Sunday, December 23, 2018

picture book recs (round 6)

Happy 3 years of intentionally reading picture books, to me!

Wanna guess how many kids' books I've read during that time?

(Answer is at the bottom of this post.)


I noted last blogpost that people keep sharing with me links to lists of multicultural picture books and similar, which I appreciate the thought behind (it is Known that I am reading lots of picture books to select ones to buy for the nibling), but at this point I have heard of (if not read) most all the books that show up on those lists, so I was so pleased to come across Minh Lê‏'s "Best Picture Books of 2017" where I had heard of almost none of the books AND at-a-glance it appeared to be a diverse author pool. I had gotten through 7 of the 19 categories in the last roundup. I have now gotten through an additional 3. [My intention is to power through the remainder by the end of 2018. Yes, I know that's a lot of books for this Winter Break; the floor of my bedroom is very aware.] A couple I really liked:

  • The Book of Mistakes written & illustrated by Corinna Luyken [one of the Best on Creativity]
  • Claymates written by Dev Petty & illustrated by Lauren Eldridge [one of the Best on Creativity]
I also came across Taylor Pittman's "17 LGBTQ-Friendly Books To Read To Your Kid In Honor Of Pride" -- which actually had a lot of books I hadn't read, including books I hadn't even heard of. New-to-me books I particularly appreciated: I also finally read Juneteenth picturebooks -- none of which I loved, but I would recommend reading some to your kids since especially amongst us non-Black Americans, this piece of our history is often unknown.
  • Juneteenth written by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson and Drew Nelson & illustrated by Mark Schroder is a solid, child-appropriate, overview of Juneteenth.
In the lesser-known-African-American-history vein, I also liked The nibling is growing up in Florida, so I also read a lot of picturebooks about life in the water (drawing heavily on a "sea the oceans" GoodReads shelf I'd come across, though most of the ones I liked best came from Horn Book recs), including mermaids. Apparently I only liked 1 enough to actively rec it? I had been feeling like I'd read basically all the cool progressive board books and was gonna have to transition out of board books into gifting M other stuff -- and then Betsy Bird did a Top 100 Board Books Poll. My favorites (of the ones I didn't nominate myself):
  • Baby 123 written & illustrated by Deborah Donenfield [N.B. this one is unfortunately out of print -- though I got some good copies from thriftbooks on eBay]
  • Edible Colors written & illustrated by Jennifer Vogel Bass
  • I'm a Librarian (A Tinyville Town Book) written & illustrated by Brian Biggs -- it's a gay male librarian, okay; I am fond
  • My Friends written & illustrated by Taro Gomi
I was also already interested in checking out more of the Lil' Libros series (a Spanish-English board book series drawing on Mexican culture for its contents in both subject matter and illustration style). I didn't actually love them as much as I was hoping to, but I did like: After someone I follow RTed a thread about a culturally clueless Kirkus review of Where's the Potty on This Ark?, I checked out Kar-Ben's catalog. My favorites of the ones I read: Not really on purpose, I ended up reading a bunch of books on emotions/difficult issues:
  • I'm Sad written by Michael Ian Black & illustrated by Debbie Ridpath Ohi [second tier?] [With the caveat that I'm uncomfortable with the author's "redemption is hard to find" stance on the occasion of Louis CK's "comeback," and I'm not convinced how much he's learned from the pushback he got.]
  • Something Happened in Our Town: A Child's Story about Racial Injustice written by Marianne Celano, Marietta Collins, and Ann Hazzard & illustrated by Jennifer Zivoin [second tier?]
  • Allie All Along written & illustrated by Sarah Lynne Reul -- on anger
Other recs: ***

The answer to how many kids' books I've read in 3 years?

730 -- I think.

I discovered the GoodReads export library function, but it left a LOT of the Date Read cells blank (I have no idea what that glitch is), which made cutting the data to just the date range I wanted more challenging. It puts all your shelves for a given book in a single cell, but that was easily solved by running a COUNTIF.


Saturday, June 23, 2018

picture books (round 5) mostly Native/Indigenous/Aboriginal

Nibling turned 2 today!


People keep sharing with me links to lists of multicultural picture books and similar, which I appreciate the thought behind (it is Known that I am reading lots of picture books to select ones to buy for the nibling), but at this point I have heard of (if not read) most all the books that show up on those lists.

So I was so pleased to come across Minh Lê‏'s "Best Picture Books of 2017" where I had heard of almost none of the books AND at-a-glance it appeared to be a diverse author pool. I also liked that its categories were ones I wouldn't necessarily have thought of -- most touching, most charming, best surprise, best family, best adventure, best history, funniest, most clever, best on creativity, best concept, best (auto)biography, most beautiful, best nature/outdoors, best read aloud, most exuberant/fun, most powerful, best friendship/kindness, best design, best bedtime.

So I kicked off my 2018 picture book reading with that (as if I didn't already have ~150 picture books on my to-read list...). And then got sidetracked by other things and slowly made my way through 7 of Lê‏'s 19(!) categories. I didn't actually love a lot of them, but here are some I did:

I also learned about Inhabit Media -- an Inuit-owned publishing company -- and proceeded to interlibrary loan most every picturebook I could get my hands on. [Note: I am shifting from using the term "folklore" to "traditional stories" after reading this post on American Indians in Children's Literature (AICL).]

  • The Raven and the Loon written by Rachel Qitsualik-Tinsley and Sean Qitsualik-Tinsley & illustrated by Kim Smith [traditional story]
  • Ava and the Little Folk retold by Neil Christopher and Alan Neal & illustrated by Jonathan Wright [traditional story]
  • Lesson for the Wolf written by Rachel Qitsualik-Tinsley and Sean Qitsualik-Tinsley & illustrated by Alan Cook [traditional story]
  • The Walrus Who Escaped written by Rachel Qitsualik-Tinsley and Sean Qitsualik-Tinsley & illustrated by Anthony Brennan [traditional story]
  • Ukaliq and Kalla Go Fishing written by Nadia Mike & illustrated by Amanda Sandland [anthropomorphic animal story]
  • Hurry Up, Ilua! written & illustrated by Nora Helen Hicks [anthropomorphic animal story] mostly for the illustrations
  • Leah's Mustache Party written by Nadia Mike & illustrated by Charlene Chua
And I went through the American Indian Youth Literature Award for Best Picture Book winners and honorees.
  • I am Dreaming of... Animals of the Native Northwest written by Melaney Gleeson-Lyall & illustrated by Mervin Windsor, Maynard Johnny Jr., Eric Parnell, Ernest Swanson, Ben Houstie, Paul Windsor, Allan Weir, Terry Starr, Nicole LaRock, Simone Diamond, and Francis Horne Sr. [2018 Honor Book] [board book] I love these illustrations!
  • Little You written by Richard Van Camp & illustrated by Julie Flett [2016 Best Picture Book] [author is Tłı̨chǫ, illustrator is Cree-Metis] [board book] brb, buying copies of this for every baby
  • Caribou Song written by Tomson Highway & illustrated by John Rombough [2014 Best Picture Book] [Cree; author is full-blooded Cree and illustrator is Chipewayan Dene] for the illustrations

And I ended up checking out more recommendations of books by and about Native/Indigenous/Aboriginal peoples. (Some sidebar reading on terminology: "Natives of the Hawaiian Islands are not Indigenous People, They’re Aboriginal" & "A Note on Terminology: Inuit, Métis, First Nations, and Aboriginal" -- the latter is Canadian and is adapted from the Report on the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples.)

