The MLK Dream

“Our goal is to create a beloved community, and this will require a qualitative change in our souls as well as a quantitative change in our lives.

— Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

I don’t like to rock the boat.

I prefer to smooth things over.

I like to keep the peace, and not ruffle feathers.

I am also a mom.

I am a mom to 2 kids: one is white, and one is a person of color.

I am seeing the world through new eyes.

You might say I’ve had a racialized conversion.

Or maybe I am just a mama bear.

Before adopting, many people told me, “kids don’t see skin color.” My daughter was only 3 when she started talking about skin color; noticing, and commenting. First pointing to my skin and her skin, picking out colors of crayons to draw our family, and commenting on how many more Chinese people were at JFK than at DIA when we traveled. She was 7 when she had a best buddy at school say to her, “I am going to be friends with Ashley (name has been changed) now because she is not Chinese.” I cry just revisiting that memory. She was too young (so, so young!) to be excluded because of her skin color. Yet, she was. I can recall other experiences like this; stories that are hers to tell, not mine; times where I was seeing the world through new eyes – through the eyes of my love for her.

When Covid-19 first started I overheard my kids playing in our backyard with other kids who announced that covid was all China’s fault because they eat bats. Later I was on a Zoom call where I had to mute people I dearly love because of their insistence on “China started it” theories and I didn’t want my Chinese American daughter to hear them blaming the place she was born.

She crawled up into my lap and asked me sheepishly, “am I black?” when she overheard people she loves disdain the Black Lives Matter movement.

She has overheard someone mimic an Asian accent in front of her and her beloved Chinese nanny. She has overhead people talking about “black on black violence” and “the problem with Somali people.”

Of course, nobody intentionally meant to be hurtful, they are good people, but it still hurt.

I have always wanted to think that we do not judge each other based on the color of our skin but on the “content of our character” as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. taught, but my experiences as a mom have shown me there is still so much work to do. So, so, so much work.

Racial justice is a gospel matter. It is near and dear to the heart of God because God loves all people. He cares for the seen and unseen pain of his children. We join with God when we see the image of God in all people and when we care for the places of each other’s pain. Each one is precious in his eyes. It takes all of us to fully image God. Jesus came to tear down the dividing walls of hostility that exist. We participate in the gospel of Jesus when we join God in tearing down dividing walls of hostility and building up His beloved community.

God’s heart for racial justice was clear to me long before my journey as a mom, but my journey as a mom has given me new ears to hear just how far we still have to go. My love for my daughter has given me new eyes to see how far we have to go in seeing God’s kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven when it comes to matters of race and justice. When one of God’s children is hurting, we are all hurting. Jesus teaches us to weep with those who weep, rejoice with those who rejoice, to love my neighbor as myself, to work to build a better world.

I wonder what it would be like if I had the same mama bear instinct and love for each story I hear? I wonder how I would be if I were to love strangers like they were my own child? How might I show up in the world? Would I listen more closely? Would I have deeper empathy instincts? Would I seek first to listen and to understand?

It is hard for some folks to understand what is happening in my heart.

I have rocked the boat.I have not smoothed things over.I have ruffled feathers.

I’ve made mistakes along the way, too. So many mistakes.

How can they understand?

I still wish they would try.

I imagine they wish I would try to listen and understand them better too.

I wish I would listen better. I want to understand.

So, we miss each other again and again.

This is a painful reality. It is an ongoing struggle.

I think I understand (at least in part) that we enter the conversation about race for different reasons.

For some, it is more political.

For me, it is more personal.

For some, it is revisiting a fight that started in the 1960’s.

For me, it is a mama bear instinct.

I’m on a journey. They are on a journey. We are all in process.

Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy.

God help us all. God help us all become the beloved community that Dr. King spoke of.

