Called to Re-formation

November 30, 2014

Christ Church Episcopal, Norcross, GA

Advent 1– RCL Year B
Isaiah 61:1-9; 1 Corinthians 1:3-9; Mark 13:24-37

“Let me borrow your skin?” I want to ask the friend who writes through hot tears on the morning bus.
Because they say to walk a mile in a man’s shoes if you really want to know his life.
But I know today that shoes that slip on and off with will are not enough for me to know what I need to know.
I need you to loan me your skin, because maybe inside it I will find my way to the knowing I need.
Maybe in your skin I will grow to understand the pain that boils to hot anger in your blood.
And maybe in your skin I can stand outside my own privilege long enough to know-in the truth of your life and your story.
If I could borrow your dark eyes then maybe I could see your son’s future through the storm of fear that brews inside you.
Loan me your skin so I can find the words to explain the scars that mark your life?
If I could speak in the rasping hoarseness of your voice so long unheard maybe I would feel the urge to shout with you.
If I could sing the slave’s songs with my grandmother’s memories pulsing in their harmonies then maybe I would feel the fullness of their soulful wails.
Let me borrow your skin so I can trace the scars of sideways glances and cold, hard stares of intimidation?
If I could finger your hair atop my head, during the silent shifting on the bus in the seat where I have the right to sit but not the welcome–
Let me borrow your skin so I can find the courage to bear the offense taken when I speak about the life you live in it.
sb10064317c-002I never ask it and she doesn’t have to answer for me to know what has always been true.
There is no way out for her of the skin she lives in and no way far enough in for me to truly know.
What we have to share is this – that I slide in close and lace my pale fingers through hers,
Embrace, leaning in to one another, and hear our hearts beat the same
drum
drum
drumming
of redemption’s song.

Tuesday morning began for me with heaviness of heart, having heard about the Ferguson grand jury verdict the night before. I knew that my Facebook page would be filled with anger, sadness, confusion and frustration, and it was. Then, later in the day, this poem, written by Colleen Mitchell, came across my News Feed – she had written it that morning.

From her blog, I learned that she and her husband, along with their five school-age sons, moved to Costa Rica two years ago to run a Christian non-profit they created. It provides access to medical care and health education for local mothers. She’s also a writer whose goal is “to write pieces that will encourage others on their spiritual journey, show the face of God among the poor and broken of this world, shine the light of [God’s] glory into the ordinary, and educate and inspire others to act for justice on behalf of the marginalized.” I believe this poem lives up to that purpose.

For me, it conveys the depth of my own difficulty in being able to grasp what it feels like to be a person of color in the United States. How can I judge what I can’t possibly understand? So, instead of judgment, can I find a way to be an ally and advocate; to try to change a system that works against certain people based on their race?

To be clear, I’m not talking specifically about the Michael Brown case. I’m not here to argue the case one way or the other. I wasn’t there, and I don’t know the facts well enough to speak to them. What I do know is that even if it isn’t the perfect example, this case has become a lightening-rod event for so many because it demonstrates racial inequities in our culture. There have been many, many others, to be sure. And this one has become, in some ways, the “straw that broke the camel’s back.”

Even so, the outcry we are hearing isn’t about just this one thing either, but instead, it’s about the perpetual “otherness” that happens for people of color every day in countless ways – even now, 150 years after the Civil War; 50 years after the Civil Rights Movement; 22 years after Rodney King.

The truth is that people of color are more likely to be born into poverty; are more likely to be pulled over by police; are more likely to be incarcerated and receive longer sentences; and the list goes on. These are obvious inequities that are statistically verifiable.

discrimination-equal-opportunity-issues-concepts-word-cloud-illustration-word-collage-concept-gender-employment-words-44843608There are many, more subtle discrimination that occurs all the time. Knee-jerk reactions that come from years of societal formation that we don’t even realize until we catch ourselves – until I catch MYSELF – making arbitrary judgments, that when I’m honest about it, are rooted in the other person’s race. When it happens, I hate it. I’m ashamed of myself for having the split-second reflex – and though I’m able to correct the behavior, it’s no less true that it happens.

In today’s Old Testament reading from Isaiah, it says:
Yet, O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. Do not be exceedingly angry, O LORD, and do not remember iniquity forever. Now consider, we are all your people. (Isaiah 64:8-9)

As I read this passage, I was struck by the image of clay. One of the great things about clay [remember playing with clay as a child?] is that it’s pliable. It can be formed into a shape, and then re-formed into something new.

