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January Reflection

By Lisa Hines

My grandfather was the most devout Christian I have ever met. He was raised in the Lutheran church, attended a Lutheran college, and became a teacher at a parochial school, a church organist and music director, and a lifelong conservative church leader. His parents, grandparents, and great grandparents had taught him life’s important lessons, instilled in him a sense of responsibility to the church and his family, and showed him how to understand right from wrong, which he, in turn, conveyed to his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.

When Grandpa faced adversity, he did so with the confidence that God was in charge. He was a warm, loving, and generous man who cherished time with his family. We all looked up to him and relied on his judgment for advice on how to handle life’s challenges with integrity and faith.

When Grandpa was about ninety-five years old, my aunt, Wendy, came to the realization that she was gay. Coming to this new understanding of herself at the age of fifty must have been extremely difficult. She was also a person of deep Christian faith, which was modeled after her father’s.

She decided to travel to our hometown to share this important part of her identity with her siblings and her father. Each sibling advised her not to tell her father. They worried that the news would shock him. “Why does he need to know?” they objected. “He’s so old – why upset him when you know he won’t understand. He’ll think he didn’t raise you properly….” and the objections went on. They also believed that this was likely just a reaction to the recent difficult end of her marriage, and that it was a phase that would pass as she healed from the pain of divorce.

However, she felt that it was important to share her true self with her father, so she ignored her siblings’ misgivings and came out to him.  His reaction wasn’t what my aunt’s siblings expected. With tears in his eyes, he said he was so sorry that she had spent so many years not fully whole, and he was happy to learn she was now happy, and that he loved her for who she was.

In this reaction to Wendy’s revelation, my grandfather once again modeled his deep faith to our family and helped us to understand right from wrong. While his older children’s reaction was informed by rules about morality created by the church, Grandpa’s reaction was inspired by the love and radical acceptance of God, which was revealed to us through Jesus Christ. I think that all those years ago, my grandfather truly did learn the most important lesson of all – the knowledge of God’s grace.

December Reflection

By Cathy Rice

“God’s Holy Darkness”
A book by Sharie Green and Beckah Selnick
Illustrated by Nikki Faison

I was introduced to this book when it was used for opening devotions during a meeting of our Synod Council.  It is published as a children’s storybook.  But, as with many children’s books, the message transcends age.  In the book, every page turn describes a different story from the Bible where darkness or blackness or night is the backdrop for a holy event or the reason that an event is recognized as Holy.  For example, when God calls Abraham to look for the blessings of future generations by counting the stars in the night sky.  Or, when God moves through the night to liberate the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt.  And, of course, the holy night when Jesus was born.

Advent is a good time for us to reflect on the imagery of light/lightness and dark/darkness. Sometimes, we think of Jesus’ birth as a light shining in the darkness of the long winter nights.  Such imagery has been used by the church to draw attention to the importance of Jesus entering the world.  However, I have also come to understand that this imagery has often been simplified to a point where it has been harmful.  That is, a problem comes when we imagine that all things light/white are holy and good; and by contrast we imply that all things that are dark/black are evil.  And then, the problem magnifies when it is extended to apply literally to people based on the color of their skin.

It is very sad for me to realize that Western Hemisphere churches have perpetuated these images.  For example, we have all seen eye-catching artwork in churches where Jesus and angels all have glowing white skin.  This artwork blatantly reinforces the churches views that white-skinned people are superior.  I have been in many churches, Lutheran and otherwise, that have paintings, stained glass and statues of this type.  This practice continues to be hurtful and harmful.  And, it is not welcoming.

I have struggled with this for many years as I have become aware of my own bias along these lines.  When I look back at weird things like the fact that Darth Vader wore all black in Star Wars.  It seems like a silly example but now I find it a little creepy that my mind just accepted that as the way it should be.  I vividly remember times in my life when I would get nervous if I was near someone with black skin.  It happened a lot when I left my all-white hometown and went to school in College Park.  It happened to me in the neighborhood where I live now in Ellicott City.  I have been embarrassed and humbled many times when this unconscious bias sneaks in and I must catch it and redirect my thoughts.

What I try to do is to remember is that being in the light is about being open to G-d’s love in the world that comes from all sorts of people in all sorts of times and places.  I am glad for this little book.  I am thankful for what I have learned in the Lutheran church about G-d’s grace.  I am glad that G-d works in holy darkness!

November Reflection

Land Acknowledgments
by Amy Isler

Early this month, I attended a Racial Justice Training for clergy and lay leaders conducted by the Lower Susquehanna Synod in PA, taught by The Rev. Carla Christopher Wilson. One of the highlights was a discussion of Land Acknowledgments. As November is National Native American Heritage Month, this was a well-timed opportunity to explore the concept and its impact.

A Land Acknowledgement first acknowledges that a church building is located on land that was unceded, meaning taken, from indigenous people. It then accepts responsibility for the harms wrought by colonialism. It finishes with a call to action for the people publishing the statement; it seeks to build understanding and relationships.

Why is such a statement necessary? In Micah 6:8, the Prophet asks, “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” It requires very little of us to make such a statement of justice, yet it can go a long way in displaying loving kindness to our neighbors. It indicates that we are a place that is open to conversation, reconciliation, and learning.

We saw many excellent examples from churches around the Lower Susquehanna Synod, shared by their pastors. These are published in their bulletins each Sunday. Here are two that spoke to me:

We are a people called by God to acknowledge our failings.  We gather today in a place that was taken from others to build a new life which caused destruction to the lives of those who called this place home.  We commit ourselves to rebuilding what was broken and ask the Holy Spirit to lead us building relationships through the acknowledgement of the past, atonement in the present and walking together into the future.

We acknowledge that we worship on land originally inhabited by the Osage, Shawnee, and Monogehala people who were displaced.  We acknowledge that their spirit lives on in this place.  We seek to honor the sacredness of this land loved and cared for by those who came before us, and we honor the sacredness and personhood of those indigenous peoples on whose land we stand and still call holy.

First Lutheran is located on the unceded land of Piscataway and Susquehannock people. Fellow disciples, what would our Land Acknowledgement look like? 

We confess we are in the beginning stages of seeking to share a genuine acknowledgment of the indigenous peoples who lived on the land where our church currently stands. We are entering into a time of discernment as we work toward a land acknowledgment.