Do you think I came to bring peace on the earth?

Last week I went to mass at my kid’s school. (Yes, I am a liberal Presbyterian pastor and daughter of two public school teachers sending my kid to Catholic school, but that’s a story for another day.) The priest preached on Luke 12:49-53. He was funny, talking to a bunch of middle school girls about how Jesus was all about math, division to be exact. Ha!

But from where I stand each week in the pulpit, from where I sit in committee meetings and denominational meetings and community organizing meetings, I needed this message, too. The debate in my new hometown over justice and violence and racism and police use of force and peaceful protests and rioting and looting and systematic oppression and organized civil disobedience and outside agitators and christian hospitality has absolutely not been peaceful. The conversations are emotional and heated and painful. Church folks are divided on how to respond. The calls for justice and the calls for peace once went hand in hand, but now seem quite at odds. So we need this reminder. I needed it so much right now. “I have come to bring fire on the earth!” Yes. Fire! Bring it, Jesus. “Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division.”

We forget that Jesus’ message is radical. We forget it is bold. We forget it was and STILL is completely counter-cultural. We forget that not everyone is going to hear it and want in. Especially the we of us who are preaching it each week, extra especially the we who are brand spanking new and worried about rejection and offending people and having our brand new-to-us churches not like us.

We love to talk about the Prince of Peace. And we think the story of him tossing the tables is fun. But we killed this guy for what he said. And lots and lots more people were killed over what he said in the centuries that have followed. This Jesus stuff isn’t always going to be peaceful. He’s bringing fire!

Let us be so lucky as to feel the heat, and not get scared and run towards peace.
Amen.

“We always give thanks to God for all of you…”

This Sunday was my installation as pastor of Oak Hill Presbyterian Church. It’s how, in our tradition, we seal the deal and officially make me the legit pastor, finally put an end to the search process, and have an excuse to eat an obscene amount of cake. Because we love sitting in pews for hours, hate watching football, have no social lives, want all the local clergy and Presbie people in town to be able to join in such a celebration, we hold installations on Sunday afternoons after the normal morning worship. So, Sunday morning I preached a quick sermonette and then asked the congregation to join me in preaching creatively on our passage (1 Thessolonians 1:1-10) by offering up what they give thanks for in our congregation. We passed out ribbons and sharpies and they offered up their thanks for our church. In between services, some scissors, duct tape and I turned those ribbons into the paraments for the installation service, as a gift to God from our congregation on that particular day. I am so thankful for the witness of this community. I am thankful that God called me to join with them in service. And also, I am thankful for their cake. Amen.

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October 15th

candles

Did you know that today is the National Day of Remembrance for Pregnancy and Infant Loss? Maybe not, because really, we don’t like talk much about miscarriages or infant deaths. We don’t know how to talk about it. So today, I pray for all moms, dads and families who grieve and mourn. For those who carry losses that they don’t share on Facebook or in church or even with their closest friends. For those who don’t want to be asked about it. For those who need to talk about it. For all who weep. For all your pain. For your hope, still. Lord be with you and your little ones.

Amen.

#fergusonoctober

Activists and organizations have come to St Louis from all over to be a part of protests, marches, acts of civil disobedience, lectures, worship services, trainings, panel discussions and meetings. We, this gal and many other beloved new, local friends and colleagues, are participating in as much as we can and soaking in the conversation, while also doing our jobs and taking care of our congregations and families. I have many thoughts, but while I work some of them out, let me leave you with some photos and links for where to follow for more info. Praying for justice! Praying for peace!

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Some folks I’m following on twitter for what’s happening in Ferguson and STL right now:
@millennialAU – local young leaders
@fergusonoctober – official event page
@blacklivesmatter – national organization
@mcustlouis – local community organizing group
@rlippmann – local reporter
@valeriehann – local reporter
@reverendstarsky – local pastor
@tefpoe – local musician and activist

This night in the middle.

She saw my collar and asked me to stand and pray with her. She grabbed my hand and walked me through the crowd. Through the front line. And right into the middle. And he grabbed my hand and we were there. Police in full riot gear to my left and chanting, screaming, crying and singing protesters to my right. I was in the middle and held two strangers hands and prayed like crazy.

It was like this for hours.

