Posts Tagged With: The Pastoral is Political

The Pastoral is Political: Defense Edition

The pastoral is geeky, at least.

I’ve had an episode of Star Trek (TNG, for those of you who care) stuck in my head this week. The one in which the Enterprise encounters one of many unknown phenomena: this one washes waves of energy over them which threaten to tear the ship apart. So, of course, they raise their shields.They assume a defensive posture, to safeguard not only the military-esque Starfleet personnel, but their families on board.

It’s human nature to self-protect, and to want to protect our families and loved ones. Even those who would willingly give their own lives for a cause will hesitate, when asked to give the lives of their beloved, their parents, their children. None of us would readily question the need to “raise shields” in moments of danger, real or perceived – most of us would be quite willing to defend first, ask questions later. Safety first.

When one is crouched behind shields, however – whether they are force fields against space, or harsh rhetoric, or physical barriers – everyone on the other side is going to look like an enemy.

Jesus, facing those who had come to arrest him, rebuked the disciple who drew his sword. And we nod wisely, when we read the end of Matthew 26: of course we shouldn’t attack, meet violence with violence. But I don’t think we question why there was a sword: of course it’s right to be ready for whatever comes. Of course it’s wise to defend ourselves.

And so we miss the point.

The current administration, facing the threat or perception of violence, draws its proverbial sword and raises its shields. All in the name, not of promoting violence, but of defending ourselves. And those who read Matthew with us in our pews, those who admire the crew of the Enterprise in their moment of crisis, question only the methods, not the impulse of defense.

But perhaps we should.

Because it’s a TV show with a very discreet story arc, the folks on Star Trek figured out (in the nick of time!) that the more power they poured into their shields, the stronger the phenomena became, until it nearly destroyed them. At the crisis moment, the answer was to drop the shields, to remove the barrier.

Jesus, facing his own arrest, not only rebuked the sword-wielding disciple, but warned the entire group: who relies on the sword will perish by it.

In this time of deep anxiety and anger, many Christians are – I believe rightly – calling out policies that scapegoat certain groups entirely. But perhaps it’s time to take a step further back, beyond even the current administration, and question the underlying assumptions that put swords in our hands, and shields up: the assumptions that defensiveness will keep us safe; that the threat of violence will deter violence.

It is a risky posture, to lower our defenses when the world around us feels so violent, when reports of attacks and violence flow daily through our newsfeeds. It leaves us vulnerable – and harder still, it leaves our loved ones vulnerable. As vulnerable as the children in Aleppo. As vulnerable as a group of church folk at Bible Study. As vulnerable as Jesus when he left Gethsemane.

As vulnerable as the person who sees before them, not an enemy, but a human being.

As vulnerable as the person who relies, not on the sword, not on barriers, not on exclusion and the expectation of violence, but on the possibility of love, and compassion, and vulnerability.

Our scriptures do not tell us that love will keep us safe. Mary, weeping  at the foot of the cross, may well have wished that the disciple had ignored Jesus’ injunction. Our scriptures simply point us on the ways of death, and the ways of life; the ways of this world, and the ways of the realm of God.

And our scriptures tell us not to fear.

Not to grab for our swords. Not to put up our shields. Not to see anyone as inherently enemy, inherently “other.” Not to go on the defensive.

Not to fear. Even when the cross is looming before us.

Not to fear. Even when our place of comfort seems to be coming apart.

Put away your sword. Drop your shields.

Make it so.

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Rev. Eliza Buchakjian-Tweedy is Senior Pastor of First Church Congregational, UCC, in Rochester NH. She blogs at sermonizing.wordpress.com.

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The Pastoral Is Political: False Equivalencies

10672361_10152417983237987_4971039832493004559_n“So, what are y’all saying about… all this?”

It’s the question of the day in clergy groups: how do we, as clergy, as the Church, address what is going on in our nation, especially to often-divided congregations? What’s the role of the Church in the political – not partisan: political – sphere? When do we take a stand? When do we speak out? When do we gather as the Church to stand on the steps of the Capitol in witness for or against policies?

The answer is often rather ambiguous: preach the Gospel. Speak out as individuals, but not as the Church. Protest or lobby as members of a congregation, but not on behalf of the congregation as a whole.

Be careful what you say, and in whose name: you might offend someone.

