Easter Sunday is past, but the liturgical season of Easter is only beginning, running up through Pentecost Sunday, May 15. During this Easter season our worship theme will be “Conversions.”
The plural is intentional. We’ll be looking at different conversion stories in scripture and in more recent history, beginning this Sunday with Thomas the Twin, aka, Doubting Thomas (John 20:19-29). We’ll also be looking at the multiple kinds of conversions we experience throughout life – what we are converted away from, and what we are converted toward. Or, to use biblical language, how we “die” to different paths and versions of ourselves, and how we are “born again,” again, and again.
The theme of antiracism will continue to be an undercurrent of our worship, although we won’t be hitting it quite as hard for the next number of weeks. As we ponder conversions we’ll also be considering ways to revisit the antiracism theme in a more direct way in the summer and fall months.
How are you being converted? What are you being converted away from? Converted toward? Who and what is converting you?
Cuba has been in the news this week, and our congregation recently received a gift from Cuba that will be on display at tonight’s Maundy Thursday service.
In January CMCers Joe Mas and Linda Mercadante led a group of seminary students on a Cuba trip. Cuba is Joe’s place of birth. While there they were given a small banner displaying Jesus washing Peter’s feet. The patch on the back of the banner says, “Hand-made by Presbyterian Church women, Matanzas, Cuba. Presented to CMC by Linda Mercadante March, 2016.” Matanzas is a provincial capital city, about 55 miles east of Havana.
The mighty Jesus stooping down to wash feet is a powerful image of the kind of action that turns hierarchies on their head. The master serves. I love that CMC now has a banner displaying this that is a gift from a small country long deemed an enemy of ours. On this Maundy Thursday may we commit to servanthood, and we may allow ourselves to be served by the generosity of others.
“Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.”
— Luke 12:51
Say what, Jesus?
Needless to say, this is not a verse championed by Mennonites. Do you think Jesus came to bring peace to the earth? “Yes!” is my enthusiastic and hopeful response. And I can cite a whole bunch of scripture to back it up.
But these words from Jesus seem to tell a different, or at least more nuanced, story.
Truth be told, this Lent anti-racism theme of “Trouble the water” is stirring up some things in me that I’m not finding particularly peaceful. In confronting the persistence of racism through history and, Gasp, in myself, I’ve found myself angrier than usual, less patient, and more socially confrontational. In short, the feelings I’ve typically associated with being spiritually grounded – calmness, patience, and niceness – are registering pretty low. I find this disorienting.
So I guess the theme is working. I’m troubled. Thanks a lot church.
Two weeks ago I attended an event at MTSO (Methodist Theological School in Ohio) on Mass Incarceration. An African American woman deeply involved on the scene in Ferguson and other racial justice work voiced something I hadn’t heard before: A critique of the word “ally.” She felt that along with being a military term (many of us have probably had reservations about that…), “ally” implies too much distance, too much otherness, too much coming alongside for a specific cause and then going back to separateness. She adamantly stated: “I’m not looking for allies.”
Her alternative term was “kin” or “kinship,” calling on people to fully identify with the struggle and put their own well-being on the line. I responded to her that I had always seen ally as a respectful acknowledgement of “otherness,” hopefully using that term in its best sense, not pretending that I’m a part of the oppressed group. I bring a different kind of social reality and story to the relationship. But she wasn’t having it! She told stories about white pastors and leaders suffering right alongside black folks.
In reflecting on this now, it has me thinking about “ally” being on a continuum, and “kinship” being further along toward what we might call “the beloved community.” I posted these thoughts on the Pink Menno Facebook page, as “ally” is a common term used in that struggle as well. One helpful comment was that “kin” works best as a conferred name rather than a chosen name. In other words, if people of color, or queen folks, are ready to call someone “kin,” or even “ally,” then that holds more integrity than one choosing that title for themselves. Or, as Ruth Massey helpfully pointed out in yesterday’s reflection, sometimes we actually are kin, even if others don’t recognize it as such.