Treasuring Place

Postmoderns like me have been fond of saying that we can worship God anywhere. We like to think of ourselves as spiritual, but not religious. We underline the truth in bold marker that God can be encountered just as much in the mountains surrounded by trees as He can be found in a church building surrounded by stained glass. These values have brought some necessary correction to the notion that you can equate spiritual health with church attendance. I also wonder if sometimes, in not wanting to over-value weekly worship and the place of church in our lives, we inadvertently under-value it. 

Ancient people embraced pilgrimage to holy places as a habit of spiritual formation. I wonder what might happen if we re-embraced this idea of pilgrimage in our lives. 

Every summer we make a pilgrimage of sorts to northern Wisconsin. Tim has been vacationing “up north” his entire life and I have been tagging along for all 20+ years of our marriage now. The trek up north comes with the same rituals that grow in meaning for the sheer number of times we have repeated them. Our pilgrimage up north always includes campfires, s’mores, swimming star gazing, and supper clubs. It’s inevitable that at some point we start talking about the Grade family history, we always seem to rehearse the roots while up north.  That place has become important to us. It is one of those “thin places” as Celtic Christianity says, where the barrier between heaven and earth somehow seems thinner than in everyday life. The journey of going there each summer is like a family pilgrimage spanning generations now. When Tim and I were first married I didn’t really appreciate it. I was like a snooty city girl, kind of wrinkling up my nose at the humidity and mosquitoes and lack of amenities. But over time that place has shaped me and I treasure it now. 

Imagine if you woke up on Sunday morning and thought of your drive to the place called church like a weekly pilgrimage. Do you know what a pilgrimage is? “Pilgrimage is journey to places where divine human encounter has taken place.” It is a journey to a place where the holiness of God has touched human beings. It is a journey to a place where people have had an encounter with God and have responded to the voice of the Lord wholeheartedly. We make pilgrimage to places to remember God and how God interacted with humans there. Of course, we do not elevate any place to the level of an idol; we do not worship the place. We worship God in the place. In certain places, we remember how God has encountered us and others there. Of course, we know God can meet us anywhere, but he chooses to meet us in places and those places become meaningful markers in our lives. 

In his book A Christian Theology of Place, John Inge says,“Pilgrimage is journey to places where divine human encounter has taken place. It is journey to places where holiness has been apparent in the lives of Christian men and women who have been inspired by such an encounter and have responded to it wholeheartedly in their lives: it is travel to the dwelling places of the saints.”

That is what we do when we come to a sanctuary each week. We make a pilgrimage to a dwelling place of the saints. What a treasure!

Mental Health & Weekly Worship

Not long ago, Gallup Research Group did a study revealing mental health for Americans has reached an all-time low; the lowest it has been in more than two decades. 

Across the board, people reported doing worse than the year prior with a 9-point drop overall. Everyone reported doing worse….except for one group. 

The ONLY group that reported doing better? 

People who attend worship services weekly. 
Let that sink in for just a moment… 

Men say they are doing worse.

Women say they are doing worse.

Republicans say their mental health is down.

Democrats say the same thing.

Marital status….various age groups….various income brackets…all down.

But those who attend a weekly worship service were up +4 points from the year prior. 

I wonder if that is due to the nature of community in the body of Christ. We can sing from home, and that is good, but at church we sing together. We can pray at home, and that is good, but at church we pray together. We can worship God anywhere, and that is good, but at church we worship God together

If we’ve learned anything from the pandemic, it is that church is not just about hearing a sermon.  Honestly, we can do that anytime from anywhere: while driving, walking, eating, or while making pancakes in our PJ’s. (And it’s more time-efficient.)

Over the last 18 months, we have all become pretty good at taking in content online. That is not the same as community. Community is different. No matter how many Zoom meetings, podcasts, live streams, or FaceTimes we do, it is not the same as gathering together.  Gathering is good. Worship is good. And interestingly enough, it is good for your mental health too!

We are certainly still in a pandemic and so we are both gathered and scattered in worship, but we are here and when you’re ready, we always love seeing your face. 

[Read more about this here.]

