The Woman Card (a sermon)

**Originally preached for the jazz service at Fourth Presbyterian Church, Chicago, on May 1, 2016.**

Acts 16:9-15

16:9 During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.”

16:10 When he had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them.

16:11 We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis,

16:12 and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city for some days.

16:13 On the sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there.

16:14 A certain woman named Lydia, a worshiper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul.

16:15 When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.” And she prevailed upon us.

I want to tell you a story—a story I learned when I was young. It’s from a book called Amazing Grace and it’s about a girl named Grace. If Grace were real, she would be delighted to know I’m telling you about her now, because Grace loved stories. She loved stories in books and in movies and from her grandmother’s long memory. And she didn’t just like to listen to the stories—Grace liked to act them out. She was Anansi the spider and Joan of Arc. She sailed the seven seas as a peg-leg pirate and played ancient hero in the Trojan War.

When Grace’s teacher announced that her class would be doing the play Peter Pan, Grace knew right away that she wanted to play Peter. But a boy in her class tells her she can’t be Peter Pan because she’s a girl and Peter Pan is supposed to be a boy. And a girl in her class tells Grace she can’t be Peter Pan because she’s black and Peter Pan is supposed to be white. Grace went home that day sad and self-conscious, but her mother and grandmother encouraged her to ignore the kids telling her what she can’t do. “Those kids don’t know anything,” they assure her.

So Grace practiced all weekend, and when the time came to audition the next week, the whole class agreed that she was the best and should obviously be Peter Pan. And so she was. The play was a huge success, and Grace was amazing. Amazing Grace.

Grace’s classmates tell her she can’t be Peter Pan because they think they know what Peter Pan looks like. They think they know that Peter Pan is white and male and because that’s what they expect, they can’t imagine a world where Peter Pan looks different. But they’re wrong. Peter Pan looks like Grace because Peter Pan is Grace even if they don’t know it until they see it. Without her, their play doesn’t make any sense. It’s incomplete.

This week, I confess, I’ve been thinking about a lot about who is allowed to do what in our society. I’ve been thinking about this thing I heard of this week called, “the woman card.” I’m not interested here in dissecting the particular implications or context of the original statement. But it did compel me to ruminate on what it means to be a woman in this world and in the church—and the challenges and gifts that come with it.

Growing up, it never occurred to me that some people believed that women couldn’t be pastors. After all, every Sunday I showed up to my church and greeted our associate pastor, Shannon Dill. She was what I pictured when I closed my eyes and imagined a pastor—she was kind and faithful and smart.

In fact, it wasn’t until I announced that I was planning to attend seminary myself that I encountered any pushback. There were people—strangers and loved ones alike—who felt that my gender precluded me from being called to ministry. It caught me completely off guard. As far as I was concerned, the leadership of women was just another part of what the church looked like. It wasn’t hard for to me imagine. Of course, I was lucky. Plenty of other people grew up with a different understanding—a different picture of what the church looked like.

But the truth is that women have been a part of leading the church since it began. There was, of course, Mary, the mother of Jesus. And there were the women disciples—Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Martha and the others—the first to encounter the risen Christ and share the good news of Easter. And today we have the story of Lydia.

Lydia is a woman from Thyatira of Macedonia—who sells purple cloth and worships God. Paul and his group encounter Lydia on the Sabbath day—outside the gate by the river where women gathered to pray. And Lydia opens her heart to all that Paul has to say and is baptized then along with her whole household. She opens her home to Paul and those with him—in fact, she doesn’t really take no for answer. And her house becomes the base for a new church in Macedonia and beyond. She and her household keep that new church going, presumably even while Paul is imprisoned.

Lydia is often credited with being the first European convert to Christianity and her encounter with Paul there by the river on that Sabbath day opened up and expanded the church in a whole new way. That is no small part to play.

How easy it would have been for that encounter to have never happened. After all, Lydia wasn’t at all who Paul was looking for. She wasn’t what he expected or what he imagined.