Several years ago, my church began putting a rainbow flag over the front doors during Pride Month. We’d been Open and Affirming for some 12 years at that point; it seemed a natural thing to (finally) do. But then it got pulled down. We replaced it. Two days later, the replacement got pulled down. One frustrated Facebook post later, rainbow flags started appearing from all over the world. Enough that we gave them to local churches, so they could stand in solidarity. Enough that we hung 45 on the sides of our building for a week, and still had spares. Enough that we could say, loudly and clearly, that we stood with the LGBT community, even in the face of pushback.

Enough that people left the church.

Members were offended that we were singling out one group – the LGBTQ community – for welcome; that we didn’t fly a flag to welcome straight people.

Be careful what you say, and in whose name: you might offend someone.

I understand completely the concern with hurting and offending those who sit in our pews; I love my congregants deeply, no matter whom they voted for. I understand the feelings of failure that arise when church members leave, the fears of shrinking membership; the discouragement of empty seats on Sunday morning. I understand the desire to be careful.

But I understand as well that we cannot compare the hurt of calling out privilege to the hurt of systematically being denied rights. We cannot compare the offended sensibilities of the privileged to the injustices perpetrated upon the marginalized. We need to stop operating within this false equivalency.

Most of us believe that we would have preached racial justice in the 1960s, or against fascism in the 1930s. But most of us forget that hindsight is 20/20, giving us the privilege of glossing over how many would have been offended. Most of us in white churches – in the 30s, the 60s, or now – are more concerned with the comfort of those in our pews than with the lives of real people outside of our particular communities.

Most of us would invite debate on the worthiness of the Samaritan woman at the well; would allow the argument that the man, left for dead on the Jericho road, should have known better and deserved what he got; would weigh the practicalities of searching for one sheep out of a hundred, and let that one go. Most of us would ignore that the Samaritan woman is now a Syrian refugee; the man on the Jericho road is a woman leaving a party; the sheep is someone struggling with addiction. Most of us would forget that these are stories of real people, whose lives are not ours to debate.

So many in our churches want to hear the Gospel stories as feel-good narratives about how good God will be to us all, and are offended when that is not the Gospel we preach.

But the Good News is not good if it does not put food in the bellies of the hungry, or give shelter to those left in the cold. The Good News is not that our individual lives are enough in themselves, but that we are enough, as we are, to bring God’s Realm here on earth; to be the Body of Christ. The Good News is that refugees, young black men, trans women, those struggling with substance use… the marginalized, the disenfranchised are enough, just as they are, to be worthy of our support, stated loudly and clearly.

So yes, we do need to preach the Gospel in this time: loudly, clearly, lovingly. We need to state clearly, as Jesus did, that people are not problems to be solved, or topics for debate. We need to be clear, as the Church, that we will not deal in the false equivalencies of offense; that we will set aside our privilege to stand with those whose lives are threatened, here and now. We need to preach a Gospel that is, indeed Good News, and will continue to be so, even in hindsight.

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Rev. Eliza Buchakjian-Tweedy is Senior Pastor of First Church Congregational, UCC, in Rochester NH. She blogs at sermonizing.wordpress.com.

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The Pastoral Is Political: Last Christmas

Christman Advent WreathAs I stood looking out at the congregation as we held our candles and sang Silent Night late Saturday evening, a sadness fell onto my heart.  What will next Christmas look like?

I didn’t feel like I could sing the carols with a sense of joy or relief.  Worry about what the next years will look like clouded my ability to hope in the way I wished.

Will Christmas be drastically different in the future?  Will the shift in our political system cause less people to have jobs next year?  Will more people suffer because of a lack of health coverage?  Will our loved ones who are racial, ethnic, or religious minorities experience greater levels of oppression because the incoming administration?

And then my overly-anxious inner 10-year-old wonders: Will we all be alive?

Late in the morning on December 22, the United States president-elect tweeted the following: “The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes.”  This mirrors the sentiments of the current Russian president.

I thought the prospect of using nuclear weapons was well behind us…

I grew up at the very end of the Cold War.  Movies like Testament and The Day After still haunt my memories –  even now that I’m in my forties.  How could human beings do this to one another?  I thought to myself as a child.  Will I grow up to experience adulthood?  I don’t want to die…

During these tween years, I would read Matthew 24, which would not dissuade my fear at all.  Even the Bible predicted such calamity.

And while I eventually learned that the Bible was written in specific contexts to specific groups of people, I know that “nothing is new under the sun” (to echo the words of Ecclesiastes).  Again and again, people found their demise in wars, and even mass extermination occurred at our hands with our missiles in 1945 Japan.