I started doing some searching for Aboriginal Australian picturebooks, and I found a 2013 blogpost "Top Ten Indigenous-authored Children’s Books," but plugging the titles into WorldCat I found that most of them were only in Australian library systems :( (Though it was interesting seeing which non-AUS/NZ libaries had some of them -- Singapore, Japan, Canada, a few places in the US.) I wonder what other quality kidlit I'm missing out on due to its not being published much outside its country of origin (not to mention, of course, the stuff that isn't translated into English #MonolingualProblems), which I'm again reminded of when I come across stuff like Betsy Bird's "Board Books 2018: What We’ve Got Here Is an Oddly Strong Year."

In doing searches to purchase copies of books that weren't in my regional library networks, I learned that there are more Native publishing companies/bookstores than I had realized/expected -- the ones I have come across in my specific searches are below, but I know this isn't even a complete list:

When my copy of Shanyaak'utlaax: Salmon Boy (the 2018 American Indian Library Association's Youth Literature Award Best Picture Book) arrived in the mail (I ordered a copy because none of my regional library networks had a copy), I showed it to my housemate and she said, "Are you still going through books for your [nibling]?" I said, "Yes. The kid isn't even 2 years old yet, there are many years to go!" I have such a backlog of books I've "shelved," and I keep coming across more (like Betsy Bird's Caldecott and Newbery predictions, which while rarely accurate, contained almost entirely books I hadn't previously encountered).

February is Black History Month, and March is Women's History Month, so there were some kids' books that came up on recommendation lists relevant to that (plus books I saw at the Peabody Essex Museum gift shop). I didn't love any of them, but some fairly good ones are:

There was also The Conscious Kid Library's "13 Recommended #OwnVoices Reads for Ramadan." I read most of the ones I hadn't read already, and of those new-to-me ones, these were my favorites:

Plus, of course, picturebooks I just happened to come across:


In total I've read ~176 kids' books this six-month period.

Friday, March 30, 2018

[7 Last Words] "I thirst"

I was invited to participate in my church's Good Friday service this year and was assigned the Fifth Word -- "I thirst" (John 19:28). I don't know how I would have gone about picking one if it had been up to me, but I was pleased to get to reflect on the most human-embodied-experience word of the seven.

Below is the reflection I shared.


Fifth Word – "I Thirst" – John 19:28

Jesus thirsts.

Because Jesus is a human being in a human body.

A creature of flesh and bone, skin and muscles and fat and nerves, blood pumping, lungs breathing.

Human bodies come in a lot of variations -- some of us talk with our hands, some of us move through the world on wheels. Some of us can't process gluten or lactose. Each of our embodiments is unique, and few experiences are universal. But thirst is one of the few that probably is.


John is the one Gospel writer who includes this line, "I thirst."

John also opens Jesus' public ministry with the wedding at Cana -- another story unique to John's Gospel.

Lutheran pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber tells the story of the lectionary assigning the wedding at Cana story the Sunday after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. As you may recall, in this story Jesus is initially resistant to doing anything about the wine shortage at this party, telling Mother Mary, "my hour has not yet come."

Mary pushes ahead, and Bolz-Weber imagines her saying to Jesus, "I will not keep silent. I will obey you and I will tell others to obey you but I will not keep silent. People are thirsty."

And she imagines that near the end of John's Gospel, Jesus says, "I am thirsty. I am not watching this from a distant heaven. I too am thirsty."


Jesus thirsts with the people in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands who still don't have clean water six months after Hurricanes Maria and Irma.


Jesus thirsts with farm workers in California working 9-hour days in scorching heat, sometimes literally dying of dehydration.

42-year-old Audon Felix Garcia died in the summer of 2008 while working in Kern County, California, on a 112-degree day. His core body temperature was 108 degrees Fahrenheit when he died.


Have you ever cried so much that you felt thirsty, like you'd dehydrated yourself?

We don't know if Jesus wept while dying by state-sanctioned torture, but it seems likely.

Certainly the Jesus of John's Gospel wept a few chapters earlier, on the long walk toward Jerusalem, confronted with the weeping of another Mary and so many others after the death of Lazarus at Bethany.


Jesus thirsts with so many other prisoners of the state.

21-year-old Madison Jenson died of dehydration on December 1, 2016, four days after being put in jail in Duchesne County, Utah, her dehydration probably related to opiate withdrawal.

38-year-old Terrill Thomas died on April 24, 2016, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, after the water had been shut off to his cell for 7 days after he had flooded the toilet in a previous cell. #BlackLivesMatter

50-year-old Joyce Curnell was found dead in her Charleston County, South Carolina, jail cell on July 22, 2016, dead from dehydration the day after she was jailed. #BlackWomensLivesMatter


Jesus is given a sponge full of sour wine on a stick. Which may have been intended as an anaesthetic -- to dull the pain of the multiple nail wounds and the slow asphyxiation. But as mercies go, it was a small one amidst this public execution after a sham of a trial. Jesus thirsts with those who do not have access to quality water.

Jesus thirsts with the people of Flint, Michigan, and the 6 million other people across the 50 United States whose water has excessive levels of lead.

Jesus thirsts with the prisoners at MCI Norfolk here in Massachusetts and so many other prisons and jails who do not have uncontaminated water.


There are a lot of things we could do to alleviate the thirsts across our nation and around the world, and maybe we will after we leave this space.

But for now, we sit with the thirst.

The God who created us from the very stardust of the Big Bang, the God whose life breath sustains us. That same God shaped some of that same stardust, and with the Yes of a young woman named Mary, breathed Godself into embodiment, into a screaming crying baby who would grow into adulthood and be executed by some of those same stardust creatures. And that embodied God, who walked so many dusty, dirty roads; who ate so many meals with so many different people; that embodied God, that person Jesus, was human right up through the end.

And Jesus thirsts.


Works Consulted/Cited

News of the world links to the primary article I drew from, though I often Googled for additional details like exact date of death.

Nadia Bolz-Weber tells the wedding at Cana story in her 2013 book Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint.

The story of Lazarus is found in John 11, and the specific verse "Jesus wept" is John 11:35.


Full service audio recording is here (there are a few minutes of extra silence at the beginning and the end -- this is what happens when you ask someone who's also participating in the service to record it ;) ) My part begins around 32:42.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

[Mary] feel the fear and do it anyway

At the Christmas Eve service I attended in Florida this year, the pastor opened the sermon with talking about how we've created a beautiful, clean, calm story out of something that in Luke's telling is really messy etc.

