All are Welcome

all-are-welcome

Yesterday, I went to drop off some waivers to some of my students going to Valleyfair with me on Saturday. Each of the kids in the youth group can bring one friend with them on this trip. As I was standing in the entry, I heard hushed conversations between the kids.

What rang clear was, “Why don’t you just ask? He’s your friend.”

Two of my students walked down the steps along with a friend of theirs. Their friend asked, “Are Muslims welcome?”

Without hesitation, I say, “Of course!”

My older students says “Seeeee! I told you!” in an taunting voice, like it was an obvious yes.

Currently, I am reading What’s the Least I can Believe and Still be a Christian?: A Guide to What Matters Most by Martin Thielen for research for the series of hard questions I am exploring with my high schoolers this fall. Chapter 10 discusses the implications of judgmental Christianity and the damage it can do to people in and outside of the church. To conclude the end of the chapter, Thielen tells a story of a good friend who stopped attending church while going through messy divorce. A co-worker of the friend started pestering him to attend her church.

“One day she asked my friend, ‘Don’t you want to go to heaven?’ In weary exasperation he responded, ‘Not if it’s full of people like you’” (page 63).

And honestly, I feel quite the same way. The concluding line of the chapter is, “True Christians leave judgment to God.” Though I’m guessing for the young guy in my story above, there have been plenty of activities he has not be welcome to attend, plenty of criticism from other students who learned hate from the adults surrounding them, and plenty of sneers and jeers from people who hold prejudices. This is exactly the reason why we all need to strive for religious understanding and acceptance of others’ beliefs. When kids have to ask “Am I welcome?” because of exposure to judgmental Christianity, we have giant problem.

In Acts 10, there is a story of Peter and Cornelius. Cornelius, a centurion, has a vision and sends for Peter. When Peter arrives, Cornelius falls to Peter’s feet, but “Peter made him get up, saying, ‘Stand up; I am only a mortal’” (v. 26). They continued to talk and went inside to find that many people had assembled. Peter said, “You yourselves know that it is unlawful for a Jew to associate with or to visit a Gentile; but God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean” (v. 28). He continues, “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears [God] and does what is right is acceptable to [God]. You know the message [God] sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ–[God] is Lord of all” (v. 34-36).

The disciples had to learn that they needed to interact with people of different faiths. Peter learned this through a vision that he had that all are welcome. Jesus cared for the outcasts, welcomed people of all religions, and loved the ones who society did not. Jesus called all to that life as well. We are called to welcome people into our communities.

Think about how many times this 6th grader has heard “You aren’t welcome” to have to ask me if he was allowed to come with us to Valleyfair. It honestly breaks my heart. My youth group will always be one where all are welcome. Because All are Welcome is one of my favorite hymns, I will leave you with the first stanza that guides my steps as I build my youth ministry.

Let us build a house where love can dwell and all can safely live,
a place where saints and children tell how hearts learn to forgive.
Built of hopes and dreams and visions, rock of faith and vault of grace;
Here the love of Christ shall end divisions;
All are welcome, all are welcome.
All are welcome in this place.

Photo from patheos.com

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Inspiration Strikes

inspiration_by_enzocavalli-d5bjxtd

Inspiration is something that is completely unpredictable. Inspiration comes from many different places. Often for me, inspiration comes from other people, books, nature, and music. This week,  inspiration has come from many different people—from youth and adults living out their passions and vocations.

This past week was my first week at my grown up job. I met so many people, all of them wonderful. Do I remember all of their names? Probably not. But I will learn them at some point.

This week was Vacation Bible School at First Presbyterian Church. (Click the link to see pictures from VBS.) The middle schoolers had their own program in conjunction with the children’s VBS. These kids were full of life and spunk and many questions.

The youth shocked me with their kindness and love toward one another. There were three students who were visiting us from another church. These kids tried to make sure that our guests were involved. They also blew me away with how quickly the began to accept me, the outsider. Their simple gestures of love and kindness have inspired me to be conscious of how I can work to make each space I am in more welcoming. Not only have the youth at First Pres been welcoming, so have my fellow staff members and the parishioners. So you can say this week has been a good one.

Music has been my other inspiration this week. There honestly has not been a day where somebody’s music talent or love of music has not inspired me. Music is ingrained in the life of First Pres. They have some fabulous musicians who share their music weekly. I think I am going to fit in well there.

