Rev. Lenny Duncan begins his memoir with these words: “Whenever I tell my story-how I grew up in West Philadelphia, left home at the age of thirteen, lived onthe streets doing sex work and dealing drugs, got my GED in prison, and somehow wound up a preacher-I describe my life as a trajectory of grace.” This opening sentence pulls you into Duncan’s story, what will unfold in the coming pages, a love story. Not just any love story, but a love story that reveals the truth, the sometimes ugly truth, of love. Love that bleeds, love that screams, love that caresses, love that holds on when it should let go, love that runs, but most of all love that endures despite all odds that say it shouldn’t. Duncan offers us his very soul, his inner loving and lover being, freely, courageously, perhaps naively, and fully. You’ll blush at his tender, initmate sensual words of to you, and sink into the despair of love unrequited, and worse, love abused, only to be pulled out by grace. Yes, Duncan’s grace for America, white America, and us all and the grace that flows through the world from the Divine, God, the One, the Source of LOVE. I couldn’t look away, I didn’t want to look away, and I am grateful that now, thanks to Rev. Lenny Duncan’s latest gift to us, I look at America, myself and us all with Duncan’s lens of this unshakable, unquenchable, tenacious grace.
Breaking Orbit: Shattered and Whole February 18, 2021
As some of you may know, I made a short video last summer after the officers in the Breonna Taylor murder were exonerated. I was done, I was undone, and I still am. The crux of that video is that I have to make a break from my enculturation as a white cisgender woman. I have to break from racism, white supremacy and all the powers to which I have not only been beholden, but have upheld and supported, knowingly and unknowingly. In pondering this I reflected on how much of my life has been about the reality of “breaking.” Broken hearts, shattered lives, broken relationships, broken promises, and the list goes on. And yet, in that brokenness, the reality of something else breaking through: God’s love, healing and wholeness. No, not in a happily ever after Disney movie sort of way, but love, healing and wholeness from God that bears witness to tension, paradox, messiness and imperfection. The reality that life is messy, relationships are messy, we break, and God put our pieces back together not so that we can pretend that we never broke, but to show us the beauty of our cracks, and so that when we see someone else’s cracked life, we recognize the intricate patterns and delightful lines of a life well lived. I’ll be blogging chapters, and updates, mostly for accountability to keep me writing. Thanks for breaking out with me on this journey.
I began to wonder if anyone would resonate with this and so I’ve been working (slowly) on a book entitled: Breaking Orbit: Shattered and Whole. (Working Title) Here is a snippet of the introduction and the chapters:
Introduction: When I first began to conceive of this book more than a decade ago, I really thought that it would encompass only one specific period of time in my life. But that never felt quite right to me, while that period in my life was pivotal and a crucible moment (and will be covered in this book), there were also lots of defining moments that led up to it and there were just as many defining moments that followed. Sorta like clouds that come together, build up and produce lightening, but then there is the thunder and the rain that follows. I know that all of us are more than the sum of one event in our lives and it seems that pivotal moment is dishonored by not naming other moments and events. But pivotal moments are just that, when the lightening of clarity strikes and you know that things have to be different.
In the summer of 2020, in the midst of a pandemic, the sin of white supremacy and racism rose to the top of our social conscious with the murder of George Floyd. All through the summer, we protested, wrote letters and called our state and federal representatives, demanding that Black Lives Matter and for oppression through policing for Black people to stop. It seemed every week brought in front of us a new layer of horror for our Black siblings in the United States. But it was when the officers who murdered Breonna Taylor while she slept in her own bed in her own home were exonerated, I came undone. I broke. I broke open to the horror that I was integral in propping up our caste system of race and I am integral in dismantling it. We cannot expect our Black, Brown and People of Color siblings to do this work. As a white person, I had to break free from this system that harms everyone and helps no one. I made a video that morning after that verdict entitle “Break Orbit.” I knew that continuing to stay in the orbit of racism and white supremacy was death dealing for me and everyone around me. Things HAVE to be different. If as a person who believes that Jesus Christ was killed, died and was buried and on the third day was raised by God who makes all things new, then I have to be part of the resurrection narrative that God is enacting today, right now, in our nation and world. We have to envision a different world, we have to work to bring this different world into being.
