Exodus Strong

Exodus is my favorite story in the Hebrew Bible. It is a foundational narrative that never ceases to offer rich metaphors, deep challenges and new trajectories. There is a reason we hear the drumbeat throughout the Torah and the rest of Scripture: “Remember, remember, remember when you were once slaves in Egypt.”

I still cannot shake the imagery of the brickyard first introduced to me by Walter Brueggemann. He made the brickyard, the incessant quotas, the fears and power of Pharaoh converge for me into a thicker understanding of the context. He helped me see what was at stake in the space between the brickyards and the Red Sea. This was when I began to develop an appetite (now insatiable) for liberation.

Exodus is a freedom song, an anthem that reminds me of our epic story and it’s salvific arc. Exodus reminds me that we’re not destined for brickyards and unending production, and helps me see why Sabbath matters to everyone. Embedded in Exodus is an archetypal tale of adoption, bicultural living and the struggle to embrace the goodness and complexities of both. Exodus also takes us out of Egypt, across the wilderness into a land where a new kind of trust is required for a new kind of King. There will be a new law and fresh challenges for people now working out their freedom on the other side of the brickyards. It is, indeed, a long walk to freedom (to quote Nelson Mandela).

Most recently I’ve been thinking about the women of Exodus, call them ladies of liberty. There is something about them we dare not miss… and this is what I shared with my friend, Rachel yesterday.

Rachel Held Evans has curated a conversation on her site about Exodus, beginning with Four Perspectives on Exodus. She kindly invited me as a last minute addition. I invite you to click on over and learn from all the offerings…

Read the Four Perspectives of Exodus here!

{ Deeper Story: none to comfort }

Day One child

I used to anticipate Christmas. I anticipated The Birth, the joy and the peace. The weeks of waiting, called Advent, intensified the arrival of the baby. The purple-clad days of Advent and its slow burning candles allowed Christmas to burst bright red on the scene, to sound like a crescendo across the landscape. Now I anticipate differently.

I await the redemption of the broken down places and the fractured ways of the world. It’s a longing not quickly resolved by midnight mass or Christmas morning glee. It’s a long-suffering that lingers year after year.

So many Christmases come and go, come and go. Still people remain estranged, hungry, terminally ill, at war, abandoned, raped, victims of hate crimes and racial profiling, vulnerable to abuse and harassment and loneliness. And the coming of Christ hasn’t stopped the genocide, the apartheid, the female infanticide or all the assorted phobias. We remain a city in ruin, our world smoldering. There seems to be none to comfort, none to extinguish our pain.

The rest of this lament can be found at Deeper Story…

{ I am the betrayer }

SL lament resp

Often times personal lament and confession overlap. There are moments we see ourselves amid the ashes and we complain, confess, speak out our part in the wrongness of things. Reading the lament Diana offered, this one phrase haunted me relentlessly:

“And sometimes, the betrayer is me.”

I love my brown brothers and sisters. Yet as I scour my own upbringing, I see how my words and actions have betrayed otherwise. It is a systemic wrong, but also a personal one I cannot deny.

“Too often, those who say they love you,
betray you with their words and their actions.
And sometimes, the betrayer is me.” –Diana Trautwein

I am the betrayer.

I am the one who has betrayed my brown brothers and sisters in subtle but undeniable ways. I’ve snickered at ebonics and rolled eyes at names so obviously from a community other than my own. I failed to see names as a way of resistance, a refusal to be assimilated–names as a claim to another place and culture thick with meaning and the power to shape.

I remember laughing (in the privacy of my home) at Kwanza. Instead of seeing people reaching back through history for connection and a celebration with distant kin, I turned my face away and mocked.

Grabbing from so many different African traditions to try and create one festival seemed like grasping for the intangible. So I shook my head. Instead of being open to the possibility that some of that tradition from their motherland would offer nourishment, offer hope, offer God With Us in a way my white Christmas never could.

I betrayed my brothers and sisters when they deserved my love in word and deed.

Read the rest of my response, this lament, over at SheLoves Magazine.

some to comfort

SL candle

Everyone wants to deck the halls with blaring reds and shining silvers, eager to rush into celebration. We love the Christmas music, old and new, the blow-out sales and conjuring of merriment. We say the season is laced with magic and miracles amid the snow and woolen scarves. We don joy.

But Advent is the season of purple hues and dark blues. It is the cool colors, the chill before the celebrations of good cheer. In this season of hush we light a candle, just one, against the darkness. We illuminate the thick shadows catching a glimpse of the gloom, as dense as the galaxy is deep.

We are given space to say, out loud, what we know to be true. The world is not yet right. Too many neighborhoods have slipped into disrepair and live with too little justice, too little hope. Too many families find themselves below the poverty line, unable to make a living wage, unable to keep the heat on or food on the table. We see too much jury-rigging and too little jubilee, gerrymandering that misrepresents our impoverished neighbors and only serves the privileged more benefits and more power in the system.

