This is hard.
I get that. This conversation. All the emotions. Our cultural backgrounds and personal relationships histories and experiences and political leanings and theological positions. It makes it hard and complicated and difficult to talk about. But I have this little flicker of a vision or a dream or a hope that church could be the very place we can go and gather and discuss and debate the things that matter most to us, the passions of our hearts and the great questions of our spirits, and disagree and explore and learn and try, and still stay in relationship with one another. In my dream-vision-hope it is still hard, but it is good and gives us life and reeks of faithfulness and makes God proud.
So here it is.
I am a rule-following girl. Looking at my Facebook posts this weekend, you may not think so, but deep in my heart, I am a rule-following girl. I like to make lists and check things off. As a kid I loved getting gold stars on the chart for assignments completed. I love a super detailed worship bulletin and I still read all the instructions before I even take the pieces out to play a board game. My friends tease me because even jaywalking makes me anxious.
I am a rule-following girl. The rules provide structure and order and help me to understand my proper place here, and how things are supposed to run over there. Maps and rules and agendas and plans are how I make sense of the world and my work my church and often, even, my identity.
And much of that is because the rules are designed to work for me. The rules are designed for my comfort. The rules are designed to keep me safe, to help me advance, to keep me wealthy, to keep me protected. I am a straight, white, cis, Christian, middle-class woman. With a few exceptions, the rules were designed to help me. But the thing I keep learning is, the rules don’t work that way for people who don’t look like me. Friends and neighbors and strangers and scholars and journalists and authors tell me about how the rules in our society hurt, silence, oppress and kill black and brown people, Muslim and atheist people, LGBTQ people, and so many others. I often hear folks who look like me say, “Well, if he just followed the rules.” But then I see another video of someone of color following the rules and getting pulled over and arrested anyway. Of someone going to the bathroom where the rules say they are supposed to and getting assaulted anyway. Of someone trying to follow the rules or obey a command and ending up dead anyway. And so what do I do when the rules that protect and uplift me, are keeping others down? What does God call me to do?
And I hear it in my head: Do justice, seek kindness, walk humbly with God.
For me, doing justice has meant working to change the rules, to make them more equitable. That means doing my research, organizing with others, signing petitions, engaging with elected officials, pursuing legal action, and participating in direct action, too. Yup, that means taking to the streets, and standing there, to demand justice. So, me, the rule-following girl, ends up in the street breaking the very rules that make me so comfortable. Breaking the rules in order to help change them. In order to stop squashing my neighbors. In order to stop killing my neighbors. In order to dismantle the white supremacy that serves me so well. In order to be a part of bringing God’s justice to all. In order to bear witness to God’s rule-breaking love and grace and power, even in this time and in this place.
And it’s super uncomfortable. And it is divisive. And it messes with our commutes and our comforts, our theologies and our understandings, our structures and our community. And that is hard.
And that is also the point.
This is hard. May God be with us as we discuss. May God be with us as we debate. May God be with us as we work and do the justice that is required of us. May God be with us as we love. As we love. As we love. Amen.
Rev. Erin Counihan
Pastor, Oak Hill Presbyterian Church