NaBloPoMo: Day 3

Today, because more than 500 of my colleagues were standing with the many, many water protectors who have been standing for justice and life along the Missouri River, I decided to be bold like them make my own stand for justice.

So, at dinner, I sat my kid down and tried to explain to her what’s happening with Standing Rock and #NoDAPL.

Now, we’ve moved a lot over the years. And she lived two different lives before she came to live with me. So I had no idea what she had been taught about our country’s history and the violence toward and oppression of native peoples.

Usually when I start to talk about these things, she rolls her eyes and grunts and makes some rather forceful suggestions that we maybe, might could change the conversation topic. (At least, that’s how I interpret, “Oh, shut up!”)

But today she listened. She heard the whole (well, actually very short version of the whole) story. Of hurting and stealing and taking over and shoving out and killing and making promises and breaking them and doing that over and over again and treaty lines and water access and holy grounds and spiritual space and discrimination and law breaking and sovereign nation violation and greed and hurt and injustice.

And she listened.

And for me, today, for us, that was a huge step toward justice. Because it happens that way too.

So we keep on…

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NaBloPoMo

All the things happen in November and people make more plans and daily disciplines than they do at New Years and I grew worried that I might miss out on the fun so I decided to do NaBloMoPoCeeLoElEmEnOPeeYo. Or whatever. I’m gonna try to write a lot and blog a lot and share a bit get back into the habit.

So here it is.

Today was my first day back after taking 10 days off to be with family after the death of my dear aunt Melissa. Well, it was kind of my first day back. After we flew in yesterday, and I got the kid to school, and I got the dog from the doggie hotel, and I got pulled over by a cop, and I cleaned up the dog puke when we got back home, then I worked 7 hours. But today was my first FULL day back.

I had grand plans of course. I was going to return all the emails, organize all the upcoming things, visit all the home visits, prepare all the worships, order all the advent materials, and read a whole book for this week’s book club. Oh, and don’t forget that meeting with the Chief of Police and the church neighborhood outreach event tonight. Good thing I’m not too ambitious or anything.

But as I attacked that list, my heart was still a bit broken. And my ministry muscles were sore. And the right words wouldn’t come. And I just simply couldn’t face the Chief today.

So instead, I let myself sit in the office all alone. I worked on one thing for worship on Sunday. Just one thing. One creative piece. One moment for reflection. One opportunity for engagement in prayer and tradition and loved ones and God’s love. If I’m honest, I think I spent a little too long on that one thing. But also, it helped me return. To this space. To my job. To my community.

It’s only been a bit more than two years for me, doing this ministry stuff full time. I can’t seem to figure out how to pace it. How do you get it all done and also rest in God? How do you make space for all the spaces and stuff and visits and study and getting out and being present and writing the stinking newsletter articles? And how do you do all that when your own heart is broken or your own faith is tested?

Well, I’m working on that. And I’m surrounding myself with solid mentors who’ve been doing just that, or who are striving to do that, and keep filling me up with tips. When I get it all down, I’ll let you know.

Until then, you may occasionally find me alone in the building, locked behind my office door, shoving aside a massive and ambitious to-do list, coloring pictures of the saints in my life.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

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A coloring for an idea for our All Saints Worship this Sunday at OHPC. It’s okay. I know. I’m an excellent colorer. Thanks. 

 

 

Cheers.

Four years ago today, our little family was created. I didn’t have words to share what was happening publicly at the time, and over the years I haven’t gotten much better at explaining how I went from aunt to “parent-like-thingy” and she dropped niece to become “my kid.” People don’t throw showers and photo shoots when families are created by tragedy, loss, or conflict. It’s not really something to celebrate. It’s complicated and messy and painful for everyone involved. But it was also our beginning. Together. So Tegan and I do celebrate this day. (Usually with ice cream.) We celebrate because we know there is love and hope and beauty and fun even in the most complicated mess of life. Even on really hard and painful days. Even when scars and wounds are still healing. Even when relationships remain broken. Even when you don’t know how you’re gonna get through tomorrow. Or today.
So, we sneak a moment to celebrate. And we hope that you, wherever and however you are doing right now, find your own moments to celebrate, too.
Cheers!

