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Of Mystics, Image, and Story

February 11th, 2019

By Emilie Bouvier

Hush, hush, my little root … my little pod
Hush … hush … my little grandmother

I read these words from Meridel Le Sueur two mornings ago to a room of women, rapt with silence, early in the morning on the first full day of the annual winter women’s retreat at Holden Village. My eyes strained as they read the lines in the low light, with images of my original artworks projected behind me. I chose to pair my “land-formed” photographs, as I like to call them, with texts of women – mystics, poets, theologians, and ordinary women who shared with me their wisdom. This cloud of voices spoke together about the land, about fire ecology, justice, seed and egg, grandmothers, light and obscurity.

After the last reading and the silence returned, I listened. I invited the room to share responses. One by one, these women started sharing deep and moving stories. One spoke of her love of the plains, the landscape she grew up in. Another shared through tears of emotion what it meant to her to trace her grandmother’s journey of immigration, and her learnings of how family histories are passed through our bodies, especially in the bodies of women. Another confided her struggles with male images of God and her longing for spiritual experience of God through the feminine. Another shared her own experience of forest fire, loss, and reshaping of her relationship with the land.

“The beauty of difference is that we each get to tell our own stories.”

I was floored. There was no way I had expected this deep or vulnerable of a response so immediately. This was the first time I had tried out pairing the images directly with reading that have grounded their making. In some ways it was hard to not jump in and start explaining, to let the varied voices have their own integrity and give them time to speak. But this clearly worked. Why?

 

THEN IT HIT ME – an old insight, returning. In my seminary days, I took a class with Sarah Bellamy of Penumbra Theatre, entitled Bearing Witness, the Power of Story. One of the many things I learned from her is that the best way to tell a story is not in the abstract, but in the particular. If you try to say something that speaks to everyone, you may well end up speaking to no one. But if you tell your own story in all its particularity and detail, it has the power to stir up story in others – even if that story for them is quite different.

This speaks to me also in the story of our faith. Holden is a place rooted in Lutheran-Christian identity but is open and welcoming to people of all (or no) faith background(s). I worship beside fellow community members who identify as agnostic, Buddhist, atheist, and non-denominational. Sometimes, in the presence of difference, we want to pull back and make a space held and word spoken one that encompasses everything – leaning toward the abstract and open. Yet, I think that can often do us a disservice. The beauty of difference is that we each get to tell our own stories, and in their gritty particulars, invite the experience and emotion of others, even if sometimes it’s held in tension with our own.

“If you try to say something that speaks to everyone, you may well end up speaking to no one.”

As we find ourselves in the space between the incarnation and the cross, I hold to the particulars of our Jesus story – the water-breaking, baptismal-claiming, teaching, healing, dying, rising, story of Christ. As we journey through these seasons, I hope you meet God in the details of the stories and that they give you good courage to share your own.

Shutdown slowdown blues

January 28th, 2019

By Pastor Craig Pederson

Before I felt the call to explore ordained ministry, I was a federal employee. Fresh out of college in the early 1990s, I secured a job as a claims representative for the Social Security Administration. Ironically, the Minneapolis District Office where I worked was a few blocks down Franklin Avenue just east of our synod office – and it’s still there. Perhaps some of you have visited that office to apply for a new Social Security card, or to apply for retirement or disability benefits, or to process survivor benefits upon the death of a loved one.

During the six years of my federal employment, I was a part of two government shutdowns. The first was in 1990, just a few months after I started; it lasted only three days. I was single and had only myself to support, so that was kind of like a paid holiday!

“Martin Luther would scoff at shutdowns as antithetical to the “good government” he believed was necessary for baptized Christians to live out their vocations.”

But, the second shutdown lasted 21 days. It took place in 1995-96, during my second year of seminary when I had cut back to halftime at my job in order to take a fulltime load of classes. With tuition, housing, and other family living expenses to manage, that shutdown had some really bit into my life.

I write this blog entry on the 35th day of the current federal government shutdown, which has dubiously broken the record for the longest shutdown in United States history. While hoping and praying that it will have ended by the time you read this, it appears unlikely.

