As the Spirit Moves

I think my training in the ways of justice making sometimes leads me to enter a situation with skepticism instead of love. I enter and ask with immediacy, what is the problem/ injustice/sin here? I am on high alert to find that which is not equitable and I often do this at the expense of seeing that which is equitable.

I came to Fiji looking through this lens. Where are the effects of climate change and how can I think about God in the context of a changing climate?

Don’t get me wrong. This is a most necessary question. But when my question precludes my ability to laugh, to smile, to find the love, the laughter, the smiles here, then I am missing half of the picture. I am negating the work of the Spirit. In my pneumotological understanding, the Spirit, works in the world in powerful and mighty ways which resist the Empire. But the Spirit, in its round dance with the Creator and the Son, was, is, and always will be– Love. To forget the work of Love which the Spirit is always doing is to miss most of the picture. And the picture is a beautiful one. To miss it is a shame indeed.

And shame is not something I choose to live in any longer.

Because when we see this work of love, it changes us. Brings forth courage and creativity. It is Spirit work and it connects us to each other and to all of creation.

It is through this lens that I am attempting to write a bit about my experience thus far. It has been filled with love and simultaneous aching because I love. Because I have so much love in Tennessee, I am aching every second I am away from it. And, at the same time, I have come to know my team here of Mimi from N. India, Palesh from Calcutta, Andrew from S. India, Silpa from India, Wesley from the Philippines, Hashan from Sri Lanka, Tamera from Zambia, Vawvawni from Taiwan, and Shalom from S. Korea as Love. They are family. We have had to become family because families care for each other and it takes a lot of care to navigate this intense program. They open me up and remind me that the Spirit works in us and through us as we love each other.

The Spirit moves resisting the Empire and I have seen the Spirit in the fresh fish I have been served as the honored guest of village tables (which are mats); I have seen the Spirit in the children who have graciously and patiently taught the Westerner phrases in Fijian; I have seen the Spirit in the concerned taxi driver who rushed me to the hospital after I was bitten by a dog; I have seen the Spirit as we served each other the milk of the coconut; I have seen the Spirit in the peace-building team working for restorative justice here in Fiji; I have seen the Spirit in the lei I was given at the welcoming ceremony; I have seen Her in the rest that I took; I have heard Her in the choir’s singing and the lolly (drum) ringing; I have seen the Spirit here in the incredible hospitality that I have been extended. I have seen the Spirit here.

The Spirit is here and I would be remiss if I did not take off my lens of skepticism so that I can actually see Her moving.

She’s moving; she’s resisting through Her love in Her mysterious way, calling us to join the work of caring for the creation that the Creator lives in, through, and with.

Can I lean into the work of the Spirit? I am not sure. I know that I need to try though because when I do, I am my best self, the Kate who welcomes love instead of skepticism, the Kate who listens before she analyzes, the Kate who asks Love to be her guide instead of judgement or fear.

Thanks be to God for many chances to get it wrong and a few chances to maybe get it right.

Coconuts and Papaya

Tonight I am writing as I am completing my 13th day of this South Pacific journey to study theology in the midst of climate change. I hear the wind gently causing sway in the palm branches and coaxing the waves to move with the earth’s gravitational pull. The stars are more clear here than I have ever seen because the light pollution is negligible. The smell of salt greets my nostrils as if I was spending time with an old familiar friend. The taste of coconut and papaya linger on my tongue as I sit at the table of bountiful fish and citrus.

I am in Oceania. The Pacific. Melanesia. Fiji.

It may sound like I have had a tourist experience from my brief paragraph above, but it is not so. I have been immersed in indigenous Fijian culture, living in a rural Fijian village, fishing for livelihood, eating the fruit of the ocean, drinking the ceremonial drink of kava, and living on dirt floors and mats of dry leaves.

It’s a hard journey to come so far, be away from my loved ones, and acclimate to an entirely new culture. My western mindset has, at times, blockaded my openness to the new wonder of this Pacific culture. My health has, at times, been compromised. My sleep patterns are as awry as the deep, wild ocean. My sense of home is grounded in people now and not place. Any prayers arising would be most welcome and more appreciated than you know.

I am in Oceania. The Pacific. Melanesia. Fiji.

I listen in solidarity to the struggles that the changing climate is bringing to the people here. What do we understand about God, the Holy of Holies, given the challenge of climate change? Our thoughts about God must be informed by the receding shorelines, flooding of villages, increase of violent tsunamis/ hurricanes, the acidifying ocean, and so on. Creation care is not really a choice here. It is a must.

Here we understand God from looking at the Moana (Ocean). Just as the waves are fluidly interconnected, so too are we interconnected with God, with each other and with all of creation.

Here we understand Eucharist as the meat and milk of the coconut instead of bread and wine.

Here we understand a grassroots theology, which realizes that we can only see God through our context. So in a context of suffering, we can understand well a suffering Christ on the cross.

Here we understand decolonization as the lifeline to retain and reclaim indigenous cultures. We see Christ through the context of a fishing community much like the disciples fished for their livelihoods.

