Unhidden Bias Revealed

Unhidden Bias Revealed

Dear Friends,

As you read this, I’m at a two-day training event for internship supervisors at The Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago (LSTC). Ascension had applied for an intern last year, but there was no good “match.” However, this year, I think we’re on to someone special who will be with us as an intern for a year. I’ll know more at the end of this training event.

In advance of the training, supervisors were asked to prepare by taking a series of tests about hidden bias. https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/takeatest.html I’ve taken tests like this before, under other circumstances, but I am always cautious, concerned that the test might reveal biases of which I am not proud, let alone aware.

The test instructs the test taker to respond to each set of questions as quickly as possible, avoiding the temptation to psych out the “best” answer. After all, none of us wants to be revealed as racist, or homophobic, or sexist, or an economic snob. But, in spite of the admonition to hurry, I wanted to “please” the bot that would score my test. So, how would I answer the following questions to portray myself in the best light: “I have a preference for persons of European descent rather than those of African descent?” Or, “I believe women should be more responsible for child rearing than men?” What’s the right answer?  My head is still spinning.

To be revealed, exposed, “outed” for the person you truly are. Does anyone really want that?

This Sunday we celebrate the Transfiguration of Jesus, an event described in three of the four gospels, and with great correlation among them. (Luke 9.28-36) The typical approach to this text is to study what the Transfiguration reveals about Jesus—that he is on par with Moses and Elijah, that he is Son of God, that he will be lifted up. But, because of my anxiety about the battery of tests I just took, I am more attentive to what this event reveals about Jesus’ disciples and their implicit biases.

If Peter, James and John were to take the Harvard Implicit Bias Tests, they might not be proud of what the tests reveal. The disciples don’t pay much attention when they are not the focus of attention. (They slept while Jesus prayed.) The disciples prefer the status quo to change. (Peter offered to build tents so they could stay on the mountain). The disciples were slow to grasp the significance of events. (They said nothing about what they had seen.) Rather than watch Jesus’ every movement, rather than being propelled by this event, rather than processing this event with friends and family, they hunkered down and did nothing, more concerned about their own comfort and “sameness” than imagining what Jesus was about.

Please join us Sunday.  Our children gather for Children’s Music at 9:30 a.m. and Godly Play at 9:45 a.m. Sunday School Coordinator Kate Berlin will gather the Godly Play Parents at 9:30 in the Augustana Room to plan our children’s engagement with our upcoming Lent Challenge. During worship we install Congregation Council members and dedicate the Shine! capital projects. A Festive Reception will follow worship.

There is no Harvard Implicit Bias Test for discipleship. But I can imagine how the average disciple, the average congregation might score. More inward-focused than outward. More inclined to stasis than to kinesis. More likely to stay silent than risk offending or appearing foolish.  Are we average? Typical?

And what was revealed this week in the vote of the United Methodist Church with regard to LGBTQ clergy? What was revealed in congressional hearings about gun control, campaign corruption, border security? I shudder to think.

This Sunday we gather around the Transfiguration texts, with all our biases and fears, our open hearts and minds tucked into the pew beside us. I am always grateful that at Ascension we are willing to name those biases and fears, willing to think a new thought, take a risky step, engage those who might be different from us.

Pastor JoAnn Post

 

 

 

 

 

Love Ripples

Love Ripples

Dear Friends,

I join you in shaking my head at this week’s news. Without naming names, you’ll understand what I mean when I speak of the “ripple effect” of harm caused by those seeking attention, or personal gain, or notoriety. Manufacturing a hate crime. Killing on a whim. Profiling a stranger. Tweeting vitriol and lies, and then imagining that “taking it down” makes it go away.  Perhaps it is my over-active sense of responsibility, but the thought that a foolish action on my part would irreparably, endlessly harm the lives of others makes me shudder. Most of the time, the effects of my stupidity are easily contained.

Is it possible that the “ripple effect” of kindness could generate a similar level of good?

The Old Testament reading (Genesis 43.3-15) is only a snippet of the much larger Joseph narrative. (Genesis 37-50) In Sunday’s excerpt, Joseph, sold as a child into slavery by his older brothers, receives those same brothers who come to Joseph in search of food during a drought. Joseph, in a remarkable demonstration of loving largesse, reinterprets their despicable treatment of him as part of God’s plan to “preserve for you a remnant on earth.” Joseph could have squashed them like bugs, but, instead, he forgave them, provided for them, nurtured them, so that they and their ancestors would not only survive but thrive.