See, Paul had a dream—a vision. And in his dream it was a man from Macedonia who called out to him and begged him to come and help them. Paul takes his vision seriously, he trusts in it, and as soon as he is able, he sets out for Macedonia to find this man and offer help in the name of Christ.

I wonder what might have happened if Paul had only been willing to see that man from his vision. What if he had not been open to another encounter, to someone who he didn’t expect and couldn’t envision? What if he had discounted Lydia because of her “woman card?”

Indeed, Lydia is unexpected—and not just because she was a woman rather than a man. The woman card, so to speak, is not the only card she has. We can surmise from this story that Lydia was an independent woman. She was a businesswoman in her own right who had charge of an entire household of her own. She was a God-worshiper, a God-fearer—which is to say, a Gentile follower of God. And while traditional artistic depictions of Lydia portray her how we might, today, typically interpret the word “European”—that is, as white—some scholars suggest that due to travel and trade routes—there is a high probability that Lydia was a woman of color.

Though Paul knew that women were a crucial part of Jesus’ ministry, this independent Macedonian businesswoman of color was probably well beyond what he could imagine when he thought of the church. But that didn’t stop him from talking to her and it didn’t stop her either. It’s worth noting that this text makes a point of saying that God opens Lydia’s heart to hear Paul’s words. God was at work in her too, already.

Sometimes, we talk about there being both a visible and an invisible church. The visible church is what we picture when we squeeze our eyes shut and try to imagine. It’s the old buildings and the structures and the worship services and the hymns. The invisible church is beyond our own ability to picture and imagine. It’s everywhere God is at work and everyone whom God is at work within.  When we encounter the invisible church in new ways—the visible church takes on new life too.

Lydia is already a God-worshiper. God is already at work in her life just as God is at work in Paul’s life. They both open themselves up to one another. And though we talk about this story as the beginning of the European church, in truth the church was already there—it just hadn’t yet been fully recognized by Paul and the others. When they do recognize Lydia and the invisible church that is already there in Macedonia—new life begins.

All these centuries later, the world and the church look a lot different than they did in the time of Lydia and Paul. And, in some ways, they don’t look so different. It’s not quite as unusual as it was then for a woman to be an independently successful business owner. Certainly we are more in touch with those from other cultures and other places around the world. And the church is expressed, even visibly, in myriad and diverse ways.

On the other hand, we are still a world and a people inhibited by our own expectations of what and who is normal. We still struggle to accept and celebrate those look or live differently than we do. We are still debating—emphatically—in our society today about who can lead: in government, in business, and in churches. Who is entitled to equality and justice. Who is indispensable and who is disposable. We still fall into the trap of believing we know how things are, how they should be, and what (and who) they’re supposed to look like.

The false certainty that this world can and should only ever be the way we picture it when we squeeze our eyes shut—that is a deception of our brokenness. It is the reason why, in a world that is more diverse and more connected than ever—we are still plagued by barriers of distrust and discrimination. We are still bound up by the limits of prejudice: racism, sexism, heterosexism—it goes on. It is costing lives and hope and so much possibility for goodness and healing and growth.

Lydia’s story finds us in the midst of the complicated, messy, brokenness of our own myopic vision and offers us a different view. A reminder that God’s church is bigger and broader than we expect. It is built and served by and serving those we might overlook or discount if we rely only on our own understanding. Whether we are like Paul struggling to follow God’s call past the limits of our own dream or like Lydia—called to serve and speak to a world that does not always fully see us: this story is a promise that the Holy Spirit is alive and at work all over this world and she is not contained by the limits of our humanity or own imagination.

In a world often defined by fear and shored up defenses and privilege and prejudice and injustice—the church is called to be a prophetic witness that something bigger and broader than we can imagine is binding us together. We, as the church, do not go out into the world simply because the world beyond needs us—but because we, the church, need the world beyond. The church is there too—visible to us or not. Beyond the limits of our knowing and our expectation—there are people we are incomplete without.

