A Lutheran Says What?

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

Intersectionality and the Reality of Hope April 16, 2016

Swirling around us on Facebook, television, and all other media seems to be the conversation on intersectionality. Yes, this word will be underlined in red by Microsoft Word, but trust me, it’s a real thing. It’s a word that delves us deep into complexity, brokenness and uncertainty and yet, I believe is also the source of our healing amidst great divisiveness. Intersectionality names all of the places where pain can be inflicted, where we must confront our own biases, privileges and where truth can be named. I’ve been personally drawn into this sacred space in the past couple of years as I wrestle with white privilege, gender bias, and all of the “isms” in which I live and I am deeply complicit. To name my own privilege: I am white, upper middle class, well-educated, heterosexual, married woman, who happens to also be ordained clergy in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. This gives me great privilege and a voice in our culture in ways that I know some of my brothers and sisters of color do not share. I am compelled as a follower of Jesus to name my brokenness, my division from others and yet risk my voice and privilege for the sake of those without.

While my “whiteness” affords me great privilege, my gender (especially in my vocation) often, in subtle and not so subtle ways, can be where I experience the brokenness of humanity. I have my fair share of stories of seemingly benign comments and “joking” remarks by male colleagues, people in the pews and in the community at large, that I won’t bore you with, but trust me when I say that misogyny is alive and well in as well as outside of the Church. It may not be overt as in catcalls or outright, blatant denial of my “right” to be seen as equal, or as “good as the men” but it’s much more subtle, nuanced and  so much more difficult to call out without be “a bitch” or “one of those feminists.” (By the by, a feminist is someone who believes that men and women are truly equal and deserve actual parity in every sphere of everyday life. Feminism is good for men as well!)

But I want to turn back to intersectionality for the rest of this post. I see white males writing posts about the “Black Lives Matter” movement and adding their voice to the conversation. This is a very important dialog in all of our communities and is, in my opinion, one of life and death for our brothers and sisters of color, as well as the whole of society. (We are inextricably bound to one another as the body of Christ and when one part of the body is not honored and treated with respect, we are all damaged.) White males lending their privilege and voice to the “Black Lives Matter” movement is crucial and one that I applaud. But here is what I wonder: why do these same men not affirm that their male (and often heterosexual) privilege is also an issue alongside their white privilege? I’ve had many a conversation with white males who say things such as “I can only deal with one thing at a time, and I’m going to deal with my whiteness first.” That statement alone is so steeped in entitlement and privilege that it makes my head spin. White men can and do wake up every morning and decide which aspect of their privilege that they will deal with today. Is it being white? Is it being male? Is it having every privilege known in the free world? Why not all three? Oh, because that’s hard, complex, overwhelming  and may require giving away too much of themselves. So, they can compartmentalize their privilege and go about their day. (I want to add that white women are also writing and contributing to the “Black Lives Matter” conversation but they often do not separate it from gender bias. But yes, some do.)

What about the black woman who also is gay? A Latina woman? Or an Indigenous woman? Or a transgender woman? She does not get to wake up and say, “Today, I will only worry about being oppressed as a black person.” Or, “Today I will only have to worry about being female in all my interactions.” Or, “Today I will only have to deal with being gay.” NO. She is all of those things each and every day and cannot choose how society will view her or how others will treat her. I can only imagine that it’s overwhelming and exasperating. Intersectionality requires these women to be conscious each and every second of their day all of the ways that they are seen when they walk in a room, speak up at a meeting, or even drive down the street. They do not get to compartmentalize themselves. They bring the whole of who they are into every situation. (Thanks be to God!)

At the church I currently serve, we are in the nascent stages of conversation around radical inclusion. A large part of our wrestling has been around where to begin and the reality of intersectionality.  Do we first enter into this call from Jesus with only one population, dealing with only one area at a time, such as people who are differently abled or white privilege? Is it too much to try and think about the physical and cognitive differently abled, racism, gender bias, LBGTQI biases, socio-economic differences, etc. right from the start of this ministry? Should it even be a separate ministry as it’s actually who we’re called to be as people who follow Jesus Christ who shows no partiality and includes all people, in all times and in all places in God’s love? What if  Jesus’ definition of intersectionality is different from ours?  If so,  what if this is where we find our hope and our voice going forward?

