Ways to Contribute to the Hurricane Sandy Relief Effort in New York

November 1, 2012 @ 03:15 pm by Jacqui Lewis

Here are ways you can contribute to Hurricane Sandy's relief effort:

  • You are invited to assemble and distribute brown bags of prepared food in the East Village on Sunday, November 4. We will pack food items at 9 am and 10 am and distribute after worship at 122 Second Avenue. Email Minister Tricia Sheffield at tsheffield@middlechurch.org, to be a part this.
  • Our partners at the Interfaith Assembly for Homelessness and Housing have organized door-knocking downtown at 200 Madison Street (cross-street is Rutgers Street) on Saturday morning. They''ll be checking on residents and helping distribute aid and identify at-risk residents that need help. For more information, including directions, click here

Here are organizations who are assisting with the relief:

WNYC also offers a list of how you can volunteer in the region:
http://www.wnyc.org/articles/wnyc-news/2012/oct/30/how-help-hurricane-sandy/

For questions about access to power, food and other frequently asked questions after the storm, see this resource: http://www.wnyc.org/articles/wnyc-news/2012/nov/01/your-post-sandy-questions-answered/

Huffington Post's "Hurricane Sandy: How To Help & What You Need To Know" is also helpful: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/30/hurricane-sandy-how-to-help_n_2045622.html 

The Interfaith Assembly for Homelessness and Housing is also compiling a list of volunteer opportunities to aid with hurricane relief. That can be found here

If you know of something that we have missed, please feel free to leave it in the comments. 
Restor(y)ing My Soul

July 2, 2012 @ 05:00 pm by Jacqui Lewis

Dear Middle Church family,

I was awarded a grant from the Louisville Institute for a three-month sabbatical I proposed titled “Restor(y)ing My Soul,” a journey in which I would trace my theological roots. I proposed to interview my relatives, including my Great Uncle Ed, who is the last surviving sibling of my maternal grandmother’s generation. Uncle Ed is a Baptist preacher, and will turn 90 this July. His sister, my Ma’ Dear was the “knee baby” (second youngest), and he is the youngest of 13 siblings. He has some stories to tell and I can’t wait to hear them. I also proposed to go to Greece and Italy and do some of Paul’s missionary journey. Since I was awarded the grant, I received an invitation to be in a study group at the Hartmann Institute in Jerusalem, so I will travel to the places where Jesus did his ministry as well. Oh how wonderful!

Here is the itinerary: July 1 was my last day at work. First, my husband John and I will travel to New Orleans, where I will speak at the Essence Music Festival, then to Chicago to be with my family at Mom’s family reunion. We will return to New York and leave the same day for Israel, and stay there for 10 days. From there, we travel to Athens and Rome. I will be thinking about theology from the spaces where the early church took root – I am thrilled about that! Since we are so close, we will visit Paris as well. Then we will be home – resting, writing a book, working out, enjoying some down time and real Sabbath. I will be back at Middle Church on October 1.

I am expecting to return rested, refreshed, restored, and restor(i)ed. I leave you with prayers for a blessed summer, and for you to also find some Sabbath time. I also leave you with hope – that whatever your heart is yearning for, whatever are the prayers you are praying, they are answered and that you have peace.

Love,
Jacqui 

Jacqui will be sharing "Postcards" from her sabbatical on her Facebook page.

Help Grace Community Church

May 23, 2012 @ 04:14 pm by Jacqui Lewis

Last week, just before preaching a sermon in Atlanta, I heard about this congregation in Minneapolis whose members stopped coming when their pastor voted to affirm marriage equality. The Sunday after the vote in 2005 (I fact checked) The Grace Community United Church of Christ lost 25% of its mostly African American members; now they are down to 45 or 50. Rev. White simply decided to believe out loud and vote with his denomination to fully include the LGBTI communities in the sacred and human right of marriage.

Living our faith in public can cost us friends, comfort, votes. AND it also is exactly what is needed to bring about God's Reign. I believe the universe responds with tears of joy when we do the right thing. We can change things; there can be miracles when we believe.

There is a large church in Dallas called Cathedral of Hope UCC. They rescued this little church by raising $15,000 in one Sunday. Two leaders delivered the love in person.

Sadly Grace Community Church still needs our help. That gift will only last until June. Another $200,000 has to be raised right now or they will have to close their doors.

The consistory, staff and I are sending $1.00 for each of our members--799, to the struggling St.Paul congregation. We are doing that right now because it is urgent and they need our love for standing up. You can give a dollar in the offering bag this Sunday along with your own giving to Middle's justice works. You can also send more to support them through Believe Out Loud.

I want to thank you for all of the ways you believe out loud and are generous for justice.

Wear a Hoodie to Church

March 22, 2012 @ 01:01 pm by Jacqui Lewis


On Wednesday night, hundreds of people — women, men, and children — took to the streets and marched from Union Square in reaction to the senseless killing of an unarmed Black teenager, Trayvon Martin. In their hoodies, with their children hoisted on their shoulders, they marched and chanted, full of lament: race clearly still matters in these United States of America. Black teenagers scare some people, therefore, walking while Black is a dangerous thing to do in some places, some times.

