Even the Broken Pieces
Sometimes you just need someone to express in words what you would express if only you could call forth your own thoughts. Could I speak those words?
This past weekend it was my privilege to preach at Highlands Church. My sermon was done on Wednesday and memorized by Friday morning. On Saturday I was busy all day until 9:30, when I first opened my computer and saw the headlines in the New York Times. I had a late evening phone conversation scheduled, but I knew when the call was over I needed to rewrite my message. I started the rewrite at 11:00 and ended at about 1:15. I finished memorizing the changes early Sunday morning and was ready to preach by the 9:00 AM service. Sunday afternoon one of my friends asked for a written copy of the sermon. I wrote back, “Ain’t none.” The changes I had made never made it onto my computer, though they remain seared in my memory.
The mood at Highlands was somber, as you would expect in a church whose mission is “to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God.” Highlands is a church born in moral courage, so acknowledging the white supremacist terrorism of the previous day was essential. So was naming the increasing inflammatory rhetoric from a rogue nation and two world leaders whose ego needs are so much greater than their ego strength. We prayed. Then I shared the Highlands ethos:
Married, divorced and single here, it’s one family that mingles here.
Conservative and liberal here, we’ve all gotta give a little here.
Big and small here, there’s room for us all here.
Doubt and believe here, we all can receive here.
LGBTQ and straight here, there’s no hate here
Woman and man here, everyone can here.
Whatever your race here, for all of us grace here.
In imitation of the ridiculous love Almighty God has for each of us and all of us, let us live and love without labels! TMMark Tidd, Highlands Church Denver. May be used with permission.
As I revised my message on Saturday evening, I thought about all the churches from which I had been ostracized. How would they respond the next morning? Would their pastors rise with courage and speak pointedly against racism with the enthusiasm with which they had spoken pointedly against me? After all, white supremacy has not exactly been a hot topic in evangelical circles. Many of the churches whose pulpits I used to grace would prefer to talk about which bathroom I should use than speak about the racism in their midst. How many would proclaim, “All lives matter,” instead of saying, “Black lives matter?” Would they have a clue that “All lives matter” ignores the reality of their white privilege?
Then I thought, “Wait a minute, Paula. Do you really understand the depth of your own white privilege? Do you really understand what your daughter and three granddaughters and son-in-law and daughter-in-law face every single day? Sure, you’ve received your share of vitriol over the past few years, but they’ve been subjected to it their entire lives. Who are you to think you know anything about being treated unfairly? Your male privilege might be diminished, but your white privilege remains.” Even in the midst of tragedy, my own arrogant judgment had been at work, protesting sermons that hadn’t even been preached yet.
I fell to my knees. What word could I speak to the good people of Highlands, those precious souls whose own struggles are so often greater than my own? What could I say that might release the emotions they were feeling? Who was I to think I had anything to say at all?
Before I went to bed I decided to close my message with the words my father had spoken when I first met him as Paula. As I left his little Kentucky apartment, my father embraced me and said, “I don’t have to understand this. I just have to choose to love you.”
This is how we will heal our broken land. This is how we will heal the nations. One person at a time, loving imperfectly, with one’s whole heart, even the broken pieces.
And so it goes.