Lydia was the first. That’s what we say. The first European convert—the follower of God who made her house into a gateway for a broader church. She was the first, and then—God alive in her and made visible—many others followed. Perhaps precisely because she wasn’t what was expected—she was a woman, an independent, faithful woman of color: the understanding of what and where and how the church could be grew and was never the same. There have been other firsts too in the church and beyond. The first person to cross the ocean. The first person to walk on the moon. And others. The first LGBTQ pastor, the first black president, the first woman on an American bill. These first and many others teach us that our knowledge of what can be is not the limit of what should be or will be.

In this Easter season, we remember that our entire faith is built on the unexpected and unimaginable. A God who meets us in humanity—in the form of a tiny child. A God who preaches a world of justice beyond any that had been or has been known. A God who, having met us in human life, dies to meet us in death so that we might know that even there we are never alone. And a God who overcomes death, returns to new life and offers new life to us—with the incredible promise that there is no limit to God’s goodness or love—whether we can imagine it or not.

It is in this promise that we place our faith. It is to this promise we cling on the days that we fear injustice and prejudice might have the last word. In the moments when we squeeze our eyes shut and still cannot picture a world that is not broken—a world that is good and healed and whole. We trust in God to open our hearts so that we can see what God sees.  We trust in Jesus Christ—the one who, above all and always, is first and last and guides us beyond what we know, expect, and understand and into the wonder and boundlessness of grace. Amazing grace. Imagine that.

Amen.

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Here’s what happens when you tweet about sexism…

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Last night, I posted a tweet about a guy making comments about my body at McDonald’s. I posted the incident with the hashtag #everydaysexism. I woke up this morning to 37 angry tweets (and counting) from anti-feminist men who basically proved my point for me. I’ve included a few here. I’m lucky, I guess, that none of these tweets use vile expletives or threaten me, but honestly I was a little overwhelmed by the onslaught.

This is an interesting week for it, too. Donald Trump promises to represent sexism and misogyny at the presidential level by accusing Hillary of playing “the woman card.” A viral video makes the rounds revealing the truly awful comments thrown toward female sportswriters. I take part in a conversation about raising girls in this world today and the need to not only teach them how to avoid sexual assault, but how to handle it if it happens to them (because statistics show that it very well might). And I land my first piece for Sojourners, writing about the comments clergy receive about their body–particular female clergy. Oh, and I got into a debate with a guy who suggested men were more at risk of being raped than women and that statistics that say otherwise are all lies. Cause yeah.

Meanwhile, Harriet Tubman finally becomes the first woman granted a place on American money and Beyonce demonstrates, once again, the power of a black woman’s voice. And the scripture text for Sunday is about Lydia, a woman credited as the first European convert to Christianity.

So I share this experience and these tweets, not because they’re the worst thing to happen in the world of sexism this week, but because they’re far from it. It’s everywhere, and it’s not just 37 guys hunkered down in their parents’ basements hating on women cause they got turned down for a date. These are men who wake up and go out into the world everyday as fathers, brothers, sons, and husbands. Sexism is insidious on every level and the little stuff leads to the big stuff.

Call me an angry feminist if you want–you’re absolutely right I’m angry. But I’ll tell you what: my anger and my feminism are not what you should be worried about.

 

 

On Plans, Permission, 30, & What’s Next (a love story)

A couple of weeks ago, I made a big, scary, exciting decision. I’ve waffled about whether to post about it because there’s nothing formalized about it to make it feel real, other than my own conviction. Nevertheless, I am thrilled and invigorated by it and, if you know me at all, you know I can’t keep my mouth shut about that sort of thing. So here it is: I’M MOVING TO DC THIS FALL!

No, I don’t have a job yet, and I may not by the time my residency here in Chicago ends, but I’m planning to go to DC either way. I’ve got some savings and, if I have to, I’ll figure out the rest when I get there. That may mean part time work and volunteering and pulpit supply and who knows what else. We’ll see what the future brings. But I know where I’m headed.