Keep reading.

Lent: Lengthening of Days

March 15, 2012 @ 04:08 pm by Jacqui Lewis

Read Jacqui's latest blog for the Huffington Post, "Lent: Lengthening of Days."

Is There Really a Church Like That?

March 6, 2012 @ 04:31 pm by Jacqui Lewis

When I was a little girl in Chicago, we used to watch the PTL Club, and sing along as people on television "praised the Lord." I was too young to know if their theology matched mine (what was theology?). I knew the music was different than that in my Baptist church on Sunday morning, but I liked it anyway. The people seemed joyful, and it was something, along with Ed Sullivan, that my parents let us watch.

Keep reading...

We Have All Come Over a Way that with Tears Has Been Watered: Reflections at the end of Black History Month

February 24, 2012 @ 12:51 pm by Jacqui Lewis

On this rainy Friday, it is my sabbath. I am not good at sabbath, but am trying to get comfortable having a day to just be, with God, with John, with me. A day to just let thoughts drift in and out of my mind, feelings in and out of my heart, in a mindful kind of way. I am trying to get comfortable resting, not doing, just being.

Keep reading

Jacqui on HuffPost

January 28, 2012 @ 04:47 pm by Jacqui Lewis

Over the foregoing nine months, I have written a number of pieces for the Huffington Post. You can find them compiled below, or a the Huffington Post. To subscribe to my HuffPost RSS feed, click here.


Click for list.

Middle Project Leadership Lab

November 11, 2011 @ 11:49 am by Jacqui Lewis

Middle Project Young Adult Leadership Lab graduate Kerry Docherty shares these thoughts about relationships, learnings and being in a spiritual community.

Kerry Docherty, a lawyer, during a Middle Project Young Adult Leadership Laboratory.

Relationships 

I spent most of my spiritual life a loner. I would attend a religious service, sit in the back, and silently creep out the back door when it ended. Just when I resigned to the belief that I may never find a sangha (my spiritual community), I found Middle Church.

Soon after I attended my first service, Christina found me in the pews and provided me with a warm welcome. A couple months later, Jacqui and John posed the possibility of the The Middle Project Young Adult Leadership Lab. I was hesitant at first, reluctant to become an active member of the church community as I had been disappointed in the past. My previous exposure to youth groups focused on handholding, talks of love, and kumbayas. The Middle Project, however, proved much different. Don’t get me wrong, there’s definitely still a lot of warm fuzzies involved, and some singing, of course (thanks to Jacqui), but most of the time we get down and dirty, working on self-examination, honest communication, and intentional listening.

The Middle Project participants are diverse in every capacity, including race, profession, sexual orientation, and spiritual background. That being said, we all share a common denominator – a desire to integrate our spiritual faith into our everyday experiences. Many of us entered the project with practical questions: what does it mean to be a progressive Christian? How does my faith influence my community? How do I know what God has planned for me and how do I know what I should be asking for? How can I, if at all, be an effective leader (spiritual or otherwise)?

Though I hadn’t met many of the other “Middlers,” prior to the project, I felt an immediate connection as we began to openly share our stories, doubts, opinions, and struggles. Even when there were disagreements, we respected each other. We allowed each other to feel heard. And although I had a tendency to feel vulnerable during class, I often left feeling empowered, expanded, and supported in both thought and spirit.

Since then, my relationship with some of the Middlers has deepened into friendship. For the first time in my life, I feel like I belong to a spiritual community.

What We Learn

Each Leadership Lab session has three different layers: (1) personal reflection, (2) our relationship with God, and (3) leadership in the community. In any given class, Jacqui and John effortlessly weave together academic exercises, experiential learning, and discussion groups. For example, in one of the first classes, we read articles on personality dynamics, took a personality test, and then did a sociommetry exercise, where we stood in different parts of the room to measure where people categorized themselves socially. The introverts then shared what it felt like to be in a room with extroverts and vice-versa. In another class, we explored the idea of “Being Storied,” where we read some of our very own Jacqui Lewis’ book, examined how the history of the United States has affected our current cultural issues – such as racism, inequality, and greed – and then shared with each other some of our own stories, stereotypes, and desires.

I left each class with a greater insight on the interplay between reflection, God, and community, and how these three jewels play out in the ordinary routines of life. By the end of class, my heart, mind, and stomach were full.

How The Middle Project Affects Work and World

The Middle Project is not focused on the esoteric or religious philosophical debate. Rather, the classes are centered on practical solutions to everyday problems. The class exercises encourage us to unearth our own strengths, insecurities, desires, and prayers and then explore how we can utilize them to effectuate change in our communities, be it at work, in school, or in our family. We’ve learned techniques such as how to communicate with difficult people at work, how to confront stereotypes, how to view our stories and histories from a different angle, and how to harness our power. Not only are we learning practical tools, but we are doing it in an environment that is both safe and challenging.

At this stage in my life, I’m still processing what my role is in this world – how I describe my faith, how my faith affects what job I pursue, how my faith affects how my interactions, how I can find my strengths and apply them, how to be an effective leader, what stereotypes I still harbor. Middle Project provided me with a safe environment to explore these questions, articulate some of my thoughts, and learn from the people around me. I would undoubtedly recommend the Project to anyone who has a lot of questions and wants to spend some time working through the answers with diverse, yet similarly passionate, individuals.


