Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Emanuel Nine (Words/Non-Words)

Below is a message I delivered today at the Durham VA Medical Center.  The Chaplain Service held a service of remembrance for the African-American men and women killed at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church on Wednesday, June 17.

A reading from Jeremiah:*

I hurt with the hurt of my people.
I mourn and am overcome with grief.

Is there no medicine…? Is there no physician there?

Why is there no healing for the wounds of my people?
If only my head were a pool of water and my eyes a fountain of tears,
I would weep day and night for all my people who have been slaughtered.

Here we sit in shock and sadness. Jeremiah’s words are true, but they aren’t enough.  They don't quite comfort.

In fact, no words are enough. I keep searching the news and reading to find the words to help but there aren't any.  Words are supposed to give meaning for what we feel, think and experience. Yet words do a poor job of explaining the violence that occurred at Emanuel AME church last Wednesday night.

Somehow the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. fall short, “that people not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character”.

Somehow the words of the Psalmist also ring hollow, “the Lord is a very present help in the time of trouble”.

What I'm finding is that we need something other than words.  We need the tears and the sorrow and the confusion and the anger.

It feels like we need none of the words and yet...

...we need all of the words.

We need to hear God is somewhere, somehow heartbroken with us. We need to read that we can love our neighbor as ourselves. We need to say that hope cannot be shot down.  We need to write that love cannot be killed. We need to recite stories of life and laughter and joy and kindness that exuded from these 9 men and women. We need all the words. All of the quotes and biographies and newspaper articles, the scriptures, poems, and prayers.

The medicine in these moments that Jeremiah asks for, the physician’s cure, is the ability to gather and note the beauty and brokenness of humanity. The medicine is in the remembering. Today, we remember the legacy of 9 special people who served their God and their fellow person faithfully. May God continue to use these divine nine to shape the world we live in. May our words and non-words be acceptable in God’s sight.

*Jeremiah 8:24-25 - 9:1

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Changing Grace: Raising Girls in the Image of God

Each day at mealtime, our daughters say their grace, a simple child's prayer before eating.  We're trying to instill in them that it's important to be grateful for what we have to eat.  After interesting episodes of this (Jocelyn speeding through the words to get to her food, Jaelle not wanting to close her eyes), we've established a routine.  Until recently...

The grace we've taught the girls is the traditional "God is great, God is good.  Let us thank him for our food..."  One day, they said the words and I heard let us thank HIM.  This made me stop and take note.  I didn't say anything to them, but I pondered my hesitation.  Why did hearing them say thank HIM cause me to pause?  

I considered how we were raising our daughters.  We want them to be self-confident, loving, and mindful people.  We also want them to see themselves, as black females, in the image of God.  This prayer was repeating the idea that God is best represented in the image of a man.  Aren't our daughters God's image-bearers too?  I don't want my girls to view themselves as second-rate versions of humankind.  Their image of God is the beginning of their image of themselves.  Should a man be their master and provider?  Is a man closer to God than them?

I want them to know that God is beyond gender and yet encompasses all gender.  I would love if our daughters saw God as a woman and man.  Outside of and surpassing that, I would love them to see God as God, their Creator.  For that reason, we have changed grace in our home.  We now say:

God is great, God is good.
Lord, we thank You 
for our food.
By Your hands,
we are fed
Thank You Lord 
For our daily bread.

Grace sounds very similar to what it has been before, but there is no reference of gender.  I'm grateful for texts such as "She Who Is: The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse" by Elizabeth Johnson which point to the value in embracing feminine divinity within Christianity.  

I'm also more deeply appreciative of Womanist scholars such as Delores Williams who call for the need to employ black female images and perspectives of God.  Click to read Dr. Williams' account of what Womanist theology is using Alice Walker.  For Williams, this all centers on the question of "Who do you say God is?" - this is what made me pause - I want our  family to consider who we say God is.  I'm thankful for these women and for the many female scholars and ministers who are deepening my understanding of God.  

Our girls are teaching me a lot.  One Word may seem small, but one Word can change everything.   There's much more to say, but it's time to wake the girls for breakfast.  It is time to offer grace again.  God is great, God is good...

Lord, thank You for creating us.  Please forgive us for only seeing You in our image.  It is amazing to believe You are a God who creates beings that can create.  You are awesome!  Please help us to raise daughters and sons who see themselves in Your image and who value all people.  Personally, I pray that our family sees the fullness of Your image.  I pray that our girls love You, love themselves, and love others.  In Your precious, all-encompassing name, Amen.


Genesis 1:27 (NRSV)
So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

Galatians 3:28 (KJV)
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.