We Can Change the Meanness: Day1: Mitch Carnell

Friday June 17, 2022

Day1
Organization: Alliance for Christian Media
Denomination: n/a

When I returned from lunch one of my staff members said to me, “Mitch, I want you to tell me how to do that.” To do, what? I asked. “You and Bob just went to lunch together and you two do not agree on anything.”

“We know that,” I replied, “but we are friends.”

I was asked to do the eulogy at a friend’s funeral which I was honored to do. Again an attendee at the funeral said to me, “I did not know that you and Sam were friends. You are total opposites.” What the attendee did not know is that Sam picked me up once a week so we could go to breakfast together.

How did we become so divided as a people? Where did we learn to hate those with whom we disagree?

A volunteer in our organization served as a missionary in the Philippines. I invited her and her husband to dinner at our home. She said, “My husband will not eat with you.” Shocked by her response, I said, “I don’t even know your husband. Why would he not eat with me?”

“Because you associate with Black people,” she said.

My children were teenagers at the time. Our home was a safe place for them to bring their friends of whatever race or place of origin. There were rules, but to our surprise and gratitude the teenagers themselves enforced the rules. Often they would say to someone acting out of line, “You are not going to spoil this for the rest of us.”

I am distressed about the meanness in our society, but what can I do? I have no power, no high office, and no authority. The answer came in a poem from college days written by Annie Johnston Flint.

“He has no hands, but our hands, no tongue but our tongue.”

I have a voice and I can use it to encourage others. I can speak kindly to those I meet or to those who read what I write. There are those who scoff at my naiveté, but there are enough of those who say, “Thank You,” to keep me going.

I believe in the innate goodness of people and if given a chance it will manifest itself. How can I hate you? I don’t even know you.

I grew up in the segregated South. My sister and I are blessed that our parents did not teach us to hate. They were products of their time, but they knew that the world we were growing up in was not the world that they knew.

We are one people from many different backgrounds. We are blessed beyond measure to be citizens of this great land. None of us had anything at all to do with where we were born. We have everything to do with how we react to each other.

I believe in you. I believe that you are a good person. I know that you have hopes and dreams like I have hopes and dreams. I know that you want the best life possible for your children. I know that because that is what I want for my children.

I have one voice and I am using it, but I deeply want you to join me. Together we can become an army that fosters a sense of hope and good will. Are there those who will scoff and make fun of you? Yes there are, but they are in the minority.

Our constitution says, “We the people.” That is a powerful and uniting statement. “We the people of the United States in order to form a more perfect union.” We have not arrived. We are still forming.

Join me in transforming the mean environment of our time into a more accepting, more encouraging, more embracing society. I can’t do it, but we can do it.

 

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The Urgency of Joy by Aurelia Davila Pratt-www.goodfaithmedia.org

In the wake of Uvalde, I am filled with a grief so deep it touches on other aching parts of my heart. Like the part that dreads sending my own kid to school each day, come this fall. But also the part that has yet to fully process what it means to live in a world with Covid or to comprehend what we’ve all been through these last two years because of it. 

The grief of all that has been lost to the families of Uvalde and Buffalo and Laguna Woods and Tulsa (and, and, and!) is too much. The grief that nothing seems to be happening to change future circumstances is more than a person can bear. It brings up a hopelessness that threatens to overtake us. Yet, we are familiar with this hopelessness because we have known it many times in recent years.

I want to suggest (with great urgency!) that one of our responses to all of this might be the cultivation of joy.

We’ve heard it said, “You’ve got to put on your own oxygen mask first before you can put on the person’s next to you.” This metaphor can help us prioritize a care for self that is necessary if we are to make sustainable contributions to the collective.

Cultivating our own joy is not meant to be selfish work. We are not ignoring the needs of the world around us. Instead, we are beginning to understand that we can actively care without carrying every single load, every single time. We put on our own oxygen mask first so that our much needed participation in the work of heaven on earth is not in vain.

This is also not meant to be easy work. In fact, this both/and posture is the road less traveled. It is the harder way. Peeling back the layers of shame and guilt we experience when we choose to prioritize our own care is no easy feat. After all, many of us have been indoctrinated to deny ourselves to the point of physical, spiritual, and emotional neglect.

But if we deny ourselves, how will we care for anything or anyone outside ourselves? This is not the well we were meant to draw from! As bearers of God’s own image, as Divine temples, we must learn to include the work of nurturing our own bodies, spirits, and healing.

So we put on our own oxygen mask first—not as an act of disregard for all that is playing out in these times, but as an act of radical love and care for all of creation. When we do it, we witness a metaphorical breath of fresh air that flows up and out of us, expanding our capacity for hope, peacemaking, and compassion. Energizing us. Fueling our ability to face the realities of the world. To care without carrying to our own detriment.

We put on our own oxygen mask first, and what’s more, what if joy is the oxygen mask? What if our joy is a key ingredient to our collective liberation? Our desire to love, our urge to serve, our inclination to give and propensity to make significant change is not sustainable without first tending to our own inner landscape.