 

STORIES CONTINUE TO MULTIPLY and intensify about the adverse effects of the shutdown on some 800,000 federal employees (who are promised to be paid eventually, but that doesn’t help their cash flow now), on contract employees who provide services to federal agencies (who will not receive any back pay, so their income losses continue to mount), and on the overall U.S. economy. And, we hear increasing concerns about air traffic safety, food and drug safety, tax return delays, deteriorating conditions at federal parks and museums and other attractions, and on it goes.

One of the benefits (if we can call it that) of these shutdowns is that they debunk the tired old stereotype of the nameless, faceless, uncaring government employee. My co-workers at Social Security were devoted, caring public servants who just wanted to report to work and do their jobs the best they could (I hope they would have said the same of me!).

But the troubling stories and concerns are very real and should compel elected leaders to get to the table and work out a compromise to get the federal government open and running again.

“My co-workers at Social Security were devoted, caring public servants who just wanted to report to work and do their jobs the best they could.”

I think Martin Luther would scoff at shutdowns as antithetical to the “good government” he believed was necessary for baptized Christians to live out their vocations. And beyond the disruption of civil order in our public life, shutdowns also point out the brokenness of our civic dialogue.

In the past week I’ve been asked more than once if there was any kind of collective response to the shutdown by the church. I am not aware of anything locally. In areas of the country where there are higher concentrations of federal employees, the church has been stepping up in some inspiring ways.

In the coming weeks, I would encourage you to reach out to federal employees you may know and offer your prayers and support. You may also want to consider reaching out to your elected federal representatives to let them know how you feel about the shutdown. Even if it ends soon, we still have serious work to do in making government work better – especially for the most vulnerable among us.

Christians can and should be part of that conversation, upholding the values of love, justice, and mercy that Jesus exemplified. That is our baptismal call; let us live it!

Editor’s Note: You can thank Craig for ending the shutdown! As he completed this blog on Friday afternoon, it was announced that President Trump will sign legislation reopening the government – at least for three weeks. Now we hope, pray, and encourage our elected leaders to form a more sustainable agreement that lasts beyond three weeks.

Measuring

January 22nd, 2019

By Pr. Deb Stehlin

With the turn of the calendar page to a new year, I find myself getting pulled into the world’s way of measuring. Is the number on the bathroom scale getting lower? How many times did I work out this week? What are my big, fabulous goals for finding success in 2019?

It’s annual performance review season, too. We make a list of the goals that were accomplished and describe the impact our work has had. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t evaluate our effectiveness – after all, this gospel work is important to the wellbeing of our neighbors. I actually enjoy annual review conversations with our synod’s mission developers. (I hope they do, too.) We get to look back at the year and remember the good things and the hard things, as well as look for signs of the movement of the Holy Spirit.

But we follow Jesus, who spent a lot of time questioning our measuring systems. Jesus accomplished his goal (telos) on a cross, being killed for going against the things the empire measures and revealing the true heart of God.

 

ONE OF THE QUESTIONS I include in the mission developer review is “What is God teaching you?” Here’s how one developer answered: “God has been teaching me that faithfulness is a better metric than success.”

Another mission developer urged his faith community (which has a budget of about $80,000) to give 156 percent more mission support for the work of the wider church than they had initially pledged. He said, “If we’re not faithful with how we use our money, how can we ask our participants to be faithful?” For him and his leaders, faithfulness is more important to measure than the size of the ministry’s bank account.

“What if you stopped measuring the “success” of your congregation in the usual ways?”

These things inspire me. They inspire me to “let the same mind be in me that was in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5) and question what we measure and how we measure it.

During the Minneapolis Area Synod’s Tool Kit for congregation leaders, I’m going lead a workshop called, “Five Marks of a Vital Congregation and Two Questions Not to Ask.” You should attend the Took Kit. It will be held February 23 at St. Stephen in Bloomington.

What if you stopped measuring the “success” of your congregation in the usual ways and asked instead, “How can we be faithful? What tangible things would we be doing to demonstrate our faithfulness?” I hope to see you there.

Spicing up your property management … with less salt

January 9th, 2019

By Bob Hulteen

How much does the Bible have to say about salt? A Lot. (Get it? That’s kind of funny, right? Okay, please don’t let a bad pun keep you from reading the rest of the blog.)

Another question: How much salt does it take to contaminate a five-gallon pail of water? Guesses? The answer is one teaspoon, according to Gael Zembal, education and outreach coordinator of the Nine Mile Creek Watershed District, headquartered in Eden Prairie.

