Monday, June 13, 2016

The Privilege Prepetuated by ELCA Economics

There is a movement within the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) that knows our identity as Lutherans is rooted not in ethnicity, but in the good news that we are saved by grace through faith in Christ. Led by such knowledge, this movement seeks to change the fact that we are whitest denomination in the country. This movement is known as #decolonizelutheranism. They are collecting incredible stories of Lutherans with cultural heritages that span the globe. I encourage you to read them.  

The theologian Rev. Dr. Linda E. Thomas recently wrote that she is tired of being asked to trot out her story of marginalization for no purpose other than to make white people feel good about themselves for paying attention to racism. She and other people of color have asked people with privilege to do the hard work themselves of identifying the structures that benefit them and dismantle those structures.  

I am a person of incredible privilege. Here are two structures within the ELCA that make sure this denomination caters to me and to people like me.

1) Our pastors must complete eight years of higher education at their own expense, and 2) local congregations pay their pastors.

From a purely financial analysis, these two structures are central barriers to being a church of and for the poor.  And in this country, class lines tend to follow racial lines.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Prophetic Art of Lament

Sometimes the world just sucks. For the prophet Jeremiah in ancient Jerusalem, the world sucked because God has sent him, of all people, to explain to his city that because of their injustice, they will be destroyed, and then he had to sit and watch that destruction take place.  And so Jeremiah writes laments.  Laments are a Hebrew prayer of mourning that tries to find some hope from God.  And laments have a very specific poetic structure, which means anyone can write them. Laments have three notable structures: 1) Parallelism: giving two or more parts of the sentences a similar form so as to give the passage a definite pattern. 2) A five-fold movement
  • address (asking God to pay attention)
  • lament (what's wrong)
  • confession of trust (something about God that is certain)
  • petition (what is asked for from God)
  • (often) praise (or in the case of Jeremiah, despair)
3) Acrostic (the first let of each verse is the next letter in the alphabet) Let's take an example of a lamentation attributed to Jeremiah: Lamentations 5: [ADDRESS] 1 Remember, O Lord, what has befallen us; look, and see our disgrace! 2 [LAMENT] Our inheritance has been turned over to strangers, our homes to aliens. 3 We have become orphans, fatherless; our mothers are like widows. 4 We must pay for the water we drink; the wood we get must be bought. 5 With a yoke on our necks we are hard driven; we are weary, we are given no rest. 6 We have made a pact with Egypt and Assyria, to get enough bread. 7 Our ancestors sinned; they are no more, and we bear their iniquities. 8 Slaves rule over us; there is no one to deliver us from their hand. 9 We get our bread at the peril of our lives, because of the sword in the wilderness. 10 Our skin is black as an oven from the scorching heat of famine. 11 Women are raped in Zion, virgins in the towns of Judah. 12 Princes are hung up by their hands; no respect is shown to the elders. 13 Young men are compelled to grind, and boys stagger under loads of wood. 14 The old men have left the city gate, the young men their music.15 The joy of our hearts has ceased; our dancing has been turned to mourning. 16 The crown has fallen from our head; woe to us, for we have sinned! 17 Because of this our hearts are sick, because of these things our eyes have grown dim: 18 because of Mount Zion, which lies desolate; jackals prowl over it. 19 [CONFESSION OF TRUST] But you, O Lord, reign forever; your throne endures to all generations. 20 Why have you forgotten us completely? Why have you forsaken us these many days? [PETITION] 21 Restore us to yourself, O Lord, that we may be restored; renew our days as of old— 22 [PRAISE OR DESPAIR] unless you have utterly rejected us, and are angry with us beyond measure.

For a more personal lament, I encourage you to read Jeremiah 20:7-18.