I generally agree with this, but when he said that Mary was surely terrified, I thought "no she wasn't!" maybe she was, but I think that if she was, she was very much a "feel the fear and do it anyway" kind of person.

Yes, at the Annunciation Gabriel says "Do not be afraid" -- because angels always say "Do not be afraid" -- but Mary ultimately agrees to God's wacky plan. [Luke 1:26-38]

And then, while pregnant, Mary travels some 90 miles [cite] (unclear whether she traveled with anyone else) to visit her elderly sister Elizabeth (who is also miraculously pregnant, and has been for six months). And when Elizabeth recognizes not only that Mary is pregnant but that she is pregnant with Divinity -- which we don't have any indication Mary had told Elizabeth about before arriving (she seems to have gone pretty immediately) -- Mary's response is a hymn of praise about how God is going to turn the world upside down. [Luke 1:39-55]

Black gay Episcopalian Broderick Greer suggests that the Magnificat is a protest hymn that Mary goes on to sing to her child (that Jesus learned a lot of what formed his life and ministry from his radical mom).

And then when Elizabeth gives birth, Mary (having just finished her first trimester) goes back home [Luke 1:56-57] -- only to have to travel another 80 miles or so for some plot device census probably six months later when she's about to give birth any day now [Luke 2:1-6]. Now, if I were going to pick some item from Luke's "Christmas" narrative to suggest that Mary was afraid, this would be it. Because the idea of government wanting to know exactly who all lived under its control and where they lived feels very present.

And Mary ends up placing her baby in a manger (an animal feed trough) because there was no room for them at the inn [Luke 2:7], and in case that wasn't enough dirt and animal, a bunch of shepherds show up, having been sent by angels [Luke 2:8-20]. And we read that, "When they [the shepherds] saw this [Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger], they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them." [Luke 2:17-18] -- so maybe Mary and Joseph weren't as alone as the story indicates (for example, last year's "Jesus was not born in a stable" -- which I thought surely I had read longer ago than last Advent) 'cause who is this "all" that the shepherds report out to? 'cause they haven't even returned to where they come from yet -- "But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart." [Luke 2:19] So whatever weirdness was happening, Mary rolled with it all.

In "O Little Town of Bethlehem," we sing "be born in us today" to the Christ child, but I wonder if there's value in seeking to have something of Mary born in us.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

picture book recs (round 4)

Niblig turns 18 months in 2 days, and we leave tomorrow to visit, so I'm posting today.

Due to a GoodReads glitch, I'm not sure exactly how many picturebooks I've read this 6-month period, but I think ~98 (which is significantly more than I would have guessed before I tallied it up).

My big focus this time was on books set in Africa, not written by white folks. Prompted by this FB post about how not everyone who lives in Africa lives in a hut -- though I didn't actually find many picture books set in Africa that depict human people living in not-huts (I got a lot of village life and a lot of folktales).

  • Kitoto the Mighty written by Tololwa M. Mollel & illustrated by Kristi Frost -- a mouse seeks the most powerful being to protect him from the hawk [African folktale retold]
  • Subira, Subira written by Tololwa M. Mollel & illustrated by Linda Saport -- a girl struggles to get her younger brother to behave [contemporary Tanzania, folklore elements]
  • Big Boy written by Tololwa M. Mollel & illustrated by E.B. Lewis -- a Tanzanian boy wishes he were bigger ... but what if his wish were granted? [contemporary Tanzania]
  • Song Bird written by Tololwa M. Mollel & illustrated by Rosanne Litzinger -- girl saves the day! (okay, magical song bird saves the day, but the girl keeps the grownups from messing it up) [African folktale retold]
  • To Dinner, For Dinner written by Tololwa M. Mollel & illustrated by Synthia Saint James -- mostly I just love the mole wearing glasses [in the style of African folktales]
  • A Is for Africa written & photographed by Ifeoma Onyefulu [Nigeria]
  • The Magic Gourd written by & illustrated by Baba Wagué Diakité [African folklore]

I also read a bunch on labor:

And some miscellaneous books:

Thursday, October 12, 2017

[The Book] I'm a nerd.

So, I've been sporadically doing tiny amounts of work on The Book.

I was working on the Psalms of lament section, and I ended up re-requesting 2 books I read back in 2015 but hadn't taken notes on -- Living Through Pain: Psalms and the Search for Wholeness by Kristin M. Swenson, 2005 (for the Psalms) and The Mystery We Celebrate, the Song We Sing: A Theology of Liturgical Music by Kathleen Harmon, 2008 (for the use of music in worship).

My chapter on psalms of lament also discusses African-American spirituals (Monica Coleman has commented that when Jesus on the cross cried out, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" from Psalm 22, he was singing a lament song of his people -- the Psalms were the songbook of his people, just like the spirituals were the songbook of African-American slaves) and I realized that I don't have much to work with about the usage of Psalms of lament as part of the songbook of a people like spirituals, so I ended up going through the library catalog tag on the Psalms, and I'm bummed that it's all white dudes (I've been on a pretty intent break from books by white dudes for about 2 years now), but I'm so excited to dive into these books:

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

picture book recs (round 3)

Nibling turns 1 year old this Friday, and I know I'm not going to get any more picturebooks read between now and then, so am posting now. (Yes, I am on a 6-month posting schedule.)

I read ~150 picturebooks the first 6 months, ~50 the next 6 months, and ~83 this past 6 months (38 of which were over the winter holiday break week -- my most prime time for reading). Books are, as usual, listed in the order in which I read them.

Tier 1:

Tier 2: I didn't love any of the Chinese/Lunar New Year books I read, but probably my favorite that's About the holiday is The Next New Year written by Janet S. Wong & illustrated by Yangsook Choi. I also enjoyed:
And speaking of Chinese holidays, I also enjoyed (though again, not in love with) Thanking the Moon: Celebrating the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival by Grace Lin.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

[unpreached sermon] What We Bring With Us Into Lent [Transfiguration 2017]

What We Bring With Us Into Lent
Six days later, Jesus took Peter and the siblings James and John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves.

And Jesus was transfigured before them -- face shining like the sun, and clothes becoming dazzling white.

Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”

While Peter was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Child, the Beloved; with whom I am well pleased; listen this one!”

When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus alone.

As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Child of Humanity has been raised from the dead.”

Matthew 17:1-9 (NRSV, alt)

Some of you may have seen on Facebook (or elsewhere on the Internet) that Parity, a faith-based LGBTQ-focused organization based in NYC, is offering glitter ashes for Ash Wednesday this year.

On their website, they write:

At this moment in history, glitter ashes will be a powerful reminder of St. Augustine’s teaching that we cannot despair because despair paralyzes, thwarting repentance and impeding the change that we are called to make.