However without the consistent opportunity to make music, I have found myself in a weird place.  In the past couple weeks, the fact that I do not have a specific ensemble to make music with has been sobering for me. I’ve been longing for a musical outlet to express myself. So I have been trying to listen to new music almost everyday.

I was inspired to do this by an awesome guy I met a couple of Fridays ago. In January, he started listening to new music every single day—which is one heck of an undertaking. He said that he found he was so much more creative because of his intentionality of listening to new music. So I thought I would give it a try.

While I have not been successful at listening to new music everyday (I think I need longer to process new music than just one day.), I have found this incredible want to be more creative in my daily life. Whether that be in creating age-appropriate and engaging curriculum for my kids or simply looking for a more creative way to express myself through writing or cooking, listening to new music has helped me tap into my creative side. 

But really, my point for writing this post was not to just tell you about what has inspired me this week. I’m curious where you found your inspiration this week. Did you find inspiration in nature? Did you find inspiration in the people around you? Did you find inspiration from others’ inspiration? Let’s start a conversation about inspiration. Who knows? Maybe that is where your inspiration for the week will come.

Image from Biz City Area.

You can run, but you can’t hide.

Tomorrow, I start my new job as the Youth Director at First Presbyterian Church, and I couldn’t be more excited! But to be honest had you told me this would be my first job out of college, I would have laughed in your face, burst out in tears, and then ran away to go cry myself to sleep in bed.

See, I had this problem of running away from my calling. More specifically, I had a hard time embracing the person that I am. It started pretty young. When I was in elementary school, I was bullied. The “friends” I did have could become my worst nightmare at any point in time. No matter how hard I tried to change who I was or be who they wanted me to be, they always pushed me around, making me struggle to find my place.

Next came middle school and a new school district. Here, I found people who liked me, but I always wanted to be a part of the popular crew. However, it is really hard to penetrate a circle of friends who had been together for literally years when you are the new kid. Also, I lacked the “in” clothing of American Eagle, Aeropostale, and Hollister. I constantly longed to be someone who they would want to like, hence trying to make myself someone who I was not.

High school was much better. I began to find my confidence or so I thought. I was involved in activities that fit my interest and found my group of nerdy, awkward friends who I will forever cherish. But high school is where I developed the idea that no one would ever like me if I was too involved with religion or made that my vocation.

The best group picture from CHIC 2009.

The best group picture from CHIC 2009

In 2009, I went to a conference called Covenant High in Christ, CHIC for short. At the conference, the idea struck me that I would be involved in ministry in my life. During that muggy week in Knoxville, TN, I embraced this new feeling and owned it. But coming home, I lost that confidence. There was no way people would like me if they found out learning and talking about religion was my passion. In fact, they would think I am weird and stop being my friend.

Also, it definitely wasn’t cool to be a Christian. I mean Christians are terrible people who wreak havoc on the world, destroy other people and their sense of self, and wish to have absolutely no fun, right? I didn’t want to be associated with people who made others feel uncomfortable for the beliefs they had or who shamed others. That’s not how I saw Christianity. In my mind, Christianity was a radical love for our neighbors that casts all of our own judgements aside. But the judgmental Christianity was the only Christianity I saw around me.

So when I went to college, I was disenchanted, angry at the world, and mad that “Christians” could be such terrible people. I spent the next year and a half successfully running away from my calling, religion, and anything that had to do with the church. I went to church a couple times, just to tell my parents that I went or just because I had too. It was easy to fake that I still liked church. However on the inside, I was dying, yearning for something other than faking it, and searching for a religion that was more than just following the rules to get into heaven.

Then my sophomore year, I saw a sign for a spring break trip to Mexico that was only $400! I didn’t care what organization it was through. It was a freakin’ $400 trip to Mexico, so I was determined to go. Little did I know, this trip would change the course of my life wether I liked it or not.

On this trip, I met people who were passionate about service and loving other people for who they were. The faculty mentor for the trip subtlety challenged my idea of what I thought it was to be a Christian. Today, that faculty member is one of my biggest mentors and the reason why I have the job at First Presbyterian Church.

Coming home from Mexico, I became more involved in Campus Ministry Commission (CMC) as the co-coordinator for Justice Journeys. This was a group of people who loved God, truly cared about other people, but never were in your face if you didn’t believe exactly what they believed. All of the people that I have met through CMC are part of the reason I began to embrace who I truly am.