Advent pushes against the ringing bells and bobble-clad trees. We are called to see through the smoke and mirrors of our consumer-oriented culture. We’re meant to feel the angst of inequity, even the anger of injustice. Like the daughter of Zion in Lamentations we cry out for a witness – someone to see, to look, to pay attention to the state of things. Will anyone say what we know to be true – things are not yet right.

I begin Advent with a lament. I begin, I hope, with eyes to see and ears to hear those around me who can tell it true. If you cry out from the fringe of the city – may I hear you. If you protest in the streets and shut down highways – may I hear you. If you say the scales of justice are weighted against you and your sons – may I hear you. If you describe your fears – may I hear you and not turn a deaf ear.

May I be a witness to those who mourn. A witness who watches, who ingests the rawness of ruin and finds herself amid the ashes. Maybe my own cries will echo those of my brothers and sisters, maybe I will wail with them in uneven unison. Maybe my presence will offer compassion. Maybe we can become some to comfort, some to comfort, some to comfort.*

I pray this Advent that my small act of witness can transform me into an accomplice for justice.

*The drumbeat of Lamentations is ‘none to comfort, none to comfort, none to comfort.’ It haunts me. In a devastated landscape, Zion’s daughter finds none to comfort her. She mourns alone and made more alone as no one, not even God, will see her pain. I want to raise my hand and say ‘I will comfort!’ But I know I have much to learn about how to sit alongside the broken-hearted and be any kind of comfort at all. But it is my deep desire this Advent to learn the ways of true comfort for those who mourn in lonely exile here.

 

{ Red Letter Christians: Adoption Lament }

adoptionlament

“What was her name?” my daughter asks. “Did anyone save a picture of her?” “Do you know where her house is so I can see where she lived?”

Her questions come fast these days; always asked with great curiosity and sometimes intensity. A salvaged photograph would mean she could see what her birth mom looked like – do we share brown skin, did I get my long lashes from you, is there any resemblance between us?

At night she burrows in between the duvet and me. Her long fingers interlaced with mine, she giggles into my ear and declares that she wants yet another hug. She closes her eyes with a gentle smile under my waterfall of ‘I love you’s. Our connection is secure, even as her curiosity is incessant.

I understand. After all, I have a birth mom, too. I don’t wonder about her name, how she looked or her address. I’ve never been interested in the details beyond her relinquishing me to an adoption agency, the good one that introduced me to my own mother. But I know deeply, somehow, what it is not to know and accept never knowing as part of adopted living. Maybe it is the price for redemption.

Read the rest at Red Letter Christians…

{ Deeper Story: of wisdom and women }

PHOTO CREDIT: Tina Francis // taken in Burundi one summer afternoon

PHOTO CREDIT: Tina Francis // taken in Burundi one summer afternoon

Reading through Proverbs lately I noticed, as if for the first time, the preponderance of women. They are everywhere among the words of wisdom. There is Lady Wisdom, the great personification, and the lesser Folly. We meet wives, mothers, an adulteress and the woman of valor among many other women offering instruction to all who would listen. I could imagine a reader nearly missing the wisdom for all the women, missing the forest for the many and varied trees.

The book of Proverbs is unique in this way, the presence of women front and center. Few other books in the Hebrew Bible feature women, allowing them to move from background to center stage quite like this collection.

Maybe their place in the spotlight has something to do with troubled times. This collection came together, after all, amid the critical rise of the monarchy and the later collapse of it. When the nation of ancient Israel underwent periods of crisis true wisdom was found, not in the royal courts or among the priesthood, but round the table eating your wife’s food or under your mother’s roof. Wisdom was cultivated in that space where women were present and had much to offer when it came to thoughtful reflection on the practices for good living.

But that isn’t the only connection between women and wisdom in Proverbs…

Read the rest over at Deeper Story…

 

the rebel for justice

tree dancing mamas

The rebel in me stirred.

Walking barefoot across the living room I felt the fist push through me. Oh yes, my inner rebel was roused.

A younger version of me would have assumed this surge of rebellion synced with the sin of Eve, wanting more than is mine to have, desiring that which lives beyond my capacity to manage or comprehend. A rebel reaching for another piece of forbidden fruit for which I must be chided.

But quick as I felt the rebel rise, I recognized her origin. The rebel in me gets restless when confronted with injustice. She weaves back and forth, back and forth, then back and forth again as wrongs unfold in front of her. And then she beats the air when she can look no more, when sight alone won’t suffice.

She’s not wanting what’s not hers; she’s wanting what God wants for all of us. She stirs without easy contentment because the wrongs remain unaddressed and people languish as we fiddle with budgets, contemplate our praxis and decide what to spend on Christmas gifts for our kids this year.

//

This is the rebel that gestated in the belly of the Hebrew midwives – scheming to save sons.

