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Election Day and All Saints Day: Liturgies of the Laos, the Demos, the People of God

After reading Just Mercy several years back, my daughter Else decided that restorative justice is her jam, her thing, her calling, and so she’s pretty much thrown herself into All Things Related.
So on Twitter a few days back (no idea what I’m going to do with my post-Elon Twitter account these days, as an aside) when I saw an event with this title, “Transformative Justice Seeks the Healing of All Parties,” and all the moreso when it was plugged by David Dark, it was maternal catnip and vocational clickbait all rolled up into one.
Dark publishes his blog “Dark Matter” (catchy) here; he’s a dabbler in many things, but a good dabbler, and a righteous one too. He cares deeply about justice, and always from the vantage point of faith, service, vulnerability, and hope for reconciliation and transformation.
It’s that latter word “Transformation” that caught my eye in the title of this conversation he was hailing and having with Rev. Stacy Rector. She’s a Presbyterian pastor who directs Tennesseans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, sadly, an organization that our society has made necessary to be.
In his blurb for the event, Dark wrote this:
“If policy is liturgy writ large, what do the liturgies                                                                                                  of retaliation, incarceration, and killing                                                                                                                       tell us about ourselves?”
Deep. Exhale.
“If policy is liturgy writ large…”
I have not been able to shake that phrase off, and immediately sent the passage off to my daughter and to my husband, whom I love and who loves me in part because we both like provocative thoughts and rabbit holes.
It wasn’t just that phrase, though, but the following one: “…what do the liturgies of retaliation, incarceration, and killing tell us about ourselves” that sucker-punched me.
In a righteous way.
Transposed, it seems like one could also read that sentence like this: “if our politics and consequent policies are the way that we reflect our selves, our valuation of one another, and our worship of God to the broader world, what do our politics and consequent policies say about our view of ourselves, of each other, and of God?”
I mean, ooof, people.
“If policy is liturgy writ large…”
If this phrase doesn’t keep you awake at night, especially just days before the midterms, what meds are you taking and can I have some?
~~~~~
A couple of years ago, I was invited by the ELCA Youth Ministry Network to reflect on ministry in a time of a pandemic.  You can find the whole article here, but this blurb of Mr. Dark’s called certain parts of the gist of it to mind.
In writing that piece, I learned what should have already dawned on me, namely that that both pan-demic and epi-demic spring from the Greek word ‘demos.’
Demos means people, as in ‘demographic,’ and, well, ‘democracy.’
I mean, I knew that, but I hadn’t really thought about it, but the more I got to thinking about that, the more I cocked my head like my dog Gimli does when he’s confused, which is most of the time.
Because if demos means a people, what about laos, another Greek word, from which we get liturgy, a word that literally means ‘work [ergos] of the people?’
What’s the difference then between the laos of liturgy and the demos of pandemic?
Turns out that there are a couple of answers, and also I can hop through rabbit tunnels like no hare ever did.
The ancient Greeks used the term laos to refer to ordinary people, the regular joes and jolenes, the folks you run into at the corner olive and baklava shop.
But more than that, the laos lived together as a demos, a collective and geographically connected community with one another: the laos shared a common language, government, culture, and mores, which defined them as a demos.
Relatedly, here’s a bit of trivia for you: the word ‘liturgy’ as we associate it, namely as a form of ritual worship, didn’t show up until the 1590s. 
This is most certainly true.
Sure, you can find the word in the New Testament: leitourgia. But the sense of it means a service, or a ministry, rather than an order of worship.
In fact, [and get this] the word originally referred to the work, namely the business, service, and donations that privileged people in Athens and beyond offered to and for the well-being of the people of the community.
Moreover, it was considered a mark of pride and privilege (in the best sense) to offer from one’s plenty to those who had little to none.
There was no resentment about it: there was thanksgiving for it.
In its original sense, then, and the key take-away and upshot here is this: liturgy is work done by the laos on behalf of the well-being of all the demos.
~~~~~
Officially, All Saints’ Day is celebrated on November 1, but in the liturgical calendar of the Church, we remember the saints on the first Sunday following.
That would be tomorrow.
I find it terribly moving that two days following that, namely on Tuesday November 8, we have Election Day.
See, with this calendar coincidence in mind, behold words from the late Jewish writer, theologian, and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, who in this interview spoke (as he often did) about memory, and about the sacred duty to remember the generations who have come before us:
In memory you are not alone.
You are surrounded by people.
Those who are not here anymore, naturally, but they are there in your memory.
They live.
And you hear them and you speak to them.
And when you need a presence it’s their presence.
Of course, it’s a dead presence, but still it’s a presence.
The presence of the dead is also a presence.
And without memory, then what is worse than to live without a future?
It’s to live without a past.
And I think memory is that past.
We are, that is, not primarily individuals, Wiesel wants us to know.
