people I care for seeing the world so differently, thanks in part to different media outlets and different social connections? Was it the feeling that no matter how much I researched the world that lay beyond these borders and how much I hurt, I am stuck, stuck between the land of my birth and the hatred and venom that spews forth with reckless abandon within it and venues abroad that each have their attributes and their detriments when compared to what has always been home? How can I, as an African-American female, well-educated and having received so many gifts from family and friends, describe the despair that overtakes me at this moment? Only if you have had or are having similar feelings about life, about country, about vocation, not occupation or career, but vocation, or about the earthly loss of family and friends can you truly understand.

I have the luxury on this day to go to bed in comfort, in good health, and with an awareness that there are many tomorrows in which any minute may bring positive changes within myself, within those I love, and within the country that is my home. The fear which arose to the surface this day is that those positive changes within the United States may not occur. In the midst of that fear, I still believe that each of us is called to do what we can to move our country forward in ways that show our compassion for all, regardless of ethnicity, gender, socio-economic background, or citizenship status. My prayer this evening is simply that each of you will open your hearts to feel and to understand where we are as a people, to for a moment let yourself take in with all of your senses the cruelty, the intolerance, the mistrust, the fear, and the hatred that has become so pervasive among us. My prayer is that we each speak and act with the awareness that we are not invincible as a nation, that we, like so many nations and empires before us may be permanently divided or destroyed as a people. My prayer is that each of us will find ways to surrender to openness, to hope, and to a justice that values and cherishes every life. May we allow ourselves to be guided by the loving, vulnerable, and embracing Spirit that rests within each of us and that I believe yearns for us to be so much more as a people than we are on this day. Amani.

Our First Meal Together

Invitation: If you have not read the first three posts or at a minimum the post “A Reminding Dream” please do so before reading this one.

What finally moved me from procrastination to publishing blog posts was a crying session Saturday morning. As I stood waiting for my mug of high-test coffee to fill up, I started to cry. If you know me, you know that I am a crier and a proud one at that. I cry silent tears and I wail. I cry when I am overjoyed and when I am in the depths of despair. When those tears flow seemingly without reason, it is often a sign from God. They tell me when a sermon is the right one, regardless of what I have prepared. They tell me when I am avoiding what I call my God-time,  when there is something with which I don’t want to deal and I know I’ve reached a point where I must. They tell me when I am embarrassed because I am not being the person God has created me to be. As I investigated the reason for Saturday mornings tears, I realized that God was calling attention not only to my embarrassment but to heartbreak.

For several days, I have been obsessed with an agonizing combination of national news and anniversary documentaries on the 1960s. Even though I was raised in a household where newspapers were delivered every day and ignorance of current events was met with intense disapproval, I have tried to tune out. Why tune in when I will only get depressed and angry, lose sleep, and not be able to do anything to change the situation? God reminded me on Saturday that I am able to do something as is every individual. What we each are gifted to do on any given day may be different but we all are capable of doing things that will change the situation. We may not know what the impact is of what we do or say but we can be sure that doing and saying nothing is not an option, not if we have hearts, not if we have souls. The tipping point for my heartbreak on Saturday was the treatment of children, children who are being separated from their families by our government, and the failure of so many Christians to even express any outrage. So today I add my one voice to the voices of those Christians who are speaking out.

One of my pet peeves as a pastor has been hearing church going Christians go on and on about how sad it is that there are so few children in worship or Sunday school. One church in which I served even had a room filled with decades old toys and furniture for children, maintained as if the children who had roamed the halls 20 or 30 years ago would some day miraculously reappear. The same people who bemoaned the childless state of the church also were the people who did not see the huge number of children who lived in walking distance of the church. They also showed no concern for the children who came to the church every Sunday afternoon as part of a congregation that rented space in the building.

For example, one Sunday as our congregation had a reception in the fellowship hall, members of the other congregation began to arrive for their service. Their pastor would pick up many of them in a small van, dropping off people a van-load at a time. Since our trustees were adamant that the other congregation did not enter the building before their scheduled time, adults and children were standing outside on a concrete parking lot in the July heat, patiently waiting. Our senior pastor invited them in over intense objection and later was penalized by some of the members of our congregation for having done so. Why do I share this story?

I share it because it is an example of what happens when we start to see some people as less than others. I believe most of the individuals in the congregation genuinely wanted to welcome and nurture children in the building again. The problem was that consciously or unconsciously many of the members had narrowed their definition of children to the images, characteristics, and qualities that made them comfortable. They wanted children, but the children in the neighborhood and the children of the other congregation did not come within that definition. There were differences of dress, mannerisms, language, and ethnicity that led to discomfort and fear. Somehow these little beings were threatening at best and at worst non entities. They were invisible, except when someone needed to be blamed for spilled juice or some other similar capital offense. The senior pastor, who also reached out to the neighborhood children, was first ostracized and then removed as senior pastor, unsupported and unprotected by the local church and denominational powers that be. Children were desperately wanted in the building, in the denomination, in the faith — certain kinds of children that is.