Come March of my junior year in college, I hit rock bottom. I was the most broken and miserable I had ever been. My then boyfriend of three and a half years broke up with me. I was absolutely devastated. Without realizing it, I had built my sense of self around this guy who ended up tearing my heart out, throwing it in the dirt, and stomping on it. I had no idea who I was anymore. All of my future plans were gone. Unfortunately, they all revolved around him. I was disenchanted with my major (see “So Guess What? I changed my mind.”) because it didn’t seem like a good fit for me.

I spent days in bed crying, sleeping, and not eating. I was in a state of depression that utterly scares me to look back on. A couple days after my break up, I brashly made the decision to switch my major to religion. Now that I look back on that decision, it was actually incredibly calculated, but I couldn’t see that at the time. All that I knew was that I need a change of pace. I need to find something else to do other than an education degree. Switching my major was the first step in rebuilding my sense of self and self-esteem.

The next step was admitting that I needed help. Badly. Though I felt better after switching my major, I still couldn’t eat and spent most of my days crying and shaking. I was so anxious, nervous, and depressed that I could not function. So I went to a counselor, which honestly was the best decision I have ever made. During these sessions, we figured out that anxiety and depression had been something that I had been dealing with my whole life. I just never recognized it as such.

For me, it was so powerful to finally have something to call my constant nervousness and inexplicable bouts of sadness. Knowing I had anxiety was the first step to embracing myself. Then through the summer, I began to focus on who I wanted to become without the influence of any dumb boys in my life. I thought about the jobs that I would like to do after graduation. I would become a wedding planner or an event planner and leave my religion degree in the dust.

People would suggest going to seminary, but I shut that down hard and fast claiming that would never be a good fit for me. However, as the fall progressed, I began to see that everything that I had once said absolutely not to, was probably what I needed to be doing. I began to be more open to the opportunities that came my way, rather than just immediately saying no.

I began to allow myself to explore who I am and embrace my nerdiness and my passions. Because honestly, it is never worth being miserable just because you think someone else might judge you for what you love. Embracing your own call and sense of self is one of the most important and shaping ideas I learned in my four years at Concordia.

So that’s how I got this position. I finally stopped saying no to myself. I allowed myself to explore. I allowed myself to fail. I allowed myself heartbreak. And more importantly, I allowed myself to say yes.

It’s time to talk about becoming responsibly engaged.

At Concordia College, the theme of the core curriculum declares we are “becoming responsibly engaged in the world,” however, in the case of interdisciplinary studies and respect of people of different disciplines, we fall short.

Cobbers, think about how many times you have heard someone in music knock the people in science, someone in sports knock someone in the music world, or any other example. It feels to me that our differences are not always respected.

Group from Concordia College at NCUR 2015

Group from Concordia College at NCUR 2015

A few weekends ago, I travelled to Spokane, WA for the National Conference of Undergraduate Research (NCUR). Of the group that went from Concordia, there were three religion majors, one philosophy major, one math major, one exercise science major, and a couple of chemistry and biology majors. Even though sometimes I did not understand the technical terms that the other was talking about, I had a huge respect for what they did and accomplished to get to NCUR.

The conference celebrated the great research of all in different areas of study. Now, we do have Celebration of Student Scholarship on campus where we do celebrate the interdisciplinary nature of our college, but in my experience, not at the level that NCUR did.

We celebrate our liberal arts degree only to turn around and be judgmental towards what someone else choose to study. We refuse to understand the hard work that goes into each and every major. We refuse to be open to learning what other disciplines can offer our own discipline.

Becoming responsibly engaged in the world means that we respect people of other disciplines. Maybe the best way to gain respect for others is to have more opportunity for truly interdisciplinary projects–ones where a person from each major works together on an issue and shows how it fits into their realm of study.

It is time to begin conversations about how respecting disciplines and having an appreciative knowledge of them is a great way to become responsibly engaged in the world.

Do you want to go on a scavenger hunt? #Ferguson

1. A piece of artwork

 

2. A picture or video about the April 7 election

 

3. A news story of another black man shot

 

4. A motivational quote

 

5. A photo or video relating crucifixion and black lives

 

6. A protest photo or video

 

7. A post about white privilege or white supremacy

 

8. A photo about March police killings

 

9. A photo of Mike Brown’s memorial

Ferguson, MO. This is a sad place. #michaelbrown #ferguson

A post shared by Jeff Zander (@zanderjeff) on

 

Now, it’s your turn. Go on to Instagram, search #Ferguson, and reflect.

Mine eyes have seen…

America the beautiful. America the free. But how free are all people in America? Arguably, people of color are not as free as white Americans. But that’s not even arguable. There are way too many statistic to back this up.