Three years ago, I passed through DC on my way back to Texas from Philly. I hadn’t been there since our safety patrol trip in 6th grade, and I had never really given it much thought. But that night I fell a little bit in love. I’ve been back 4 or 5 times since then, and I’ve fallen a little bit more in love every time. It’s beautiful, and it feels enough like the South to quell some of the homesickness I’ve carried since leaving the Southeast 8 years ago. I love the feel of it, and the history. I love the people I know there, and the happy hours ;). And there are so. many. awesome. Presbyterians. I love it that important things happen there—new history all the time.

DC also seems to resonate, in many ways, with the growing pull I feel to the intersection of theology and justice. I want to apply my faith, theological training, experience, and ordination to the world of advocacy, to the world of policy change. I want to stand in that intersection and help build the sort of world Jesus believed in. Though for now, I feel  led to places other than parish ministry, who knows where this path might take my ministry down the road. All I know is that it will go somewhere and I am wide open.

I’m afraid that people will see this as a move away from my call to ministry, but honestly, this feels more like I’m following my call than anything else I can imagine. For awhile now, I have felt led to DC—in a way that I can’t quite explain. But I’ve decided to give myself permission to just trust without fully understanding, and to go and see what God has in store for me there. I have always wanted to be the sort of person who would just take off on an adventure to a new place without any guarantees, but I have always been too afraid. I am finally learning that risk can lead to great things and failure, when it happens, is rarely fatal (thanks improv).

I turn 30 this summer and I have finally decided that this is how I want to celebrate. By being brave and following my heart and embracing adventure–giving thanks that, at 30, I have the savings, the resume, and the confidence to do so. I’m a little scared, but I’m even more excited. Last fall in an improv class I said that I dreamed of one day letting myself make the “heart choice” instead of always just the smart choice. That led me to dedicate this whole year of my life to LOVE and to letting go. And this move, this choice, is absolutely an act of love—for myself, for God, and for this gift of a life I’ve been given. I suppose something crazy could happen and turn this all on its head, but barring that, I am DC bound.

Here’s how you can help:

  • Connections – especially when the time draws near, I want to connect with as many people I can in DC for friendship and community (and some job leads wouldn’t hurt!). So if you know good people, let me know them too.
  • Prayer – my future is an open question that I’m trusting God will do something with. Prayers for courage and conviction and faith are much appreciated.
  • Encouragement – Even if you think I’m ridiculous, I hope for your love and support.

Love you all! DC, here I come!

DARE.

(My shoes and the Capitol, from that first fateful trip)

Thoughts on the Apology Overture from a Bisexual Pastor

Do you remember how arguments went when we were kids? The offense would happen, shouting would ensue, and when an adult got tired of the noise they’d find out what was going on, assign blame, and make the guilty apologize. These apologies always came in a flat monotone with a side of eye-roll. Nobody believed they were sincere and in my experience, they did little to help. I am not a fan of empty apologies. At best, they’re hollow. At worst, they have the power to smother any real, purposeful reconciliation.

I have not weighed in publicly about 11-05, the overture being sent to our PCUSA General Assembly this summer that proposes a denominational apology for the injustices done to LGBTQ folks by the church (read it here). I’ve talked plenty to friends about my complicated thoughts on the document, but I haven’t been vocal in any public space because it seems clear that I risk being told that I’m a “bad queer” if my view don’t align as they should, and frankly, I’m not sure my views entirely align with anyone’s.

Do I think our denomination has committed grievous injustices to queer and trans people? Absolutely. Do we deserve an apology? Yes. Do I want an apology from our church? Yes. Do I believe that an intentional institutional apology has significant power to heal and reconcile? Most definitely.

But only if we mean it. And here’s the thing: I don’t think we mean it.

I don’t think we mean it because the very same constitutional changes that this overture points to as justification for an apology were literally constructed with loopholes to allow for the continued marginalization of queer people by those whose theology differs. I have personally never promised anyone that they wouldn’t be forced to participate in justice toward LGBTQ people like myself because I don’t think it’s really justice or inclusion until it comes without exception. But our denomination has very clearly split that semantic hair. We did it so that those constitutional changes would pass because we knew the church wasn’t ready for them to pass in any less compromising way.