Glitter+Ash exquisitely captures the relationship between death and new life. We do not live in fear of ash -- of death -- we place it on our foreheads for the world to see. We know that fear will rise, cramping our hearts. We also know that God specifically calls us not to project that fear onto the Other, the alien, the stranger in our midst. God insists that we look for the spark of life, of hope, in ourselves and one another. This Ash Wednesday, we will make that spark easier to see. We will stand witness to the gritty, glittery, scandalous hope that exists in the very marrow of our tradition.

At the Transfiguration, a few of the disciples see the spark in Jesus made externally manifest for a brief moment.

And it doesn’t come at a random place in the story.

The Season following Epiphany this year hasn’t been a narrative journey through Jesus’ life so much as it’s been a dwelling in the teachings of Jesus -- primarily the Sermon on the Mount. So the liturgical year doesn’t offer us a lot of context for the story today and our jump into Lent a few days from now. We’ve skipped over Jesus asking the disciples “Who do you say that I am?” and Peter confessing Jesus as Messiah (Matthew 16:13-20), which is almost immediately followed by, “From that time on, Jesus began to tell the disciples: I must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (Matthew 16:21, NRSV, alt.).

So we get this glittering moment, not early in Jesus’ ministry when one might be advertising for new recruits, but near the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry, when things are starting to get difficult -- well, more difficult than they already are when your life’s work is on the margins and you have no home or even steady source of income. A couple chapters earlier, we learned of the death of John the Baptist (Matthew 14:1-12). These are difficult times. The Empire is, if not winning, certainly encroaching.

So Jesus takes a few of the disciples up to a mountaintop.

And is transfigured.

And Moses and Elijah show up and Peter, bless, says, “This is great! Jesus, if you’re okay with it, let’s stay here forever.”

And while Peter is still speaking, a cloud appears and the voice of God reiterates the statement from Jesus’ baptism (Matthew 3:17) that Jesus is God's beloved child, with whom God is well pleased.

And the disciples are terrified, and Jesus comforts them, and Moses and Elijah disappear -- and one imagines that Jesus stops glowing -- and the 4 of them go back down the mountain.

They continue their journey toward Jerusalem -- on which journey Jesus will twice more reiterate the “I will be betrayed, killed, and resurrected” prediction (Matthew 17:22-23 and 20:17-19).

One of the lessons of the Transfiguration story is that transcendent experiences are fleeting and are not a place we can stay forever; instead, we have to go back -- not just to return to regular life but, at this point in the biblical story, to continue on toward a confrontation with the powers of Empire that may ultimately kill us.

Lent invites us in to the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness after being baptized and before beginning public ministry.

Lent has traditionally been a catechumenary period -- with adults often getting baptized during the Easter Vigil service, having died to their old lives and been reborn in Christ.

This year in particular, I think there’s a lot of value in focusing on Lent as valuable in and of itself, not just as a means to an end. Especially if we think of it as mirroring Jesus’ time in the desert, when Jesus faces the temptations of comfort and security, the temptation to give our allegiance to that which is not God.

Lent feels to me like a good metaphor for our lives under this current political regime, and we’re going to spend a lot more than 40 days here.

Using the Transfiguration as a guide, I’d like to propose 3 things we bring with us into Lenten times and places -- into deserts and wildernesses -- to sustain us:

  1. Our belovedness
  2. Our tradition
  3. Our community
The most obvious piece of the Transfiguration story -- in fact the piece which we use to name the story -- is Jesus glowing like the sun.

Because God breaks up the party, it’s easy -- at least for me -- to forget what God actually says: “This is my child, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” Echoing what God said at Jesus’ baptism -- which we celebrated just a couple months ago.

Yes, when God says it at the Transfiguration, Jesus has done a fair amount of teaching and healing -- but the baptism was one of the very first stories Matthew told about Jesus, before Jesus had done anything at all. We are beloved to God, who is well pleased with us, because we are God’s children, not because of any of our accomplishments.

In a sermon on the Baptism of Jesus1, reflecting on the temptation in the wilderness that immediately follows the baptism, Lutheran pastor and problematic fave Nadia Bolz-Weber2 said, “Before we do anything wrong and before we do anything right, God has named and claimed us as God’s own. But almost immediately, other things try to tell us who we are and to whom we should belong.” She suggests that “if God’s first move is to give us our identity, then the devil’s first move is to throw that identity into question.”

As Parity states, “God insists that we look for the spark of life, of hope, in ourselves and one another.” This can be hard. Sometimes we feel worn out, like we’re failing at everything, like all the systems we’re working against are just too big and too powerful… Jesus probably feels you on this. The text doesn’t tell us why Jesus took a few of the disciples up to this mountain, but we read elsewhere in the Gospels about Jesus retreating away from the crowds, up to a mountain alone to pray (e.g., Matthew 14.23), so it’s very possible that Jesus was tired and needed a break. God’s declaration of belovedness doesn’t come in the midst of an impressive crowd scene, but instead in a quiet moment apart, perhaps a moment of weariness.

Prof. Alyce M. McKenzie suggests:

If you know what it is like to be tired, to have people seeking you out for what you can do for them, and other people criticizing you and working against you, if you have ever been filled with dread at what lies ahead, you have a little something in common with Jesus. If you know what it's like to feel those things as a direct result of serving God, then you have even more in common with Jesus.
Admittedly, most of us don’t get a personal Transfiguration glow or a declaration from the heavens, but I do want to argue that God is still with us.

I’m not sure exactly where Parity is getting their Augustinian teaching that “we cannot despair because despair paralyzes,” but in Sermon 142 (preaching on John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”) Augustine exhorts against despair, reminding us of St. Paul’s statement that “Christ died for the ungodly” (Romans 5:6) and asserting that we were so loved before there was anything in us to merit that love.

We are deeply, unfathomably loved. And nothing we can do or fail to do, nothing that can be done to us, can change that.

As we have often heard quoted from Paul’s letter to the Romans:

I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:38-39, NRSV, alt.)
I would add to Paul’s list of things that cannot separate us from the love of God: executive orders, deportations, angry white men with guns, despair, fatigue, numbness, an inability to make phonecalls, an inability to attend protests … none of the threats to our safety or the voices that say we’re not doing enough, can separate us from the love of God.

Black gay Episcopalian Broderick Greer, preparing to preach this Sunday, noted:

when studying for my homily, I found out that the original word for "transfigured" can mean "Appearance matching one's inner reality".
A Transfiguration moment is one in which we are truly and deeply known. It is at this moment and at Jesus’ baptism that God’s voice breaks through the clouds to say, “This is my beloved child, with whom I am well-pleased.” That identity, beloved of God, is always at the core of who we are.

Now, the second most memorable part of the story is the appearance of Moses and Elijah -- representatives of the Law and the Prophets. We’re told that they talk with Jesus, though Matthew doesn’t tell us what they talk about. But their very appearance, in addition to suggesting a sort of blessing from the elders, reminds us of the tradition that Jesus inherited.