Could our country massacre an entire region of people with one directive?  Will we be at the receiving end of one of these bombs?

Here we are back in a Cold War wilderness.  Here we are in wandering.  Here we are waiting to see the Christ light through the fogs of human-induced hate.

This is when we desire that the wilderness texts of the Bible give us the hope we need.  Isaiah 40:6-8 states:

All people are grass,
   their constancy is like the flower of the field.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
   when the breath of the Lord blows upon it;
   surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades;
   but the word of our God will stand for ever. (NRSV)

Logically, I highly doubt that a nuclear war is in our future.  Yet the powers-that-be will use this to send powerful messages of fear, and that will play with the emotions in our hearts and souls.

And we sit with the wilderness Scriptures.  No matter where we are in our growing or fading, or what may come upon this, God’s comfort is with us.  God’s peace surrounds us.  Admittedly, sometimes it’s tough to see this comfort around us when our fear is so great.  So we light the Christ candle and we take that light into the world, hoping it will shine brighter than before, that nuclear winter will be a fear of the past, and that springtime resurrection will appear for us once again.

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The title of this post, Last Christmas, is in memory of musician George Michael who passed away on December 25, 2016.  While the 1980’s gave us terrifying movies like The Day After, the decade also provided us with enjoyable music from great artists like George Michael, Prince, and David Bowie whom we mourn this year.

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The Rev. Michelle L. Torigian is the Pastor of St. Paul United Church of Christ, Old Blue Rock Road in Cincinnati.  Her essay “Always a Pastor, Never the Bride” was in the RevGalBlogPals book There’s a Woman in the Pulpit.  Torigian blogs at www.michelletorigian.com.

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The Pastoral is Political: You trumped us!

Dear USA,

Was it a case of anything you can do we can do better? Did you see what happened in the UK in June and think…mmm we can match that…no wait, we can raise you? Well you sure managed that.

From over this side of the Atlantic Ocean we have been watching you for this last year. We watched your presidential debates, we watched the news reports, we read the social media stuff and we thought, “no, it’s ok Donald will not become President, it’s not going to happen, no way!” We even went to sleep on your election night still confident that this would not happen. Some of us couldn’t sleep with the excitement and anticipation of another glass ceiling being smashed. Most of us sat up bolt right in our beds when waking to the news that Donald had trumped Hilary.

It was the same here in June when most of us went to sleep confident that the UK would vote to remain part of the European Union. That didn’t go to plan either.

So we, that’s you and us, have a new world order taking shape. And as far as I can see it’s not a world that I like the sound of.  Yesterday in church we heard the words from Isaiah that Jesus read when at the Synagogue. Now that is a word I like the sound of. But sadly, it’s not a world view that Donald shares. Or many of the Brexiteers, as we fondly call them. Instead we have a world taking shape where there is no good news for the poor; where those trapped are to be allowed to rot; where the oppressed find a boot firmly keeping them down. The world seems to be becoming even more selfish and more suspicious, fearful even, of those not like us.

How on earth have we come to this? And it is not just you and us. The signs across Europe are that right wing extreme views are growing. Who would have thought that the leader of the French National Front would ever become a serious contender in their Presidential race? We have seen refugee camps in Greece attacked by fascist thugs – men, women and children for crying out loud, attacked at night. People who have already faced danger and traumas we can only imagine scared for their lives in a place they thought was at least safe, if not comfortable. How have we come to this?

I don’t know. But I do know that we have a Gospel to proclaim that runs counter to all of this. And we much preach it.

So my dear friend USA, I write to you in the hope that between us we can stay strong in our faith, stay true to the Gospel and resist that tide that we face. Surely between us, with a mighty army of RevGals and Pals, we can stop the tide from becoming a rip tide that drowns out our voices.

Yours with much love

The United Kingdom


Rev Shuna Dicks is a Church of Scotland minister based in Speyside in the heart of the Malt Whisky Trail. She lives with husband Neil and their two dogs and a cat. They have two grown up children who live and work in Aberdeen.


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Pastoral is Political: I’ve Already Said Too Much

(The Eternal continued speaking to Job.)
Eternal One: Have you heard enough?
Will the one who finds fault with the Highest One now make his case?
Let God’s accuser answer Him!
Job 40:1-2 (The Voice)

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I sit here at my desk, comfortable, white and quiet. I write from my very white, suburban, straight female perspective. And it is abundantly clear to me that I used to be living in some version of Fantasyland. As a pastor and a hospice chaplain, I have been listening to the anger and grief around me. I am coming out of a zombie-like existence, where what is reality and what I have perceived it to be are two very different things, indeed.

