I Believe God Was In That Hearing Room Yesterday, But Not To Provide Cover for Partisan Posturing

Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/167022234@N04/30013132557/in/photolist-MJa9EH-2beRsUU-28J3fMj-2borg67-2bpeB8j-28sMCXw-28qDHTw-2aqCZmf-2buWRHD-MJ7S8t-2bfYeo5-2brJ4ce-MHQHUB-28y7Lt5-2absZCS-2beceGN-28qi36W-P9PjSE-MJRbzz-Mw3Xua-MuVoSr-28qz5f3-2an9CoY-2aj4YPL-2beVcga-28KCLAU-P3pp5w-MJqj2P-2bcXozb-2bd1VJQ-28quy7W-2b9gBau-28K8HxY-MJuqPi-MJDK6a-28KJVQo-MujEJM-2bijgCo-2a5YWSN-28KCord-2ah7dqS-29Zs6KR-MHBMav-2a7KHAx-PmvQMU-2bkQ6qY-2a785gz-2buREFi-2aeKWhw-2bvkCmx

Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/167022234@N04/30013132557/in/photolist-MJa9EH-2beRsUU-28J3fMj-2borg67-2bpeB8j-28sMCXw-28qDHTw-2aqCZmf-2buWRHD-MJ7S8t-2bfYeo5-2brJ4ce-MHQHUB-28y7Lt5-2absZCS-2beceGN-28qi36W-P9PjSE-MJRbzz-Mw3Xua-MuVoSr-28qz5f3-2an9CoY-2aj4YPL-2beVcga-28KCLAU-P3pp5w-MJqj2P-2bcXozb-2bd1VJQ-28quy7W-2b9gBau-28K8HxY-MJuqPi-MJDK6a-28KJVQo-MujEJM-2bijgCo-2a5YWSN-28KCord-2ah7dqS-29Zs6KR-MHBMav-2a7KHAx-PmvQMU-2bkQ6qY-2a785gz-2buREFi-2aeKWhw-2bvkCmx

Yesterday was a deeply distressing day for me, in a way that I did not expect it to be. I, like many in this nation, was certainly curious to see what Dr. Christine Blasey Ford would say in her testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Still, I was unprepared for how viscerally I’d respond to her words. As a survivor of multiple incidents of sexual assault myself, all of which took place before I was twenty, I too know how powerful the impact of these events can be on a person, particularly a young person who is still developing a sense of self. As Dr. Blasey Ford shared her own story, I, like many other survivors across the country was reminded of how vividly those memories stay with us even decades into the future. I also resonated with her terror in sharing these most intimate and traumatizing experiences. I’m not a psychology professor; I’m a preacher by vocation. I speak publicly about my personal experiences all the time. Yet even I find the idea of sharing the details of those most intimate traumatic experiences in a public forum immensely difficult. And I wasn’t the only one who felt the gravity of the moment. As Dr. Blasey Ford spoke her lived experiences, despite being, in her words, “terrified” to do so, there was a hush in the room that reverberated through the television, the radio, and over the internet to watchers and listeners across the country. Her insistence in speaking clearly in the face of fear, despite her voice shaking, and naming the impact of the events she relayed on the rest of her life, was riveting.

It was a very different mood than we experienced later in the day as Judge Kavanaugh testified from the same seat. Much has been and will be written elsewhere about the difference in tone between the two. What stuck with me, particularly as a faith leader, was the final note of the day. In the final five minutes of questioning of Judge Kavanaugh, Senator John Kennedy (the Republican from Louisiana), asked Kavanaugh an odd question. “Do you believe in God?” The judge responded that he did. Then the Senator asked him to look him in the eye and swear to God that he was innocent of all the claims against him. Kavanaugh did so, confidently claiming innocence to every charge and ending with the declaration, “I swear to God.”

So what was the point of invoking God in Kavanaugh’s refutation of Blasey Ford’s story (as well as the other women who have come forward with stories of their own)? The implication seems to be that Kavanaugh is more trustworthy because he is confident enough to swear before a God whom he professes belief in. Clearly it is a signal to the conservative base that Kennedy is trying to appeal to that Kavanaugh is on their side because he’s a “God-fearing” man.

But this signaling also exposes an understanding of (presumably) Christian faith that, as a Christian pastor, I find deeply flawed. It’s the idea that God is there to both back up and stand guard over the men He promotes and allows to lead. God, in this view is the ultimate patriarch at the top of the chain of male-hierarchy. He’s a step or two removed from the mega-church pastors, the president, the senators, and this hopefully-soon-Supreme-Court-Justice. As long as the male leader is on Team God, and willing to state so publicly, we don’t have to be too scrupulous in our own critique of him. This is someone God is choosing and promoting; to question him is to question the Divine. If Kavanaugh is willing to swear before this God that he is innocent, then it would be sacrilegious of us to doubt his credulity.

