Jesus is born!
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?”
“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.
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.
“For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law.” Romans 3:28
“Be still, then, and know that I am God,” Psalm 46:10.
Sunday, October 29 is Reformation Sunday, a High Feast Day of sorts in the Lutheran Tradition.
Yet it was you who took me from the womb; you kept me safe on my mother’s breast.
On you I was cast from my birth, and since my mother bore me you have been my God.
Last week, I was invited to do a Zoomed text study with a group of rostered leaders in Wisconsin. WHAT a great group.
Although we Lutherans like to think he did, Luther never used the phrase “priesthood of all believers.”
If you want to get technical about it, Christians aren’t really monotheists.
“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
In the last couple of weeks, my daughter Else discovered an etymology that somehow, I’d never thought to think about.
Privilege is super wily.
It can skillfully drape itself in righteous speech, all the while really cloaking its comfortable and contented status.
But privilege also cunningly hides, even from the people of privilege themselves, death-dealing anxious determination about maintaining societal advantages.
So with that said, and as a shining example, I bristle, truly I do, when I hear rostered leaders talk about needing to “meet my people where they are.”
I just heard it in a couple of private and distinct conversations the other day, as a matter of fact.
“I’ve gotta meet my people where they are.”
That’s the phrase, right there.
Now it -sounds- good.
It sounds righteous even.
It certainly sounds pastoral.
It definitely sounds like what a leader of a specific community is called to do, namely meet their people where they are.
And I do believe that for the most part, rostered leaders mean well when they say it.
But I’ve come to decide that there’s a decent shot that actually, it’s -not- always good, righteous, pastoral, or what at leader in a community is called to do.
Thing is, when we decide to “meet ‘our’ people where they are,” we can’t help but simultaneously (albeit cloaked in that wily-privileged way) leave -other- people, the very people who need the -rest- of us to move from where -we- are, well…we can’t help but leave them where -they- are.
So when we hear the phrase “I need to meet my people where they are,” I think what we should actually hear, especially these days, is less even-the-best-of-intentioned pastoral move, and more the hidden message—hidden even to the leader, I do believe—that we’re supposed to be ok with that, down with it, content with it, because those are not ‘our people,’ they are not ‘us.’
They are ‘other.’
The wretched thing of it is, -nobody- is where they are supposed to be.
Moreover, the white rostered tendency to want to meet people of privilege where they are is precisely what keeps the status quo, which is precisely that which keeps everybody where they aren’t supposed to be.
I will say again and again and again that the pastoral is the prophetic, and the prophetic is the pastoral.
Insular preaching and teaching, that which is offered to meet privileged congregants and congregations where they are, protects White Lives from knowing about and caring about Black Lives.
It shields White Lives from knowing about and caring about -and- -rejecting- -in- -the- -name- -of- -the- -Gospel- the White System of Privilege which contributes to the injustice, poverty, inequity that Black Lives endure.
It buffers White Lives from knowing and caring about the names of people who have died at the hands of their White Privilege, that which congregations and congregants, under the rubric of meeting them where they are, have been led to believe affords them the luxury of not knowing, because the time is “just not right.”
“They’re just not ready for that yet.”
“We have to meet them where they are.”
In the complicated book of Hosea, Israel had forsaken God by falling into a cycle of normalized lying, and murder, and violence, such that even the land and sea and the creatures upon and in it suffered.
After a long enough period of waiting for this situation to turn around, God’s response, albeit conveyed in troubling metaphor, was finally to call Israel Lo-ammi: not my people.
Remember, of course, that we hear God say, “I am your God, and you shall be my people” in any number of texts, like Exodus 6:7; Leviticus 26:12, and Isaiah 5:15-16.
But no longer, says God.
What you have done, God says, is enough.
The relationship is severed.
And what had Israel done?
Among other sins, Israel had opted to align themselves not with God, but with Baalistic culture, which included a nasty habit of placing economic success for the few at the expense of the many, and of the land.
So God abandoned Israel to its enemies, and to the consequences of their unfaithfulness.
Note that it was -they- and -their- actions which terminated the relationship; -not- God.
God did not decide against them.
The ones formerly known as the people of God decided -against- God, and -for- other gods.
It’s possible that in the same way, now, in our streets we are seeing the consequences of -our- unfaithfulness.
We have, of course, tolerated a corrupt, malicious, and weak-spirited president, and political leaders who abide, aid, and abet him, and the agendas which they push at the expense of others.
Some Christians have even voted for them.
But we have also aligned ourselves with other gods, including those in the headlines of recent days, most especially that of White Privilege.
And we as rostered leaders have all too often opted to align ourselves with the god of Meeting People Where They Are, which has enabled and unleashed many an evil thing at the now normalized expense of People Who Are Not Where They Should Be.
So back to Hosea, it turns out that God’s disassociation from Israel was temporary—not inconsequential, but not permanent.
God opted, and even in the very next verse of this judgment, to make us God’s people again.
The message of Hosea is of judgment, but judgment that sends us into a way of repentance -and- -then- -restoration.-
The ironic thing is that the same phrase which has allowed rostered leaders to dance around dicey subjects can in fact throw them right into the whirl of it all:
Meet your people where they are.
If you’re the leader of a white congregation, that’d generally be a life of white privilege at the expense of black lives which do, in fact, matter.
So go ahead.
Meet them where they are.
And when you do, meeting them where they -really- are as opposed to where they -think- they are, you help lead your people into repentance, you announce the possibility of restoration to -all- the People of God, and you help bring -all- the People of God to where everyone ought to be.
Here’s a really beautiful something that Martin Luther never ever said, even though on Earth Day, shared especially by well-intentioned Lutherans, a person can’t avoid seeing on social media.
I didn’t get a Good Friday blog done yesterday.
Two weeks ago, I began a new position at Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary as an adjunct professor.
This past Saturday, I was very honored to be the speaker at this year’s Excellence in Preaching event sponsored by St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church in Mahtomedi, Minnesota.
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