There have been moments since the US presidential election that I have been angry, despondent and scared, too. But was it really “unthinkable”? What bias skewed my understanding, my perceptions of my country and my culture? Where was my faith in a God of justice and peace? I joined in the conversation and reactionary posts on social media.

“Sit your white ass down and shut up.”

That was the response from my self-righteous protesting, “but… but… I am NOT like those white women who voted for Trump!”

For a few weeks, I was shamed into an uncomfortable silence.

And then, I came to realize that I am guilty by association and by my inaction. I did not see the depths of prejudice my friends and neighbors suffer. I did not complain to corporations where I have money invested. I did not write my elected officials or call them directly when I disagreed with their actions. I did not support candidates financially to the degree I could have.

Though I did not vote for him, I am part of the reason Donald J. Trump won the US presidential election.

I have much to learn from my brothers and sisters who have lived under systemic violence and hate.

I have worked in churches that are majority white, have a few persons of color in the membership, and thought it was “enough”. A kind of, “yay, good for us” mentality. I thought that I am not like pastors at those other churches! (Pharisaical thinking, much? Yikes.)

I can’t change my history… but I am trying to listen and learn to change how I respond in the future. Perhaps that is the most “pastoral” thing I can do.

(Job answered the Eternal.)
Job: Oh, I am so small. How can I reply to You?
I’ll cover my mouth with my hand, for I’ve already said too much.
One time I have spoken, and I have no answer to give—
two times, and I have nothing more to add.
Job 40:3-4 (The Voice)

“When people want to learn about God revealed in Jesus Christ, there stands the mythic white male figure. Some white male theologians and preachers frequently make Jesus sound more like Uncle Sam than the nonviolent, Jewish revolutionary described in the gospel narratives. With a pseudowhite male Jesus let loose in the church, the boundaries of acceptable theological reflection have neatly aligned with powerful, elite American male interests.”
Drew G. I. Hart in Trouble I’ve Seen: Changing the way the Church views racism. (p. 163)

“We are the least scrutinizing, least critical, of the people whom we believe support us. The folk who really know how I am and appreciate me, they’re the ones I don’t worry about. …It is possible to be seduced into silence and stillness by affirmation that is really coming from the wrong lips.”
Benadette Glover-Williams, “What the Devil Didn’t Know” in Those Preaching Women, Vol. 4 (p. 23)

“Studies show that people of all colors use and sell illegal drugs at remarkably similar rates. If there are significant differences in the surveys to be found, they frequently suggest that whites, particularly white youth, are more likely to engage in drug crime than people of color. That is not what one would guess, however, when entering our nation’s prisons and jails, which are over-flowing with black and brown drug offenders.”
Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass incarceration in the age of colorblindness. (p. 7)

“No one alive today created this mess, but everyone alive today has the power to work on undoing it. Four hundred years since its inception, American racism is all twisted up in our cultural fabric. But there’s a loophole: people are not born racist. Racism is taught, and racism is learned. Understanding how and why our beliefs developed along racial lines holds the promise of healing, liberation, and the unleashing of America’s vast human potential.”
Debby Irving, Waking up White and finding myself in the story of race. (Introduction).

 


Rev. Deborah Vaughn is a hospice chaplain and pastor, affiliated with the Alliance of Baptists. She lives in Maryland outside of Washington, DC with her husband and young adult daughters. She is a contributor to the RevGals book There’s a Woman in the Pulpit and maintains a personal blog at An Unfinished Symphony.


RevGalBlogPals encourages you to share our blog posts via email or social media. We do not grant permission to cut-and-paste prayers and articles without a link back. For permission to use material in paper publications, please email revgalblogpals at gmail dot com.

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The Pastoral Is Political: A Call To Be UnPopular

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I often wonder how the disciples had the courage to follow Jesus. I’m sure it would have been difficult for them to give up the things in their lives that they relied on for comfort and security. And I think it would have been very difficult for them to go out and proclaim Jesus’ good news after seeing the kind of backlash Jesus got from many of the religious leaders, by some people in his hometown and home synagogue, and even at times by his own family.

I wonder how the disciples continued participating in Jesus’ ministry when it would have been much easier for them to turn away when Jesus called out to them and to just go on living their normal every day lives, without having to acknowledge the suffering and injustice around them.