Many generations back, the Hebrews had left Canaan because there was a famine, and they settled in Egypt, where they ended up enslaved. Born to Hebrews, Moses escapes death due to the kindness and cunning of a variety of women, living first as an Egyptian royal and then marrying into the family of a desert priest, before finally returning to Egypt to lead the Hebrews out of bondage, aided by Moses’ siblings Aaron and Miriam. Moses leads the people for forty years, bringing them the Law which will help them live in closer covenant with God and sometimes intervening on the people’s behalf when God gets really upset at their breaking that covenant.

Generations later, in their new home, the kingdom that the Hebrews build will fracture, and Elijah will arise as one of the great prophets, zealous for God, calling down a drought and being fed by ravens in the desert, threatened with death by an angry ruler and spoken to by God in a mountain cave.

Jesus comes from a tradition not just of Law and Prophets but of border people, people who are rarely at home in the comfortable center but are called into places of newness and conflict, called to do a new thing with and for God’s people.

This discomfort, this marginality, feels really resonant to me in this socio-political moment.

This is the tradition that we, too, inhabit. We do not inherit a promise that it will be easy, but we do inherit a promise that God will be with us. As God was with Moses, and Elijah, and Jesus, and the communities around them.

Which brings us to the third item, that this mountaintop experience -- unlike many mountaintop experiences -- happened in community, with witnesses.

Only 3 witnesses, admittedly, but still, this was not a private meeting between Jesus and the ancestors or Jesus and God, this was something that Jesus and Peter and James and John could all carry with them.

We don’t know how the disciples reflected on this experience, or what they said amongst themselves about it -- only that the story made it into the written record, showing up in 3 out of 4 of our canonical Gospels. But we can imagine them whispering among themselves while walking a long and dusty road, or under cover of darkness as they drift toward sleep -- reminding themselves that it really happened, and wondering what exactly it means.

When things get harder -- and they will -- we have a community who can remind us of the Transfiguration moments.

We have a community who can remind us of our tradition -- of those who came before us, and why we continue to do this work.

We have a community who can remind us that we are beloved.

We have people who can go on retreat with us, who can dance in defiant joy with us, who can renew our baptisms with us after we’ve changed our name, who can march and rally with us, who can provide childcare and pots of soup.

Blogger D. Mark Davis noted that the Greek word translated “transfigured” (or “transformed”) only shows up 2 other times in the New Testament outside of the Transfiguration story: Romans 12:2 and 2 Corinthians 3:18.

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2)

And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of God as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from God, the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:18, NRSV, alt.)

Transfiguration is, for most of us, a process. Those moments when we reflect our best selves, when we are most in tune with God, we can carry with us into Lent to sustain us.

Nurtured and fed by our community, our tradition, and our core identity as God's beloved, we can make our way through even the most threatening and bewildering times.



1 Bolz-Weber, Nadia. Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint. New York: Jericho Books, 2013, pp. 138-9.

2 Insert long footnote here about how she (and Rachel Held Evans) responded (or failed to) when it became known that their friend Tony Jones had abused his now ex-wife.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Christmas morning 2016

Probably surprising no one who read last night's blogpost, this morning's sermon also seemed banal to me. The presentation of Jesus at the Temple (Luke 2:22ff) -- which is more appropriately next Sunday 'cause circumcision is 8 days after birth (it's right there in verse 21) but okay, I can roll with it (and the preacher pointed out that this scene actually happens 40 days after the Nativity -- which I can believe is the purification period law, but I would have appreciated an explicit nod to that*).

When we imagine the baby Jesus, do we see Jesus the way that Simeon (and Anna) did? One could actually do things with that, but I felt like the sermon was so blah blah blah. Like, even if I agreed with the preacher's theology (which I don't entirely) I don't think I would have felt nourished by the sermon.

A couple times he quoted Simeon's line to Mary "and a sword will pierce your own soul too," but he didn't talk at all about how it can be difficult to follow in the Way of Jesus, to have one's life transformed by accepting the promise of salvation/redemption/restoration that God offers us in Jesus. He talked a little about how Simeon and Anna were the only people to recognize Jesus out of all the adults and all the babies in the Temple that day, but he didn't talk at all about what it might have been like, for example, for Simeon to spend his whole life waiting for this promise to be fulfilled -- did he ever doubt? So many opportunities to make this story relevant to contemporary U.S. Christians, even without getting into national/global politics, and none taken!

I didn't feel like I came out of the sermon with any real idea about who/what Jesus "really" is, other than some vague nods to the Crucifixion and Jesus as savior of the world. But "seeing who Jesus really is" was the whole point of the sermon, so that feels like a total preaching fail to me.

I just, I don't have the ability to talk for 5-10 minutes (I didn't time the sermon) and basically say nothing, and I don't understand how someone can draft a sermon like that and think it's acceptable.

* My HarperCollins study Bible on verse 22 referred me to Leviticus 12, and the purification period for the bearer of a child assigned male at birth is 33 days (verse 4). But it also asserts that the periods are consecutive ("For seven days following the birth of a male child and fourteen following that of a female child, no conjugal relations are allowed. For an additional period of thirty-three and sixty-six days respectively, contact with sacred spaces and objects is proscribed.") so 7+33=40.

Christmas Eve 2016

Every year, I go back to my parents' for Christmas and go to Christmas Eve service at the church I grew up in -- which has a different pastor now but a similar centrist non-political vibe. So it's not like I was actively expecting critique of our nation's slide into a fascist dumpster fire, I just -- the service is roughly Lessons & Carols, with the pastor offering a brief "meditation" after each reading, and each reading/meditation I found myself hungering for something substantive, something connecting the ancient story to the present day ... and it was just so banal, like why are you even bothering? Christmas Eve and Easter are the two most attended church services in the year, so those are your big chances to really speak to people, and if you want to let the texts speak for themselves I can understand that choice (who wants to have to come up with something new to say about the Christmas story?), but if you're gonna offer commentary, then actually say something!
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.”
-Luke 1:26-37 (NRSV)
It's really difficult for me to hear this story afresh, so I zoned out, and in the meditation the pastor talked about Jesus is the savior of all but came first to the Jews, fulfilling a promise God made to Abraham centuries before, and I worried there was gonna be some awkward supersessionism or something, but there wasn't, and I was hopeful that this would segue to opposing the rise of anti-Semitism ... but it didn't.
In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
-Luke 2:1-7 (NRSV)
So, the census made me think of the idea that's been floated of a Muslim registry. And hey, Syria! Or you could talk about how this positions Jesus in a specific political and historical context, that we don't exist separate from the political structures of our world.

Instead, the pastor talked about how each Gospel has a different author and is written to a different audience, and Luke is writing to Gentiles, to Greeks, and so he's situating the story with references they would recognize, but these men who were the most powerful political figures of their time are dust now (while Jesus is not). Which, okay, true, but systems (racism, capitalism, etc.) persist -- and this comes uncomfortably close to implying that it doesn't really matter who the earthly political leaders are because ultimately Jesus is Lord.