Here we understand communitarian living through the perichoresis (round dance) of the Triune God. As the Triune leans into each other, working in creation, so too do we lean into each other as we live within God.

This is Oceania. The Pacific. Melanesia. Fiji.

Thanks be to God.

The Lamenting Echoes of Lutra lutra whitely, Conuropsis carolinensis, and Incilius periglenes

Do you hear the echoes?
The echoes of what we used to be,
Before humans grew too many and took over,
before the biomes of the world grew imbalanced,
before imbalance became the norm.

Do you hear my echoes?
I am Lutra lutra whitely,
the Japanese River Otter.
I thrived in the rivers of Japan,
I swam, and created dens,
I mated, passing my genes along,
never imagining that you would kill me
for what you call my pelt.
Now all you can hear are my echoes.

Do you hear my echoes?
I am Conuropsis carolinensis,
the Carolina Parakeet,
I would travel in groups with hundreds of my friends,
when we were still alive.
I ate the same fruits that you eat today,
I had beautiful green and yellow plummage,
but that was my downfall because you wanted my feathers,
for your decorations and hats.
And then you wanted the trees that I nested in,
for your barns, and houses, and then your fires.
Now all you can hear are the echoes of what I used to be.

Do you hear my echoes?
I am Incilius periglenes
the Golden Toad,
I used to jump in the forests of Costa Rica,
my skin would glow as golden as the sun that hit it,
I needed water for breeding,
but also for my survival
because my porous skin needed moisture in the air,
when the climate warmed, the forest became dryer,
and my skin could not breathe the dry air.
And now I am no more.
Do you hear the echoes of my jumps?

When will you give others the space to exist?
How many more cries will have to turn to echoes?
Creator, why did you create a species which had so much power?
Did you ever ask them to care?
Do they remember the names of those they have killed?
When did exploitation become permissible?

Give our echoes voice again, O Creator.
Remind homo sapiens of their place in the web,
Bring connection, again,
for you are the Originator of connection,
and we need You desperately.

We need richness back in our ecosystems,
We need our coral reefs back,
and our rivers, and our feathers, and our pelts.

We will praise you with our songs of renewal,
with our cries for remembrance,
with our laments of pain,

For you are the Restorer of rhythm,
You are the God of the Moon,
and the God of the Sun,
our Mother, the Creator.

*************************************************

The three species mentioned here (exempting homo sapiens, of course) are all extinct.

I Want God: Entering Into the Lenten Journey

I am most grateful today for the ice storm which brought forced rest into my life this week. This rest allowed time for reflection, which seems like the most appropriate way to honor Shrove Tuesday as I prepare to enter into Lent. You may wonder why someone who is so very Baptist might observe a liturgical season such as Lent. However, it is my very autonomy as a Baptist which allows me the latitude to explore seasons that would more typically be observed by higher churches, like The Episcopal Church or the Catholic Church.IMG_5751

Lent looks pretty different for the diversity of folks who observe it. Some folks are more comfortable adding something to their routines/ lives to focus on God, while other folks remove routine items/ practices so that they may better focus on God. Either way, the idea is to prepare yourself spiritually, emotionally, mentally, and physically for the high Holy day of Easter, the day of celebration of the resurrection of the Christ. This is the day, which I believe theologically, that the Creator God gave a finality to Death (read: evil, sin, and greed) insofar as saying “Death does not win.”

Practically, Lent can be a structured time (six weeks) that one brings a level of discipline to one’s life which, oddly enough, creates liberation. I use liberation here to mean a time where one is freed from the rat race that one’s life can snowball into in pursuit of the completion of the eternal to-do list, the pursuit of self-affirmation through external sources (especially other people), or even the pursuit of service to others. In naming these things, it is easy to see that though they may not necessarily be harmful, however, the pursuit of them necessarily detracts from the pursuit of their opposites (ie. stillness; self-affirmation through internal/ spiritual means; self-care). These lists may not be entirely fair, but I suspect they are plausible enough that they sound familiar.

So alas, here is my impetus to observe the Holy Lenten season. Most simply put:

I want God.

I want to prepare myself (as much as possible in my feebleness) for the observance of the birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension of the Eternal Word, the Son, the second person of the Triune God, Christ Jesus. I want to slow myself so that I may open myself to the mystery of grace, mercy, and love that the Creator God, the first person of the Triune, gifted creation with in the act of the Incarnation. Because of this act, God, Emmanuel is with us. This is a gift that I must seriously consider in the next six weeks.

To find a starting point for my Lent practice, I dwell on the words of an Anglican systematic theologian, Sarah Coakley. For Coakley, contemplation (which she classifies as an ascetic discipline) must be a serious endeavor in a Christian’s life. She defines contemplation as particular kind of prayer, wherein one repeatedly waits on God in silence. This practice cultivates the work of the Spirit, the third person of the Triune, who is often reduced to fluff, but who is actually a fierce subverter of powerful and evil institutions. Further, contemplation is a vulnerable act as one sits and receives the divine gifts that God gives, but in this process, the self is expanded. This makes much sense to me; when one is quiet and open, one can see much more about oneself and the world than one could in the midst performing a series of tasks.

