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 (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=ephesians+5%3A22-28&version=CEB) 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.

Peace,
– 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).

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?

Peace,
– Robby

The Nothingness/Everythingness of Holy Saturday

I do not often spend time with Holy Saturday. One might call it a professional hazard — sermons never come out before Saturday afternoon, even if I dedicate multiple timeslots to it during the week — but Holy Saturday feels like another Saturday of me begging the Holy Spirit to make my disparate and diasporic thoughts about the sermon passage into something coherent while I stare at the blinking curser, only with the added pressure of Easter and needing the sermon to either hit all the right chords. (No, I never struggle with debilitating perfectionism with my preaching; why do you ask?)

But I have spent a lot of time this year, a weird year where I had the first month of Lent off after a very painful two years of ministry, sitting with a quote from Kate Bowler’s Everything Happens For A Reason: And Other Lies I’ve Loved (and complaining about the very same thing):

“Everyone is trying to Easter the crap out of my Lent.”

I have never shied away from sitting in the darkness of Lent, always intentionally letting the melancholy and depression of this darkest liturgical season wash over me and resonate with my internal heart song. Lent does not serve the purpose of “Pre-Easter Warmups” and building happy anticipation for candy, bunnies, and flowers for me.

But Holy Saturday, arguably the deepest pit of despair for those who showed their love for Christ most at the end, just kind of means nothing to me. But if I demand that we sit in Lent for all 40+6 Days of Lent, then I need to not just zoom past Day 40.

Scripture gives us painfully little about the day (which probably influences our complete lack of acknowledging it) except the Pharisees begging the Romans to post guards at the tomb to ensure the poor followers of Jesus could not just roll the stone away and steal the body to claim he had risen. I think we can make some educated guesses, though. The men ran away from Golgotha (except John if you trust the account of the guy who made sure to tell you he won the “First Annual Easter Footrace”) and they sat hiding behind locked doors after the Sabbath, so we can assume they ran away from Golgotha and immediately started hiding behind the locked doors.

But the women followed Jesus to Golgotha, they heard the nails enter the wood and the anguished cries, they stood witness to his final breath, they followed him to the tomb, and they prepared their herbs to prepare his body for his final rest. I think we can assume some things about the women and their 36 hours of waiting.

We all know that walk when leaving your beloved after their death; most of us know that walk when leaving a beloved after a sudden, unexpected death, and just how much the suddenness amplifies the nothingness and everythingness of that walk.

You have to consciously think about walking. You have not consciously thought through stepping, even in dangerous or “extreme” situations, more than you do when you leave that hospital room. You have no other conscious thoughts but how to make one foot step in front of the other.

Then you feel all the feelings. Guilt, shame, sadness, anger, frustration, more sadness, laughter and guilt from feeling laughter. It washes over you and you have no conscious thoughts but you feel everything and cannot untangle it.

Then you feel nothing, think nothing, and just float down the hallway. You push a button in the elevator, maybe the right button, and get to the lobby. Then you try to figure out how to get to the parking lot, but you get lost even in the simplest and most well-marked hospital lobby trying to just get outside.

Suddenly you have your keys looking at your ignition. No idea how we got to the car, but suddenly every feeling comes back — or nothing, like God has removed the very heart from your chest. You look at your keys and wonder how you turn the car on, or how you insert the key-fob into your pushbutton-start car.

You start driving home on autopilot. About half-way home the funeral director calls; she cannot meet you tomorrow, but the next day she can. She tells you to find a bunch of things to bring with you: documents, stories, an outfit. So you go home, you get the things together that they need, wondering if you got everything, and then you feel exhausted.

You stare at the ceiling, begging God for sleep. Maybe you do get an hour or two — or sleep fifteen hours and then cannot remove yourself from the bed. You wail at times, feeling so deeply the hurt and pain of the loss that you cannot even move; your wails come from deep within and make your whole body convulse. Then you find yourself staring into space on the couch or into the open refrigerator for minutes that feel like seconds and hours at the same time; maybe you start walking circles around your house in a way you never have before and never will again. You feel and think nothing, not out of numbness but because you cannot process the emotional shitstorm you presently find yourself in the middle of, so your brain chooses nothing over anything.

You do this all day. You swing from wailing to anger to nothing to laughter to guilt to wailing again to saying “At least they didn’t suffer long” to nothing to fury to mania and back again to wailing. You do this dance between nothing and everything all day because you have nothing else to do; you cannot help your friend enter their final rest until tomorrow.

And then you sleep. Or count bumps in the popcorn ceiling they hated and gave you grief about.

