Not My Christianity

It was 2005 and I was at my first official church face to face interview. We were gathered around a future parishioner’s dining room table and they asked me the questions they had come up with. Among some of the standards, they asked me this:

What is the biggest theological issue facing the church today?

This was one I had been waiting for, it was the height of gay ordination issues, and I knew where I was and I was unapologetic about it. I also knew that this was *all* the church was talking about and they wanted to know if it’s *all* I was going to talk about.

I talked about Matthew 25- to clothe the naked, house the homeless, visit the sick and imprisoned. I saw their heads nod and their tension release, and so I added, “and we HAVE to find a way to reclaim Christianity from the radical right and not be afraid to evangelize progressive Christianity.”

Some strongly agreed, others thought the first part of my answer was “nice” enough to forgive what I just said.

I grew up with spurts of Catholicism and Methodism but my formative years were spent in the Southern Baptist church and I knew exactly how dangerous white evangelicals could be.

Over a dozen years have passed since I made that comment and last week, I knew we had failed, so far. Since becoming a Presbyterian in 1998, I’ve been working to spread the good news of progressive Christianity but it has not been enough.

 

For years Progressive Christians fought for gay rights, women’s ordination, women’s health and anti-racism. But as a whole we have not done enough. It is time for us to get out of our bubbles and stand up.

So fast forward to Sunday morning. I wasn’t preaching due to Stewardship Celebration Sunday, my role was to give the Call to Stewardship. I had mixed feelings about not preaching, but I now realize I wasn’t in a state to. I was pissed, I’m still pissed.

When I awoke this morning, I had nothing but sorry and anger, then the spirit moved and got to church and wrote this call:

He looked up and saw rich people putting their gifts into the treasury; he also saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. He said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; for all of them have contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on.” -Luke 21:1-4

If we take the story of the widow’s mite on face value we are supposed to empty our bank accounts into the church’s account. (I mean, if that’s what God is calling you to do, who am I to stop you!)

But our world does not work that way, and I’m not sure Jesus’ did either.

“All she had to live on” is a phrase that has haunted me since the beginning of my ministry. What does it mean and how does it work?

Stewardship is about more than money. We talk about time and talents, but we need a new kind of stewardship in our world today.

A kind of stewardship that actually follows the teachings of Christ and the will of God. Not the false gods of prosperity we have created, but the God of love and justice, mercy and compassion.

We are called to give this world, “all we have to live on” because Christ taught us that people are more important than property, the prophets called for justice comes rolling down like a stream and we have polluted that stream with false idols and prioritizing ourselves over others and creation.

Today, here, now, is a call to discipleship. Will we be willing to put “all we have to live on” into what we believe? We will be willing to reject false teaching? Will we begin to truly understand that Christ has no hands but ours?

Are we willing to devote our lives to God and reject sin? Are we willing to stand up and claim our Christianity in the marketplaces? Are we willing to stand up to others who claim the same God and say, “I am a Christian, and God is a God of love, not hate.”

Now is not the time for random acts of kindness, but a wearing of the banner for the world to see.

All I have to live on is this: I am a Christian who condemns violence, who condemns hatred, who believes in peaceable living for all, who sees that it is my responsibility to care for the widows, the orphans, and the refugee.

Even Christ made a mistake, seeing the Syrophoenician woman and her daughter and less human than he, with her different color skin and her weaker gender, they were compared to the likeness of dogs, by Christ. That’s how strong the influence of power can be, the world convincing us that I and mine are better than you.

Give it up, Christ says, give it all up, just as this woman did. Take her example and literally, publicly, put in your two sense and surrender the thing that makes you powerful in this world.

Will you? Can you? Devote your whole self to God and serve Christ and the world with all you have?

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I share this with you because progressive Christianity cannot be indifferent to our faith any longer. We are so afraid of offending others that we have forgotten who we are.

If you want to answer this call then here’s what needs to happen. You have to stand up to injustice wherever you see it. You have to get involved politically. You have to find ways to give your privilege and power away and make room for others, YES.

But wait, there’s more. 

You have to know and study your Bible. You can’t be afraid of words like “Jesus”, “sin” and “judgement”. You need to be able to speak passionately about God, Christ, and faith and how your faith aligns with your politics.

Jesus never shied away from politics. Evangelicals don’t see them as two different things and neither should you.

You need to quote scripture like the rest of them, and in context.  You need to know your opponent’s arguments and be able to come back with why Jesus would NEVER have responded that way, be specific with examples. Be smart.

And why do all this? Because this is NOT a Christian Nation, but Christian nationalist have taken it over, and it’s past time to take it back.

