Manuscript – A Time to Weep: I’m a Vicitim

A Time to Weep: I’m a Victim

Calvary Baptist Church, D.C. |:| March 8, 2011

Good Morning. I’ve been here 83 days now and each one has brought its own adventure and left me with plenty of memories. But no matter how many memories I create here I will never forget my first day. I was excited and ready for this adventure. Everything was all sparkly and new … that was until I had my first supervision meeting with Amy.

She informed me that I would be preaching during Lent and sent me the scriptures for the Sunday I was to preach. Still a bit naive about what I was getting into I read all four scriptures and immediately knew which text I DID NOT want, Psalm 35:1 – 18. Wondering if I would be choosing the text I’d be preaching on or if Amy would I emailed her to which I found out, I was preaching in a series called “A Time to Weep” and my text was, in fact, the dreaded Psalm 35: 1 – 18. As this information sunk in I was inspired by the Psalmist and began lamenting against Amy. Nothing too severe, just for her path to be darkened and maybe fall into a pit … something little like that.

Don’t worry I’m not still lamenting against you. That is, not since my experience with this Psalm was liberated by Reggae. As strange as it may seem it’s true. It’s not unusual for Reggae to redeem things for me. When I hear those rhythmic patterns and the hypnotic effects of percussion and guitar melting together I can’t help but be transformed.

It might also have to do with a small fascination I have with a legendary Reggae band, Bob Marley and the Wailers. You may have heard their song Redemption Song, the lyrics go… “My hands are made strong by the hand of the Almighty. We [move] forward in this generation triumphantly. Won’t you help to sing this song of freedom ‘cause all I ever have [is] redemption songs.” If you have yet to experience the redemption Reggae can do to things you should listen to Redemption Song. Just take my word for it.

Anyway, so my redemption of this Psalm happened when I was listening to the Reggae band the Melodians with one of your very own, Rachel Johnson. We were rating which version of the song, Rivers of Babylon was the best; you know like all the cool kids do on Saturday night.

When we got to the Melodians version I made the statement, Reggae is the epitome genre for Lent. Rachel looked at me like many of you are now, with confusion and concern for my sanity. In all my brilliance I said, Think about it, the lyrics capture the pain and injustice of the situation while the rhythm and beat convey the hope for liberation. At this point she realized I was in fact brilliant and agreed with me. I knew you were smart.

Thus, I stand here today in the spirit of Lent confessing my lamenting against Amy and the redemption Reggae brought to my feelings towards preaching on Psalm 35. You may be asking, why I was dreading to preach on this Psalm, well if you open your pew Bibles to page 442 you can see that it might have to do with the violent, painful vindication our Psalmist, who is believe to be David, calls God to bring to his enemies.

Or it could have been because David holds nothing back and tells God he will proclaim God’s name in great congregation if God puts his enemies to shame and dishonor. I mean who wouldn’t want to preach on such a happy and loving passage?! If this isn’t an initiation I don’t know what is.

Yet, as I delved into the Psalm and learned that it is thought to be a compilation of laments during David’s life and in fact within verses 1 – 18 there are two laments I began to view the psalm in a new light. It’s believed these two laments we have in this Psalm come forth from David’s grief and pain of having King Saul, his leader, striving to destroy him when all David had done was repay Saul’s evil deeds with good ones.

The other situation thought to be behind these two laments is when David’s son Absalom is killed by his own armor-bearer, Joab, then informed that if he does not go welcome home his army at the entrance gate they will leave him and it will be worse than any trouble he had experienced in his life.

Granted the historical context of this Psalm cannot be known for certain but the language used in Psalm 35 is similar to the language found in I Samuel 24 which is the story of Saul repaying David’s good for evil and II Samuel 19, the story of Absalom’s death that it leads scholars to believe these were the situations David was a victim of.

Learning more about David and this Psalm brought his cries to life and did the impossible for me. It allowed me to identify with David. Up to this point I was annoyed at David for blaming Bathsheba for his pursuing her, then having her husband, Uriah, killed all the while declaring his righteousness; he even proclaims his righteousness in this Psalm.