This is why, when I discuss the recent shifts toward more inclusive ordination standards and marriage definition, I describe them as moves toward justice. I describe them as being more inclusive. We have not arrived at a place where justice for LGBTQ persons is being fully enacted or embodied. It has been a long road, I know, but like or not, we are not at its end.

We are not yet a just or fully inclusive church and not just because there is still clear evidence of persistent sexism or because we’ve only just begun to confront the depths of our institutional racism. We are not yet a just or fully inclusive church even for queer people. There has not been a single denominational move—as far as I know—toward justice and inclusion for bisexual people other than the degree to which our justice and inclusion is assumed into that of gay and lesbian people. We have only begun to name the existence of those who are transgender, let alone recognizing and seeking to dismantle the transphobia emanating from our denominational pores. As the brother/sister language of this overture itself makes clear, we still don’t recognize and include those whose gender identity is nonbinary—that is, falls outside the categories of man or woman (and thank you to the friend and colleague who pointed this out, when my own privilege had allowed me to miss it completely).

The perpetuation of injustice within our denomination is not just the story of our past: it is our ongoing present. And it is not just the problem of a handful of vocal conservatives, or even of the straight church—it is also a problem within the queer church itself. I say that as someone whose queer identity is often met with suspicion and rejection from gay and lesbian siblings in faith and who often feels almost as unsafe in queer spaces as I do in straight spaces. None of this even scratches the surface of the intersecting injustices faced by queer people of color or queer people with disabilities. We all have a lot of work to do.

Look, I love this church. It gives me so much joy and hope even despite the ways it has (and continues to) deeply, deeply hurt me and others I love. And I also care about those in our church who don’t believe I should be allowed to be ordained or married to a partner who is not male—those who believe they have nothing to apologize for. But I am not now, nor have I ever been, willing to circumvent justice in the name of their comfort. I am not opposed to this overture passing because it will make them uncomfortable. But I am concerned that its passing will allow comfort for some others who should also be uncomfortable.

I am angry at how broken our church is and how callously it has rejected and wounded its own children in the name of bigotry and fear and ignorance. I am angry that injustices in our church have gone on for so long—much longer, I realize, than I have had to experience personally. I am overwhelmed that there is still so much work to do.

I absolutely want an apology. And I want us to mean it. But I don’t know how we can when we cannot yet even recognize—let alone repent of—all the injustices we are doing to queer and trans people even now.

I’m glad this overture exists. I’m glad it is making sure that the push for full LGBTQ justice in our church doesn’t go away. I’m glad for the hard but necessary conversations this overture is stirring up. I hope that conversations about the need for the church to recognize and apologize for injustice never go away and that eventually they lead to legitimate action, confession, healing, and reconciliation. But I am not at all convinced that this current overture should be passed by our General Assembly.

We don’t believe in cheap grace. We believe in genuine repentance. Our beloved broken church shouldn’t have projected onto it or get credit for an apology that it isn’t ready to mean or live into. I am not interested in a flat monotone with a side of eye-roll. And I am profoundly worried what injustices will be quietly allowed to persist if that’s the apology we settle for.

I expect more. We deserve more. God calls us to more.

Among the Living (an Easter sermon)

**Originally preached at 4:00 Jazz Worship at Fourth Presbyterian Church Chicago on Easter Sunday, March 27, 2016**

Luke 24:1-12

I have this box. It hasn’t always been a box. It’s looked different over the years. It started out as a folder—or maybe it was an envelope. Right now, it’s a blue and white striped hat box. Inside of it are momentos of my past.

As I get older, more and more of the items in this box represent people I have loved who have died. There are funeral programs from high school classmates and old Sunday school teachers, a poem I wrote for my grandfather, the last sermon my preaching professor graded for me, a cross that belonged to my grandmother.