I think I wonder this about the disciples because sometimes I wonder this about myself. To be quite honest, there have been many times – particularly as I have become more aware of how much systemic racism still prevails throughout our country – when I just want to hold tight to my own privilege. There have been many times when I have just wanted to shut my eyes and pretend that the evil sins of racism and the unjust racialized systems of which I am a part don’t exist.

Because this is the easier way. Because this way allows me to live in my comfortable bubble that I have the privilege of living in. It allows me to avoid any kind of opposition that those who speak out often face. It allows me to deny my own participation in and benefits from the racialized systems in our country that still privilege those who look like me while deeming those who don’t as “less than.”

You see, as a white woman, I have the privilege of being able to live my life without having to fear what my siblings of color fear every day.  My whiteness is a privilege in so many ways (which you can read about in my last post: The Pastoral Is Political: I Am Racist). And one of the many white privileges I have inherited is that I can choose to live my comfortable life without ever having to think about those around this country who are being suffocated and killed by the very same systems that uplift and benefit me.

And yet, this is not a privilege I get to hold onto when I follow Jesus. Because this is not Jesus’ way.

Because just as Jesus called the twelve disciples to loosen their grips on their privilege and just as he sent them out into the world to boldly proclaim his very unpopular good news, he calls and sends all of his disciples to do so, as well.

Now, this work of proclaiming the good news is not always easy. It means we must denounce dehumanizing tweets that compare real people with real suffering to a bowl of poisonous candy. It means we must reject claims that terrorism has a religion. It means we must truly believe in our hearts that (clean) water is life and therefore stand with our siblings who are being denied access to it or who are at risk of loosing it. It means we must proclaim that Black lives matter! Black lives matter! Black lives matter!… over and over and over again until our country actually acts like it.

And it means we must call out the evil sins of systemic racism, confess and repent of our own participation in and benefits from it, and do whatever we can to cast out the demons of these unjust systems so that one day our country does in fact provide liberty and justice for all.

No, following Jesus will not make us popular. And for many of us, this work of proclaiming Jesus’ good news – which seems so radical to so many – will likely lead to opposition, even from some of the people we are closest to.

However, while following Jesus is not always easy, Jesus will never leave us to do this holy work alone.

We have been gifted with the Holy Spirit, who is with us always, comforting us and guiding us along the way. And no matter what, when others – even those who are closest to us – take offense at Jesus’ good news and hurl even the harshest of insults at us, we are not left without a family. We have a family right here in the body of Christ. One who will hold us, who will listen to us, who will encourage us, and who will walk alongside us as we discern how Jesus is calling us to go out boldly into the world.

So, may we have the courage to be the body of Christ. May we support, encourage, and hold one another as we join in this difficult work of proclaiming Jesus’ good news for all.  Because the lives of our siblings, elders, youth, and children are far more important than our longing to be popular.

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Rev. Emily Heitzman is an ordained Presbyterian (USA) pastor serving as the shared Pastor with Youth and Households at three ELCA congregations in the neighborhood of Edgewater in Chicago: Unity Lutheran, Ebenezer Lutheran, and Immanuel Lutheran.  Some of her sermons and reflections can be found at Musings from a Bricolage.

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RevGalBlogPals encourages you to share our blog posts via email or social media. We do not grant permission to cut-and-paste prayers and articles without a link back. For permission to use material in paper publications, please email revgalblogpals at gmail dot com. Check out our growing list of Anti-Racism resources here.

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The Pastoral Is Political

Adapted from the remarks I gave at the first-ever LGBTQ Pride event in Rochester, NH

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The author, delivering these remarks. Photo credit: Rochester Museum of Fine Arts

When I was in high school, friends wondered at my participation in a faith that they saw as exclusionary. Specifically: how could a queer person participate in a religion that excluded gays? I didn’t understand, then; I was lucky, in my particular congregation, to be loved and accepted without question. But many of my friends, brought up in other churches felt excluded. Their experiences ranged from the micro-aggressions of not seeing themselves reflected in expectations or biblical storytelling, to the trauma of having to sit through sermons in which they were condemned, as though by God Almighty. For often, the voice of the pastor may as well be the voice of God. Of this I am very aware today, as I stand before you in my collar. I am aware that there will be those among you who cringe inwardly at seeing me; who expect the judgment that many associate with this particular garb.