For Such a Time as This

October 27, 2011 @ 03:56 pm by Jacqui Lewis

It is getting cold outside, and sadly, tempers are getting hot in Atlanta and Oakland as occupiers are dispersed. In our own city, even in the midst of tensions, I keep hearing stories of the love and care being displayed among those in the park, and from so many who take care and Spirit down to Wall Street. I hear stories of consensus-building, even as boundaries are created to keep people safe. When people talk too long, a sign goes up to tell them time is up! Occupy Wall Street, however we feel about it, is organized to care for the community. There are committees and teams and assignments for leaders, all ready and set-up with intention to feed folk, keep them warm, wash their clothes, and keep the space clean. I know that some have a critique of this movement, but we have to critique this as well: there is a wide gap between God’s vision for a just society and the way our economy works. Unemployment and underemployment, increasing poverty among our children and older citizens, rising debt for students and working class families–the numbers do not add up in God’s Economy.

This is where their work IS our work. How do we as a people get to a better place? How do we dismantle current systems that do not care for most of us, and create systems that do? How do we listen to folk who are different than we are, listen for consensus in our stories and visions, and then create a new reality in which all of the people, especially the poor, are invited to sit at the welcome table (Luke 14:12-24)? How do we create a just society in which 100% of us are pulling together to heal our nation?

This Sunday following worship, my congregation, Middle Collegiate Church will host a Town Hall discussion so we can share stories and vision from many perspectives. Listening deeply with compassion in a safe space can lead to consensus and a new way to be human.

As we prepare for this conversation I would like you to think about these three questions.
• Question #1: What would a vision of economic justice look like to you?
• Questions #2: What do our visions have in common?
• Question #3: How do we collaborate across age, race, gender, economic status, faith tradition, political viewpoints and personal goals to achieve economic justice or God’s Economy?

This discussion will be streamed live and you can participate by asking questions via our FB Event page, or by tweeting @middlechurch using the hashtag #MCCEcon.

Later in the afternoon, there will be an Interfaith Worship at the park at 4:30pm led by Occupy Faith NYC.

Friends, our congregation is already very busy doing God’s work, providing food assistance to approximately 1,500 people per month and clothing for about 200 people a month for those in back-to-work transition or in need. We want to do more.

I am so proud of Middle Church. I personally LOVE the spirit of what is happening in the Occupy Wall Street movement, yet I know we do not all feel the same about it. Our diversity and respect for it is part of the magic of Middle Church. In the midst of our diversity, we all share a vision of God’s Economy–in which all have food enough to eat, clothes on our backs, safe and warm places to lay our heads, make a living wage so we can support our families, affordable health care so we can stay well, and jobs when we graduate from college so we don’t start our adult lives with a huge burden of debt. Economic Justice is a goal we all share.

How do you feel about economic justice? Your story matters to us as we think about God’s Economy. We hope you will join the conversation as we seek to build God’s Reign and God’s Economy on earth. I hope to see you Sunday, October 30th at 11:15 am for an artistic worship celebration in which the congregation participates in the sermon through movement and conversation. Please stay for our Town Hall Meeting and then lunch and talk at tables. I hope you will come on Sunday, November 6, at 6:00pm for a musically rich worship celebration featuring 30 Rock and Broadway’s Tituss Burgess, and more conversation afterward. And I hope you will add your voice to this important discussion as you follow us on line, on Facebook and on Twitter.

I believe we have all been called together for such a time as this. Good people of courage, with faithful hearts and open minds can and will change the world.

Occupy New York

October 7, 2011 @ 02:55 pm by Jacqui Lewis

Friends,

One of the reasons I am passionate about Middle Church is that we have been addressing economic justice for more than 50 years. Olga Downey was an older woman who helped start the clothing closet. She got her clothes from that closet, saved her money, and left us an endowment that funds our children's ministry to this day. Lucille Bodden followed Olga in running the closet for a long time, and on a fixed income, was always faithful and generous in giving money to fund the ministries she loves. And now, due to some wonderful volunteers, our closet is getting boutiqued in a larger space so that our clients can feel clothed also with care. We feed close to 1,500 people each month with lunches in the park, bags of food to take home, and warm meals on Sundays. We also partner with New Alternatives and Momentum to feed homeless LGBTI youth and people living with HIV/AIDS. Generous people: people of means, people who struggle, people who give time, and people who give funds make ministry happen at Middle Church.

It is also true that our investments--Olga's fund and Collegiate investments--fund more than 75% of our ministry. That means Wall Street is a partner in our ministry.

I want to change the conversation, Middle family. I am bored with political rhetoric about class war fare. I want us to talk about class collaboration. I grew up in the Black Church, where the milkman and the accountant sat together on Sunday, taught their children to lead on Wednesday, marched for justice on Saturday, and gave what they had in time, talent, and treasure to make the church run. Once enslaved Africans were free, there was always an economic gap. But folk did not forget from whence they came, and they reached back and pulled someone up and helped someone out. The early church was like that, learning from its Jewish leaders, including Jesus himself, that in God's Economy, the poor, the orphaned, the widowed, the sick, and the lame were the responsibility of the community.