In the Gospel reading (Luke 6.27-38), Jesus continues the Sermon on the Plain, with unreasonable demands of his disciples. Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who abuse you. Turn the other cheek. Give your clothes away. Do to others as you would have them do to you. Do not judge. Do not condemn. Forgive. Forgive. Forgive. Who does that?  The answer should be obvious.

Imagine if we, like Joseph, not only forgave our enemies but sought their good?  Imagine if we, like Jesus, prayed for those who hate us and forgave all who harm us? Imagine the “ripple effect” of those kindnesses. Like “paying it forward” at the Dunkin Donuts drive-through, our acts of generosity and forbearance might do lasting good for people we may never meet.

Please join us Sunday for worship. We will dedicate the gift of timpani from our Performing Arts Team. We will call the Annual Meeting to order at the end of worship. Our children will enjoy Children’s Music at 9:30 and Godly Play at 9:45.

We continue to collect last year’s Palm Sunday palms to burn into this year’s Ash Wednesday ashes. Plans for our Lent Challenge with The Night Ministry are being finalized. The next All Ascension Reads book, “Miles from Nowhere” by Nami Mun, are now available.

Jesus’ disciples are called to resist cultural trends toward selfishness and hatred, by learning and loving and leading by example. Practice it today. Find an opportunity to go out of your way for someone else—offer a kind word, buy someone a cup of coffee, take a task off a colleague’s desk, remember a distant friend, turn off social media, let a cutting quip go unspoken.

We all know how far harm and hatred ripple. Trust me—love extends even further.

Pastor JoAnn Post

I’m Not Dead . . . Yet!

I’m Not Dead . . . Yet!

Dear Friends,

Our confirmation class is immersed in a six-week unit called “Lutherans Living in the World.” Each week we gather to talk about the implications of being a Lutheran Christian. We’ve talked about famous dead Lutherans (there are lots of them), famous living Lutherans (did you know NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt, Sr. is a Lutheran?). Their assignment for next week is to interview a living Lutheran whom they know personally who lives an intentional life of faith. I’ve asked them to sit down with this person and ask a series of questions about how their faith impacts their lives, what struggles they have had, and who taught them to be faithful. Some of the students claimed not to know such a person. (I assured them they do.) One of them moaned, “I have to TALK to somebody?”

But the interview question that gave them all pause was this, “What do you hope will be said of you after you die?”

“You mean I’m just supposed to just walk up to somebody and say, ‘You’re going to die!’” one of the students challenged. I promised him that was not the question he would ask, and that, embedded in a larger conversation, it would not be quite as abrupt as he feared.

I am old enough to be my students’ grandmother, so I try to put myself in their place when crafting lesson plans. What questions did I have when I was 12? Who impressed me when I was that age? What did I worry about? What did I hope for? What did I fear?

I remember overhearing a middle school teacher I trusted and admired say something unkind about a classmate to another teacher. I was stunned. At that age, I imagined people were either good or bad, safe or dangerous, wonderful or terrible. My teacher’s actions were not criminal or even creepy, but I remember struggling to find a place for this unwelcome information about him. He was a wonderful teacher—smart, engaging, challenging, interested in our lives. How could such a person also say an unkind word? Naïve, I know. But, to middle-school me, it felt like a betrayal.

Sunday’s texts are full of this sort of “both/and” tension.

Jeremiah 17.5-10: the prophet challenges the popular notion that wealth was a sign of God’s favor, and poverty evidence of sin. He contrasted those who trust in “mere mortals” with those who “trust in the Lord.”

1 Corinthians 15.12-20: The apostle Paul argues in favor of bodily resurrection for Jesus and for those who believe in him, against those in the congregation who thought that only the “soul” survived death, or that this life was all we get. “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.”

Luke 6.17-26: in echoes of Mary’s Magnificat, Jesus pronounces blessings on those things we believe to be curses (poverty, grief, hunger, hatred) and curses on those things we regard as blessings (wealth, laughter, satisfaction, popularity).

The texts deliver stark contrasts and demand intentional decisions about the way we live. But none of us can live up to Jesus’ standards. Instead we are “both/and.” Blessed and cursed. Faithful and unfaithful. Kind and cruel. None of is seamlessly one or the other.

Before I close, let me remind you of our “One Tree Many Branches” Alloy Horn Quartet concert Saturday afternoon. I am eager to hear French horns play everything from baroque to burlesque. It will be grand. Please join us.

Sunday morning brings us together around word and meal, as it always does. Please join me and others who long to live intentional lives of faith, but who so often falter.

Back to my confirmation students’ interview angst. I look forward to their reports about Lutherans Living Faithful Lives.  I imagine their interviewees will describe complicated lives of blessing and curse, faithfulness and failure, joy and sorrow; lives balanced between the hope of long life and the acknowledgement of eventual death. This tension is difficult for middle-school students to grasp. It can be difficult for us, too.

