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The author’s sign and shirt for March for Our Lives. The Cross in both is made from parts of an AK47.

Swords Into Plowshares

The author’s sign and shirt for March for Our Lives. The Cross in both is made from parts of an AK47.

The author’s sign and shirt for March for Our Lives. The Cross in both is made from parts of an AK47.

I would like to begin by sharing a bit of how I came to realize that gun violence is my problem, and not only can I be a part of the solution, but as a Christian, as a human being, as a mother, I have to be.

I grew up in rural Maine. Many of my family and friends are gun owners. Hunting is a way of life in Maine – and a source of food for many Maine families. Guns were a part of my environment growing up, but they were a tool for protecting livestock from predators and for getting food. Maine has one of the highest gun ownership rates in the country, but one of the lowest gun crime rates, so I simply didn’t encounter the issue of gun violence. I went to college in Medford, Massachusetts, just outside Boston, where there certainly is more gun violence than in Maine. However, it didn’t come close to me, so sadly it was easy to ignore.

The reality of the issue of gun violence began to be real for me when I spent my first year of ministry working as a hospital chaplain in New Haven, Connecticut – a city that sees numerous shootings every year. I remember how my colleagues who had been there a long time would lament when the weather began to get warm in the spring because it meant the guns would come out, and there would be an increase in shooting victims arriving in our Emergency Room. No longer was gun violence something that happened “out there;” it was close and real.

But then I left hospital ministry and worked in a small town parish and on a PhD in theology, and gun violence stayed at a distance. However, it was through my parish work that I began to learn that gun violence did not need to be a permanent reality. I learned about stories of hope and transformation. The parish in which I was working, and our diocese of Connecticut, have a companion relationship with the Diocese of Lebombo in Mozambique. Through that relationship I learned the remarkable story of what had happened to the guns at the end of their civil war.

Their bishop started a program that quite literally turned swords into plowshares. People were invited to trade in their guns for farming equipment and tools of industry. And the people did. Over 800,000 guns were turned in. Those guns were turned into artwork, such as the cross above, which is made from the pistons of an AK-47. The good work of the people of Mozambique give me hope that transformation is possible.

Since 2011, I have worked on diocesan staff, and I was in my office on the 14th of December 2012 when I began to see news alerts that there had been a shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown. Since I have chaplaincy training, I offered to go with my bishops that afternoon. We spent the afternoon at Trinity, Newtown, planning a prayer service for that evening. We ministered to anyone who came in the door and heard heartbreaking stories – particularly when it became known that a six-year-old whose family was very active at Trinity was among the victims. Hundreds of people poured into Trinity that evening. The shock and terrible pain was evident on every face I saw that night. Read more

Fungibility: A Vocabulary Lesson for White People

The author

The nerd force has always been strong with me. When other kids were competing in sports events over the weekends, I was competing in storytelling contests to see who could recite a story from memory with the most accurate detail. Middle school found me occupied with a group called Future Problem Solvers, who were given the task of “solving” invented, but based in reality, situations from ecological catastrophes to diplomatic disasters. (Designing the t-shirt for that group was the pride of those years for me.) During college, I ignored my chemistry homework in favor of reading theological tomes like David Bosch’s Transforming Mission for fun.

So, it should perhaps come as no surprise that I find myself to be something of a quasi-professional nerd these days: a full-time student, with a backpack to boot. Pastoral care conversations in parishioners’ homes have been swapped for intense chats with authors who don’t so much as offer me a glass of lemonade. During these chats, I’m frequently bombarded with words I’ve never heard of: leitmotif, interdiction, dehiscence, interlocutory, and thantalogical (and that is only in one article, alas). One word keeps cropping up again and again, especially in my studies of African American theology and ethics: fungibility. It sounds kind of cute, doesn’t it? The first images conjured for me were of gerbils who were the life of the party (fun-gerbility), or the special talents of fungi. But this word, despite containing “fun” within it, is not in the least bit fun. As I often do with confounding words, I consulted the oracle (Google) and discovered this:

“Fungible: being something (such as money or a commodity) of such a nature that one part or quantity may be replaced by another equal part or quantity in paying a debt or settling an account.”[1]

But here’s the rub: fungibility wasn’t being used to talk about bitcoin, or pennies, or bartered boxes of Girl Scout cookies. It was being used in my readings to talk about Black bodies. People as fungible: interchangeable, profitable, which made them understood not as people at all. Read more

The author with a fellow Moms Demand Action member at the annual Virginia Interfaith Lobby Day for Gun Violence Prevention

Striving for Justice and Peace Among All People: Advocacy, Activism, and the Baptismal Covenant

During Baptisms, Easter and other special occasions in The Episcopal Church, churchgoers are asked eight questions known as The Baptismal Covenant. It begins as a statement of faith laid out in straightforward question and answer style with questions aren’t all that questionable.

Do you believe in God?
Do you believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God?
Do you believe in the Holy Spirit?

Then the covenant transitions into questions about how we will live out our faith.

Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching, their fellowship, communion and prayers?
Will you resist evil and return to God when you sin?
Will you proclaim the Good News of God in Christ?

And to these three questions we respond heartily, “I will, with God’s help.”

But then there are the last two questions, which have always been far more radical to me than the six preceding them.

Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.

Again, we respond, “I will, with God’s help,” but I’ve always wondered what crosses through folks’ minds as they respond.