There is something about the concept of “breaking” that intrigues and resonates with me. We fear things and relationships breaking and exert a great deal of energy attempting to keep breaking in any fashion from occurring. We live in a society that was intentionally erected to perpetuate the myth of stability, order, and “intactness.” That is systems need to remain functioning as they always have, nothing should change, and if something does, the return to homeostasis must be swift and sure. The idea of something “breaking” is to be avoided at all costs. And if something does break, the goal is to put it back together so that it looks and functions exactly as it did before. If you’ve ever broken an object, let’s say you smart phone, you might be able to get it fixed, but it’s never the same. This is true for those of us who have experienced broken bones. I’ve broken my left wrist twice in my life and I can tell you when it’s about to rain.
Yet, we’ve all seen that social media meme about how in the Japanese culture a broken object is put back together with gold to highlight the brokenness or how when something is broken the light can come in. Those are lovely images, and yet it more than that for me. I think that it’s important to name that breaking is hard and it hurts-always. There is no way around the pain of breaks in any way. This is probably why we strive to avoid breaking in any form in our lives and we want to avoid pain. The problem is, that in avoiding breaking and pain, we also avoid the new life that awaits. In breaking, I have the opportunity for transformation, to be put back together in a new way.
So this book is a culmination of who I have been shaped to be from all of the breaks…so far. I pray to be a work in progress until my last breath, and my spouse assures me that will be true! I am an ELCA pastor, currently serving in Salt Lake City, Utah. While much of my adult life’s vocational work has been within the ELCA, I have only been a pastor since 2012. My journey to the Church was anything but a straight path. I am shaped by my childhood as a self-ascribed “Air Force Brat,” that is my dad served in the Air Force for 26 years, as I like to say, I served with him for 18 of those years. We moved frequently, I attended five elementary schools, one middle school and two high schools. I learned to be flexible, outgoing and skeptical. Well, maybe the skeptical part is innate, but regardless, my bullshit meter was well developed at an early age. Oh, and if swear words bother you from a pastor…well…remember, I grew up in the military. When our children where growing up the rule was “you have to use them correctly in a sentence and you can’t noun verbs or verb nouns.” Grammar matters people.
What does this all have to do with the title of the book you may ask? If you didn’t, well too bad. While the articulation of the words “breaking orbit” is a fairly recent epiphany for me, the concept of an unpredictable journey is one that is not new. My entire life has been one of not quite being in the same path as everyone else, of discontentedness of status quo and going in circles has always made me dizzy and nauseous. (Not a fan of amusement park rides ironically.) Every couple of years my military family broke orbit to a new location, and we voyaged out to a new community, new cultures and new patterns. I’ll never know if it’s nature or nurture, but at an early age, I loathed stagnation. I always loved the electric zing of the words, “we’re going to do something different.” (If you’re now questioning my vocation as a mainline Christian pastor where change is eschewed, yeah, you’re not alone. I’m with you.)
But not just different for the sake of different or the novel. Different for a reason. I’ve also never been a fan of arbitrary rules. My mother’s oft used verbiage of “because I said so,” was often met from me with a look of incredulity, and more often that I’d like to admit, some sassy comeback. If a rule or suggestion didn’t seem to have a satisfactory reason (to me) then it must be challenged-either to be abolished or to be changed to make sense. Yes, I was an obnoxious teenager. Yes, I’m an obnoxious adult. But back to the concept of different. Different always had the alure of the new, of learning, of the exotic. Moving to a different location on a very regular basis revealed to me that I could literally be a different person in each new context. In middle school, I was thrilled to be the peppy, outgoing pom-pom girl. But then we moved while I was in high school, and I decided to try the brooding, intellectual, violinist who locked herself away for several hours a day to practice. Different. Not bad, not good, not better, simply different.
I did meet my spouse in high school (you’ll get all the details in one of the chapters, don’t worry!) and so he knows me well. Sometimes, with all my craving for different, change and looking out into the universe, I worry that I’m flaky, inconsistent, have commitment issues, etc. But he very kindly says to me “oh I’m just used to you reinventing yourself every five years or so.” I looked back and realized he’s right. About every five years, I start to morph directions, look at my life, the world or whatever, differently. For better or worse for Mike, I’ve never considered a different life without Mike….you’ll have to ask him if he’s ever considered a different life from being with me! No, wait, I don’t want to know. Ignorance is bliss. I like to think that this “reinvention” is about taking the best of who I am at the time and shedding what is no longer working to allow me to move in a different direction. Here different might mean healthier, more fulfilled, using more of my gifts, or just the ability to wonder if I can do something new. Does that make me flaky, inconsistent and noncommittal? Maybe, but I prefer to think that it makes me interesting. Or annoying.