As I write, I’m listening to an interview with a young man whose sister was killed in the school shooting in Parkland, FL a year ago yesterday. He is a hunter and strong supporter of the Second Amendment. Her death has caused him to consider not only his views of guns and gun control, but the views of those with whom he would otherwise disagree. Rather than barricading himself behind what he used to believe or abandoning long-held principles out of grief, he is finding a more nuanced path, a more forgiving stance, a deep desire to both honor his sister and his closely held beliefs. Both/And. Either/Or. This is the struggle of all of our lives.

Walking this winding road with you,

Pastor JoAnn Post

 

And Jesus said . . . Viva Las Vegas!

And Jesus said . . . Viva Las Vegas!

Dear Friends,

I write you from Las Vegas where I am attending a conference on congregational vitality. This is my first trip to Vegas and while the venues are amazing and the opportunities endless, I am not gambling my paycheck away. Nor have I run into Elvis (yet). I return Saturday afternoon, and look forward to seeing you Sunday.

Because my mind and time are occupied here, I can give you only a quick peek at Sunday’s texts, and extend an invitation.

Sunday is the Fifth Sunday after Epiphany, and the Old Testament and Gospel readings dovetail in revealing further truth about God’s work in the world and Jesus’ true identity.

The Old Testament reading (Isaiah 6.1-8) begins with a bombshell time stamp: “in the year that King Uzziah died.” His death in 742 BCE was as catastrophic for them as the death of President Kennedy in 1963 was for us. Uzziah had overseen a long reign of economic prosperity, technological advancement, and military security. Isaiah was called to prophecy after his death, in a new era of inexperienced leadership and political turmoil. In a dramatic vision, Isaiah views God’s majesty and the power of it throws Isaiah to his knees: “Woe is me! I am lost.” What did Isaiah see, exactly, that illuminated both his own inadequacies and the might of God?

The Gospel reading (Luke 5.1-11) reminds me of the tired put-down to women who seek authority to “stick to your knitting.” (It’s been said to me more than once. And I don’t even knit!) Last week we read that Jesus evaded an assassination attempt on the part of his old neighbors in Nazareth. This week Jesus is walking on the beach, teaching from a boat, giving advice about fishing to professional fishers. Why did Simon and his fishing partners, unable to catch any fish in their nets, heed Jesus’ advice to “put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch?” Jesus knew as much about fishing as I do about knitting. Maybe Jesus was interested in snagging more than sea bass. And did you notice that, like Isaiah, Simon fell to his knees when he realized who it was who critiqued his fishing technique?

The Epistle reading (1 Corinthians 15.1-11) continues the correspondence between the Apostle Paul and the congregation in Corinth. Sunday’s portion of this letter, in which Paul establishes his bona fides as a late-to-the-game-apostle, is a set-up for what comes next week—Paul’s beautiful exposition about the nature of the resurrection.

An Invitation. Please join us Sunday at 9:30 a.m. for our February Vitality Talk—a conversation with a member of Ascension who has known homelessness. His testimonial is part of our deepening relationship with The Night Ministry and our concern for the homeless among us. After worship at 11:30, we invite you to share a sack lunch with “All Ascension Reads”—a second opportunity to discuss the book “Souls in the Hands of a Tender God.”

In addition, we are delighted to welcome the Alloy Horn Quartet to worship, in advance of their performance in our “One Tree Many Branches” concert series a week from now. We also recognize Scout Sunday, inviting all current and former Scouts and Scout leaders to be honored for their commitment to this important ministry for boys and girls.

I need to get back to the conference, so I’ll bid you adieu from Las Vegas. If I win anything at the tables, I’ll certainly tithe it to Ascension. And if I run into Elvis, I’ll tell him you said “Love me tender, love me true.”

See you Sunday.
Pastor JoAnn Post

 

 

 

Text Memory

Text Memory

Dear Friends,

Lying sleepless in bed these last few nights, listening to the house creak and pop like an old man’s knees, I remembered other bitterly cold weather events. I remembered my Dad and brothers getting up before dawn to milk cows and do chores—their hands cracked from the cold and glasses encased in ice. I remembered spending the night at a gas station in northeast Iowa—trapped between college and home by a mighty blizzard. I remembered living in Anchorage during a week of -45 degree weather; the old timers just shrugged—when it gets below -40, it all feels the same. I remembered the ice dams that formed in our eaves in Connecticut in weather like this—ice dams that caused massive damage to our home when they melted. I remembered—and prayed for—the courageous people who scoured our streets to bring comfort to the homeless poor.

