Wonderings and Reflections:
Today, beloved, we were the church.
It began at 9:30 am by gathering with people in a park to pray, sing, and listen to the witness of a family destroyed by gun violence. They pleaded with us to take action; to no longer be complicit in this senseless violence that is an epidemic in our nation with our silence and our willingness to let other folks make the change happen. We listened to a prophet of today, a freshman in high school, who demanded that enough was enough. She proclaimed that we cannot be satisfied with our youngest school-aged children having to learn lock-down drills, with our young folks being afraid to go to school, with legislators and gun enthusiasts demanding that their desire to have assault rifles somehow justifies one's ability to kill multiple lives in seconds.
From there we rode by bus to the Hutto Detention Center where women, who came to this nation for asylum, are held---apart from their children. This wasn't a protest, but a prayer service. But this wasn't simply "thoughts and prayers; " this was a call to action and a reminder of what our nation is truly about. A call to make America great again by making America good again. This was a time to be reminded of our core values---our values of welcome because we are called to love our neighbor. To love without exception.
Beloved, now is the time to be a witness.....to be a prophet.....to proclaim love, to point to love, to be love in action. God is waiting: Can God get a witness? Will we be witnesses to this profound love? Will we show the world the Way by living and being the Way? Let us be the witnesses God calls us to be. There is no other time but now.
Oh Beloved, what a day.....what a day. My heart is filled with love and hope, but I also have seen the grief and sadness of the brokenness of our humanity. Walk with me a moment, won't you?
So first of all, I had my first morning "off" from meetings/hearings, so that was renewing in and of itself. I spent time in prayer and solitude.....refreshing! And then we went to session to listen again to thoughts and amendments for Prayer Book Revision. Actually the plan is for three years of study and conversation toward drafting, consulting many folks before actually drafting and crafting in the next triennia (3 years). After much debate, prayer, and listening, the amended resolution to move forward in the study and plan toward revising the Prayer Book was passed in the House of Deputies. I am pretty sure the House of Bishops will amend, and the discussion will continue until it either be completely passed or not. But the breath of renewal seems to be among us. It gives me hope as I believe study and considering, discernment and listening is a good thing. And I trust that God is moving here.....but I also hold my siblings who disagree with me in prayer. Their hearts are heavier than mine for this process...
And then we listened to April Schentrup, mother to Carmen Schentrup who was murdered in the shooting at Stoneman Douglas, as she asked us to consider more than thoughts and prayers, but to actually take action to end gun violence in our nation. She asked that we would support and take action for sensible gun legislation in our nation. My heart ached for the family's pain; my heart aches for the reality of our nation and the violence that consumes it. It was a weighty morning.
In the afternoon we considered evangelism, and I heard a truth for me: that priests and pastors are not meant to simply be fundraising CEOs of a non-profit, but we are to be Provokers of Curiosity. We are to provoke people's curiosity about the love of God....to speak words that help others to want to know more about Jesus and the love that is Jesus. And I say YES! to that....
Tonight we attended a Revival....an Episcopal Revival! Who would of thunk this could actually happen? I mean, I always dreamed it....But it made my heart sing. And boy, did we sing! And pray....and were prayed over and prayed with.....and the PB preached! (you can see songs and the sermon on my facebook page, but also check out: generalconvention.org for livestreaming.....) Oh my heart is full....with hope and love and joy! Beloved, let's be about the Way of Love. Let's commit to it and jump into with the entirety of our being....as individuals, as a community, as the Beloved Community. Love is the Way and the antidote this world needs. Let us Love! Peace, y'all, and night blessings.......
Are we ever ready? Are we ever ready when the Spirit blows through the community and stirs us to new action? In my experience: not fully. We'd like to think we are, but the Spirit has a way of taking us further than we ever imagined or dreamed. Because the Spirit is headed in the direction of God's dream, and that is always beyond our imagining.
Today we heard from some magnificent speakers and poets to open our hearts, ears, and minds toward racial reconciliation. Real and lasting reconciliation is first going to require some healing and a whole lot of justice. We have quite a journey in front of us. And first, we must face the truth of the extent and nefarious indwellings of prejudice and racism within us and within our society and systems. But, beloved, let me tell you: the Holy Spirit was blowing throughout the Convention Center today and calling us to a new way and a new day. I give thanks for our speakers and their witness and testimony.