Yet today, I wear it deliberately, with all its weighty baggage, in the hopes that some of that weight might add a little authority, a little extra meaning, to what I would say to you today.

I’m sorry.

Churches around the world have done, and continue to do, great harm to the queer community. Churches commit and condone violence; churches force individuals into damaging “reparative” therapies; churches encourage parents to disown their children; churches shun and isolate people until they doubt the very value of their lives. And all of it on the basis of seven whole verses of our long and complicated bible.

I’m sorry.

Certainly, not all churches would condemn you. But those of us who love you, just as you are – who affirm you and your relationships – have not been clear enough, loud enough, open enough to make you feel safe. Many of us still make mistakes regularly, and all the good intentions in the world do not make those mistakes less painful. We have a lot of work yet to do to live into our attempts at real, honest love.

I’m sorry.

Human beings are really good at building walls, at putting up barriers between groups – black and white, gay and straight, cis and trans, rich and poor – and we’re even better  at justifying them, often in the name of morality, which is a subtle way of saying God. Because if we believe another group is lazy, criminal, perverted, or dangerous, then we can believe that they’re unworthy, in God’s eyes as well as our own, and we can feel comfortable within our exclusionary walls knowing that “they” are on the other side.

The thing is, as a wise person said recently: every time you draw a line every time you build a wall to exclude people, Jesus ends up on the other side of it. Jesus, who hung out on the margins of his society with those deemed unworthy and dangerous; Jesus saw them, saw God in them, and loved them for exactly who they were.

Jesus, who walked this earth as a living reminder that God loves the world – that whole John 3:16 thing we see on signs at football games, forgetting how radical that claim is; forgetting that the first real example of God’s love for the whole world was embodied by someone even the disciples hesitated to approach, someone on the outside of their walls.

This I know: God doesn’t care about the walls we put up, for God cannot be contained within those walls, no matter what we want to believe. God cannot be contained within our learned judgments of sexuality, or gender identity, or gender expression.

This I know: you are made in God’s image. Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Pansexual, Asexual, Trans, Genderfluid, Genderqueer: you are blessed and beautiful. You are worthy and beloved. Your lives are valuable, your relationships are valuable, your love is valuable; far more valuable than any walls that have ever excluded you.

So today, I call upon the church to come out here, to meet Jesus, right here at Pride, because this is exactly where he would hang out. I call upon the church to learn something from you who have gathered here today: something about creating community. Something about love. I call upon the church to learn from you that love cannot be contained within walls; that love does not commit or condone violence; that love does not shun or exclude; that love always wins.

 

Rev. Eliza Buchakjian-Tweedy is pastor at First Church Congregational in Rochester, NH. She blogs athttp://www.sermonizing.wordpress.com

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RevGalBlogPals encourages you to share our blog posts via email or social media. We do not grant permission to cut-and-paste prayers and articles without a link back. For permission to use material in paper publications, please email revgalblogpals at gmail dot com.
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The Pastoral is Political: Don’t Tell Us How to Dress!

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Imagine if you were at a beach, wearing a bathing suit that made you comfortable. The government had just passed an ordinance that women were not allowed to wear tops at the beach. While many women would be absolutely comfortable with this new law, most would feel uneasy baring one’s top. Police got wind of you being at the beach wearing a traditional two-piece bathing suit. They order you to remove your top. You refuse as you know you would feel extremely vulnerable allowing your breasts being uncovered. After your refusal, the police then rip off your top allowing your chest to be bare to anyone who walks by.

When I see the photographs of the Muslim woman at the beach in Nice, France being forced to remove the outer covering of her Burkini so that her arms and neck were bare, this is how I imagine she may feel. I can imagine that she felt violated by both officials and the eyes of the people around her. To her, having her arms uncovered by the Powers That Be is the same as if officials came and forcefully removed the tops off of many of us.  Just like the woman on the Nice beach, we would be ogled at our most vulnerable.

But criticism is also focused at those who dress less modestly as well.

Each year, at least one story floats around online about how a teen girl is told by her school that their dress to prom is inappropriate.  She is instructed to leave the prom, missing one of the most important moments of her young life. Sometimes, the criticism focuses on a detail of her dress that most of us would find insignificant: her straps show too much of her shoulders or her dress is too short.

Criticism of women also extends to our sisters who are breastfeeding or those who are wearing inappropriate clothing for their aging body or after weight gain.  When all is said and done, we might as ask ourselves, will we as women ever stop being criticized for what we wear?