May this reminder compel us to make the necessary adjustments right here, right now via our spiritual practices, of which joy should be a part.

Like any other spiritual practice, with joy, we are signing up for a lifetime of never quite arriving. We are committing to the necessary work of holding joy in tension with grief, lament, rage, etc. We are consistently giving ourselves grace and compassion.

We are cultivating the love and care we perceive is needed out there, within ourselves. We are reflecting our hopes for the world within our own bodies. We are practicing joy again and again, and in doing so, we are increasing our capacity to recognize and experience it daily. Again, none of this is in place of our outer work, but rather, in addition to it.

So—attention to anyone who will listen!

If you spot an opportunity for joy in these times, take it. Consider joy, in all its shapes and sizes, a Spirit-nudge. A challenge to be accepted. Unapologetically and fervently grab hold of it. Because I am convinced that joy is our ticket. Joy is the life preserver we desperately need. Joy can be our salvation, pulling us out of our throes of fear, panic, and hopelessness.

As we continue in our liberation work, in which we use our bodies and voices to actively usher in heaven on earth, may we remember: joy is not just a bonus. It’s not just a whim. Joy is our oxygen mask, it is urgent to our thriving, and we cannot do without it in these times.

Aurelia Dávila Pratt is the lead pastor of Peace of Christ Church in Round Rock, Texas, and cohost of the Nuance Tea Podcast where she is redefining what it means to be a clergywoman of color. Her book, A Brown Girl’s Epiphany, is available for pre-order now! Learn more at revaureliajoy.com.

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Spending a Year in the Women’s Lectionary: Rev. Clint Schnekloth*

June 8, 2022

A Women’s Lectionary for the Whole Church by Wilda C. Gafney

At the beginning of Advent our congregation committed to reading Wil Gafney’s “Women’s Lectionary Year W” for 2022. For those unfamiliar with the resource, “A Women’s Lectionary For the Whole Church” is a project of Professor Wilda C. Gafney, an Episcopal priest and widely published Hebrew biblical scholar who teaches at Brite Divinity School at Texas Christian University. It is a lectionary for the church year (either a one-year set of readings, Year W, or a three-year series modeled after the Revised Common Lectionary) of originally translated biblical texts selected in a way to respond to these basic questions:

What does it look like to tell the good news through the stories of women who are often on the margins of scripture and often set up to represent bad news? How would a lectionary centering women’s stories, chosen with womanist and feminist commitments in mind, frame the presentation of the scriptures for proclamation and teaching?

An early reviewer of the Women’s Lectionary wrote here in The Christian Citizen, “A lectionary resource is best evaluated through practice.” As a congregation, we have now sat with these readings and translations in worship for about six months.

When we first committed to this lectionary, I had thought it would be the biblical stories themselves, the stories about women, that would center our attention for the year.

However, what I keep noticing, and honestly what is shifting my entire conception of God and prayer, is Gafney’s decision in the translation of the Psalms to refer to God with descriptive names for God (instead of the rather tired and artificially constructed “LORD”) and to use she/her pronouns.

Here’s an example, the Psalm for the Fifth Sunday of Easter:

Psalm 147:12-20

Praise the EVER-LIVING GOD, O Jerusalem!

Praise your God, O Zion!

For she strengthens the bars of your gates;

she blesses your children within you.

She sets peace at your border;

she satisfies you with the finest of wheat.

She sends forth her word to the earth;

her word runs swiftly.

She lays down snow like wool;

she scatters frost like ashes.

She hurls down hail like crumbs–

who can stand before her cold? 

She sends forth her word, and melts them;

she makes her wind blow, and the waters flow.

She declares her word to Rebekah’s line,

her statutes and ordinances to Sarah’s seed.

She has not dealt thus with any other nation;

they do not know her ordinances.

Praise the WISDOM OF THE AGES!

Using she/her pronouns in the Psalms is not an entirely new exercise. I remember way back when Bobby McFerrin was on tour with his Voicestra in the late ’80s, I heard them perform his version of the 23rd Psalm. When the vocalists sing, “She makes me lie down in green pastures,” it hit immediately, deeply. Hearing that heart Psalm sung with that slight pronoun shift changed something in me permanently.

In this month of Pentecost, and Pride, and Juneteenth, we are offered the time to reconsider our use of language, and especially our use of language over time. It’s one thing to theoretically say God is all genders. It is another thing altogether to express the many genders of God in corporate worship.

Growing up in a relatively moderate mainline tradition (the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America), I had heard heated debates at synod assemblies concerning pronouns for God. But it was an entirely different event altogether to actually use the pronouns in prayer, and specifically in a heart prayer as profound as the 23rd Psalm.

I’ve spent a lot of time with Bobby McFerrin’s version (not to mention the entire album “Medicine Music” on which I first heard it), but that song was still isolated from more regular worship practices. It was a singular performance by a singular composer, and remained contained within the experiment that is Bobby McFerrin’s music.

This year, 2022, is the first year I (and probably most of our congregation) pray every single week the ancient psalms of Scripture and call the WISDOM OF AGES “she.