I don’t know how it got like this. Just a few minutes earlier I had been in my jammies, my kid yelling at me about typing up something for her school for tomorrow. I heard the helicopters growing closer, so I checked the updates on twitter and knew the crowd was approaching. So I grabbed my keys and phone and ran out “just for a minute” in my jammies. I wanted to see with my own eyes what was happening. I watched the police drive ahead and shut down the intersection one block away. I thought it was pretty great of them to stop traffic, to clear the way, to ensure safety of all. To keep the peace, I thought. Then the crowd came walking down the road, both sides of the road and some on the sidewalks. Slowly, spread out. Calmly. Really, not too many of them. Not sure I would even call them a crowd. Someone had a bullhorn but it wasn’t being used. Lots of phones and cameras out recording everything. A couple of cars followed the groups of walkers. There was one group carrying a rather large american flag, except by carrying, I mean dragging it along the pavement. I stood on the corner and prayed and said hello and prayed and told them to be safe. There were a couple of cop cars behind them, keeping them safe from traffic, I thought. I watched them walk to the corner at Grand and Arsenal, just one block south. I walked along the sidewalk that way a bit. But everything was so calm, I decided I didn’t need to make a thing of it. I went home. A block and a half later, I bounded up my stairs, and pulled out my phone to post the pics I’d just taken, and learned that the crowd I’d just been standing with and praying for, got sprayed by cops in riot gear at that intersection I thought was too boring to walk towards.

I didn’t know what to do anymore. I hate guns and want the violence to stop. I want kids to stop shooting at cops and I want cops to stop shooting and killing our kids. I want the break-ins in my neighborhood to stop. I want to walk my dog without worrying that I’m gonna get held up at gunpoint. I want everyone to think that black lives matter; that my kid’s life matters, that all lives matter. I want peace in our city. I want peace in all cities.

I messaged another local pastor, threw on my clergy collar, told the kid to put herself to bed, promised her I wouldn’t do anything dangerous but also told her to call me in case of an emergency, and I walked towards the mess. I talked with people. I talked with cops. I talked with neighbors and organizers and observers. And by talked with I mean, I asked questions and listened. I bought that clergy collar so that I could do just that. So I could be present, but silent. My pastor friend and I couldn’t get to one another, because we lived on opposite sides of the police blockade. And that’s when she spotted me. The clergy stranger, she spotted me and pulled me into the middle to pray. And an hour or so into it, I could see the across to the other side, I could see my pastor friend, also standing in the middle. In the middle is where we were. I stood in the middle, in that spot and I prayed, for the protesters, demanding to be seen and heard; demanding to be respected and treated as though their lives mattered just as much as mine. I prayed for the police, who were being screamed at for hours, called criminals and much worse, who stood there not knowing what might happen next. I prayed for the business owners, and neighborhood children, and mothers of lost sons, and mothers raising black sons, and mothers raising future police officers, mothers with babies being kept up by the noise of the helicopters. I prayed for pastors and teachers and elected officials, organizers, nurses, lawyers, and people who need jobs. I prayed for our community, our city and our country. I prayed for each person’s anger, each person’s rage, each person’s plea, each person’s function. I prayed for how the church might engage with all of this. I prayed for Jesus to come and be there in that space. I prayed for God’s love and justice and peace and peace and peace.

And when I left that night, when I finally walked away from the crowds, from the cops, from the middle, I kept praying. And I walked the two blocks home as fast as I could and bounded up those stairs and I kissed my kid’s foot and prayed some more.

Lord, in your mercy, for our city, for our families, for the cops, for the protesters, for the kids we’ve lost, for grieving mamas, for all youth, for all races, for our churches, for all of us, for your PEACE, hear our prayer…

the middle

This was my view from the middle tonight.

Updated note (10/11/14): This post was written with my family, friends and congregation in mind. I had no idea how much others would connect with it and share it. For those who don’t know, along side the congregation I serve, I have prayed, protested, marched, organized, and donated in support of calls for justice since the August 9th shooting of Michael Brown. The protests came to our neighborhood this week following the shooting of Vonderrit Myers. The two shootings were different, but I believe God’s charge for us to love one another is the same. 

And what do you do?

One of the super fun things about being a pastor and being a young-ish, female, not-what-people-think-of-as-a-pastor kind of pastor is that you get to surprise people regularly by telling them what you “do”. It’s often a rather hilarious discovery, because they’re embarrassed that they cursed in front of you (and a pastor has never heard or said those words!). And then other times it’s awkward and horrible, like when you’re on a plane sitting next to a chatty granny reading a Joel Osteen book. I’ve decided I should keep a running list of the best, “What?! You’re a PASTOR!?” moments I rack up.

So far my favorite pastor reveal reactions include the lady at the front desk of the Y who didn’t know what to clearly didn’t think that pastors worked out, the middle schooler who was all full of sass when asking, “why you wanna do that??” and by far the best one, the mom who witnessed my kid, um, giving me some critical feedback, yeah, let’s go with that, who walked up and asked me, “you want me to beat her ass for you?”

Seriously, you should have seen the look on that mom’s face…