Parallelism can be seen in Lamentations 5, verse 1 in the balance of the phrases, "Remember, O Lord, what has befallen us" and "look, and see our disgrace!" The address can also be found in verse 1.  Lament takes up the largest section in verses 2 through 18.  The confession of trust in 19 continues into holding God accountable to that trust in 20.  The petition is just one verse in 21.  And verse 22 contains both praise in the sense that God is able to do whatever God wants, but also a sense of despair that it is beyond human control. The acrostic doesn't come across in English translation, but note that there are 22 verses for the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet.

The past Sunday at Parables, we wrote our laments, for both the personal and societal brokenness.  We tried to incorporate parallelism, and the 5-fold movement, but for the acrostic, I encouraged people to instead of starting each verse with the next letter of the alphabet, to try to incorporate each verse a word or image they had heard from the stories of the other people in the congregation that they had heard shared that day. Here are some examples of what they wrote (with the final lament actually being an acrostic):

Merciful God, I call on you with an open, but tired and damaged heart...The days have chilled my bones and my soul.  The love I long for and hope to receive from my peers is often replaced with judgement, curt and feigning responses or a frigid silence that shakes my core.  I’m in search of shelter, but all doors have closed to me.  I desire peace, comfort and stability, yet I am surrounded with uncertainty, fear and solitude that leaves me dark and alone.  I know all things are possible through you.  I trust in you, the strong, the just, the omnipotent.  Grant me, dear Lord, an environment that I can call home.  A place where all who praise and serve you leave judgement to you alone and embrace others, regardless of their spiritual, sexual or political preference. Where it is safe to trust not only in You, but in our neighbors.  All my praise and peace is through You, the Lord! May I contribute to the world and reach all that you have made possible for me and my loved ones through social justice, communication, motivation and love for and in all communities.

God, I followed your call to this city and now this call is shifting under my feet These people you sent me to have continued to fight against your gospel They are hateful and ignorant of your people not-yet-gathered They sling “these people” and “those people” around to speak of the community. My desire is that you bring them to ruin. May they come to see the destruction of their sacred cows. Yet I trust that you are God-- gracious and merciful, slow to anger, abounding in love, even for them. Prosper my ministry for your sake and even the evil for your good.

Come and hear the origins of my unhappiness, O God Know the sources of despair even I have not had time to understand. Know the sources of despair even I have not had time to understand. The foundations of my life are dysfunctional The communication of my community breaking down. My place of dwelling is unsettled The streets are spinning around me as I seek a place of comfort. You fight for the right of your people, O Lord, You energize your folks like tea. Communicate your plan for me Build me support in the workshop of your love. Do not disappoint me, my God, and leave me with radio silence.

Almighty God Bring us near to you. Can you not see your people suffering? Deliver us from this place to a place prepaid for us. Everyone here it's at odds, Ferocious beasts with only self-concern. Great are the challenges of your children. Homeless and unsettled, even in their own land. I suffer desolations so broadly, Just finding their source is impossible. Keen eyes cannot see their way from this. Long hours of work bring little reward. My own people have long since left me. Nowhere are allies to be found. Only calling to you, God, will bring me hope. Prayers in your name are all that I have. Quickly, I ask Respond to me. Say onto me, "To you I will give rest," "Unto my breast I will hold you." Verily, I ask you, When will you come to me? Exiled from my home Yearning to return to Zion, where I belong.

For all who suffer grief and weep for injustice, may you find comfort and hope in the form of lament.
Hands Up Don't Shoot
A depiction of Jesus as a resident of our neighborhood, the southside of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, created by Ana O'Keefe for an art show at Parables last Lent.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Street Fair Reformation!

