Oh, Sister, Sister
I was on the train a few weeks ago, and for the second time in one day, someone got up to let me have their seat, and a grown man took it. The first time, an old school New Yorker, who probably is mafia affiliated, lit the seat stealer up like a Christmas tree, and he moved in sheer fear for his life. I love New York. The second time, Mama was all done, so I politely let him know this nice person had actually moved for me to sit down, so could he please get up. Two women were standing next to me, watching all this go down, and I am now sandwiched between two other grown men, with the second seat stealer standing in front of me.
He is staring at me in a way that lets me know is more than crazy. Cause look, I’m crazy, and crazy knows crazy. And there’s the kind of crazy that respects one that is cut from the same cloth, and the kind of crazy that doesn’t. And should you find yourself in front of someone who doesn’t respect your crazy, it’s time to avert your eyes, stay as stable as possible, or it’s going down.
Anyway, he starts singing low tones of opera, as he stares at me. God is my witness, in his long trench coat, slightly bald head, maybe in his early 60’s, with his belly uncomfortably close to my face, he is singing scary operatic music. The guy on my right is shifting like he’s nervous (cause he is), even though he could clearly take this guy if necessary. And the guy on my left has put on his headphones and shifted his back into my side. So, I am plotting what I will do, if Mr. More than Crazy decides to try something, cause clearly, I am in this by myself.
Thank God, another good Samaritan comes to my rescue, by tapping the man on the shoulder and offering him his seat. He sits down, and is immediately quiet. Then, he pulls out his Bible and starts reading.
And I think to myself, this, this right here, is almost everything that is wrong with the world.
So now, my new female friends, who are bankers in the financial district, are laughing hysterically. And I am too. “Oh he was channeling something,” one of them says, “Sounded like O.D.B. And what was he doing anyway – this some kind of protest? This is really a protest.”
“I know right, and why is he protesting me? A nine-month-pregnant lady! And why did it work though? And why wasn’t he singing opera to one of the men. Only women have to deal with this mess.” We laughed some more (to keep from crying maybe?), and then the guy next to me says, “Yeah, I was about to get up, cause he really is crazy.”
Good to know, officially, that muscles would have been no help in a crisis.
Also, honorable mention to all the construction workers who constantly point at my belly and say, “Boy! Am I right?!” or “She’s with child, I like it.” Really guy? Really? I don’t care what you like. Just imagine if the roles were reversed: “Dunkin donuts, am I right?”
Whether it’s our height, our weight, our hair, our pregnancy… Unsolicited body comments, and sheer craziness, are a way of life for women.
Speaking of microaggression, Shots Fired is a great show, if you’re looking for a new one. Not only is Sanaa Lathan an absolute dream, per usual, but it’s an inside look into corruption, racial tension, segregation by zip code, and the effect of law enforcement, who have access to military grade weapons and equipment, on families and communities. It’s about the purposeful and incidental awakening of pain lying dormant.
It got me thinking: What do you do when the iceberg inside of you, or you community, slices it’s way to the surface? What do you do with your rage, your sorrow, your frustration? What do you do when you discover your environment isn’t based on mutuality and appreciation, but on systems of power that value order more than authenticity in relationship? What do you do with a heart weary of invisible structural weight? What do you do when your faith starts shifting?
Oh, sister, sister.
You’re not alone, and with all that’s going on in the world, how could our faith not be challenged, and our eyes not see, and our heart not ache, and our pain not poke itself front and center? How can we remain satisfied with ourselves as we are, with the current social order and norms, when we are clearly called into the chaos of honesty and relationship, justice, mercy and love? How could our faith not shift from a passive, personal, pathway to success and achievement kind of gospel toward an active, communal, come hell or high water, radical kind of gospel?
I love the potent and sobering truth in this statement that Jenny Yang, SVP of Advocacy and Policy at World Relief said: “Conversations about race, about immigration, and gun violence and mass incarceration are difficult conversations to have, but because they’re happening on our social media feeds, instead of in the church, it’s led us to a crisis of discipleship in which we have based our response to these critical societal issues on our basest, most natural instincts, rather than on Scripture. I fear that national security and comfort have become the new prosperity gospel in the United States. We have elevated these concerns over showing true care and concern for our neighbor, who is made in the image of God.”