That’s part of the reason Gael and her colleagues from Riley Purgatory Bluff Creek, Coon Creek, and the Minnehaha Creek watershed districts offer fall/winter workshops for church staff about the use of salt on parking lots and sidewalks. As significant property owners within a community, congregational leaders have a responsibility to reflect on the impact of choices on the lives of their neighbors.

 

UNEXPECTEDLY FOR ME, WORKSHOP LEADERS acknowledged early on the requirement for property managers to be concerned for safety. But, by teaching participants about proper techniques, safety can increase even while cost and environmental harm decrease. Like most things, intentionality is the primary requirement.

Sitting through a two-hour interactive presentation, I learned the difference between deicing and anti-icing, an appropriate distribution pattern for salt on sidewalks, storage best practices, and the impact of small changes on Minnesota’s water quality. I even got to take back to the office a pavement thermometer (because the temperature of the pavement – not air temperature – determines the effectiveness of the various surface treatments).

“How much salt does it take to contaminate a five-gallon pail of water?”

Our public institutions, including the Minnesota Department of Transportation and the Pollution Control Agency, are committed to salt smart, meaning the use of an effective but limited amount of salt on roadways and walkways to protect public safety. These agencies have developed best practices. Watershed District office staff throughout our synod are willing to share their knowledge with institutional leaders (meaning us).

I encourage congregational leaders to do an assessment of salt use on your property. Then, coordinate with other congregations (either in your synod conference, text study group, or local ecumenical expression) to gather property managers and custodial staff for an in-service from your local watershed organization. It’s a fairly simple way to care for God’s creation.

After all, we are called to be “the salt of the earth,” not to salt our waterways. (Sorry, again, but that’s the best closing I could come up with. Look at the bright side; you don’t have to read any more.)

 

The story of about Lot’s wife being turned into salt is found in Genesis 19. The call to be the salt of the earth is from Matthew 5:13. Just FYI.

With joy and wonder

December 19th, 2018

By Grace Corbin

On the last Friday evening of November, surrounded by the winter-decorated sanctuary of Central Lutheran, I sat expectantly as I waited for Augsburg’s Vespers Service to begin. Augsburg Vespers is a concert and a worship experience, led by Augsburg’s Music Department and Campus Ministry. Maybe a few of you have attended this beautiful worship that marks the beginning of Advent.

Ringed by my former fellow choristers, I was quietly anticipating an event that shaped my choir experience at Augsburg. There’s always so much to take it when attending Vespers. The sanctuary was beautifully decorated with blue hues and lighted trees. You can’t help but sit there and know that something awe-inspiring is about to take place.

Soon the orchestra began to play its opening number, and I was immersed into the longing of Advent. Then the whole audience was invited to stand and sing “Unexpected and Mysterious.” I had never heard this hymn before, but quickly fell in love with its unique melody. As I reflect now on this flowing song I am taken by the last verse.

We are called to ponder myst’ry and await the coming Christ,
to embody God’s compassion for each fragile human life.
God is with us in our longing to bring healing to the earth,
while we watch with joy and wonder for the promised Savior’s birth.

 

THIS WHOLE VERSE sums up what advent means to me. I continue to come back to the second half of the verse, God is with us in our longing to bring healing for the earth, while we watch with joy and wonder for the promised Savior’s birth. On this last day in this season of longing, we still wait with anticipation for many things. We wait for a little boy to be born, we wait for peace to come to earth, we wait for a source of hope. And in our longing, God is with us. During this time of anticipation for the birth of Christ, we are not offered answers, but the gift of presence.

“During this time of anticipation for the birth of Christ, we are not offered answers, but the gift of presence.”

During what is a busy season for church folk, who are you being present to? Is there someone in your life who could use your gift of presence? Or maybe, in this busy time, are you in need of the gift of presence?

Remember to take a break, take a breath, and pause with those people who are in need of your gift of presence. Soon a little baby boy will be born and the waiting will be no more.

Faith without formation is dead

December 7th, 2018

By Bob Hulteen

Breathless, LonRay found me sweeping the porch of my Washington, D.C., rowhouse. “They set out all of Mr. and Mrs. Grant’s belongings on the street,” he yelled from the sidewalk. So, together we ran up 13th Street for a block-and-a-half and, turning left, saw the lives of this 80-year-old couple spread across the sidewalk in front of what had previously been their basement apartment.

