Called to Care; Psalm 8

(A golden oldie while I enjoy the holiday weekend)

I went fishing in northwest Ontario for a week with two friends. We got an all-day rain on Tuesday. So we headed to a town about fifty miles north. After a day of gawking, eating, shopping and general carousing, we got back about 10:30 p.m.

Our cabin was right on the lake, so we wandered down to the dock. One friend looked up and said, “Oh. My. Goodness!”–or perhaps something a bit more colorful. We froze in amazement. Northern lights stretched from horizon to horizon.

We lay on our backs on the dock. The aurora shimmered and danced for nearly an hour. In all that time, we spoke not a word. We simply worshiped in that Canadian cathedral of living light.

We were blessed with a Psalm 8 experience. “When I look at the heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established,” ponders the poet, “what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?” A very good question.

Our sun is a nondescript member of the three hundred billion stars in the Milky Way galaxy. The Milky Way is one of at least two trillion galaxies in the observable universe. The total number of stars is approximately a three followed by twenty-three zeroes.

Yet three foolish humans on the third rock from one of those nondescript stars were privileged to bear witness to the heavens lit with the glory of God. “O LORD, our Lord,” writes the psalmist, barely able to take it all in, “how majestic is Your name in all the earth!

How to respond to such marvels? The Psalmist points to our human vocation within God’s Creation. The Lord has made us just a little lower than God, and crowned us with glory and honor. This is a picture of royalty. This is an astonishing assertion about beings as foolish and frail as we are. But there’s more.

You have given them dominion over the works of Your hands,” the Psalmist continues. We hear echoes of Genesis one, verses twenty-eight and twenty-nine. God blessed the newly-minted human beings and instructed them to populate the earth. “And have dominion,” God continued, “over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves on the earth.

What are human beings that God should pay any attention to us? We are called to be keepers of Creation, managers of all that God has made.

Perhaps I have just set a world’s record for the linguistic long jump. So let me retrace my steps. What is this “dominion” we have been given? If we humans are God’s called and chosen representatives, then God is our model. How does God rule?

Today is Holy Trinity Sunday. We celebrate seeing God’s human face in Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus tells us in Mark, chapter 10, that he came “not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

In Philippians two, we get even more of the picture. The Apostle Paul quotes an ancient Christian hymn. Even though Jesus is God’s human face for us, Jesus doesn’t exploit that status for personal privilege. Instead, Christ Jesus “humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death…on a cross.” If you want to see how God rules, look at Jesus on the cross.

We are called to rule the way God rules. Paul sums it up in Ephesians 1:22–”[God] has put all things under [Christ’s] feet and has made him the head over all things for the church…” We find ourselves right back at Psalm 8, verse 6. What are human beings that God should pay attention to us? We are called to be keepers of Creation, managers of everything God has made. We exercise that call when we rule like Jesus rules.

Paul captures this paradox in Romans 5, verses one through five. In the first two verses, he summarizes the good news of Jesus Christ. By grace, God makes us whole and invites us to trust that gift of life. When we do, we have peace with God through Jesus. On that basis, he says, “let us boast of our hope in sharing the glory of God.” That’s another way of saying we are called to rule like Jesus rules.

Jesus rules by serving, not by being served. That’s the operational definition of love. Love always requires suffering. Just ask any parent. If we had to do this on our own, we could never do it. So our peace with God brings a benefit–”God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”

God calls us to rule the way God rules. In Jesus, God frees us to follow our divine destiny and gives us the model for ruling. God pours the Holy Spirit into our hearts so we can answer the call and live as God made us to live. Father, Son and Holy Spirit–Happy Trinity Sunday!

Now I return to our beginning. Look at the glories of creation and be struck dumb in wonder! Let us reflect on our management of God’s Creation. Let me quote from the ELCA social statement on the care of creation. “Made in the image of God,” the statement asserts,

“We are called to care for the earth as God cares for the earth. God’s command to have dominion and subdue the earth is not a license to dominate and exploit. Human dominion…should reflect God’s way of ruling as a shepherd king who takes the form of a servant…, wearing a crown of thorns.”

How are we doing? We are destroying Creation in our desperate desire to dominate. Human responsibility for climate change is real. The science is beyond contesting. Efforts to challenge climate change science are bad science. Of course, it is our grandchildren who will discover that truth firsthand.

Grandchildren–that’s more than enough to get my attention and change my behavior. I want no Father’s Day gifts. Rather, I am giving the gifts of simpler living, less consumption, and a smaller carbon footprint. I see that as central to my calling to be a fully human being.

“So, to become human,” wrote Jean Vanier, means “to become men and women with the wisdom of love.” There is no better description for our human vocation toward one another and toward all of Creation. Let’s pray…

Pastor Lowell R. Hennigs

Conquering Faith

Friends, here’s one more golden oldie as I take a few days off for recharge and recovery. Blessings!

1 John 5:1-6

You have already won. That is today’s main thought, so I’ll say it again. You have already won.

We love to win. And everybody loves a winner. Psychologists tell us that we are wired for winning. Winning stimulates the production of dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin. These are the brain chemicals that make us do the happy dance after a victory. Some psychologists suggest that winning is essential for human happiness.

But what is “winning”? Mostly it’s just comparison. I don’t have to be the best in order to win. I just have to be better than YOU. A running shoe commercial from several years ago captures this. It has subtitles, so don’t be put off by the non-English dialogue. And even without the subtitles the results will be obvious.

Photo by Abdullah Ghatasheh on Pexels.com

Do I think I’m faster than a lion? Of course not! But I might be faster than YOU. This is winning as comparison. Life is a zero-sum game. If I win, you lose. The slow are meat, and the lion will eat.

You have already won. That’s the main point today. That main point comes from the second reading, First John 5:1-6. So what does it mean?

We need to get at the content of winning. Everybody loves a winner. And everybody loves winning. But how we win makes all the difference. After all, even Adolf Hitler knew that everybody loves a winner. He led the German people in ecstatic chants of “Sieg Heil!” That translates as “Hail, Victory!” It’s not enough to be in love with winning. How we win matters a great deal.

And this is the victory,” we read in First John, chapter five, “that conquers the world, our faith.You have already won! Let’s think about how that works.

We are far enough along in the Easter season, that we may have forgotten what all the fuss is about. God has come to us in Jesus. Jesus has absorbed every bit of the power of sin, death and the Devil. That power died with him on the cross. On the third day, God raised him bodily so that Jesus will never die again. This resurrection is God’s victory over sin, death and the Devil. And this resurrection is the beginning of God’s New Creation.

On Easter Sunday, God’s New Creation began. And we get to live in that New Creation, if we’re willing. “And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith.” Faith is not prediction. Prediction draws a line from the past to the future. So predictions of disaster are always right in the end. The lion eats. As that great twentieth century philosopher, Hank Williams, sang, we’ll never get out of this world alive.

Faith is not a prediction. Instead, faith relies on a promise—a promise now fulfilled. Faith draws a line from the future into the present. Remember, Jesus brings God’s future into our present. Because Christ is risen (Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!), you have already won.

You can embrace that future in trust and hope. That is faith. Or you can stick with predictions of business as usual. That is despair.

You see, the Gospel is good news, not just good information. It’s a headline, not a greeting card. The Gospel isn’t like someone who offers a new kind of flashlight so we can see in the dark. It is like someone saying that the sun has come up and it’s time to open the curtains.