I honestly believe it’s not my job to testify to the sincerity of another’s faith. I don’t know what kind of relationship John Kennedy, Brett Kavanaugh, or Christine Blasey Ford, for that matter, has with Jesus. I DO know, however, that Jesus himself seemed pretty incensed when he saw religious people of his day using oaths invoking God in order to bolster their own arguments and make themselves sound more credible. “Again, you have heard that it was said to an older generation, ‘Do not break an oath, but fulfill your vows to the Lord.’ But I say to you, do not take oaths at all… Let your word be ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no.’ More than this is from the evil one.” (Matthew 5:33-34, 37) Jesus seemed to get that calling on God before others to testify to your truthfulness seems more about using the Divine to give you cover, than about being firmly committed internally to sincerity and truthfulness. He consistently called his followers to be wary of outward displays of faith, and to be much more deeply concerned with the way we nurture our relationships with others, with ourselves, and with God when no-one else is watching; behind closed doors.

For myself, I believe I did see the evidence of the presence of the Divine in that D.C. hearing room yesterday, but it wasn’t there to rubber stamp the testimony of the nominee. The presence of God was evident, as it often is, in the voice of the marginilized, risking the rejection of the mob to share her understanding of Ultimate Truth. The reason the nation was riveted when Christine Blasey Ford spoke, the reason the partisanship was silenced for a couple of hours, the reason people on both sides of the aisle couldn’t help but be quiet and gentle in front of her, was because what Dr. Blasey Ford was doing was a sacred act.

As a pastor I’ve experienced first hand the holiness of sharing in another’s deepest pain. Whatever you believe of God, when another human being opens themselves intimately to you it’s an utterly unique gift, to which our humanity is called to attend. The religious term “holy” denotes something that is “set apart”, other than, completely different than the mundane. To believe that God is holy doesn’t mean that God is with our bluster and bravado; those are too common. It is to believe that God is in the places we are most vulnerable, most fragile, most compassionate. That’s why today, as more and more survivors tell their stories and more and more loving partners and friends genuinely listen to them, a holy work will be taking place. God will be present in the voicing of indelible memories and the receiving of the same.

My own experience of healing from sexual assault began with a personal experience of faith, in which I came to believe not only that God cared deeply for me, but that God cared deeply about the wrong that was done to me, and was committed to my restoration. In the same way, I am praying for all of us survivors today, that rather than being asked to testify to whether we believe in God, we will hear the voice of the Divine emphatically remind us that S/he believes us.

What #MeToo is Struggling to Break Open Has A Name You May Not Know: Androcentrism

I woke earlier this week to the most bizarre (and yet starkly revealing) juxtaposition of items in my Facebook feed. The first was a headline about the Alabama Senate Race, declaring that controversial candidate Roy More was now calling the women who accused him of sexual misconduct “criminals”. Before I had a chance to throw my phone in disgust and resignation, I spotted the next item: that Time had just named The Silence Breakers as their Person of the Year.

The Role of Women In the Christian Faith: It's Complicated

This is the manuscript of the talk I prepared for an Interfaith Evening of Dialogue hosted by the East Bay Area Pacifica Institute in honor of International Women's Day. The event featured a female Rabbi, a Muslim female thinker, as well as myself, representing the Christian faith. The theme of the event was "The Role of Women in Abrahamic Faiths". Below are my remarks.

I Cannot Be Quiet

This week has been another heavy one. Once again, our feeds have broadcast the multiple shootings across the country of vulnerable black bodies at the hands of empowered law enforcement. Families have tragically lost their loved ones. Countless others have been reminded AGAIN how fragile their lives seem to be. And most discouragingly, the response of many whites has been silence.

Tenaciously Empowered

First published March 12, 2014, on Leah's former blog, "Being in Berkeley".

"Tenaciously empowered."  Those are the words that came to mind yesterday as I drove through the rolling Iowa hills on the outskirts of town, recognizing in a real way that the number of times I make that drive has become finite.  My days in Iowa City are numbered.  (87 days, to be exact.) The last great obstacle to be overcome has been miraculously removed.  We sold our house in less than a day.

"How does it feel?" my friends ask me.  They have been a part of this long arduous journey.  They know the ups and downs.  They have been there for some of the most searing moments along the way, when the fog of painful and confusing circumstances was so dense that it was impossible to do anything but blindly stumble forward, grasping at air, and hoping beyond hope that we were stumbling behind Jesus.  They stood in the fog with me, aware of the real fear that I had lost my way, committed to walking alongside me come what may.

And so they ask, "How does it feel?"  How does it feel to have the fog blown away?  To, in an instant, have the haze clear, have the valleys filled in, the mountains made low, and finally a clean vantage point to see that which we've been chasing with obstructed view for over a decade?

There are not words for how it feels.  I am aware of my limitation.  I have no capacity to express the abundant gratitude within me.  I am finite, struggling to allow myself to feel infinite thanksgiving.  It is as if that is what I believe my circumstances merit, but I can't stretch myself to be big enough to say the, "Thank You" that this moment deserves.  I feel small in the face of such grace.  And I humbly offer my sincere heart, knowing how little it is.