Although I had primarily worked as community organizer with tenants in mid-sized and large apartment buildings, I knew the Grants because they did have problems with their landlord and they had been engaged in some of the Neighborhood Watch activities. I knew that the landlord had not gone through the legal process of obtaining an eviction order; I knew that he had illegally removed their photographs and family heirlooms, making them vulnerable to the vulgarities of passersby.

“I don’t believe that faith is an abstract set of beliefs; for me, it is an overarching approach to real-life realities.”

After a quick conversation with one of my colleagues, I decided to break the lock on their apartment and to start moving the Grant’s possessions back into the apartment they had been paying rent for. When neighbors started helping, I did warn them that the police would eventually come and that they should be aware that, even though they were in the right by helping, it might involve getting tied up in the legal system. We talked about the privilege I had as a white person to engage this system. And together we made a plan.

 

AS A NEARLY LIFE-LONG participant on adult education committees, it is hard for me to admit that my faith has not primarily been formed in forums. I don’t believe that faith is an abstract set of beliefs; for me, it is an overarching and foundational (maybe even instinctual) approach to the human condition.

So, where has such formation taken place for me? My faith has been formed in the streets.

My faith has been informed by deep study and communal discussion during adult forums. But that is not where it is formed.

I have touched God more deeply huddled around a campfire in the middle of Plymouth Avenue outside the Fourth District Police Station building than in the church library listening to eloquent speakers. I understand what faith means more completely when marching after a verdict for yet another victim of state violence. I realize what the powers and principalities are more clearly when I am facing the police line on the Standing Rock Reservation. I experience the inpouring of the Holy Spirit when a remarkably diverse group of leaders are preparing to testify on increasing access for all.

“I understand what faith means more completely when marching after a verdict for yet another victim of state violence.”

I still love attending the adult forum at my congregation. Great thought and planning goes into addressing topics that speak to the times.

But sometimes forums can be abstract. And, especially as we wait expectantly for incarnation, I need something more concrete. For me, that often means standing on concrete is foundational to my faith.

What do you “see”?

November 29th, 2018

By Pastor Kelly Chatman

Wishing you God’s richest blessing as we enter this Advent season and new church year. In addition to serving part time on synod staff, I am blessed to serve a wonderfully diverse congregation. Redeemer is a 110-year-old Lutheran congregation and in our Sunday worship we usually number around 100 people.

Among the worshipers are people of different ages, social, economic, racial, and economic backgrounds. I like to think that our diversity looks somewhat like the diversity of our city. There are a lot of things I would love to share with you about Redeemer but what I really want to share with you is the adult education series we just completed this week.

One of our congregation’s leaders proposed that the church council listen to a 12-hour podcast called Seeing White. She assembled a leadership team, offered facilitator training, applied for a Thrivent Action Team grant, and scheduled the ten-part Sunday adult education series.

 

NOW, I ADMIT THAT I was skeptical. I have served at Redeemer for 18 years and, during that time, I have made multiple attempts to get more than five or six people to participate in Sunday morning adult education and failed. Though I fully supported the series in concept, in my head I was thinking, “Right” people are not going to show up.”

But the team was not deterred. Those who were too busy to listen to the podcast during the week were invited to come early on Sunday morning to listen to that hour-long podcast session. Then at 9:00 a.m., people who had listened in advance would join the early-birds to discuss the week’s session. They would begin each session with a litany, followed by shared ground rules and facilitated time in large and small group discussion.

“The 25 people who gathered each week for adult education participated in a ten-week series addressing one of the most critical issues affecting our nation and church today. Race is reflected in our politics, economics, education system, and religion.”

Here is the amazing thing: People showed up. Each week a quarter of our worshiping community showed up to participate in this rich and important adult education opportunity. Wait, there’s more.

Those 25 people who gathered each week for adult education participated in a ten-week series addressing one of the most critical issues affecting our nation and church today. The issue of race is baked deep into the American experience. Race is reflected in our politics, economics, education system, and religion. Race influences where we shop, live, and worship. “We are swimming in the issue of race,” I have heard it described.

John Biewen, Scene on Radio host and producer, took a deep dive, accompanied with an array of leading scholars and regular guest Dr. Chenjerai Kumanyika. Loretta Williams served as series editor for this documentary series, released between February and August 2017. Seeing White was produced by Duke University and public radio.