So the victory of faith is about seeing the whole world in a new way. We stand so close to our pain and perplexity that often we cannot see the whole picture. I, for one, need constant help and reminder to step back and see the whole picture of God’s victory. Without that perspective, life becomes a gray blur, a pointless path to oblivion. The lion is the only winner.

Choosing between faith and prediction, trust and certainty, is a minute-by-minute task. I can decide at every minute to see things through death lenses or resurrection lenses. But this is also a basic approach to life. What we see is primarily a function of how we see. And how we see is a habit formed by practice. One of the reasons we come to worship each week is for vision re-training.

It’s no accident that the theme for the National Youth Gathering is “Rise Up.” That theme is rooted in Resurrection faith. Resurrection faith means that we are not bound by business as usual. God is on the move. I can be different. The world can be different. And we can be part of the difference.

We Christians declare that Easter changes the universe. And we claim that the change happens in us and through us—if we’ll allow it.

And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith.You have already won! Is that how you live?

Brennan Manning tells the story of an Irish priest who was walking through his rural parish. As he walked, he saw an old man kneeling by the side of the road, praying. The priest was impressed, and he said to the man, “You must be very close to God.”

The old man looked up from his prayers. He thought for a moment and then he smiled. “Yes, he’s very fond of me,” the man replied.

Will you leave today with that thought in your heart? Yes, God is very fond of you—of YOU. You are someone Jesus loves. Will you “abide in that love,” as Jesus tells us in John 15? Will you start each day this week by remembering that God is very fond of you—so fond that he’d rather die than spend eternity without you? The lion loses in the end. That is the victory that conquers the world, our faith.

You have already won.

A kindergarten teacher was getting to know his new students. He asked a little boy, “Any brothers?”

“No,” the boy answered. “Any sisters?” the teacher continued.

“No,” he again answered. “Do you have any pets?” the teacher wondered.

“No, not right now,” the boy replied sadly. Then a smile came over the little boy’s face. His eyes widened and he said, “But I do have some friends!”

Yes, so do we! Jesus calls you his friends. And he invites you and me to walk with him, to serve with him, to live with him and to love with him. He calls us to the way of life that changes the world. Jesus chooses you today. Will you live as Jesus’ friend? Remember, you have already won!

Pastor Lowell Hennigs

Heartfelt Faith

Friends, here’s another golden oldie as I take off a few days for recharging and digging in the dirt. Blessings!

Read 1 John 5:9-13

I want to look at one sentence in our second lesson. I invite you to focus your thoughts on the first half of verse ten: “Those who believe in the Son of God have the testimony in their hearts.”

The Holy Spirit changes us from the inside out. This is how the Resurrection works here and now. And that is the main thought today. The Holy Spirit changes us from the inside out.

“The real issue,” writes Richard Foster, “is not so much getting us into heaven as it is heaven getting into us.”[i] Easter is not only about some future existence after death. It is also about living that eternal life in the here and now. Easter directs us toward this world, not away from it. And Jesus wants to give you new life today, not just in the sweet by and by. “God does not wait until death to initiate this process of complete transformation,” Richard Foster continues. “It begins now, and God can and will do far more than we can possibly imagine.”[ii]

The Holy Spirit changes us from the inside out. This means that people really can be changed. If we don’t believe that, then we should all go home. Because we do believe that the Holy Spirit changes people, we do things based on that belief.

Photo by Chris F on Pexels.com

That’s why we are getting involved in the Reentry/Reintegration ministry of the Church of the Damascus Road. The statistics are nothing short of miraculous. Think about Inmate A, who serves his time in Fort Dodge or Rockwell City. On the inside he had no spiritual support system. He just focused on surviving and leaving. On the outside he has no one waiting for him. He leaves the prison with his clothes and a hundred dollars. Six times out of ten, Inmate A will re-offend and be returned to the prison system.

Now think about Inmate B. He has been involved in the Church of the Damascus Road while in prison. He has received support and guidance, prayer and accountability while inside. Perhaps he has been baptized. He receives communion weekly and attends Bible study. When he gets out, he has a community of people waiting to support him. They help him get settled into a new life. They help him to find a job, get a place to live, get a driver’s license and set up a household. Most important, they surround him with a church community of prayer and hope. Ninety-eight times out of a hundred, Inmate B will not re-offend.

What has happened? The Holy Spirit has changed Inmate B. That has happened, first of all, because Inmate B is willing to be changed. It has happened, second of all, because people of faith have been willing to be channels for the Holy Spirit’s work. And in the process, the Holy Spirit is changing those people from the inside out as well.

The Holy Spirit changes us from the inside out. If Inmate B can be changed so deeply and fully, then what about me? The Holy Spirit changes me from the inside out as well. Of course, I can be unwilling. I can say no to change. Or perhaps I will ask to be changed and then do nothing about it.

We Lutherans are often “halfway” Christians. We are so happy about this forgiveness business. We are glad that God forgives us our faults. But that’s as far as we are willing to go. Making us better seems to be unnecessary meddling on God’s part. When the Holy Spirit works to change us, we often reply with a polite “No, thank you.”

In spiritual terms, however, halfway is not enough. We are like a house. An empty house suffers. Dirt accumulates. Windows are broken. Critters move in. Pipes burst. Paint peels. Fires start. It’s no wonder an empty house feels like a corpse. A house flourishes when someone lives in it. The house needs maintenance and improving in order to live.

The same is true for our hearts. Our main spiritual task is “heart improvement.” That begins by allowing the Holy Spirit to whisper Good News into our hearts every day. Heart improvement continues when we accept that Good News and live like it’s true. How many people long for happiness, for example, and then focus on everything wrong in their lives? It is any wonder that happiness eludes them?

For me, the simple things matter. Do I enter fully into worship, or do I fold my arms and say, “OK, God, impress me”? Do I take time to be quiet daily with the Holy Spirit? Do I pray for those who don’t like me, those who make me uncomfortable? Do I give enough money and time to others to make a dent in my self-absorption? Is my life so cluttered with me that the Holy Spirit can’t find an empty space to work? Then my heart will not be changed. But if I can make room for the Spirit, my life will be different.

The Holy Spirit changes us from the inside out. There is no church growth without spiritual growth. If we Christians are not growing spiritually, then everything we do to expand the church is just marketing. You can’t dip water from an empty well. And this is especially true of church leaders. If I as your pastor am not growing spiritually every day, then the congregation will suffer. If your church council, committee chairs and members, teachers and mentors, worship leaders and volunteers are not growing spiritually, then our church is just an empty shell.

I want to encourage each of us and all of us to pursue what I see as the “Seven Marks of Discipleship.” Those marks are:

  • Growing spiritually
  • Praying and Reading the Bible daily
  • Worshiping weekly
  • Being involved in at least one ministry to serve Emanuel Lutheran Church
  • Being involved in at least one ministry that serves beyond Emanuel Lutheran Church
  • Tithing on your income for God’s work in the world
  • And encouraging spiritual growth in others, especially through small group study and prayer.

The Holy Spirit changes us from the inside out.  No one can say it better than Martin Luther. “This life therefore is not righteousness, but growth in righteousness, not health, but healing, not being but becoming, not rest but exercise. We are not yet what we shall be, but we are growing toward it, the process is not yet finished, but it is going on, this is not the end, but it is the road. All does not yet gleam in glory, but all is being purified.”[iii]

The Holy Spirit changes us from the inside out. Is that something you want?


[i] Richard Foster, “Salvation is for Life,” Theology Today 61 (2004), page 299.