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger.
-Luke 2:8-16 (NRSV)
The pastor wondered what that experience must have been like for the shepherds -- and said that's nothing compared to what the experience of the Second Coming will be like. Really, that's where you're going with this? The message of salvation comes first to some of the lowest people in society, and the message is PEACE -- days after the President Elect Tweets about a nuclear arms race, and all you have to say is to close out the service bringing us full circle from God's promise to Abraham to the eventual Second Coming? You have made glancing mention of the Crucifixion and the salvation you believe was enacted in that, but beyond some vague cosmic ideas you have given me nothing about why I should still care about this ancient story or what God has to say to the present moment. I get that most people show up to Christmas Eve service because (a) they already care, or (b) it's just What You Do, or (c) their family dragged them, so probably no one else was unhappy with this service, but I just don't understand how you can be a theologically engaged person (which this preacher is; my mom really appreciates how much Scripturally engaged his Sunday morning preaching is), and honestly just a person living in the world today, and ~preach such an empty service.

Friday, December 23, 2016

picture book recs (round 2)

Nibling turns 6 months old today, and I've definitely gotten far fewer picturebooks read in the last 6 months than I did in the preceding 6 months (~50 vs. ~150). I also feel like I've been excited by fewer books (understandable, as I've gotten through most of the obvious recommendations).

Books I'm excited to recommend:

Second tier:


Initially, I was particularly interested in books about the African-American experience, because my (white) nibling was going to be growing up in St. Louis, southwest of Ferguson.

Then about 4 months post-birth, my brother got a new job and they started planning a move to Florida, and the Hispanic/Latinx/Caribbean(-American) experience felt to me most relevant (with Cuba particularly in mind given Fidel Castro's death while we were visiting for Thanksgiving) -- and yes, I know that Afro-Caribbean is very real.

But then I was going through the picturebooks remaining on my To Read list on GoodReads and yeah, I'm still interested in All the books.

I went to the Fathom Events broadcast of George Takei's Broadway musical Allegiance earlier this month, and I want more books about people of Asian ancestry, including historical books. (Including history that's not American history -- I recently read Haruki Murakami's novel The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and was aware of how little I know about the historical context of the Asian portion of WWII.)

And in looking at my GR to-read list, I was aware that many of the African-American books on there are biographies -- which is great, but I also want to have plenty of books about regular people today, that makes people-not-like-me part of the reader-child's natural world (thinking of my own nibling; obviously it's also important for kids to see themselves reflected), not just distant figures in history (this is especially true for Native Americans, who we tend to forget still exist).

I have said before that I'm grateful to be picturebook shopping at a time when there are so many well-written well-illustrated picturebooks by and about people who aren't the unmarked default of white, straight, cisgender, Christian, economically comfortable, etc. And that's certainly true, but I'm also conscious of how few books (available in English in the US) there are about kids from India, how few books there are about kids with disabilities (especially ones that aren't aimed at teaching Valuable Life Lessons to non-disabled kids), etc., etc. I'd guess there are the most picturebooks about default-setting kids; followed by African-American; followed by Latinx; followed by East Asian-American; then I'm not sure the breakdown of Jewish, Muslim, Native American, Indian, disabled, Deaf, other identity categories I'm not thinking of...

[2016] The Christmas Revels: An Acadian-Cajun Celebration of the Winter Solstice

I took my mom to Christmas Revels tonight.

I wasn't expecting Revels to be explicitly political, but the Introduction in the program from Artistic Director Paddy Swanson said:

One might think that the grim underpinnings of this year's Revels would make for a gloomy Christmas celebration. Nothing could be further from the truth. Paradoxically, the darkness of this story sets off the brilliant light of the Acadian spirit.

At this time, with over 65 million displaced persons adrift in the world, the historical fate of the Acadians who were expelled from their homeland by the English in 1755 may seem a relatively small tragedy, a sad story that humans seem doomed to repeat generation after generation. At the heart of the story, however, embedded in their music and customs, is a unique Acadian lesson in survival and change that remains as powerful and topical as ever. This is an example of a community that endured and adapted and in the end created an alternative identity for itself as Cajun, Music was the thread that tied together the Acadian people's experience of pain and joy. If they had to walk, they would fashion a walking song. [...]

And when David Coffin was teaching us the songs at the beginning, he told us we were to stand for the third and final verse of "The Sussex Mummer's Carol," saying, "These days, you've gotta stand for something -- or you'll fall for anything," and yes a lot of people groaned at the old joke, but I also felt like the first half was really pointed.

The scene where the British soldiers come to the Acadians [in what is now Nova Scotia] and basically tell them that this land is under British control now and they can leave or they can stay -- on the condition that they sign a loyalty oath, their practice of their religion might be outlawed in the future, etc. -- felt really resonant in this current historical moment -- a new regime that you didn't ask for takes control, and you don't know if you're safe in your homeland anymore.

I had been excited to see in the program


Warsan Shire is a Somalian writer based in England who distills the refugee experience into haunting poetry. Her work has recently achieved popularity as the poetic underpinning of Beyoncé's latest album Lemonade.

but I still wept as I watched two adults tell a child a to leave.
and no one would leave home
unless home chased you to the shore
unless home told you
to quicken your legs
leave your clothes behind
crawl through the desert
wade through the oceans
be hunger
forget pride
your survival is more important

no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear
run away from me now
i dont know what i’ve become
but i know that anywhere
is safer than here
[I think the fragment the Revels scene closed with ended with "leave" repeated, transitioning to "go," but the rest of that verse, which closes out the full poem, is so powerful.]

The next piece was the "Lord of the Dance," which always precedes intermission, and which felt jarringly upbeat after that low-light recitation, but that song is a story of the Christian triumph over death, so it also felt somewhat appropriate, that defiant joy even in the midst of so much loss and sadness and uncertainty.

So much walking happens, and the little girl says she hates war (they've been evicted from their homeland because the British and French keep fighting over it), and then we sang "Dona Nobis Pacem" (which we sing almost every Revels) and introing it, David said something like, "Let's make a little peace, at least for this moment."

The Acadians learn of land in Louisiana available from the Spanish and travel down there. The little girl wishes for a proper Christmas, and her companion asks what she wants, offers her a make-believe Christmas. The first thing she says she wants is a house, and I started tearing up again.

The Three Kings show up (one played by a woman, I was pleased to note), in Mardi Gras aesthetic, and Caspar says to her, "In your time you may be Ah-cadians, but in our time you're just Cajuns," and says that she's already either "home" or "family," I forget, but I was really touched. I'm not into blood connections as inherently meaningful, but the idea of those connections across time and space, of people finding each other, of people welcoming each other as family...

In The Mummers' Play, King Rex fights King Alligator, and at one point the Alligator says something like, "I could defeat you with one hand tied behind my back," and King Rex makes a comment about his small hands, and the audience laughs, and Rex stays paused, like, "You get it?" and I suspect most of us got it the first time, but people laughed again. After Rex defeats the Alligator, he chases him offstage saying something like, "Get out of here or I'll drain your swamp," and the Alligator says, "Promises, promises..." So yeah, Revels, not afraid to use humor to punch up.