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Hockeypuck Rattlesnake Monkey Monkey Underpants


I have so much writing to do.
I am past deadline on two projects. Plus all the normal worship bulletin, sermon, newsletter, bible study stuff. But every time I sit down to type, I get about 4 sentences in and hate myself and every word ever created. That story is boring and that joke isn’t the right kind of funny. And forget about trying to be smart or useful or on point or even making complete sentences. BLERG. I loathe all the word things fumbling around in my brain. Monkey. Monkey. Underpants.

So friends, how to do get over your no-good ick gross pathetic writing days? No, I mean, really….

 

The day I bought that car.

I remember the embarrassment. Sitting in that glass room. The man in the khakis walking by, pacing by, every 2 minutes. Sitting there on the phone. Making call after call from his desk. He just walked by again. I remember the embarrassment. Having just quit my job and begging lender after lender to help me finance a $5000 car with nothing down. And having lender after lender turn me down because I was a broke grad student who had just quit her job. I remember the embarrassment sitting in that car salesman’s office. With my mother. Knowing I HAD to get that car. Because how do you raise a kid by yourself in suburban New Jersey without a car? Oh my God, I am going to raise a kid in New Jersey. I remember the embarrassment when they looked at the forms. When I didn’t have the right answers for a woman my age. I didn’t have very responsible answers, that’s for sure. I remember him asking me more questions. He really needed this sale. And he had to know what a hopeless embarrassing case I was. He had to wish I’d spare us all the embarrassment and claim to have left the oven on or say I needed to think about it some more or anything. Just leave. I remember my mother saying nothing. She was embarrassed for me. I remember her looking down at her hands in her lap as he spoke to me. I remember the embarrassment when I felt the tears welling up, knowing what the next answer and the next answer and the next answer would be. It wasn’t enough. But I remember, more than the embarrassment, I remember the fear. Of how I was going to do this. How I would bring home this child. To New Jersey. The busses didn’t even run on weekends. Also, where would she sleep and eat and go to school and make friends and would we really get housing and maybe I should consider dropping out of school like everyone says because single parents are supposed to work so they can pay for clothes and books and shoes and the doctor and dentist and oh my snakes, I’m the one who is going to have to take her to the dentist and I hate the dentist and I’m going to have to pay for the dentist and we HAVE TO HAVE A DAMN CAR TO GET TO THE DENTIST!!!!

That day in the used car dealership off Route 1 was one of so many days that year I was certain I’d die of embarrassment, fear and outright failure. Much of that summer when I first became a parent has been lost to the fog of my stress-memories. But I remember that day, desperately trying to buy a car, clear as ever. I remember feeling like it was the one key ingredient. If I could just pull that together the rest of it would line up or work out or at least wouldn’t seem so impossible. I mean, I’d be able to drive the kid to the dentist. Good parents do that. I could do that. I could…

And after a couple of hard hours burying my pride in a flurry of begging and promising and no shortage of sad-sad, single parent sob-story telling, I did manage to secure the financing and drove that beautiful, busted-up little Chevy with the weird brakes home. Home to the temporary place while I waited and fought and argued for housing. Which worked out. I stayed in school. I took out loans. I called people for help. Bit by bit and day by day we figured it out. It was really hard. It’s still really hard. All the time. I still find myself embarrassed and scared sometimes. Okay, maybe more than sometimes. But today, sitting in my office, where I work because I didn’t drop out, but I stuck with it and found a way to graduate and get a job and kept food on the table and the kid’s teeth relatively well cared for, today I sat in that office and made my final payment on that rusty, lovely 2006 Chevy.

And looking at my account online today, seeing it zero out, I wished I could drive back to New Jersey, to that dealership off Route 1, to that little glass office, and slam that last payment (in cash, all $1s for dramatic effect, preferably) on the khaki pants-guy’s desk, in front of my mom, with a smile on my face and say, “That’s my car, now.”

Because I did it. I did it. I bought that car. I made things work. I survived my own embarrassment, doubt and fear. And sure, there are still many other challenges and worries and struggles ahead and now and all around, but I bought that car. I did it. It is done and I did it and it is mine. And for today, for just a moment right now,  that feels damn good.

Holy Tuesday

I didn’t sleep last night. My mind wouldn’t rest. My worries wouldn’t lay down. My wonderings wouldn’t grow weary.