Why does this matter so very much, you might wonder? Well, there is of course that ancient insight, lex orendi lex credendi, the way we pray leads the way we believe. Praying week after week to the God of Hebrew Scripture using she/her pronouns becomes more than just theory, it becomes practice, and in becoming practice, it shifts belief.

And it takes time, liturgical time, to really make that shift. As one of my parishioners remarked, “I’m not sure a year is going to be long enough. I’ve internalized the narrow and male-gendered language over decades, and it is still shocking to hear the divine consistently referred to in the feminine. This lectionary is the best kind of jolt. As my Dad would say while pressing down the gas pedal, this lectionary ‘blows the cobs out’ of my reading and worship routine.”

So what do I believe differently now than six months ago? For one, I’ve changed how I hear he/him pronouns for God in hymns and prayers. I used to chafe at those because it continually asserted a paternal sense of God I found oppressive.

However, now that the primary prayers of the church on Sunday morning offer she/her pronouns for God, I am far more free to speak of God as he/him. I mean, God is expansive, right? “She” can also be “he.”

A surprising side consequence of this shift in our communal prayers has also been a deepening of our prayerful consideration of how to speak of God as non-binary. As much as I love Wil Gafney’s needed correction toward the women of Scripture, the corrective is definitely still confined to traditional gender binaries.

Meanwhile, I’m also serving in a congregation where many of our members are trans or non-binary. We are the founding location for The Transition Closet, a resource providing gender-affirming apparel and undergarments. The emphasis on the stories of women in Scripture and the use of feminine pronouns has us also experimenting with the use of they/them for God alongside all the other wonderful names of God (including, when appropriate, the royal “We”).

Returning to the Women’s Lectionary, notice in the Psalm translation I quoted above how powerful it is to first name God she, and then sing:

She declares her word to Rebekah’s line,

her statutes and ordinances to Sarah’s seed.

This translation illustrates how pronoun use expresses a kind of solidarity. This God, the God of Rebekah, the God of Sarah, she declares a word, she sets down statutes and ordinances. She relates to these women, and through them to us.

In this month of Pentecost, and Pride, and Juneteenth, we are offered the time to reconsider our use of language, and especially our use of language over time. It’s one thing to theoretically say God is all genders. It is another thing altogether to express the many genders of God in corporate worship. God has the early Christian community speak in tongues for a reason, I imagine. The overflowing of the Spirit of God manifests in words. She’s loquacious. We can thank Wil Gafney for her tremendously creative reframing of the lectionary itself offering us a resource to truly practice liturgically what we preach.

*Rev. Clint Schnekloth is pastor of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Fayetteville, Arkansas, a progressive church in the South. He is the founder of Canopy NWA (a refugee resettlement agency) and Queer Camp, and is the author of Mediating Faith: Faith Formation in a Trans-Media Era. He blogs at Substack.

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Show Respect for Those Who Disagree

Wednesday May 25, 2022 Day1
Organization: Alliance for Christian Media
Denomination: n/a

By Mitch Carnell

Just when the harsh rhetoric had seemed to abate a little, the leak at the Supreme Court shattered our dreams of a more civil political debate season. Now the atmosphere is more toxic than ever. Where are the voices of reason?

The leak is reason enough to stimulate harsh debate, but then there is the all-important issue of overturning Roe v.Wade. The anti-abortion faction is empowered. The Freedom of Choice faction is incensed.

The Sixteenth Say Something Nice Sunday is fast approaching on June 5. It is a day set aside to temper our language and to be more respectful of others. In a long ago time, worshipers could expect a more reasoned tone from the pulpit. Not any longer. Today the church is often the source of heated take-no-prisoners venom.

Sixteen years ago, First Baptist Church of Charleston, South Carolina recognized the urgency for a more Christ-like dialogue. Such a conviction is rooted in the church history as stated in the Church Covenant adopted on August 21, 1791. “We will be careful to conduct ourselves with uprightness and integrity, and in a peaceful and friendly manner, toward mankind in general, and toward Christians of all descriptions, in particular.

Say Something Nice Sunday is rooted in the words of scripture, “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” There are great differences of opinion among Christians of all denominations. That fact alone should drive us to seek a more reasoned, respectful debate. Many denominations are already in turmoil. We must not allow this controversies to drive us further apart.

For at least one day can we put the vicious rhetoric aside and acknowledge that each person deserves to be respected? This week I attended the Charleston Book and Author Luncheon. Five New York Times bestselling authors spoke for about fifteen minutes each. What was most noticeable was there was not one political remark in either of their speeches. In a week when the leak at the Supreme Court dominated the headlines not one speaker referenced it. What a refreshing occurrence. This secular event proves that it can be done.

The movement is endorsed by the Charleston County Baptist Association, The Charleston/Atlantic Presbytery, the Catholic Diocese of Charleston (all of SC), many Disciples of Christ, Lutheran, and Methodist churches. All religious organizations are encouraged to participate. If this date does not fit, choose a different one.

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Free materials are available at www.fbcharleston.org. Click on Media at the top of the page and then “All Resources.” Scroll down to Say Something Nice Sunday.

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