It Happened

Today concluded a weird confluence of happenings and feelings:

  1. Nora and I finally watched Bo Burnham’s Inside special, which received two comments from us: I said it definitely came from a very specific time and place, Nora said the setting looked like our living room those first few months of the pandemic. We both had feelings.
  2. The Exegesis Ordination Exam for Winter 2023 was on Judges 19, which I have not spoken publicly on because I have nothing to add that wiser voices have not already said, but today the PCC held their plenary to discuss the exam and their response to the public outcry. Listening to some of the committee members brought back all of the rage and frustration (and trauma) from my ordination process.
  3. Today the first letter I wrote to my previous congregation about the pandemic came up in my Facebook memories. I reread it this morning and realized I could see glimpses of the end of that chapter of my ministry in that first letter.

I have thought about this tweet a lot recently.

For Context, in Infinity War, Thanos snaps half of the world’s population out of existence, and then in End Game everyone comes back somehow…?…not an MCU person; I know the theory, not the practice…

After watching Inside, thinking about how that special only happens at that exact time, I said something like, “Everyone just seems to be pretending the collective trauma we went through did not happen, like none of it actually happened…” Every day it seems like we have decided collectively — including the church — to try to regain what we had before and, by going backward, make the trauma not matter anymore.

This happens a lot, I have realized, and with all kinds of trauma, collective and personal. I remember the day I finally got the magical “Rev.” behind my name. At the time I could not name it because every emotion of seven years came flowing out in my tears, but now I think to myself, “How hopelessly pointless was most of that time?”

I cannot publicly talk about what the gatekeepers said to me in meetings, how others just watched it happened and expected me to endure more than pastors endure without any sort of support (I have experienced this as an Inquirer/Candidate and as a pastor; the preparation process hurt worse and felt so much more isolating), how they justified their treatment of me and called it holy, nor how many times I prayed to God to give me a different calling so I could leave the toxicity and have my heart back. I can only say it did not serve to prepare or support me; it only served to gatekeep me and push me away — and, failing that, demand I pretend it was fine.

But that day I had the title, so I never had to deal with the process or my home presbytery again, so I needed to just move on and not live in the past.

With the pandemic, with the ordination process, with my childhood trauma, I so often just want to scream, “It happened! It was real! Stop gaslighting me in to thinking everything was okay and I didn’t experience this! And let me speak the whole truth about it!”

All of it happened. And it was all bad. Some of it threatened me, threatened God’s call for me, or threatened my marriage, and the virus took the most innocent of us.

It happened.

And your trauma happened, too.

Why do we allow the world, society, and especially the church to demand we swallow our trauma and never speak of it, and especially never name names or specifics of what happened? I get why we do not say it out loud — trust me when I say I get it — but why do we continue to allow the church, a place instructed by Christ to reveal our fullness with the completeness of surgical lights instead of hiding in the shadows of denial and falsehood, demand we swallow our trauma if others do not want to help us bear it and find it too heavy for polite company?

Or, if we have a bit more fire in our bellies, why do we keep calling institutions that prop up that attitude “the church” and “The Body of Christ” instead of calling them the social clubs and

It happened. It happened to me, and it happened to you. May we find the spaces that will allow us to say “It happened…” and to say exactly what “it” is* for each of us.

And maybe someday our churches will always serve as that space for everyone within its walls.

– Robby

* Yes, I know this brings up Bill Clinton vibes; sorry…

God, Save Us…Hosanna…Save Us…Please…

(I am not preaching on Sunday — youth pageant on Palm Sunday here — so here is my Palm Sunday “sermon” for the year.)

Every year we read the story.

Every year people shout “Hosanna!” at Jesus while he entered Jerusalem.

Every year they shout “Save me! Save us!” in the presence of their religious oppressors while their governmental oppressors bring in military enforcers to keep them under control.

Every year they have a savior to shout to, a savior to lay eyes on and touch.

“Who will save us?” I imagine they had asked this over and over again. “Who will save us? Who will end our oppression? Who will end our suffering?” I imagine the sleepless nights and anxiety-filled days just praying to God in suffering silence, longing for any relief from the harm thrust upon them.

Jesus did not hide from their oppressors. Jesus did not do his work in silence or in private. Jesus stood up, spoke out, risked his life — and ultimately gave it, though the crowds did not know that, yet — to demand change and call out the sins of the powerful.

Jesus gave them the courage to shout their prayers for deliverance, their demands for saving, their simply need to not suffer anymore. He gave them the courage to shout in the presence of their oppressors.

Following Jesus did not end their oppression. Continuing to live as his followers after his death certainly increased their suffering and oppression for a time. But following Jesus and his example gave them hope it can be better, hope we can do better, hope in a better world without oppression and exploitation.

Jesus gave them hope, gave them courage, gave them voice to shout, “Hosanna! Save me! Save us!”

Recent weeks have made me pray, “Save us…please save us…” very quietly in dark corners and late nights. We live in a time where children die and politicians use their deaths to further irrelevant political culture wars. We live in a time where politicians declare “mental health” the cause of violence while defunding mental health care, defunding schools, and stoking hatred between groups.