God intersects with humanity in the person of Jesus Christ; coming to humanity, being human, suffering human sorrows and experiencing human death. Jesus intersected with those whom the rest of society threw away, thought of as second or even third class. Jesus didn’t only focus on one marginalized population, but gathered women, gentiles, lepers, tax collectors, the unclean into his mission of redemption, love and complete wholeness. Jesus didn’t compartmentalize God’s redemption to one step at a time but intersected with all of creation with risky leaps and unfettered bounds. The cross is the place where this intersectionality of God takes on its deepest meaning and continues to draw us into intersections with one another. It is only when we are caught in the intersection of relationship in the Trinity and God’s work of redemption in the world that we can truly know radical inclusion, healing, peace and restoration of our divisions, our brokenness and our fear of the other. This relationship with God, requires us to die to our own privilege, our own false sense of security and safety and trust in the promises of God that ALL truly means ALL in God’s wholeness (salvation). It requires us to be in deep relationship with all whom God gathers. When we rest, trust, find our life, breath and purpose in that promise, we don’t worry that lifting up our brothers and sisters (all of who they are as created in the image of God) might diminish who WE are. We expand our idea of “we” and know that we are not “us” without whom we might now label “other.”

This is difficult work, this is risky, potentially life-ending work.It’s the end of our false identities given to us by a fearful world and the beginning of living into our true selves as people of God, wholly created in the image of pure love for sacred relationship with God and one another.  It’s where we are confronted with the reality of God’s vision for wholeness and our own fears and need for control. It’s where we find that there are more options than in/out, included/excluded, me/you, and us/them. It’s where we find the third way in the cross of Christ: hope in radical oneness, gifted with beautiful, messy and  God-created diversity.

 

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Too Much of a Good Thing? Mark 7: 1-8, 14-15, 21-23 Pentecost 14B August 30, 2015 August 31, 2015

