Archives for category: Community

Ferguson was supposed to be a turning point. It was the unflinching reveal of systemic violence that routinely plays out on black and brown bodies. It was supposed to be a metanoia moment for the rest of society. Instead, it became a line in the sand between Black Lives Matter and All Lives Matter; between those who must navigate the realities of daily dehumanization, along with some white allies, and those who wish to maintain a corrupted facade of ‘universality’ that is the mechanism of dehumanization. Ferguson revealed how little ground has been ceded by the powers that be, and how bloodied.

And now, Charlottesville.

A white life has been killed while standing in defiance of a colorless vision of the US–a vision that is wholly without merit, though not without precedent. This colorless vision is easy to refute when presented as a high contrast image, like the events in Charlottesville, but not as obvious in its grainier daily forms. Since last weekend I have seen many posts on social media decrying the hatred and provenance of the ideologies behind ‘unite the right’, and admonitions among the white community to stop racism at first sight in any form. I have also seen pushback from people of color who are sick of hearing the defensive response, ‘but I’m not like those people’. Both responses point to a critical piece that we, my fellow white folk, must contemplate. We have so swallowed and ingested the doctrine of individuality that it seems inconceivable we might be confused for one who looks like me but is not-me. We don’t like to be labeled (because no one likes to be labeled), and refuse to consider the subtleties of racism–because I am not ‘racist’. Not like them.

But here is one label that I am willing to guarantee: all humans are assholes.

This is also known as the doctrine of sin, or hamartiology, to get fancy. And right now we are having a serious Come to Jesus moment with communities of color.

Perhaps you’re right to say that you are not like those tiki torch carrying white men. Congratulations. So now, let’s take a look at that knapsack of privilege. When I open mine I see an above average K-12 education, childhood in an affluent and unpolluted community, which meant that I grew up with a sense of security outside the home. My parents divorced when I was young, so other people’s homes became my safe havens, as did school. College was expected, not an option. I’m blonde and blue-eyed, so no issues with fitting into the larger society. Somewhere along the way I learned to listen to the stories of others, and to take them seriously. James Baldwin, Sherman Alexie, bell hooks, and Japanese American internment survivors have all been my teachers. You could say my knapsack is adorned with the classic white, liberal badge of honor (or a Canadian flag). But all that is the easy part to identify.

Privilege likes to hide out in tide pools and shadow. It emerges in our gut reactions to something that impacts our daily routine, or sense of fairness. It feeds off particularities of perspective, the way ‘common sense’ is shaped. We see this when a white college student sues a university for not admitting her, blaming Affirmative Action for ruining her future. What seems straightforward–admitting the best and the brightest–takes a detour. The algorithms of society are usually in our favor. When something gets coded differently, suddenly it appears as unfair. There are moments when I see my Latinx and Black colleagues involved in grant-funded initiatives and think, wait, where is my opportunity? The job market is doubly bleak for us theologians. So, with churches dying and schools not hiring, why must my spouse and I bear more of a financial burden for graduate school? It isn’t fair. But when I take a step back, reframe the picture, some other factors emerge. What are the chances I will be able to work past age 60, or perhaps even 70? Good? Better than average? What about my colleagues who may or may not receive the same level of health care? Whose voices are more urgent for the church today? Mine, or the prophetic witness of my colleagues, many of whose lives bear the undue burdens of our society?

Privilege’s partner is exceptionality, also known as not-me. This is perhaps the most insidious manifestation of the doctrine of individuality. We are seldom aware of how we categorize, prejudge, and stereotype others, but we bristle when others do that to us. How dare he assume that I’m like that… Who does she think she is… Together, privilege and exceptionalism provide a filter for walking through the world. We fail to recognize all the visual cues, social patterns, and unspoken expectations that perpetuate white power.

Schoolgirls, Fort Spokane Indian School, n.d. Photo from the UW library archives.

As one of my conversation partners often likes to remind me, white people are not the only assholes on this planet–just look at history. The Huns, Aztecs, Pharoahs, and Hutus have all done their fair share of conquering, killing, and destruction. ‘They’re no different from us.’ True though that may appear, those are not the societies in which we currently live. And we do have a responsibility to be aware of how we, in this time and in this place, are being assholes to others.

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A theological reflection on saving a Christian college campus.