#notmychristian

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I dedicate this post to my grandfather, who stopped attending church in the 1960’s because it got too “political” during the Civil Right’s Movement. I have learned through my ministry that it is impossible to keep politics out of the pulpit, it is possible to not bully from the pulpit, but if I preach scripture, I preach politics. 

(un)earthed

The city burns. The heart aches.

I tried to fall asleep last night but panic attacks took me over. Not out of fear of safety. My bio jokes that I live In “the safest part of Baltimore, the suburbs.” I didn’t sleep much, my eyes were closed, my body was still, but I was focused on my breath in sadness and tried to keep the attacks at bay.

It does not take much in a city like this to unearth racial tension. It is palpable. I cannot speak as a native Baltimorean. I cannot speak as a black person. I can tell you what I have been taught as a middle class, suburban, white girl growing up in the south.

My parents are good people, they are, and the story I am about to tell is a small piece of who they were, they have grown as people, please know that. They are products of their times and places, it does not excuse their behavior, but it was ignorance, in the best use of the word, they had no experience otherwise and the world they grew up in didn’t ask them to.

My parents grew up in the midwest where the first black people they saw were on TV. They moved to the south before I was born. My sister and I were raised in Bowling Green, Kentucky and Goodlettsville, Tennessee (suburb of Nashville) by 2 midwestern parents and 2 native Kentuckian step-parents.

There was an “us” and a “them”. I was surrounded by white people. In my neighborhood, in my social circles, all of it. “Nigger” was a regular curse word in our house, the ultimate insult hurled by my step-father. Racial jokes were told on a daily basis, to roars of laughter. I can still hear my step-mother’s “Buckwheat” impression.

One of the first friends I remember having was a mixed race girl with adopted white parents. She was okay because of that. My middle school my best friend was a black girl. One labor day weekend I was told I could invite a friend to the pool, I asked Belinda. I had to resend the offer. That’s when I found out the country club we belonged to was “exclusive”. In high school, one of my best friends was a black man. We were both told, separately by our parents that being friends was fine, but we were never allowed to date. He (and later is family) was the first and only black person I ever saw in my parent’s house.

However, it wasn’t so much the blatant racism, is was the subtle, culturally imbedded racism that had the real power. When spoken I could consciously disagree. I didn’t always verbalize it because these were my parents, but I sure as hell didn’t believe it. Well, later I didn’t believe it.

I was in the first grade when I noticed that I hesitated before drinking out of a water fountain after one of my black classmates. I froze after I realized it. I questioned myself, why would I do that? Was it a “long lost” picture of Jim Crow laws and “Colored” and “White” water fountains? Or was it just something bred in me.

colored-water-fountain

From that moment on I challenged myself (yes, I know how that sounds) and when we would line up for the water fountain I would make sure to stand behind one of my black classmates, or use the restroom they just came out of. By 7 years old I was determined to unearth the racial injustice already bred into my life.

I am so ashamed I never speak of it. I am ashamed and I am afraid that by speaking I will do more harm than good. And this is my vow in Christ. Do no harm. But it’s impossible, isn’t it?

I will never be fully aware of my white privilege, it is impossible for me to fully understand. It is intwined in my social and economic status. It is enmeshed in every part of my life.  The neighborhoods I live and work in are almost exclusively white. My children go to school in some of the best schools in the country where she is taught that a long time ago people owned other people, that there were laws separating them and that is all over now.

My sister is a school teacher in the Deep South, she’s taught in Kentucky, Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia. When I am at her house I am uncomfortable with the way her friends talk about certain restaurants being “black” restaurants, and therefore wouldn’t recommend them. Being around black people is automatically unsafe. Yet, she fights in her schools as she watches they black students get treated as “other”. She stands up for them and their voice because it’s just wrong.

We must unearth our white privilege. We much dig deep inside ourselves and not pretend that we understand how the “black community” in Baltimore feel, not to mention the fact that the “black community” isn’t one little group of people organizing a pep rally. We’re talking about a city where black outnumber white by 2 to 1. A state where we have more black millionaires than any other. Yet oppression and racism is so intertwined it cannot be underestimated.

We must unearth injustice and then step out of the way for the people WITH the experience to speak. We must not look a looter and say “they” are all the same.

We must admit that we are part of a system, both racial and economic that has kept them poor and oppressed. We must admit that they have every right to be angry.

We must unearth our own fears and step aside giving room and a place for theirs.

Pray for Baltimore, pray for those oppressed, unearth your own fears.

This post is a part of the UNCO synchroblog. April’s them is “UnEarthed”. You can read the other posts in the series here