Even though I was supportive of the senior pastor and took minor risks in what I would do or say during my tenure there, I must add myself to the list of people who were not vocal enough. Would I have opened the door if I had been the senior pastor or member of the congregation at the time? Probably not. As much as my heart may have wanted to do so, my mind kept saying no. My own snobbery, my own selfishness, my own fear combined to keep me from acting.

Apply that same combination in my own mind and apply the mindset of those members of the congregation who limited their definition of children to the children crossing our border with Mexico and you may understand what I mean by heartbreak. Regardless of any of our views on immigration policy, national security, or economic policy, there is no justification for separating any child from her family simply because they are trying to enter the United States. Let me repeat that. Regardless of any of our views on immigration policy, national security, or economic policy, there is no justification for what is taking place at our border with Mexico. If there is doubt as to whether what is being reported is true, then our response should not be to simply convince ourselves that it is not true or content ourselves with research from sources that will yield the answer we want.

As people of faith we have a responsibility to speak whether it is to our elected officials, from our pulpits, or in response to our colleagues. We must not allow our policy positions, our political affiliations, our fears, or our definitions of patriotism take precedence over our faith. Being Christian and being American are not the same thing. They never have been. On our best days as a nation, they overlap. Those are the days when we demonstrate our compassion for all people, regardless of their ethnicity, nationality, economic status, or citizenship status. Those are the days when we are courageous enough and compassionate enough to see the humanity in every person and to act accordingly. On our worst days as a nation, being Christian and being American are diametrically opposed. Those are the days when only certain kinds of people are deemed worthy of entering our sanctuaries, our communities, or our nation. Those are the days when only certain kinds of people are deemed worthy of compassion, of value, of being seen and heard. Those are the days when we become so fearful of each other that we can no longer speak or act with civility. Those are the days when our version of Christianity and our calls for religious freedom are not about being free to express our love for each other or being hospitable to and welcoming of each other, but instead about seeking justification for excluding others and for refusing to face our fears of what is different or unknown. Unfortunately, those are the days in which we are living.

If you have not tuned in to any of the recent documentaries on the 1960s, I encourage you to take the time to do so. I also encourage you to do so in a group of people who you trust and who you know have different opinions from your own. It is the 50th anniversary of the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and of Robert Kennedy and there are a host of documentaries on each of them, on the civil rights movement, on the Vietnam War and the related protests, and on the presidencies of John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, and Richard Nixon and the contentious political conventions and processes in which they each were involved. Most importantly, listen to the words and watch the actions of ordinary people, both the footage of the time and their reflections on the time. They are us. We have more sophisticated and subtle ways of ignoring each other, fearing each other, and hating each other. We have more ways to justify being too busy to engage each other, to be aware of what is actually occurring in our country, and to seek ways of learning and sharing. But at the end of the day, they are us.

In these days in which we are living, I pray that we will have the courage to be the people of faith we are called to be. When we dig deep within ourselves, we know when our faith and our fears are being used to divide us. We know when so-called faith leaders are more concerned about their personal fame and fortune than about the people they claim to lead or the God they claim to serve. Yes, as a nation we must address issues of immigration and national security, but I submit to you that as with any issues, we must address them with our hearts and our minds. As Christians, that means putting ourselves in the position of the least of these. It means remembering that there is a way or ways in which each of us is among the least of these. Whenever we are tempted to turn away, to remain silent, or to champion division and exclusion, we must remember the incarnation of God, not in a first-century Roman citizen or in a wealthy merchant or in the politically sponsored clergy of the day but in Jesus of Nazareth, a non-citizen, a poor laborer, a child refugee in Egypt, a person who spoke Aramaic, not the Greek language of the Empire, and a person to whom many religious people closed their doors and their minds because listening to Jesus of Nazareth was too inconvenient, too disruptive of daily life and deeply held beliefs, and too socially, politically, and economically risky. We know in our minds what it means to listen to Jesus of Nazareth. We know in our hearts what it means to be followers of Christ. May we speak and act in the ways the Christ in and of our heart guides.

Amani,

La Ronda

A Reminding Dream

Warning: If you have no sense of humor or don’t get sarcasm, you’ll be safer and happier reading this in the presence of others. I tend to range from painfully intense to comedic and today I awoke in comedic form. So, here we go.

Last night, I was obsessing about and reviewing and reviewing the NEXT blog post, which is painfully intense. I decided to take a break before final posting and update another website while I watched a documentary on the 1960s. Even though it was saving (or saying it was saving), I did not preview periodically but waited until I had done quite a bit. Then preview kept saying, “Yikes: We hit a snag. Try again or contact customer support.” Then, I decided I would just hit publish because if I lost all of these updates, I would just die or at a minimum have a major cow.