And then a bit later, a resolution called us to take up the holy listening and considering of taking a path forward for the revision of the Prayer Book. If you read my facebook page, you know where I stand. But that is simply my stance, it need not be yours. The Spirit calls me to listen and ponder, to hear all voices, and to stretch out my spiritual antennae so I can hear the Spirit and feel God's vibrations as we ponder and pray, discern and take action.
But the truth, beloved, is we are never truly ready for change. We are never truly ready to cross to the other side. We are never truly ready for the "new thing" God has in store for us. But as Presiding Bishop Curry reminds us, if we "keep our eyes on the prize," if we keep our hand to the Gospel plow, and keep our eyes on Jesus, we will cross safely to the other side. God has us well within God's reach. We are held, guided, and beloved. All shall be well.
Peace, my friends, and night blessings......
So here's a fun fact about General Convention: Today, my third day here, is actually the first official day. You need to come one day early to get oriented and learn what you need to learn and to organize the houses so you can get down to business. And then, if you are on a committee, you begin meeting two days before the official start of business.....so day 3 is day 1. Whatevs....
This past 24 hours for me has been a place of holding the tension between pain and joy. A place we are all familiar with; the place where Jesus often meets us. In many ways, it is a "sweet spot" for vulnerability.....
Last night the Convention held the Listening Session for the House of Bishops on Sexual Harassment in the Church. It was a prayerful liturgy with testimony read by the Bishops, but testimony written by various voices (most of them women) in the Church who have experienced harassment on some level. The Truth is that women are still treated differently in the Church (and not just in leadership) than men. The Truth is our society still treats women (and pays them) differently than men. The Truth is that much of our language, our authority, our image of authority is male-centered and male-dominated. Last night was about the Church beginning to face that reality and to have honest conversations about it, seeking to right this injustice. While the liturgy was painful in many ways, it was also a step toward cleansing. Leaving, I felt heavy and raw in many ways---deep within my heart---hearing my voice in some of those others-----and recognizing some elements of the harassment have still not been heard. Because the reality is that the denigration of women (which leads to one's ability to treat women in lesser ways) is woven into the very fabric of our society, our culture, and our language. We've got lots of untangling to do here, folks; there is much work to be done. But I am heartened that we recognize this reality, and we are beginning.
And then today in the hearings I participated in with my committee were filled with great discussions, and hearing the thoughts and inputs of folks all over the church---and all the voices championing the hope that the Church has life in her yet and we are finding new ways to be and live Church. I heard many witnesses of collaboration and new ideas and fresh starts and growing discipleship. It all made my heart sing (even though it was a very long day and now I need some sleep!)
I posted Bishop Curry's sermon on my Facebook page, but I will try to share it on the two FB pages of the Beloved Community as well. It brings inspiration (which means to be filled with the Spirit) and speaks to our truth that in these spaces of tension between pain and joy (where I found myself today)....Jesus meets us there. Without fail. I am in good hands. We are in good hands. Jesus holds us in the tension and urges us onward.
Beloved, I will take my rest now. I continue to hold you all in prayer. I ask that you do the same for me, for those among us who are recovering or struggling in any way, for our neighbors and friends, and for all those doing the work of God here at General Convention. Sending love from afar.........
So today it officially begins...the Convention that is. Yesterday was just a "pre-convention" day...
So here is what I saw today:
Stopped in the Exhibit Hall at many places, but also a fair trade place out of Israel----seeking to make us consumers of goods that actually support our fellow human beings and brothers and sisters in God's Kingdom
Mixing in with the House of Deputies: people in the United States, but also people outside our national boundaries, and realizing that God calls us to seek the wellness and wholeness of all of Creation--no matter our origin, our skin color, our gender or sexual identity....we are One in Christ.....
Taking part in Committee work that seeks to make the Church vital and flourishing so that God's Good News spreads throughout the world .....encompassing all that we do and all that we are......
Listening to our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry: "A way of Christianity that looks like Jesus" and the President of the House of Deputies, Gay Jennings who calls us to remember that we were once strangers in Egypt so we are called to care for the strangers (aliens, refugees) in our midst, and to the President of the ECW who referred to Verna Dozier who wondered: Are you a follower of Jesus or do you just worship him? And, Verna asked, What difference does it make that you believe.....?