We live in violent, hate-filled times, and the powerful scold us and tell us to stop demanding change.

Where can we find hope? I really do not know. Some days I feel like a fraud in the pulpit because I really do wonder how to have hope when exploitation, violence, and hatred grow like an unstoppable force — and we are not an immovable object.

Even in the church, where can we find hope? Recently leaders in my denomination made a very bad decision, and their response to the backlash was an offer of self-flagellation and wanting everyone to feel better but absolute resistance to actual change in the short- or long-term. They even acknowledged that no one can truly make any changes to our long ordination process or provide any oversight to regional bodies, basically making any true reform impossible.

And this is small. Like only a very small, small number of people can possibly be affected by this. How can we envision our churches reckoning with histories of violence against the marginalized and oppressed, histories of being oppressors and exploiters, when our leaders resist confessing and correcting the harm they cause insiders training to become leaders of those churches?

How can we expect our laws and politicians to serve the most vulnerable when our churches only do the bare minimum? Why do we expect secular institutions to do better than religious institutions? Why do we expect the world to listen to prophets from hypocritical churches demanding changes the churches refuse to do?

The worst part is, when I sit in observation of what happens on a large scale, those affected continue to suffer no matter how much I see and say. LGBTQ+ folks continue to have their humanity  and rights denied, women lose the autonomy of their bodies and the right to medical care, children still violently die due to inaction, the powerful continue to use culture wars to divide us so we do not unite to demand the exploitation and oppression and violence stop, and the cries of suffering continue to fall on deaf ears.

And so, in a quiet voice, wanting change and feeling hopeless, I pray, “Hosanna…save us…please, God, save us…”

I do not believe we have a savior coming to give us courage right now. If Jesus comes again in my lifetime (and we believe that particular understanding of the “Second Coming”), I will swallow my words, but right now I think we need to do something. We cannot wait for a figurehead to sacrifice themselves to demand change and salvation.

We need to shout, “Hosanna!” now!

I need to shout, “Hosanna!” now!

Protests and direct action are good actions, political organization is good action, but we all have a way to shout even if our skills and minds lead in different directions.

(To my activist friends, please keep doing your work because I am not built for that work. To my organizing friends, I do not fit into your world but I support your efforts and will help when I can fit in.)

I have a pulpit, and I have this small blog. I have a small circle of influence I can use to call out demands and encourage votes for certain things:

  • Stop any legislation that denies the identity or humanity of LGBTQ+ folks, including children, and provide protections so everyone has the same rights to living full lives.
  • Stop trying to make the most recent (as of today) school shooting about the gender identity of the shooter. Folks that look and live like me are much more likely to do it, and you know it.
  • Start studying the causes of mass shootings in the United States and pass laws based on that research that will protect everyone but especially the most vulnerable.
  • Stop claiming mental health is the cause of mass shootings while, in the same breath, supporting politicians and legislation that defund mental health services.
  • Restore all reproductive health rights to women in all states (trans men and nonbinary folks included), including termination of pregnancy, and stop lying about the definition of abortion to weasel out of hard questions.

And stop using the Bible to do all of this harm. It does not defend your actions, it directly preaches against harming the marginalized and vulnerable, and it certainly does not defend you against being uncomfortable or having your sins laid bare.

I still feel hopeless, I still struggle to believe we can fix the institutions with anything short of burning them to the ground, and I still do not know how to actually help, but today I say it out loud:

“Save us! Hosanna! Save us!”

Or rather,


But I do not want to confuse my place in this story. I belong with those who told Jesus to silence his followers. I live and work in their world. So, truly, my voice really does have a different purpose than the crowds. I do not live in that suffering, my life does not have the risks.

I see and feel the existential dread, but I know my circle contributes to the suffering. Today, then, I must demand something else of myself and my fellow church leaders:

  • Stop bowing to political leaders. Stop participating in their partisan game. Stop pretending anyone in political power is above reproach.
  • Stop refusing to confess your sins. Stop taking offense when you must face your shortcomings.
  • Stop acting to maintain an institution that harms anyone. Stop acting to protect your comfort and security by maintaining the institution.
  • Be very careful claiming your small part of the institution is safe for all. Be very careful claiming you are a safe spiritual leader for all.
  • Listen to the cries of those harmed, and stop demanding their silence or demanding they act appropriately. Provide opportunities for those harmed to have their voices heard, and do not put up roadblocks that require their participation in your system.
  • If you gain entry into a room of influence, immediately start demanding reform, even or especially if it risks your position in that room.

If we cannot make the church, the Earthly expression of the Body of Christ, the body of the strongest one who sacrificed himself for the weakest and most vulnerable, serve the most vulnerable and safe for everyone — or at least put ourselves at risk trying to make that happen — then we are false prophets demanding secular institutions do the same.

If we cannot confess our sins and repent, we are false prophets. We might as well scold those shouting, “Hosanna!” and tell them to be quiet.

The least and the lowest are crying out. The church should be crying out.

Even when we only have the smallest voice left.

God, Save Us…Hosanna…Save Us…Please…

– Robby

Creating to be Consumed

Today, and really for the past few weeks, I have asked myself why I continue to keep this blog up on the internet. I do not update all that often (though the past few weeks have felt more productive) and I really have things I need to spend the energy on that might suffer so I can create for this “pointless” project.