After the Sword Dance and the ritual killing of the King, someone asks if there's a doctor in the house, and enter Dr. John (in an outfit like this one, minus the bone necklace -- Revels photo here) and The Dixie Cups (with elaborate headdresses such that I first thought they were doing a drag queen aesthetic). It felt like the most contemporary music/dance I've seen in Revels.

After we sang The Sussex Mummer's Carol (the end of the show), the band played upbeat music for a while, and it felt really good and important. The annual reading of Susan Cooper's poem "The Shortest Day" (which comes right before that song in the program), listening to it this year I was thinking about the fierce reveling against the darkness, keeping the light alive.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

[FCS] "Letting Go of the Shore"

Letting Go of the Shore

Our Scripture reading this morning comes from the Gospel according to Luke.

Luke’s is one of 4 different reports of the life and ministry of Jesus, and is often referred to as the one most favorable toward those on the margins -- women and the poor.

In Luke’s gospel, the birth of Jesus is announced first to poor shepherds working the night shift out in the dirty fields with smelly sheep. Some of the parables unique to Luke’s Gospel are the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal.

Our reading today comes about 2/3 of the way through the book -- Jesus has already begun turning toward Jerusalem, warning the disciples that the Child of Humanity will suffer, be killed, and rise again.

Listen now for what the Spirit is saying to the Church.

25Now large crowds were traveling with Jesus; and Jesus turned and said to them, 26“Whoever comes to me and does not hate parent, spouse, children, siblings, yes, and even life itself, is not able to be my disciple. 27Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me is not able to be my disciple. 28For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether you have enough to complete it? 29Otherwise, when you have laid a foundation and are not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule you, 30saying, ‘This person began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31Or what ruler, going out to wage war against another ruler, will not sit down first and consider whether they are able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against them with twenty thousand? 32If they cannot, then, while the other is still far away, they send a delegation and ask for the terms of peace. 33So therefore, none of you is able to become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.

Luke 14:25-33 (NRSV, alt.)

(In the beginning was the Word. / And the Word was with God.)

Church, will you pray with me?

God, may the words of my mouth, and the meditations of all our hearts, keep us along the journey to Jerusalem, to the tomb, and into the Resurrection life. Amen.

The Luke passage assigned for today is arguably even more divisive than the one Henry preached on a few weeks ago -- today Jesus says, "Whoever comes to me and does not hate parent, spouse, children, siblings, yes, and even life itself, is not able to be my disciple. [...] therefore, none of you is able to become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions."

I think we often get stuck on the "give up all your possessions" bit -- Matthew and Mark each have a whole story about a law-abiding rich young ruler who goes away from Jesus sad because "sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor" is too big of an ask for someone who has managed to obey all the Commandments. But this whole "hate your entire family and even your very life" is pretty intense.

Now, I don't think that Jesus wants us to literally hate our family members -- earlier in Luke, Jesus proclaimed:

“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. [...] If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.” (Luke 6:27-28 & 32, NRSV)
And Jesus certainly doesn’t want us to hate our own life -- I think Jesus weeps at suicidality, just as Jesus weeps at anything that makes people believe they would be better off dead.

On the passage that Henry preached on ("Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!"), black gay Episcopalian Broderick Greer Tweeted, "When good news is being announced and enacted at the margins, it often sounds bad news to the powers that be."

I think the message in this morning’s gospel passage is similar. Various commentators1 have noted that in context, the Hebrew word translated “hate” means more like detachment, a choosing of one over the other -- like when Jesus later says that you cannot serve two masters, for surely you will love one and hate the other (Luke 16:13). Here, Jesus is saying, “This is a big deal. I am bringing about radical transformation of everything, and you have to be more committed to the transformed life than you are to any of even your closest interpersonal relationships or the life you currently have -- otherwise this literally just won’t work. You cannot learn to swim if you never let go of the shore.”

This weekend we celebrate Labor Day -- though many of us are used to celebrating it with barbecues and department store sales, rather than reflecting on the history of labor in the US.

According to a Jacobin article last year, “Although previous Septembers had seen small workers celebrations in many states observing the end of summer, the first federally protected Labor Day was marked in 1894 with an AFL [American Federation of Labor]-supported parade.”

So that sounds really good, right? Over a century ago, President Grover Cleveland declared a federal holiday recognizing the labor movement. Except that earlier that same year, Cleveland had brought in the US Army to suppress the Pullman Strike, and he made Labor Day a federal holiday to curry favor from workers who were understandably pissed about that.

I wonder if this is the kind of trying to have it both ways that Jesus rejects.

At the same time as President Cleveland was making Labor Day a federal holiday, many groups had been pushing for May 1st -- May Day -- to be an International Workers' Day, commemorating Chicago's 1886 Haymarket affair.

In May of 1886, folks were rallying in Haymarket Square in Chicago to support workers striking for an eight-hour work day and to protest the recent killings of workers by police. Sounds similar to contemporary #FightFor15 and #BlackLivesMatter protests. The police ordered folks to disperse and someone threw a homemade bomb in front of the police as they advanced on the protestors. Many were killed and wounded in the ensuing violence and, shockingly, accounts vary about whether protestors fired first, about whether police fired on folks who were fleeing, etc.

There was a harsh anti-union (and anti-immigrant) backlash after this incident (and a huge outpouring of support, including financial support, for the police). Lots of people only peripherally involved in the rally were arrested. Media stoked public opinion against anarchists for their violent tactics. This all may also sound familiar.

This is the kind of history we could recall on Labor Day. A reminder that we’re not in control of what will happen after -- whether someone will throw a pipe bomb in front of us, whether the police will shoot at us, whether our homes will be raided or public opinion will turn against us -- but we can control how we react, what choices we make.

And those choices are not always easy.

Would you have marched in Grover Cleveland’s Labor Day parade in 1894? Would you have refused, still bitter from his response to the Pullman strike earlier in the year? Would you have waited until an eight-hour workday was the norm, something that still hadn’t happened 8 years after the Haymarket protests?

I’m not here to tell you how a hypothetical you should have behaved over a century ago, but the various texts assigned for this Sunday all converge around this theme of the choices we make.

In the reading from the prophet Jeremiah, God talks about being like a potter, and while that’s lovely and all, Jeremiah speaks of a vision of God-the-potter with a clay vessel that was spoiled, and which God reworks into an entirely new vessel. God literally says (paraphrased), “house of Israel, you are like this clay in the potter’s hand, I can break down and destroy kingdoms, and I can plant and build up kingdoms” (Jeremiah 18:5-9). This is not a comfort but a threat -- “you think we have this special relationship, but I could destroy you and make a new Chosen People.”

