A Lutheran Says What?

Sermons and random thoughts on God, the world and the intersection of the two

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:

Chapters:

Breaking In
Breaking Out
Breaking Up
Breaking Down-
Breaking away-
Breaking Point-
Breaking Free
Breaking Through

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.

 

Breaking Orbit Sermon on Matthew 21 September 25, 2020

This sermon was preached on September 27, 2020 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT. It can be viewed on our YouTube: Our Saviour’s Lutheran SLC.

The texts were:

Psalm 25: 1-9
Philippians 2: 1-13
Matthew 21: 23-32

As a child I loved the original Star Trek series. The Starship Enterprise voyaged through the galaxy at warp speed to explore and discover new life and new civilizations. They would enter the orbit of the planet, that invisible yet powerful gravitational pull, explore, learn, and then break orbit to go to some other new adventure. Occasionally, part of the plot of an episode was that they COULDN’T break orbit because of some misunderstanding or nefarious plan of the inhabitants of the planet. Maybe the people of the planet needed a resource on board the Enterprise, or they needed the people themselves, to supply the planet with what they needed for comfort or status quo. In this scenario, reasoning rarely worked, and it took a major rupture of the planetary system or a scheme to leave the orbit that freed the ship and the people. It took a force greater or equal to the gravitational pull of the planet’s orbit to free them. Breaking orbit meant life, freedom, justice, continued exploration, and the fulfillment of the crew’s mission.
As a military kid this idea of encountering new people, the tension of needs of the planet and the needs of the crew resonated in me. As I moved around the world, I encountered people and systems that were foreign and unknown. Some I could understand, some I could not, and some seemed invisible to the people living in that system, even though on the outside, I could see it. It’s only in my adulthood that I am more aware of the orbits I am in, the gravitational pulls to systems, people and actions in which I participate unconsciously and consciously. But what if I need to break those orbits?

Our gospel lesson today is all about orbits, strong and powerful gravitational pulls that keep things moving in a certain direction, around certain people, for a certain purpose. Indulge me as I set the context for us here in Matthew 21: Jesus has entered Jerusalem on a stolen donkey to crowds shouting Hosanna, Save Us Now. We tend to sanitize this story for SS pageants, but let’s be clear-it was a protest. People were coming out to support this Jesus who stood up to the rulers, who healed the outcast on the Sabbath, who ate with tax collectors and sex workers. Then the protest continued with Jesus going to the center of economic power and turning over tables, knocking over chairs, freeing the animals to be bought for sacrifice. And the people were cheering him on with shouts of Hosanna! Jesus then healed those who had come to Temple to buy their way out of misery in the system that intentionally kept them poor and on the outside. The leaders were angry. Destroying property? Protests in the streets? This is not how problems get solved. This Jesus should stay in his place and not make waves. He has no authority or voice here.
The next day Jesus returns to his occupation of the Temple for more truth telling. The chief priests and elders have had enough with Jesus’ disruption of their daily lives and confront him. How dare you disrupt the system! By who’s authority do you do these things? Jesus then asks them an orbit decaying question regarding John the Baptist, who had people breaking orbit from the Temple system to hear words of forgiveness, wholeness and freedom from the status quo out in the wilderness. But the chief priests and elders knew it was a trap. They had a lot at stake as the whole system was set up for them and others like them in power and privilege to be at the center, to be kept comfortable and given resources to support their lives. And everyone else? Well everyone else was merely in their orbit and needed to stay there to keep the system going without interruption.
But interruption is the whole point of Jesus’ ministry and the kingdom of God. God reaches into our orbits and propels us from the gravitational pull of status quo and comfort. Jesus tells the story of the two sons, one who refuses to go to the vineyard but then does, and one who says he will but doesn’t. Gravity is hard to overcome. But Jesus says that this is what the kingdom of Heaven is like. God calls us to break orbit and go to the vineyard, the kingdom of God, and do the hard work of breaking other people out of the orbital systems in which they are stuck. Jesus says that when we break orbit, new possibilities await and arise. Breaking orbit allows us to encounter new people, new places and allows God’s renewing and redeeming love to pull us even closer to God and to one another in true common mission. Breaking orbit allows us to encounter and experience new life.
I’ve thought about this a lot this week. We live in a society that was intentionally erected to ensure the comfort of an elite class-mostly white, straight, cisgender men. The rest of us, women (although white women, we can move in and out of the center and let’s remember our privilege), black people, indigenous people, people of color, LBGTQIA people, poor people, our job is to be in orbit of this system and keep it going. If that offends you, I’m not sorry. It’s the truth. I say this knowing that in being in this orbit myself, I contribute, participate in and affirm this system. I’m guilty of staying in orbit, as it is easier and less work. By staying in orbit, I help keep the systems in place that killed Breonna Taylor, Say Her Name, and allowed police officers not be held accountable. I am not anti-police-I am pro-accountability, for us all. I, too, need accountability for my part in the systems that allows for harm, such as bullying of LBGTQIA people, the system that keeps poor people poor, that keeps women underpaid and without access to reproductive healthcare, that keeps stereotypes and hate swirling.
I have decided that I am breaking orbit. I’m breaking orbit to be pulled by God’s powerful force of love into the work of the vineyard, to cultivate life, to bring forth abundance from dirt, to grow something wild and new. I’m breaking orbit, and I know that it will cause many people around me to be uncomfortable and to ask by who’s authority am I not going to follow all the rules. I’m breaking orbit, not for myself, but for you and for others and for the people whose  names we don’t know to say out loud but are being harmed or killed. I’m breaking orbit, for I will no longer willingly circle around systems that bring death, harm and oppression to anyone. I’m breaking orbit and I pray that you all will hold me accountable for my words to match my actions. I’m breaking orbit, come with me to explore God’s kingdom and discover new life and a new civilization of mercy, forgiveness, hope, justice and love that awaits for us all.
You are loved, you are beloved, go and be love. Amen.