A Word on Truth

Today I was honored to preach during the weekly chapel service at my denomination’s headquarters.  I found it to be quite serendipitous that the Gospel lesson was from John 8:31-36, which speaks to knowing the truth and being set free. I’ve written about that before and it didn’t go so well. Or maybe it did because it pissed some people off…

Below is my sermon from today that explores truth, what is true, how it sets us free and why it pisses us off..

Seek truth

“The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.”[i]

This quote has long been attributed to leaders in activist movements without specifically knowing who was the first to say it. Regardless of who said it, it bears repeating: “The truth will set you free, but first, it will piss you off.”

This leads me to three questions:

  1. What is truth?
  2. How does it set you free?
  3. And why does it piss you off?

Today’s gospel text helps in answering these questions and it does so quite simply and one might even say, quite succinctly.

Jesus is the truth.

He sets us free from bondage to sin.

This pisses us off because it goes against our human nature and calls us into a different way of being – one that is not theoretical, but actual because it is a way of being that follows the person of Jesus Christ. It causes us to change course; to die to ourselves and live anew in ways that are about loving God, loving others and loving self.

The end.

However, in true Rozella form, I can’t stop or even begin there. Let’s back up to some personal reflections. Continue reading

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A Word About Not Knowing What To Do

I am not writing this to elicit any responses. I honestly don’t want anyone to feel shame or guilt. I am not writing to receive recognition. I am not writing to piss anyone off. I’m writing because I don’t know what else to do. I’m writing because I value the process of reflection and meaning-making that comes through words.

I’m struggling. And you know what I do when I struggle dear Shadow Lovers. I write.

A recent study was released by the Pew Research Center on the most and least racially diverse U.S. religious groups. Some have commented on the lack of broad-based religious diversity that this study covered and it’s lack of focus on some pretty significant nuances that define some religious traditions. However, for me as a Christian, this study proved to be quite enlightening. And this enlightenment has been profoundly troubling… Continue reading

A Word of Gratitude

gratitude-journal

Over the past week and a half, I’ve experienced an outpouring of support unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before. I have received hundreds of messages from people collectively lamenting and grieving after the tragedy in Charleston and of people affirming me and showing support of my last blog post. I can only think about the words in the Apostle Paul’s letter to Philemon in the New Testament of the Christian Bible:

I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers, because I hear about your love for all of God’s holy people and your faith in the Lord Jesus. I pray that your partnership with us in the faith may be effective in deepening your understanding of every good thing we share for the sake of Christ. Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, dear sisters and brothers, have refreshed my heart…

I have been with family and friends this past week and it has been a timely break. i did not plan to write such a pot-stirring blog post and then head out of town, but that’s what happened and I am so grateful. Things were put into perspective and I was reminded that the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable and that there is no need to fear. I felt the love of those who matter most in the world to me and was able to be renewed and refreshed. I also had plenty of time to reflect on the numerous messages I received and it became clear that there are so many people who care about the racism and inequity in this country and around the world; so many people who feel helpless and hopeless; so many people who are seeking ways to be the change they seek in the world. And I realized, that not one of us is alone…

Continue reading

The Truth Shall Set You Free

I’ve written before about my beloved albeit broken community; about my church and why I continue to be engaged with a community of faith. I am a member of and leader in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), one of the largest Protestant denominations in this country. My church has approximately 3.8 million members in around 10,000 congregations across the U.S. and the Caribbean. This church is a historically white church, founded by a German Catholic monk named Martin Luther. He never wanted to start a new church, he wanted to reform the Roman Catholic Church. Luther felt like the church was not speaking in the language of the people and that the church had lost it’s prophetic voice and leadership within society. His 95 Theses marked the beginning of what we now call the Protestant Reformation. In 2017, Lutherans around the world will mark the 500th anniversary of this historic event. My church is a church that was born out of truth-telling, risk taking and prophetic imagination.

I’ve always claimed this church as my church. I often say I am a bit of a unicorn – a Black Puerto Rican, third generation Lutheran. I was baptized, confirmed, married, educated and called to ministry in this church. At the founding convention of this church, there was a vision that the church would be 10% people of color within 10 years of our inception. This percentage has not come to pass and we’ve actually declined in the number of members of color within the church. There were always small pockets of communities of color within the denomination and people of color who were members of largely white congregations, but as a whole, we have not been good at addressing the cultural divisions that our church continues to embody.

Continue reading

My Beloved (albeit Broken) Community…

I’ve mentioned in a Music Mondays post that I am unapologetically Christian. Writing this truth again makes me pause. It’s not because I am ashamed of MY beliefs or have a need to downplay my faith. I am a theologically trained, bonafide church nerd who works as a chaplain and lives out my faith daily though my vocation and my relationships. I have gone to church my whole life. I love the church so much that I answered God’s call to ministry in the church.