Class collaboration means that a faithful coalition of people realize that they can have a greater impact toward a more just society when they pool resources, enact strategies, build bridges, challenge the status quo, and speak truth to power. The early church learned that some have gifts for prophetic speaking and others have gifts for making sure people got fed. I think we need to resurrect these ideas and ideals and not waste time on us-versus-them tactics.

People of faith know that God's Economy does not have to be a dream; it can be a reality in this time and place. This is, to my mind, what it means to be faithful. How do I care for my family, save for our future, and help others care for their family and future as well? How do I share of myself and my resources for the greater good of humanity? On several occasions, Middle members have made donations directly to Middle Church to benefit someone else. "Give this to someone who really needs it..." This is the kind of partnership I want the Church to explore. Can we adopt a family or a classroom or create a scholarship fund or mentor children so they are ready for college?

I must admit, I am outraged at the state of our economy. It is not acceptable for a nation with this much wealth to have people living on cardboard outdoors, to have children who only get one meal a day at their school and that one meal threatened with tax cuts. It is outrageous to have older people have to choose between medication or food. Even still, I am less concerned about how we got here, whose fault it is, and whether someone else could have done it better than I am with what can we do now and how will we pull together to do it!

I want Middle Church to keep on feeding and clothing those who need our help. And I want us to change the story and the conversation as we work for a more just society in which food, clothing, clean water, shelter, and health care are guaranteed for everyone in this nation, everyone on our globe. This means coordinating work with other partners. This means marching and writing and blogging and talking about solutions to these systemic issues. This means asking the hard questions, holding leaders accountable, and being willing to be part of the solution. I don't think any one person can fix this thing, but I know by God's Grace and Spirit, WE can fix it together!

Several of our Middle family have been connected to the Occupy Wall Street movement since it began on September 17. Some have been organizing on line, some have been at the scene downtown. On Wednesday, some of our staff and lay leaders participated in the march on Wall Street. As we were standing and waiting, singing and strategizing, there was a great brass band rocking tunes that reminded me of a cake walk in Louisiana. There were union guys in purple shirts, dreadlocked children with their parents, and cameras everywhere ready to capture the moment. In my head, Gil Scott Heron's "The Revolution will not be televised" was playing, because in fact this is a revolution and it is being televised and You Tubed and blogged and tweeted.

A crowd of thousands in business suits and bandanas, sweat pants and saris, clergy attire and mohawks moved and pulsed like one body. This is what America looks like, we chanted, claiming our 99% status and in our great diversity of person and perspective collaborated on at least one message: This ain't working so well and we have to change it. I heard another song in my head, a spiritual: Hush, hush, somebody's calling my name... Oh my Lord, oh my Lord, what shall I do?

God is calling us to God's way of thinking, to God's Economy. You may wonder what that looks like. Jesus tells a story in the gospels (you heard it in September in worship) in Matthew 20:1-16. Workers who are hired early in the morning to work in the vineyard get the same pay as those who came at the end of the day. There is something about the way God loves us that is about ALL of us having what we need! Enough food, warm clothing, safe places to live, a living wage, affordable healthcare, access to education for our children. These are not luxuries, people of God. And there are enough resources in these United States to take care of all of us and then share with the world.

People of faith: wealthy people, middle class people, working class people, and poor people--we need to UNITE in our common call to be the people God created us to be. We are responsible to and for one another, we have to do this better; it is our watch and we must take care of business!! We must partner with one another, reach across the aisle as necessary, find partners, and build bridges so we can heal this land.

It is too simplistic to demonize all of the people who make more money than we do. Good people with wealth share it every day. Look at Steve Jobs and the legacy he leaves with us, rest his soul. The problem is a system that allows lobbyists to protect corporations from the appropriate tax; the problem is a tax code with loopholes that poor people will never find or fit through; the problem is that people of faith often don't dare even whisper, "I wonder if we can take this on, demand something different, build a bridge over which the poor can walk toward a better life?"

Middle is going to stay connected to this movement, just in case this is the revolution we have been waiting for. I am not looking for us to throw verbal bombs or to participate in vitriol and hatred. And I know that we who believe in freedom will not rest until it comes. Let's turn our restlessness into revolution, our anger into action, our despair into demonstration. And let's never forget the Power at work within us that is able to do more than we can ask or imagine--that Power is Love.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, "Cowardice asks the question - is it safe? Expediency asks the question - is it politic? Vanity asks the question - is it popular? But conscience asks the question - is it right? And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular; but one must take it because it is right."

On Sunday, after we have worshipped our God, after you have had some brunch and talked a bit with your neighbor about the economy, after our volunteer training, Trish and John will lead a coalition downtown. They are taking sandwiches and Spirit with them; they will sing and offer hope and prayers...

Because it is right. And we've got the Power!

Love and Light, Jacqui

For a list of Occupy Wall Street solidarity events and Facebook pages, click here.