And then participating in the liturgy for the reality of sexual harassment and the #metoo movement in the Church and dreaming of the day when the Church responds in a healthy way to the wrongs and injustices that take place within it...
Oh, beloved, it was a long day, but a good day. A day focused on the redemption and the healing of the love of Jesus.....
This, this is what I live for...on this fourth of July...I pledge allegiance to the Gospel of the Good News of Jesus Christ.....This I believe....This I trust...I set my hope on Christ.
From today until July 13th, I will be blogging about my experiences at the General Convention of the Episcopal Church being held in Austin, Texas. I am serving as a Deputy from the Diocese of Fond du Lac and I am also on the Committee for Diocesan and Congregational Vitality.
So today was early wake-up in order to travel, and then after arrival: beginning to see friends. Some from the Diocese, some from Seminary, some from various experiences and connections.....and that is what this is all about: love and connection.
And by "this" I mean General Convention, but I also mean this way of discipleship, this Jesus movement, this Church. This life is all about love and connection. So often we think of love as the "connector"; it is the glue that binds us together. And it is. But we forget that if we "love" another person, this means we will maintain that connection----even when it is challenging or uncomfortable or downright hard. Love means you do not simply abandon or walk away. It means that even if we are not "friends," as a fellow human being whom I love (for that is what God asks of us....to love) then, somehow, I must maintain a connection.
Right now, I find it pretty challenging with all the horrifying and damaging words people are speaking and all the destructive decisions that are happening in our country and in this world. Frankly, there are quite a few folks (and/or groups of folks) that I would rather just walk away and close the door. But God is asking something different of me, of us. And as difficult as I find this to be, out of my love for Jesus, my trust in God, I am going to wrestle with this challenging truth until I can find a way to connect to the one I think of as the "other," the one I consider my enemy. Because here's the thing: God's promises that this way of reconciliation---remaining connected to all people---will bring about not only my wellness and wholeness, but it will bring about the redemption of the entire Creation. And folks, call me crazy, but I trust this. Completely. I trust God's promise.
The trusting doesn't make it any easier. But the trusting does demand something of me, of us. Love and connection. Not only with those whose presence fills me with joy so I run to greet them, but also with those who cause a sigh to rise up in my throat and my welcome feels half-hearted. And, beloved, even with those who cause so much angst in me right now that I am going to have to pause and wrestle with the Holy Spirit before I can find a way to greet them. Even those.
And that is what I will experience these next 12 days. Remembering that if I "love" these brothers and sisters of mine (the lovely ones and fun ones as well as the annoying and exasperating ones) then I have to work to stay connected. But, oh, beloved, oh what fruit can come from love. Peace and blessings, y'all. Good night.
All my life I’ve missed the point of this Gospel story. I thought it was just one of those “here’s what happened today with Jesus.”
But now, after having lived some life, after spending some quality time with Jesus and trying to follow this One that is love incarnate, I think there’s so much more to this Gospel story than: Remember that one boat ride with the Messiah?
The story starts like this: When evening had come, Jesus said to his disciples, “Let us go across to the other side.”
Let us go across to the other side. I don’t think Jesus is talking about the lake or the sea or a river. Jesus is talking about the other side…..moving from darkness to light, from death to life, from this world’s Kingdom to God’s kingdom…….Let us go across to the other side.
And then Jesus just settles down…..gets comfy….and falls asleep. Because for Jesus, it ain’t no big thing….or maybe Jesus knew it was going to get rocky….. whatever the reason, Jesus is definitely calm, cool, and collected.
But for those disciples……crossing over to the other side was a whole different story. It was risky. There was wind and lots of waves, their boat was getting swamped…..it was rocky and nauseating and they thought they were going to die.
Friends, for me this is a pretty accurate description of any time my worldview, my way of seeing and understanding things, has been uprooted and challenged….any time I have had to make major changes or I have had one of those personal growth experiences…..any time I have been confronted with my own ignorance or my own pettiness, my own darkness and brokenness….it feels like a storm a’brewin’ and just like these disciples…..I don't like it; I become fearful, often nauseated, and I want it to stop!
Crossing over to the other side might be nap time for Jesus, but it is hard, risky, life-challenging work for the rest of us.