A Hidden Wholeness

There are days when I open my eyes and wish I awoke to a simpler world. Pandemics, politics, racial injustice, loss, grief, violence, and senseless hate, crowd us on every side. It is a hard time to be human! Life is wearying and difficult. Most people I know are struggling with some level of anxiety or depression. We are all being pushed to shift, change and pivot at a constant rate. 

The ancient wisdom of the scriptures says, “Do not grow weary in doing good.” (Galatians 6:9). Or as the old hymn says, “They will know we are Christians by our love.” But if I am honest, it feels like complexity and questions wear me down. I want to embrace the simple way of love, but all too often weariness creeps into my soul no matter how hard I try to keep it out.

Jesus said that all the Law and the prophets hang on two things: love the LORD your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:36-40). It sounds so simple, and yet it feels so impossible some days.

That is why we are starting this new series called A Hidden Wholeness. We are borrowing that phrase from Parker Palmer’s book by the same name. We live in a world filled with the forces of fragmentation. There are so many different things to care about! How can we map out a journey towards an undivided life?  How can we begin to live in ways that are congruent with who God has made us to be in solitude and then also lived out authentically in community with others in this world? Those are the questions that will guide us in this series, and 2 Corinthians 4 will be our main scripture passage. Maybe you want to read it ahead of time?

I hope you’ll join us as we move together into a hidden wholeness. 

Unforced Rhythms of Grace

Our world is constantly saying, “Hustle hustle hustle – hustle to prove your worth.” 

Find the next new house, car, toy. 

Find the next new job, degree, certification. Find the next new idea, thought, or cause.

Then make your every waking moment about achieving that thing. 

Build a brand around that thing. 

Now, there is nothing wrong with setting goals and working hard…but I’m talking about the spirit of the hustle. The hustle to push and to prove that you’re somebody. The hustle whose driving force is a quest to be found worthy of love. 

The spirit of the hustle is a threat to the formation of your soul. It always has been. Hustle is built on the lie that you are what you do, and you are what you have. Hustle has a way of drowning out the reality of limits. Hustle has a way of covering over our limitations and fooling us with the lie that says if you will just work harder and smarter you will be happy; you will finally be somebody.

A recent NPR article said, “As pandemic life recedes in the U.S., people are leaving their jobs in search of more money, more flexibility and more happiness…It’s leading to a dramatic increase in resignations — a record 4 million people quit their jobs in April alone.”

More money, more flexibility, and more happiness. These are not bad things….but I wonder if in some cases this is just the spirit of the hustle with some fresh lipstick on it. 

The invitation that God has made available to us in Christ is the spirit of rest. It is a place where your identity is received, not achieved. It is a place of grace. It is a place where you do not have to try so hard; a place without hustle. 

In Matthew 11:30, Jesus said, “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

May you learn the unforced rhythms of grace today.

About Getting Back to Normal

My spiritual director recently shared a story with me about Julian of Norwich. Julian was an ancient Christian mystic who lived through two rounds of the Black Death plague. The first round killed up to 60% of the population, and the 2nd round killed another 20% of the population. And after the second round had nearly passed she said these words (paraphrased):

“Things are getting back to normal now in fits and waves…but if the plague has taught us anything…you wouldn’t know it by looking around.” 

I wonder what the Black Death was meant to teach the people of Julian’s time? I wonder what the pandemic was meant to teach the people of our time? I wonder if we are at risk of missing this wisdom as we rush to re-engage life as it was?

I pray that you may have eyes to see both the places of life and the places of your limits today. I pray that God might be your guide as you reshuffle, re-build, and re-engage in life today. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. — Colossians 1:16-17

So as the world opens back up, let us be aware of the loud voice that says, “Hurry now, get back to your old life and get busy building it back up….pick the next new shiny thing and hustle now to get it.” Instead, let us be people who are wiser for what we have seen. Let us be people who remember our limits, who remember that we are not little gods of our own kingdoms.  We are citizens of the strong and unshakable kingdom of God; and we are the sheep in that kingdom, in need of our great shepherd to guide us each step of the way.