I’ve moved about 20 times in the last 10 years, and inevitably, some of even these most precious momentos have gotten lost. I often don’t notice the absence right away. After all, my box mostly just gathers dust on a shelf. But when I do notice something missing, the pang of it is sharp. I know that it’s only  a piece of paper or costume jewelry, but it’s also the last thing I have left of a person I loved—the last little bit of them I can touch and feel—and in its absence the grief and loss well up again anew.

Maybe you know what I’m talking about. Maybe you have a box too. We all have our hearts wrapped like fingers around pieces of those we’ve lost—trying to hold on just a little bit longer.

In our text for today, the women rise early, before the sun. Women who loved Jesus and whom Jesus loved and called by name: Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary mother of James, and others who we don’t know but whom Jesus surely did. In the eerie quiet of predawn, they gather the materials they need to visit his tomb. To care for his body in death.

The previous hours and days have been long and surreal—like they come from a life and a world that don’t belong to them. The brutal cut of Jesus’ death has carved out a hollowness in each of them. There is nothing in his place except deep, endless uncertainty. Everything about their future is unknown. But this—these rituals of burial and death—these they know. These they understand. These they can still trust.

On their somber journey to his tomb, they are startled to recognize an out of place feeling. Where there should be only anger and sorrow and numbness, they feel within themselves the tiniest spark of—what is it?—relief? Comfort?

They will see his body. They will touch it and care for him as they always have. He is gone and so much has been lost, but at least they have this familiar part of him. At least they have this.

Except they don’t. When they reach the tomb, the stone is rolled away, and Jesus’ body is gone.

The text tells us that the women were first perplexed, and then overcome with fear. I wonder if the text doesn’t have it a little bit backwards. In my imagining, the fear comes first—fear that grows from a grief that no longer has its limit or its mitigating comfort. Now he is truly lost. They have nothing left to hold on to.

This gut-level grief and despair is what roils and churns inside of them when they are encountered by two strangers in dazzling clothes. And dazzling though they may be, the bedside manner of these two messengers… well, it leaves something to be desired. They are not comforting or understanding, they don’t even offer the standard angel salutation of “Do not be afraid!” Instead, one of them asks the women, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen.”

See, this is where I think the perplexity comes in. Because this is a confusing thing to hear, through the haze of your grief, so newly reignited. This is a perplexing question to be asked at the burial place of your friend, whose absolutely lifeless body you helped lay here just two days earlier. Where else would you come to be with him? Where else should you look? Where did he go?

The messengers explain it to them, then. Perhaps with an exasperated eyeroll. “Don’t you remember what he told you?” they ask. “He said that he would die and be raised on the third day. He told you this would happen.”

And perhaps, through their grief, the words he’d spoken to them over and over did echo in their memory again. But even then, it couldn’t have felt entirely real. After all, resurrection wasn’t something they witnessed regularly or understood. And even though these strange men were telling them Jesus had risen, they haven’t seen it. They haven’t seen life re-enter his body. All they have is absence. And the command to remember, and trust.

The text smoothes over this part. It tells us that the women remembered Jesus’ words and then skips ahead to the part where they have returned to town to tell the 11 and other disciples. But something hugely significant happens inbetween. Before they reach the disciples, first, they have to leave the tomb. I cannot imagine how difficult that would have been. I’m not actually sure I could have done it.

I mean, sure, the tomb isn’t a good place to be. It’s scary and broken and painful. But it’s also the last familiar thing. See, we like to hold on. Even in pain, we grasp firmly onto the familiar. And these women, seemingly, have to leave what they’ve known and loved for something that will surely be totally new and unknown.

The strangers’ question having been dealt with, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?”—leaves another question in its place, “If Jesus is not there, in the tomb, where is he? Where does Jesus go to be among the living—among the resurrected?”

The answer is not immediately apparent to the women or the disciples they run off to tell. Their journey from the tomb is not a momentary leap into the waiting arms of easy understanding and new certainty. They tremble in fear and doubt and they wait. But the answer does come. And just like their discovery at the tomb, it is an unimaginable surprise.