This is true for the Church as well. Whenever the Gospel has demanded that the Church re-learn its truth, whenever the Church has had to own up and confess its own brokenness, it is some messy business.
In my life in the Church, I’ve experienced this a few times---most especially with women’s ordination and same-sex marriage. As I’ve lived through these issues, as a priest’s kid, as a faithful person in the church, as a mother raising kids, as a youth minister leading young folks, and as a priest finding her way and figuring out what it means to be a pastor, I have felt the wind in my face and have seen the waves swamping the boat.
Let me share two small stories with you when I’ve felt the storm shake my security. I went to my high school Prom with one of my good friends. We went to junior high together in Eau Claire, but then my family moved away, but I continued to return to Eau Claire regularly and see my good friends, so when Prom time came, one of the guys in our friend circle asked me to come to the Prom with him in Eau Claire. I said yes. It was fun, but not romantic. We had a serious, Prom-night conversation and decided we were just friends. And we continued to be good friends when I came to college in Eau Claire a few years later.
And then one night, my friend shared with me that he was gay. He talked about how hard it was for him to tell his brother and his family. He talked about how he often felt alone.
After our conversation, I really wondered about the church’s belief that homosexuality was a sin. I knew my friend; he is a good, loving person. He is kind and gentle, caring and compassionate. I wanted him to be loved, the same way I wanted to be loved by someone. I didn’t know what to do with what I had been taught, what I had believed my whole life, and the truth of who my friend is.
Several years later, I was serving as a youth minister and one of our youth was a foster child of a family in the church. She was a fragile young woman with several emotional issues. She and I had connected pretty well, and one day she asked to come in for a conversation. She shared with me that one of her very close friends believed she was gay.
She asked me if I thought this meant her friend was going to hell, if her homosexuality was a sin. I hesitated. I told her my truth at the time: I don’t know. I really don’t know. Because, you see, I had never really wrestled with the issue properly and completely. The chasm that had opened up between what I had been taught and my lived experience and truth of my friend was something I had just left gaping….I didn’t know how to close it up so I just didn’t walk too close to the edge. Then this young woman asked me if the Church thought homosexuality was a sin. I told her there was struggle and conversation in the Church about it, trying to hedge my bets, and then she said, yeah, but what does the Church really say…like, officially, about it?
Sighing, I said: That it is a sin.
That moment is etched in my memory. I know the pain those words brought to this young woman who was already so tender. I wanted to erase them, sponge them out; all I could do was love this young woman. And to tell her that she and her friend were loved by me, loved by God….that much I knew. That much was true.
Both of these experiences were the waves swamping my boat and the wind stirring up the water----I didn’t know it then, but I was crossing over to the other side…..and Jesus was in my boat whispering: Have faith; don’t be afraid.
Beloved: Humanity makes God into our own image; it is part of our brokenness. In our understandings and descriptions, God ends up looking and acting quite a bit like us; after all, we like calm seas. The voice and leadership of Western Christianity has been predominately male, white, privileged, and educated.** Therefore, our images of God have been predominately male, white, privileged and educated.** But here’s the thing: God isn’t male or female. God isn’t white or black, Asian or native. God isn’t cis-gendered or transgendered, heterosexual, homosexual, pansexual or bisexual. God isn’t any one of those things. God is all of those things. Why do I say this? How can I believe this? The Bible tells me so: Genesis, chapter 1, verse 25: Then God said, “Let us make humanity in our image to resemble us…
Humanity is made in the image of God, not the other way around. And humanity is female and male; humanity is white, black, Asian, Latinx, Middle-Eastern, and indigenous; humanity is transgendered and cis-gendered, gay, straight, bi, pan, and hetero. Humanity is all of these things, and so is God. If I want to know God—deeply and broadly---faithfully and as fully as I can—then I must come to know the width, depth and breadth of humanity, for it is in the full rainbow spectrum of humanity that God dwells, that God lives and breathes. It is the entirety of humanity that reveals God’s image and truth. The Bible tells me so.
My name is Jane Johnson. I am a heterosexual, cis-gendered female and my pronouns are she, her, and hers. I believe in the Holy, Beloved Trinity of God, who is no gender, and yet all genders and all the spaces in-between. God’s pronouns are they, them and theirs.
When evening had come, Jesus said to his disciples, “Let us go across to the other side.”