However, as I explored this passage I saw David’s pain, frustration, and perplexity of the situation he was lamenting from. It was in his human desperation, experience as a victim, and need for God’s liberation that I found myself identifying with David. I mean I can’t fault David for feeling like a victim when his enemies mocked his intellect, took delight in his stumbles, and attacked him like a helpless animal. I would also wonder how long God would look on my situation before I experienced liberation from it.

Our lives aren’t as sparkly and new as I saw my internship on my first day, are they? Our lives can be filled with situations and experiences that produce emotions much like our Psalmist lays forth in his petition to God.

For me, there is a time in my life that stands out when I think of this lament. It is my trip to Rwanda in May of 2008. I had gone with five other students on the Religion team to study the Church’s role during the 1994 genocide. Over the course of three weeks we learned of the anguish, torment, betrayal and dread which covered the land of Rwanda for 90 plus days.

At one point the Religion and Social Work teams joined to travel to Nyarubuye to see one of the genocide memorial sites. On our way there the systematic planning for this genocide became real for me as the drive was long and difficult. The memorial site is a church where people had gone to find sanctuary only to be met with their death.

The following day we went to the Kigalie Genocide Museum. While I made my way through the museum I saw footage taken during April of ’94 and as the unexplainable catastrophe crossed the screen I heard the most raw, gut-wrenching scream from another location in the museum and if filled the building in full. It was a young Rwandan wailing at the site of a loved one’s photo in the memorial room. As the unforgettable images flooded the screen and this woman’s scream filled the air I realized that must have been the sound of Rwanda for those 90 some days in 1994.

As the words of the Psalmist streamed through my mind the past few weeks I realized those emotions and ache for liberation captured all I felt, saw and struggled to process through as I was filled with righteous anger for the pain that beat forth from Rwanda, as it continues to do today.

When you collide with brokenness you don’t always have a nice, neat box to categorize your experience in and are left with raw feelings of victimization; much like David expresses in this Psalm.

The laments in Psalm 35 give way for us to live through the unfair, unexplainable injustice we experience. Whether our experiences as a victim come from a wounded relationship, hard work and diligent efforts gone unseen, unfulfilled dreams, loose of a loved one, persecution by a foe … all are painful!

When we turn the news on we are met with the brokenness and deep wounds from those in Israel, Japan, Libya, Mexico, and many others. Looking around our cities we see the harsh truths of systemic poverty and hunger.

We all at some point and in some fashion are met with unfair, sorrowful, perplexing hard times in life.

So today I tell you with the words of the Psalmist embrace your lament and live through it. Don’t listen to the false truths telling you to just get over it. No, find freedom in the Psalms of lament to cry, ache, scream and petition God for justice to come to your situation. Take heart! For you will not be left alone during your time of lament. God is there aching and mourning with you, as is your community of faith.

When we plead for God to stand in our place, God does. It may not be through the plight and pain to our enemies that we ask for but God stands in our place with Christ on the Cross. We are shown Jesus’ cry to God on the cross when he uses the words of the Psalmist saying, My God, my God why have you forsaken me? Just as God was big enough to handle Jesus’ cry, God is equally capable to receive our wailings as victims and petitions for justice.

With Jesus’ death on the Cross God stands in our place when we are too weak to hold our head up, let alone continue through our suffering. With the empty tomb proclaiming Christ’s resurrection we are given the promise of the New Kingdom, the promise of resurrection from our situation and the promise of justice.

Let us cry forth from the deep wounds filling our world, nation, city, church and yes, even our own lives. May we use the words of the Psalmist when injustice robs us of the words to express our agony. As a Body of Faith we are the ever present presence of Christ to those in our world.

We are not to live our lives by the confines of what society calls justice but what Christ made real through His life of Liberation … the true essence of justice. Let us unite in our times as the victim so we hear the cries of injustice, no matter how quiet they may be and bring forth the resurrection we know to be true.

Lean into the promise of resurrection as you live through your lament. As a faith community we are here to see, generate, and proclaim justice in your life … and your moments as a victim.

As we look to the station of the cross today we see how Simon knelt down to help Jesus carry His cross and as followers of Jesus we will walk alongside you, helping you carry your burdens and actively seek justice for your situation. So as much as I would like to stand here today promising you a victimless life I can’t but I can promise that we will be your Simon during your lament.

