From a moment to a movement

“It can’t just be a moment, it needs to be a movement.”

My English major sensibilities need you to know that this is not a direct quote. I can’t even remember where it came from in the virtual pile of articles about the violence and confrontations in Ferguson, MO this week.  The spirit of these words continue to haunt me as I remember Mike Brown, unarmed and shot to death by local police last weekend.  Everything feels like it is cracking around us. Look at the United States.  Don’t stop there, look around the world. Violence, disease, civil unrest, power, corruption, privilege, hunger, yearning, longing.

And then there she is, the Canaanite woman in this week’s lectionary reading from Matthew 15: 21-28, who peeks her head out from the biblical narrative to shake us back to the core of humanity.  She’s a mother who will not let the discomfort of others bring her to silence.  She’s a loud nuisance as she pleas for help for her demon-possessed daughter.  She’s distraught and no one, not even Jesus’ entourage of twelve, could stop her. She’s an outsider of Jesus’ religious tradition but she could care less; she’s heard about his power and wants a taste of it for her daughter.

It’s not one of Jesus’ finer moments because he calls her a “small dog.”  The Messiah slaps a label on her before going back to what he believes is the important business of caring for his people.  But that’s not enough for her.  She reminds him that even the dogs come to the Table and are fed from its crumbs.  In her boldness, she demands that Jesus see the expansion of his flock beyond his own community.

We need to open our ears to hear people like the Canaanite woman.  People who take whatever we put on them and still come to the Table to say, “No, this is not okay.  Can’t you see what you’ve done?  Don’t you know that your labels have no power here?  You are not going to continue to do business as usual.  People are important.  I’m important.  We all are important.”

We need to be like the Canaanite woman.  

Let’s make this moment the last moment that we sit complacently, focusing on the needs right before our eyes and ignoring the cries around us.

Let’s make this moment the last moment that we allow otherness to drive our actions and fear to rule the day.

Let’s make this the last moment that we let one death or two or three or hundreds pass in silence, as if it didn’t matter because surely there isn’t anything that we could do about it.

Let’s make this moment that united people together from across the country into joining the movement that has been going on for centuries here, shaping our history as colonizers to those that uphold basic human rights within a system that we hope is capable of valuing justice and peace for all.

Or maybe we need to go even more basic than that.  Maybe the basic human right is just this simple…life.  May we all strive for a world that values life and living.  Period.

Becoming a Church of all People

NMCC

A photo from closing worship and communion at the 2014 National Multicultural Church Conference in Fort Worth, TX

Well, my travel officially began with the National Multicultural Church Conference in Fort Worth, TX from July 31- August 3. I have to admit that this was the perfect first trip to kick off my journey as vice moderator. You may or may not remember that my congregation is located in Queens, NY. It’s the most diverse county in the country and the First Presbyterian Church of Forest Hills is certainly a reflection of it. We are composed of several languages and cultures from all around the world and lack a racial/ethnic majority in our congregational demographics. When I look out into our congregation on a Sunday morning, I can’t help but think that I am looking out at the future of the United States sitting right in the pews!

It was exciting to be among people who are asking questions about the dynamics of multicultural, intercultural ministry.  There were workshops about power and privilege, leadership shifts, young adults for whom plurality and diversity are already a reality, worship that honors unique experiences of the divine, and already existing models of ministry.  The participants of the workshops were a reflection of diversity themselves: various denominations, ministers, lay leaders, and others all worked in teams to present each workshop.  We didn’t hear from one voice, but many as we learned from the leaders as well as participants.  This truly was a witness to living as a Church body.

But the best part of these conferences and gatherings is to reconnect with old friends and make new ones.  My spirit was lifted as I spoke with people about the blessings and challenges of their ministries.  Ministry…well, heeding God’s call in general…is never an easy task!  I am inspired by the work that is being done throughout our Church.  There are many in our midst who are using their hands, feet, and voices to form communities that welcome to all people.  These communities are multifaceted and complex, calling those who participate to live into way of being that might be very different than what the world outside of their walls says is acceptable.  I am equally inspired by people who are faced with challenges that seem daunting BUT they continue to do the hard work to move forward.  After all, aren’t we all at times left wondering if we are on the “right” path (as if there was one!) or feeling as though we are on an island doing this kind of work without any others in sight?!  It’s at those times that meeting people from across the country and around the world becomes critical to nourishing us for this work.

The conference theme was “Journeying and Awakening into God’s Diverse World” set on the backdrop of Luke’s narrative of the Road to Emmaus.  As our first worship and keynoter reminded us, we journey first and then are awakened to what God has in store.  Sometimes we have to take that first step and, like the men on the road away from Jerusalem, are met by Christ without even realizing it.

So, friends, what are the ways you and/or your church are journeying and awakening to God’s call for you?

A new journey begins…

On June 15, 2014, I was elected as the Vice Moderator of the 221st General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).  It’s all a blur when I think back to the election, moderating the assembly of over 600 people from across the country and around the world, talking with people about the Church, and embodying my new role in the denomination.  You can read more about the election, hopes for the future, and find some background information on me HERE. What I remember the most from Detroit as well as the weeks following is the feeling of familial connection that I have whenever I participate in something like the General Assembly.  It sometimes takes an event like this to rekindle friendships, reconnect with people that I haven’t seen face-to-face in a long time, and foster new relationships.  I always walk away feeling like I’ve received a gift: a reminder that I am not serving in ministry on an island but in a network of pastors, leaders and congregations from across the country that are just as passionate about heeding God’s call as I am. It is this sense of connection, hope, honesty and trust that I intend to bring to my term as Vice Moderator.  I’m not sure about your families, but in my family we often disagree on a variety of things.  We sometimes leave bruised, hurt from the conversation and uncertain about the future.  Other times we leave in celebration, forgetting that others might be less than optimistic about what just transpired.  Still others leave us in silence for a period of time until we can approach one another again (in hope that reconciliation will be possible). I look forward to this two year journey as we seek to explore God’s call to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) together!