The God of Interruptions
I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.
- Galatians 2:20
This weekend, I had no time for interruptions. It was our church’s fifth annual Drag Gospel Festival weekend, and all week we had a lot of preparations to take care of. We had to get ready for Friday’s big fundraising drag show at Club Café. Saturday was spent with a crew of awesome Christ Chefs at Costco, at Market Basket, and in the church kitchen prepping the meal to follow Sunday’s Drag Gospel Worship. Sunday morning I had to get up, get dressed, and put my face on. Lipstick and lip liner were applied and removed twice. The first attempt left me looking like a giant bearded baby that had eaten a tube of lipstick. The second attempt was worse only because you could tell I had tried (and failed) harder. And I don’t even want to talk about how many times I glued my fingers to my eyelids trying to get the eyelashes on.
Fortunately, while we work, work, work in the world of Chronology, God frequently works on another timeline altogether. It is the Kairos timeline – a sacred timeline operating in a hyper-dimension of space-time all around the tick-tock of Kronos. We experience the Kairos when it intersects and interrupts the clock of our expectations.
We often experience worship as Kairos time – unless, of course, the sermon is too long. ;) It’s true that we attempt to craft an entryway into Kairos with a perfectly orchestrated execution of music, testimony, prayer, and preaching. If you’ve ever done a wedding with me, you know that much of what we do to prepare for the ceremony is to open up a vulnerable and beautiful opportunity for the Supreme Moment to touch us all when you make your vows to one another. And you also know that no amount of preparation can actually prepare you for what happens in that Moment. All of our preparations are blissfully laughable in the face of the overwhelming largeness (the overwhelming “?!ness”) of the Grace of that Moment.
And so we must recognize that the Kairos moment is not always intentionally prepared for or even welcome. Sometimes, it bursts in upon us violently and terrifyingly. The phone rings at 3 AM. Your water breaks months too soon. A cry for help! The other shoe drops. The excrement hits the air conditioning.
A man rises menacingly in the middle of Drag Gospel Worship and begins to shout angrily.
It was the furthest thing from a holy moment that I could imagine. I was terribly afraid. I didn’t know what his intentions were. I didn’t know how things would end. And I was not prepared. But, as a community, as the Body of Christ, by the Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and through the intervening Power of the Holy Spirit, we responded as best we could – with love and respect, both for the person yelling at us and for ourselves.
I have received quite a bit of thanks and praise from our community for handling the situation with Drew, the man who stood up to interrupt worship on Sunday. But it was not I who met Drew, but Christ living in me, through Grace and by the support of our community’s faith commitment to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
God intervened on October 7th, at the meeting of our church’s deacons, through the faithfulness, wisdom, and well-differentiated leadership of Senior Deacon Melissa Shungu. Meli calmly and respectfully brought up feelings of discomfort in our community around the image of Drag Gospel Jesus that I had approved for this year’s promotional materials. She wanted to discuss the image and why it was chosen. Pastor Jeff didn’t really want to discuss it and he copped a HUGE ‘TUDE with Meli. This guy right here was defensive, made unfair generalizations about why people would feel uncomfortable with the image, and was more interested in self-righteous eyeball rolling than in listening with love to his Christian sister who in that moment was doing exactly what she is called to do as a Deacon of our church. Thank God, Meli didn’t descend to her pastor’s level. Instead, she raised us back up by making clear, compassionate, self-differentiated statements that reminded us all of how a group of Christians should have handled this important and relevant discussion.
I didn’t cop a ‘tude with Drew on Sunday, in part, because Meli and the Deacons prepared me to be who God was calling me to be on this issue in that particular moment.
It was that Deacons meeting that compelled me to sit down and write the blog post in which I clearly articulated to myself and our church for the first time why the image of Drag Gospel Jesus was chosen, why it is important, and why I felt it wasn’t offensive but inclusive. If you read the blog post and heard my response to Drew on Sunday, you know that much of what I said in that Kairos moment and how I said it was born in the writing of that blog post.
I had a well of words to draw upon extemporaneously in Sunday’s interruption because I had first been asked by our Deacons to write those words to all of you.
Earlier this month the national offices of the United Church of Christ sent out an article by email about Landon Patterson, a transgender high school student who had been elected Homecoming Queen at her school. Westboro Baptist Church showed up to protest her. The UCC showed up to support her.
One of the pictures that originally accompanied the article showed a sign held up at the rally. It read, “Westboro Trash GO HOME.” FULL CONFESSION: I am confident I have had some very nasty things to say about Westboro Baptist Church and that I have said them boldly. Still, something about that sign didn’t feel right to me. I prayed about it and realized I was uncomfortable because the image could be interpreted to suggest that we as the UCC were promoting this sign as a part of our Christian response to the situation and that we felt it was acceptable as Christians to call people trash. And seeing that sign (which didn’t belong to the UCC supporters of Ms. Patterson, but to another group of counter-protesters) I had to come to the point of conscious awareness and articulation of the conviction that no person, no matter who they are, no matter what they have done, is trash.
I did not fall into the temptation of treating Drew like trash on Sunday because God, through the actions and communications of our larger church, had confronted me with the fact that this kind of thinking is not in line with the values and commitments of my faith.
What is also not in line with my faith however is allowing someone to disrespect or attack me or any other person with hateful ideologies or theologies. Loving our enemies doesn’t mean submitting to them. Praying for those who persecute us entails taking actions to resist their hateful and hurtful actions.
When Drew first stood up, I didn’t know what I would do. I didn’t know where to begin. I was shouting for attention. I walked toward Drew, then back away, totally confused. I felt called to protect the people gathered in worship and I felt that dragging (ha!) Drew out of the church physically while he yelled at us would have only increased the violence that people were experiencing in that moment.
Then the Holy Spirit broke in with a story. The story was related through Warren Goldstein about Rev. Donna Schaper. Donna, who I met at Judson Memorial Church, is a mentor in ministry to me and has taught me so, so much. But she doesn’t talk herself up much, so Warren, her husband, is occasionally the scribe of some her wisdom. As I remember Warren telling it, a man stood up in church once while Donna was preaching to shout her down. She walked down from the pulpit as he yelled, stood before him, and asked him calmly, “May I engage your anger?” I didn’t know exactly what I was going to say to Drew; I didn’t know how I was going to balance honoring Drew and honoring those he was attacking, but I knew where to begin.
My sister, Christina, was riding a BART train in San Francisco when a man slapped a woman on the train across the face with all his strength. Had my sister ever prepared for such a moment? No. But in that moment she became a ferocious She-Bear, the mother who dines upon the flesh of the hunter who would dare threaten one of her children, and she chased the man from the train like Athena descending upon the Trojan plain, like Kali come to devour the demons. That Moment, the Moment of her response, was one expression of her truest Self. Kairos interrupted her and she became something more than herself; she became a big, bad, holy expression of God by the power of a Grace that we do not control.
Her courage inspired and prepared me.
It wasn’t me, or at least not me alone, who responded to Drew on Sunday. It was all of us. And It was the Holy Spirit.
When they bring you to trial and hand you over, do not worry beforehand about what you are to say; but say whatever is given you at that time, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit.
- Mark 13:11
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Jesus the Imagination
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