This past Saturday Parables took to the streets!  Specifically the Southside Connex Havemeyer Street Festival.
Connex Street Fair
 And we brought with us a large wooden door, a hammer, nails, and Martin Luther's 95 Theses. Luther Door Before
 We invited passersby to join in Martin Luther's nearly 500 year old tradition of nailing on a community door the truths and change he wanted the world to know and do.  You can see all the pictures of the beautiful faces holding up their theses and nailing them in here.  Below are the typed up 42 theses of the southside of Williamsburg, Brooklyn.  Every effort has been made to preserve the style and spelling of the original theses.
  Luther Door Action ShotAntonio Reynoso              
  1. Peace, Love, Happiness
  2. Helping + Loving
  3. Permaculture
  4. I love my mom because she is the best mom in the word. <3
  5. Save the city and love
  6. Happiness!!
  7. En memoria de su madre, todo los retratos de mis hijos los puse en la pared con mi martillo, es mi mano derecho en la casa -- Lucy Martinez (In memory of her mother, all the portraits of my children I put on the wall with my hammer, it is my right hand in the home)
  9. Love, Respect, Honor one another! Drop!
  10. Community and Better Jobs 4 All
  13. Loving Communication
  14. Thank You for Speaking Up Courageously!
  16. I Love my Dad, MOM becouse day or The Best.  Love <3 Christy Mora :)
  17. Al esperansa para el que se agara de Dios (Hope for the one who grabs hold of God)
  18. Saving Programs For School.
  19. ..{~~```<)
  20. <3 Ashley Mora
  21. Serenity Hope Love One Another
  22. I <3 God  <3
  23. Ears to Listen
  24. W.E.P.A. (We Empower Peoples Art) In God we Trust   -- Miguel
  25. Paz Para El Mundo Entero (Peace for the Whole World)
  27. "If we chage within, our outer body will chage also"
  28. Dr. Health E. Hound
  29. I Love School <3
  30. Strengthen Our Community --MORE BLOCK PARTIES!!!!!
  31. Calling Planet Earth
  32. Lots of Global Love <3
  33. Love Peace    Thank You Holy Universe    Tranquillity :)
  34. I Love art <3
  35. Love is the Key to everything in Life. Just Love everthing and everyone.  "I Love You!"
  36. Amal su Besinos (Love your neighbors)
  37.  Peace, Love & Joy +
  38. LOVE ALL
  39. To Get Along As Human Beings!
  41. Respect our PLANET
  42. The LORD before anything elseMore theses were collected at our St. Francis Day art show themed around the intersection of environmentalism and spirituality.
  43. spread peace no more war
  44. stop climate change
  46. Protecting predators instead of children (+ other survivors)
  47. valuing objects over people
  48. Society is just unfair!!!
  49. We are not separate from "nature"
  50. Our police must STOP killing our children!
  51. Why all the male god/lord language?
  52. Empathy versus Sympathy
  53. Calling Planet Earth
  Luther Door Art Shot

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Happy Easter from Hippolytus of Brooklyn!

Here's a video from the Parables community of 39 New Yorkers proclaiming the Easter resurrection using the words of 3rd Century sermon! Christ is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Looking for God in the Grossest Places

The season of Lent of is the time between Ash Wednesday and Easter.  It is traditionally a time of spiritual reflection and renewal in preparation for Jesus death and resurrection during Holy Week. Pastor Ben's spiritual practice during Lent this year will be to look for God in the grossest places.  Each day, Ben and a friend from seminary will challenge each other with something really gross (take the phorid fly pictured above).  The other person then has to write a prayer using the gross thing as a metaphor for God.  The goal is to practice seeing the divine in all things.  You can follow along, suggest your own challenges and theological insights, at