I realized that I write to be consumed. Much the same way I cook to be consumed and I preach to be consumed. I do these things, offering parts of my heart and soul for other to take and read or hear or eat, to find nourishment or healing or comfort or conviction or whatever I created to offer.

I do not sit above the capitalist fantasies of wide audiences and incomes, but really I just want people I love and respect, or strangers in want and need of what I have to offering, to receive my creations and consume them. I do this so my thoughts can leave my head and maybe touch folks beyond my usual circle of influence — especially those things I might want to include in a sermon but know do not fit the Word of God the Holy Spirit and my position tasks me to give.

I do it because, when it works, I know I did exactly all those things. Writing about not knowing how to continue ministering, writing about losing the most innocent of us to a virus that would ultimately kill millions, writing about how I stood still and received a different political identity over the course of a couple of short years all did its purpose of touching, feeding, and healing, and writing those things just for myself would have never allowed others to consume them.

I write to be consumed, which means I ultimately write for a reader other than myself.

I realized, even while writing this, that plays out in my thinking. When I say I write to process, I realize I write to process because I have to say what I will say in a way someone else will understand, and that “someone else” does not have my internal thoughts and experiences. It makes me speak the details and think about them when I might think I already have it all pieced together.

But it needs to be a person, not a rubber duck. I do not deal with coding, and our hearts and souls do not function like computers.

That is all well and good. I actually think creating to be consumed can be valuable (if you keep greed and selfishness away from it). And frankly, I really enjoy it.

But creating to be consumed can create frustrating discouragement when other do not consume your work. Or an unintended audience consumes it and misinterprets your work.

Again, it still annoys me that the now fourth-most viewed and absolutely most “Liked” piece on my blog is a throw-away piece about trying to get back into physical fitness — and that physical fitness was not supposed to be the primary topic, just the vehicle.

But that would sting less if the next two real posts, an Ash Wednesday reflection and thoughts about ignoring and acknowledging trauma, did not become two of my the worst performing posts ever. And the garbage vent post between them did better than both (even if not well).

I write to be consumed, and not being consumed hurts. Putting your heart out there, even a tiny, little fragment of it, and having it not taken hurts.

To the eight people who probably read both and the couple of read one, I am actually quite thankful for you. I know at least a person or two received it.

But today, I am thinking about if creators should continue to create to be consumed if no one consumes their work, or if my ego should take the blow from the internet and just move on.

I think I wrote this for creatives, and not to encourage but to say, “I get it, and my livelihood is not dependent on the success or failure of anything I do here.”

I create to be consumed. When I am not consumed, I find it hard to create.

Do not know why this exists, but it does now.

– Robby

The Internet Sucks

This is a rant, pure and simple, and maybe my judgmental asshole side is coming out just a bit too much, but I hate it so much.

A few weeks ago I wrote a blog post about starting over. I used my physical fitness journey as the setting, but the point — THE ACTUAL POINT — was to share how starting again from 0 after gaining and losing a bunch of progress really sucks. It served a therapeutic purpose for me and a few people in my circle, both from the starting over standpoint and the commiseration about the struggles of physical fitness for people like me (busy, unhealthy relationship with food, experiencing significant life changes, etc.), but it did not get that much traction in those circles.

I also just wrote it. I had a mentally bad first day trying to restart, so I sat down and wrote a bunch of words hoping maybe work through some things. I would call it half-assed, but a friend lovingly told me it very much did not feel that way, so I will own I can actually write well on command. It certainly did not come from a place of preparation or polishing, for sure.

Sharing it is just my process; I figured it would get me a message of encouragement I did not want (it did not) or maybe some friends in my boat would see a friendly face in the boat (it did).

You know what I did not expect? 27 fitness blogs liking my post. More likes than any other post has even gotten on my site (I think maybe I have gotten more attention on one other post, but that attention stayed on Facebook).

You know what I really do not like? Fitness blogs. I do not want to subject you to a rant about fitness blogs, but “if you try hard enough, you, too, can be an Adonis” veiled in feel-good, fake encouragement makes me want to eat 3 Big Macs out of spike.

But I would just let it go. Or rather, I would just rant about it to friends and watch them roll their eyes at me.I posted a reflection on Ash Wednesday. Not my best work, but definitely more on-brand and better thought out than my fitness post. 15 views, zero likes, also very on-brand for me and this blog.

And weirdly, the likes stopped. Which made my ego feel bad but my heart feel good because at least the post I almost regretted posted stopped getting fake traction.

Then last night the camel found the last straw. I received a contact requesting the opportunity write an article on my blog. Presumably because that post, that bane of my existence post, got a bunch of traction.

Maybe I landed into a heck of a coincidence; sometimes you just randomly get those spam contacts. But holy moly, I really, really dislike the coincidence.

I miss the old internet. The Wild West had its problems, but it was better than this capitalist hellscape.

You kids, get off my lawn!

– Robby

Why Confess? (An Ash Wednesday Reflection)

Every Sunday, immediately after the first hymn, I invite a group of people to join me in a prayer to confess our brokenness. I invite them to publicly pray for forgiveness (more on this in a second) and to publicly call themselves sinners.

