Again, many thanks for the gift of sabbatical. It was just what the Spirit ordered for rest and renewal. And no small amount of fun and adventure to boot. I look forward to sharing pictures and stories and hearing from those of you who explored sabbatical time this summer in some small way.
For now, I will share one memory that comes to mind as I think about our life together in Christ.
Our middlest child Eliot and I journeyed through Scotland exploring standing stones and waterfalls and eating plenty of scones. We were able to check an item on my bucket list by visiting Iona, an island off the west coast of Scotland, one of the Inner Hebrides. Iona is often spoken of as a “thin place” where the veil between heaven and earth is particularly permeable. Saint Columba and 12 companions landed on the island in 563 C.E. and founded a monastery. Around 1200 a Benedictine abbey and an Augustinian nunnery were founded. The ruins of the nunnery are haunting and evocative. There are way-marking crosses around the island that are nearly a thousand years old. Restored in the 19th century, the abbey has retained a feeling of ancientness and long faith.
On Sunday morning, Eliot and I made our way to worship in the abbey church. Most of us were visitors to the island, including those living in community for a week or more. The preacher that Sunday was Father Azariah France-Williams, a black Anglican priest from Manchester, England.
He stepped into the pulpit in that ancient worship space which smelled of old stone and sea air.
He was funny and engaging from the very beginning. He wove together scripture and literature, challenging us to imagine what it means to be called out, declared “naked” (ala the Emperor’s New Clothes). He spoke of the lived experience of people of color, gay, queer and trans folks. He named George Floyd. As he spoke, I became aware that Eliot was crying, hard. I put my arms around Eliot and held them until they settled; and the service moved on to singing and communion.
Afterward, I asked Eliot where the emotion had come from. They (E’s preferred pronoun) said it was overwhelming to be sitting in a church nearly a thousand years old, 4,000 miles from home and hear the name of a man murdered just three blocks from their house. And to hear their own experience as a trans person being named in love and compassion.
As a good Lutheran, I had two simultaneous feelings. First: I get it! It IS powerful and moving and holy to be in an ancient place with people from all over the world hearing the gospel preached as a word of belonging and healing. It was extraordinary to share it with my de-churched child.
The second feeling was: WHAT!? There are pastors blocks from your Minneapolis home preaching the same message! Your own mom and her colleague have named trans people and George Floyd from the pulpit! This shouldn’t be such a singular experience. And you didn’t have to come so far to have it! (I didn’t SAY this to Eliot. It was a feeling…)
Eliot’s observation set me back on my heels in ways uncomfortable and profound. What does it mean to sit with my beloved, who was raised in the church and is still so hungry to hear a word of love and acknowledgement from the church? And what obstacles prevent them from hearing it right in their own neighborhood, where this powerful Word is being regularly proclaimed?
It’s easy to say, “Well, they should go to church! Get them in the building on a Sunday and they will hear it!” And yes, that is most certainly true. But Eliot and their peers aren’t showing up for a host of reasons: distrust, prior harm, busy and engaging lives, and a public Christian voice that loudly decries the full humanity of those who are othered, considered less than or more sinful.
Hearing that proclaimed Word on Iona was amazing, even in a place we expect to hear a good word. I am left with wondering what other pulpits we might occupy away from the salt air and ancient stone. How the word of God’s expansive love and call to partnership might be heard outside our walls. How we might help those in our own neighborhoods and communities discover what is being preached just as boldly—right here.
Sadly, I have no answers just now. Just the questions to ponder. I invite you to ponder them with me.
It’s good to be back.
In deep gratitude,