That is Holy Saturday. No wonder we do not spend any time on it. But without Holy Saturday, Easter means nothing.

Holy Saturday is nothingness and everythingness, a pendulum of detachment and devastating pain for those who followed Jesus to Golgotha, to the tomb, and promised to prepare him for his final rest.

Will you run and hide, or choose to be with him at his end?

Peace,
– Robby

Silence About the Hardest Problems

Something has bothered me a lot recently. Think about the hardest things in your life — the things that cause you the most pain, wound you the deepest, and you cannot fix on your own — and think about how little you feel you can talk about them.

  • Maybe your thing involves a beloved person who wounded you, so you cannot share for fear of turning others against you.
  • Maybe your thing involves a powerful person who failed you but still retains power and influence over you, so you cannot share for fear of them turning further against you.
  • Maybe your thing involves something difficult to sit with and feels like you cannot burden anyone else with it, so you cannot share for fear of others abandoning you.
  • Maybe your thing involves your past failures and needing help but the people who can help you refuse and/or decide shaming you will help you, so you cannot share for fear of a greater burden of shame than you already feel.

Maybe your story involves all of them, or some other reason you society/church/family has conditioned you not to talk about, so you just cannot share.

It bothers me that, when we need the most help and we suffer the most, we cannot ask for help. The hardest problems of this world should not leave us abandoned like Christ at his end. We should not have to filter, modify, or remain silent in our pain to not embarrass someone else or cause them discomfort. We should not have to feel shame for past failures when we try to restore and improve. We should not have to suffer medical diagnoses and mental health problems alone because no one else has the strength to sit with us (or at least we have received that message).

I cannot speak to your family systems nor have the wisdom to speak about how the wider society should change, but I can say the church should not enable, enforce, nor encourage hiding our wounds and pains for the comfort of others. If anything, the church should encourage opening up, enable honest disclosure, and enforce safety to find healing for our wounds — especially those wounds caused by and in the church.

Before you ask, yeah, I hold on to some of this, and not just from the past/long enough ago that I should just “get over it.” If Christ heals like a physician, and if followers of Christ are the Body of Christ on Earth, we cannot receive healing from the great physician if we cannot share our wounds in the doctor’s office; trust me when I say I know this for certain.

We need to create church where all of our wounds have space to heal, not just the easy wound and not just the wounds of those who already have the most comfort.

Peace,
– Robby

P.S.: I cannot create that space specifically for you if you do not live in my sphere of influence, but I would like to create that space for myself and other clergy who lack it. If you are a clergy person who does not have space to name your wounds and seek healing in community (or know that clergy person), please reach out. I do not know what that space looks like, but I know I need that space and cannot imagine I am all alone.

I mean, I can imagine and most of the time believe that, but logically it makes no sense.

I Am Thankful for You

Every day I scroll my Facebook feed, seeing faces and memories of times past. I see people who altered the direction of my life, brightened the path when I could not see it, and reminded me why I traveled that path. I see people who made me laugh. I see the poor folks who I feel madly in unrequited love with (and probably have some who did the same with me).

I see you all, and I almost daily grow more thankful for your presence in my life.

  • Some of you have grown in different ways than me and we no longer see eye-to-eye.
  • Some of you I now see eye-to-eye with but our friendships faded away too long ago to reconcile that now.
  • Some of you crossed my path for a brief moment yet we knew each other deeply.
  • Some of you I grew up with and yet never really knew you (96% chance that’s my fault).
  • Some of our friendships ended because they caused me too much pain and I had to draw a boundary for my health, but they existed for a reason and I mourn their ending.
  • Some of you I miss every day and wonder why I could not keep connected to you (again, still awkward, nervous, and anxious).

I wish I had less anxiety to reach out to each one of you and tell you how you brightened my life, but somehow seminary, marriage, pastoral ministry, ordination, and time did not make me less awkward, nervous, and anxious.

I am thankful for you. Even if our friendship/relationship/whatever ended in anger and fury, I am thankful for you. I am who I am today — wounds, pains, strengths, direction — because of every person who has entered my life.

I am thankful for you.

Love,
– Robby

A Late Reflection for 9/11

Here’s my note: I’m tired, I should be getting ready for bed, and as of this moment I have no idea what is going to be written below.

Every year I struggle with this day of remembrance.

Every year I think about standing, waiting for the bus, not really knowing what happened and really not understanding what it meant. Every year I think about sitting in line at the gas station, filling our tanks with elevated priced gasoline because someone will always make a buck on a tragedy. Every year I remember visiting ground zero the week we declared war on Iraq — we listened to the announcement on the charter bus to New York — and just being struck by how it looked like an unremarkable pile of rubble.