Every Sunday we read a bit of a psalm together, sing a song together, and then get sad about how terrible we are — publicly and together.


I have heard this criticism of Christian worship before, and I think it bears responding to honestly. I have sat in worship services where the liturgy has called me to confession, a thing I find important and healing, and found the Prayer of Confession had less to do with my actual sin and more to do my audacity to live and believe differently than the pastor or congregation or wider church. I know my LGBTQ+ beloveds have experienced this 100-fold in most of the worship services that happen every Sunday.

The confession in many churches serves a cruel purpose of making you feel shame for existing in a way that contrasts with the specific church and specific pastor — and that contrast does not even need to conflict with the beliefs and teachings of the church for condemnation to rain down.

If your experience of Christian worship matches this description, you find yourself in good company. Many wise, loving, and thoughtful people have validly risen this concern, and I cannot just pretend they do not have a point.

Why, then, do I still lead a confession every Sunday? And why do I suggest my parishioners spend the next 46 days focusing inwardly on their brokenness and sin? Why do any of us spend all this time making ourselves feel bad about ourselves?

To answer this, we first need to agree on a rough definition of sin. The legalists and the “It makes me uncomfortable, and I’m a good Christian, so it must be bad because whatever makes me uncomfortable must be bad, right?” folks tend to have lists and rules to define sin. “This is sin!” “That is sin!” “I don’t like that, so it must be sin!”

But if we define sin not by action but by intent of action, which I think we can easily and correctly do, then it becomes more convicting but also more welcoming.

If we take the greatest commandments — “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, and with all your mind.’…‘You must love your neighbor as you love yourself.’” (Matthew 23:37, 39 CEB) — and invert them them, we get a fairly robust definition of sin: anything that denies complete love to God or your neighbor (which is everyone, according to The Good Samaritan).

Love to God is a sticky wicket I will not try to parse out here, but everyone should quickly agree and understand love of neighbor. We can get into questions about the minutia or ethics and morals (i.e. the Trolley Problem or how much inaction is an action), but ultimately we pretty universally can agree in philosophy with this.

And, we can look honestly at ourselves, we know when we withhold love and chose our own selfish desires over the needs of others.

So, sin is withholding complete love. Our confession has an obvious goal — forgiveness, which again, I will address in a minute — but also has an equally important goal: repentance.

To repent is to confess and to turn away. You confess so you can stop committing the sin, stop withholding love. You acknowledge where you have fallen short — sometimes with gentle and not-so-gentle suggestions from the person who wrote the corporate prayer — so you know how to turn away from withholding love and toward using your time, talents, and treasure to promote love, your ballot to demand love from our elected leaders, and your heart and voice for compassionately showing love.

Repentance is good and necessary. I stand up and preach a convicting message so the people who hear will turn away from their sin and do better. Prophets, modern and Biblical, preach so everyone can see their sin and learn to turn away from it.

But what about forgiveness? I struggle to even include forgiveness in my confessions because, as a good Presbyterian, I believe forgiveness happened at the cross and our prayers have no influence on if God forgives us or not.

But why confess if we do not get some sort of punch on our heaven admittance card? Why make ourselves feel bad and focus on the “bad” in us?

For this, instead of leaning on scripture, I will quote Augustine:

“Confess. Let all the pus come out and flow away in your confession; then dance for joy and be glad.”

Augustine of Hippo, Enarrationes in Psalmos 66.7

Basically, confession lets you get rid of the infection of sin. It lets you release it, stop letting it weigh you down and poison you.

You confess for healing. You confess for forgiveness of self. Neither really takes if you do not also repent in response to your confession, but holding onto past sins, allowing them to weigh you down and make you sick, helps no one — including those whom you wronged.

We all need healing and to let go of shame. I will not speak of justice and consequence here — much wiser folks have and will continue to work the limits and boundaries of that out — but we, in our hearts, need to let our confession excise our sin from our hearts and stop allowing it to poison us, both through shame and continuing to sin.

Confess for healing and forgiveness, not in some future after death but here and now. That is why we confess.

– Robby

P.S.: Side note I may expound upon later: love is not affection (physical or otherwise), and complete love does not require nor demand continued relationship.

A New Day One (Starting Over Sucks)

Starting over sucks. A lot.

In 2021 I lost twenty-five pounds. I did the things and the other things, and I got down to my high school weight.

Then Giselle died, and then we moved.

I struggled to get back into a good diet rhythm, but exercise was still working. I started running and got myself up to three miles, three days a week.

Then I got tendonitis in my Achilles tendon and could not walk more than half a mile at a time for roughly six weeks (and yes, I probably pushed it and made it worse).

I tried to start running again, got back up to two miles, but the weather stopped cooperating and I learned seasonal changes have a more profound affect on my mental health than they ever have before — or all the other stuff pastors have to do leading up when it the days get shorter and the weather gets colder affected me more this year.

Every week, on my day off, I intended to go to the Y to get a membership and start running the track or swimming, but I just never could convince myself to do it. And weeks turned into months of no real exercise and eating terribly.