Many of you know that I was a teacher before I went to seminary. I loved (still do!) teaching the younger children-mostly preschool up to third grade. One issue with younger children is that they are literal little people. You tell them a rule and they apply it to everything. If you tell them on a field trip that they need to hold hands with their “buddy” they will think that they need to do that every single second of the field trip-including snack time and going to the bathroom. There is no such thing as nuance with young children and it can get in the way of learning. For example, we didn’t let the children play with rocks on the playground for reasons you can deduce. If a little boy picks up a rock, it will get thrown, it’s just how little boys are. So we had a pretty strict no picking up rocks or the ground bark rule.
But one fall day we were going to make a nature collage in art and do some nature science projects. So we took the preschoolers on a nature walk around the church, gave them each a paper lunch sack and told them to pick up objects from nature that they would like to use in their art project or just explore. We got back to the classroom and one little boy had nothing in his sack. We asked him why and he said, “because you always tell us not to pick up rocks or bark and that was the only thing I wanted!” This particular little boy had a penchant for throwing things, so he did hear the words “put the rock down please” a lot. Perhaps that rule for him was too much of a good thing as it impeded in his ability to understand the different context of the nature walk. Rules gone astray.
Rules most definitely have their time and place but often they can also become barriers to common sense. Rules are necessary to shape us, to keep us in check, from hurting other people, and to hold us to some standard of behavior. While rules affect us individually, they are in reality, more about how we live together, how we interact with each other and the well-being of the whole community. But when we adhere to certain rules in an individualistic strict sense , that can also harm others. Whether we like it or not, we tend to never out grow the right/wrong paradigm of rules and don’t quite ever grasp the concept of nuance.
The Pharisees are struggling with context and the nuance of the religious purity rules or laws in Mark 7. Some of Jesus’ disciples were eating without washing their hands. Now that is considered just gross in our culture, but the Pharisees were taking a purity law regarding how the priests in the temple had to wash their hands before handling ritual food and applying it to everyone who considered themselves Jewish. No nuance, only that there is a rule about washing and everyone should therefore do it or be unclean and thus far from God. The Pharisees were completely befuddled as to why Jesus, who claimed to be teaching about God, had followers not adhering to what they considered basic rules for relationship with God.
Jesus calls them out-actually calling them hypocrites. Is it hand washing that’s really all that important when it comes to being close to God and showing God to other people? Does demanding that other people follow some arbitrary rules reveal God’s love to them? Or is it something else?
As human beings who love rules, we often use rules to draw boundaries between ourselves and other people. Some of these rules still perpetuate systems of racism, gender and LBGT bias and denigration of anyone who is not culturally normative. Who falls inside the rules (some of which can be unspoken) and who doesn’t can be a dividing line between who is welcome in our community and who is not. While we like to think that we offer rules for the sake of being healthy community together, I sometimes wonder if our rules are too much of a good thing. Real people get hurt with these kinds of rules or traditions. It’s not just culture that has rules that can be harmful. In the ELCA, we have rules regarding when and who receives holy communion, we have rules regarding membership, we have rules regarding budget, etc. It can seem that we have a rule for everything and for everything a rule. Jesus asks the Pharisees and us, what then becomes our guiding principle? Our rules or God? Do we focus on ourselves and what we think keeps us close to God or do we recognize the diverse needs of our neighbor? What’s in our hearts? Are we more concerned with being safe and comfortable than proclaiming the Gospel?
The list of evil intentions that Jesus offers at the end of the reading, is not exhaustive, unfortunately, but is a lens through which to understand the purpose of rules or the law. The list all are ways that we use creation and other people for our own building up and gratification and not the building up and health of other people and the community. Laws and traditions that don’t build up your neighbor and show them God’s love but exclude them and denigrate them are not part of God’s law. The problem is that we can take a perfectly fine law and turn it into a source of pride or piety for ourselves. I talked with a woman this week who told me as a younger woman how hurtful it was that she was excluded from Holy Communion at a Catholic Church because she wasn’t baptized Catholic, actually she wasn’t baptized at all. The law of only certain people participating in the body and blood of Christ did not reveal God’s love to this woman, but only showed the pride and exclusiveness of the law. To be clear, this could have just as easily been a Lutheran or any mainline church. Jesus is clear that God’s boundaries are wider than we can ever imagine and God’s law is that of pure love and inclusivity.
Many of our rules, laws or traditions go unexamined. They become simply what we do without question or deeper thought into why or what the consequences of our traditions might be-such as communion, confirmation, worship, or even how I preach. A quote I love from theologian Jaroslav Pelikan is “Tradition is the living faith of the dead, traditionalism is the dead faith of the living. And, I suppose I should add, it is traditionalism that gives tradition such a bad name.” Traditions are not bad in and of themselves and Jesus is not suggesting that we live willy-nilly with no compass or grounding principles. Jesus is holding a mirror to why we do what we do and does it reveal and point to the work and love of God in the world for the whole world.
How do we reveal God’s love here at LOTH? How do we examine what we’re doing or what we’ve always done to ensure that we are pointing to God’s work and love in the world and not our own need for rules and boundaries for our own sense of order? Our mission statement is a great lens through which we can examine all of our ministries and traditions. Do you know it? By heart? It is a little long-I’ll grant you but do you know the thrust of it? “Lord of the Hills is a welcoming home rooted in Jesus Christ. We honor the past, meet the present and change for the future. Young and old, we have joined together in mission to: proclaim the Gospel, serve the needs of the community, grow in faith, experience God’s grace through worship, welcome the visitor, and celebrate our diversity.” This is truly a Christ centered mission statement. And one that doesn’t allow us to become stuck in unhelpful or excluding traditions but admits that change might be necessary.
What I also love about this statement is that it’s clear that God is the focus of our lives together. We fully believe, just as we heard in our Deuteronomy text, that we have a God who is always near to us and hears us when we call. This good news of a closer than close God, orients us toward how we do live together, how we do ensure that the gospel-the good news that God with us all always- is proclaimed in our community and in our homes. This statement reminds us that diversity and nuance is needed, too much of a good thing can be life denying, when the gospel is all about offering life and offering it abundantly. This statement focuses our hearts on other people, all of God’s people, and not ourselves and what we want or think we need. It reminds us that God crosses boundaries to come to us in Jesus Christ and so we too cross boundaries to reveal Christ to the world.
Sometimes as humans we can have too much of a good thing in the rules, traditions and laws that we impose and can deny life and freedom to people. But Jesus proclaims that we can never have too much of the good thing of God’s love for us. In God’s good thing of love and grace, there is an overwhelming abundance that flows out from Jesus for the inclusion and reorientation of our hearts to the only rule that matters: God’s love. Thanks be to God.