It has been quite the week. There have been two sick kiddos going back & forth all week between here and their mother’s house, thinking they are all better, then going back to school only to get sick again. I took two additional days off from work this week and even canceled the open mic I host last night. It was my first time doing that in two years. But I needed a mental and physical health day after spending all day Wednesday trying to nurse two kids back to health. And last night, my little man needed me.
Still during all the craziness this week, I did manage to get back to Lake Michigan. Amanda and I drove out to South Haven beach. The air was cold, the waves were high. We froze our asses off. But I threw my stone into the lake and heaved a big rock into the Black River for good measure. This Lenten writing exercise has been so good for me. And we are only about 1/4 of the way through Lent. I am setting writing goals and meeting them. And I am actualizing things I have wanted to do for some time, but could never “find the time.”
I am continuing to think about things we do and say and the way every word and action ripples out. I wanted to tell you the story of how nearly a decade ago, I was up late on YouTube looking to discover Michigan based Hip Hop artists, and I discovered a great one. That one comment I left late one night led to a private conversation, a free CD that contains a track that has got me through some of the toughest days and nights since. Through a network of connections that developed, I dove much deeper into West Michigan’s music scene, and discovered the thriving open mic and spoken word scene. And now I host a show. And perhaps I will tell you that story in more detail another day.
But today I am meditating on an encouraging and challenging word I received a few days ago from a pastor I deeply admire and respect. She was my mentor for a year in seminary and she presided at my ordination. After reading one of these posts about the ripples, she left a comment on the Facebook link to the post: “Perhaps you should reflect on the ripples you have left and how you have influenced other people, because you have.”
This is a reassuring, even if if somewhat daunting challenge in thought experimentation and in self love: evaluate and assess some of the positive ripples I may have made in the world. I don’t know if it is the best writing exercise. And I am not sure she meant it to be. It is one thing to write about the positive influence I hope to be in the lives of my children. It is another thing altogether to say look over here, here is something good I have done. So I will land on here are a few things I hope have made a difference:
At a group examination of fresh candidates for ministry, shortly before my ordination, I was asked how I would apply passages in scripture (such as 1 Timothy 2) that say horrific things about women. I pretty clearly said I disagreed with the plain reading of such texts. I suggested that perhaps, they should even anger us and invite us to see the patriarchy and misogyny that exists in our own hearts. It was a really bold statement. I was in a room where not every pastor examining me was happy that there were progressives and worse women being examined for ordination. It was one of the scariest moments of my life. Somehow, I passed inspection. And it is a moment I still wonder about to this day.
The sermon I was fired for. It was the week George Zimmerman was declared “not guilty.” I was preaching on the Parable of the Widow and the Unjust Judge. I declared that justice had not been served, that in fact a tragic miscarriage of justice had happened before our eyes. And I compared the continued faith of Sybrina Fulton (Trayvon Martin’s mother) to the widow in our parable. Over the course of the few months following that sermon and leading up to my expulsion, I heard it all “Americans have a right to stand their ground” and “that kid was high and using cough syrup” and much worse. As the long standing racial tensions in the American Zeitgeist have become increasingly obvious over the last few years, I have often wondered if I made a difference. But I have never once regretted my words or wondered if I picked the wrong hill to die on.
After the murder of Michael Brown by police officers, I wore my clergy shirt and collar and joined a group of concerned citizens who filled up the Grand Rapids City Commission to demand body cameras for Grand Rapids police officers. With fear and trembling, I spoke out boldly, pleading my case. I talked about the reality of implicit bias and shared a study on the subject. I insisted that regardless of religion or politics, black bodies were under attack by some law enforcement who had lost their way.
Every single time I perform my piece Heroes, I hope it might make a difference if anyone in the room is struggling with his or her own sexuality, with depression or with making sense of their religious upbringing or pieces of their socialization that may have been a voice of oppression in their lives.
I hope to someday look back and believe this blog series – laying my heart bare about my struggles with my religious background, my wildly harmful image of god, my own depression and efforts to better love myself and those around me – might have made a difference to one person.