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Embracing Mara

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Jessica Tate and Jen James are curating a series featuring videos from National Gatherings and suggestions for how they might serve as resources for ministry. We’re revisiting speakers from this most recent National Gathering in Seattle as well as speakers from previous years. Our hope is that inviting you to engage (or reengage) their work might invite deeper reflection and possibly yield more fruit. What is taking root and bearing fruit in your own life and ministry? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

In her sermon at the 2019 National Gathering in Seattle, Rev. Dr. Kelle Brown preaches on the subject “Bitter,” referring to the name Naomi claims for herself in the book of Ruth. Attending to the truth told in this sermon might be a practice to consider this Holy Week as an individual practice of devotion, or with a small group.

Dr. Brown calls the church to take time for lament, viewing lament as a gift from God and a way to connect to God. Lament offers “the chance to weep bitterly at the state of the world, the circumstances and challenges that affect us all. Our neglect of lament has somehow changed us and thwarted our spiritual lives.” Dr. Brown challenges our desire to jump over Good Fridays and right to Easter. She contends that resisting the dissonance of lament and holding pain, prevents us from getting to the sacrifice or the liberation.

Take time in lament over the state of the world without trying to find a silver lining or a solution. Be present to the pain.

Naomi and Ruth are two of the first womanist theologians, Dr. Brown argues. When Naomi names herself Mara, she didn’t worry about comforting anyone else, but claimed her own space. She told her own truth. Dr. Brown exhorts the church to call her by her chosen name —

Honor her trauma.
Prioritize her.
Hear the words she is saying in between the words she does say.
Co-conspire with her.
Check our salaries and compare them with hers for equity’s sake.

Dr. Brown says there will be no forward movement if we do not embrace mara.

What is one way you can embrace mara this week, as Dr. Brown suggests?

Dr. Brown believes Ruth came from a womanist society “where she knew that being by yourself in the African context is the same as being dead. If she went back, Naomi would be alone. She knew Mara needed to have somebody to have her back.” Dr. Brown turns to the present day and says we need to learn how to have one another’s backs, to build trust, and to support the most vulnerable among us. The story of Naomi/Mara and Ruth is a story of redemption, but not for them, she says. “It is a story of redemption for the people who did not know how to welcome and listen to them. Solidarily is the order of the day.”

Reflect on the ways in which you turn toward individualism rather than solidarity.

A theme throughout the sermon is that we cannot be church together if we can’t tell the truth. Dr. Brown concludes that sermon by saying, she wants the church to be a place where nobody has to worry about what they have on or whether they have a degree or not or whether they walked up or drove up. She wants a church “that has a pastor that looks like me sometimes.” Her final line is, “I am loving you by telling my truth.”

Reflect on what defense mechanisms you use when someone else’s truth conflicts with your own. How do you overcome those defenses? How do you create the space to hear another’s truth and be changed by it?

Dr. Brown says, “The gift of the black sacred tradition is that you don’t want joy all the time. God will be the one to push you through to the otherside.” May it be so.

Lament Service Prayers of the People

This prayer was used during the 2016 National Gathering at the Monday afternoon lament service.

God of breath and life,

who tiptoes through graveyard valleys

and sees possibility in skeletons, hear our prayer.

 

We are skeletons of our former selves, ancient and aching.

Can these bones live? O God, you know.

You better know ‘cause we sure don’t.

And we long to hear the whisper of your calling

to inhale your promises in our deflated lungs.

 

Fill us with hope, God who is our breath . . . our life . . . our past . . . our future.

We’re beyond bandaids.

 

So . . . Bind these bones together. Grant us healing. Make us whole.

 

Refrain

 

We are deflated, O God,

cut off, dried up,

haunted by days gone by and fearful of the unknown ahead.

 

We are deflated by

“for sale” signs on sanctuaries,

the hospice days of Sunday School,

by our cultural abandonment of the Lord’s Day – your day – as sacred,

by the constant ache of “not enough”

not enough money, not enough millenials,

not hip enough or relevant enough or traditional enough.

 

We are deflated by memories of our former selves,

the tedium of website management, the necessity of branding.

 

We’ve had the wind knocked out of us

by the loss of cherished Saints

and sister churches to dissolution or dismissal,

and members who fear the tension of the unknown

and the hard work of discerning our future,

by gazing at budgets like crystal balls.