God laughed and said, “No you won’t. You certainly won’t die over something so trivial and remember, you’re practicing patience and not having a cow over something you can’t control any way. It’s either saved or it’s not.” I decided that on this particular occasion, God was right. So, I chilled out and called customer support (chat was not available due to the time of the hour). The person who answered admitted he was not long out of training and since he also had a wacky sense of humor, I continued to relax as we tried to reset without actually resetting. The site I was updating continued to say “Publishing. This may take a few minutes.” It had already been over an hour. It was five in the morning. So I just left it running and went to bed. When I awoke, it was still doing the same thing. I decided to go ahead and share this dream I had with you before checking to see if ANY updates have actually been published before I forget this dream.

Okay. I had a dream last night about Melania. Wait, hear me out. She and I and a few other people are going on this international trip. We’re in a huge airport/convention center that has been in my dreams before but in which I have never been. We’re hours early for the flight and we’ve gone to some hotel suite, apartment-like place that appears to be connected to or in the convention center. Melania and I are laughing it up like old buds and somehow we’re related. In-laws or something, I don’t know. There’s another person there laughing it up also. I’ve concluded this connects to watching the documentary which included college student protests combined with thinking about new friends from my recent return to graduate school. The third person was a composite.

Next scene. We’re walking through one of the rooms and a friend of mine from California is sitting at the dresser mirror. Melania and I walk by and wave and she nods back as if we had just walked through a few minutes ago. In reality, I haven’t seen this friend in years and even though she is what many of us here in the United States would call “hot,” she’s physically quite different from Melania. She also probably is quite different politically and/or religiously from Melania. Even in the dream, I’m trying to put this relationship together, but who knows. They could be friends in real life.

Next scene. I’m walking on an Ivy-covered college campus. Ivy, like England like ivy-covered, with a huge lush quad. This place also has been in my dreams before even though it doesn’t look real-life familiar. I comfortably walk around for a bit and then the scene switches again and I’m back in the hotel suite/apartment. You may not know me well enough to understand what I see next, so I’ll skip that. Discussion for another day. Then, I’m asking the other folks in the room about getting something to eat before our flight. Melania says she just got back from eating but she and I keep chatting with the college student friend while I get dressed. My plan is to get dressed for this long flight before getting something to eat. In my mind, this means really comfortable jeans or loose pants and a sweatshirt. Melania however is thinking linen sheath. I like that too so I say what the heck and put one on. She helps me get my clothes adjusted. I know this part comes from thinking about a choir stole that I was wearing on Sunday with no velcro. I kept feeling like it was all out of whack and it probably was as my clothing tends to be a bit askew even with velcro and even on a good day.

Next scene. I am dressed and I am walking next door to just say hello and go back to the suite. Work with me. When I exit the suite, I am exiting a house and walk to the house next door. Melania and a couple of other people in the house are waving. It’s raining lightly so I put up my the hood on my red jacket. The red jacket I simply connect to rolling out the trash in a light mist last night. Then I go in the house next door. Inside, there’s a huge family getting ready for dinner and I feel as if I’m in another friend’s house, who is a former neighbor and often has informal gatherings with friends, visiting family, etc. Even though she has become very suburban and in many ways cosmopolitan, she grew up in a rural Southern community as did her spouse. These gatherings thus have yielded some hilarious stories, partly due to this mixture of a diverse group of guests.

Remember, I was only dropping by to say hello. Instead, I end up joining them for dinner. We form a big circle and pray and then sit down for dinner in places throughout the house. Next thing I know, I have been for there for hours having a good time and remember I have a plane to catch. A short time of panic as I think I’ve left my phone back in the hotel suite/apartment and no one could contact me if it was time to board. Then I go in a bedroom and see my phone and start packing up. Why am I packing up if I just stopped by. I don’t know but I am. No one has texted or called me so I relax. And, no I did not know what time the plane was to depart. I just didn’t. I get back to the hotel suite/apartment and we all go to get in the boarding line. There’s more to this dream but it is not relevant to the next post. At least, I don’t think it is at the moment and I am determined to publish that post TODAY!  Plus, if you know me, Pastor La Ronda stories often have no ending. This is because, thankfully, I’m still alive and this is my life and the stories continue.

If you’ve made it this far in the post, you may want to ask me, “Should I be on medication?” Yes, I am on medication and you should be too. As one of my military/lawyer friends always says, “Better living through chemistry.” Chemistry and spirituality actually go together quite nicely. We start to get a better sense of when the Great Spirit is speaking to us and when we’re just speaking to ourselves or some combination thereof. Most of this dream was the Great Spirit. This was God reminding me of the overwhelming need to stay joyful, how I’ve found that joy in so many different communities, and of the need to take time to join in helping others to be whole and to be joyful as well. This is God telling me to review the next post one more time, removing any snippy divisive and bitter comments. Those comments are not from God, but from me, a human being like any other with on-going healing to do.

Amani,

La Ronda