This is the Way We’ve Always Done Things …
This is the way we’ve always done things.
Now, there’s a phrase that brings about a sense of impending doom in my heart, especially when it comes to the practices of communities of faith.
In part, our love of familiar practices comes from finding comfort in the apparent stability of structures. Yet as a Jesus-follower, I sometimes wonder if finding comfort in the security of structure isn’t actually a way of being bound by “powers and principalities” that can constrict our thinking and limit our ability to share a Gospel of resurrection and liberation. I get that change can be uncomfortable and terrifying; I’m still pretty terrified that I left the comforts of my Hindu roots to follow a Galilean peasant.
Stability and comfort are concepts not usually associated with taking a new course; if anything, there’s usually a reference to growing pains when it comes to being led down a new and untrodden path. In the midst of change, we may find comfort in a certain fixed durability—“the way we’ve always done things”—that masks a dangerous rigidity.
This attraction to rigidity brings to mind an Indian bedtime story and morality lesson from my childhood, the Koop Mandook. This story is of a solitary frog in a well. The frog sees itself as the master of its domain, having yet to realize that there is an entire world of experience and beauty beyond the darkness of its little well. The frog pokes its head up from the well, discovering that there is a pond nearby, leading to a river, leading to an entire world of wonder, imagination, beauty, and experience to be lived within a flourishing (albeit imperfect) community.
Life in the well, the frog sees, was limiting and constricted. But it was also comfortable and secure. So, the story asks, should the frog remain in the small world of comfort within its own well, or should it risk living a more wondrous—if much messier—life in community outside the well?
We are almost two decades into the question, “What will the church of the 21st century look like?” Many mainline denominations are wringing their hands in worry, realizing that the phrase, “This is the way we’ve always done things” is leading not to fullness of life, but to what is stale and as lifeless as a tomb with a stone rolled in place. So the question is whether the church of Christ and followers of Jesus can embrace death and resurrection, so that what holds us back can pass away, allowing us to experience the resurrected Christ in new and unexpected ways.
Let me offer an example from my own experience as a woman of color and an ordained minister of Word and Sacrament in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. The truth is that I oftentimes found my Incarnational identity on the margins within my denomination. I yearned for a community within the Body of Christ that would accept me for the entirety of my God-given identity—not just selective pieces that could be brought out for the sake of convenience. Instead, it has been a place of “tolerance,” which has been painful. It is within the whitest of Mainline denominations that I have had to compartmentalize the entirety of my identity. That compartmentalization kept me oppressed in a system of white supremacy that is disguised as “church.”
Little did I realize that the Holy Spirit would move me to a surprising place: social media. It is through social media that I experience the Church that accepts me for the entirety of my being, that holds me accountable to the Gospel, and that enables me to accompany (and be accompanied by) others, wherever our journeys of faith are leading. Through social media, I have found a community of co-conspirators, and we collaboratively planned a revival attended by over 200 people. Through social media, #decolonizeLutheranism—a movement to honestly and overtly address full inclusivity within the ELCA—was born. Community in online spaces has given rise to online and offline discussions about how the church can truly reflect the diversity of creation and the diversity of humanity. As we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, conversation about diversity is not enough. Instead, taking action to live into intersectionality within the denomination needs to be at the forefront of claiming our identity as a reforming church.
This is not just a movement for Lutherans, of course; it is an opportunity to take hold of this “supreme moment”—this kairos time, to use the ancient Greek of our tradition—for all followers of Jesus. A kairos moment is when God’s non-linear timing breaks into the midst of the linear, chronos time of our ordinary lives. God uses kairos time to break into our chronos existence because we are a forgetful people, and that is evident in these days. Kairos must be grounded in the reality of lived and Incarnational experience, especially in these days where the lives of black, brown, trans, and indigenous bodies are at stake. This kairos moment is looking at a time where we can live into the fullness of who God created each of us to be and where there is space for everyone—an idea that pushes against the silos that nationalism represents. If we do not embrace this kairos time, there will continue to be blood on the church’s hands … and there already has been far too much blood. There is blatant disregard for marginalized populations, particularly in the United States and within our own denominations. There are systems of oppression that are casting aside the widow, the orphan, and the refugee.
The world is becoming a smaller place not just through globalization, but also through access to social media. The formation of community is not restricted by geographic or denominational boundaries. Through #decolonizeLutheranism, the #FuckThisShit/#RendThe Heavens Advent devotional, and faith-based Twitter chats such as #SlateSpeak, #PresbyIntersect, and #chsocm, I have been able to find spaces where I can fully be myself and not have to compartmentalize myself for the sake of white supremacy and white fragility.
These spaces are holy to me, especially as a woman of color within a mainline church, because they are places where my narrative matters and is not tokenized to simply serve as an example of “diversity.” They are spaces where I can outwardly name the demon of white supremacy and its infiltration of the church. They are spaces where I can fully embrace a lament that I deem as holy, but that has been denied by the dominant white narrative. These online spaces and communities have held my full Incarnational being.
Through social media, followers of Jesus can share their stories and experiences of faith with one another. Through social media, followers of Jesus can not only tell their truths of being within a broken system, but also continue their work and ministry, fed by the body and blood of Christ and the support of their communities.
As a child, my eyelids were often heavy as my mother told me the story of the Koop Mandook. I still hold onto that childhood story in my flesh and blood, because it continues to challenge my own comfort with structures that, though secure in their timeless rigidity, keep me from engaging the wonderful world of diverse beauty that exists outside my particular well. My engagement in social media communities has allowed me to move more fully into a world of wondrous difference, a world of voices willing to challenge the “we’ve always done it this way” thinking of a church that often seems to resist Christ’s call to join him in resurrection.