Every year I remember, everything year I search for the words I can put into the universe to maybe add to the healing, but I always struggle to know what to say.

I have seen a post this year about “I missed 9/12” and how we all came together, and truly we did. Blood banks had an excess of blood, people prayed and gathered like they never had before, and we saw some of the best in each other.

But this year I have a reflection of my own: that day, and our collective response to that day, amplified my racism and made me so much more hateful than I had been before. It took well over a decade for my level of hatred of the other to return to its pre-9/11 level.

I remember learning all the lies about Muslim people and committing them to my heart and soul as moral truth. I remember celebrating war and death. I remember jokes about GI’s not having beautiful women to sleep with in this war like they did in other wars — and legal brothels offering to make up for it. I remember celebrating war, defending violence, and have no sympathy of the innocents who died in the ensuing conflicts.

I remember being given a pork sandwich to celebrate Osama bin Laden’s death and eating it because I didn’t have the strength to say, “No, I am not celebrating death, even the death of an enemy.”

I remember all of it, and I mourn. I mourn for our nation, believing we have done more damage to ourselves and torn ourselves apart more than any terrorist attack ever could. I mourn for the person I was, so shamed of the hatred I spewed and deaths I celebrated. I mourn for the people I ostracized and judged — the relationships I never built — because I believed in my righteous hatred of another. I mourn for all who suffering violence born out of hatred and bigotry in this country.

That day we saw bravery we will hopefully never have the opportunity to see again.

Shortly after, more innocent people died in our attempt to gain justice and rout terrorism — and the results of our troop withdraw from Afghanistan has shown the futileness of most of the actions.

When I reflect on this day, I long for a world that heals its wounds, not causes more wounds. I long for a world that chooses love over hatred. I long for a world that values life and doesn’t dismiss the deaths of those out of sight and out of mind.

I long for a better world.

I will remember this day by praying for peace for all. I will remember this day by praying for the fulfillment of Isaiah 2:4

God will judge between the nations,
    and settle disputes of mighty nations.
Then they will beat their swords into iron plows
    and their spears into pruning tools.
Nation will not take up sword against nation;
    they will no longer learn how to make war. (Isaiah 2:4 CEB)

Goodnight.
– Robby

Boring Truth Versus Charismatic Lies

I think having to treat deliberate misinformation and outright lies with the same weight and veracity of verifiable facts in discussions around protocols and safety – especially in our community and religious gatherings – ranks second in the most exhausting parts of the pandemic. Trying to lead a congregation through the difficult, painful, and heated discussions around safety protocols and protecting the least and the lowest while misinformation took an equal breath to – or greater breath than – truth simply amplified an already difficult and painful situation and made it unnecessarily worse.

Truth is cold, boring, flat, emotionless. It does not care about your desires or wants. It has no interest in your partisan leanings or political aspirations – only your acceptance and transmission of truth do. Truth does not care if you like it or not; in the wise words of Gloria Steinem, “The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.”

Misinformation, deception, and lies, though, are anything but cold, boring, flat, or emotionless. It works by using the things that make you want to look away from truth – discomfort, sadness, weariness. The bad actors who create and spread misinformation, the deceivers, say truth and truthtellers take good and holy things away from you – like community, corporate worship, closeness in this season – and tell you believing and following their lies will give those things back.

Truth has no charisma, and truthtellers do not have the benefit of having something people want to hear; they have to make truth understandable, digestible, and attractive because truth provides none of those things. Deceivers, though, can create a product with inherent understandability, digestibility, and attractiveness to their intended targets, and they do not have any rules to follow but to make something people want to hear.

Truth also suffers from how humans understand truth. Truth is truth but our understanding of truth – especially in a rapidly developing health crisis like a pandemic – is somewhat of a moving target due to our learning and inability to just inherently know things. Truthtellers have to correct and adjust their telling of truth in response to changing understanding – even if our understanding conflicts with previous understanding – and do so in humility. Deceivers use this to make their message of lies more attractive, attacking the truth on the contradictions raised by changing understanding of truth despite regularly conflicting with previous lies and changing to make their deception more attractive.

Neither truth nor lies care about you; care can only come from people, not statements. Truthtellers care about you, knowing truth will set you free, protect you, and make this world better; deceivers care only about themselves, often personally acting in ways that betray the lies they tell because following their lies harms the follower. Truthtellers will act in your best interest and the best interest of all, especially if you dislike it; deceivers will tell you what you want to hear and convince you they act in your best interest despite always acting in their own self-interest.