[ii] Richard Foster, “Salvation is for Life,” Theology Today 61 (2004), page 300.

[iii] http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/22880-this-life-therefore-is-not-righteousness-but-growth-in-righteousness

A Little Warm-up for Next Week (Because I’m busy in the garden)

Friends; John 15:9-17

No one has greater love than this,” Jesus tells his disciples, “to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” That seems like a depressing little sentence in the waning weeks of Easter. All things considered, Jesus, I’d rather not…you know, lay down my life, if I could help it. Maybe you could find someone else for the job.        

A mother made pancakes for her son Kevin, and his younger brother Ryan. The boys began to argue over who would get the first pancake. Mom saw the opportunity for a moral lesson. “If Jesus were sitting here,” she told them, “He would say, ‘Let my brother have the first pancake. I can wait.'”

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Kevin considered this for a moment. Then he turned to his younger brother and said, “Ryan, how about you be Jesus!”

You are my friends,” Jesus tells his disciples, “if you do what I command you.” That command is this laying down my life business. It’s no wonder that St. Teresa of Avila once shouted to God, “If this is how You treat your friends, now wonder why You have so few of them!”

All this lay down your life stuff gets pretty grim–except for one thing. Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia! When Jesus talks about laying down a life for friends, this is no academic exercise. He speaks these words just hours before he puts them into action. No one has greater love has no one than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

Jesus calls you “friend.” That’s the point today. Jesus calls you “friend.”

If my calendar is correct, it’s still Easter. We’re still celebrating the death AND resurrection of Jesus. God brings new life out of that death. So that’s what we should expect from God now. Self-giving love produces death-defeating life.

A few weeks ago we heard that Jesus loves us to death–to the point of his own death. Why is that? C. S. Lewis talks about this in his book, The Four Loves. “To love at all is to be vulnerable,” he writes. “Love anything,” he continues,

and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”

God would rather die than spend eternity without you. Jesus calls you “friend.”

Now, let me put a comma in that sentence. Jesus calls you, friend. That is, Jesus calls you and me to live as his friends. Let me illustrate this.

Jesus says, “But I have called you friends…” Brenda and I are “Friends of Iowa Public Television.” We enjoy the programs on IPTV. We receive regular program updates and a monthly program guide. We have a Friends discount card. We get invited to Friends events. We support IPTV financially.

It’s an odd sort of friendship. We don’t really connect with a lot of other people. Instead, we connect with a mission and a set of values. Being friends of Jesus is like that. Jesus names us as friends. And Jesus chooses us to live as his friends.

Living as Jesus’ friends means loving like Jesus loves. That means laying down our lives in various ways for others. It means that we pay attention to the real needs of others. Let me illustrate.

The stranger approached the pastor after service and said, “I’d like you to pray for my hearing.” The pastor placed his hands on the man’s ears and said a passionate, earnest prayer. “How’s your hearing now?” the pastor asked. Looking surprised, the man said, “Well, it’s not until tomorrow.”

It would have been better if the pastor listened a bit more before assuming and acting. Laying down our lives means paying attention to the real needs of others.

This wildly countercultural. In our culture, the purpose of existence is to be happy as an individual. That is not the purpose of human existence as far as Jesus is concerned. The purpose of human existence is to bear the fruit of God’s love.

That may include giving up a life for a friend. That may include enduring discomfort in order to serve. That may include making space for someone else in our pews, our congregation and—most important—our lives.

The purpose of existence is not to minimize individual suffering and maximize individual pleasure. The purpose of human existence is to mirror God’s self-giving love into and for the sake of all Creation. That is not the value system of modern, neoliberal, unfettered capitalism.

Jesus says, “You did not choose me but I chose you.” God is not as choosy as I am about this friends business. We forget where we start in this arrangement. In Romans 5 Paul reminds us that we are weak, ungodly, even God’s enemies, because of the power of sin. Remember what a motley crew sits in Jesus’ audience in John 15. We would probably be much more selective.

Jesus calls us friends. This is more than mere naming. This is about our purpose in life. Baptism, for example, concludes with vocation. “Let your light so shine before others,” we say to the baptized, “that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.

Jesus says, “And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last…” What will we leave that lasts? Will it be a daycare center, a retreat center, a thriving congregation? We know this is about God’s faithfulness in Jesus. God’s word will not return empty. Jesus appoints us to leave fruit that lasts.

You are chosen. You are chosen to bear fruit. You are chosen to bear fruit that lasts. Jesus calls us friends. Let us pray that we live up our name…

Knowing When To Listen

“Don’t talk,” wrote Jorge Luis Borges, “unless you can improve the silence.” Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, is probably wishing she had remembered that counsel.

“Thank you, George Floyd, for sacrificing your life for justice,” Pelosi said as she spoke during a news conference sponsored by the Congressional Black Caucus not long after the verdicts were announced. “For being there to call out to your mom, how heartbreaking was that,” Pelosi continued. “And because of you … your name will always be synonymous with justice.”

Many others have already taken Pelosi to task on her statement in direct and insightful ways. She tried to walk back and refocus her comments later in the day to repair some of the damage. But none of that talking has improved the silence.

Photo by Ksenia Chernaya on Pexels.com

Indeed, had she said nothing, she would have done far better for all of us (easy for me to say now, but still the case). Yet, we also know that “white silence is violence.” When we white folks are silent in the face of white supremacy, oppression, and racism, Black, Brown, Native, and AAPI people suffer and die. Saying nothing may be nearly as bad.

So, what shall we white people say?

Mark Charles had a compelling and incisive take on this in his “Second Cup of Coffee” talk on April 22, 2021. Charles, co-author with Soong-Chan Rah, of Unsettling Truths: The Ongoing Dehumanizing Legacy of the Doctrine of Discovery, and former presidential candidate, heard Pelosi’s words as obvious implicit racial bias.

That bias, he argued, is rooted in the ongoing project of “centering whiteness” in our culture, our legal system, our political process, our economic institutions, and our structures of thinking and perceiving as white people. Yes, that’s been said before. But clearly, some of us white people haven’t gotten the memo yet. More clearly, some of us have refused delivery.

Pelosi’s remarks portrayed Floyd’s death as a “sacrifice” for the sake of “justice.” This was, as should be obvious, a completely wrongheaded description of Floyd’s murder. Charles asserted that Pelosi’s remarks made Floyd an object, a commodity used to center, improve, and develop whiteness and the system that supports white supremacy.

Whites of a particular political stripe may put that system overtly front and center. Whites like Pelosi (and me) do our centering covertly and implicitly.

If that’s what we’re going to say – that somehow, everything really happens to center, improve, and develop whiteness and its supportive system – then we’d best just shut up. Pelosi could have stood quietly in the background as members of the Congressional Black Caucus spoke the truth.

She might have said with some art and eloquence – “That’s right. What they said.” That might have been closer to appropriate. That might have been closer to enough.

That wouldn’t have been satisfactory, however, for a system that centers whiteness. She would have been criticized for not using her own words. That’s the price of standing, rightly, in the background and waiting for other people to speak. That’s an appropriate silence for us white people. We can support the testimony of Black, Brown, Native, and AAPI leaders and citizens. And we should expect that support to cost us something, not to center, improve, and develop our power, privilege, and position.

Charles suggested in his talk, as he does in his writing, that we white folks can have plenty to say. Our first and most pressing task, if we are to be anti-racist allies, is to de-center whiteness. That runs counter to everything we have been taught and done.