Mostly, different for me is linked to vision. The other thing my spouse often says about me is that I wake up every morning and imagine that the world is somehow different from the night before and life is more just, more loving and more kind. I’m not sure if this a compliment, but I choose to not think it means I’m simply naïve. I DO think that the world can be different, and yes, I think that every single day. A big piece of the “breaking orbit” theme for me is to participate fully in bringing this difference where diversity is honored and revered, where no voice is silenced, people are housed, feed, given medical care, given autonomy and love, to fruition. For me this is deeply tied up in my faith and belief that Jesus meant the words he said about loving your neighbor as yourself and caring for the sick, visiting the imprisoned, feeding the hungry, giving clean water to the thirsty, clothing the naked. I don’t read the Bible literally, but I don think that if we are going to take any of it literally, it should be this. Don’t fret that you think you’ve picked up a fruity religious book where I’m going to try and convince you to be Christian, you haven’t. You’ve picked up a fruity book where I’m going to try and convince you that you and we all matter. My personal bent is Jesus, and nearly all religions pretty much say that we shouldn’t be assholes to each other or the planet. While the book is called “Breaking Orbit,” we are all stuck together on this planet Earth and we should make the most of it. There’s no leaving.
In sharing with you my voyages of breaking free, moving on, reimagining, seeking different, I hope to offer comfort to my fellow “different” seekers, inspiration to my fellow “should I/this be different” wonderers, and connection to us all as humans trying to do the best we can with what we’ve got. I hope that there will be nuggets that will settle into your heart and remind you that whatever you encounter in your life, you are empowered to make choices, you have gifts, you have options, you are who you are and it’s enough.
Pastoral Response on the Events of Jan. 6, 2021 January 9, 2021
*This will be available to be viewed on the Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC YouTube channel. It follows the worship service on Jan. 10, 2021.
As I have done too many times this year, I am obligated address the brokenness that has devastated us this week. Forgive me for my late and most likely inadequate response, as it took me some time to order my thoughts coherently. We all watched as foundations of our national life together were violated in words and violent deeds. I will name this for what it is: a sickness. It’s a sickness that has been running rampant in our country not only in the past few years, but for over 400 years. It’s easy to trace how we have arrived at this moment, where we now watch horrified as the cancerous cells of white supremacy, nationalism and hate masquerading as religion burst through the healthy cells of our lives together to metastasize. We watched our president refuse to defend our nation, or the people, but only defend himself and his own interests. Make no mistake, this was a coup attempt. And make no mistake, how these white terrorists were treated by the policing agencies is very different than how those protesting on behalf of Black Lives Matter were treated. This is not up for debate. It’s power pure and simple. Power is always dangerous and this week we know now how dangerous unchecked power can be.
We mourn not only for our nation but for the lives lost to this senseless violence. We mourn for people harmed in body, mind or spirit. We mourn for us all. But we will not simply sit in sackcloth and ashes. We will take our tears and turn them into necessary actions of God’s love and God’s justice. You see, as God’s people, we know that conflating our egos, our pride and our religious notions only brings destruction. Jesus didn’t come to affirm self-aggrandizing religion, he came to bring life, abundant life to all people and all nations. This is who we are and must be in the world. If our religion is causing us to hate, sit idle, be comfortable and worry about ourselves, it’s not of God. Following Jesus means that we move, we go straight to the discomfort, the brokenness, even if we’re afraid. We go, because that’s where Jesus already is, and it’s where our neighbor is. We must amplify the voices of the too long silenced, we must speak truth to power, to not allow lies, cover-ups, or violence to overcome the light of Christ’s love in our community or our nation. We, as a white congregation, must do this.
Let me be clear, this nation is not now nor ever was a Christian nation. We are nation that comes together in our diversity to be one in the most radial way, in love and trust. We are stronger in this diversity and God smiles upon us. We come with our own perspective, but never with our own arrogance, agenda or might. We enter into our damaged and fragile relationships with hearts of humility and a longing for lasting peace.
We must come together, we must see the truth of who we are and what is happening, even if we don’t like what we see, maybe especially if we don’t like what we see. We must go forward and build a better way.
You are loved, you are beloved, go and be love. Amen.