Sleepily, I went to be with a dear friend in the hospital this morning, as she waited through her husband’s surgery. As I walked in, police were walking a man out in shackles and chains. Real ones. The sound of it shook me.

I made it through the series of desks, hallways and elevators to the waiting room, only to be greeted by images of violence and death in Belgium on the tv screen.
There will be NO rushing to Easter this week. 
We will walk through every bit of the reality of our world this week. Every ugly moment of it. That seems certain.
Help us, O Lord, to not be afraid to look at this life we are living. To look at the systems we’ve created. To look into the belly of evil, death and hate. The evil, death and hate that only your love can conquer. And help us to cling to you while we walk and while we wait.
Amen.

When God’s People Cry Out, We Will Respond With Love
A version of this sermon manuscript was preached by Rev. Erin Counihan on Sunday 8/9/15 at Oak Hill Presbyterian Church in St. Louis, MO.

Texts:
FIRST READING EPHESIANS 4:25-5:2
SECOND READING 2 SAMUEL 18:5-9, 15, 31-33


“Almost from the start, Absalom had a number of strikes against him. For one thing, he was much too handsome for his own good, and his special pride was such a magnificent head of hair that once a year when he had it trimmed, the trimmings alone tipped the scales at three and a half pounds. For another thing, his father, King David, was always either spoiling him rotten or reading him the riot act. This did not promote stability of character. He murdered his lecherous brother Amnon for fooling around with their sister, Tamar, and when the old war-horse Joab wouldn’t help him patch things up with David afterward, he set fire to his hay field. All Israel found this kind of derring-do irresistible, of course, and when he eventually led a revolt against his father, a lot of them joined up.

On the eve of the crucial battle, David was a wreck. If he was afraid he might lose his throne, he was even more afraid he might lose Absalom. The boy was the thorn in his flesh, but he was also the apple of his eye, and before the fighting started, he told the chiefs of staff till they were sick of hearing it that, if Absalom fell into their clutches, they must promise to go easy on him for his father’s sake. Remembering what had happened to his hay field, old Joab kept his fingers crossed, and when he found Absalom caught in the branches of an oak tree by his beautiful hair, he ran him through without blinking an eye. When they broke the news to David, it broke his heart, just as simple as that, and he cried out in words that have echoed down the centuries ever since. “O my son Absalom, my son, my son,” he said. “Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son” (2 Samuel 18:33).

He meant it, of course. If he could have done the boy’s dying for him, he would have done it. If he could have paid the price for the boy’s betrayal of him, he would have paid it. If he could have given his own life to make the boy alive again, he would have given it. But even a king can’t do things like that. As later history was to prove, it takes the King himself.”[1]

 

These words from writer and theologian Frederick Buechner paint the portrait our lectionary text only outlines today. Buechner fills in the missing parts of the story, but I think he also shades in the pain, the loss and the weeping of a grieving father.

This week, another grieving father painted a similar portrait of sadness, of crying out, when he spoke with CNN’s Moni Basu as the anniversary of his son’s death approached. With all of the political conversation, the differing viewpoints, the protests and marches, the vandalism, the organizing and the tweeting; with all of the controversy and turmoil in our city over the past year, the one thing that can and does get lost in the conversation is a family’s grief.  Basu explains…

He had stood waiting, numb, about half a mile from here on Canfield Drive, with his wife of three weeks, Calvina. He rushed there after the police called him and his son’s mother, Lesley McSpadden. They all stood before a body covered by a sheet, surrounded by police cars, flashing lights, yellow crime scene tape and a crowd that grew larger by the minute.

He was there for four hours and 32 minutes before the sheet was lifted and he saw his son, and what he did not want to believe was confirmed. His 18-year-old boy, named after him, had been shot dead by Darren Wilson, a white police officer in Ferguson.

One year later, Brown utters the same words he uttered then: “I should have been there to protect him.”