Robin D’Angelo says that she often asks a question early in her anti-racism workshops. “What’s the best thing about being white?” She reports that the response on the part of white people is a lot of nervous throat-clearing and uncomfortable paper-shuffling. I took the chance to test this question in our anti-racism book study.

We were all noticeably quiet for a few moments. I felt embarrassed after asking the question – even after giving it a softening preface. One of the group members said what we were all thinking. All the best things about being white are things which now produce guilt and shame in the hearts and minds of the group members. All the best things about being white accrue to us at the expense of other people – who become objects for our manipulation, exploitation, and consumption.

The worst, best thing about being white is that we never have to think about race unless we choose to do so. We get to be the “non-adjective” people. There’s no “white history month,” as one group member points out. Every month is white history month. The same is true for theology and literature and entertainment and sports and…everything.

Some commentators believe this is precisely how it should be. Tucker Carlson rages that the verdicts in the Derek Chauvin trial are “the end of civilization.” If by “civilization” you mean “white civilization in America in the last four hundred years,” Carlson may be on to something (please, God, may it be so).

If, on the other hand, by “civilization” one means human activity and culture around the globe in the last ten thousand years, then the verdicts are not the end of anything.

Carlson’s assessment is reprehensible and disgusting. But, if Mark Charles is right (and I believe he is), that’s just the overt statement of the system that prompted Nancy Pelosi’s ill-considered remarks in a somewhat unguarded moment. The best thing about being white is that other people get to make sacrifices to sustain our favorite system.

“Systems of whiteness, like white supremacy itself, reward those who invest in what whiteness produces,” Kaitlin Curtice writes in Native, “the idea that anyone who isn’t white is less-than. Whiteness both forces people into assimilation and rewards those who stay assimilated” (p. xii).

Can we white people learn when to keep silent? I think so, to some extent. Can we white people “de-assimilate” ourselves and our institutions and our society? Maybe. James Baldwin, in “On Being White and Other Lies,” calls whiteness “a moral choice.” He doesn’t mean that it’s a good choice. He means it is a choice with profound moral implications. A choice can be unchosen.

Nell Irwin Painter calls “whiteness” an idea and not a reality. Many of us have come to understand that “race” in general is a social construction and not a biological or cultural given. An idea can be deconstructed and “un-thought.” That’s the kind of speaking we white people can and should do – mostly to one another. We can choose daily to de-center whiteness in ourselves and our institutions and our society. That requires choosing and acting – continually and consistently.

One part of the task of de-centering whiteness is to learn and incorporate the history of how whiteness has been centered in European history and, more specifically, in the historical narratives, and the legal and political systems of the United States. You can find an excellent and relatively brief historical overview of the development of “whiteness” in a recent article in the Guardian (linked here).

Charles, and his co-author, Soong-Chan Rah, uncover and explicate an American history of whiteness using the lens of the Doctrine of Discovery. “The problem of the Doctrine of Discovery,” they write in Unsettling Truths, “is that it affirms the perspective of a diseased social and theological imagination. It established the false notion,” they continue, “of a more ethnically pure, European Christian supremacy, and today it furthers the mythology of American exceptionalism, which is rooted in the blatant lie of a white racial supremacy” (page 37).

In this particular historical moment, it’s worth pursuing the history of policing in the United States and its predecessor political expressions. The connections between the systemic enslavement and eradication of Black, Brown, Native, and AAPI people and our modern police forces is instructive and distressing.

I have the luxury of time to read and listen to and discuss this history and how it is working out in our time and space. That’s why I try to share as much of it as I can in some of my posts. I listen to the witness of Curtice, and Charles, and Rah, and Jemar Tisby, and Kelly Brown Douglas, and Ibram X. Kendi, and Ijeoma Oluo, and Carol Anderson, and James Cone, and Heather McGhee, and Willie James Jennings, and Nell Irwin Painter, and James Baldwin, and W. E. B. DuBois, and Frederick Douglas and…I keep listening.

I participate in discussions where I can continue to learn and share. The primary purpose of those discussions is to work through at least some of our white bullshit so we are a little less dangerous when we interact with our Black, Brown, Native, AAPI, and Muslim siblings (that’s only a small part of the list of people for whom I am called to care by listening more). I’ve grown a little bit – mostly enough to see that I don’t even know all the questions yet, much less many answers.

We also try not to wait until we have it all “right” in our home before taking some action. We have committed, for example, to support the ministry of a local historically Black congregation in our community. I don’t know if we’ll ever participate in that community fully. That’s a conversation for a future time. We haven’t done nearly enough listening yet. But we know that when we support a Black church financially, the money will be used well (and not for further underwriting whiteness).

It’s some small beginning in personal efforts at repair. Because that’s the only talking we white people should be doing at this point. We should be talking about and doing relinquishment of power, repentance of wrongs, and repair of the injustice and inequity. And that talking either costs me some of my whiteness, or it’s better to keep quiet.

That’s more than enough talking for a lifetime for me. I hope that might improve the silence a bit.

Getting Past the Past

Read John 21

You can’t get a new past. Nor can I. The arrow of time points ever forward. The path of life is cluttered with “No U-turn” signs. Three times in the darkness of Maundy Thursday, Peter denied his discipleship. “Are you one of his disciples?” they asked. “I tell you I am not!” Peter replied. The words poured out of his mouth and hardened into the pavement of the past. There was no denying the denials. There was no reversing the regrets.

You are probably now remembering your own Maundy Thursday moments. You hear the words you cannot take back. You see the deed that cannot be undone. You imagine unchoosing a shameful choice. You remember a risk rejected for the sake of safety. The words and deeds, the choices and chances–they are fixed in history and memory and consequence. You can’t get a new past.

I know, from my own heart, what Peter is doing. Easter Sunday has come and gone. Christ is risen! (Christ is risen indeed, Alleluia!). Hurray for Jesus! But Peter’s past persists. My denials are etched into the bedrock of the universe. Nothing can change that. Best to return quietly to what I know. Resigned to his reality, Peter says, “I’m going fishing.”

Riddled with regret, Peter tries to stop thinking. Perhaps he can lose himself in work. Maybe he can be too busy to be bothered. Other disciples join him in this conspiracy of silence. Nets and boats, gills and guts–just put one foot in front of the other. Nobody can change the past. Just plant yourself in the unthinking present.

Then Jesus shows up. “How’s the fishing?” The present collapses into the past. There was another conversation on the shore. Jesus commandeered Peter’s boat and preached to the crowd. He said to the disciples, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” They dropped their nets and abandoned their boats. They followed him from Galilee to Jerusalem, but not to the cross.

The scene goes from bad to worse. Jesus fixes a little breakfast on the beach. He serves bread and fish. Can you remember the menu when Jesus fed five thousand? He cooks over a charcoal fire. In the glowing embers, perhaps Peter sees the fire in the courtyard of the High Priest. He warmed himself at that fire and hotly protested, “I am not one of his disciples!”

We all avoid places that are thick with memories. We all have words and phrases that wrench us into regrets. We all have calendar dates that propel us into the past. It’s like tumbling backward off a cliff, like plunging into a dark pool. “How’s the fishing?”

Does Jesus come simply to provoke a storm of shame? No–he comes to bring Easter into the ordinary. You can’t get a new past. But you can receive a new future. Easter means new life every day.