Pastor Brigette Weier
Letter to OSLC On Racism May 30, 2020
Dear OSLC Family,
Words escape me for what is happening in our collective life in this country. Yet, as a public leader, as a theologian, your pastor, as a human, as a follower of Jesus, I must speak out even when it’s hard. I’m struck by the words of Jesus from the John 20 reading for this week’s gospel: “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” Jesus sends the disciples into the world to be the Church, and to name sin when they see it in action. Friends, we must name the sin that we are witnessing with horrific and murderous consequences: the sin and evil of systemic racism. We have to name the murder of George Floyd, and so many others Ahmaud Arbery, Breeona Taylor, Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland to name a few, as unjust murder. I know that this topic may make some of you uncomfortable, and possibly angry with me that I am “being too political.” I can tell you that even writing (and now speaking) these words are not comfortable for me either, yet I must say them because politics is about how we live together as humanity. Our own confession of sin, as found in our book of worship, proclaims that if we don’t name our sin, the truth is not in us. The truth is, structural and systemic racism is evil and sinful. It denies our siblings who are black and brown full and abundant life. It denies them the very breath that Jesus breathes into all of God’s people. It denies us all the fullness of our humanity. Our health, well-being and liberation from sin is inextricably bound up in health, well-being and liberation from sin of all people. If one part of humanity is harmed, we all are harmed.
As people of faith who are white, we have hard work to do for this sin and evil to be healed. We must admit our own complicity, comforts and benefits of the current system of racism. We must renounce and repent of our witting and unwitting participation each day that upholds this unjust social structure of racism and white supremacy (not to mention all unjust social structures). This work will be difficult, risky and decentering. We must listen to and center the voices of people who are suffering in the system of racism, we must lend our voices when appropriate and called upon (this alone will be great learning), and we must act to dismantle racism in our lives, congregation, community, country and world.
This risky work will cost us something; Jesus never denies that picking up our crosses and following him will be easy or safe. Jesus says that he came to divide, those who will stand for the truth of the gospel and those who will continue to be complicit in the ways of the world. The truth of the gospel demands that we lay down our lives for our siblings, that this is what love looks like, our own deaths. Love that risks family and friends distancing themselves from us as we tell hard truths and learn to walk the walk of antiracism. Love that engages in difficult and uncomfortable conversations for the sake of learning, growth and abundant life for all people regardless of color, gender, sexual orientation, class, race or creed. Love that hangs in tenaciously despite fear, exhaustion or uncertainty. Love that commits to change and to do better for the sake of our neighbor in need. We won’t do this perfectly, we will make mistakes, I will make mistakes, (I’m likely making mistakes in this very letter) but when we do make a mistake, we learn and do better.
Yes, I know that we are also in the midst of a pandemic and the uncertainty of many aspects of our lives together is palpable. We are uncertain of when our building will open and when we will have in-person worship. We are uncertain of how the church will change in the coming year (as it will have to). Yet, the pandemic has highlighted what has been certain in this country for 400 years: that not all lives have mattered, particularly lives of black and brown people. The certainty that black and brown people are dying of COVID19 at a higher rate and is out of control on the Navajo Nation in our own state. The certainty that those who are essential and have to work in public are predominately people of color. The certainty that many people of color lack health care. In the midst of our own uncertainties, some things are certain.
AND, there is the certainty of God’s presence, the sustaining power of the Holy Spirit to prod us to do hard things. God’s power, as witnessed in our Acts texts by wind and fire, is poured out to us today, connects us as one, unified humanity, and gives us the ability to speak and hear the languages of our siblings-do we hear them? Do we hear their cries of fear, lament and injustice-even if it’s a language we don’t know such as protests and riots? Can we hear the language of oppression and anger that hasn’t been previously heard and taken seriously? Can we hear the language of looting as a language learned from white culture that has looted other cultures for our own benefit for centuries? Can we hear the words “I can’t breathe” and offer our own breath in solidarity?
My friends, I don’t have any answers. I don’t know where this journey of dismantling racism in ourselves and the country will lead us. I do know that I have a vision of unity and love with this hard work. I do know that we must take the first step of being on the path. I will be offering a book club to explore this hard conversation this summer and probably into the fall. We will start with the book “How to be and Antiracist” by Ibram X. Kendi. Look for details of when to come in the enews. This is only a baby step, the prayer is that it will lead to leaps of faith.
Thank you for your faithful work in a world that offers no reward in return for this work. Thank you for your commitment to the gospel of Jesus, particularly when it’s difficult. Thank you for taking your baptism into the mission of God’s Kingdom, for reconciliation and freedom of all, to your heart, head and soul. Thank you for listening and contemplating this letter. It’s a privilege to be your pastor. Please know that I am always available for a phone call, a Facetime or a Zoom for conversation. I know that this is hard but we are in this together. We are not alone. Jesus says “Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28: 20.