We are to bring forth the Kingdom by bringing justice to the oppressed and healing to the afflicted. Today and forever more find the freedom to embrace your lament. Embrace the juxtaposed joy which undergirds the lament and live in the tension of the already and the not yet which Lent represents. But also embrace the redemption which is promised by the resurrection event. As God’s strength is poured into our hearts and God fills our perpetrators’ paths with light, we shall proclaim in great congregation God’s saving justice.

In light of my experience with Psalm 35 being redeemed by Reggae let us now listen to the words of Redemption Song by Bob Marley and the Wailers. While we listen to it ask yourself if you will embrace the freedom to live through your laments and bring about justice to those lamenting? By the help of Jesus Christ, may we answer yes!


Somebody’s Hazel Jane

love in lufkin


Dear daughter,

You are my Hazel Jane.

As I begin writing this, you are safely nuzzled on my chest, your miniature nose and lips burrowed in my neck—a feeling for which I’m sure I’ll never find words. Sometimes you smile at me when you see me coming, filling me with both joy and unworthiness. Other times you bury your head in my arms, like the comfort of a hug before you learn to actually hug. How special you make me feel, knowing the one I love most in this world feels the same about me, at least for right now. Every time your little lungs fill with air, this fragile heart inside me fills with a little more love. The thought of someone treating you with anything but kindness is more than I can bear to ponder. I will rejoice with you in the easy times, fight for you in…

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Why Being a Youth Pastor is the Scariest & Best Job

Being entrusted by parents with their children is a remarkable gift. I am not with their children as often as their school teachers are – God bless the hours school teachers invest in children and the resources they have to work with – but I am with their children a few hours every week. In those hours I, along with my youth leaders, are to impart spiritual wisdom, practical life skills, and fellowship with these young folks. It is scary to know you are influencing the young minds as they develop their ethics and understanding of theology, claiming them as their own.

The scary part for me comes in the fact the theology I share with my students is not black and white. I hope to teach my students to live in the grey, to question what they are taught, and to find a truth that allows them to feel whole in mind/body/spirit. At times I wish I would return to the Southern Baptist teachings I was raised with and live in a bit more of white and black – that way I could be a bit more certain in knowing my students followed a set of dogmatics and I could feel that certainty in checking things off of my “theology in a box” checklist. Fortunately I do not have “theology in a box” checklist, nor do I believe in giving my students a black and white theology.

As scary as it is to shape critically thinking theologians as the young people they are, it is also fantastic when you get to see these young folks claim the theology they believe to be true. One of the greatest spiritual gifts they offer me and our church is when they question what we believe and challenge us to be forever authentic. My students are brilliant and often do not realize it. They don’t have to deconstruct bad theological baggage in order to claim themselves as Beloved children of God, void of shame and guilt. Their theology is one of hope and uncertainty, which leads to unheard of concepts of God and creative interpretations of Scripture. They leave me in awe more often than I likely bestow wisdom to them. What a spiritual practice it is to listen to people who are wrestling and claiming (or not claiming) God as their own for the first time.

Another scary piece is that just as I had to deconstruct the theology I was raised with, my students will have to deconstruct the grey theology we are encouraging our students to engage, wrestle with, and embrace. I lean on the hope that Christ never forced his theology upon anyone and often lived in the grey of fulfilling the law while living out the new law. I am no Christ – not that it needed to be said – but I do hope to model how he claimed his theology for himself, lived it out, offered it to the disciples and those who came to hear him but never forced people to follow him in order to offer them grace, love, and hospitality.

With all the uncertainties this role in the church holds I absolutely love it. Young people are smart beyond their measure and ground the church into daily life and life outside of the church walls in ways many other populations in the church do regularly. My challenge as one of their leaders is to ensure they have the tools they need to claim, create, and wrestle with theology and spiritual practices. My challenge is to also figure out what it looks like to engage them where they are and meet them in the daily perplexities of life. My challenge is to have them help us envision the future of the institutional church and help them own their voices in its future.

I am up for the challenge and incredibly grateful I am invited to be part of these young people’s lives. I am deeply honored to be trusted by their parents to journey alongside their children during these incredibly formative year. Here to another year with one of the scariest and best jobs I have ever had.

Telling Our Story

Stories have always been one of my favorite aspects of life. Learning about family members I didn’t have the chance to meet. Gaining appreciation for where family and friends have come from. Reading the stories of Scripture and examining how people in the Christian tradition have grown and been shaped over the years.