The risen Jesus—gone to be among the living—is not in some far off, unfamiliar place that his followers do not know—the risen Jesus appears in their very midst. In their world. He is in their upper room and on their dusty roads, and at their breakfast fire. The resurrected Jesus is among the living—and, as it turns out, they are the living.

Their world is the resurrected one—the one that, through Christ’s conquering of death, is being made new and whole even then. It isn’t something unfamiliar—it is the world they know. They just must learn to see it, and themselves, with new eyes. Resurrection eyes.

Years ago, when I was in third grade, my class used to watch a show every Friday called Reading Rainbow. Among other things, each episode always included a narrated reading of a children’s book, complete with illustrations on the screen. There is one particular book from that time in my life that has always stuck with me. It’s called Round Trip and it was written by a woman named Ann Jonas. It recounts a fairly simple story of a trip to the city and back.

What stuck with me, though, about this book wasn’t the name or the storyline. It was the illustrations. See, the illustrations for this book are done entirely in black and white silhouette. As you read, they reveal tall buildings and crashing waves, and long roads with other cars, and the high view from the top of a skyscraper. And then, you reach the last page and the story just seems to stop. It’s a little anti-climactic, a little disappointing.

Until you realize… the story isn’t over. You just have to turn the book upside down. When you do, the story continues. You read the book in reverse as it recounts the journey home. And all of the very same illustrations you saw before are transformed into new pictures from this new perspective.

Hidden in this simple but cleverly illustrated book is an Easter promise.

On that cold, dark morning, the women came to the tomb to hold on to what they could of a story they believed to be over. But it turns out, it isn’t. What the women and the disciples find when they summon the courage to leave the tomb is that Jesus isn’t gone. The story isn’t over. Jesus has turned the book upside down.

This is the powerful promise of that first Easter dawn—and it is our promise to take hold of this Easter day. A living Jesus who bears resurrection to this world and proclaims us the living too. The risen Jesus is in our midst, right now, this very day and moment. Not lost in death or only raised in some new kingdom beyond our knowing—but in our world. This messy, crowded, dusty, broken world. Jesus has risen and turned this world upside down.

The cornerstone promise of our faith is that one day all those who have died will be resurrected to new life and this world, God’s original creation—will be restored to wholeness. And it is true that that project is not yet complete. But it has begun. It began the moment Jesus left that tomb behind, and when we leave the tomb behind we find that that restoration, that resurrection is ongoing—it is happening even now in our midst. Jesus is among the living—and the living is us.

Some days, this is easier to believe than others. Some days, life and this world can feel like a tomb. As friends hurt, and loved ones die, and communities suffer—as violence erupts in our street and across the world—as lines blur between protectors and those we need protection from—between leaders to trust and tyrants to fear. When global violence becomes so common place that our first reaction at the news of a bombing isn’t horror but resignation, even inconvenience. When the future of our world or just our own lives looks like an abyss of uncertainty. Sometimes, it feels like all we can do is hunker down in the dark and wrap our fingers and hearts tightly around whatever pieces of love we have left to hold onto and watch the world around us shatter.

Sometimes, the most familiar and comforting thing we can think to do is to stay in the tomb. But we don’t belong there forever. We, like Jesus, are not meant to be among the dead—we are the living.

Ours is not a world that is slowly, irrevocably breaking all around us—ours is a broken world that is always already, even now, bit by bit, being made new and whole. And we are not a people called to passively wait for some new day in some far away unknown time and place. We are harbingers of the resurrection. We are the ones who rush from the tomb to bring to this hurting world the good news that Jesus is risen and we are being raised too. Resurrection is afoot. New life is beginning in our very midst. Right now. In this world that we know. On our streets and in our houses and at our tables and even behind our locked doors and in our doubting hearts. We need only open our eyes to see it.

When young queer black women witness the evil of countless careless murders of their own race and begin a movement that dares to proclaim that “black lives matter”—that is not a last feeble gasp of hope against an unstoppable tide of brokenness. That is goodness and life that refuse to surrender to evil and death. That is resurrection. When citizens and businesses alike respond to their state’s hateful legislation with the firm declaration of “we are not this” or at least “we don’t want to be”—that isn’t a futile, empty gesture—it is the gospel of persistent redemption. That is resurrection.