I backslid. I have arrived back at the point I decided I had to makes changes in early 2021. Exact weight, exact pulmonary and cardiac feelings, exact difficulties sleeping.

This week I had another “Day One.” And it sucks. I know I can count calories lose weight again, I know I can start running again and doing yoga again, I know I have done this and can do it again, but starting over after having made it so far and then losing all of it — to the exact pound — is so hard.

But I did the thing, and the other thing, and a third thing. And then I did it again. And I will do it again.

Starting over sucks. I do not know why I feel drawn to send this into the world other than to name for everyone, myself included, that starting over sucks. No matter how big the thing is — habit, lifestyle, or life itself — it just sucks.

But you can do this, I can do this, we can do this, whatever this is.

– Robby

P.S.: This is not a solicitation for advice, nor a cry for support.

My (Terribly Broken) Creativity Tap

This morning I sat down at my computer, endeavoring to finish Advent planning and not go week-by-week YET AGAIN this year. I opened the document for the Advent Candle Readings I’m writing and…

The cursor on the screen goes
The curser on the screen goes
All morning long!

Okay, fine. Worship Materials. We can do that. We do that all the time and have for over a decade, and I have already done most of the planning and the prayers just get adapted from the previous week for advent. We can do this!

Second verse, same as the first!

The cursor on the screen goes
The curser on the screen goes
All morning long!

Okay, fine. Maybe the coffee has not hit yet. I will not beat myself up about not getting anything done in the timeframe I would have liked and instead open a lengthy blog post draft to work on to prime the tap. I quickly wrote 1000 good words the other night and felt really passionate about the post. Not sure if it will ever publicly see the light of day, but it helps me work through some things I have mulled over and maybe by just writing the tap will open and I can get real work done after.

Fun fact: leaving half a sentence that starts “I do not want to make…” for the beginning of a new paragraph sitting at the bottom of the document with no notes about what the sentence should say and no clues from the previous paragraphs where you intended go with your next thought does not make it easy to resume a piece of writing.

Third verse, same as the first…

The cursor on the screen goes
The curser on the screen goes
All morning long!

At that moment I started writing what you see before you. I had a strong emotion and a thought about something; combining those makes the fingers start pressing the buttons on the stupid RGB keyboard. This event, this place where I cannot, for the life of me, do anything useful but I can write this probably useless piece that I will post to the blog* because I have not posted in months despite paying for my piece of the internet with a real URL but that I actually kind of like and have done some live editing of, I realized somewhere my creativity tap broke. Broke terribly.

When my creativity tap pours, it pours hard. I can crank out a thousand words in an hour or two, I can plan a good and creative worship service in thirty minutes, I can work through questions and thoughts and philosophies I have wrestled with for days or weeks or even years and put the conclusions on paper in record speed.

When the tap pours, it pours with the greatest of pressures and fills many mugs. Thankfully I can usually edit the foamy beer filling those mugs into something drinkable and usable after the fact, no creativity tap needed.

In non-metaphorical terms, I usually just need to copyedit and maybe rearrange to match a “normal” thought process and not my crazy thought process. I get to a point where I do not need the creativity tap and can just work like a happy little worker bee to finish whatever I have started.

When the tap opens, it flows from me.

When the tap opens.

I have resided in this body for nearly thirty-six years. I have considered myself a writer for twenty. I have written sermons weekly for eleven and planned most of the worship services that went along with those sermons. I still, someday, hope to professionally write in some capacity.

But the creativity tap does not open for me without one of three motivators:

One, stress. My Stress/Productivity Curve rises very slowly and then quickly peaks late in the curve. When the stress cranks up, I can crank it out; when the stress does not, I slog through and usually do not finish until the stress cranks up. Terrible for editing, terrible for quality control, terrible for my mental health (and the mental health of my church admins, I have been told).

Two, place. This one could actually work in my favor expect for one thing: that place is outside. November in Iowa does not encourage outdoor office work. Worked great writing my paper in September, not so much now. Unfortunately, too, I have not found an outdoor place for doing work at church and offices without a ton of sunlight and without a big table for a desk I can move whenever I want discourage my creativity.

Three, emotion. This one wins almost universally. If I get a topic that triggers an emotional response in me, especially a strong emotional response but sometimes simple like “I just want productivity this morning!”, it opens the creativity tap and it just flows out of me.

I get inconsistent results with motivators one and two. I have looked at an empty page at 1 AM Sunday morning for a sermon I will preach at 10:30 that same morning. I sat at the table outside writing my paper and wrote 200 words in 4 hours on multiple occasions. Often, I need both stress and place to hit that point of creative flow to actually get work written.

But emotional motivation just opens the tap. In a weird way, emotion actually clears my thinking instead of clouding and biasing it. It opens me to make connections and see relationships I could not previously. It takes away the doubt and fears of imperfection and just lets me get something on the page — and again, that something usually ends up good.

If that emotional trigger gets tripped, the creativity tap opens.

John Green mentioned something in a video recently that just came to mind. He started talking about his current writing projects and said that he writes to think. In writing this thing that ended flowing out of me like an over-pressurized stout tap, I began to realize I do the same thing.

Actually, I realized it when I saw the video, but it came into focus writing this.