It is intriguing to me that one memorable event conjures other similar events, as though the file marked “Crazy Cold” opened of its own accord. Every wedding brings other weddings to mind. Every funeral brings other funerals to mind. One of my nephews celebrated the birth of a son this week (welcome, Jackson!), and I spent that whole day remembering my own daughters’ births. Some events are so deeply etched in our minds and hearts—because of the enormous joy or terrible sorrow—that they are really never far away.

When that sort of deep remembering happens with our bodies, we call it “muscle memory.” When it happens with scripture, as it so often does, we call it “text memory,” the sudden foregrounding of other times, other places that we have read these words. I have deep text memory of Sunday’s epistle. We continue reading in 1 Corinthians, a letter known most for its famous 13th chapter: “If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love . . .”

I can’t tell you how many bridal couples have chosen that text for their wedding day. Even those who don’t know scripture at all, will ask for that “part about love, you know the part that you have to read at weddings?” For some, 1 Corinthians 13 is an unquestioned ritual like singing the National Anthem before a football game, or relinquishing your seat on the bus to someone older. It’s just what we do.

I remember those weddings with great fondness. But, more and more, we read this beloved text at funerals. What else can we say at the death of the faithful than that Love lives on? It happened just last Saturday, as we laid a much-loved husband and father to rest after a long struggle. His son was the reader—the son who only weeks before had heard this read at his own wedding. How ironic, how touching, how fitting that he would read the same words over his father: “Love hopes all things, believes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”

Do you have a text memory of these words? A wedding? A funeral? A tender moment? Please join us Sunday morning to add another layer of remembering to this rich, familiar text.

It seems the worst of the Polar Vortex has passed. This morning I parted the drapes in my living room to let my house plants breathe a bit of brittle sun. I took the space heater out of the poorly-insulated mudroom. My dog, Maggie, was willing to be outside more than 30 seconds to do her morning business. I won’t have to hold my breath, fearing that my car won’t start. And I slept more peacefully last night, as did the turgid trusses and broad beams of my sturdy house.

I trust you found warmth and safety in these last days, and that you took a moment to give thanks for shelter. Know that I was remembering you, giving thanks for you, basking in the warmth of the Love that never ends.

Pastor JoAnn Post

Move Me

Move Me

Dear Friends,

Yesterday morning I woke to news that volunteers for the annual Point-In-Time Homeless Count in Chicago were needed—desperately. Across the country last night, volunteers were fanning out to count people who were homeless—in shelters, in cars, under bridges, in tent cities. The annual Count is critical to planning and applying for federal, state and local funding. The need for volunteers was especially dire this year because the coordinators feared some volunteers wouldn’t show up due to the bitter cold. I am ashamed to say that each year when the request for volunteers comes out, I find a reason to ignore it. Too busy. Too tired. Too cold. Too something.

Even though Ascension has chosen to dig deeply into the issues of homelessness—the why and how and who and when and what can we do—it is easier to engage those questions from afar. Through a reading group. At a meeting. In prayer.  From the comfort of my warm office in our beautiful building. If you were among those who assisted with the Count last night, God bless you for walking the talk. But if you were like me, feeling bad but not bad enough to drive downtown and help, what can I say? Though the Word of God and the needs of God’s people often move me, in this instance they could not move me from my zip code.

Sunday’s readings are all about being moved by the Word of God. To quote the prayer of the day, we ask God to help us “hear, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them.”

In the Old Testament reading, thousands of people gather to hear the Torah read for the first time in two generations. (Nehemiah 8.1-10) As the ancient words fill their ears, the crowd leaps to its feet, raising hands in the air, bowing their faces to the ground and weeping. The Word, silent during decades in exile, both convicted and comforted them.

In the Gospel reading, Jesus goes to his hometown temple on the Sabbath, and stands up to read the scripture: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me . . .” (Luke 4.14-21) It would have been customary for him to comment on the reading afterward, but instead he sat down. The congregation looked at him. He looked at them. The visual standoff was broken when Jesus announced that there would be no sermon, because there was no need of a sermon. He was the Word they had just heard. He was the one they had waited for. He would restore sight, free prisoners and feed the poor. The Word, standing among them, first moved them to applause and later to violence.

What does it take for the Word of God to move us?

What will it take to move us away from the destructive game of Chicken we are playing with the lives of federal employees? What will it take to move us toward meaningful, humane and lasting care for both our own citizens and the frightened immigrants who look to us for protection? What will it take to move us from talking about the needs of God’s people to actually meeting those people whom we name in our prayers?

