It's been a great joy to watch all the celebrating in Minnesota with last week's passage of the Marriage Equality Bill. This historic moment came about because of the hard work and deep faith of many Minnesotans, particularly people of faith who joined hands with community activists in the name of justice and love. As I give thanks for the powerful public witness of my friends and colleagues in Minnesota, I find myself also giving thanks for the wisdom of the church calendar. Their fresh witness, and the calendar's ancient wisdom go together. Really.
I know that the church calendar, with its march from Advent through Easter and now into Pentecost, is one of those church traditions that many innovative clergy reject. And as an advocate of "new church," I am often impressed with great sermon series and solid preaching that ignore the lectionary's ABC march through the church year. After all, we just started the long season of Pentecost, which is also called Ordinary time. Sounds like a recipe for Boring Church.
But Minnesota tells me otherwise. In Minnesota, it's Extraordinary Time, time to witness to the extraordinary inclusive love and extravagant grace of God. We are the inheritors of extraordinary stories of love and grace, the big stories we tell in the big special seasons of the year-all those Easter stories, water-into-wine stories, angels-on-high stories, flaming bush stories-and now we get a whole long season to respond to those stories with our lives.
I am indebted to the lyrical writer and scholar Rebecca J. Kruger Gaudino for her insight about this time of year. She writes, (in New Proclamation, Year C, 2007)
"Now is the time to take up our staffs. We have drunk down the stunning miracles, staggered on the hill outside Jerusalem, stared into the empty tomb, behold flames burning above the holy. Now what do we do with all this treasure?"
This is the time of year when we get to respond to this treasure with our lives. Now is the time to show up as followers of Jesus, followers of God's new way in the world. Now is the time to tell some 21st century versions of Luke's story we call Acts.
The poet Rainer Maria Rilke wrote that we are created by God to do this, sent out to embody God. In his Book of Hours, Rilke imagines God saying,
"go to the limits of your longing
Flare up like flame
and make big shadows I can move in."
That's what I've just seen great church leaders do in Minnesota, take their faith and their love into the public square to embody God's love.
That's what we are called to do, in each of our communities. To "flare up like flame."
And we do not do this alone. We join hands. As the final line of Rilke's poem (below) we hear God say, "Give me your hand."
We've got nothing to lose, and a whole world to change. Flare up like flame.
Image courtesy of Rev. Oby Ballinger, UCC Pastor, MN
Echoes from the Edge
By Lyvonne "Proverbs" Briggs, Preacher, Poet, 2010 Beatitudes Society Summer Fellow - May 20th, 2013
"In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit."
Growing up in a middle-class, West Indian Episcopal Church in Queens, NY, I heard this phrase over 2,000 times a year. Cloaked in red and white robes (that needed bustling) and donning a dangling, titanium crucifix (in desperate need of polishing), I served as an acolyte throughout adolescence. My mother ensured that my long, black hair was perfectly coiled for the public presentation I engaged in every Sunday morning.
I internalized my routine: bowing every time I passed the altar, lighting each candle wick couched in gold trim, and guaranteeing that each Book of Common Prayer was in place for the priest.
For some people, looking to our rector as a father-figure was comforting. Whether it was a customary tradition from their Anglican childhood days in Grenada or the fatherless void that was filled with weekly exposure to the same man, looking to "the father" was helpful for some people.
But, for me, it was harmful.
It still baffles me that amidst all of this liturgical pomp and circumstance at church, I was being molested by my biological father at home...and no one knew. Well, no one except me, my father, and "Father" God.
The problem with "Father God" is that this language constricts God-a force, a power, a Love, a Spirit, too divine, too expansive, too unsearchable, to be minimized to our mere anthropology. And yet, with family systems in disarray, we don't talk about sexual abuse happening in our homes.
Incest is not a word that you hear everyday. It is jarring. Scary. Brutal. Much like the Gospel. However, it is not a foreign concept relegated to poor folks, people of color, or families from a particular region. Childhood sexual abuse is a bonafide epidemic. One in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually assaulted by the time they are legally allowed to vote.
That means that we have girls in Sunday School, boys in children's church, women in guest services, and men on the deacon board all struggling with the guilt and shame of being betrayed by a predatory adult.
Childhood sexual abuse, particularly the sexual trauma of father-daughter incest, has long-lasting effects on one's faith. Surthrivors-a term I coined to describe people that have excelled despite facing harsh, extenuating circumstances, have to deal with a God Who "allowed" their abuse to transpire.
For some people, "Father God" is a brutal reminder of dreadful memories. Referring to God solely as Father or He can be a barrier instead of a conduit to God. God is big enough to be mother, father, aunty, uncle, and cousin, too. We must get up from worshipping at the feet of pronouns and rise up from secrets to liberty.
In the preaching moment and in the general liturgical life of the congregation, gender inclusive/balanced language must be incorporated. A culture of unbelief must be deconstructed and a culture that proclaims, "I believe you and I'm so sorry this happened to you," must take its place.
As Anna Carter Florence, my former preaching professor once stated, "There is no where that the Word of God does not go." Last month, I got to preach the sermon I've always wanted to hear. It was liberating for surthrivors and allies, alike.
Pastors, preachers, teachers, lay leaders, Church...God isn't just in Three Persons...God is in every person. And, as God's Creation, we deserve to live authentically, justly, and freely.
May we find strength in the work of radical truth-telling, and hope in our narratives of resiliency.
"In the Name of the Creator, Christ, and Holy Spirit."
Finally, the Poet
By Rainer Maria Rilke - May 20th, 2013
from Rilke's Book of Hours, Love Poems to God
translated by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy
God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
then walks with us silentlyout of the night.
These are the words we dimly hear:
You, sent out beyond your recall,
go to the limits of your longing.
Flare up like flame
and make big shadows I can move in.
Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don't let yourself lose me.
Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.
Give me your hand.