After breakfast, Jesus and Peter take a walk along the shore. For Peter, it’s painful. “Do you love me?” Jesus asks. Not once or twice, but three times. The past will not be erased. But it can be redeemed. “Feed my sheep.” When Jesus forgives, new life happens. You can’t get a new past. But you can get a new future. Peter’s call is redeemed and renewed. That’s the product of forgiveness. Easter means new life every day.

At graduation we talk about commencement–a beginning. We say that graduates have their whole lives ahead of them. That is both thrilling and terrifying. The future is filled with potential for both success and failure. No matter how we wish otherwise, they will rack up their own record of regrets, just like the rest of us.

So, today’s text is for all of us together. If you are eighteen, you have your whole life ahead of you. If you are eighty, you have your whole life ahead of you. Every day is commencement day. You can’t get a new past. But you can get a new future. That will be true for your whole life. Easter means new life every day.

Albert Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Perhaps Peter felt a bit unbalanced, trying to reconcile his past and future. So he went back to what he knew. He went from Jerusalem back to Galilee. But returning to the familiar is often not only crazy but perhaps fatal. Without that breakfast on the beach, Peter might have died, drowning in regret.

But he didn’t. Peter received the reconciliation offered. He accepted his past and embraced a new call. Once again he left his nets and abandoned his boat. He went from Galilee to Jerusalem to Rome. Peter was executed during a time of persecution, crucified upside down according to Church tradition. But he found his future, his purpose, his Easter path.

This is one of those stories that convicts and convinces me at a gut level of the truth and power of the Gospel. I know that on my own I will never face and own the shame and regret of my past. It’s just too easy to move on…nothing to see here…just get on with your life. I don’t have it in me to even look in some of those places. I know that the power to do that, when I am even willing to allow it, comes from outside of me. In those moments, I find myself standing at a little camp fire on a lonely beach. A voice begins by saying, “Lowell, you love me?”

Maybe you are being called to something new. Maybe you need to accept your past and embrace a new vocation. Maybe you need to leave what is familiar and risk a new adventure. If so, you may hear Jesus whispering to you, “Feed my sheep.” Easter means new life every day.

In this text I hear a word for today’s church. We can’t get a new past. White Christian churches have underwritten racism, supported slavery, and protected white privilege. Churches have embodied and encouraged male domination, abuse of women and gender inequality. Christians use the Bible and theology to baptize smug and violent homophobia. Christianity supports colonial and imperial warfare and has baptized unbridled consumerism. We can’t get a new past. We have to face that past in all its ugliness and violence. And we have to know that the past is still running our present.

“A thread runs through the history of America,” Kaitlin Curtice writes in her book, Native, “a thin line that connects people, places, moments, cultures, and experiences. This thread started when Columbus arrived and deemed Indigenous peoples savage and unworthy of life, a thread that continued as African peoples were enslaved and forced onto this continent. We see it today in hate crimes against people of color and religious minorities. It is a thread of whiteness,” Curtice concludes, “of white supremacy, that aims to erase culture, to assimilate those deemed ‘unworthy’ of humanity.” (p. 13).

The “thread of whiteness” is part of our past and present as the dominant, white Church in the United States. The history of that thread has been suppressed, denied, papered over, and (in some quarters) celebrated as essential to who we are as (white) people. We know that thread has been a threat, carried out millions of times, on the bodies of Black, Brown, Native, Asian American and Pacific Islander peoples. We see that threat fulfilled nearly every day in our social media feeds, often accompanied by contemporaneous video.

Like Peter we must acknowledge that past. We must repent that past. We must repair that past in the present and future. We dare not pretend that this is a merely individual issue. We live in a system of white power, privilege and property that survives by ignoring, erasing, assassinating and eradicating all who remind us that the system is a lie and our past is dark with murderous death.

“Whiteness is a culture that requires the erasure of all others, considering them less-than,” Curtice writes further. “It is believing in that well-known metaphor of a melting pot that we so love to hold on to in America, but erasing the value of the lives of the ‘other’ within the narrative and in the process presenting the idea of assimilation as virtue. But really, assimilation is about power, power that puts shackles on Black people, Indigenous people, and other people of color…Because, at the end of the day,” Curtice reminds us, “whiteness doesn’t truly give anyone anything. It is a culture of taking and erasing, and we must learn from our mistakes and actively work toward healing.” (pp. 45-46).

But we can embrace a new future. Current graduates inherit a culture of declining faith and increasing fear. The Church is tempted to retreat into what we know, to pretend that nothing has changed. If we continue that course, we abandon our young people to cultural insanity.

But Easter means new life every day. In my personal life, that means continuing to confront my own whiteness and to build and receive an identity that is not dependent on power, privilege, and property. In the congregation that means embracing repentance and repair, experiment and adventure. That means taking risks worthy of Jesus’ call. In our synods that means confronting the racism that overwhelms the political culture of our states. In our denomination that means speaking Jesus’ truth to economic and political power, even if it gets us crucified.

You can’t get a new past. But Jesus gives us a new future. Easter means new life every day. .

See Curtice, Kaitlin B. Native . Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Pot-Lucky Worship (for Holy Humor Sunday)

(I first shared the report below in 2015. It was a collation of accounts from a variety of firsthand witnesses. The names and some details are changed in order to protect…well, you know. I’m not really sure if it happened this way. But if it didn’t, it should have. LRH)

It was the Sunday after Easter at old Christ Lutheran Church. Three Lutheran churches in town went by the name of “Christ.” The congregations owed allegiance to separate and mutually suspicious theological tribes. So none of the insiders saw a problem with the duplicate names. After all, why would any decent person pay attention to those other undesirable and disreputable places?

Normal people, however, needed some way to keep all the Christ Lutherans straight. Old Christ Lutheran stood at the corner of Main Street and Central Avenue. So for years it had been known as “Christ on the Corner.”

Photo by ArtHouse Studio on Pexels.com

Christ on the Corner was the only one of the three that would consider having a woman pastor. The Reverend Joy McDougal was the latest such candidate to fill that venerable pulpit. She was a freshly-minted seminary graduate. That first year in parish ministry had been a challenging blur for her.

In particular it had been a long and trying Lent and Easter marathon. Multiple services, three funerals, two synod meetings, numerous hospital calls and some broken water pipes in the parsonage had made the season even longer. So Pastor Joy decided to take a post-Easter vacation.

The idea didn’t occur to Pastor Joy until about midway through Holy Week. As a cost-saving measure, pastoral vacations were covered by having a Laity Sunday. So the congregation didn’t usually need all that much warning about impending pastoral absences.

Typically the pastor wrote a message and planned the liturgy in advance. This meant that these Laity Sundays weren’t exactly compelling worship experiences. But not this time. As the pastor drug herself out of church after the final Easter service, the worship committee chair grabbed her. “Pastor, what are we doing next week?” Pastor Joy turned and said, “I have every confidence that you folks will figure something out.” An hour later she was headed for parts unknown.

The worship chair had two ideas at once. After all, desperation is the grandmother of invention. “We’re great at potlucks and parties,” he thought. “How about if we just invite people to bring their worship ideas and see what happens?”

He had also heard about some congregations that had a “joke Sunday” the week after Easter. That sounded like a good focus for the “potluck worship.” He composed the theme on the spot—“A Pot Full of Fun!”

The first problem arose when the local newspaper publicized the worship service. The editor left out the initial word of the theme. The headline read, “Christ Lutheran Declares Pot Full of Fun Sunday.” The church office received several calls from local law enforcement agencies and several groups in favor of the legalization of marijuana use. But, as it turned out, that was the least of their worries.