Being God's Love

July 26, 2011 @ 11:24 am by Jacqui Lewis

by Jacqui Lewis

Before I heard our intern, Arin Fisher's amazing sermon on Sunday at church, I was at the Manhattan Marriage Bureau as couples were lining barricades on the first day same-sex couples could legally wed in New York State. It was absolutely amazing, moving, fabulous, and so, so powerful! People were dressed in their tuxedos, bright white shirts, wedding gowns and sporting large smiles and big hopes. Hundreds of couples and their friends beamed. I posted some of their photos on my Facebook page. There was applause from those in line when the first lesbian couple got married. There was community and camaraderie; it was kind of like Middle Church!

I was also moved by the portraits of the New York Times and watching the stories of couples in the NYT Video, "I Now Pronounce You..." made me cry the next day. The footage illustrated the love and commitment of these couples who for so long were denied rights. What's so powerful about these stories is that they focus on the personal narratives that have driven our hope for this day for so long. I was surprised and humbled to see that the Times also included words I said about our Christian faith, "God is love, and wherever love is, God is."

Brothers and sisters, thank you for being God's love to one another. We have witnessed with horror this week what can happen when God's love drops out of the Christian equation. As we pray for the families of those who were murdered in Norway, I can't help but send you and God great thanksgiving that we are a community where people can experience God's fierce love in and outside of our doors. Change doesn't come quickly, but it does come. And each of you as you love are leading the way to creating more of the world we hope for.

I know many of you have worked so hard for this civil right. And you have hopes of how our world will continue to change. On Sunday, during our morning worship celebration, we will honor this amazing change as we marry Kele & Renee and Alex & Jeremy. You won't want to miss the celebration, and I won't want to miss you this Sunday, as I prepare to go on vacation in August. As summer moves over us like a warm blanket, I hope you can still your life and experience the joy and gratitude of what has been accomplished.

What's Wrong with This Picture?

July 19, 2011 @ 09:29 am by Jacqui Lewis

The Reverend John Janka, The Middle Project

We have now turned on our own children. Predatory lending lead to foreclosures of homes largely occupied by middle class families. These foreclosures have allowed banks that participated in these predatory lending practices to now hold title to millions of properties that stand vacant while the middle class families who once lived in them swim against the tide of personal financial collapse. These families are drowning and, with them, their children are caught in the undertow of "too big to fail." It is our children's lives and futures that are at stake. It is past time to say "enough!"

Across the country, schools are cutting funding for programs; teachers are under siege for low test scores, are threatened with loss of job security, and are being held responsible for a broken system. This pattern of hand-me-down blame from public leaders to regional school administrators to local superintendents and principals and finally to teachers and even parents is shameful and grossly irresponsible. We are allowing a fracture in the middle class, separating public employees from the rest of the herd as sacrificial lambs in this blame game. But it is the children who are paying in the end. Larger class size, fewer teachers, cancelled programs, and an across the board demoralization of the troops on the ground. Something we would never tolerate in our military.

While homeless shelters are at capacity and non-profits struggle to provide emergency services, our government toys with a shutdown. While states and municipalities fend off insolvency, our government refuses to discuss tax increases on the wealthiest among us, perpetrating the lie that this would further harm the economy. Among the wealthiest among us are the politicians who refuse to even discuss raising taxes.

While our elderly and about-to-be elderly of modest means can't get the medications they need because they can't afford them, some of our political leaders are ready to sell out on Medicare and Medicaid and some want to dismantle the healthcare guarantees we have now, limited though they be while they enjoy top of the line coverage. So, families are forced to choose between grandma and their own children when it comes to holding the family together and getting needs met.

Unemployment is ravaging families in this country while large corporations and banks that benefited from enormous bailouts are holding on to that money rather than investing in the country's future by creating jobs. We talk of patriotism in terms of preserving our national security, protecting our borders and sacrificing our young on the global stage. May we also speak of patriotism as the motivation to set aside political self interest in the cause of a just and equitable economic balance sheet that guarantees our children will have hope in their own future.

While those who helped precipitate this financial debacle continue to receive outrageous bonuses, and our leaders continue to court the special interests for the contributions they can make toward their next election, the rest of us are left to fend for ourselves against the one percent of the population that controls ninety-five percent of the country's wealth.

Our national budget should be a moral document, not the tortured and twisted assembly of compromises that ensure the powerful stay in power and the wealthy stay wealthy. It is time to question who really speaks for the common person in this country. Every four years we cycle through a charade of promises by politicians who want us to vote for them. Perhaps it is time to let our children vote. Children in their innocence can often see through a lie, have a keener vision of fairness, and settle their playground differences more quickly than those who make our laws. Take time to make a call today to President Obama's comment line; tell him you want what our children would want: a budget that protects the vulnerable in our country.

Towards A More Just Society

July 15, 2011 @ 11:18 am by Jacqui Lewis

Friends,

To my mind the most important thing about being a person of faith is to share God's vision for a more just society. As we say at Middle Church often, we are not saved until everyone is saved. Saved means having life and having it more abundantly. It means having income enough to put food on one's table, clothes on one's back. It is time for people of faith to address the stalemate around the federal budget. I am fed up with the politics and the posturing; aren't you? No matter our party affiliation, I am encouraging us to turn our prayers and activism to this issue today!