From the afternoon of August 9 to the funeral of “Mike Mike” 16 days later, Brown felt as though he were in a trance. On the funeral program, he wrote:

“I think of you day and night and just wish I was there to save you from harm. I always told you I would never let anything happen to you. And that’s why it hurts sooooo much. I will never let you die in my heart.”[2]

 

I stood in that same spot this morning, just as the sun was rising, on that street in Ferguson, in a circle, holding hands with more than 100 clergy, to acknowledge those tears of a grieving father. To witness to that pain and emptiness. To remember that this isn’t just about statistics and hashtags, this is about a father’s lost son. A mother’s lost daughter. A sister, a brother, a niece, a nephew, a friend. And each day there is another new name to mourn. 705 names added just this year.[3] And every time a new name is added to the list, each time a new hashtag is trending, another parent is crying out: O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! O my son Mike Mike, O my daughter Renisha, O my son Tamir, O my son Walter, O my daughter Tanesha, my child, my child!

This morning, in that circle of faith, as we wept for and with the parents of lost children, as we prayed for God to protect all our children, one mother in the circle lamented that she could do nothing to take away that grief, to stop the tears of grieving parents, to but that she could work and pray that God might make something holy come from those tears.

Because that’s what we do, that’s all we can do when people are grieving, when our neighbors are weeping. We show up with love. God’s people show up with love. Usually with love and casseroles, but always with love. As imitators of God, as beloved children, living in love, as Christ loved us, God’s people show up at the worst of times, still, to witness to God’s love.

So, yes, sometimes we show up with God’s love in the form of a frozen meal and a tray of cookies, and but also, at other times we show up with God’s love in our voices proclaiming, “That’s enough violence! Not one more!” Sometimes we show up with God’s love as flowers and condolence cards, and other times it’s with letters drafted to our elected officials saying, “We need better schools, more jobs, programs to keep kids off the streets and out of prisons and in school, we need opportunities for all!” Sometimes we show up with God’s love in the form of an embrace and a prayer, and other times it’s holding hands, marching down the street, promising not to forget, to keep asking the hard questions, and demand answers and changes.

God calls us to show up with love.

O Church-   fathers, mothers, siblings, grandparents, family and friends are weeping. Right now. More and more of them every day.

How might we show up with love? How will we witness to God’s love?

Amen.

Canfield Drive. 7am. 8/9/15.

Canfield Drive. 7am. 8/9/15.

[1] “Absalom” by Frederick Buechner as posted to http://frederickbuechner.com/content/absalom-0 and accessed on 8/8/2015.

[2] Interview from “Michael Brown’s Father: ‘I think of him every single day’” as posted at http://www.cnn.com/2015/08/07/us/michael-brown-sr-interview-ferguson/ and accessed on 8/8/2015.

[3] As documented by http://killedbypolice.net/ on 8/9/2015.

That Beast Racism, er, I mean Goliath

Are We Ready to Slay the Monster, the Beast, The Giant: Goliath/Racism?
A version of this sermon manuscript was preached by the Rev. Erin Counihan at Oak Hill Presbyterian Church on Sunday, June 21, 2015.
Text: 1 Samuel 17: 1a, 4-11, 19-23, 32-49image
This Wednesday, we sat in that room.
Right over there. On the other side of the wall. Sitting, in a circle. Was it nine of us? Or eight? I can’t quite remember.

But there we were. On Wednesday.

And I like to think, because I’ve come to know the people who gather in that room each Wednesday, that had a stranger come in, through our unlocked door and joined our Wednesday bible study, that stranger, too, would have been welcomed.
Someone would have motioned to an open seat. Someone else would have slid their book over to share the lesson. Someone else might have gotten up to offer the newcomer a bible, so that when we went around the circle reading the passage, our new guest would have had the opportunity to read in turn. We would have invited them to share- their opinions, questions, ideas, doubts, and prayer requests. Then we would have bowed our heads and closed our eyes and prayed to God with our new friend.

As the news of the terrible tragedy, the act of terror, the violent hate crime flooded our worlds Wednesday night, I couldn’t get that scene out of my mind. Hadn’t I just sat in such a room, with such faithful people, that very day? I fell apart weeping over the idea.

Because, at first, when I first heard the news, that there had been a shooting in a church at a prayer meeting, that was as far as I got. And in my disbelief, I dig deeper. I searched for more information, for details. How could this be? What kind of monster could do such a thing. And then when I read the rest of the story- that the shooting was at an AME Church, at THE AME Church, at Mother Emanuel, in the deep south, a church and denomination created because the white church wouldn’t let them in. A church that had been burned to the ground out of hate. That the victims were all African-American, and the shooter was white. My heart shattered into a million pieces. Because now I could imagine what kind of monster had done such a thing. Because I knew that monster. I knew that monster’s name- Racism.