In the love of Christ, Pastor Brigette
Hosanna! God Save Us Now! March For Our Lives #enough March 26, 2018
*I was unable to go to the March For Our Lives, and I didn’t preach on Palm Sunday. But this has been rattling around in my brain all weekend and what I would have preached. Mark 11: 1-11
“Hosanna! God save us now!” Can you hear it? Can you hear the crowds chanting this mantra over and over to anyone who will listen? When Jesus and his followers entered Jerusalem the crowds were chanting these words, “Hosanna,” which translates to “God save us now”. To our modern ears these words seem pious, docile and quaint, but listen carefully, these words are anything but. These words are charged with emotion, charged with hope and charged with political drama. This was a not an impromptu holiday parade that the people had created, no, it was a political demonstration. It was the rallying of people who were tired of not being heard, tired of not having a voice, tired of being dismissed, and mostly just tired. This rally was an effort to bring real change. The messiah is coming!
The messiah coming means nothing will be the same. Now, the people who were in this rally 2,000 years ago were just as confused as we are today about what the coming of the Messiah means for us and the world. In Jesus’ time, the coming of the Messiah meant a military overthrow of the empire and the government who had been oppressing not just the Jewish people, but anyone who didn’t fit into the cultural norms. The Messiah would basically “kick ass and take names,” and the people who were rallying around Jesus on this day shouting “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” were not looking for a prayer meeting but a coup d’état. They wanted life to be different, safer, more equable, and more just and by any means necessary.
Today we think of the coming of the Messiah in the culturally popular end times concepts such as from the Left Behind series or a literal reading of the book of Revelation (FYI Revelation is not meant to be read literally). We think that Jesus will return in clouds and thunder and earthquakes and catastrophes and tornadoes and cows tipping over and pigs flying. Oh the drama and the number of people who will wish that they “had been right with Jesus”!
Turns out, the people 2,000 years ago were disappointed and we will be as well. Jesus is indeed the Messiah who arrived in Jerusalem but not with military might, but with peace. The protesters who shouted “Hosanna!” were correct to do so, for God was indeed saving them, but not how they anticipated. God was saving them through Jesus who would indeed overturn the powerful and the entitled and the rich but not with violence or swords, but a death on a cross. Turning violence into peace, hate into love and intolerance into inclusion. “Hosanna!” Can you hear it? Will we listen?
Can we hear it? Will we listen to the shouts of “Hosanna” in our world today? On Saturday hundreds of thousands of people, led by youth, marched, shouting “Save us now!” They are tired, they are tired of being afraid, tired of being ignored, tired of money speaking louder than people, tired of death. If we’re honest we all are and we shout to God “Hosanna in the highest heaven! God save us now!” The massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL was a catalyst, one step too far over the line of acceptable, the veritable straw that broke the camel’s back. These young people are begging us to show them the Messiah, to reveal Jesus at work in our world. Not just to end school shootings, but to end innocent people who happen to be of color from being shot 20 times in their own backyard as Stephon Clark was brutally killed. To speak up and shout “Hosanna! Save us now!” from systemic racism that fuels such incidents as well as our school to prison pipeline, poverty, profiling, white supremacy, unjust incarceration of our black and brown brothers and sisters. To speak up and shout “Hosanna! Save us now!” from patriarchal systems of gender and sexuality oppression where women and LBGTQIA people are not heard, are harassed, targeted, viewed as less than and objectified. To speak up and shout “Hosanna! Save us now!” to the systemic myths of ableism and see all people with all abilities as valuable and gifted. To speak up and shout “Hosanna! Save us now!” from whatever keeps us from truly listening to one another-conversation face to face for the sake of seeing each other as beloved children of God-each one of us created in God’s own image.
Jesus comes into our lives, our world, hears our shouts of “Hosanna! Save us now!” and offers us himself. All of himself freely, unconditionally, lovingly and mercifully. Jesus hears us, and through the cross, draws all us close so that we can hear each other too. When we hear one another all shouting “Hosanna! Save us now!” we realize that Jesus calls us to be this same selfless love to each other. The promises of God to be with us always is not for us individually, but for all of us collectively. Jesus is here, in the protests of our youth, in the protests of our black and brown brothers and sisters, in the protests of women and LBGTQIA people, in the protests of people created with unique gifts to share-Jesus is here. Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem and in our hearts is indeed triumphant, not because of bringing military and worldly power, authority and privilege, but is triumphant because Jesus’ arrival in our hearts and in our lives brings mercy, tenderness, openness, forgiveness, selflessness and true love of neighbor more than ourselves. When Jesus’ arrives all is overthrown, our own ego, pride, resistance, prejudice, bias and hate. Are we listening? Can we hear it? “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven! Hosanna! God save us now!”