The potluck worship idea spread like a juicy rumor. Emails, phone calls, coffee talk—people were enthusiastic in their approval. “No one is going to fall asleep this Sunday!” the worship chair told his wife. His faithful and longsuffering spouse was one of the few pessimists — realists — in the crowd. She was also the accompanist for Sunday worship. She looked like she had an upset stomach.

The day came, and several people arrived early — a notable occurrence in itself. The chair of the youth committee put a big tub on the baptismal font and filled it with water. A relatively new member of the altar guild brought chips, salsa and sodas in hopes of a “culturally diverse” communion. Two high schoolers laid down a temporary hardwood floor in the chancel area and laced up their tap shoes.

The worship chair was an enthusiastic master of ceremonies. He had rented tails, a top hat, and a cane for the occasion. His spouse was exceedingly grateful that the organ was located in the balcony. The tap dancers led things off with an athletic routine to the melody of “You Ain’t Got a Thing If You Ain’t Got No Swing.” The swing was unfolding nicely until the climactic cartwheels at the end.

One of the dancers hooked a heel on the parament hanging from the lectern. Fabric, Bible, brass rods and cough drops were launched into the congregation. Worshipers dove for cover. No one, however, was injured. Most people assumed it was just part of the act. A few of the front-row folks thought that perhaps cough drops should be distributed gratis at every service.

An older member who didn’t attend much offered up a joke. “A minister, a priest and a rabbi walk into a bar,” he began. No one heard the rest of the joke due to the heated and whispered conversation that ensued between the man and his horrified spouse. All anyone heard was when she said, “Leon, shut up! I have to kiss that filthy mouth of yours!”

The chair of the youth committee glimpsed an opening and sprang into action. She grabbed an industrial-grade squirt gun and filled it from the tub on the font. “Now it’s time for us to remember our baptisms!” she shouted. She pumped out a couple of gallons before the crowd shouted back, “We remember! We remember!” The next year she was promoted to the Property and Grounds committee and put in charge of the lawn sprinklers.

As people dried themselves off, the worship chair said, “Who has a favorite hymn?” Multiple suggestions came from both sides of the sanctuary. Suddenly the strains of “Amazing Grace” collided with a heartfelt rendition of “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.” In a panic, the organist began to play “Jesus Loves Me.” And a few of the less-regular attenders were humming “In Heaven There is No Beer.” Eventually they carried the day. Two couples launched into enthusiastic polkas in the aisle.

When the chaos subsided, the finance chair suggested that it was time for the offering. Several ambitious teens tried to toss quarters in the plates from thirty feet away. It was the only time the ushers had ever considered wearing crash helmets and Kevlar vests. On the other hand, it was the highest cash offering ever received in that congregation on the Sunday after Easter.

In spite of previous concerns, communion was the calmest part of the morning. The chips were shaped like scoops, so the spillage was minimal. The soda portions were, to say the least, generous. The rest of the service was punctuated by burps and “excuse me’s” from several locations.

A member of the evangelism committee had been a college baton twirler. She saved her routine as the climax of the service. She performed beautifully—complete with flips and full turns. Then she tossed one of the batons toward the ceiling. The next several seconds seemed to unfold in slow motion.

The baton clipped a fire-sprinkler head on the ceiling. The head snapped off. Water began to fly in every direction. Parishioners fled the sanctuary with hair dripping and shoes squishing. The property and grounds chair sprinted to the emergency shut-off to minimize the damage. Coffee and treats waited in the fellowship hall. So the service was officially ended. The local volunteer fire department was grateful for the break in their Sunday routine and a chance at free snacks.

Pastor Joy suffered an appropriate attack of pastoral guilt that afternoon. She called the worship chair from an undisclosed location. “So,” she stammered, “did things go all right?”

“Couldn’t have been better, Pastor!” the worship chair exulted. “I think you should take a post-Easter vacation every year!”

But alas, she did not.

The Call to Continue — Saturday Sermon from the Sidelines

John 20:19-31; 2 Easter B 2021

Life after the Resurrection is rough going. Mary Magdalene suspects tomb raiders and gets abandoned to grieve alone. Peter and The Other Disciple (aka TOD) race to the tomb, inspect the linens, and retreat behind locked doors. Jesus passes through their security measures and nearly scares the life out of them. Thomas is off somewhere on his own and misses all the fireworks. He demands physical evidence. Jesus says in response, “Stick out your finger, smart guy!”

Yes, it all turns out well in the end. Mary hears her name and greets her Lord and Friend. The disciples rejoice when they realize it’s Jesus. Thomas shouts his confession of faith for the Church to hear down the centuries – “My Lord and my God!” We salute one another with the good news of Easter. Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Then another Monday comes. And the broken world is right where we left it on Saturday. So much for Easter bringing in a whole new cosmos, right?

Photo by Nataliya Vaitkevich on Pexels.com

Life after the Resurrection is rough going. The writer of John’s Gospel knows this all too well. When we follow Jesus, we need booster shots to buck up. We need Resurrection refreshers to keep us going. It’s not Easter that’s the challenge. The challenge is what comes after.

At the end of today’s gospel text, we read the conclusion to John’s whole gospel story. I know there’s another chapter after this. But think about John 21 like the epilogue or afterword to a book. There’s important stuff there. But the punchline of the whole Gospel of John is chapter twenty, verses thirty and thirty-one.

We tend to miss that because the whole “doubting Thomas” thing sucks all the air out of the room. So, let’s spend some time with those last two verses today. “Therefore, Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book,” John writes. “But these are written in order that you may continue to believe that the Messiah, the Son of God, is Jesus, and when you are believing, you may have life in his name.”

That’s my translation of those verses. I know the New Revised Standard Version says all these signs are written “so that you may come to believe.” The NRSV translation makes it sound like John’s gospel is written for those who don’t yet believe. I think John intends to write mostly for those of us who have come to believe but are in danger of losing our faith.

There’s a theological cottage industry built on the debate about how to translate “believe” in this passage. Nothing would make me happier than to walk through the data and arguments. If I did that, however, I’m pretty sure I’d be walking alone. So, here’s the deal. The evidence from manuscripts and grammar is solidly in favor of the “continue to believe” option. So, I’m going with that reading.

Life after the Resurrection is rough going. The writer of John’s gospel knows that. For the first audience, the problem may be that these predominantly Jewish Christians are being forced to choose between a more “orthodox” Judaism and a faith that says the Jewish Messiah is Jesus of Nazareth.

That’s why another part of the translation matters. Most translations of verse thirty-one say, “Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God.” There are very good reasons, however, to translate it as “the Messiah, the Son of God, is Jesus.

I know, I know. It sounds like six of one, and a half dozen of the other. But each translation answers a different question. Is Jesus the Messiah? That is, is the most important question about Jesus’ identity?

Or is the Messiah Jesus? If you’re a Jewish Christian having debates with your more Orthodox in-laws over a Sabbath dinner, that’s the question that matters. Yes, we are waiting for the promised Messiah. But why in the world would you think that some crucified fool from Nazareth is the One?

For John’s readers, the answer was getting them disinvited from those dinners and booted out of their synagogues. It was a big deal.

We might have trouble empathizing with this problem at first. But think for a moment. How many friendships have evaporated because you can’t see eye to eye on current politics? How many family meals have been disrupted by political – or religious – disagreements lately? How many people do you or I ignore or avoid because we aren’t on the same political or spiritual page?

