Interfaith Vigil 2-15-15

These are my remarks from the Interfaith Vigil held February 15, 2015 at Boston Ave. United Methodist Church in Tulsa. We remembered the lives of Deah Barakat and Yusor Mohammad and Mohammad’s sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha. Here are my words:

At Bethany Christian Church today, our gospel reading was Matthew 20:20-28.

We reheard the story of Zebedee’s wife, mother of James and John, who asks for her sons to have the seats on the right and left of Jesus in the kingdom of heaven.

Often, interpretation of this scripture focuses on the fact that these disciples were not prepared for what Jesus was to endure. That to have such an honor meant enduring the unknown to them and the known cross for the readers since the writing of Matthew.

Perhaps it is that I am the mother of an infant and sleeplessly see everything through that lens, but I can’t help but identify with James and John’s mother and see the text from another view. From the very moment they were born she, like scripture shares about other mothers and fathers and like I’ve done, I imagine she prayed blessing over blessing over blessing of her children.

Holy God, keep James safe. Vast Creator, give John joy. Purest love, might their hearts never be broken.

The mother of James and John did nothing wrong in asking for blessings of her sons. She did, however, give in to the temptation for ask for blessings that come at the price of others. You see, the scripture only mentions two seats. We cannot as a society, as people of any faith tradition, as human beings, pray only for the thriving of our children, for their preferential treatment at the cost of another. It is that kind of prayer that sacrifices others, simply for being other. It is that line of thinking that begins to make excuses for violence and bigotry because we aren’t the perpetrators or our children are immune.

Whatever our faith, if we pray for blessings that limit love to a favored few, we blaspheme that which we hold dear. It is my hope that the blessings I pray for my daughter are transformed by the Creator of all to expand to all.

As I imagine the prayers that Deah’s mother prayed over him at his birth, the ones Yusor and Razan’s mother prayed over them too, I join my voice with those grieving mothers and cry out to God:

We ache, Mystery of mystery, at the death of three young people. Why in a world so alive do people seek to limit your creation by killing? Why is a world so filled with variety do people demand we all be the same? Hold tight Deah, Yusor and Razan as we grieve, Mystery of mystery. Make known to us love when violent hate has overcome any chance of understanding. Amen.

The Lowest Common Denominator Seduction, a post for ethics class

The title of this post sounds a lot like a Big Bang Theory episode: The Lowest Common Denominator Seduction. The show always uses some math/science terms in combination with a pun or attention grabber to name episodes. What I aim to describe is both mathematical and religious, easy to jump on and difficult to avoid. It’s the phenomena of Lowest Common Denominator church. Or, as Dr. Melanie Ross described it, the “youth-ification” of the American church in her review of the “five shifts in terrain” of worship.

In her exploration of North American protestant worship, there were 5 shifts: liturgical renewal, evangelical youth ministry, Pentecostal/praise and worship, church growth and emergent. I was most caught by the connection between evangelical youth ministry in the 1940’s-70’s and it’s connection to the church growth movement. Over and over again, in my personal/professional life, I’ve heard a call to go basic, assume no knowledge of the faith, become seeker oriented if you want to grow. I hadn’t thought about this as a youth-ification of the adult church. Her framing helped me see that while the math might look good (as in growth from seekers) the depth of development needed to sustain congregational life can get lost. The goal of the congregation becomes width rather than depth. Both are needed for a thriving experience of the gospel.

In my own church, I am often taken by the seduction to go lowest-common-denominator in worship and preaching. There is nothing wrong with it’s inclusion, but I cannot stay there. In staying there, we run the risk of jumping into the most-common-denominator of the church growth movement where homogeneity was lifted up as the basis for growth. If the gospel is for everyone, then the post-colonial practice of “dynamic diversity” across all expressions of what the church does when together is necessary. (Combing two of Emmanuel Lartey’s principles from Postcolonializing God, dynamism and hybrid.)

If anything I am doing is one-dimensional it is death-dealing. If I am focused on worship, it must engage the variety of people who come in the doors. If I am dreaming for children’s ministry, it must create strategic opportunities for adults to learn too. If I am considering one voice about a given topic, I must seek out several more. Anything less leads to isolation from one another, which is, in my take, an isolation from God who is known most fully in the interactional and intersubjective work of being human in community. Is there anything less than that –interactional and intersubjective experience with humanity- that we see in the life of Jesus?