Nothing is new under the sun; women have always been critiqued for what they wear. 1 Timothy 2:9 states “the woman should dress themselves modestly and decently in suitable clothing, not their hair braided, or with gold, pearls, or expensive clothing…” Likewise 1 Peter 3 notes “Do not adorn yourselves outwardly by braiding your hair, and by wearing gold ornaments or fine clothing.”  While it does say that beauty comes from within (“let your adornment be the inner self with the lasting beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in God’s sight.”), this text does not give permission to the woman to dress in the way that she herself feels the most comfortable.

Men’s restrictions on their dress in the Bible are quite minimal compared to the dress codes for women. As we continue to navigate ourselves in the 21st century, those who identify as male are restricted even less than those who identify as female.

But if men and women are both made in the image of God, why do we hold women to such different standards? Shouldn’t women be allowed to wear what they want as well?

While all women are vulnerable to attacks on their appearance and the ideal balance of appropriate outfits, the intersection of gender with race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, gender expression and gender identity is required to be recognized.  For instance, our African American sisters’ hair is often criticized and even limited in some work situations.  Even males who are racial minorities, religions besides Christian, and gay, transgender and queer are criticized more than males who are cis-gender white, heterosexual and Christian.

Ultimately, I believe that God is calling us to be our most authentic selves in the way we dress.  Romans 12:1-2 says:

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

Maybe it’s our job as the church to help each person in the world find their most authentic style without being shamed.  Whether a woman is dressed in a beautiful burkini or very baring two piece, maybe we should honor wherever she is today, helping her understand grace when others are throwing shame her way.

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The Rev. Michelle L. Torigian is the Pastor of St. Paul United Church of Christ, Old Blue Rock Road in Cincinnati.  Her essay “Always a Pastor, Never the Bride” was in the RevGalBlogPals book There’s a Woman in the Pulpit.  Torigian blogs at www.michelletorigian.com.

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The Pastoral is Political: 10 Ways to Defeat a Bully

10. Walk away. Do not give the bully attention. Completely unfollow on social media, if applicable. The person in question has nothing that you want.

9. Information embargo. Engage in ZERO information seeking. Consider what power you have personally and how you can use it to stop streams of revenue, attention, or power to the bully in question. Abstain from where you might see the person or be forced to hear about him/her/them. If another person wishes to rant about the bully, politely inform them of the embargo. If someone else wishes to know the whys of the embargo, give short truthful answers that speak from your own experience. Do not mention the bully by name.

8. Sanction. Words do hurt as much as actions. There are consequences to saying whatever you want, whenever you want, to whomever you want. Gaslighting, lying, bluster, and threats are not acceptable speech. Refuse space to the person who engages inIMG_1279.JPG this behavior. A person who cannot hold to accepted rules in an interview, debate, or conference is not invited back to play with other adults. Period.

7. Divest. Pull out of situations and circumstances that give power to the bully. Tell others related to the bully’s platform that you intend withhold money, time, and energy at all levels of an organization until the bully is disciplined, if not completely removed from representing the organization or group in question. Refuse to participate in channeling any type of resource- fiscal, physical, or psychic- to the bully.

6. Be smart. Gather information that thwarts the untruths, mistruths, and misdirection from the bully. You don’t have to be an expert on anything to refuse to be scared, cowed, or overwhelmed by rhetoric unsupported by reason and reality.

5. Work with an ally. It is extremely unlikely that you are alone in a bullying situation. With particularly stubborn bullies, it can seem as though they’re everywhere all the time. Get a friend or a group of friends to join in your anti-bullying efforts. A joint information boycott or rant sabbatical may really improve morale and keep you from feeling alone, isolated, or despondent.

4. Be not afraid. The bully is not in control, despite how things may appear. God is in control. Furthermore, it is essential to remember that there are judgments we are called to make as those who are walking the Way, even as we acknowledge our own imperfections. It is entirely acceptable to pray seriously for a bully to realize the error of his/her/their way in thought, word, and deed.

3. Be prepared. There are actions and opportunities all around that afford ways to defeat a bully. These may need praying hands, feet, or mouths to help. See what you can do to make a solid offensive move against the bully or bullies.

2. Yield to the Spirit. The strength to resist the bully is a fire shut up in your bones. If the Spirit says pray, pray. If the Spirit says sing, sing. If the Spirit is leading your energy toward the disciplines of art making, writing, movement, building, silence, service, or prophesy, give way to that calling. Do not resist the urge, believing that the bully is only fought through “more important work”. This is the most important work, refusing to cede spiritual ground to any force that opposes the real resurrection and reformation work that God is doing and will not stop.

