Thursday, April 30, 2015

An Act of Civil Disobedience

Yesterday, for the first time in my 62 years, I participated in an act of civil disobedience that resulted in my arrest.

I wasn’t alone. I was arrested that day with nine other clergy-types from North Carolina. That evening, another group of people was arrested, too. About 1000 people went before us as a part of the Moral Monday movement that began its third year this week. Before Moral Monday, there have been other movements that included acts of civil disobedience around the world, and in the United States. In fact, our country was started by acts of civil disobedience. I am honored to march with the millions of people who have gone before me, moved to step out for the sake of justice.

Ten years ago, North Carolina was considered a progressive state and I was proud to call myself a North Carolinian by choice. In recent years, I have grown increasingly frustrated with the decisions of our lawmakers in Raleigh and have watched us become a regressive state. There seems to be a complete disregard for justice. The poor are being trampled upon with no evidence of compassion as we enter a time in our country when the disparity between rich and poor is similar to colonial times.

For a while, I wondered if people were even aware of what was happening. The Racial Justice Act of 2009 was repealed, which had allowed inmates on death row to challenge their sentences on the basis of racial discrimination. (The problem in North Carolina is a proven fact.) Voting rights have been restricted. Women’s healthcare limited. Little regard has been shown for the environment. Education has suffered drastically, including cuts to teacher pay that has sent some of our best educators to other states. (This is a problem for our children that will cost us far more in the long-run.) People were cut off from unemployment benefits far earlier than they needed to be. The state opted out of Medicaid expansion, which was part of the Affordable Care Act and would have provided coverage to 500,000 North Carolinians who do not currently receive coverage. As a result, thousands of people have died without the healthcare that could have saved them. People are dying as a result of the decisions our General Assembly has been making. Was anybody seeing this? 

The fact is, since Dr. William Barber began the Moral Monday movement in North Carolina, people in our state are paying attention to what is happening in our General Assembly. They are aware of the unjust, immoral and at times criminal acts being perpetrated against the people of our state. Public opinion has shifted. So, I have no doubt that the movement has made a difference. At the center of that movement are acts of civil disobedience. Without them, Moral Mondays are like a barking dog, alerting everyone to the problem, but more annoying to our opponents than anything. The actions are what give the movement its bite.

Last week, my dear colleague Robin Tanner told our Wednesday morning Bible Study group that she would be going to Raleigh for the anniversary of Moral Monday and she planned to participate in civil disobedience that day. Robin is such an inspiration to me. She is a UU minister, younger than my children, and wise far beyond her years. She has a passion that drives her to organize others and speak eloquently on behalf of justice that truly amazes me. What a gift she has been to our Charlotte community in the few short years she has been with us. I have been one of her many cheerleaders.

When I learned that Robin would be going to Raleigh alone, I offered to drive her. I’ve been to several Moral Monday events in the past couple of years and I was glad to take part. 

Then I started watching the unrest in Baltimore on TV. Although it troubles me, it doesn’t surprise me. How much can people take from a system that is stacked against them, never seems to change, and in many ways is only getting worse? They are frustrated and angry. I get that. But as I watched the events unfolding on my TV screen I kept asking myself, What am I doing to help change the circumstances of our world that lead to such despair? 

I thought and prayed about my witness to the God of justice and love. The day before Robin and I planned to go to Raleigh, I knew the time had come for me to join in the march of the saints before me. It was cowardice that kept me from doing so before, and I wanted to look at myself in the mirror for the remainder of my life. This time I couldn’t stand by and watch others do something I knew I was also called to do myself.

I had to do it. And I’m glad I did. Was it easy? No. Was it uncomfortable? Yes. Was it necessary? I believe it was. Will it make a difference? It already has. I’m another person in a very long movement that has sided with the poor, the marginalized, and those who are treated unjustly. As I understand it, that’s where Jesus sided, too. It’s made a difference in the life of the world and, as of April 29, 2015, it’s made a difference in the life of me. 

Thursday, April 23, 2015

A Chirping Smoke Alarm

I was awakened in the wee hours of the morning by the sound of chirping. No, it was not a bird. It was my #%^@ smoke alarm telling me that it was time to change the battery. Grrrrr! Is there any worse sound in all the world? I asked myself.

I turned on the light, climbed up on a step ladder and yanked the alarm from the ceiling. Then I crawled back into bed and tried to resume my interrupted dreams. 

But my question kept nagging at me. Is there any worse sound in all the world than a smoke alarm chirping in the middle of the night when you’re sleeping soundly?

Now, that’s a first-world question, if ever there was one. Yes, there are lots of worse sounds. Like the sound of a child crying because she’s hungry and you’ve nothing to give her to eat. Or even worse, the silence of a child who is so hungry she no longer has the energy to cry. Yes, that’s worse than the sound of a smoke alarm chirping. Or the sound of a gunshot in a neighborhood where innocent people are too often killed by guns. How about the sound of bombs expoding all around you while you hold your breath and pray that you will escape the next one?  

These were not the thoughts of a person who was about to drift off to sleep.

I couldn't stop thinking about all the horrible sounds that were happening right at that moment, all over the world, while I was resting on my pillow-top mattress, cozy-warm beneath my down comforter, snuggled between my dog and cat. 

Some would be thankful for being so "blessed." But I can't go there. To say that I am blessed is to say that God decided to plant me in the United States, in an affluent lifestyle, with more material stuff than I know what to do with. And if God decided to do that for me, then God chose not to do that for millions of other people. The whole blessed thing doesn't work for me. I’m not blessed. I'm just incredibly lucky.

And why me? Why have I been so lucky while other people in this world have been so unlucky? Why have I been lucky enough to wake up in the middle of the night cursing a chirping smoke alarm?

Sunday, April 5, 2015

You Thought You Could Ruin Our Easter?

Today Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Charlotte celebrated its 100th Easter. For 100 years this community of God’s faithful people has been ushering in Resurrection Sunday with the resounding hymn, “Jesus Christ is Risen Today.” This year, we heard it twice. Once as a glorious procession made its way down the center aisle and a second time when I led the children in our annual “Easter Bunny Hop.” (The song fits the steps of the “Bunny Hop” perfectly.)

It was a Sunday full of surprises. Perhaps the biggest one was something that none of us had planned. When people arrived, they were greeted by protesters on the front sidewalk. Can you believe it? On Easter Sunday! These “Christians” thought it was more important to stand in front of our church and spew hate than it was to be worshiping in their own church on Easter Sunday.

When I saw them, I was not happy. There were things we had planned to do on the front lawn, and instead we had to remain sequestered in the building.

The protesters were loud and obnoxious, but they did nothing illegal. Nonetheless, three police cars arrived to make sure. I thanked the officers and shared a picture with them that I had just taken next door at the Van Landingham Estate, where the children were having an Easter egg hunt. It’s a photo of one of our families. The officers commented on how great the picture was. I pointed to it and said, “It’s hard to believe that THIS is what these people are protesting, isn’t it?”

For the most part, I tuned out the high decibel ranting that kept going non-stop. I did manage to hear that I was leading my people to hell, something I have been accused of many times by just these kind of people. I consider their accusations high praise for my ministry.

One of our members heard the “preacher” say that there was something wrong with the name of our church. We had nothing to do with being holy, or the Trinity, or a church...but we could keep the Lutheran part. Ha! I love it! The member reporting this to me remarked, “They obviously don’t know anything about what it means to be Lutheran.”

Ironically, if the protesters thought they were going to scare anyone away from worshiping with us, their presence had the opposite effect. One woman from the neighborhood was taking her morning walk past the church. She was so angry when she saw them that she walked right into the church to worship. A family across the street quickly constructed their own signs to counter the ones the protesters were displaying. They got into quite a “discussion” with the protesters in the middle of the street. That's when one of our ushers invited them to worship with us, and they did. After worship, the same usher went to their house and gave them one of our lilies.