It would be a lot easier to let go of our contested opinions and priorities. It would be a lot simpler to go along just to get along. What if hanging on to Jesus meant letting go of your family or friends? That may be the sad reality in some families. I hope the more frequent outcome is a hard but rewarding journey back toward relationship and respect. That sounds a lot like new life.

Life after the Resurrection is rough going. We exit this Resurrection week looking forward to some return to “normal,” some measure of “getting back to the way things were.” But what does that mean? Will going back to normal require us to let go of the new world Easter brings?

Esau McCaulley wrote a great book called Reading While Black: African American Biblical Interpretation as an Exercise in Hope. I recommend it to anyone. McCaulley has an op-ed column in the New York Times called “The Unsettling Power of Easter.”

In that column he writes, “To listen to the plans of some, after the pandemic we are returning to a world of parties and rejoicing. This is true. Parties have their place. Let us not close all paths to happiness.” Yes, I can’t wait to hug my grandkids without anxiety.

“But,” McCaulley continues, “we are also returning to a world of hatred, cruelty, division and a thirst for power that was never quarantined. This period under pressure has freshly thrown into relief the fissures in the American experiment.” That is certainly true for our country. It also happens to be true for our churches.

Recently, I read a piece by Pastor Steve Brackett. Brackett is an Assistant to the Bishop in the Northeastern Iowa Synod, ELCA. Pastor Brackett has responsibilities for the congregational call process. And he sounds worried to me. I am sure these worries are not exclusive to that synod or to that denomination. I suspect Pastor Brackett speaks for large parts of the American Church.

Especially as we come out of Covid-tide, life after the Resurrection is rough going. “As I write this, we have 30 congregations in the call process,” Pastor Brackett notes. “That number is likely to increase as some of our rostered ministers decide that the only way to recover from the difficulties of this pandemic is to leave and start fresh in another call.”

It’s been a brutal stretch in many ministries. I know that some of my colleagues are nearly at the end of their pastoral ropes.

“My hope,” Brackett continues, “is that rostered ministers and congregations will decide to remain in ministry together.  For this to happen, some time will need to be set aside to have honest conversations about what went well in establishing worship and ministry protocols, and what did not go well.”

A number of my pastoral colleagues are hoping for some recovery time away from the parish sooner rather than later. (By the way, I expect the pulpit supply business to boom this summer).

“Where necessary, forgiveness should be sought and granted for the times when communication broke down, or unkind things were said, or when people let their anxiety or anger get the better of them during negotiations or implementation of protocols,” Bracket wisely counsels.

“Following a crisis of any kind in a community, it is typical for clergy in the area to seek new calls shortly afterward,” he notes, “While this was a global pandemic, it was experienced locally in each congregation.  The easy way for rostered ministers and people to move beyond such a crisis is to part ways. But often the better path for the sake of ministry is to work through these difficult issues and remain in ministry together.”

Friends, we church folks must do our best to heed Pastor Brackett’s counsel and seek the healing good news of Resurrection in our lives, in our relationships and in our congregations. Honestly, in some places, the pain is too much, the ruptures too deep. In some places, a parting of the ways will be the most faithful path. In others it will not. In either case, the good news of Jesus is given to us so that we may continue to believe.

If that is the case in the Church, it is more so the case in the world. But we need more in our world than forgiveness and reconciliation. We need real systemic change and an ongoing passion for God’s justice for all people.

“As we leave the tombs of quarantine,” Esau McCaulley concludes his op-ed, “a return to normal would be a disaster unless we recognize that we are going back to a world desperately in need of healing. For me, the source of that healing is an empty tomb in Jerusalem. The work that Jesus left his followers to do includes showing compassion and forgiveness and contending for a just society. It involves the ever-present offer for all to begin again.”

Life after the Resurrection is rough going. The emptiness of the tomb may reflect the emptiness of our hearts. The retreat of the disciples may point to our own wish to hide from the troubles still out there. We may be drowning in grief, unable even to look up in hope. We may be angry, cynical, and ready to give up like Thomas.

But, dear friends, Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia! We have these stories so we may continue to believe. And as we continue believing, may we find – and share – the life we have in Christ’s name. Amen.

Esau McCaulley’s recent column: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/02/opinion/easter-celebration.html

Steve Brackett’s article: http://blog.neiasynod.org/2021/03/an-update-on-call-process/?fbclid=IwAR2Hm8zdc2fQS-amPLtLq5cAzh7nMgjotl2aNwikg5laQnkNKxZIgIrWwMw

Vote Kimara Snipes for Omaha Mayor

Everybody in Omaha is pissed about potholes. Half-assed responses produce a half-assed city. People are tired of getting flat tires caused by the same old holes. We all get that. What else shall we discuss?

I attended a recent online forum featuring candidates for the office of mayor of the city of Omaha. I was grateful for the opportunity to hear from four of the five candidates at the forum. Incumbent Mayor Jean Stothert, who is standing for a third term, declined to participate. Along with many other people, I pray for healing and strength for Mayor Stothert and her family at the recent death of her husband, Joe.

I also understand the strategic decision not to participate in the forum. It would make little sense for the current mayor to put a bullseye on her back and allow the four challengers to make her the focus of the forum. I would have liked to see that, but I didn’t expect it to happen.

To repeat – everybody in Omaha is pissed about potholes. It’s good that the challengers have plans for addressing this perennial pain in the lower back. What else shall we discuss?

The four challengers are Mark Gudgel, Jasmine Harris, R. J. Neary, and Kimara Snipes. I would be glad for any of these folks to replace the current mayor. I am grateful that each of them has put themselves forward to run. Campaigning for public office is thankless, expensive, exhausting, and infuriating in the best of times. I know there are many rewarding moments as well, but embracing public service is sacrificial ministry. Each of these candidates deserves our respect and gratitude.

I support Kimara Snipes. I believe that of the five mayoral candidates she possesses the most relevant experience and the most appropriate skill set for the job of mayor of Omaha at this time. I believe that her visions for bottom-up organizing and for one Omaha together are critical for a flourishing city and neighborhoods within the city. So, I hope my biases in my comments are clear now.

I expect that any of the four challengers would be an improvement over the current administration. What I hope the future holds for Omaha, however, is change.

Mr. Gudgel was most noticeable for his opposition to increased spending. He began the forum as sort of a grumpy, but loveable, dad who was shaking his head at the foolish choices being made by his children. For a while, the grumpiness accelerated into mild outrage, but toward the end he softened and smiled. I don’t think he performs the outraged curmudgeon all that well and would do better as the helpful and competent teacher that I’m sure he is.

Mr. Neary has garnered the greatest number of Democratic endorsements among the current candidates. He was a very pleasant grandfather who is wired into the real estate establishment of the city and county. He comes with some long experience and deep connections to the status quo. In fact, however, I don’t want to exchange a wealthy, older, privileged, and propertied West Omaha white man for the wealthy, older, privileged, and propertied West Omaha white woman who is the current mayor. Mr. Neary would bring improvement to the office but would not bring change to the city.

I began my involvement in the mayoral campaigns with a clear commitment. I would support a Black, Brown, Native or AAPI candidate. I would support a woman candidate and would prefer someone who lives at the real intersection of race, gender, class, and geography in Omaha. I imagine that some folks will be horrified by such a commitment. Some will even – quite mistakenly – call this some sort of affirmative action, tokenism, or even “reverse racism.”

