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.

 

It’s Raining Sermon on Noah and the Promise June 14, 2020

This sermon was preached on June 14, 2020 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, Utah. It can be viewed on our YouTube Channel Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The text was Genesis 7: 1-5, 11-18, 8: 1-12, 9: 8-13

“When it rains it pours” the old saying goes. And it feels to me like it has been pouring for a long time. And every time I think that there might be a break in the clouds, another storm moves in. So much rain all the time can be wearying. I’m from Seattle and lived in OR for many years, and day after day of rain and clouds is just the norm about nine months out of the year. So you start to look for any glimpses of sun. The meteorologists called them “sun breaks.” They would give you time frames during the day when you might see some sun so that you could go out and soak it in, or get your kids outside for a bit. Usually, the window was narrow, just a couple of hours, and it could be easy to miss.

For the past few months, it’s been pouring down rain with few sun breaks. I feel as though I’m drowning in information, crisis, emotions and worries and I’m not sure I’m that great a swimmer. When the pandemic hit, we all scrambled making decisions based on preliminary data and sorting out experts from opinions. And we’re still doing that nearly four months in because, it turns out, we’ve never seen this virus and we have no idea what the short term or let alone long term consequences of COVID 19 might be. How many will die? Who will have complications with limited quality of life? And how long will nearly 20% of our working population be unemployed? What about those with no health insurance or savings?
Then we had an earthquake, because, well, why not, and then something about murder hornets that never fully materialized, but the super volcano at Yellowstone stepped in nicely into that anxiety void.  And the strongest cyclone on record devastated the Bay of Bengal, reminding us of the earth’s fragility. And then the murder of George Floyd nearly three weeks ago, pulled the curtain back on centuries of the oppression and devaluing of black and brown bodies on this continent and sparked a movement of people of all colors proclaiming that this will no longer be accepted. And with the backdrop of these global and national events, everyday challenges continue for many us: chronic illnesses, broken relationships, isolation from family and family events canceled, and more. It just keeps raining.

The truth is that this pandemic has made us all look up and see the weather for what it is. It’s been raining, flooding for many people for a long time before the pandemic and the water levels have now risen to a point where we can no longer ignore the little bit of water seeping into the basement from time to time, such as we remember the Emanuel 9 martyrs from five years ago this week, and the 49 people killed at the Pulse nightclub massacre four years ago this week. The water is rising, and the foundation is now under water and we can see that we need to either learn to swim, get some life preservers, or build an ark. The truth is that we can’t do any of things on our own. Trying to do things on our own is what has led to this flood. We keep trying to just bail out just enough water until we’re comfortable again. But the water isn’t going away, and we feel aimlessly adrift.

The flood narrative in Genesis 6-9 has many layers to it but the truth of this story that again, has many counterparts in other ancient near east cultures, is that God acts in the flood, with the water, for new life and mercy. Yes, God does allow the flood to come, and yes, it’s very hard to think about all the people and living creatures who drowned, and we tend to gloss over that part. We need to name that this part of God’s action in the story is uncomfortable and incongruent perhaps with how we want God to act. God decides to save a few humans, whom we assume are better than us, but as we learn later, turn out to be typical messy people, and a sampling of every living creature. God shuts them into the dark, damp and smelly ark where they float on top of the flood waters for 40 days while the rains pour down. Then God remembers them, now this doesn’t mean that God forgot them, no not at all. In Hebrew literature, divine remembering is God being moved to act with compassion. God acts on behalf of the living creatures and sends God’s own breath, Spirit, ruah, drying the land, sets them on top of the mountain and after a total of 190 days, lets them out. I’m sure the people had begun to wonder if they were ever going to survive the flood themselves, if they were going to drown or what would happen when the flood was over.

The people and the animals entered into a new world. God had decided to create again,  and for Noah, his family and the creatures, it was a second chance, God offered them new life.  God recognized that the destruction of the flood isn’t the only way to create new life, and so God offered a covenant, a promise to act on the behalf of people and creatures in new way going forward. God placed a bow in the sky as a sign of this promise, and the word for bow, is for the weapon, bow and arrow. But God takes something that is used to harm and made it a multi-colored promise for new life with all creatures and creation. No matter how much rain comes, no matter how high the flood waters get, God will act with compassion, mercy and love, for us all, this is the truth in which we can place our faith and hope. God’s promise of life destroys death.

It’s raining beloved in Christ, and the flood waters are rising. God is calling us to imagine what this flood might be washing away and what new life is springing forth. God is washing away systems of racism, white supremacy, homophobia, violence and hate to bring forth new life that honors diversity, inclusion of all as created as divine, beloved and interconnected. God is acting on our behalf, and we need to step out of our arks of safety that we’ve created for ourselves to see the new creation that God is revealing, to see the rainbow, the promise that God, through Jesus, wraps us in mercy and love. We see the sun breaks, where the storm clouds work with the light to create something astonishing and gorgeous. It’s raining and the Son shines through. Amen.

 

What We Are Becoming Sermon on Genesis 1 June 5, 2020

This sermon was preached on June 7, 2020  at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT.  It can be viewed on our YouTube Channel Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC. Please see our website oslcslc.org for a bulletin.

We are in our summer sermon series, “I Love to Tell the Story.”