I cannot endorse the Seeing White Podcast enough. The series is extremely well done, and it comes with a study guide. All you need is a leader on your church council who dares to think outside the box, a church council willing to say “yes,” a few folks to serve as facilitators, and a Thrivent Action Team to cover the cost of refreshment. Yes, you need a group of people bold and caring enough to “see white.”

The Saints Nick and John the Baptist

November 26th, 2018

By Pastor John Hulden

It’s Cyber Monday! I’m writing a blog instead of Christmas shopping online. You are welcome. We are also approaching the First Sunday in Advent.

Sheesh, it’s either really hard or an amazing opportunity for us church-y folk during this time of Advent-waiting and Christmas-shopping. Although being counter-cultural is not easy, it sure isn’t difficult to get on a soapbox or hop on our high horse or climb into a pulpit and rip into all the craziness of the holiday-shopping craze. I know I don’t have all the answers on how to really put Christ back into Christmas. (And I’m guessing I wouldn’t see eye-to-eye with the folks who sell those bumper stickers either. But I’m just guessing.)

“Did you know TVs are really cheap on and around Black Friday?”

Here’s my confession: Did you know TVs are really cheap on and around Black Friday? I got a Black Friday TV for my birthday last Friday. (Yes, Black Friday landed on my birthday this year.) I’m feeling a little guilty, but my family reminds me — it was a gift! Plus, it is supposed to have a really clear picture, and the outside of the box says it is a “smart” TV. That’s good, isn’t it?

 

SOME PREACHER SOMEWHERE, probably many years ago, tried to make a comparison between Santa Claus and Jesus. It didn’t work for me. I suppose it was a noble attempt to draw a clear line between crass-commercialization and the platitudes of the beatitudes. (Shoot, I just looked up the definition of “platitudes” — not the right word for the beautiful and powerful beatitudes — but it rhymed so well.)

Here’s my attempt at a better comparison during these paradoxical weeks leading up to the Festival of the Incarnation.

                                                                                          Jolly Ol’ Saint Nick                 vs.                     John the Baptizer                                         

  • They both live far away from everyone       North Pole                                                                in the remote wilderness
  • They both have a unique outfit                       red suit, big black belt                                           camelhair coat, leather belt
  • Crowds gather                                                    at parties, the mall, and parades                         at the river way out of town
  • Their message                                                     asks who’s naughty or nice                                   tells everyone they’re straight-out naughty
  • Their unique diet                                                cookie and milk, then up the chimney               grasshoppers dipped in honey
  • They point to                                                                ???                                                                     Jesus

Blessings to you as you navigate Advent and the inescapable Pre-Christmas Hoopla. I’ll do my best to muddle through, but I do know I plan on finding a midweek evening Advent vespers service.

Happy Blessed Advent.

For All My Relations

November 12th, 2018

By Bob Hulteen

“In the beginning, God created … “ What a profound context we reside in – God’s creation. And we are all “the created,” siblings directly with all people, but related as well to all living things. We are all of the stuff that God brought into existence, from igneous rock to sperm whale.

I remember first hearing the phrase Mitakuye oyasin – “for all my relations” – from hometown Dakota friends while I was still in college. I can no longer listen to the creation stories in Christian sacred scriptures without this image of connectedness and ultimate relationship.

Too often we forget that. Sometimes we are even encouraged to forget. Seasons of polarization and divisiveness, as we experienced in the recent period of elections, can create forgetfulness of ultimate truths (perhaps because it is to the advantage of some individuals for most of us to see differences rather than unifying factors).

Religious people can be manipulated in times such as this. We can identify more deeply with people from our own group affiliation rather than with the promise from Genesis that we are all related. Ecumenism itself then becomes countercultural by encouraging us to draw the circle wider than our reptilian tendencies normally encourage.

 

EARLY IN NOVEMBER, members of United Methodist (UMC), Episcopal (ECMN), African Methodist Episcopal (AME), and Lutheran churches gathered together in Faribault to learn skills about community organizing in order to be better stewards of our shared creation. We sang, we shared, we role-played, we laughed, some of us danced. (Don’t ask, please.) And, we realized we could develop a shared language around care for the water so abundant (and yet fragile) in our own state.