We heard two sermons in April; one from Rev. Dr. Wesley Granberg-Michaelson, and one from Rev. Dr. James A. Forbes, Jr. during our Leading Edge Conference. They told us what we know to be true: the budget is a moral and spiritual document, and that people of faith need to stand up for a budget that yields justice for the most vulnerable in our society.

My friend Emma Jordan-Simpson directs the Children's Defense Fund in New York. She has prepared a wonderful letter (right click, and select "save link as" to download) that we can send to our senators and representatives right now, to encourage our leaders to do the right thing. Won't you join me in sending a letter today? We can also call President Obama's comment line every weekday from 9 AM to 5 PM to express our views. If you want to call our senators toll-free, call (888) 907-1485 and tell them that the most vulnerable must not bear the brunt of the budget cuts. Children's Programs, Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid have all been threatened in the debate; let's turn that around with our prayers, our phone calls and our letters, today.

In solidarity and in peace, Jacqui

Yes We Can!

June 29, 2011 @ 12:30 pm by Jacqui Lewis

Dear Friends,

It has been an historic month in New York State and at Middle Collegiate Church. Our month included the sounds of freedom. Musicians from Broadway, Indie, and reggae sang at our Marriage Equality Concert in early June. Then a group of us from the church sang songs like "We Shall Overcome" at the steps of City Hall in support of the bill. And members of our clergy, staff and I stood outside the New York Senate in Albany with other supporters of the Marriage Equality Bill last week.

I blogged twice this month in the Huffington Post. I first reflected on my interracial marriage and how it would have been illegal in this country 45 years ago. You can read that post here, Love Will Make A Way: The Intersections of Interracial and Same Sex Marriage.

And this weekend, I celebrated the passing of the marriage equality bill with the following post, A Change Has Come: A Clergy's Response to the New York Vote for Gay Marriage.

You can see how our church, the clergy staff and I have been speaking up on the issue of marriage equality, here.

Thank you for raising your voices in song, emails and tweets to our legislators. You helped make history. Same sex couples will soon live into a new freedom.

With love, Jacqui Lewis Senior Minister, Middle Collegiate Church Executive Director, Middle Project

Just One Vote: The Power of Relationships

June 14, 2011 @ 03:05 pm by Jacqui Lewis

Hello everyone. Today several of my staff and I went down to City Hall to join our voices to those gathered in support of marriage equality. As we watch and pray for an affirming vote, read these words from my colleague Tricia Sheffield.

And, when you finish reading, go to Marriage Equality New York to reach out to your legislator to encourage them to vote yes.

Jacqui


Just One Vote: The Power of Relationships Dr. Tricia Sheffield, Research Consultant, The Middle Project

When many U.S. citizens (and not just white, middle class women!) were agitating for women’s suffrage, it all came down to one vote. Several states had ratified the constitutional amendment, but after the ratification in Washington, the amendment languished. As the decision went state to state, it all came down to Tennessee. If this state ratified the 19th amendment, then such an amendment would become national law. But the vote was tied 48 to 48. It was then that a young legislator, Harry Burn, just 24 years old, stepped onto the stage of history. He had previously sided with the anti-suffrage movement, but his mother had urged him to vote for suffrage and the amendment. She wrote: “Dear Son: Hurrah and vote for suffrage! Don’t keep them in doubt! I notice some of the speeches against. They were bitter. I have been watching to see how you stood, but have not noticed anything yet. Don’t forget to be a good boy and help Mrs. Catt put the ‘rat’ in ratification. Your mother.” Burn voted for women’s suffrage, and on August 18, 1920, Tennessee ratified the amendment and the 19th amendment, the right for women to vote became U.S. law on August 26th. It wasn’t an ideology, an argument, or an under the table deal that changed Harry Burn’s mind. It was a relationship.

I tell this story because we are now at such a time in U.S. history, with another kind of vote being debated in New York: the right for same sex people to be legally married. The arguments have been filled with vitriol, using naïve and unfounded religious arguments, quoting Scripture out of its cultural context, and asserting slippery slope arguments that are, well, just silly. But our civil servants in Albany aren’t necessarily going to vote “yes” for marriage equality based on a persuasive argument; they will vote in the affirmative because of a person, a story, or a relationship. As one of my friends once said, “It is easy to hate an ideology, but it is a lot harder to hate a person who is standing right in front of you.” It is the Mrs. Burn of history that will change minds, a woman who told her son to be a good boy. We can translate this phrase to say, “Do what is on the side of justice and love.” Now, I’m not so naïve that I don’t think there are many issues driving this debate, but in the end, it I believe it will be relationships, our living together in a peaceful, loving and civil society that will sway Albany to the affirmative for marriage equality.