How do you tell the difference? Truthtellers sacrifice their own safety, security, and comfort to tell the truth – and almost universally speak truth that will help the least and the lowest while asking much of the enriched and elevated; deceivers sacrifice nothing of themselves and benefit greatly from you believing their lies – economically, politically, and personally – while the least and the lowest often suffer for those benefits.

Masks work, the vaccine is safe and effective against serious illness, and lockdowns saved lives and prevented suffering; early reversals of mask mandates and lockdowns caused suffering and death, and vaccine refusal combined with not wearing masks and participation in congregate settings further causes unnecessary suffering and death. Your personal, anecdotal experiences do not negative or even conflict with those truths.

How long, O Lord, will you children accept deception and reject truth? How long will they choose temporary comfort leading to long-term suffering? How long, O Lord?

– Robby

Jesus Was the Divine’s Protest

Today we celebrate the first federally recognized Juneteenth Holiday, celebrating the day that the final slaves received word of their emancipation. We celebrate an event I…honestly, the first time I heard it, I leaned on my racist training and believed it was just a holiday black people made up.

Yes, I was that racist and well on my way to overtly white supremacist beliefs and making Jesus into a white power hero. If not for the love and care from people who wanted me to do better – and saw my desire to love more fully – I would not be the “far left” “political” pastor I am today.

I do not need to spend a lot of time on the specifics of what turned me away from racism to love, but the past 15 months has strengthened the turn in me and created a new understanding of Jesus:

Jesus – the second person of the divine walking on Earth as the completely human man Jesus – was a protest, inherently a protest against systems of oppression, systems of marginalization, systems of slavery and exploitation, systems of bigotry and hatred.

When the divine chose to walk on Earth with us, the divine chose to take a life…

  • born of an unwed mother.
  • stepson to a poor day laborer.
  • raised and often seen only as a child of the poor, backwards, uneducated part of ancient Israel.
  • being homeless and living only on the generosity of others.
  • living as a poor street preacher.
  • preaching political (read: admonishing the powers that be and prophesying the results of their greed and self-righteousness) sermons.
  • dining with the dirty, the sinful, the physically broken, the sick, and all others deemed unworthy to enter the temple – the temple God did not want yet humans built, anyway.
  • dining with the man who would betray him.
  • going to the garden despite knowing it would lead to his arrest.
  • letting church leaders successfully demand his murder.
  • letting his oppressors murder him.
  • dying from the likely most painful, drawn out, humiliating, and dehumanizing form of execution we have every devised.
  • calling his followers to follow the same path as him.

The divine chose this. If we believe Jesus could turn water into wine, heal the sick and wounded, and be resurrected after his execution, then none of that had to happen from a practical standpoint. Jesus could have chosen to increase his wealth, acquire power, and live a life of luxury and painlessness.

But for the toppling of systems to happen, for the unseating and redefinition of power and strength to happen, for the change of hearts and minds to happen, Jesus had to live this life radically and inexplicably different than the faith leaders of his time – and faith leaders of our time. He had to live contrary to the worldly values of his time – and our time. He had to stand up to the powers that be and demand change for the poor, the sick, the outcast, and the different – much the same way the faithful today must stand up to the powers that be today and demand change for the poor and working poor, the sick, the outsider with melanin levels that bring additional risk to their lives, and the different whose love causes no pain but makes some people uncomfortable and offends their restrictive theology of God’s love.

Jesus chose to sacrifice himself – the divine chose to sacrifice themself – as a protest against the evil and pain of the world. We, as believers in that divine, must choose lives of sacrifice and giving ourselves up.

Jesus was the divine’s protest against our systems of restricting and withholding love. Maybe we need to stop being offended by the protest and more offended by the pain being thrust upon the least and the lowest in the name of profit, comfort, and nostalgia.

Ending American chattel slavery did not occur because those benefiting from it had a spontaneous change of heart, nor did the Black community gain any rights denied them through spontaneous change of hearts from the white supremacists who benefited from their disenfranchisement. Everything came from hard fought battles – some literal, some metaphorical – that included protests and standing up when their oppressors demanded politeness and properness.

The first sermon our savior gave as an adult almost got him murdered. If Jesus, our messiah and the perfection of humanity, had to preach in that way to save us, maybe we all need to.

And we definitely need to listen to the message of the protest, not just recoil in the discomfort it causes the powerful and empowered.

Peace,
– Robby

PRIDE (I Love You)

I struggle with what do say during PRIDE Month (and other months recognizing and celebrating marginalized groups). I fail at “looking the part” as an ally, I really struggle with seeing the sharp uptick in “performative allyship” that does nothing to help but looks really good, and I really don’t know what to do, per se, as an ally.