Grace & Peace in Christ to you today.

The Descent of the Dove

Each time the spirit of God appears in scripture there seems to be a thread. It is the descent of the dove. In the Hebrew scriptures of the Old Testament when God’s presence shows up it is in the form of fire: the flaming torch, the burning bush, in fire and smoke, or in a pillar of fire. We see God’s special presence, the glory of God showing up as fire. Later, on the day of Pentecost, the scriptures say that “tongues of fire came to rest on each of them” (Acts 2). Here we see that because of God’s Holy Spirit, every believer is a burning bush! 

In the New Testament when the spirit of God appears there is also a thread. When we see the Holy Spirit descend on Jesus at his baptism, the voice of heaven says, “this is my son, whom I love, in him I am well pleased.” Then in Romans 8:16 we read that the “spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are children of god.” In Galatians it says, “the Spirit cries out Abba Father.” Do you see the common thread? It seems that the job of the spirit is to come into your spirit and tell you of God’s love for you, his delight in you, and to reassure you of the fact that you are his child. This is the inner wonder of knowing God. This is the experience of knowing you are God’s beloved son or daughter. These are those moments in your life when you say, no matter what happens, I know I am in God’s loving care. It is when your spirit can sing out from the darkest valley and proclaim from the depths: “I will fear no evil for you are with me even here.” This is the unexplainable reality of an inner wonder that comes from being filled with the Spirit. 

A 17th century preacher named Thomas Goodwin gave one of the most enduring pictures of this experience of inner wonder. He said he was watching a father and son walk down the sidewalk hand in hand one day when suddenly the father scooped up his son into his arms.  The son threw his arms around his fathers neck and they embraced.  The father whispered in his son’s ear, ‘I love you so,’ and the son said, ‘ I love you dad.’ Then the father set his son down and they kept on walking hand in hand. Goodwin asks “did anything change in the relationship between the father and son in that exchange?” Legally nothing changed, formally nothing changed, but experientially the son knew his father’s love in a special way in the moments of that embrace. This is maybe the best image of being filled with the Spirit. It is experiencing our status as beloved children, it is knowing in our bodies, through our experience, and through an inner wonder that we are in fact beloved children of God. 

Nothing but love.

About That Pesky Word “Surrender”

A lot of people have trouble with the word “surrender.” Throughout my years as a pastor, whenever I talk about this idea of ‘surrendering to God,’ there is a regular theme of people asking me to clarify how that works. Like what does that really mean? One picture that might be helpful is the image of sailing. When you’re sailing, you could ask, is “being filled with the wind” an experience or a habit? Is surrendering to God an experience or a habit? Actually, it is both. Catching the wind on a sailboat is clearly an experience. Tim and I had a sailboat on Lake Dillon in Frisco for a few years, and we didn’t really know how to sail, but I vividly remember that first feeling of being seized and carried forward by a mighty power from elsewhere. But my sister’s fiance is really into sailing, and so I know from him that sailing is also a habit. If you don’t put the sails up, pull the mainsheet fast, or adjust the jib, you won’t go anywhere, even if the wind is blowing powerfully.

Sailing is the art of attentiveness & response to an external power. You rely entirely on the external power to get you anywhere. Sailors never imagine themselves to be powering the boat by their own strength. But you also have to respond attentively to whatever the wind is doing, which comes through cultivating awareness, skill, and good habits. 

Being filled with the Spirit involves the same both-and. We pursue the experience of the Holy Spirit, we want it, we desire it, we ask for it – we are looking for it like a sailor looks for the wind. We rely entirely on the Spirit’s power, rather than our own strength, to get us anywhere. AND we also develop habits. We respond attentively to what the spirit is doing in and through us. We pay attention. We develop the capacity to experience the filling of the holy spirit through awareness, skill, and practice. The ancient scriptures mention 3 habits that help us in becoming more attentive to the spirit. 