I know the power of relationships. I myself was once a fundamentalist Southern Baptist, a person who went out to malls and beaches, proselytizing, trying to win souls for Jesus. I was raised in the racist South, hearing the “n” word on a constant basis. I also heard that gay and lesbian people were choosing to sin, and only the power of God could “cure” them of their hedonistic ways. But, as much as these viewpoints were a part of my story, this intolerant world in which I lived never felt comfortable. I felt uneasy when I heard from the pulpit, Sunday after Sunday, how women were not really made in the image of God, but in the image of man. I didn’t understand how women couldn’t be ordained to the ministry of Word and Sacrament just because they were women, especially since the women in my family were such strong, independent people who basically ran the family. I felt disturbed by the racist remarks; something seemed wrong, off, not God-like, although these statements usually came from so-called God-fearing people. I know the power of people’s stories, for it was my relationships with individuals, and a challenging education that changed my worldview. After I went to seminary, I disavowed the type of Christianity that said only people who believed in Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior would be saved and enter into Heaven. I rejected the racism of my former world, vowing to work against racism for the rest of my life. This meant I had to first deal frankly, and oftentimes painfully, with the inherited racism in my own body. And I learned that one’s sexuality is a fearfully and wonderfully made God-gift, a way to love and be in this world.

So, love informs what I do now. It was no one person, no Mrs. Burn that made me view the world in a more loving way and to work for justice, but many people with her same spirit, many encounters that moved me to examine my own soul. I listened to people, their stories, their pain, their joys, and in those relationships I found a part of myself. In my community, we believe that none of us are saved until all of us are saved. That is, salvation is not an individual position of whether you are part of the elect of God and are assured of your place in Heaven, but salvation is communal; salvation is now. Salvation involves having enough food to eat, enough clothes on your back, having a safe place in which to live; in other words, salvation is loving others as you love yourself, doing justice, loving kindness, and making sure that everyone has equal rights before the law.

We stand on the eve of a vote for marriage equality in New York. We only need two more “yes” votes for it to pass. And I’m hoping that the spirit of Mrs. Burn shows up again.

Pride. Power. Praise.

May 12, 2011 @ 04:45 pm by Jacqui Lewis

Dear Friends,

The children in our congregation have been rehearsing a play with some theater students at New York University called Creation Stories. It was written by the students to help our children think about how different cultures have different stories and theologies about creation. You can see it on Sunday May 22 after worship at 2PM. I am excited that we are teaching our children early that people see and understand God’s work and God’s purposes through different lenses. Our God talk informs our views on human sexuality.

And so it is that after decades of struggle around God talk on homosexuality the Presbyterian Church (USA) has voted to ban language condemning LGBTI persons from the Book of Order, which contains confessions of theology and church law. As a Presbyterian clergy, I am amazed and thrilled that my denomination has moved to include my theology–God has created us all, I believe, just exactly as we are and we are awesomely and wonderfully made. So, Amen! And in my celebration I am praying for those who feel somehow that we have turned away from God’s plan. Theology and God talk reflect deeply held convictions, some so deep that congregations will split from the PCUSA in protest of this decision. That will be painful for families and long-held relationships. I am also praying for a team of Collegiate people working on a conversation with our denomination, the Reformed Church in America, about how the Collegiate Church differs so radically from the RCA on full LGBTI-inclusion. We are there, the RCA is not. Kevin Scott Hall is our representative from Middle Church.

Closer to home, our Pride Planning team voted to use a cross in their logo this year. Outstanding!! We are unashamedly Christian, unabashedly clear that there are many paths to God AND we will march down Fifth Avenue representing the Spirit of Middle: Pride. Power. Praise. I love the re-appropriation of a symbol that has meant rejection by the Church to so many.

Back out in the world, last Sunday we screened a Believe Out Loud promotion (see the ad here) created by our sister, Intersections International. Lovely piece. Sojourners refused to run an ad for Believe Out Loud. I was only a little surprised and there has been a firestorm. This conversation and controversy poses the question: What is progressive God talk and activism?

Can Sojourners or any of us be for economic justice, be against racism, and not be for LGBTI equality?

What do you think? Let me hear from you.

Jacqui

The Believe Out Loud ad:

A Call to Healing following the death of Osama Bin Laden

May 4, 2011 @ 09:37 am by Jacqui Lewis

On Monday morning, May 2, I woke to the news of Osama Bin Laden's death at the hands of US Military forces. My first thoughts went to my family; my brother is an Army Colonel, who now works for the Under Secretary of Defense. He served two tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan, flying helicopters to keep other soldiers safe. We held our breath almost every day that he was away. Most of his troops survived their tours of duty, but every single death was a nightmare for their families and for my brother Ron, their commander. So many lives have been lost: soldiers on both sides of the war, women, children and old folk who just happen to be in the line of fire. Even more people have been wounded, seen their lives disrupted, or become refugees of the war on terror.

There is a huge cost to war. There is a huge cost to terror.

Every single person who lost their life on September 11, 2001 was a tremendous tragedy, a huge loss of life and presence. Their families, friends, loved ones, coworkers; their companies, their synagogues, churches and mosques lost the uniqueness of that person, that soul. As a nation, we lost something that I think we can't quite talk about. Something like faith in our borders, like self perception as unassailable. We were outraged, stunned. And after the shock, many of us became keenly aware of the way our global neighbors see us. This tragedy heightened our resolve to commit to interfaith dialogue and understanding.