I know what thought leaders and privileged progressives outside of the LGBTQ+ community tell me to do, but I don’t know what will actually bring healing, safety, repentance, and reconciliation.

But I can say this: I love you.

Your identity is a sacred reflection of God.
Your love is a sacred reflection of Christ’s love.
Your voice is sacredly empowered by the Holy Spirit.

God made you in God’s image, exactly as you most vulnerably and authentically are.

And I love your most authentic and vulnerable self.

I don’t understand the struggle of your identity being used to justify violence against you. I know my identity affords me certain privileges and safeties that an LGBTQ+ identity denies you. I see a struggle I will never have to fight for myself to simply love another people and be my most authentic self.

I don’t know your struggle, and, though I can empathize with rejection simply for being different, I never will.

But I love you, and I want to help end the pain, begin the healing, and envision a more beautiful world with nothing but authenticity and vulnerability – and safety.

I have never stated this publicly, but I will today:

I will joyfully marry you and show that God sanctifies your love.
I will welcome you into Christian community.
I will walk with you in every stage of life and learn more about you to love you more fully.
I will preach and teach about Christ’s love being for you as you are.
I will mourn – in public and private – how any church would declare you anything other than beloved and beautiful.

I love you, and I want you to safely be your authentic self. I pray I can find the way to make that more of a reality tomorrow than it is today.

Love,
– Robby

P.S.: This is not an invitation for anyone outside the LGBTQ+ community to school me on how to be an ally. Just…don’t.

A Year of Lent

A few days ago, we marked one year of all of this. Like many people – and many pastors – it feels like we never got the Easter release from Lent; we never found an empty tomb and never received the visit from the risen savior in the midst of the darkness and pain of the world.

We just experienced a year of Lent. No Easter, no Advent, no Christmas, no Epiphany, nothing but Lent. We absolutely went through the motions, singing the right hymns for the season and making sure the right paraments hung proudly for each liturgical movement, but the darkness of Lent never left us.

Or at least it never left me.

We did not just experience a pandemic. We saw 400 years of anti-Black racism come to a head – and just how much force the system will use to silence any sort of dissent. We saw anti-Asian racism used to distract from incompetent handling of a respiratory virus – and fanning anger and hatred to sow seeds of division to protect the ruling class. We saw a political system weaponize division and tear us apart by deifying an adversarial justice and political system.

And nothing got better. The world never got less dark.

We have some hope now. Well over 100 million Americans have receiving their first dose of the vaccine that will – hopefully – give us a path to being with each other without introducing risk of exposing each other to a deadly virus, but people still die every day and variants continue to prove their increased transmissibility and strength.

But still the virus of racism and White Supremacy ravage our nation. Just a couple days ago a man – taught to feel deep shame over his natural sexual desires and filled with racial hatred – killed multiple Asian women and had his actions absolved because he “had a bad day” by the very law enforcement officials we pay a lot of tax money to protect us.

All of us. Not just those who look right and/or have the correct amount of money.

The darkness of Lent never went away. At least not for me.

The holiday of Easter shines in the near distance. I find myself wondering if we will feel that relief of seeing the empty tomb this year or if Lent will continue to cover us.

Have we reached the Holy Saturday of our year long Lent? Have we finally reached the end of this liturgy of wailing and darkness? Will we experience the resurrection?

Will I see the empty tomb and have our savior enter the locked room?

It all makes me wonder: what differentiates between falling into despair and naming the reality of the darkness that surrounds us? Where do we delineate between hopelessness and the prophetic reality? Have I failed to see any hope or simply spoken the truth of God’s call in our lives and the state of what we have made God’s creation into?

I don’t know, but I have hope.

I have hope because Jesus died on the cross and so many more have sacrificed their comfort, their treasure, their livelihoods, and their lives to share the message of his sacrifice. I have hope because we can make those sacrifices, we can repent to bring about Earthly reconciliation, we can bring light into the world.

Easter did not end the story; Easter started the story. The cowards, the scoundrels, and the proud gave all of that up because they saw the risen Christ – and they gave themselves up to try to heal the world.

I have hope – reckless and idealistic hope – that our collective dark night of the soul will end, our year long Lent will get its Easter relief, and collective repentance will happen.

Darkness still covers our world, and I still long for light. My preaching and writing will speak to bringing light into the world, even if the comfortable and contented find its taste too bitter.

This is Holy Saturday; I don’t know what the empty tomb looks like, but I long for it.

Peace,
– Robby