Over spring break, I went on a Justice Journey around the Southern United States. We stopped in Ferguson, Memphis, Birmingham, and Atlanta. We saw sites of racial violence, learned about racism in America—past and present, and spoke with two activists who are tenacious women, Alexis and Elle, who are leading protests and speaking truth.

I saw a lot of hurt. I felt a lot of guilt because I failed to recognize what was happening right in front of me. Mine eyes have seen the subtle and sometimes blatant racism in America.

Racism is a huge issue of social justice in America. Many people think that because all the laws have been change that people of color have the same access to education, jobs, housing, treatment by police, etc. in America as white Americans do. But that is simply a lie. Let’s look at some statistics.

This is statistic I learned while talking to Elle, an Atlanta activist who is responsible for planning the I-85 interstate shut down in protest.

1. Every 28 hours a black person is shot by police. For more information about police violence, click here.

2. An AP poll conducted in 2012 found that 51% of Americas harbor anti-black attitudes, compared to only 48% in 2008. 51% that is HUGE! Half of Americans have feelings of prejudice towards black people. That is a problem.

3. According to the Pew Research Center in 2013, the wealth of white households was 13 times that of the median wealth of black households.

4. Data from the 2011-2012 school year shows that black students are three times as likely to attend schools where fewer than 60%  of teachers meet all state certification and licensure requirements.

And these are just four statistics. While talking to Alexis and Elle, they both shared stories about how they are afraid to go out because they fear the target of police. Alexis came to the church we were staying at in St. Louis. She wasn’t exactly sure where to go, so she was wandering around the building. Alexis was super afraid that a police officer would drive by and arrest her for trespassing, simply because she wasn’t sure where to go.

And this is just one story. Alexis and Elle both had multiple stories about times that they feared for their safety, that they would be judged for the color of their skin. Alexis and Elle are not the only ones with these stories. It is unfair for white Americans to deny their reality, in fact, it is extremely problematic. Ignoring their reality further entrenches feelings of resentment which will not help us solve the problem. 

Yes, there are some laws that could be made or changed to help solve these statistic, but the real problem comes from those who are explicit express anti-black attitudes. It is a matter of perception. Ultimately, black bodies are seen as inferior to white bodies.

Street Art in Ferguson, MO

Street Art in Ferguson, MO

But it would be unfair to tell this story without hope. Mine eyes have seen hope. I saw it on the Justice Journey. Hope is in the two young women activists we spoke to. Hope is in the street art in Ferguson. Hope is in the ongoing protests for black life.

Think about what prejudices you harbor. You may not think you have any. But that’s a lie. Everyone holds them whether we want to or not. Stereotypes—a type of prejudice. There are tools that can help us recognize our prejudices like Project Implicit run by Harvard. On this site, you can take different test to find out what you implicit associations are. Knowing what prejudices you harbor is the first step to breaking them down.

From there, white Americans need to check their privilege. We have to look at and recognize the advantages that we have in society. We must not deny that we do have privilege. It is seen in the way white people are hired more often for jobs even if the black person has the same qualifications.

Then we need to listen. We need to listen to stories of people who are marginalized. We cannot and should not deny their experiences. To do so is to discount who they are as people. We must amplify the voices of those who are experiencing prejudice.

Often the experiences of prejudice will be denied by white people because, under the theory of analogy, those experiences do not happen to white people. We cannot wrap our minds around that idea of somehow we are making people suffer. We make excuses that they have the opportunity to succeed, but if we are to look at the date, we see that people of color do not. Once we recognize this, we can begin to change.

And we need to love. For Christianity, Jesus calls each one of us to love God with all our heart and love our neighbor as ourselves. This love calls us to put ourselves in their shoes and lift up the voices of the marginalized. To cast away our judgments and simply love.

This love also means that we work for change for our black brother and sisters. That means we have the tough conversation about race. We work to challenge the status quo through conversation.

We can change how black bodies are viewed. Yes, it is going to take work. Yes, it is going to be difficult, but it is possible. But we have to listen. We cannot project our white selves onto the black experience.

Hope is here. Hope is now. It is time to put behind the feelings that people of color are inferior to white people. It is time to recognize the black experience and work to change it for the better. Now, it is time for me to step aside and let my black brothers and sisters speak, so that I may work to amplify their voices and have the race conversation.

