Passing Peace

It’s happened hundreds of times. When the presider said the words, “The peace of Christ be with you,” we all responded, “And also with you,” and then we stood up to pass the peace to one another. “Peace be with you.” “And with you.” Over and over, grasping each other’s hands, giving one another a hug, gently smiling, reaching out. It happens this way every week on Wednesday evenings in my seminary chapel.

But this week, just an hour earlier, our buildings and the entire campus surrounding us had been on lock-down. Our doors had been shut and secured. Office lights had been turned off. Some were crammed together in a basement study room; others were crouched behind metal file cabinets. Those of us in the chapel closed our doors and continued to prepare for worship, unsure if anyone but ourselves would be able to come. I removed myself from the musicians practicing so that I could listen for the sound of approaching gunshots.

I’d received the email as the worship group rehearsed – there were reports of a shooter; everyone on campus should shelter in place. It was an hour before we were given the all clear, though we were told that one building remained under lock-down. At the time we began our worship service, we didn’t yet know that the whole situation had been prompted by a hoax report. So when helicopters continued to circle as we sang our opening song, and when sirens blared by as we said the Prayers of the People, I felt a prolonged sense of anxiety.

Then, near the beginning of the Communion liturgy, after the confession and pardon, we engaged in that ancient ritual of passing the peace. In that moment, it felt like a subversive act, a site of resistance to the atmosphere of violence we all breath. “Peace be with you,” said with both concern and sincerity. “And also with you,” spoken as we met each other eyes and touched each other’s hands.

Earlier, in her sermon on John 12:20-26, Dr. Nancy Bedford had exhorted us to look for Jesus in resistance to the “worldly” ways of empire and to follow in Jesus’ paradoxical and life-giving way. And even earlier in the day, thousands of teenagers had peacefully left their classrooms and demanded gun law reform, even in the midst of adults’ reprimands. Peace is not easy.

The Christian call to practice peace in the midst of what Jesus calls “the world” – the network of power centers that rule through military and economic might – is not new. The American worship of war and weapons is not the first imperial force Christians have had to contend with. When Jesus said the words “Peace be with you” in his resurrection appearances, he was offering a peace that flew in the face of Rome’s militarized “Pax Romana,” which ruled through subjugation and false security. Christ invites us into his radical peace, and it is not peace of passivity or of resignation. It is an active peace that reaches out in the midst of fear and violence and says, “I see Christ’s presence in you. I extend Jesus to you. I have chosen to give my life for your well-being.”

The later news that the report of an active shooter had been hoax does not change the poignancy of our passing the peace nor the world’s need for our witness. We still live in a profoundly broken world. We live in a world where, as my colleague Alexa points out, it was reasonable and likely for us to believe that someone had obtained a gun, shot their girlfriend, and intended to do further harm with it.  We live in a world where others have had to go through a similar experience, whether hiding in their schools from a gun or in their neighborhoods from a bomb.  We live in a world where violence is a punchline.

For all these reasons and more, Christ continues to call us to give our lives for the cause of peace that passes all understanding. Perhaps that is why we pass the peace every Sunday – to turn this ancient liturgy into muscle memory, so that our practice of peace will always be stronger than the world’s way of violence.

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Water is Life

I got this swooping, sinking, rushing feeling when I saw my professor’s facebook post.  He was planning to answer the call for clergy to come to Standing Rock next week, he said.  And would any students like to join him.

I didn’t really want to go.  I knew what camping in the freezing cold was like.  I’d seen the videos of violence against protesters.  I had a full schedule in the week ahead.  And I felt woefully unprepared.  But something deeper than desire and stronger than fear rose up within me and whispered, “Go!”

So I emailed my various supervisors and professors and asked if arrangements could be made for me to miss 4 days of work and classes, a not-insignificant part of me hoping they would say “no.”  But they didn’t.  They told me that this was an important opportunity and that they would make things work.  And the whisper inside me grew bolder and said, “Go.”

I decided to sleep on it and pray for guidance and had a very distressing but unhelpful dream about biking across Europe in the autumn and falling over on 3 person a bicycle into a mud pit.  The morning found me both weary and wired.  And the voice raised itself up inside me and shouted, “Go!” I knew that if I silenced that voice, I would silence something essential in me.  Call it my conscience, my vocation, a sense of justice, the Holy Spirit living in me – more than I wanted to stay home, I wanted to listen to that call and stand with those who needed allies.

There are several camps now at Standing Rock, all working toward the same purpose: halt the death-dealing black snake of the Dakota Access Pipeline.  This pipeline and the oil it carries represents disregard for native lives and well-being, a threat to water sources, and a victory for big oil companies rather than a move toward sustainable energy solutions.  The Water Protectors (the preferred term, rather than protesters) have been using non-violent forms of resistance to call attention to the unjust and unethical practices of the pipeline construction.

This past week, a call was made to clergy all over the nation to join the Water Protectors at Standing Rock and stand in solidarity.  This is a crucial time for the work against the pipeline.  Violence and force from law enforcement is increasing, winter weather is beginning to set in, and the tribes gathered at Standing Rock need our support.