The Republican nominee for President this year has been using the phrase "Make America Great Again," and the Democratic nominee has countered with "America Is Already Great" -- which, while politically understandable, is a response I'm uncomfortable with on account of how it elides the MANY MANY ways in which America is deeply flawed. Now, I don’t think God is about to smush us into a ball of clay and build up a new nation on this land -- but I also don’t think it’s the worst thing God could do, especially since we white folk already played God on this land, nearly destroying the nations who were already here (the Wampanoag locally, and I’m not even going to attempt to list the currently 566 federally recognized Indian Nations in what is now the US).

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, a biracial man, recently got blasted by certain parts of White America for not standing during the national anthem before a football game.

In an interview with NFL Media, he said: "I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder."

Earlier in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus opens public ministry by reading from the prophet Isaiah “The Spirit of God is upon me, because God has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. God has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the jubilee year” (Luke 4:18-19, quoting Isaiah 61:1-2) and declaring “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” -- and then the hometown crowd tries to throw Jesus off a cliff. Now, one can certainly read the story as the people reacting to Jesus saying, “This thing that God promised to do? You have seen that promise fulfilled here and now in me” -- reacting to the equation of this peasant kid with God -- and certainly between the Scripture reading and the attempted murder, Jesus gives a little “no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown” speech which seems aimed at pissing off the crowd. But I wonder if part of it was that they didn’t actually want that Scripture fulfilled -- because to do so would involve a radical re-ordering of the structure of their lives, their communities, their institutions, and they were not interested in that.

What if when Jesus said, “I have come to proclaim release to the captives,” Jesus meant, “That’s cool and all that you’ve started the slow process of shutting down the 13 federal private prisons, and you’ve declared that poor folks can’t be held in jail just because they can’t afford bail, but I am coming to abolish this whole system. I’m here to abolish Immigrant Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the Department of Homeland Security, and the whole prison industrial complex.”

I can imagine many people hearing a call to dismantle our toxic policing system as an assertion that, “If you do not hate your parent, spouse, children, or siblings who are police officers, then you are not able to be my disciple.”

Later in Luke, Jesus will say, “Those who try to make their life secure will lose it, but those who lose their life will keep it” (Luke 17:33). Those who tie their identity to the structures of a fallen world will not be able to enter into the new life that is growing up all around us, but those who are able to empty their hands of all the preconceived notions we carry with us about how the world works will be able to receive new and unexpected gifts. You cannot learn to swim if you never let go of the shore.

In the text for today, Jesus uses the analogy of preparing for going to war -- cautioning that you not set yourself up for failure and embarrassment by getting into a war you can’t win. I don’t think Jesus supported war in the traditional military sense, but many in Jesus’ community expected the Messiah to be a Davidic king who would overthrow the occupying government. And I wonder if Jesus is saying in part, “You think we’re going to use the master’s tools to dismantle the master’s house?3 Do you think you really have what it takes to defeat the Powers that are oppressing us, or are you going to find yourself outgunned, outmanned, outnumbered, outplanned?”4

The Roman Empire was a powerful oppressor -- a military power that would literally leave people nailed up on crosses along the roadside dying slowly and painfully as a warning to anyone else who might try to oppose them. The Empire not only had vast amounts of military resources, but it also knew how to play games of intimidation and appeasement -- because the most effective way to police people is to get them to police themselves.

Jesus’ counter-intuitive way to win against the Powers is to not play their game. Jesus says, “If you do not give up all your possessions, you will not be able to become my disciple.” Your comfortable suburban home where all your neighbors look and vote like you. Your assurance that if you call the police, they will not shoot you or someone you love. Your comfort giving money to yet another film that casts a cisgender man as a transgender woman. Your insistence that people in pain from yet another microaggression be calm and gracious unpaid educators.

There are so many, many ways we shield ourselves from really entering into the pain experienced by marginalized people at the hands of the death-dealing Powers.

Theologian Laurel Schneider talks about “promiscuous incarnation,” asserting that “the narratives of Jesus of Nazareth suggest that the divinity which his flesh reveals is radically open to consorting with anyone. It follows no rules of respectability or governing morality in its pursuit of connection with others, many others, serially and synchronically, passionately and openly.”5

Earlier I used the analogy of needing to let go of the shore in order to be able to swim.

Letting go of the shore enables you to go on adventures, enables you to go deep. You can’t explore all the riches of the water from the shoreline. There is a whole world that is literally unavailable to you, that you literally cannot enter into.

In the reading for today from Deuteronomy, God says, "See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity." (30:15) God says (paraphrased), “Love me, stay close to me, obey my commandments, that you and your descendants may have life.” God wants so much for each and every one of us to be able to enjoy the fullest possible life. And that just isn’t possible while we’re cutting ourselves off from each other, shielding ourselves from necessary discomfort, continuing to be complicit in systemic oppression. It’s not that God wants us to be miserable, it’s that God knows transformation is hard.

Theologian Kathy Rudy asserts that in our culture’s emphasis on monogamy, “We are told that on the deepest level our allegiance and commitment belong not to our larger community but to our partner or nuclear family.”6

Is this perhaps what Jesus meant by saying we must hate our family to become Christ’s disciples?

We are called to open ourselves up to broader and deeper ways of being in relationship -- community conflict resolution that doesn’t call on the police or the carceral system, stories for our children about their futures that don’t presume their gender or sexuality, facing our history honestly and building new futures.

We do this by being vulnerable with each other and taking seriously people’s accounts of their lived experiences -- seeking out the words of autistic people, people with disabilities, people living with mental illness, currently and formerly incarcerated folks, indigenous folks and people of color... And I do mean people’s own lived experiences -- not people who have studied or worked with these populations; not tourists who tried out the experience of wearing hijab in public, asking for spare change on street corners, being a woman on the Internet, or whatever -- actual people’s own lived experiences in the world inhabiting their own identities.

This kind of relationship-building, this work of stretching our comfort and expanding our knowledge, doesn’t require waiting for a leader, it’s work we can do now, and must always keep doing as we continue growing into the Kindom.


References (besides the ones already hyperlinked in the text)

1. On "hate" in this text:

2. In addition to the Jacobin article cited, I also skimmed the Wikiedia articles on Labor Day, May Day, the Haymarket affair, and the eight-hour workday; as well as an IWW piece on the origins of May Day, a Slate article on Labor Day, and a CNN opinion piece on Labor Day.

3. Shout out to Audre Lorde.

4. I said I wasn't going to reference Hamilton ... and then it happened anyway.

5. Schneider, Laurel C. "Promiscuous Incarnation." Chapter 14 in The Embrace of Eros: Bodies, Desires, and Sexuality in Christianity (Margaret D. Kamitsuka, ed.), 2010. Page 244.

6. Rudy, Kathy. "'Where Two or More Are Gathered': Using Gay Communities as a Model for Christian Sexual Ethics." Chapter 15 in Our Families, Our Values: Snapshots of Queer Kinship (Robert E. Goss & Amy Adams Squire Strongheart, eds.), 1997. Page 201.