In Ephesians 5:18-21 we read, “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord,  always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Here we see 3 habits for catching the wind of God’s spirit. The habits simply are:

  1. Speaking words of life to each other
  2. Singing
  3. Giving thanks

It seems so simple! Almost too simple. Perhaps our educated minds seek to make it more complicated than this, more complicated than it is. Being filled with the spirit is about attuning our lives to an outside power and even a child can do it!

May you surrender to that outside power, and develop the practices that allow you to be filled with the Spirit of love – that is the Spirit of God – today.

The Universal Language of Love

It was 6 years ago this week that Tim and I were in China meeting our daughter Lyla for the first time. It was an emotion-filled day because we knew that even though it was one of the happiest days of our lives, we were fully aware that it was to be one of the most sad, confusing, heartbreaking days of hers as she left the arms of her beloved foster family and came into the arms of strangers who she had only seen via facetime singing her songs and reading her stories. We did not speak the same language. Lyla was used to hearing Mandarin, we speak English.  She was at the age where she was just beginning to learn her first few words in Chinese like GuGu (big brother) and BaBa (daddy). We needed to rely on something beyond language to connect; something that would transcend language. We needed to rely on smiles and love and hugs and food to bond and connect beyond culture and language. We needed the universal language of love. 

Last Sunday we celebrated Pentecost Sunday together. It is the day when we remember how God poured out the Holy Spirit in such a way that his power and presence transcended culture and language. It is a day when we think about what it means to live in the fullness of the Spirit. What does it mean to be filled with the Holy Spirit? What does it look like to be filled with the Spirit of love? To be filled with the Spirit of God? 

I wish for you to be filled with the Spirit of love today. I pray that you might be so filled with God’s Holy Spirit that you speak the universal language of love to everyone, but especially to your enemies. I pray that you might learn that language that transcends culture, divisions, and moves beyond words to connect at the level of our human hearts. May the words of your mouth, and the meditation of your heart be an outpouring of the union that exists eternally in the Triune God. May the oneness of Father, Son and Holy Spirit surround you so strongly that it is the truth beckoning you forward in each and every interaction you have today. 

May the tongues of fire, and the wind of God fill you up today.

Pentecost Sunday

This Sunday we celebrate Pentecost together. We read about it in the book of Acts, chapter 2. It is the day God sends his Holy Spirit upon the people. In truth, Pentecost existed as a celebration prior to this historic event in the life of the early church. We know this because the scriptures say, “When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place.” Pentecost comes from the word for “fifty” and it was the celebration of first fruits that came 50 days after Passover for the Jewish people. It was on this day, when the people were already gathering to partake of the first fruits of the harvest, that God chose to send his Spirit with tongues of fire. 

In the book Uncommon Ground, hip hop artist Lecrae talks about the way in which we are wired for story. Our brains have this need to make sense of our world. We need to know why things are the way that they are. So we study history, religion, and astrology because we are hardwired to want to make meaning of the world. Even if we get the story wrong, at least we have a why; we have closure in our brains. 

Every story has essential components to it. You have a protagonist, and a plot, and a problem, and a villain. You have something that is broken, and in need of repair, and you have a hero who overcomes. And what most of us do when we try to make sense of our broken world, is we look to find ways to divide the world up into good guys and bad guys. 

Usually, we decide who the good guys and the bad guys are based on behaviors, or categories, or other external markers that we use to judge one another. But what we see on Pentecost is that God’s spirit falls on everyone gathered. “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:7) The tongues of fire do not just come to the “good guys” or to the priests, or the educated, or the clergy. The tongues of fire fall on men and women, rich and poor, Jew and Gentile. In this story, the one true story that explains all other stories, God is unleashing his power and presence like never before. I hope as we celebrate Pentecost Sunday together this week that we will want to be filled with God’s Spirit like we want air to breathe. I pray that we will want to be united by this power more than any other story marker that our world might offer. 

Happy Pentecost, Platt Park Church. May the wind and fire of God’s spirit be upon you in a mighty way today.