Personally, I have struggled with doubt and the meaning of life and the nature of suffering. I seek God daily and ask for guidance to make decisions that are not selfish in nature but follow God’s will for my life. I fall short, am a good Lutheran (simultaneously saint and sinner), am honest, and live a life that reflects my understanding that the main point of this Christian life is to LOVE – love God, love self, love others. My faith informs how I view justice, equality and the dignity of all persons, regardless of gender, race, religion, sexuality or any other designation that is used to divide rather than unite people. So you see, it’s not that I am unable to articulate my belief. What makes me pause in my proclamation that I am unapologetically Christian is the fact that my religion, the one that I hold so near and dear to my heart, has a bad reputation. I told my readers that I would revisit the issue of faith and religion at a later date and today, I was inspired to do so….

I follow the lovely @addyeB on Twitter and am an avid fan of her blog Butterfly Confessions. She is one of the first women of color that I came across who blogs about her mental health journey AND is a person of faith. Today, she responded to a tweet by @writingjoy, a writer whose blog is entitled Joy in this Journey. (On a totally separate note, Twitter is an AMAZING community that has allowed me to network and given me so much support, encouragement and direction. Seriously love it.) Since I value @addyB’s opinion, I checked out @writingjoy’s blog. I loved what I read, but more importantly, I came across her posts about Finding Church and read each one in the series. What I found broke my heart…

The post that @addyB responded to is entitled We’ve Forgotten What Church Really Is. The writer chronicles her journey with looking for a new church. Her series gives background information on how she started this journey, but this post in particular struck a chord with me because I struggle with this reality all the time – what does it mean to BE the church? Much like the writer, I realize that we have come a long way from what I believe Christ wanted this community of faith to be. We fall short of being the beloved community that we are called to be and actually do harm to people. For this and for all the sins that have been committed by Christian folk, I apologize.

For the judgement, for the elitism, for the intolerance, for the “holier than thou” attitude, for the misuse of the biblical texts, for the perception that one has to have it all together in order to belong, for the way that we ignore our neighbors in need, for our love of ritual and tradition over community and meeting actual needs, for our need to be in power over instead of being in relationship with, for our tendency to speak and not listen, for our arrogance, for the abuse, for our silence about the things that matter, for the misuse of money, for the lies and promises of prosperity, for the leaders who misrepresent the faith, for all of those things, sayings, people and practices that hurt the soul of a person, I am so very sorry…

You might be wondering why I still consider myself Christian, or better yet, why I am still connected to the church. The first answer is that I am a Christian mainly because of the thought of God choosing to become human and be in relationship with me blows my mind. This thing we call the Incarnation, God becoming human in the form of Jesus, is where my faith begins. For many Christians, the crucifixion is the starting point. For me, it’s all about the incarnation. And here’s the thing, there are some days I wonder if any of it’s true. But I have moved beyond trying to understand that which I may never understand and focus on the meaning. What it comes down to is love. It’s all about the love that is expressed by forging relationships with humanity and teaching a different way to be in these relationships. My second answer is pretty simple – I am still connected to the church because I believe that it has the capacity to be the single greatest proponent of love, authenticity and community and I will not see it overrun or misrepresented. I believe that the best way I can see the beloved community come to pass is to be in the community.

This may seem very simplistic, and I am sure that I could write more about what I believe and why I believe it. I also don’t want to downplay the harm that’s been done to so many, the hurt that you may have experienced or do experience by the church. All I can say to this is that we are broken, sinful people. As much as I’d like to believe that church folks are the most forgiving, loving and honest people, the opposite tends to be true…

I just want to let anyone know who has been hurt, cast aside or disenfranchised by the church that we need you. We need the whole body and me and my colleagues who are like me and who serve as pastors so desperately want a new reality for our church. It’s lonely out here when you think like I think and believe like I believe.

I thank God for my church House of the Rock. I thank God for prophetic leaders like Nadia Bolz Weber, Andrena Ingram and Marlon Hall. I thank God for communities like The Simple Way, the Eat Gallery, Grace Lutheran Church and Awaken Detroit. I thank God for the band Starboarders and others who use their gifts to bring about positive change in the world and show an alternative way to believe and live the Christian story.

I was baptized as a baby. In the church. I was confirmed as a teenager. In the church. I was nurtured and allowed to lead as a young adult. In the church. I was encouraged as a woman in ministry. In the church. I was married. In the church.

I went through my divorce and the church loved me.

I battle depression and the church surrounds me.

I think differently and the church accepts me.

This has been my experience and this is why I continue to stay in my beloved albeit broken community.

My prayer is that you are able to find a community that loves you.

My prayer is that we can be the community that loves you.

My prayer is that we can be gracious towards one another, know that we are not perfect and recognize that things won’t change if we don’t take the steps to change them.

Love,

Me