 1. Embrace Christlike behavior. Remember that righteous anger, flipping over tables, cracking a whip, cursing trees, expressing frustration, praying in grief, weeping, and wishing for fire are all options.

 

 

The Reverend Julia Seymour serves Lutheran Church of Hope (ELCA) in Anchorage, Alaska. She blogs at lutheranjulia.blogspot.com and was a contributor to There’s a Woman in the Pulpit.

 

 

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The Pastoral is Political: The Olympics on the World’s Stage

The weeks and months leading up to the Olympics were full of the usual stories of a massive urban clean-up, of building costs close to a billion dollars (99.3 million, to be precise), of concerns about traffic, parking, terrorism, security and pollution. Add to that list the political turmoil in Brazil, including a recession, teacher strikes and an impeached president. And then there’s the highly publicized Zika virus, the polluted waterways, and a doping scandal disqualifying the entire Russian gymnastics team! There is quite a stain on the Olympics this year. Yet, the TV production machine blares on, with highlights and tape delays, live events and athlete bios.

The Opening Ceremonies lauded the history of Brazil, including its indigenous peoples, the history of its slave trade, and the colonizing Europeans’ influences. I was bemused. Much like the history of my own country (USA), these are points in the timeline where one might feel uncomfortable. Is it enough to just mention it? Are we tasked with doing more?

There was also the nod to the rain forest and the Amazon basin, a creative and a worthy inspiration. But its inclusion highlighted our international indifference towards global warming and deforestation. As part of Creation, do we forget we are tasked with the vocation of caretaking our planet? Do we understand the importance of the rain forest, the so-called “the lungs of the earth”?

I ponder the cost of the world-class sports facilities, and the favelas* that were leveled to build them. I grumble at the Rio committee, who in its zeal to beautify the area around the venues, leveled neighborhoods of homes built and occupied for generations. I remember a similar theme in the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, where the Techwood neighborhood was demolished to build the Olympic Village, and the construction of the Olympic stadium displaced the residents of Summerhill, Peoplestown and Mechanicsville. (Source: Southern Spaces) Disproportionately, people of color and lower socioeconomic status are impacted by the building of these facilities.

Maybe the hype is getting to me. Maybe the ridiculous number of commercials (and delayed broadcast) of the Opening Ceremonies set me on edge. Maybe it was a personal health issue (healing nicely, thanks) that made me less indulgent of ‘MERican nationalist chants and star-spangled swimwear.

At the same time, like many of you, I’m watching almost every event! I’m musing on the strange dichotomy of Olympic athletes, waiting tables and working retail grunt jobs to pay for their training, and Olympic officials hauling in huge salaries. I marvel at the athletes’ grace, grit and skill, competing for the love of sport and the dream of a medal, any color medal!

For those of us in pastoral roles, there is a call to proclaim justice.

For athletes whose families work extra jobs to pay for coaches and trainers. For neighborhoods demolished for Olympic infrastructure. For the environmental impact of our casual and careless use of fragile resources in rain forests, not only for the health of our planet, but the survival of the species who live within it.

Part of our pastoral responsibility includes owning our part of the problem.

And here I’ll ‘fess up: I am not the best at conservation. I like my air conditioning in the summer. My 14-year-old car is wheezing along with abysmal gas mileage. I use electricity to wash and dry my clothes, my dishes and charge my many electronic devices. But I am also learning to compost, recycle and reduce my use of plastics.

In the end, the focus, even from the TV production machine, comes back to the athletes. Their hard work, dedication and competitiveness. The glory of their victories. The celebration by their families.

I was reminded of Jaques line from Shakespeare’s As You Like It:
“All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players…”

Yes. These athletes are players on the world’s stage called the Olympics. But so are we! May we take this opportunity to use the larger stage of the Olympics to hone our awareness and our actions. Our greater world depends on it.

 

*(Favelas, by the way, are not slums, though they were labeled as such to justify razing them! According to the Catlytic Communites website, favelas are sturdily built homes, held for generations, with working utilities and even internet service.)

 

Rev. Deb Vaughn works as a Board-Certified Chaplain for a hospice in the Washington, DC area. Deb maintains a personal blog at An Unfinished Symphony.  She is among the contributors to the RevGals book There’s a Woman in the Pulpit.

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