Friends, that’s just stupid. People have been picking white, wealthy, older, privileged, and propertied men for office since the founding of this nation. For a long period that was the only legal option. For as long a period, that was the only available option. For a long period, no one even had to think about such choices since they were regarded as merely “normal” and “common sense.”

So, please don’t tell me that making a different choice is somehow suspect or inappropriate. If you think that, your white male supremacy is on full display.

I could make this commitment, in addition, because I had every confidence that the candidates who would fit my parameters would likely be the most qualified candidates in the field. I could expect that because that’s what it takes for Black, Brown, Native or AAPI candidates (especially women) to even get noticed.

This is certainly the case in the Omaha mayoral race. Both Harris and Snipes bring experiences in the private sector, in the community, in the health care sector, and in the education sector, which give them resumes and skill sets that are superior to those possessed by the other candidates.

I could also be confident that such candidates would do a better job of representing all of Omaha in city government. We white people in Omaha can go our whole lives and never notice the other communities with which we share this city. Black, Brown, Native or AAPI folks cannot go through life that way in Omaha, or anywhere else in this country. Such candidates have lifetimes of experience navigating the multiple languages, worldviews, systems of power, and networks of relationships that make up a city like Omaha.

In addition, that multi-cultural and cross-cultural competency is a native capacity for Black, Brown, Native or AAPI candidates. For most white candidates, and especially those from West Omaha, such competencies are a “second language” at best and more likely to be a situational performance than part of their heart music. Translation, whether of a language or of human experience, always loses something in the process.

White people west of 90th street in Omaha will never have to struggle to find representation in city government. Everywhere we look, we see people who look, sound, and act just like we do. So, let’s not worry that someone in the mayor’s office might represent another segment of our city’s population.

Frankly, it’s time to listen to the black women in Omaha and across the country. I happen to think that Kimara Snipes brings the best combination of experience, expertise, gifts, skills, and vision for the job. But there is far more at stake for us here. We have another chance to become more fully human as citizens and as a city.

I cannot be a whole person at the expense of another human being. Fully flourishing human life is not a zero-sum game where you must lose if I am to gain. Racism makes white people stupid, irrational, and less than human. It is not enough to simply think I am “better than those people.” Being “better than” is no longer good enough – not in Omaha or anywhere else.

In fact, this zero-sum way of thinking serves only a few white, wealthy, privileged, and propertied people in our city. This system keeps the rest of us in competition for a shrinking pool of resources and convinces us that we need to keep others below us in order to rise up. “The zero sum is a story sold by wealthy interests for their own profit,” Heather McGhee writes in The Sum of Us, “and its persistence requires people desperate enough to buy it.”

As long as our gaze is focused on potholes and protests, we will not question the deeper system of healthcare, education, transportation, infrastructure, law enforcement, and employment inequities and injustices which continue to structure life in Omaha for the benefit of the few at the expense of the many. If we have observed anything during Covid-time, it should be that poor and low-income people of all colors and conditions are suffering the similar outcomes and have many of the same interests.

For once, perhaps, non-wealthy white people in Omaha might vote in accordance with those interests rather than against them.

Zero-sum politics doesn’t merely leave us with potholed streets. Filling holes is good, but once the hole is filled all you have is a flat spot. The bigger question is what can we build together. “Since this country’s founding, we have not allowed our diversity to be our superpower,” Heather McGhee writes, “and the result is that the United States is not more than the sum of its disparate parts. But it could be. And if it were, all of us would prosper.”

I support Kimara Snipes because I believe she had the best chance to make Omaha “more than the sum of its disparate parts.” I don’t want to live in West Omaha, or any other point on the compass. I want to live in One Omaha.

Vote Snipes – now and in May.

Unnamed Women — Guest Post by Brenda Hennigs

3/28/2021

When I asked Lowell if I could do a guest blog post, minutes later I wondered just what the heck I was thinking!  I do NOT write as well as he does, nor am I the Bible scholar and theologian that he is! But here I am, nonetheless.

Today we Christians celebrate Palm Sunday. The Easter season is one of my very favorite times of year! Spring is here and new life is beginning to peek through the soil. The trees are budding (as evidenced by my allergic sniffles, sneezes and watery eyes) and things just feel so hopeful! And after this last year don’t we need some hope this Easter season? YES WE DO!

Photo by RODNAE Productions on Pexels.com

Palm Sunday signals the beginning of Holy Week. I once had a coworker at my home church who was the music director. He always called Holy Week his Wholly Weak time. This week took a lot out of him as he tried to make worship a holy and memorable experience through the music. He is gone now, but I will always remember him, especially this time of year.

Once we move past Palm Sunday, we round the corner and move towards Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, followed by Holy Saturday and then Easter! Some may find it odd to hear me say that I love Holy Week more than Easter. Don’t get me wrong, I love Easter! He is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! Hallelujah! But there is something about the sacrifice and solemness of Holy Week that works on my heart and moves my soul like nothing else.

Maybe it is the willingness of Jesus, maybe it is the disciples disbelief, the betrayal, Pontius Pilate’s interaction with Jesus, the crowd’s bloodthirsty cries as they ask for the release of Barabbas and call for Jesus to be crucified, or the woman who anointed Jesus and His admonishment to the scoffers, telling them “she is anointing me for burial.” Maybe it’s His knowing what had to be done, yet his human responses in his prayer to have this cup removed, and “why hast thou forsaken me?” There is so much more about this week that moves my heart, creates a cry within my soul that only God can soothe.

Over the past year, Lowell and I have been meeting via Zoom with a group of 9 to 15 folks from across the country to read books about Anti-Racism. One of MY greatest discoveries is how very little I know about racism and its long and embedded history in this country, state and city. Another is how many unnamed and unknown inventors and heroes are women and BIPOC. If you do a little research you will discover that many NEVER got credit for their inventions or works, and many of their ideas were credited to the men they worked for/with.

March is International Women’s month. I am grateful to be employed by a company that really values diversity, equity and inclusion. All month long, we have had the opportunity to hear from many women who continue to work toward equality for all. And the month before that was Black History month and again, my employer hosted many wonderful events that allowed us to learn from our black colleagues and authors to understand racism’s history.

Lets go back to that unnamed woman who anointed Jesus. In Mark she is unnamed, but Jesus says she will be remembered for what she has done. This makes me wonder how often women in the Bible are unnamed and unnoticed. It seems they are often unnamed but referred to by their status or relationship. The wife of… the mother of… or a widow, the woman caught in adultery, the woman at the well.  Unnamed, but not unnoticed by Jesus. He sees them, heals them, forgives them.

All this reading, learning, and remembering of unnamed women makes me wonder if there are unnamed women in my life? What about your life?

Take a moment and wonder with me. Where were there unnamed women in your life? Maybe they aren’t unnamed, just unknown to you. The receptionist at the doctor’s office, the nurse, the teacher, the officer, the neighbor, the cashier? The mothers who pass by you in the daycare or school during pick up? The mothers and grand mothers out on the football or soccer field? The woman scientist who made it possible to have cataract surgery? The woman who invented central heating? The woman who created the first closed circuit tv/security system? Who are the unnamed, unknown women in your life? Will you look for them and see them, pray for them and lift them up?

One of the best things to come out of this pandemic for me is that I have learned just how much I did not know… about racism, equality, slavery and much more! That makes me wonder what else I do not know…

Once you know that you don’t know, you are responsible for seeking and learning. I hope you’ll be encouraged to do your own seeking and learning and give thanks for the unnamed women in your life and our history.