When, in the face of some global tragedy or many, we stand together across races, countries, and faiths v to say that we are stronger than what seeks to destroy us—when we recognize that we are bound up together in love—that is resurrection. And when you are too filled with doubt, with agony, with hopelessness to believe in any good at all—and a friend says “for as long as you need, I will carry that hope and faith for you”—that too is resurrection. It’s everywhere. It is alive in this world right now. And, even if it doesn’t always seem like it—it will win in the end.

Theologian N.T. Wright says, “The message of Easter is that God’s new world has been unveiled in Jesus Christ and that [we are] now invited to belong to it.”

Our call this Easter day—our call every day as God’s people—is to know that Christ is among us. Christ has given us new life—declared us the living and this world—this very world—a world of resurrection. We are called to trust and participate in all of the ways that God’s justice and love are being done and, whenever we can, to join in the work of making this world new.

And so we leave here this day, summoning our courage and trust, to go be among the living. We leave with the promise that Jesus has turned the book upside down and the story isn’t over. We go to seek out Christ in this world and to see this world with eyes of resurrection and look for how we might participate in that resurrecting work.

This very day, Jesus Christ is risen and among us, and proclaims that we are the living. The story doesn’t stop here—the story continues.

So you tell me: what happens next?

All The Poems I Wrote in Lent

My Lenten discipline this year was to try to write a poem every day. I wrote 47 of them between Ash Wednesday and Easter. Though I don’t often share my poems with others, this has been a really cool experience of developing attentiveness and integrating writing into my daily life. Hoping to self-publish a book with these and a few other poems in the coming months.

If you’ve been following my project and have a favorite poem, I’d love to hear which one! They’re all linked below.

  1. Ash Wednesday
  2. Sweet Girl
  3. Witness
  4. On Scalia, Death, and Respect
  5. Too Much
  6. My Father’s House
  7. Letting Go
  8. In Protest of Endings
  9. Lukewarm
  10. Confession
  11. 55 and Sunny
  12. Where’s the Fire
  13. Frenzy
  14. The Irony of Womanness
  15. In Brief
  16. Power and Truth
  17. Small Comfort
  18. Questionable Philosophy
  19. Jeremiah
  20. Two Coins
  21. Promise
  22. Fidelity
  23. Robin+Jerry+Mo
  24. Holes
  25. On Edge
  26. Theater of the Absurd
  27. On Repeat
  28. A Love Song for Women
  29. Waterfront
  30. The Short Sell
  31. Improv
  32. Unity
  33. Coach
  34. Company
  35. Miracle
  36. Daily Bread
  37. Retraction
  38. All Mad Here
  39. The Eye and I
  40. Traversing the Tension
  41. Matters
  42. Loud Mouth
  43. Sticks and Stones
  44. Monday Thursday
  45. Home
  46. Over-eager
  47. Rise

Rise (a poem)

**this is the last poem of my Lenten poem-a-day discipline. All 46 of them can be found on this blog.**

Easter dawns dark
but eager with its
ceremony and special
sense of promise.

And so we gather
in the early light
and dare ourselves
to believe, for a moment,
in impossible things:
in endings that
are not endings,
in death that somehow
yields to life,
in the absurd assurance
that even when,
by definition, it’s all over,
it may not, in fact,
quite be over, after all.

The sun watches our
jubilation with a sly smile,
and a gentle eye roll,
and an amused shake
of her head.
Sure, this is good news,
she says, but it’s not like
it’s *new* news.
Don’t I tell you everyday?
Don’t I whisper it
in your ear each dawn
before your eyes’ first flutter?
Don’t I murmur it to you
when I kiss you goodnight
each dusk?
Haven’t I shown you
over and over, every
blessed day of your life?

That all created things,
beautiful and beloved,
at last and always,
rise again.