Perhaps that is why I loved and held tightly to the core biblical posture of Sankofa as I learned about it Bible College. My professor referenced the Akan language of Gahan to teach us Sankofa, a teaching that reminds us that “we must go back to our roots in order to move forward. That is, we should reach back and gather the best of what our past has to teach us, so that we can achieve our full potential as we move forward. Whatever we have lost, forgotten, forgone, or been stripped of can be reclaimed, revived, preserved, and perpetuated.” Sankofa has shaped a my theology in countless ways over the past ten years.

As Calvary – Denver begins to enter a season of telling our story, individual and collective, I am reminded of Sankofa yet again. It seems to me telling our story has become a lost art. There is less time to share about our pasts and how we have been shaped by different life experiences or events. Often when we do tell our story we tell it in a linear capacity – birth, childhood, adolescents, adulthood, death – rather than the winding ways life takes us. Whether that winding way is the great loves of your life, the dreams you courageously followed, trips you’ve taken, or even the seasons of life that cross over timelines. The wisdom of Sankofa for me is that I am  not the fullest of self without claiming my past and allowing it to shape me, while it guides me to the healthiest expression of self. In my experience when we forget to tell our stories it is harder to live in the present or understand why things impact us the way they do.

It can be a scary thing to share our story with someone. Will they respect it, will they mock us, will they dismiss it? The flip of the coin, though, is that they will honor it, they will celebrate and cry with us, and they will sit in the story telling with us. Telling our story is worth the risk. Think of the world we could have if we valued one another’s stories more. Perhaps more conversations would be had in place of arguments because we have learned where the other person is coming from. Imagine how your story could be the bridge to cross ideological lines between another and yourself.

The stories of my grandparents, great aunts and uncles, parents, aunts and uncles, siblings, nieces and nephews, friends, mentors, colleagues, strangers have shaped my life. The stories of Scripture, the early church, reformers, new monasticism, emergents have transformed my faith. All of these have filtered in and out of my story and in every season of life I am learning to tell my story once more.

Who Are My Icons…?

Over the last week I have started to read a devotion by Joan Chittister called “A Passion for Life” and as I’ve worked through the pages I have been reminded of historical, yet not often thought of, icons in faith. With each reflection on a different person’s life I’ve been thinking about the guides in my life – the spiritual icons – who have made an impact on who I am and how I got to today. Those who have in unexpected ways spiraled my journey to the next ring mark. People whose lives created tension against that season in my life and moved me to a new normal.

Outside of the icons in my family one of my earliest recollections of an icon in faith was my professor Kathy Brawley at Covenant Bible College in Strathmore, Alberta. The image that comes to mind when I think of my time with her is a bench press. In her classes and in personal discussions with her it felt like I was on the bench holding the bar and thinking I had it down – she first showed me I had no weight on the bar, just the foundation to build upon my previous concepts of faith but that no new weight had been added. With each class, with each interaction where she didn’t give me an answer to my wonderments, with each disagreement of theology and ideology she allowed me the time to add weight to the bar. Kathy challenged me to wrestle with the weight of new thoughts and new beliefs but didn’t allow me to get too familiar with the weight, she always added new questions to the mix to add a new pound of pondering before that could happen. She never told me what to believe, just spotted me with each rep of wrestling as I grew into a new normal of faith.

Kathy is one of my icons of faith because she showed me I had the intellectual curiosity, soul wonderment, and desire for a perpetual new normal. The tension I experienced from her wisdom has forever shaped how I hope to teach, how I strive to lean into the stream of ever flowing questions, and how I find peace in knowing what I know now is not the final piece of the puzzle. Kathy, thank you for being one of my beautifully unexpected icons! My path is a lasting challenge to how you nurtured the grace of uncertainty in this journey of faith.

I encourage you to pick up Joan Chittister’s book and to think through who your icons of faith are.

A Passion for Life

If you’re in Denver go to Tattered Cover and pick up a copy:

Our Story – Remembering We Are God’s Beloved

What a summer it has been! This summer held my first three mission trips in a summer with Calvary Denver’s youth – one to Honduras and most recently immersion experiences in Denver and Chicago with Christian Student Ministries (CSM). 