I am home now. As in, abandoned prairie dreams to come back to the Pacific Northwest with its layers of mountains and hills, moody shifts in grey hues, waterlogged air, and the smell of low tide. It is fortunate that I can complete my research away from school at this point, and even tailor it to this region. The thought of learning Chicago watersheds for my studies in baptism felt daunting.

Coming home has its share of mixed feelings, particularly when my memory is taxed with recalling what ‘used to be’ on that corner instead of the shiny tall thing that looms overhead. So, when I saw the article in the local news about an old Bible school coming due for demolition, I started reading closely. Sure enough, I remembered the place–vaguely, but well enough.

I can’t remember if it was a vacation Bible school, or simply a weekend retreat that took me to the Lutheran Bible Institute in Issaquah, but I remember her. Her name was similar to mine, Kirstin, she had straight, blonde hair, and she sang in the a cappella music group at the Bible school. I remember feeling so enamored with her, like she could be my big sister. We may have even exchanged a few letters as pen pals. I remember, too, the buildings that felt a little old, but in that vertical NW, mod quirky kind of way. At that time, about the only difference I knew existed between the Lutherans and Presbyterians (such as I was), had to do with the color robes their clergy wore on Sundays. Yet I would have signed up to go to LBI in a heartbeat; especially if it meant singing alongside my new friend such lyric hits as, “It’s about as useful as a screen door on a submarine. / Faith without works…”

Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that one of the local megachurches owns the property now, and that they have an interest in selling it. But in a region with few religious landmarks, the thought of losing a 1960s chapel and school with a unique history (the Lutherans bought it from the Catholics) is dispiriting. Surely another religious organization would think so, too? Or is a generic evangelical church focused on being young and relevant simply deaf to any cries of history or tradition? I wonder, then, if this isn’t a case of good old North American pragmatism. The church is not a building, it is wherever two or more are gathered in the name of Jesus Christ–so goes the logic.

Shouldn’t a place where the broken, risen body of Christ has been shared, given and communed across time and denominations mean something?

For nearly ten years I worshiped in a space that was built by the Methodists, then occupied by a brewery, a disco, the Baptists, and some other commercial interests during its 100+ year history (not to mention squirrels and other critters in the attic). Houses of worship that have been around for a while feel different. There is a kind of spatial patina that can rub off on unsuspecting visitors, enriching the music, the prayers, the communion of saints. At times in church, I could sense the hopes and desires of past parishioners. My great-grandparents never worshiped there, but someone’s did.

The Providence Heights space is unique as a theological school, first for nuns, then for Lutheran women and men. Let me repeat that: the school was built to educate women first. It may be tempting to be dismissive of a training school for Catholic nuns, but considering how difficult it still is–globally speaking–for women to receive any kind of dedicated theological education, let’s just say this is significant. While the chapel was not a community church per se, it served as a basin for the missio Dei, and a nest from which hopeful young Christians followed the call of the Spirit to the world.

Surely, a fellow religious organization such as City Church, with its focus on developing relevant leaders for the world, would understand such a history?

At a time when property values are soaring out of reach, churches are shrinking, and decisions for survival must be made on a purely economic basis, does City Church (or any church) have a responsibility to history or tradition? What does it look like to honor the people who have gone before in particular places; who have celebrated the Lord’s supper, and proclaimed his death and resurrection in these walls? This week of Pentecost, I pray for a creative solution for the people of Issaquah, for City Church, and the Providence Heights campus. Come, Holy Spirit, and breathe new life.

I know some amazing, compassionate, articulate and wise people; and this morning, my facebook feedback loop is filled with messages encouraging all to support one another, to mourn, and to participate in God’s work and love here on the earth. Our democracy has failed us. The nationalist religion of politics declared one candidate the winner while the other candidate is accruing more individual votes. How many of those votes were ‘simply’ because people could not vote for a woman?

This morning I am stunned, yet not surprised. One thing I see is that the anger and fear of change–social changes, economic disenfranchisement, cultural and technological upheaval–is out in the open. We have squirreled ourselves away long enough in our own little corners. It’s time to face our fears. God only knows what that will look like, but I think we have an idea from the gospel accounts.

American Christianity must change. In fact, it cannot be “American” any longer. To all persons of faith, it’s time to encounter the living God, to let the Spirit cleanse us from our idols of comfort, and to pray continually,

Abba, let your name be made holy
Let your Kingdom come, your will be done
Here on the earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.
Lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.
For yours is the kingdom, the power, and the glory forever.
Amen