More than once I have found myself in an emotional state, every emotional trigger flipped and every nerve raw, while trying to go to sleep. This happened a lot on Saturday nights before Sunday mornings my last year in Fort Wayne, wanting so badly to just get a good night’s sleep and have the physical energy and “rested-ness” to do good enough a job that next morning that maybe some of the things that eventually lead to my resignation would start to undo themselves and I could find success there again.

That anxiety, stress, and emotion needed a place to go, and at 2 AM I have no physical way to relief an “emotional shitstorm.” More than once I opened Word Mobile, an absolute miserable experience for writing, and just started putting words on paper. More than once I would get a few hundred words of useable writing out of it, and almost always it would taper off the “emotional shitstorm” enough for me to go to sleep.

I write to think, I write to process, and somehow that has broken my creativity tap. For some reason I can now only write and crank out the words when I need to process or think through something.

Unless, again, I have the exact level of stress and/or the exact place needed to open the creativity tap without triggering intense emotion.

I started this out just wanting to vent and prime the tap for the productive work I need to do today, but now I find myself wondering if writing became my therapy, my place to deal with everything in a way that I could also share with the world if the opportunity to do so safely and well ever arose.

We all had and have no place to frankly share what so much of what clergy (and I assume healthcare workers, educators, and other helping professionals) experienced with the pandemic. So many of the spaces we thought we could share ended up unsafe or unwelcoming to “divisive topics” like the politics of an apolitical virus killing people. Writing with the hope of someday have a space to share what I experienced through those writings gave me the ability to write when I could not write anything else.

Writing is thinking to me, more than anything else. So, unless I have something to work out, the writing just does not come to me anymore (if it ever did in the first place).

My creative tap broke in terrible ways. Anyone else?

– Robby

P.S.: “Emotional Shitstorm” is the technical term for when you are so emotionally overwhelmed that you cannot function in any meaningful way, the emotions are having an acute affect your physical being in that moment, and the only relief can come from something that acts as a trip or reset for it. Usually, people recommend physical exercise or patterned games without stories (Tetris comes to mind). And no, I did not come up with that; someone wise gave me that language.

* It always feels weird writing future tense when, by the time you read it, I will have already posted it by the nature of you reading it on said blog. Why this feels weird to me, and why I need to tell you it feels weird, I have no idea, but alas I needed to share my thoughts on the matter because of course I did.

I Will Try

I regularly see clergy memes1 expressing a desire for the marginalized to feel loved. These memes include promises to speak for racial justice, perform services for the LGBTQ+ community, and answer the phone in a mental health crisis. They promise to undo years…decades…centuries…millennia of damage and harm the Church did to the marginalized (incidentally the exact folks Jesus shows the most compassion to).

I understand the motivation and find myself tempted to post them, too. We should absolutely stand up and make it well known and public our policies on showing love to God’s creation and our attempts to remove the limits to showing love and compassion within the Church. We must speak out against injustice and proclaim love, even and especially when showing love comes at a risk and a cost.

And for people to find the safe spaces that will welcome them, they need to hear and see the invitations.

But every time I find myself tempted to post one of those memes proclaiming my willingness and ability to show love on that level, I stop. I know the height of my willingness, but my ability to love nonjudgmentally, freely, and in a way that centers the recipient of love and not me has never had to stand up to a test.

I even question wearing my “This Pastor Loves You” shirt in public despite knowing that I do.

I would have left this in the realm of my crippling self-doubt and silent questioning the motives of other pastors (my confession) if two things had not happened, and in such short time that I had to link them.

First, an LGBTQ+ friend who has worked to make their denomination much more inclusive to the LGBTQ+ community from however inside they can get themselves posted an admonition to church people proclaiming inclusivity without have the scriptural knowledge to back it up nor the awareness of their own communities the know when they worship and live in an unsafe community for LGBTQ+ people. I (silently) cheered his admonition, thinking I had already heeded this admonition while patting myself on the back.2

Second, I offhandedly mentioned something about weddings and “serve your husbands” and “head of the household” to my newish barber, and he started going on about how “that’s what scripture says” and “isn’t it a bigger ask to love your wife than to serve your husband?”

And I could not respond. I will not apologize for how I think — I do not typically debate because I think slow, long, and methodical — but I opened the door, thinking he would feel the way I did and clearly did not, and he preached circles around me in that moment. In normal circumstances I would have grabbed a Bible, a few books, read and read until I had a response ready, but in the moment, I just started shutting down while the wave of knowing guilt and shame started washing over me.

I confess I failed, I confess I judged a whole lot of people for sins I commit, and I confess that I love judging other clergy.

In the time since that haircut, I started to think about what makes me question the posting of those memes by clergy and why I never post them. Occasionally my self-doubt comes from a place of truth, and, truthfully, I am an inadequate ally in every way (if I even deserve the title of “ally”). I still do not have a good queer or inclusive understanding Ephesians 5:22-28 ( even despite knowing unintentionally bringing up that passage made me more harmful to the LGBTQ+ community and CISHET females than just remaining silent. I have failed in the past, I failed that day, and I will continue to fail.