We are instead part of peoples, laos who are connected to those who have come before, those found in our memories (and, perhaps he would agree, those whom we have forgotten?), and we are likewise connected to those present to us now, and to those in our futures.
We are saints shaped by saints, and we will bequeath what we have received and who we are to the laos and to the demos yet to come.
To use the concept of Mr. Dark, our liturgies—religious and political—shape and will shape laos and demos long after we’ve gone.
As we stare down Election Day, this is the kicker, right?
We dare not forget that our collective liturgy—the ergos (work) of the laos (common people)—will decide the fates of the demos.
Our vote in a demo-cracy is the kratos (strength and power) of the demos (people who live in the same geographical space).
In other words, our leitourgia on November 8 is a form of service and ministry to all the saints.
In still other words, if you want to see who someone is, see what they do.
It’s basic Beatitudes stuff, conveniently one of the texts assigned for All Saints Day, which is celebrated the day before election day, which should preach.
~~~~~
The best liturgies shape what happens when we aren’t in active worship.
So do the worst, by the way.
With that in mind, spurred to think about it in this way thanks to Mr. David Dark and Rev. Stacy Rector, let us not pretend that there isn’t a liturgical ritual of election day.
You show up to the polls, you enter the stall, you make your mark, and you leave, one in a long line of people coming to the altar of democracy, of sorts, to give what they can offer, and make your mark on what happens next in the lives of All The Saints.
Christians are the laos of God, of course.
But we’re also the demos of the US.
And in that voting booth, the liturgies of both collectives coincide: we cast our vote informed by the faithful collective who have come before us (laos), and we cast our vote to inform our collective political present and future (demos).
Make no mistake, then: your vote is a liturgy, an act of worship, and a reflection of who you are, and whose you are.
Remember who you were, and are, and are promised to be.
Once you were not a people,
but now you are God’s people;
once you had not received mercy,
but now you have received mercy.
(1 Peter 2:10; Hosea 1:10, 2:23)
Remember those who have come before.
Remember who you are thereby.
Share the mercy.
Be God’s laos.
Do the leitourgia of God in the demos.
Vote.

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Posted on June 25, 2022 in Abortion

There Is No Longer An ‘Unless.’ There Is Only a ‘But.’

Trigger warning: this blog concerns the SCOTUS decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.
~~~~~
States can’t regulate guns, but, by all means, be our guest, they may regulate women, say the religious extremists cloaked in their judicial gowns.
I learned about the overturning of Roe v. Wade yesterday, right before my last presentation to the adults at Fortune Lake Lutheran Camp.
As I stomped, infuriated, through the grass to the class, I could barely collect my thoughts around Process Theology, the topic at hand.
Yesterday’s drive home and this early morning have been spent trying to wrap my thoughts around our nation’s goose-steps, those marching simultaneously back through the years to the days of dead and wounded women post-illegal abortion, and toward increasing fascist control of not just women, but of anybody and any body outside the idolized white heterosexual cisgender male norm.
I’m somewhere in the zone of lament, lambasted curse words, and coalescing energy of enraged, engaged dissent.
It’s a familiar place, having spent most of the previous President’s tenure there, but here I am, dusting off the space after the all-too-brief, and, in fact, illusory general reprieve.
~~~~~
Process thought—a philosophical and religious perspective with deep connections to scientific theory as well—teaches that every moment is connected to every other moment; the past shapes but does not determine the present or the future; the future is not fixed but informed by the past and present; and we are both influenced by and can influence other moments yet to come.
As of yesterday, we have a Moment, I’ll tell you what.
We now have a moment in which not only does the future of women’s autonomy seem bleak.
It is bleak.
Because of this SCOTUS decision—and because of people who voted to put far right conservatives into power—women will die, poverty will increase, racial disparities will break open all the more widely, prisons will bloat, children will suffer, and women will lose economic power, individual autonomy, any hope of equality and freedom—ironic at the hands of those who wrap themselves in a mantle stamped with a patently warped understanding of the word.
There’s no “unless” here, now.
Already states have moved to block access to abortions, not only putting into motion the possibility of, but, in some instances, already causing, everything I just described and more.
~~~~~
Politicians who sling the term “Pro-Life” but vote against gun legislation, universal health care, increasing the minimum wage, climate legislation, taxing the rich, and vote for the death penalty, immigration restrictions, a reduction in social network benefits for the Least of These, and gerrymandering districts, they own this moment.
Those who didn’t vote at all or voted Republican own this moment.
Religious traditions which speak about a narrow and niche-marketed definition of pro-life but do not speak about poverty, racism, inequity, and patriarchy own this moment.
Denominations which have statements supporting abortion rights but which fetter their rostered leaders from boldly teaching them and/or which remain silent to “meet everyone where they are” own this moment.