I am going with 11 other Garrett-Evangelical students, professors, and alums, as well as 2 non-seminary-affiliated folks.  We’re joining clergy and people of faith and people of no faith from all over the country to stand with those at Standing Rock.  We’ll be leaving Tuesday, arriving in Cannonball, North Dakota, on Wednesday, and participating in the clergy solidarity action on Thursday.  We’ll make the long trek back on Friday.  We ask for your prayers for strength, wisdom, peace, and justice.

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Behind that tiny word “Go!” are so many convictions that God has grown in me over the years:

  • God made the world and made it good (Gen. 1)
  • God includes the whole earth in God’s vision for community and justice (Lev. 25, Isaiah 11)
  • In the incarnation, Jesus was born, lived, died, and resurrected as a human, fleshy body who walked on this physical earth – in the incarnation, God affirms the goodness of Creation and brings the whole world into the redemption story (John 1, Romans 8).
  • All of Creation will be made whole (Romans 8, Isaiah 65).
  • Our God is One of justice and mercy, and God stands with the oppressed and the marginalized (Matthew 25, Luke 18, Isaiah 1 and 58).

I go to Standing Rock because of the God I serve and the kingdom of God that I am called to join.  I ask you to join your hearts and prayers to mine, and together we will work for the good of all God’s people and land.

More information from those on the ground about the history and situation:

http://standwithstandingrock.net/history/

This article is a couple months old, but it gives good background information:

http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2016/09/26/sierra-club-no-dapl

If you have very warm winter gear – coats, boots, tents, sleeping bags, etc. – or hygiene items that you want to send with me, let me know.  Here are other ways to help:

http://act.350.org/sign/stop-dakota-access-pipeline?akid=s197373..Z7kCFf

Finally, you may be thinking, “This sounds like a good cause and all, but doesn’t it defeat the purpose to use a lot of oil/gas and drive out there?”  Good question!  We still live in an oil-based economy, and there just aren’t a lot of good options for traveling without using petroleum.  This is in large part due to the subsidies oil companies receive and the huge amounts of money and political power our nation grants them.  If enough of us can stand up and say NO to the Dakota Access Pipeline, then we may be able to have enough people power to imagine and enact new, healthy, sustainable and just ways of being a society.

 

For the times we are walking in the wilderness

A second litany for a second pop-up worship at my seminary.  The litany is based on themes from Isaiah 40:3-5 and the songs “Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord” and “Guide My Feet, Lord.”  We closed with “We are Marching in the Light of God.”  See the first pop-up worship’s litany here.

You, uncontainable God, are always coming, always making way, always breaking in where we least expect you.  Wake us up to your arrival!

Guide our feet, Lord.

You, life-giving God, come into our dried-up places and breathe out the miracle of your rejuvenating Spirit.  Walk with us in our wilderness!

Guide our feet, Lord.

You, inviting God, pull us out of our pits of fear and set us on the road to freedom.  You call us as your way-makers–show us the roads that lead to you!

Guide our feet, Lord.

You, persistent God, never leave us to travel alone.  We are held by your love and propelled by your justice with healing in our hands and fire in our hearts.  Fill us with your strength!

Guide our feet, Lord.

When we get stuck in worn-out daily liturgies, renew our practice of your presence.

Guide our feet, Lord.

When we are filled with dried-out words, ideas, and stories, bubble up in us your refreshing water of life.

Guide our feet, Lord.

When we are lost in rough relationships, redeem our interactions and re-orient our priorities.

Guide our feet, Lord. 

When we are confronted by uneven and unequal structures and systems, build us into your all-embracing family of shalom.

Guide our feet, Lord.

God, you are our road, our guide, and our final destination.  Bring us all into your glorious kingdom.

Guide our feet, Lord.

And all God’s people said,

Amen. 

A litany for difficult times in the semester …

I wrote this litany for a “pop-up worship” service in March.  A group of us entered the main atrium of our school and began an unexpected short service of lament, prayer, and hope.  These words also speak to the final push at the end of the school year … or at any other time and place of stress and difficulty.  The congregational response is intended to be simple enough for people to join in without written instructions.  

The word litany, by the way, comes from the Greek words for entreaty and supplicant.  Fitting for this particular piece.      

God of all the universe, we come to you heavy-hearted and light-headed, confused, distracted, and frustrated.

Lord, we cry to you.

God of our planet-home, we come carrying equal parts anxiety and hope, and we pray that they mix into some sort of faithful future.

Lord, we cry to you.

God of every creature, great and small, we want to live in your peace and justice, but sometimes the gap between our love and your love is just so great.

Lord, we cry to you.

God who dwells in the deep places of our hearts, we want to obey your call to “be not afraid,” and so we cry out, “Lord, I believe!  Help my unbelief!”

Lord, we cry to you. 

God of every moment, we feel your insistent presence in the beauty of a birdsong, the smile of a friend, and the warmth of a blanket, and we praise you for the small things.

Lord, we cry to you.

God of the pilgrim way, we thank you that you have brought us this far and rejoice in the call you have given us.

Lord, we cry to you.

God who holds our time in your hands, we know that you promise never to abandon us, and we pray for an enlivened sense of your presence with us.

Lord, we cry to you.

God, our beginning and our end, keep pulling us into your story of salvation, keep reminding us of our own belovedness, and keep sustaining our steps as we walk into your kingdom.  And all God’s people said:

Amen.