**Upon reflection: I should have added: straight and cis-gendered to this description.
“If a kingdom is divided against itself, it cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself that house will be unable to stand.”
In today’s Gospel, we hear God’s call to us to be a united Kingdom, a united house. It seems to me that there are two ways to live toward a united communion, a united Kingdom.
The first way is to seek out folks that are alike and to “circle the wagons,” if you will; include in your kingdom only those who are like you in some way. We have seen this throughout human history because as humans we have created nations with borders, imaginary boundary lines on geographical maps, hierarchies of power and privilege, denominations of “same beliefs,” and even gated communities and segregated neighborhoods.
This way of building a kingdom through uniformity leads to warfare and bloodshed; it leads to racism and segregation, and it leads to isolationist nationalism. It places value on some lives, but not on all lives. It leads to children being separated from their parents and being kept in cages---and this in the “land of the free and the home of the brave.” This very human way of “uniting” has only led us to brokenness, to sinfulness, to evil---perpetrated in the name of safety, under the guise of patriotism, but all driven by fear. Fear of the other---this fear that is so very much our American history, very much our human history.
But there is another Way---a truer way to build a united Kingdom. It is the way of common identity. But not basing identity on geographic origin or ethnic origin, not basing one’s identity on genetic factors or common languages, common customs or even common beliefs. But identity based on one simple fact: that God is the Creator of all life.
When we realize that our unity comes from the One who Created---then we begin to realize that we are not only connected to all of humanity, but also to all of Creation. And then, Beloved, then we can live lives and create societies and systems that places value on all life---humanity’s and Creation’s. In this way of building Kingdom unity, we recognize that each of us is only a piece of the whole, and that we are connected to all of Creation, so then we must be committed to honoring, building, and sustaining those connections, our connections to all of humanity and to this fragile earth, our island home. This is how Jesus builds Kingdom; this is how God binds us in communion.
Mother Theresa once said: “if there is no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to one another.”
Baptism is a proclamation of this second way of Kingdom building—this Way of Jesus. For in Baptism, we are saying yes to God’s claim on our lives. In Baptism, through the grace of God, the power of the Holy Spirit, and the love of Jesus, we are declaring that we are connected to all others. And in Baptism we make radical promises:
Baptism is the invitation and entrance to an alternative community, a community that lives out this Jesus Way of a United Kingdom. Where we are all bound to one another because of who God is—our Creator---and because of whose we are----God’s beloved. But not only us here in this place, not only people who look like us or sound like us or believe like us---but all people—All people, no exceptions---and all of Creation. This alternative community we have joined through Baptism doesn’t look or think or behave like the world around us that continues to place value on some lives, instead of valuing all lives. This alternative community of love, of the beloved, is based on the will and the way of God, not humanity’s.
Maybe you think it’s all a pipedream---just nice words to put on a postcard or a T-shirt: A United Kingdom, a United House, a Beloved Community. Maybe, maybe it is. But let me leave you with a story.
There was a man who heard of a remarkable Master, a Master who did incredible things, miracles that changed lives. And the man wanted to meet the Master. So this man traversed land and sea to find his way to the Master’s land. When he finally arrived, the man met a disciple, a follower, of the Master. So the man asked the disciple: “Tell me, what kind of miracles has your Master performed.”
The disciple looked at the man and said: “Well, there are miracles and then there are miracles. In your land, it is considered a miracle if God fulfills the wishes and desires of the people. In our land, it is regarded as a miracle if people fulfill the will and desires of God.”
Sabbath: a gift that God has given us which we are well aware of, but a gift we choose to ignore. Sabbath seems to be a quaint notion--- a lovely idea that we’ve simply got no time for (which is a bit ironic because Sabbath is the gift of time). It is a law, a command from God, that we continue to set aside, somehow convincing ourselves that Sabbath just doesn’t fit in with our way of life today. In fact, in the book Crazy Talk: A Not-So-Stuffy Dictionary of Theological Terms, Sabbath is defined as “A special day of resting that we think we are bigger than, even though God is not.”
Yep, God took Sabbath---God worked hard for six days, doing the work of Creation, the work of giving, saving and restoring life, but then God rested—rested in the good work of salvation already completed. And then God commanded that we do the same—that we take Sabbath---calling us to stop, every seven days, from the hustle and bustle, the running around of our lives and just stop---and rest in the salvation work already done. We are to rest in God---for 24 hours---every seventh day.