Why do we care about the quality of our water? Well, it is elemental; we all need it to survive. But, as faith communities, we also use it for our initiation rituals – baptism. Scripture is full of essential stories of faith with connections to water – from the crossing out of enslavement in Egypt to the baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch seeking to join the Jesus movement.

“Our AME siblings reminded the group about water justice, especially in the current reality facing residents of Flint and Detroit, Michigan.”

Our AME siblings reminded the group about water justice, especially in the current reality facing residents of Flint and Detroit, Michigan. Through no fault of their own, these citizens are forced to live out of bottled water, paying private companies for water taken directly from water sources that formerly provided them with free (via public) water.

At this November training, participants agreed to be part of a “Gather at the River” event that includes education and worship on December 13. Bishops and bishop-equivalents of the Minneapolis Area Synod, the AME, the UMC, and the ECMN will offer leadership as we learn about water and praise our Creator for the gift of water, as well as cry for water justice for those who are often the first to experience when our systems break.

Please save the date for the early evening of December 13 to join us; more information will follow in an upcoming synod enews. Or, contact Grace Corbin, g.corbin@mpls-synod.org, to express your interest. Celebrate our shared water systems and, even more deeply, our connected to all of creation. Do it for “all of our relations.”

Can I really make a difference?

November 5th, 2018

By Pastor Craig Pederson

November 6 is Election Tuesday, bringing to fruition months (and in some cases, years) of hard work by candidates and their campaigns at the federal, state, and local levels. I acknowledge and appreciate this incredibly hard work that often goes unrecognized. As a democracy, we are strengthened when good people pursue public service as part of their gifts and calling.

Election Tuesday also brings to an end (mercifully, many will say!) the campaign ads that have increasingly inundated us on television, radio, social media, and print (where it still exists). We have come to expect this barrage of ads each election cycle, but this year’s assortment seems to have stepped it up a notch or two in terms of the negative tone and attack orientation of their content. This amplification of tone and stridency is likely the result of the increased polarization of political, ideological, and religious perspectives in our nation.

 

BUT THE UNITED STATES is not alone in grappling with these ramped up polarities.  In the past week I read two articles highlighted the contrasting viewpoints that exist in Brazil following two consequential elections there. One is from the Lutheran World Federation about the first woman, Rev. Silvia Beatrice Genz, elected as president of the Lutheran Church in Brazil. The other is from the Associated Press about the controversial new president of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, who has a long history of offensive comments towards women, the LGBTQ community, indigenous and Black people, and foreigners.

Whether or not you choose to read these articles, the common thread is this: The Church of Jesus Christ is entering a new chapter in its calling to speak truth to power and to provide tools for people to engage with our differences – in our nation, and around the world.

“The Church of Jesus Christ is entering a new chapter in its calling to speak truth to power and to provide tools for people to engage with our differences.”

In his insightful new book A House United, theologian Allen Hilton describes how the Church’s unique scriptural and practical experiences with “difference” can provide a lens for us to navigate the current roiling cultural waters. He recounts the significance of the church’s presence at key cultural and political moments in our nation’s history. He then reminds us how the Bible, rather than providing an obstacle-free roadmap to religious and civic life, shows that the movement of God’s people comes out of differences and resolution of conflict.

Ultimately, Hilton argues that “uniformity” is not the sign of faithfulness within the body of Christ, but “unity” of purpose in sharing the love of Christ is the standard by which we can measure our witness.

 

IN A SEASON OF heightened divisions like the present one, we might ask, “Can I really make a difference?” As an individual Christian, and as Lutheran congregations, the answer is “yes!”

But how?  Here are my humble suggestions:

  1. Pray!
  2. Vote!
  3. Visit! Visit with another Christian who you know holds a different political perspective than you. Visit another congregation that leans in a different theological direction than yours, and perhaps encourage your own congregation to develop a relationship with that one. As Hilton writes, “courageous conversations” such as these can lead to small but mighty progress and understanding within the body of Christ. We can even become a witness and example to the divisive culture in which we find ourselves.

“The Church’s unique scriptural and practical experiences with “difference” can provide a lens for us to navigate the current roiling cultural waters.”

Let us not throw our hands up in despair, but rather let us put our hands out to invite others who are different from us into relationship. Let us honor God by honoring the diversity of people and perspectives God created.

Lord, have mercy on us as we seek to become the healing and reconciling presence you call us to be!

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