If I do not center myself in expressions of PRIDE, racial equalities movements, or social justice efforts in general, then I have no reason to publicly proclaim, without any sort of real risk or demand for proof, how great of an ally I am. I can just try and, when the opportunity presents itself, love fully and inclusively.

I will try. I will fail, but I will do better today than yesterday and tomorrow than today. I will try to love you fully and inclusively, and I invite you to admonish me when I fail to do so.

Because I really do love you.

– Robby

1 I really hate that every imaged posted gets called a meme now, but also we do not really have a better word, so I will just sit here and stew about it while I used it.

2 I anonymized this person, but I’m not sure it was the right decision. It may change after I post it (or if they happen to read it and want credit).

The Purpose of Lament Today

Before I begin, this entire post comes from the Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v Wade. If you celebrate that decision, this post has nothing for you; we have no common ground in that regard. You can also add other existential threats revealed by the January 6th Commission, the stripping of vote rights, and six-year-olds telling five-year-olds how to respond to an active shooter unprompted yet we do nothing to increase the safety of our already born children.; if all that sounds like political “Left Wing Conspiracy” stuff to you, this post also has nothing for you.

Today I can do nothing to help or improve the situation. I can do lots of things — write, post on social media, call my congressional leaders, even march and take up a sign — but none of it will actually help. Others have already written the words, social media does nothing but echo and antagonize, my congressional leaders do not care about my opinion because I do not have their letter nor lots of money or influence, and marching today seems like a fools errand if marching weeks ago did nothing.

Some of these things may help tomorrow, or next week, or next month, or in November, but today I cannot change anything.

This sounds fatalist, like I have resigned to this world created by powerful people who claim my religion in name but clearly believe different things about God, government, and love of neighbor — and, for that matter, the nature of our savior — but I have not. Even in my knowledge of the uselessness of action today, my mind continues to run through what I can do tomorrow, next week, next month, whatever. I planted seeds before today that sprouted into small changes in hearts and minds this week. I have started finding the voice I lost over the past two years, and I have started using it.

But today none of that matters. We crossed a line, and today we cannot cross back. I can scream in outrage, I can point fingers and blame, and I point out all the obvious lies, hypocrisies, and wrongs we have pointed out for months and years, but none of that will change today.

So today I cry out to God in anger, in mourning, in sadness, in fear. I cry out to God, asking why our leaders failed us. I cry out to God, asking why people allowed themselves to believe lies. I cry out to God, asking why God’s church has so distorted its reading of the Holy Scriptures to get to this point. I cry out to God, demanding answers and furious at why God allowed this to happen.

Psalm 44 comes to mind. A couple of select verses:

11 You’ve handed us over like sheep for butchering;
     you’ve scattered us among the nations.
12 You’ve sold your people for nothing,
     not even bothering to set a decent price.
13 You’ve made us a joke to all our neighbors;
     we’re mocked and ridiculed by everyone around us.
(Psalm 44:11-13 CEB)

To everyone who will find themselves wanting to call me the awful names you call advocates for women’s reproductive and bodily autonomy rights, this goes so much farther than just abortions. We have no constitutional right to privacy. We have no constitutional right to marriage equality, including interracial marriage. We have no right or expectation that the Supreme Court will follow precedent if it conflicts ideologically with the members of the court. In the immediate term this hurts and threatens everyone physically capable of having a child, but the repercussions will hurt and threaten all of us who do not wield power (which, if you read this, includes you).

God, why did you let your church get sold to the highest bidder, and not just sold to the highest bidder but without actually gaining anything in the process? *

I lament today because all I can do is cry out. I cannot fix it today, I cannot even improve it slightly today, I can out cry out to God and ask why, even if God will stubbornly refuse to answer and refuse to intercede.

We lament to acknowledge, to name definitively our pain and suffering, and to name it out loud for others to hear. We do not lament to fix, and, even if lament can start the healing process, it does on have to. We lament to name, aloud, wrong and evil.

I do not purport to have the absolute prescriptive correct response to today; I did not have my bodily autonomy threatened today, so I cannot begin to say anyone who did should do anything I say. I can suggest, though, that doom scrolling, burning energy writing opinion pieces that echo pieces written over the last fifty years, and getting into yelling matches on social media — unless a couple of those truly help your processing of these things — will only drain your energy and change nothing for the better.

I recommend a day of lament, a day of rest (if you can), and a day of mourning. Action will not help the situation today, unfortunately, but lament may help your heart and soul.

My two cents while I try to process all of this.

– Robby

* This interpretation of Psalm 44:12 is influenced by Justin Welby on the Everything Happens Podcast.

Calls for Justice are not “Political”

Over the past two days I have struggled to find words about the leaked Supreme Court decision over Roe v Wade, wondering how to properly address the incredibly sensitive subject of abortion and simultaneously addressing the not sensitive but incredibly charged issues of clear violations of precedent and threats to other established rights and privacies. I do not have those words and changing my profile picture to other’s words would change nothing.

I noticed a post this morning, though, that sent me back to a past version of myself: reducing this decision, and the decisions that will certainly follow it, to nothing more than “political gamesmanship” and making jokes about the hysterical people getting angry and judgmental over “politics.”