I foresee this practice of contemplation (along with the removal of activities which preclude me from contemplation), as being a dear companion through the journey of Lent. I want God. I want to be opened, filled, humbled, and challenged by the Creator who first prepared this journey for me. My prayer is that this season would be as meaningful for you as I hope it will be for me. May we sustain ourselves through this Lenten season with the richness of God’s mercy, God’s justice-making, and God’s Love.

In closing, I’ll leave you with a last quote from Coakley, which can be easily re-written into a prayer:

Contemplation makes great ethical demands– to lose one’s life in order to gain it, to turn the other cheek, to love one’s enemies. It is not a form of disengagement, but of passionate reordered engagement.1

May it ever be so.

1) Sarah Coakley, God, Sexuality, and the Self: An Essay ‘On the Trinity‘ (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013) 340-344.

The End of a Semester…

The end of the semester.
It usually brings an enormous flood of un-interrogated emotions. The closest, most pernicious emotion is exhaustion, followed closely by analysis of all the mistakes of the semester. The rat-race that is graduate school technically provides a 3 week reprieve from due dates on holiday break, but I always wonder how we are supposed to push so hard during a semester (and finals week) and then are supposed to be able to turn off a switch so that we may rest. I have not yet begun to mention the flood of holiday activities and catching up with folks that I need to do.
The physical, emotional, and mental toll of graduate school, particularly programs that focus on justice-making, is very difficult to understand until one has gone through it. The limited budget, the individuation of self, the constant realization of how much you don’t actually know and that we’ll never know is taxing.
The constant desire to learn is something I would not trade for all the world. It keeps humility and curiosity as constant companions; however, it also means that I do not rest well and boundary-making is a difficult feat. It also means that I set higher goals for myself, which are not always well understood by others.
I have been waiting to post until I had a positive word to write. But after a semester of police brutality, archaic state laws, protesting, writing, listening, and trying to keep some semblance of emotional/ mental stability, I do not have much positive to write.
But even in this exhaustion, I can find gratitude for the opportunity to be exhausted alongside some of the most incredible ministers/ faculty/ activists there ever were.
Thanks be to God.

To Our Round and Borderless God (A prayer)

Designer, Creator, most provident God,
As we gather today,
When the days may seem a little too hard,
The grace seems to wane and exhaustion takes over,
When uncertainty is the best we can do,

O Lord, in your round and borderless mercy,
Hear our prayer.

We ask for strength for our community as we are aware of illness, lament, anxiety, uncertainty, and loss.
We ask for the relentlessness to keep showing up.
We ask for reprieve from scarcity.
We ask for rest and for healing.

O Lord, in your round and borderless mercy,
Hear our prayer.

For folks living in Nashville food deserts,
For those who are imprisoned and on death row,
For those who are racially profiled,
For those who labor for unlivable wages.

O Lord in your round and borderless mercy,
Hear our prayer.

For those living in the immanence of violence,
For those who know little of peace,
For those who are losing their culture to globalization,

O Lord in your round and borderless mercy,
Hear our prayer.

For our tired and nearly depleted earth,
For species which will become extinct today,
For the wild space that we will never know.

O Lord in your round and borderless mercy,
Hear our prayer.

Show us, O Lord, how we may return the blessings that you have given us by caring for ourselves, for each other, for our earth.

For your mercy is round and it is borderless.

In this mercy, Lord, hear our prayer.

Amen.

Regarding Wisdom: A Pastoral Prayer

O God, we find ourselves, along with all of creation, made in your image.
We are made in your likeness; image-bearers of the divine.

Knowing this is deeply meaningful and ministerial.

But even with this knowledge, sometimes in the midst of loss, or fear, or especially political, personal, communal, and spiritual uncertainties,

It is easy to forget this image-bearing business.

It is easy to forget that we are not only made in Your image but that You, the source of Wisdom, dwell among, intimately near.

So today, O God,
we ask that wisdom, in all its forms, would not be elusive,
but that it would be readily found. 
We know that it can sometimes be tough to have the wisdom to stop trying or to keep trying.
It can be tough to know when self-care is a must,
It can be tough to know which words would be harmful and which would be helpful.
It can be tough to know one’s worth amongst feelings of inadequacy and shame.
It can be tough to sort out God’s promises among many competing voices.
It can be tough to know how to love someone because love is imperfect.

Oh God of whom, we are image-bearers,
It can be tough to know when to help a neighbor,
It can be tough to know how to give radical hospitality,
It can be tough to know how to stay at the table we’ve gathered around.
It can be tough to know how to care for all of creation,
It can be tough to know how we can make a difference.

Uncertainty and doubt, O God, are more frequent visitors that we would like.
They can be powerful and convincing.
And as much as we want to rush forth with an answer, a solution, a revelation,
perhaps the wait time, the time of parenthesis,
is where we find wisdom.
Wisdom to remember, Oh God,
that we, along with all of creation, are made and held in Your image.

Amen.