And we all will own the consequences.
~~~~~
There is no mollifying, panacean ‘unless’ in this moment.
Nope, not a one to be found.
There is, however, a ‘but.’
This collection of forgone moments, you see, has brought us to our present one in which many options we had had are now cut off—there is, as I say, no ‘unless.’
But new options are now before us—there is, though, a ‘but.’
Some moments invite us to sally further down the road to authoritarianism, apathy, and Fox News.
But other moments beckon us to register people to vote, to set up or join networks of support to women needing abortions in states now outlawing them, to sign up for the encrypted communication app Signal (www.signal.org), to announce far and wide your deep support for women’s autonomy, to cradle women who are traumatized by this ruling, and to send a portion of your tithe to the likes of Planned Parenthood (www.plannedparenthood.org) and Women’s Reproductive Rights Assistance Project (https://wrrap.org).
~~~~~
The past, you see, is the past.
SCOTUS already took women’s autonomy away.
The present is now.
Women’s autonomy is effectively erased.
As it turns out, though, the future is also now.
The State, the black-gowned characters out of the Handmaid’s Tale, and those who enabled them, own this moment.
They think they own women’s bodies, too.
But they have neither need nor right to own the future.
Now is the moment to change the future.
Start now.
~~~~~
In addition to accessing Signal, Planned Parenthood, and Women’s Reproductive Rights Assistance Project, lists of even more resources are to be found here and here: please donate to them.
Companies which have asserted their willingness to support their female employees who need to access abortions are found here: please support them.
A few religious responses to yesterday’s ruling, including three denominations with which the ELCA is in Full Communion: please encourage them.
Bishop Eaton, on behalf of the ELCA. “As we live into this new legal framework, we can respond to and minister in the current situation, for instance, by ministering to individuals who seek abortions; advocating for laws that provide free or affordable health care, child care and education; providing and promoting sex education; continuing to be a community of discernment where thoughtful and diverse perspectives can be shared and heard; and advocating for state laws that provide legal, safe and affordable abortions, and against legislation that would outlaw abortion in all circumstances…”
Bishop Michael Curry, on behalf of the Episcopal Church. “The Episcopal Church maintains that access to equitable health care, including reproductive health care and reproductive procedures, is “an integral part of a woman’s struggle to assert her dignity and worth as a human being” (2018-D032). The church holds that “reproductive health procedures should be treated as all other medical procedures, and not singled out or omitted by or because of gender.” (2018-D032). The Episcopal Church sustains its “unequivocal opposition to any legislation on the part of the national or state governments which would abridge or deny the right of individuals to reach informed decisions [about the termination of pregnancy] and to act upon them.” (2018-D032). As stated in the 1994 Act of Convention, the church also opposes any “executive or judicial action to abridge the right of a woman to reach an informed decision…or that would limit the access of a woman to safe means of acting on her decision.” (1994-A054).
The court’s decision eliminates federal protections for abortion and leaves the regulation of abortion to the states. The impact will be particularly acute for those who are impoverished or lack consistent access to health care services. As Episcopalians, we pray for those who may be harmed by this decision, especially for women and other people who need these reproductive services. We pray for the poor and vulnerable who may not have other options for access. We urge you to make your voice heard in the way you feel called but always to do so peacefully and with respect and love of neighbor.”

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Posted on April 4, 2021 in Easter

Stewarding Easter

It’s not quite clear who said it first: some sources claim it was Presbyterian theologian John Westerhoff, and others say Roman Catholic Bishop Robert Morneau, and others don’t attribute the line to anyone at all.

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Posted on April 3, 2021 in Grief, Holy Saturday, Hope

Grieve and Hope

After someone dies, there are details, of course, to be addressed, lists that must be drawn up and crossed off, arrangements that need to be made.

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Posted on April 2, 2021 in Good Friday

This Is Who We Are. This is Whose We Are.

Luke 19:37-38 “As [Jesus] was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying, ‘Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!’”
Luke 23:21-23 “…[the crowds] kept shouting, ‘Crucify, crucify him!’…[and] they kept urgently demanding with loud shouts that he should be crucified…”
Luke 22:33 “And Peter said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death!”
Luke 22:57 “Peter denied it, saying ‘Woman, I do not know him.”
Luke 22:58 Peter cried, “Man, I am not one of them!”
Luke 22:60 “Man, I do not know what you are talking about!”
~~~~~

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For the Love of God: Maundy Thursday, George Floyd, and the Suffering Love of the Witnesses (We Are All Witnesses)

“As I listened to their emotional testimonies, I reflected on the human superpower that is empathy, the superpower that racism tries to choke off. Empathy led these innocent bystanders to wrack themselves with guilt following Floyd’s killing.“ Heather McGhee
“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” Matthew 13:34
~~~~~

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