But I also feel the surge deep within me.  It is like a fire in my belly; like a burning in my bones.  It is fearless.  It is powerful.  I am being released.  I am feeling tenaciously empowered.  This grace can't just be for me.  This grace is the fuel of a mission.  This grace I owe my life to.  This grace must be fruitful and I will give every bit of myself to doing my part to assure that it is.

It isn't just about the house.  It's about the journey.  

The journey started 13 years ago, in 2001.  I found myself in a powerful prayer time at a church conference.  And there I heard in my spirit a divine voice speak to me with total clarity, "Someday you guys are going to start a church."  I had no idea what it meant.  I thought God would call my then-fiancee to be a pastor.  I didn't know that in that moment something profound and powerful was being conceived, not in Jason, but in me.

Over the years, I've often viewed this church planting dream as a pregnancy - a very long pregnancy.  It began in that moment of conception.  For years it remained a tiny seed, too small to be observed by those outside, but Jesus was creating in me, even when I didn't understand what or why.  There were those trips to San Francisco around 2003 and 2004, where my heart burned and I found myself weeping over the city as I walked its streets.  I was being stirred internally (my own version of morning sickness, perhaps), but I didn't understand what it meant.

And then in 2006, the amazing circumstances that brought me to getting it.  The, "oh......I'm pregnant" moment.  The revelation and recognition that Jesus had put the stuff in me to start a faith community for the people that stirred my heart.  I said "yes" to being a solo senior pastor church planter, though I had no framework or model for what that would mean as a woman, a wife, a mother.  So Jesus brought me a big sister named Adey.  She was a woman who had walked this path, and invited me to walk behind her and beside her.  The first weekend we really met, she looked at me and said, "Leah, it's as if you are Mary and I'm Elizabeth, and the child in my womb is leaping to meet you."  Indeed.

There have been other significant moments along the way.  Like in 2008, when Adey brought me along with her to a conference in Boston.  There, through more surprising and miraculous moments, Jesus began to speak to me clearly about Berkeley, California as our ultimate destination.   There was 2012, which I had deemed our "Year of Discernment", when we submitted ourselves to persistently asking Jesus "Is it really Berkeley?" and "What about summer 2014?"  By the end of the year we knew beyond a shadow of a doubt the answer was "yes", we had to at least give it a shot.  Our trip to Berkeley at the end of the year felt like an ultrasound, like the moment you look at the screen and see the thing that's been wiggling inside of you and you think, "Holy sh*t!  There's a baby in there!"  

But there have also been the years when the pregnancy felt quite vulnerable; when I feared I was destined for a still birth.  The years I watched Jason's parents’ marriage fall apart.  They had been our models for marriage and ministry, as former church planters themselves.  The wreckage of their failed church and failed marriage not only shook our hope, but it shook Jason's very faith in Jesus to the core.  I longed to rescue him, rescue his faith, bring it back to life, but I knew that was not my work to do.  I had to let Jesus speak to him, nurture him, and bring him to new life, and slowly, over time, Jesus did in profound ways.

There was also 2013, the year I'd naively called the "Year of Preparation."  Naively, because I had no idea what that preparation would be.  I had no idea the testing I'd endure; the rejection I'd experience from the people who were supposed to be with me and for me as I began to honestly share what I'd been called to.  I had no idea that preparation would include this level of isolation.  And fear.  And grief.  It was as if the moment of delivery was quickly approaching and all of my midwives had abandoned me in the final hour.  I was preparing to give birth, I could not stop the child from coming, but I was utterly alone.  And there I was, in a fog, with a heavy belly hanging low, gasping and grasping for Jesus, hoping beyond hope that he was there.

And then 2014 came.  And one month in, Jason had two job offers.  Competing job offers, both of which offered provision beyond what we could have dreamed of, one of which he joyfully accepted.  Our move: completely covered in extravagant style, from packing, to temporary housing, to money to cover the cost of selling our house.  We blushed to accept it.  And I started to have hope that maybe this baby would be ok, maybe even I would actually be ok, too, midwives or not.

And finally, Monday happened.  We sold our house in less than a day.  Full-price offer.  Perfect closing date for our family plans.  Our realtor was as shocked as we were.  All of the fog had been cleared in stunning fashion.  And I woke up Tuesday morning tenaciously empowered.  After giving birth to three children naturally I know well the adrenaline that kicks in in the final stage of labor.  It doesn't matter how desolate things have looked, how tired you are, how much you vomited, how your back hurt like hell, when that baby is ready to come all you have is tenacious power and surreal, intense force beyond measure.  Absolutely nothing can stop you from bringing forth the life within you.  It is beyond you.  It is bigger than you.  All you can do is surrender everything you have and puuuuuuuush.

And that is how I feel today.  I feel empowered.  Like there is something being born in Berkeley that I get to participate in, and I can't wait to see what it's going to be.  Now is the time, this is the season, for a new thing to come. A new faith community passionate about Jesus, passionate about open access for all, passionate about living life to the fullest, and being a part of something bigger than ourselves. This is Jesus' heart, Jesus’ joy, I'm just along for the ride.  Get ready, Berkeley.  I'm coming.  And I'm ready to move some mountains.