Today we hear that this command for keeping Sabbath is established for the sake of humanity---because we need it. We need it if we are going to be the people God has called us to be, if we are going to do the work we are called to do as citizens of the Kingdom and co-workers in God’s ongoing salvation work.
Sabbath, after all, is making space and time for God to work in our lives. Space and time for God to empower and equip us to do the creative, life-giving, healing work of salvation. Keeping Sabbath forms and shapes us so that we can choose to save life, rather than take it. Because, Beloved, the truth is that every day we are confronted with choice after choice of whether we will live in ways that save life or that take life; these are choices that affect us, other folks around us, and even folks halfway around the world whom we will never know.
For example, when I go to the store or the farmer’s market, I can choose a fair-trade coffee that is grown and produced in such a manner that I know the actual farmer and workers will get their fair share for their labor or I can choose a coffee (that is often cheaper) where the corporation is going to make a big profit off the backs of the laborers. If it is a struggle for me to afford the more expensive coffee, I might even have to make the choice to drink less coffee so that I can afford to buy the fair-trade coffee. In a very real sense, my choice can help to prevent poverty or to cause poverty. Enrich or impoverish.
Another example from day to day life: I can choose to bike or walk to a nearby meeting—which also means I have to choose to build in more time for traveling---using less gas and less fossil fuels, also causing less pollution in the air, thereby taking care of this fragile earth our island home---choosing to save the life of the planet instead of taking from it for my convenience's sake.
It’s these simple, everyday choices: deciding how I will use my consumer power, choosing how I will affect the environment, selecting how I will respond to people in my conversations and interactions, determining for whom to vote as we choose legislators who make laws about how we live together on this planet earth---these everyday choices are how we practice and live into resurrection.
Beloved, as Christians, as Jesus followers, we are people called to make these everyday choices by utilizing the same baseline that Jesus uses. A baseline, after all, is simply the minimum standard, the starting point of a decision, and it is made clear in Scripture and in today’s Gospel story that Jesus’ baseline is love—it is saving life rather than taking it. And, unlike the Pharisees in today’s story, Jesus refuses to parse out where and when the baseline comes into play. For Jesus, Love—the giving, saving, and healing of life—is always the starting point, the minimum, the baseline of how one is to choose.
This refusal to parse out when the baseline will serve his comfort or provide him more control means that for Jesus saving life, being love, always wins over any other choice. So yes, this Christian life calls us to protect the life of the unborn child, but then we must also protect and care for the life of the child at the border, and the child beyond the border. It means yes we honor and value the lives of the soldiers who serve, but we must honor and value those same lives after they have served and refuse to accept the outrageous situation we have before us of over 40,000 veterans who are homeless on any given night. This baseline of love means that yes, we support our sisters and brothers in Israel, but we are also called to love and support our Palestinian brothers and sisters with no less fervor.
For Jesus, and for us, there is no parsing out of which life has more worth and more value. All lives are valuable and worthy---all lives are redeemable; Beloved, remember, this Jesus is the One who turned to the sinner on the cross next to him and invited him to a seat at God’s banquet table. All of us are saints with a past and sinners with a future---there is no parsing out of greater worth here.
And Beloved, because Jesus rests in God’s love, making space and time for God to work in and through his human life, because Jesus keeps Sabbath, Jesus can see and hear where God is at work in the world, this work of salvation, and Jesus is ready and equipped to join in that work---even when the rules and the customs of the world around him demand a different response.
Sabbath is both a gift from God and a gift to God. Sabbath is established for us because we need it; if we are going to live into this life of Jesus we entered at Baptism and reaffirmed in Confirmation, this Way we pray and preach week in and week out--then we need to keep Sabbath. The world around us does not have this love of Jesus as its baseline; our American culture and society does not have this love of Jesus as its baseline; our great Western civilization does not have this love of Jesus as its baseline. But the Kingdom does. Our truest identity does. This Jesus movement does. Beloved: let us live into our promise. Keep Sabbath and live into the Kingdom. Keep Sabbath and let heart be changed. Keep Sabbath and change the world, not only for ourselves but for all others. Beloved, let us keep Sabbath.