So, like clay, we, having been formed in so many ways by society, can allow ourselves to be re-formed by God, and through this, begin a new way of being in the world. As this new formation, we can also insist that the systems which perpetuate inequities are RE-formed, too. The outcry we hear from so many of our brothers and sisters are calls for this kind of Re-formation. And there’s no better time than Advent to begin this work!

You see, Advent is the time in our church year when we begin again. It’s a time of hope-filled re-formation – the time when we are preparing for something new.

Just as Mary had to carry her unborn child to full term, the last weeks being some of the most important in infant development, we, too, are invited to set aside some time over the next few weeks for fuller formation. It’s a time when we are to consider what new birth might look like for us in the year to come. How will we be different than we are today?

711527_w185In trying to discern this “new thing” I had decided a few weeks ago that I’d take on a daily reflection during Advent. Ceci had given me the book “Let Nothing Disturb You” which contains 30 days of reflections through the words of Teresa of Avila – a 16th century contemplative nun and mystic.

I began my 30 days this past Tuesday morning. As I opened the book for the first day’s reading, the irony of the title, “Let Nothing Disturb You,” wasn’t lost on me. I began reading through the lens of my confused feelings, and through this lens, the phrases that struck me were these:

… We may be among those who, worldly as we still are, have some deep desire to do what is right.

At times, rare as they may be, we commend ourselves to God’s care…

We need to reflect upon the state of our soul, and to realize that we will never reach our goal by the road we are following…

While the reflection is certainly applicable to one’s spiritual journey, I believe it applies to the ultimate goal Jesus calls us to:

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’ (Jn 13:34-35)

narcissistic-parenting-hands-molding-clayIf we are going to live into this call, that we love EVERY person, then we have come to a cross-roads. The road we’ve been on as a society has not been working, so we need to find another path. We need to allow ourselves, like clay, to be Re-formed; re-molded in a way that fulfills God’s desire. God will guide us, and we can all walk this road together, with the fingers of every race entwined.

And, having allowed ourselves to be re-molded, we can be an example, even a voice of influence with those around us, beginning with friends and family, and then drawing the circle wider still. In our places of work, in our schools, and even by deciding where we spend our money. Whenever we see inequities, it’s incumbent on us to step up and speak up! This may be new for some of us, so it may take practice and some courage, but remember that we have been remolded by God, and are therefore empowered to be used in new ways, for God’s love-filled purpose.

This image of being

Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me.
Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me.
Melt me
Mold me
Fill me
Use me
Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me.

On Tuesday afternoon, as I reflected on the day and the challenge ahead, I kept singing the words over and over. Through them, I wondered what I am being called to do differently.

As we journey into Advent, the season of hopeful re-formation, I invite you to allow yourself to be

  • MELTED – become pliable to a new way of being;
  • MOLDED – feel God re-forming you in those places that need to be changed;
  • FILLED – breathe in God’s life-giving care and strength for the work at hand; and
  • USED – Keep Awake to those inequities you see and take a stand, living into our call to love others as Jesus loves us.

Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on us.

Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on us.
Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on us.
Melt us
Mold us
Fill us
Use us
Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on us.

images (2)

Colleen Connell Mitchell, “Let Me Borrow Your Skin: A Poem of Sorts”, November 25, 2014. Source: Website: http://www.blessedarethefeet.com/let-me-borrow-your-skin-a-poem-of-sorts/

“Let Nothing Disturb You,”  By: Teresa of Avila, John Kirvan; More in 30 Days With Series
AVE MARIA PRESS / 2008 / PAPERBACK

Spirit of the Living God, written by Daniel Iverson (1926), Hymn 115 in Lift Every Voice and Sing, II.

4 Responses to “Called to Re-formation”

  1. ccmitch said

    I am so grateful those words helped you articulate this beautiful work and for the honor you showed me in your description. I am humbled to walk into these shoes as ally to my brothers and sisters as I seek the Lord’s call to justice.

  2. Jim Greenwood said

    Powerful. How did your congregation respond? I am very proud of you and your writing is really excellent—both the composition and the content. Bless you. It was great being with you though briefly this past Thursday and Friday. I hope for more opportunities in 2015. Love,

    Dad

  3. You are God’s gift to my life. Thanks be to God. I love you, Mom😘

    >

  4. Betty Cody said

    Your mom is in my Cursillo Reunion group and shared “Called to Re-Formation”. I could really relate. Thanks so much for sharing.

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