There is a huge cost to terror. There is a huge cost to war. Billions of dollars in spending, the alienation that resulted when extremists turned planes into bombs and many of us turned our suspicions of what we do not know into fear and hatred. And in the midst of the anger and grief, what has given me hope is the ways communities have committed to connect across religious and ethnic differences to walk to the future hand in hand, like the apostle Paul says, "forgetting what lies behind [us] and pressing on to the... upward call..."

I admit that I felt deep in the pit of my stomach a sorrow at this news, and a concurrent feeling of relief. Osama Bin Laden is no longer out there, eluding authorities and adding to the grief and fear of so many people. I am also really disappointed at the celebratory tone we have seen in these past days. I have, though, been heartened by the reflections of the people in our community--somber, hopeful that a new day is dawning.

I have hopes. I hope for healing and for the end of war. I hope that a new Middle East is emerging and along with that a new consciousness about what it means to be a global neighbor; that we will respect the sovereignty of nations, that we will see ourselves as inextricably connected. I hope that we will, as a nation, understand the impact our policies have on the little Muslim girl in Pakistan and on the Muslim shop-owners in Brooklyn.

And while I hope, I pray thanksgiving that my brother is alive--it is really personal at that level. And I pray prayers of comfort for those who are not so fortunate as me, who will never see their loved one again.

It might be a radical act of love to pray for Bin Laden's family; perhaps we could add that to our prayers for peace, for safety from retaliation, and revenge, and for continued interfaith connections.

I am not Muslim, but I am calling us to prayer. Prayer and acts of justice-making will heal our world.

Care About All God's Creatures

May 2, 2011 @ 10:47 am by Jacqui Lewis

by Jacqui Lewis

The Middle Project Conference is in full swing. We had a great day with Ivan Petrella on Saturday helping us to think about economic justice from a global perspective and from the perspective of Liberation Theology. Gary Dorrien and Jim Forbes will started us off on Sunday with amazing wisdom and excellent preaching. Our own Tricia Sheffield and Chad Tanaka Pack ended our day with talks on spirituality and money and a culture of consumerism.

I have been busy with Easter and getting ready for this event, but I have not heard or seen as much about Japan in the news as I would have thought. There is so much heartache in the world. The recent storms in the south make me think about climate change and global warming. We have simply got to care about our Mother Earth, our brothers and sisters and God's creatures. Go to MSNBC to see how to help care for the storm victims here and donate to Japan here.

Here are words from our sister Saho, an artist in Japan.

Dear Middle,

I can not stand thinking about the pain those animals which did not do anything bad to humans. There are 360 cattle farms within a circle of 40Km around the nuclear power plants. 63,000 hens,1,000 horses, (don't remember their nunbers) cows, pigs and so have starved to death in these 50 days after that explosion. There were their owners who sneaked in and fed them, but most of them did it against the government's command. All the roads, wide or narrow, to those farms have been closed.

I do not have any means to save them. I will do my best to save dogs and cats around me, which have been mistreated. That is the only thing I am capable of doing. We are wondering what has happened to the 100,000,000 yen donated and why those victims are not receiving it. Victims need cars right at this moment to visit those places where the unknown dead have been gathered to check if their family members had been taken there, and to get jobs they have to drive to companies. They need cash. One of my students said most of it may be used by the government for the cleaning up of towns.

I hope the good friends of Middle will read what I have written.

Love, Saho

Err On The Side Of Love

April 28, 2011 @ 02:06 pm by Jacqui Lewis

Hi everyone. I got a really interesting letter the other day from someone asking about our theology of full LGBTI inclusion. It was fascinating, and raised good questions. I won't print the letter because that is not fair, but here is what I wrote back.

 

Register for the LGBT Equality and Justice Day today AND let's remember that love is the law.

One thing I never argue about is that these words you quote are in the Bible; they are. And, so are words that would prohibit either you or I to speak in church, words that might suggest that my ancestors should have been enslaved, and words that would make capital crimes out of things that today we find ridiculous. I speak in church every Sunday as an ordained clergy, and I am not clear if you are ordained or not, but most denominations would allow you to be and would encourage your voice in leadership as a lay person. Most of us have ceased using the Bible as justification for bigotry. And, the church no longer keeps kosher, let alone killing people for committing adultery.

God's Word has always been interpreted with Holy Spirit - in the oral transmission, in the writing down of the scriptures, in the selection of the canon, in the preached word. We bring our whole selves to these Holy words, as we seek to love God with our heart, soul, mind and strength. Human laws are also interpreted by enforcement agencies, by lawyers and by the courts.

What seems to me to be core to the Judeo-Christian law is this: love God with your heart, soul, mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself. Per Jesus the Christ, love is the ultimate law. If for some reason I have to answer for loving the folk in my congregation, all of them, and loving my brothers and sisters in all of God's creation, no matter with whom they have sexual relations, then I am prepared to do that, now and in eternity. I will err on the side of love.

In the meantime, at Middle we bring people together to learn more fully how to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly. We teach others to err on the side of love.

About This Blog

Preparing ethical leaders for a just society. Posts by Jacqui Lewis, Senior Minister.

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