That monster has been destroying lives, churches, communities, and unity in our nation for centuries. That monster we here in St. Louis know well. We know it well in the stories of our schooling, in the stories of the changes in this neighborhood, and especially over the past 10 months we know it well in conversations about policing and the deaths of Michael Brown, Kajieme Powell, Vonderitt Meyers, and Ledarius Williams.

Here in our congregation, we have been attempting to talk about that monster. We’ve held sacred conversations, attended marches and learning events, we’ve offered so many prayers. We’ve been learning new terms, reading new scholars, and hearing new stories. We’ve been listening to new voices. And it hasn’t been easy or comfortable. There are days when even I, the one who talks about this all the time, have thought, man, we’ve got to talk about something else. It’s getting pretty awkward. This is exhausting. We need a break.

But then I read the news, or talk to a friend, or watch how people watch my own kid when we walk into a store and I am reminded that my black and brown sisters and brothers don’t have that luxury of taking a break from the conversation, of hiding from the monster, not even for a break, not ever for a day. So as long as our black and brown brothers and sisters are dying at the hands of the monster of racism, the beast of injustice, and the devil that is gun violence, in our streets, in their own homes, and in God’s home- I have no business being comfortable. The least I can do is talk about it. Pray about it. Learn about it. Listen to their voices, their experiences, and their cries. And hear God’s call to be humbled, to repent, and to work for justice.

Because that monster of racism, I believe is our Goliath. It is this big, bad thing, supported by an army of hate, wearing the armor of indifference, imposing its way on our systems, laws, communities, schools and society. And I believe today, with our broken hearts, we are presented with a choice. We can be the Israelite army, the chosen people of God, armed with the tools of righteousness and love, but stunned, and scared, frozen in awkward fear, refusing to take action. Or we can be David.

David. Who in this moment, is not the great warrior king, but is just young shepherd. No one thinks he’s anything special. But he is called by God. Experienced in the love of God. Confident in the hope of God. Rejecting any armor but that of the Word of our Lord.

We can be David, and show up, stare the monster Goliath of Racism in the face, take every bit of trash talk, of garbage hyperbole, it can spew at us, and boldly say, out loud, “I come to you in the name of the Lord God, whom you have defied.”

We can be David.
What might happen? If our God, the God who uses all kinds of broken, unexpected people, used us?
Our God, the God who called a really old couple to birth a chosen tribe.
Our God, the God who called a stutterer to speak the law to the people.
Our God, the God who called children to be prophets.
Our God, the God who called an unwed teenage girl to give birth to the divine being.
Our God, the God who called an oppressor, a persecutor, to preach and grow the church.
Our God, the God who called a boy shepherd to take on the biggest beast of his time.

What if that God is calling to us now? Can you imagine? For a moment, if we didn’t care how big the monster, beast Goliath of Racism was, if we didn’t worry about how wide and deep and far its arms reach, but if we could be like David, look it in the eye and call it out. Saying THAT IS NOT THE WAY OF GOD!

What if we channeled David every time we hear a just slightly offensive joke?
What if we channeled David every time we noticed discrimination, inequality and underrepresentation in our workplaces, in our schools, on panels and governing boards?
What if we channeled David every time we cringed at a friend’s social media post?

What if we channeled David every time we caught ourselves exercising our own privilege?

We can channel David. We can be David. We can do something. We must do something. Something. Because, we don’t have to be armed with the right words. We have God’s true word.
We can be like David, are little things, called by God into service. To slay the beast. Not with big maneuvers, impressive moves or fancy tools, but with our faith in God and God’s message of love.

Goliath is out there. And in here [points to sanctuary]. And in here [points to my own heart].

Are we ready to be called to service like young David, infused with our faith in the Lord? Or will we sit by silently and watch the beast attack, stuck in our fear?[i]

I will close today with the reading of our Gospel from the book of Mark. Hear now the word of our Lord:

35On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” 36And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. 37A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 38But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 39He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. 40He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?[ii]

[i] This sermon references the theological ponderings of Rev. Tawnya Denise Anderson as shared with the RevGalBlogPals. I am thankful for her scholarship and vision and especially for her challenge to us preachers! 

[ii] Mark 4:35-40 NRSV