This is the rebel that punched about in Jochabed, first mother of Moses, constructing an ark to float her son away from Pharaoh’s edict.

This is the rebel that stirred in Bithiah, the Egyptian princess who would adopt Moses and raise him right under the nose of the empire.

This is the rebel that grew in Miriam, nursed on liberation lullabies and shaped by subversion, the woman who would become prophet and public theologian and the leader of the emancipation dance out of Egypt.

This is the rebel who refuses to accept the death warrant of the empire, who will not be co-opted by the narratives of scarcity and fear.

This is the rebel unbowed by oppression’s heavy hand, unwilling to sway to the ways of the unjust on her watch.

This is the rebel intuitively skilled in the guttural lexicon of grief, the groaning syncopated to the burned out stars and dying species, the one who teaches the community to cry.

This is the rebel born to sing freedom songs. Born to pound drums and set the cadence for exodus. Born with liberation in her blood – a deliverance dance she can’t deny.

//

People call her ways rebellious because she’s no respecter of the status quo. They call her trouble because she’s unafraid to rock boats and upset apple carts. They call her a rebel because she just won’t keep quiet about all the ways in which we are unjust, unkind and unable to love our neighbors.

I feel her rise up in me, troublesome and rebellious.

I welcome her kind. I am her kind. I am, in my most unvarnished moments, a rebel for justice. I have the juice of emancipation running through my veins and I want to bleed freedom.

My fist punches the sky…

{ Second Simplicity: The Cross }

My friend, Amy Peterson, invited me to contribute to her series on our Second Simplicity. Amy is an amazing writer, skilled editor and smart + witty friend. It’s an honor to share my own second naiveté with her… about my own understanding of the cross.

1415711468880

I came of age in evangelical circles where the cross was the high ground, the holy pinnacle of faith. The cross was the symbol above all others, the metaphor not to be desecrated with any understanding other than blood spilled as a sacrifice for my sin. My personal salvation clung to that old rugged cross where Jesus died for my sins.

Everything I knew about salvation was moored to that cross, that sacrifice for me.

Years after graduating from a Christian liberal arts college, years after completing my Masters of Divinity degree from an evangelical seminary, even years after leadership in my local charismatic church I noticed a shift.

I was reading a book about Jesus written by Marcus Borg. (This was my first foray into any scholarship stemming from the Jesus Seminar, which my evangelical colleagues convinced me to be wary of.)

“According to the Gospels Jesus did not die for the sins of the world…He was killed because of the sins of the world.”

I underlined these words as I read the fuller chapter on the personal and political meaning surrounding the death of Jesus. I underlined them in a spirit of agreement. I kept reading.

It took me about three or four pages to realize what I just did. I stopped. I thumbed my way back to that page and read the words again. Jesus died because of sin, not for sin. Do I really agree with this? – because if I do then my understanding of the cross has just moved into uncharted territory.

Read the rest HERE.

{ ShePonders: Lost Things }

N_Kelley2

My sweet son is notorious for losing things – pens, socks, even his phone. Once something has gone missing, he moves right along without noticing most of the time. Losing and living skip along hand in hand for him.

I’m the one reminding him to go to the lost and found at school to look for the left behind lunch box / water bottle / hoody. If it wasn’t for me hot on his little heels I doubt he’d go looking for what was lost most of the time; he’d just keep on running ahead with no thought of what’s missing.

*****

Jesus told a trio of parables about people who lost things: a shepherd who lost a sheep, a woman who lost a coin and a father who lost his son(s).

The shepherd watched over a flock of 100 sheep; at some point he stopped, counted and realized one was missing. The woman with her handful of coins noticed one had gone missing. She swept every inch and corner of her house until she recovered the coin. In each instance they stopped what they were doing and searched for what was lost. Thankfully, both found what they were looking for and celebrated accordingly. When you find that 1:100 or 1:10 it’s worth throwing a party – or so the parable goes.

Next we meet a father with two sons…

Read the rest over at SheLoves Magazine!

 

 

{ Adoption, Once & Always }

adoption-720x380

I sat in my study leafing through yellowed documents stiffened by time. I read the letter typed in courier font by Sister Bertrille telling my parents they’ve been approved for the placement of a child. I notice her clear, careful signature. In a subsequent letter she happily grants their request to adopt me saying, “This will be a truly wonderful event for you and your little one.” Again I study her tilted cursive, the seal on my holy writ. The year was 1969.

I find a black and white photograph of her in the file. I stare. I cry. She is the woman who administered the sacrament of adoption to me. The sensation reminds me of my first holy communion, the first of many times I’d approach the Lord’s Table.

I wonder if Sister Bertrille knew as she signed each letter, as she placed me in my mother’s arms that adoption would be more than just a wonderful event. Did she know it would be the event without end?

Many believe adoption is an one-time event. I have experienced adoption more like baptism, a once and always sacrament . Today I’m sharing my thoughts over at Red Letter Christians. Please click over and share in the conversation!