 

We need a breath transfusion.

Bind these bones together. Grant us healing. Make us whole.

 

Refrain

 

God, who tiptoes through the valleys,

you have seen the carnage,

the many crumbling and dried out on the desert floor.

And we can’t deny,

it’s not just the world’s fault, or culture’s fault, or bad luck.

Our dried-up selves are often of our own making.

 

God of baptism,

of encounters beside wells in the heat of the day,

of creation born of watery mess,

heal us of our complicity in our drying out,

for the times we’ve worried more about self-preservation

than gospel proclamation,

for the days we’ve been chained to “used to”

afraid to loosen the grasp of how we used to look, used to be, used to do

for chasing trends – forgetting how to be in the world but not of the world.

 

Heal us of our complicity in our drying out

for preoccupation with who is on your naughty list,

for racism, sexism classism, and all matters of that-person-doesn’t-look-like-me-ism;

for not speaking up when the world bears down on the vulnerable,

for tiptoeing around the hard conversation,

for money mismanagement and disputes over what’s your, mine and ours,

for not being able to see the lives touched, the moments transformed, the hope infused                                 because our barometer needs readjustment

and our eyes are trained on those headed for the door.

 

May we die to all that makes your church a place of fear,

misplaced power,

and jadedness.

And then dust us off, O God.

Like the cool trickle of baptismal hope,

may your breath infuse us with renewed hope that these old bones may live anew.

 

God, who tiptoes through the valleys . . .

Bind these bones together. Grant us healing. Make us whole.

 

Refrain

 

God, who sees possibility in the graveyard,

it seems dramatic to say, “Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost;

we are cut off completely.”

And yet . . . we are . . . some are

hope-deficient and lost and alone.

 

And so we pray for pastors and church leaders

who feel the pressure to prophesy without the words for their mouths,

for clergy who’s well of energy and enthusiasm and imagination and love

has long run dry,

for the strain of ministry on health and relationships,

for church leaders who have crossed the line and churches picking up the pieces,

for those balancing “call” with putting food on the table,

for energetic new seminary graduates navigating vocation

while traditional ministry models are on the surgical table,

for the loneliness of leadership

even in the great company of your saints.

 

Put your spirit within us, O God, that we may live anew.

 

God, who sees possibility in the graveyard,

Bind these bones together. Grant us healing. Make us whole.

 

Refrain

 

Breathe on us breath of God. And hear us as we us as our voices hold on to the tried and true prayer of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

 

Our Father, who art in heaven . . . .

 

The Truth Shall Set You Free: Practicing Transformative Lament

Next Church Conference – Chicago 2015

Facilitated by, Tasha Hicks McCray (Mt. View Presbyterian Church) & Eliana Maxim (Seattle Presbytery)

The following is a collaborative poem comprised of responses from workshop participant’s to the question, Who Do You Say That I am? compiled by Glenn McCray.

I am from:

Seattle

Florida

Washington DC

Wisconsin (actually, Michigan)

I am from:

Illinois

McCormick (and we roll deep)

Austin Seminary but Gainesville is where home is

I am from:

Chicago…I’m not Presbyterian

Ann Arbor

Minneapolis

I am from:

We don’t want to offend anyone but someone needs to say it

I am from:

A place of regret

I am from:

Shame; a place that exist that I am not proud of

I am…

Many things

I am…

Not Presbyterian!

I am…

Chinese, Japanese, Hawaiian, Irish, German, Dutch, Welsh

I am…

African American, Filipino, Spanish, Irish, Native (and some other stuff I’m not too

certain of)

I am…

An Afro-Caribbean, Sephardic, immigrant from Colombia. Spanish was my first

language, and I don’t have an accent.

I am…

A son of immigrants, fearfully and wonderfully made

I am…

A white male, top of the heap, most privileged

I am…

A Princeton Graduate

I am…

In the ordination process

I am…

Vulnerable, exposing my own prejudices and biases

I am…

A redeemed sinner

Gods own

I am…

A child of God

In process

Unfolding

Seeking

Thinking

I am…

“Re…” something…REdeemed, REformed

I am…

Baptized

Grateful and troubled

Just another child of God

I am…

An aging beloved woman

I am…

A Single mother of 3 kids

I am…

Wonderfully being shaped

I am…

Creative

I am…

Loved