To be moved by the Word of God. Not only in spirit, but in fact. What a concept.

On Sunday morning, in addition to Children’s Music and Godly Play and Worship, we invite you to stay for a discussion of our first “All Ascension Reads” book, Souls in the Hands of a Tender God. First recommended to us by our partners at The Night Ministry, many of us have been moved by this book about ministry with homeless people in Seattle. Join us for conversation and modest lunch after worship. If you’ve read it, please come talk about it. (We’ll offer another lunch discussion on February 10.)

I shared my frustration about my well-meaning-but-mostly-meaningless compassion with a friend who works in the city with homeless youth. She touched my hand and said, “Don’t kick yourself. It takes time. You’re doing the best you can.” Her words brought tears to my eyes. This—this writing and reading, praying and preaching—is the best I can do? She meant it as a kindness, but it landed as a kick.

Please join us Sunday. Move away from the morning news shows and the Sunday newspaper and the warmth of our own homes to hear the Word of God in this place. The Word of God moved ancient Israelites to their feet, and Jesus’ congregation to anger. Where and how might that same Word move us?

Pastor JoAnn Post

Come, Lord Jesus

Come, Lord Jesus

Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest, and let these gifts to us be blessed.

Table prayer around our kitchen table on the farm is one of my earliest family memories. My husband and I have maintained that habit—giving thanks before each meal, whether it is a feast or a nibble, in our own home or in public. Sadly, this prayer is so familiar to me I do not often tend to the words. Until today.

On Sunday we join Jesus and his Mother at a wedding in Cana. (John 2.1-11) I’m guessing they were not among the honored guests—seated not at the head table but somewhere near the swinging kitchen door where shirttail relatives and casual friends are hidden. How do I know this? Jesus’ mother could see the servants scrambling to make the wine last—they were running out and the party was far from over. In a terse exchange with Jesus, she brought the shortfall to his attention, expecting him to do something about it.  Do something? Like what? Call Binney’s for delivery? Grab a glass before it was all gone?

Jesus’ response to her persistence was to magically produce gallons and gallons of remarkable wine from tap water. And to take no credit for it. The last exchange in the story is between the sommelier and the groom—each of whom was amazed at his own good taste.

Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest.

I wonder now, upon reflection on this text, if that’s really what we want. Do we want Jesus at our tables? All of Jesus’ table fellowship, as recorded in the gospels, is eventful. He eats with notorious sinners. He multiplies a little boy’s lunch. He makes wine. Unexpected guests burst in. He picks an argument with his host. A trusted friend betrays him. If the gospel writers are to be believed, dinner with Jesus was a contact sport with winners and losers. Do we really want Jesus to join us at our tables? What if he were to bring his sketchy friends? Or his pushy mother? Or tell us what he really thinks?

We are in the season of Epiphany—a season of “revealing.” On Sunday, Jesus is revealed as Miracle Worker, Wine Maker, Obedient Son, Enigma.  And as a ferocious “Plus 1” at a wedding reception. Come, Lord Jesus?

Two other things are on my mind, as well.

I continue to worry and pray over the Budget Impasse in Washington, D.C. and its tsunami-level ripples into all our lives. I have contacted my congress people. I have encouraged our presiding bishop to step into the fray. I have made an extra donation at my local food pantry. But all of these are stop gaps. I don’t know what the resolution ought to be, but I know that innocent people are suffering because of someone else’s fight. Please join me in advocating for our government employees who simply want to go back to work. And be paid for it.

I was given a Prayer Shawl when I was called to my last parish in Connecticut; it is draped over a chair in my office where I see it every day. The shawl was knitted for me from remnants of all the other prayer shawls that group had created—for baptisms, weddings, funerals, illnesses. With that downy-soft, many-colored, multi-textured gift they enveloped me in their lives, their moments of joy and sorrow. They also wanted me to know that all the events in my life were woven into their prayers. On Sunday we will dedicate baskets full of Prayer Shawls knitted and crocheted by Ascension’s nimble craftspeople. We will invite you to take one home for yourself or for someone who might welcome a warm prayer around their shoulders.

Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest.

In addition to that familiar prayer, I remember a plaque that hung on our kitchen wall—a gift to my parents when they married: “Jesus: the Silent Guest at every Meal.”  Apparently, whether we prayed for Jesus’ presence or not, my Mom and Dad believed Jesus was already there. And his presence—bidden or unbidden—was a daily gift and comfort. I fear I never thanked my parents for creating a home, setting a table, where Jesus would always have a place.

Please join us Sunday. I promise you, Jesus will be present. I hope you will be, too.

Pastor JoAnn Post