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Resurrection through Art

Last spring, the photographer Julia Comita came to me with the following story: "Just over a year ago, a very dear friend, and muse, of mine told me she was in remission from cancer, something she had kept quiet, and wanted to take advantage of her time and energy to do a cross country tour making art.  One of the last stops would be New York City.  Having known her for years, I asked her what she wanted to express in these images, what could I give her through my imagery?  Together we came up with the concept of being reborn.  She was given a second chance at life, and felt compelled to express herself as a new creature, a new woman."  Julia asked me if she could use St. Paul's Church for the photoshoot.  I said yes. But I also said that her project sounded theological, so I asked her to plan an exhibition of the photos to share with the congregation and neighborhood. I asked her this having no idea what her work would look like.  This is what Julia came back with. Julia Comita Renacimiento
 When Julia shared this photograph with me, I wanted to do more with it than just put it on the wall, I wanted it to fill the church building in the same way that the photo filled me with awe.  So together, Julia and I came up with the crazy idea of suspending 3 foot prints of the pictures from wires so that they would float in the center of the sanctuary.
  photo (4)15995_10100301511630267_1780211687_n
 The effect was that when you walked through the sanctuary you were surrounded by a visual narrative of, in Julia's words "two women being torn down and rebuilt.  Transforming into stronger beings than they were before."
 photo 2 copyphoto 1 copyphoto 2 copy 2
The final images, the image of triumph, of rebirth and resurrection, hovers in front of the altar and the cross on which Christ stands, not crucified, but risen. When we put on this show, we invited a dozen other women to share their artwork depicting life rising in the midst of life for them.  And then we open the doors with a party and left them open for the following two weeks.  Throughout the day, passersby would stop, peer into the church that is so often gated, and wander in.  Some would ask questions, some would pray, all would stand transfixed by the beauty of the artwork.  When passersby would ask why a church would transform itself in this way, I would offer them the following explanation printed on the show's program: "At the heart of Christianity is an absurd belief that a man three days dead came back to life.  And while this belief influences how Christians think about death, the goal is that it changes how we live.  We strive to live as if the powers of death cannot defeat the strength of life, as if, through God's grace, the addict can withstand his addiction, the oppressed can claim her freedom, the outcast will be celebrated with love. Such hope is not just naive optimism, but a willingness to stare into the cross, into the places of death, and to see God's transforming presence.  As this show is specifically about the empowerment of women, staring into the places of death requires me to recognize that, for women, the church has often been one of those places.  While early house churches, convents, and home missionary societies all began as places of female independence, throughout history, Christianity has repeatedly denied women places of leadership, controlling their bodies and silencing their voices. Since the 1970s, the Lutheran tradition has sought to become a place of life for all women, starting with the ordination of women and recently electing our first Presiding Bishop, Elizabeth Eaton, to lead the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. But four decades alone cannot undo twenty centuries of patriarchy.  We find ourselves on Holy Saturday, the day between crucifixion and resurrection.  Two millennia ago women were the first to proclaim Christ’s resurrection; it is my hope that through this exhibit, the voices of women might proclaim the resurrection in their own lives and the church might come one moment closer to being reborn into a reality where male and female are one in Christ." Thank you to Julia's dad for the photos!

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Reflection and Recording of Subway Chant

There's a delightful young man who attends Parables named Baxton.  For nearly two months he quit his job so that he could focus all his energy on creating beauty and sharing it directly with the world.  One of the main way he would do this would be to stand alone at 7am and softly sing Gregorian chant to busy New York commuters. As the Parables community focuses its energy on bringing beauty, connection, and love to places of anger, despair, and rejection in our neighborhoods, we were instantly struck by the poignancy of Baxton's daily practice.  So we decided we would join him. When my alarm when off at 5am to get ready, I cursed the idea and wondered if anyone would actually showed up.  But by the time I arrived at the 14th Street L tunnel by adrenaline had gotten me fully awake and I was pleasantly surprised when four other Parablers stepped out of the crowd of commuters to stand alongside the wall. IMG_20130920_074301 (1) Baxton led us in a call and response of chanting traditional latin prayers.  And though we began with trepidation, soon singing the simple melodies and ancient words together brought us a peace unexpected for performing in the middle of Manhattan rush hour.  And though the crowds would rush back and forth in front of us, from time to time people would stop and take pictures, or recordings, or just smile at the sight five twenty somethings singing ancient prayers in a concrete tunnel before dawn.  And just maybe, they felt blessed as they began their day.  I know I did. You can read Baxton's explanation of what we did here, and listen to a recording at: