Does God Care About the City?

And when he drew near and saw the city he wept over it.

~ John 19:41, RSV

If nothing else, God cares about the cities because they have people in them. That’s what makes them cities.

In 1994 Bruce Winter wrote a book he titled Seek the Welfare of the City, a title taken from Jeremiah 29: “But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”[1] Winter is writing about first century Christians, but the welfare of the city ought to be a real concern to Christians in this twenty-first century, too. Even in cities where it seems as if there is a church on every corner, we have problems: crime, pollution, traffic, unemployment, homelessness; the list goes on and on, and you probably have your own ideas about “what’s wrong with the city.”

Los Angeles is the city and context where I do ministry.  I can imagine Jesus here, stopping to pray with and heal a homeless man on Skid Row, or chatting with a prostitute on Santa Monica Boulevard, or sitting down to dinner with a high-powered Hollywood executive. I can imagine Jesus kneeling to pray in our little sanctuary in South Central or in the ostentatious but still holy Cathedral of the Angels.

God cares about the city – not just Los Angeles, but every city – and because God cares, I care.  I don’t care only because God cares, but also because this is where my own life unfolds, and because people are fun and fascinating, and because in every person I meet I see reflected some little piece of Jesus, or my own mother or father, sister or brother, son or daughter or grandchild. Sometimes I see a reflection of myself.  How could I not care?

I love the sometimes dirty and gritty but always interesting and diverse City of Angels with its Tower-of-Babel- and-Pentecost-all-rolled-together mix of languages and cultures and skin tones and traditions. (I also love my hometown city, Long Beach, twenty miles away from my church, a kind of mini-LA with its own history and culture.) I want to understand what works and what doesn’t work, the complex interaction of people and politics and systems, and I want to understand how we can make it all come together in a way that benefits the entire community – all the people who live and work and pass through this crazy pueblo known as Los Angeles.


[1] Jeremiah 29:7, RSV.

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WHAT?!?

This blog is about women in ministry and what is real for them. THIS, may seem petty but it is a very real issue for me professional, personally, culturally, and spiritually.

So I’ll make this to the point….

What the heck do i do with this recent article? Plus–mainstream media pays attention to efforts to end the R word. Minus, aka ‘I need to scream loudly’–the media equates cerebral palsy, which is actually a physical disability (occasionally coupled with intellectual disability which would also be a separate diagnosis), as being solely an intellectual disability which makes my efforts to be an ‘out’ professional with CP more difficult by creating a false stigma I now have to dismantle on an individual basis, without media assistance….So, I ask, what am I to do with this that does not throw my ID brothers and sisters under the short bus? “Thanks CNN” for trying to shove me back in the freak closet, and ‘thanks’ for using your media power to create false stigmas about disability! I think we REALLY need anti-discrimination laws about this; journalists should not have the right to spread blatant falsehoods about disability in an age where a quick internet search would clarify effects of specific disabilities–if one bothered to pay attention to what one was writing for general consumption !!!!!

Questionable article about PWD     http://www.cnn.com/2012/03/07/living/end-r-word/index.html?iref=obnetwork

Bearing Witness

Sometimes I feel like I live on the road. I commute, I travel to people’s homes to do chaplaincy. My car is my office. I live in southern California–traffic is horrible! While I have thought of getting a catchy licence plate or clergy bumper sticker I have hesitated to do so. Why? Because I drive 500-700 miles a week on southern California freeways…and people do stupid things on the road… and I, well, I like to use my horn! I try to be polite on the road. I know that the time I arrive is not as important as how safely I arrive. I do drive through some beautiful areas and I try to enjoy the scenery. That being said I have seen road rage, perhaps I have even felt rage on the roads at times. I do not like driving as much as I do. Yet this is a necessary part of the work that God seems to want me to do right now–and that’s a whole ‘nother blog!

What annoys me most are those big traffic slow downs. You know the type. Traffic just slows down and seems to come to a halt; and then you realize that all this is due to some looky-loos staring at an accident on the side of the road rather than driving like they should. These slow downs annoy me because they seem completely unnecessary and all they do is slow me down when I already have too little time for the important stuff.

Recently I found myself stuck in one of these slow downs as I drove home from work. It was the dark side of dusk and I saw in the distance the red and blue flashing lights of a police personnel on the side the road with more than one car, a sure tip off that it was an accident and not a traffic stop. Come on people, you can do nothing about it. Keep moving. Mind your own business. I want to get home already. I thought as I approached the scene. And then as I passed the scene, I looked over and saw the people on the side of the road with the bumpers torn off their cars and a new wave of compassion came over me. And I realized, what if the other drivers slowing me down are not just annoying looky-loos looking to peer onto another person’s misery, or looking for a bloody scene? What if they are bearing witness to the trauma and pain of the people on the side of the road who had had an accident?

Now that’s a thought. As I reflected on this idea of looky-loos bearing witness to the troubles of others even as they are keeping me away from home longer on an already too long day it became apparent to me that there is some theology going on here, some moral and ethical working of the post-modern age taking place right before my eyes. Its true there was. Even in this age (are we still in the post-modern age or is it post-post-modern? well what ever age it is), even in this age when we are so seemingly glued to our individual experiences and mediating relationships through cell phones, text messages, smart phones, and ipods, it seems that we still respond to the misfortunes of others. And, that is hopeful. For here it was before my eyes, four our five lanes of bumper to bumper traffic slowing down as if in acknowledgement of the pain being experienced, in that moment, by the stranger they were in the process if passing by. And is not the call to bear witness to our fellow human begins not central to core of our biblical teachings? I mean bearing witness is the first step in “doing unto others”, to helping those with need, being the good Samaritan, to being our bothers’ and sisters’ keeper. Wow, I thought. That, thought. That’s something. Maybe, just maybe there is still hope that we have not, even in this technological and individualistic age, driven to far off track.

The Wisdom of Women

I must confess, Epiphany is my favorite day of the Christian year. It is ripe with possibilities that often go overlooked. It also has deep personal meaning to me because of the tradition my family of origin created to celebrate the arrival of the “kings.”

The three kings, found in only one gospel, add a mysticism to the Christmas story that I venture to say we find no place else in the entire Advent-Christmas-Epiphany story. It is the kind of mysticism that may only exist in one other place in Christianity, namely the Resurrection.

Epiphany—realization. It’s the story of the arrival of the “kings” into the presence of the babe called Jesus, and his parents. It’s a story not only of realization but one of being equipped for the holy journey. Here we have the three “kings,” scholars from afar, arriving to welcome the child of a young and unknown Mary and Joseph. Mary and Joseph we know had been told in visitations and dreams that there was something of celestial destiny associated with their child. But the then there was the arrival of these strange kings who had held audience with the local ruler in their search for Jesus. It does not seem strange to me that scholars, kings, paying attention to the signs of their time and heeding the leading of the divine in their own lives would seek Jesus out. Indeed, I think the grown Jesus once spoke of the need to heed the signs of our own time.

We too, I believe, are each in some way to be equipped for the journey ahead of us, be it a journey we anticipate or not. There are signs of our coming reality that we may not always see for what they are. Perhaps one of the reasons I love Epiphany so much is that each January 6th of my school age years, I would awake to find three wrapped gifts at the foot of my bed. They were not Christmas gifts, and although they were wrapped, they were never shiny toys designed to delight. No, they were shoes, socks, a shirt…usually things that needed to be replaced at that time of the school year. I looked forward to these gifts sometimes more than gifts from Santa, and often I was allowed to discover what lay inside the wrapping in the privacy of my own room—no family snapping photos, no requests to model what might lay inside. Simple gifts designed to equip me for the journey ahead. It would be some where in my twenties that I would realize one of the reasons behind my visits from the wise men was the fact that—living paycheck to paycheck—my mother could not always buy what she wanted to get me for Christmas at one time and this was her way of “making up” for what seemed to her—not me—as meager Christmas mornings. Mother’s wisdom.

As I think about the story of the three kings, it really is strange that they would give Jesus gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. What strange gifts. Yes, we get that they were valuable, but what is a baby from a poor family to do with those? Ah, yes, the family was soon to flee into Egypt to escape from Herod. Gifts of wealthy to empower refugees fleeing for their lives. The gifts the wise men gave equipped Jesus’ family for the journey but the gifts were also over-the-top extravagant. They were gifts in the ancient tradition; gifts of tribute given to a king—a person of great power in the world. And in this sense the gifts were ones of recognition of the arrival of the person come in the form of a babe to live among the marginalized in an occupied land.

—A babe whose ultimate omnipresence in the world we just celebrated at Christmas. Wait, what? Usually we think of God as omnipresent in the world, not Jesus. Yes, I hear the theologians among you complaining. And I protest. My thought for Epiphany 2012 is this: the gift we received in Jesus’s birth was Jesus bringing God to us and showing us how to bring out the recognition of the Holy Spirit into the world in return. It was the gospel and work of the grown Jesus to invite in the poor, the disabled, the women, the children, those who had no voice in society into the conversation, to demand that they be heard and that they be fed both literally and with justice. Christmas is the beginning of that, Epiphany the recognition of it, and the rest of the church year is a discussion on how to live into and out of the babe recognized by kings.

This is hard work. It is being shaken to the core, ceased by the spirit, and acting upon completion. As I write this, I am returning from a denominational meeting in which the discussion of diversity and inclusion not only left out but further marginalized people with disabilities. In the meeting, I was sitting and processing how to respond. But then a lone woman stood up, interrupted the meeting, spoke out for justice, and sat down. Then I stood up and spoke on the same topic. Then a third. And the church was silenced into the realization that Jesus is still present and calling for the inclusion of the marginalized, and the Spirit is still moving within the church with an overpowering wind when necessary. Woman-Spirit in partnership with wisdom.

As we close this devotional season at Women Who Speak in Church, I invite you to take this realization of the omnipresence of Jesus calling for liberation of the marginalized, and the knowledge that the Spirit is still blowing the winds of God’s justice with you into this new year. May we all live fully, knowing that we have been somehow equipped for journey ahead.

Amen for Epiphany!

Spreading the Cloths of Heaven

Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

—He Wishes For The Cloths Of Heaven
William Butler Yeats

In a few days we will ring in the New Year. When I read this poem, I wonder to myself: Have I treaded softly on the dreams of others this past year? More importantly, have I spread the cloths of heaven under the feet of those who need it most? And what might that look like? Does this mean that I have focused on creating the kin-dom of God on earth—as it is in heaven? Have I helped the marginalized? As Jesus says, “for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me…Truly, I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me” (NRSV, Matthew 25:42-45) I wonder if I had fed anyone that needed food or drink or welcomed a stranger, or clothed the naked or visited the sick or those imprisoned this past year?

Prayer:

Lord, as I get closer to beginning a new year of my life, may I remember to recognize the blessings of being on this earth and serving you, by serving others. May I never forget to include helping the oppressed in my New Year’s Resolutions. I recognize that I may not have done everything that you have called me to do this year, but I will remember that receiving your grace allows me to give grace, in return. I recognize that my blessings are meant to be shared. I will clothe the naked, feed the hungry and visit the sick and imprisoned—whether physical or spiritual. For I am your servant, and I must spread the cloths of heaven for you. Amen.

***

Summer Albayati-Krikeche is a woman who speaks inside and outside of the church. She is a candidate for ordained ministry in the Unitarian Universalist church, and serves as an intern chaplain at Hoag Hospital in Newport Beach. While studying in seminary, Summer felt that all of the sacred scriptures called us to help the oppressed.  Shortly, thereafter, she decided to help those considered the most marginalized in any society—orphans. In 2009, Summer founded Orphan Whispers, a nonprofit that helps orphans in conflict and post-conflict societies, and is currently focusing on the orphans in Iraq.  

The Unholy Family of Christmas

As long as it’s Advent/Christmas season and you’re over here to read encouraging and uplifting articles on this special season, let me bring one more thing to the table.

Over at Jubilee Economics Ministries, another site I do extensive work for, Lee Van Ham has now posted two complete series of blog entries that take some interesting looks at Christmas as told in Luke (from 2010) and Matthew (this year). You can find them within a category called Unwrapping Christmas. The series on Luke explores the cosmological breakthrough of Christ into a world that would be Caesar’s. (Lee gives the grown up Linus answer to Charlie Brown’s question.) This year’s series, dubbed The Unholy Family of Christmas, is actually rather much a topic that should be on this very site for the way it looks at the women of Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus.

Lee is a retired pastor of 32 years (Presbyterian) and brings not only his clergy background to explaining the texts, but also his post-retirement passion for helping people open the Bible and to discover the economic themes that bind it together. He is working on a book about “One Earth” economics and the stories that get us there, i.e., the Creation-centered stories of the Bible, in contrast to the Civilization story of empires and superpower nations, which have done much to diminish the former. In this Advent series, Lee looks at the notable women that preceded Jesus, and found how their stories harkened back to the Creation story, and their actions were rejections of the systems that would see them hemmed in by patriarchal laws that might even lead to death if not for the bold life-saving rejections that made these women notable.

While much would be familiar to you as clergy, and as women, for many folks, this is a great new way to unhitch Christmas from the commercial extravaganza it has become, or even to put some power back into the story, leaving the tame little pageant imagery behind. Feel free to share it around as an extra resource with your friends and congregations.

While you’re looking into Jubilee Economics, why not subscribe to The Common Good Podcast too?

Divine Partnering

They love to have the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, and to be greeted with respect in the market-places, and to have people call them rabbi. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students.

—Matthew 23:1-12

What drives our actions? Jesus points to the scribes and Pharisees saying (paraphrased) “do what they teach and not what they do.” Jesus says that the teachings may be in the right place, but not their hearts. What compels them to share wisdom? In this text, we are introduced to people who do work for their own desires including taking places of honor and prestige in the community.

There are a number of actions we take to better ourselves. Giving our time, talent, and treasure to important causes feels good. There are also times we take action because it makes us look good or makes us feel better about ourselves.

I entered college and graduate school to strengthen some of my skills and increase my knowledge so that I could make a bigger contribution to the world—but that wasn’t the whole reason. I discovered that deep inside I was hoping that I would somehow attain deeper respect from others and feel better about my place in the world. I was also feeling a bit insecure about being a lesbian woman entering the ministry. My feelings became more apparent when I heard the story of a local college professor who was called an epithet based on his sexual orientation when all he wanted to do was share a drink with friends. I was saddened to hear of the event and realized that even if I had the letters “Rev.” or “Dr.” in front of my name, I would not be shielded from harm. I was going to school, in part, because I thought my education could protect me. The truth is that if I desire to do what is right and honor God, I am choosing a challenging path. The lives of Jesus and the prophets show us all too clearly how those who carry the message of love and peace are not always readily received.

We cannot do this work alone. Because of this, we cannot expect to take all the credit, either. This work of honoring God with our lives requires nothing short of the power of God acting in and through us.

God gives us a glimpse of the peaceable realm when those who wish to store up all the glory for themselves will be humbled and those who are humbled will be celebrated. It is when we are most humble that we are able to truly experience peace and witness the power of God.

Oh God, it is said that I must decrease in order for you to increase within me. I pray that desires for my own will may decrease that I may discover how the unique gifts you have freely given me can be fine tuned to live out your will to bring about the peaceable realm. Amen.

***

Angela Henderson, M.Div. currently serves as the Unitarian Universalist campus minister at UC Davis. She graduated with her Master of Divinity degree from Claremont School of Theology in 2010 and is a candidate for ministry.