Pregnancy awakens a dream life, so maybe I ate too much Telenti, but I had a dream last week that felt personal and revelatory. I’m not a big dreamer, although I love that it is one of the ways God can speak to us. I was standing in a church, the room full of thousands of people, during worship, and the praise team was singing, “Your love is relentless” repeatedly, with a ferocious passion – full band, big production, incredible worship. I had my eyes closed, and matched the intensity of worship with my own praise. It felt like a war cry. When I opened my eyes, I looked around, and found only myself and another friend still standing and worshiping. Everyone else was sitting down, sedated, satisfied, unaffected.
In the next scene, I found myself in what looked like a resting place for soldiers in a war. People were battered, weary, with torn clothing and dirty hands and faces, but still fighting. There weren’t nearly as many people, and the devastation could be tangibly felt in my dream. Hope was also palatable. There was heart, and movement, strategy and effort, and there was also a siloed sense of disconnection.
In the final scene, I knocked on another friend’s door, and her kids answered, and they were all wearing army boots, and gear. “Ready?” was our greeting. And then I woke up.
The entire Earth is groaning. Humanity is crying out, and now is not the time for sleeping, for numbing out, for sitting down, for being satisfied, for saying everything is alright – it’s going to be fine. Things are not fine. As the prophet Jeremiah courageously said, “They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. ‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace.”
I believe my dream is about the struggle in the church, and in my own soul. I want to sit down. I am tired. Sometimes I wish God had not exposed me to systemic injustice. I wish he had not given me eyes to see, because I don’t always know what to do with my anger, my sorrow, my experience. It is easier for me to numb, to not pay attention, and it is also easier for me to join the war camp, but the truth is, God is calling us all to build the bridges that both open eyes to see others, and bring immediate relief to the front line soldiers. The truth is, we need each other, all the camps, all the streams, all the wonderful expressions of God’s goodness. And we’ve got to speak up when one of our limbs attacks another. How ridiculous would I look if you saw me shouting at my toe, or sawing off my arm? And while we’ve got to be patient, we better have some Holy gumption, because we are not satisfied with life and faith as we know it now, but are convinced that we must press forward into what God’s best is (even though we don’t really know what that means).
This is hard work because making room for everyone, and creating safe space for people to change and grow, is slow and arduous. You can’t measure it on a report. You can’t set a six-month goal of building that bridge, and confidently achieve it. And I don’t care how many times we take Habakkuk 2 out of context, we can’t just write the vision and make it plain, when the vision is so full of self, and so absent of the actual needs of society, that there is no room for communal redemption because our vision is about us and not about us together. Transformation takes time. You just gotta get up every day, lay down your agenda, and love the literal hell out of people, and allow the Holy Spirit to love the literal hell out of you.
People are not projects, and while Jesus was clearly brilliant in His effectiveness, I don’t see Him and the Disciples coming up with business plans for the early church. I see a bunch of turnt-up radicals, who were wild-eyed with justice and mercy, no clear plans at all, except living by faith and trusting in Christ.
Hear me: When we as leaders in the bride of Christ refuse to drill down deep, and are unwilling to engage in the very issues that hurt and concern the body we are called to serve, we become a wound, rather than a balm. We become another place where people must remain silent, where they must bury their pain and adapt to the popular culture, rather than finding the safety to seek the Savior and the Healer for answers and comfort. We must trust the Holy Spirit enough to make room for the questions people are asking. If our theology is sound, and group think is not our goal, then questions are not a threat. We’ve got to help people see that they have an irreplaceable role in God’s family, and that we all belong to each other. We must walk alongside people to overcome their past in order to inherit their future. And we must all learn to integrate our sacred and secular lives, because God’s design was never for the two to be separate anyway.
I love the church, and it’s good to know that she is shifting, morphing, and the Spirit of God, the very breath of God, is wild, uncontrollable, and relentless in the pursuit of love and the restoration of creation and humanity. As the church, we must learn to weather this transition from who we have been into who we were created to be. We can’t control our transformation; we can only hit our knees and ask God for help as He shapes us.
As Paul, in his letter to the Christians in Ephesus puts it: “At the center of all this, Christ rules the church. The church, you see, is not peripheral to the world; the world is peripheral to the church. The church is Christ’s body, in which he speaks and acts, by which he fills everything with his presence.” Ephesians 1:22-23 The Message
What do you say we journey together toward that end?