First, I will say this: if this decision delights you, instead of making jokes and subtly denigrating the fears of others related to this decision without actually saying you agree with the decision, have the confidence to publicly state your agreement and accept that people will emotionally disagree with you. If you find great a great moral victory here, shout it from the rooftops instead of hiding in fear.

But, in thinking about the flippancy that some people treat the humanity of others and my lack of words to directly address the present situation, I found myself wondering about the term “political” and how it gets used (especially surrounding preaching and churches).

While thinking about this, I realized I need to define “political,” a task that necessitates evaluating common usages of the word.

I get advised not infrequently to “not be political” to ensure my success in ministry, and I find this a curious piece of advice given the nature of our faith. We proclaim that our God came to Earth almost specifically to get murdered for speaking against the political and religious establishment, publicly and loudly admonishing them for their treatment of the poor, the marginalized, the systemically outcast, and the sick. Clearly our God got involved in politics by way of speaking truth to political power and casting moral judgement on their actions.

Jesus was “political.” You cannot read the gospels and come to any other conclusion. Period.

When I receive this advice, though, people actually mean “partisan” when they say “political.” The advice really means, “Do not speak against my chosen political party,” (or “any political party” if we receive the advice more charitably than I usually do). And, if we believe in the united Body of Christ and that God weeps when we fracture ourselves for personal gain, then the advice rings true; we should abhor adversarial politics and artificial divisions. Christians (especially Christian leaders) should not speak against good-faith disagreements on how to achieve justice for all and should voice their disagreement from a personal position stance instead of a moral one.

These usages leave us with two definitions of “political”: the partisan difference of how to accomplish a goal and our alignment with a partisan group, and the demanding actions of our governments and speaking judgements toward our systems (and churches).

Whenever someone tells you to not be “political,” they are using the first definition of the word.

(Note: the “demands” of the second definition need not be morally upstanding; demanding the government act in a way that concentrates wealth upward is not partisan despite clearly being “political.” This just means you demand something of the system without regard to political party or power system.)

I could demand everyone in the world stop using the word “political” when they truly mean “partisan,” but I would get nowhere. Instead, then, whenever we use the word “political” or hear the word “political,” we need to name the usage so we can properly address it.

I regularly preach from a “political” standpoint in the sense that I demand justice for the least and lowest. I call for every Child of God to have the same right to life as any other and for us to fix the systems and attitudes that cause people of color to die more frequently and more violently than white people (nonetheless LGBTQ+ people, poor people, and people with mental illness). I call for us to love our neighbors in a sacrificial way, giving up our comforts to the needs of others (including safety). I call for Christians to give up their comforts for the needs of others. And I regularly call people to hold their chosen political leaders accountable to these basic scriptural ideals.

Not one thing I said above has any partisan bent to it. I literally just acknowledged statistics and applied scriptural teachings. Love your neighbor as yourself, admit when some of your neighbors do not receive the same love as you, and hold your leaders — the ones you voted for and align with — to that standard.

Now I must ask you to have some honesty with yourself. When you read all of that, did you read partisanship in it? Did you feel attacked, or did you read an attack on your political party?

That has nothing to do with me or what I wrote. I spoke basic gospel truths and basic practical truths. It certainly had “political” overtones to it because I demanded action of our system and of the Body of Christ, but it does not have a “political (partisan)” bent to it because I demanded it of all and admonish everyone (myself included) who fails to live up to the gospel call.

(And, again, I find adversarial politics abhorrent and contraindicated to scripture.)

You may find yourself tempted to list the ways what I wrote disagrees with your “political (partisan)” leaning, and you absolutely could find a multitude of ways that what I wrote admonishes your chosen political leaders (and you would not be the first). I will not pretend what I wrote will not offend “political (partisan)” sensibilities, but, if what I wrote offends your “political (partisan)” sensibilities, the gospel offends your “political (partisan)” sensibilities. Simply declaring yourself a Christian does not make your personal values inherently holy and absolve you from admonishment and questioning; for your values to be inherently Christian, they must align with the life and teachings of Christ attested to in scripture, not your personal comforts and feelings.

“I don’t like it!” coming from the mouth of Christians has no bearing on the holiness of the thing in question, especially politics. I like a lot of things contraindicated to scripture: judging people, self-righteousness, financial comfort, gluttony, and many others. My like of them does not make them holy, even as a clergy person, because they are contraindicated with scripture, specifically with the life and teachings of Jesus.

So, if you hear a call for justice — a demand to acknowledge the full humanity of every person; a demand to protect the physical life of every breathing person and work to create equality in safety; a demand to care for people after their birth and provide for their food, shelter, and health; a demand to allow women to make healthcare decisions about their body including but well beyond the present discussion — know those calls for justice are not “political (partisan)” despite being clearly and unapologetically “political” in their demands of the system.

Reasonable, faithful people can disagree with the nuance of a situation or the correct course of action to provide justice, but not the call for justice. If the call for justice rings as “political (partisan)” in your ears, ask yourself why. And if you want to denigrate the anger and fears of those denied justice as “political (partisan)” and hysterical, ask yourself why.

Jesus lifted those who were denied justice and spoke truth against those who denied it. Which group do you lift and support?

– Robby