These fundamental promises define who we are as Episcopalians. The way in which we live and move and have our being as Christians is deeply embedded in these baptismal promises. We know that seeking and serving Christ in all persons, striving for peace and justice among all people and respecting the dignity of every human being are things we should be doing as followers of Jesus Christ, but, truthfully, I found living out these promises incredibly challenging while working as a parish priest. Read more

Not So Silent: Christmas Worship with Children

Dearest church people,

Get ready. In two days it’ll be Christmas Eve. Your congregation will welcome people in for one of the biggest nights of the year. You may be blessed with an overrun of visitors, and I hope some of those visitors will be children and their parents.

In the spirit of preparation (it is Advent, after all), I write to you with my qualifications as both a minister who has specialized in children and youth and, for the last few years, become a pew-sitter; as a minister without a full time clergy position, I have done more pew sitting than worship leading.

And this season, I suspect, is the hardest of my pew sitting: I currently have three lovely children, and we’re doing all the ages and stages right now. The oldest, at 10, is in that phase where she can follow along in church, but sometimes needs a reminder to do so. Sometimes, this nudge results in a little preteen, mother-daughter drama. The five-year-old wants to move. He has the energy of a Pentecostal, which is perhaps a bit more than your average grown up Lutheran. (We currently attend a Lutheran church.) And the two-year-old has recently learned that she has pipes, so she will deliver quite the yelp if someone takes what she believes to be her crayon. She’s also highly attuned to the Holy Spirit, occasionally making a dash for the aisle because she thinks that music is for dancing. And when it’s time to go forward to receive communion, she has a hard time waiting her turn. Sundays in our pew are sort of like wrestling a squirmy pet monkey, all while juggling hymnals and Bibles. Add candles on Christmas Eve (our church has one service, at 7pm, well past the littlest one’s bedtime), and it’s going to be anything but a meditative experience for me. Read more

A Prayer for Syria… A Prayer for Peace

Women PrayAs I write this, the world waits to see if (or, sadly, when) the U.S. and its allies may launch some sort of military strike against the Syrian government in retaliation for the country’s use of chemical weapons last week. Indeed, the news reports and gruesome images of the ongoing violence occurring in that region have been difficult to watch. Even before the recent use of chemical weapons, thousands upon thousands have been killed. The recent attack involving chemical weapons has resulted in some nations – including the United States, Great Britain, and Germany – announcing their intent to hold the Syrian government accountable for its actions. Now, with the threat of retaliation of these countries who believe they need to intervene, many of us wonder how far and wide the violence may spread.

Sisters and brothers – let us pray for God to be present as we face this current struggle.

Creating One, Holy Parent of all the world, have mercy on us.

Redeeming One, Blessed Child of the Almighty, have mercy on us.

Sustaining One, Wondrous Spirit of the Eternal, have mercy on us.

O God, you created all people in your Divine Image. We praise you for the beautiful diversity that exists in your creation. In your wisdom, you call us to live as neighbors with one another – despite our differences. You call us to embrace one another in the name of your peace and your love.

God, we come to you in this hour with hearts that ache for countries that are in turmoil: countries that have become locations of horrific violence and strife. We pray especially for Syria. We cry with those who have lost loved ones. We weep for the thousands who have perished. We pray that the hardened hearts of those who have abused others may be softened by your Spirit.

Lord, for the countries that have threatened retaliation against Syria, we pray that they be guided into the ways of your truth and your justice. For the countries that have threatened retaliation against anyone who strikes out against Syria, we pray for your patience and peace to prevail. Encourage all leaders to make careful decisions – to seek peace over pride. Holy One, teach us to understand that an eye for an eye is not a solution – it only causes us to stumble about in the dark with no vision.

We know that there is a time for everything under heaven, O God. There are those who would have this be a time of war; but we pray – we plead, Blessed Savior – for this to be a time of peace. Teach us all – in every nation – to beat our swords into plowshares. Direct our hearts and our hands to transform our spears into pruning hooks. Let this be the moment when we begin to truly let your peace rule in our hearts and lives, for we are tired of war.

Creating One, Holy Caretaker of the cosmos, have mercy on us.

Redeeming One, Blessed Prince of Peace, have mercy on us.

Sustaining One, Enlightening Spirit of God, have mercy on us.

Amen.

Silent Night

Silent night, holy night
All is calm, all is bright
Round yon Virgin Mother and Child
Holy Infant so tender and mild
Sleep in heavenly peace
Sleep in heavenly peace

The lyrics of our final hymn at the Christmas Eve service rang in my ears as I peered into the cold silent night outside the church doors. After closing the doors to this holy night, I blew out the candles that had lit our way to the birth of peace. I gazed out the window to wonder about this tender and mild child that tore open the heavens and came down incarnated in Corinth.

It had happened again. Jesus Christ was born again this day. The mysterious wonder of the incarnate had torn through the heavens as the prophets had hoped. And yet, as I blew out the candles, I couldn’t help but wonder what had changed. We have been waiting for this for the past four weeks. We’ve been preparing for this miracle of birth as Jesus came through the birth canal. We’ve gotten ready for this moment when he was named King over the powers that be, this helpless child over the State, over the ones who loved to oppress. We have been waiting these days for justice to reign. And yet, as I settle into my new home and see this world with new eyes, I wonder about this silent night.

 

As I blew out the last few candles, my breath mingled with the lyrics of the familiar hymn.

 

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