Our Honduras trip was featured in my reflections last month. The Denver and Chicago trips marked my third and fourth experiences overall with CSM. Two new cities, new organizations to partner with, new prayer tours, new ethnic restaurants to try, and new memories with two groups of students.

Being a leader is a gift, you get the aerial view of the trips and those one-on-one moments with students, leaders, and city hosts. CSM trips are a blend of prayer tours, plunges, immersions, ministry sites, and devotions/debriefs. They are trips where the tangible results are few and far between. A great deal of the trip is experienced through the internal work of understanding how and why homelessness exists, what it means to be part of the working poor class, shaking stereotypes so they are no longer the lens we view people through, and processing our comfort zones – all the while understanding how God is present and at work in these cities.

When serving with CSM, you go to bed exhausted and wake up tired (it’s great when you have a longer drive to your ministry site because those catnaps are a gift). The work isn’t as physically taxing as building a house or pouring cement, but the work is tiring nonetheless. It’s the work of understanding that one of the greatest gifts one person can give another is to see them for their own story and not their stereotype and that looking someone in the eye can be the hope they need to believe there is a reason to keep pressing on.

I hope you all will join us this coming Sunday morning for the Forum where you will hear from some of the 19 students, five co-leaders, and myself about our snapshots from all three trips (Honduras, Denver, Chicago). That is where you can hear in more detail what we did on the Denver and Chicago trips and build upon what I wrote a month or so ago about the Honduras trip.

What I wish to offer you today is a snapshot of an encounter that I hope provides a window into the types of experiences our Calvary youth had this summer. I hope you’ll take the time to ask each of them personally about their own stories and encounters such as these that they experienced. Hearing their first-hand reflections is a true gift.

“The Denver Plunge”

On the Denver trip, we did a plunge (an in-depth scavenger hunt type of activity to learn about a portion of the city) in the Five Points neighborhood. During the plunge, the students were given the task of seeing if someone we met would like a cup of coffee. Sure enough, our five junior high students passed a woman on the street, and, in a simple exchange of hello’s, she accepted their offer–to buy her a cup of coffee.

The woman wished to stay outside, so as a few students went in to get her coffee, I stayed and got to know a bit about her, starting with her name – Olivia. When Olivia greeted me, I had my sunglasses on. She gently lifted them so that she could see my eyes. She was no longer a stranger we were buying coffee with, but Olivia, a woman who had lived in Five Points most of her life and had seen it back when it was wrought with gang turf wars between the Oldies and Crips.

You see, Olivia was an Oldie herself, and her partner, and father of her child, was a Crip – not something you hear everyday. As we stood there speaking, she shared her memories of old ice cream shops, stores, and houses that had been transformed into new businesses and took on the sites of gentrification.

Olivia is a gentle spirit that took time out of her day to speak with people who were not from her neighborhood but she wanted to make sure we knew good people came out of Five Points and that it was a good place to live. She shared her struggles of committing to a neighborhood that has experienced so much hardship and now faces new struggles as things change with new apartments being built and the businesses that have come in. Olivia wasn’t upset with the changes but reminded us that change is not easy – she spoke from observations and not judgments. We wished one another a good day, and as she walked away, she shared the peace of Christ with us and we with her. 

In meeting Olivia, I am reminded that when one doesn’t have much reason to trust a stranger, seeing their eyes is a doorway to establishing trust. Being able to make direct eye contact is a gift shared to both people. Olivia is a woman who is small in stature, kind in tone, committed to her neighborhood and its people, hopeful for what is to come in her life and in Five Points. She is a sweet person who shared her story with strangers and shared a cup of coffee with us. Olivia is the Beloved Child of God and part of her story is that she is gang member.

These are the experiences we need to be offering our youth and why I believe in the types of trips CSM offers.  Through these trips, we – youth and leaders alike – learn to look at the world (including our own city) with new eyes and to see our neighbors closer to how God sees them. 

We, every last one of us, are first and foremost the child of God and are more than our past or pieces of our story.

I am continuing to grow and learn about people who have different stories than I do. Trips with students remind me they are more than society sees them as, and more than they even believe of themselves. It is a blessing to meet people who share their stories with you, and when one is open to hearing another’s story, the Spirit fills the space between them, and they end up standing on holy ground – Thanks be to God.