6 Times Women in the Bible Had to Use Their Bodies to Get What They Want

1. Tamar: Genesis 38

Painting by Arent de Gelder

Judah and Tamar (1667) by Arent de Gelder

Tamar was a widow. She went to live with her father until Judah’s son, Shelah, was old enough for her to marry. Shelah became grown, but Tamar and Shelah were not married. When she found out that Judah, her father-in-law, was going to sheer sheep, she wrapped herself up and put on a veil. Judah thought she was a prostitute, and asked to have sex with her. Tamar said only if he gave her his signet, cord, and staff. He obliges then they go on there way. Three months later, Tamar is pregnant, and Judah is furious and wants her to be burned. She brings out the signet, cord, and staff, and Judah acknowledges that he was in the wrong.

Tamar did not have agency to do anything about her place in life. Her only option was to use her body to get the protection she needed. 

2. Rahab: Joshua 2

The Harlot of Jericho and Two Spies by James Tissot

The Harlot of Jericho and Two Spies by James Tissot

Rahab was a prostitute in Jericho. Joshua and some other Israelites had come to scope out the city in preparations for the attack of Jericho. The men had come to her which implies sex. The king of Jericho found out and sent orders for Rahab to turn the men over. Instead, she hid them. The men then granted her safety after the Israelites took over Jericho.

If we want to give the Israelites the benefit of the doubt and say that they protected Rahab because she protected them, we could. However, I am a bit more skeptical. Rahab used her body in the way she knew how in order to gain protection because she was soon to be a foreigner in her own land. 

3. Bathsheba: 2 Samuel 11

Bathing Bathsheba (1654) by

Bathing Bathsheba (1654) by Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn

Bathsheba was the wife of Uriah, an officer in King David’s army. While Uriah was away, David saw a women who was very beautiful, Bathsheba. He summoned her, and they had sex.

Now, let’s pause for a second. One could say, “Why didn’t Bathsheba refused to have sex with David?” But I don’t think it was that easy. Kings tend to ruthless. She probably would have been killed for not sleeping with David.

Bathsheba gets pregnant, so David brings Uriah home to try to get him to sleep with his wife. Uriah refuses, and goes back to the front lines. David orders Uriah to be killed in battle. Then David takes Bathsheba as his wife, and her son becomes an heir to the throne.

Bathsheba used her body to further her placement in society. Why was she forced to use her body to gain her place?

4. Hagar: Genesis 16

Hagar Leaves the House of Abraham (1615-1617) by Peter Paul Rubens

Hagar Leaves the House of Abraham (1615-1617) by Peter Paul Rubens

Hagar was the servant of Sarai, Abram’s wife. Because Sarai was barren, she offered Hagar to her husband to fulfill God’s promise. Hagar conceives and looks on contempt, so Sarai dismisses her. Hagar runs away, and an angel of the Lord tells her to return to Sarai. The angel also said that her offspring would be greatly multiplied.

Now the question is: Why did Sarai feel that the only way to fulfill God’s promise was to use someone else’s body? Why was it that Sarai felt that the promise of God rested on her shoulders and her body?

5. Ruth and Naomi: Ruth

Boaz pouring Six Measures of Barley into Ruth's veil (1645) by Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn

Boaz pouring Six Measures of Barley into Ruth’s veil (1645) by Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn

Ruth and Naomi are in Judah after living in Moab for many years. Both women are foreigners and husbandless. They are in need of protection. Naomi knew someone from her late husband’s side of the family that was rich named Boaz. Ruth and Boaz become acquainted. Naomi then devises a plan in which Ruth was to ask for Boaz to marry her while he was drunk. Ruth and Boaz get married.

Naomi used Ruth’s young body to gain protection for themselves in Judah. Ruth laid next to Boaz. While the Bible does not suggest any sort of sexual interaction, Ruth uncovered his feet and laid next to him while drunk. She used her body to gain protection.

6. Mary Magdalene

The Penitent Mary Magdalene (1595) by Caravaggio

The Penitent Mary Magdalene (1595) by Caravaggio

In the Bible, Mary Magdalene did not explicitly use her body to get what she needed. Historically, it has been said that Mary was a prostitute. Why is it that Mary has to be sexualized to gain her place in history? Couldn’t she just be one of Jesus’ disciples?

While some of these stories may be seen as trickery, we must remember that these women did not have any other option to make a place for themselves in the world. In all of these stories, the women were either vulnerable or were foreigners. They did not have many choices other than to use their body. Having someone else’s kid can give a women protection in the ancient world. Why is it that women feel that using their body is the only way they can get what they want? How does this still happen in the world today? How can we change this?