Have I mentioned how truly amazing the children of Holy Trinity are? Today I asked them to tell me about signs of Easter they had seen that morning. They said: Easter eggs, bunnies, butterflies… If I were to answer that question I would point to them as the greatest sign of new life, hope and promise for me. It never ceases to amaze me how well they understand what living the Jesus Way in the world looks like. 

Before I walked into worship, I read an email from one of our members who had attended a sunrise service where she was vacationing in Florida this morning. The service was of another flavor of Lutheranism that shall go unnamed. Afterward, she had a conversation with her son, who is about 7 years old. She asked him if he could tell the difference. He said, “At our church we believe God lets everyone go to heaven. They think only some people do.” Yes, he gets it.

On Facebook, someone posted the conversation between a mom and her young daughter that took place as they were walking into church this morning:
Child: Why are they yelling mean things?
Mom: They have bad things they want to say. Do you remember what happened when Jesus was headed to the cross?
Child: People yelled mean things at him.
Mom: And what did he do?
Child: He forgave them.

I really am so proud of the people in my congregation. They didn’t let any of the disruption going on outside the building ruin their Easter. Our worship together was truly glorious. And it was not about the ruckus on the street. It was all about Jesus.

During communion we sang “All Are Welcome”, a song that was chosen long before anyone knew what would greet us when we arrived at church this morning. The words took on new meaning for us: “Here the outcast and the stranger bear the image of God’s face; let us bring an end to fear and danger: All are welcome, all are welcome, all are welcome in this place.”

He is risen. I know it’s true because I saw him this morning at 1900 The Plaza in Charlotte. 

Thursday, April 2, 2015

A Bad Case of OCE

I don’t know that I’ve ever had a case of OCE like the one I’m experiencing this year. I suspect it has been like this every year of my adult life although I always seem to forget from one year to the next. Every time Holy Week rolls around, my brain turns into a 1 G computer that is trying to process 4 G of data. 

Since I don’t have a cloud where I can store all this excess information, I leave notecards and post-its and lists all over my desk. There are extra prayers for the assisting minister. And copies of a diagram for the processional, as well as a flow chart for the distribution stations for Holy Communion. I have a list of things I need to go over with the acolytes and a set of instructions for the altar committee. I also have guidelines for the ushers to read: when to turn the lights on, how to seat the overflow crowd, how to bring people up for communion. And then there are the instructions I have left for myself. As I wade my way through Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, I have a pile of lists for each one. And now I’m suddenly realizing that I may forget some of my lists, so I need to compile a list of lists.

The bulletin for Sunday has been giving me fits. We forgot to order a fancy cover this year, so at the last minute, at the secretary's encouragement, I decided to design one. Then we didn’t have any colored paper and it looked terrible on the white. So I called all over town trying to find 8 ½ by 14 color copy paper. I finally ordered some online from Staples and it was delivered at the last minute. After proofing the content of the bulletin a bazillion times and having a few others do it as well, I looked at it one last time before we printed it, found at least 10 errors, and felt like I was about to have a nervous breakdown.

Yesterday I sent an email to all the worship ministers for Sunday in which I told them about the order of the procession, when to move and at what pace, how much space to leave between people, and what to wear. Specifically, I asked them to wear nice shoes and I let the men know that they need to wear long pants under their robes. Yes, I am obsessing over what people wear under their robes. So, I got a series of emails back from folks who told me what they would be wearing, all of it beyond inappropriate. They thought they were being funny. The thing is, when I’m suffering from an episode of OCE, I don’t have the space in my brain to accommodate humor. Any extra brain matter that remains free I need to save for my sermon.

My sermon!? All these people and details and lists to keep track of, and I’m supposed to have something to say, too?

I have to tell you that of all the stuff I needed to do today, blogging wasn’t on my list. So, I’d better sign off before I have a stroke. You’ll hear from me again after I have recovered from my OCE (Obsessive Compulsiveness about Easter). Just so you know, I have made plans to do that sometime on Sunday evening. It’s the last item on my list of things to do that day.