The text was Genesis 1-2:4

These past few weeks (ok, months, years) have had me wondering “What are we becoming?” Chaos and disorder prevail and there’s not much that we can do about it. We are caught in a void, a nothingness where we can’t make heads or tails of what to do next or what should happen next. Each day seems like the previous day didn’t happen, as something new arises. This constant state of newness, each day, is unsettling to say the least, I mean we just get used to one thing and then along comes something else. What is coming tomorrow? What will we become in the whirlwind of constant change? What will life look like? Will we flourish?

My pondering, I know, isn’t unique or revelatory, I’m simply re-asking the question that has be considered since the beginning of humanity and a question that the Israelite people wrestled with particularly while in captivity in Assyria and Babylon. It’s not a surprise that in the atmosphere of living in a foreign country as captives, hearing the origin and identity stories of the Babylonians and other ancient Near East cultures, that they told one of their own. The creation story, or song as some scholars have noted, in Genesis 1 and 2, is the story of the earth and a people becoming. Only this story is unlike any other origin story of any other culture in the ancient Near East. All those origin stories, how the world and humans came to be, were violent, all aspects of life born from battles, embedding in the culture of the people that life was a fight, becoming a people meant conquering others and the land, and winning was everything.

But not so for the Israelites. When they tell the story of how everything comes to be, they start with God. And God began creating with what in Hebrew is called tahu and wabohu, that is chaos and disorder. Nothing that made any sense. But God’s Spirit, ruah, a wind, hovered over this chaos and disorder like a watchful mother bird. And then God spoke. God used God’s very breath and word to declare something new. Light, darkness, waters, land, plants, trees, stars, sun, moon, seasons, days, living sea creatures, cattle and creeping things, and birds. But God’s word didn’t create those things alone, no, we read that “the earth brought forth.” God’s word spurred on the earth itself to become life, good life, multiplying life, flourishing life. And then, and then…Humanity. Humans created, crafted, delightfully in God’s very image from the earth, and if you notice it’s plural there “Let us make human-kind in our image.” God expressed relationship and community from the very beginning of all things and all time. And this day, that humanity, formed by God who loves to get God’s hands dirty, and arose from the mud and muck, was very good. And then, God looked at all that had been formed with and from the earth, all the life that had been put in motion and rested. What was embedded in the Israelites was that life with God was goodness, interconnectedness and flourishing.

In Genesis, Israel names many truths about life and relationship with God: God hovers over us and reaches into the chaos and disorder and envisions life. Every day is something new. Today isn’t like yesterday and something new will be formed tomorrow. That creation and newness isn’t a once and for all activity, it’s always becoming, being brought forth. Light became day, darkness night, waters became homes for sea creatures and dry land home for land creatures. Sky became a place for birds, and weather, rain, snow, sun. People became part of creation, became part of the very life of God and life intertwined with the earth. Nothing stagnated, nothing was the same, each day, with each word, God brought forth newness and life. Life that keeps changing, growing, learning, and moving towards becoming more life. Life, it turns out, is never the same one day to the next.

This story, this truth of our origins, begs us the question, dear siblings in Christ: what are we becoming? How are we promoting flourishing? What’s embedded in us? I watched as George Floyd’s life was taken from him by force from other human beings. His breath, his life, and all the black and brown people who have been killed, can no longer bring forth more breath and life. They can’t breathe and were denied the opportunity to flourish as part of God’s creation. The systemic sin of racism and white supremacy is not what we were created to bring forth and become. In this system no one flourishes. Those of us who are white must repent of bringing this systemic sin forth and upholding it in conscious and unconscious ways every day. We must be clear that anything that denies life, breath and flourishing for any part of humanity or creation, is not of God. We must bring forth life for our siblings who’s black and brown bodies are created in God’s divine image, to flourish as God’s beloved. As well as any of our siblings who are denied life and breath for any reason, particularly as we begin pride month our siblings who are LBGTQIA. We must bring forth life with words and actions that put aside our own power, privilege, and entitlement for the flourishing of black lives that all too often haven’t mattered in world. When we say that black lives matter, that love is love is love matters, we harken to God speaking God’s word calling each part of creation into being by their specific name, seas, land, sun, moon, stars, trees, animals because they each matter specifically to God. We are to steward all of God’s creation, because our lives depend on it, to bring flourishing and vibrant life, not for our own sake but for those who lack access to it.  God’s word of life speaks goodness that God desires for all of God’s creatures.

God’s word of life as embodied and embedded in Jesus Christ, is God’s word of who we are to become as people of God. The story of life that becomes liberation, justice for those on the margins. Jesus’ life became one that scared the authorities of the Empire and of the religious institution because Jesus’ actions and words showed people that they too specifically mattered to God: Samaritan lives mattered, women’s lives mattered, children’s lives mattered, Canaanite lives mattered. And Jesus invited them into what they too could become and bring forth: God’s work and mission of the flourishing of life, not only for the rich, the powerful, for white people, for straight people, for able bodied people, but for the people who are rarely specifically named.

The people with every power and authority took Jesus’ life and breath, hoping his life could no longer become anything. But God reached into the chaos, the disorder, the void of the grave, and brought forth new life. Jesus’ new life became fully expressed in God’s power and love. And this is what is embedded in us. Our lives bring forth witnesses in the midst of tahu and wabohu, to God’s promise of new life each day. We bring forth the promise of transformation, and action to bind ourselves to each other as the body of Christ to dismantle systems of injustice that harm that deny flourishing to any in this body, for all the George Floyd’s in our society. What we are becoming, are people who bring forth God’s word and actions of flourishing life so that all may breathe. Thanks be to God.

 

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