Witness

Two Converging Paths: Celebration and Lament – An #Awakenings17 Reflection

This is part of a series of reflections on the Missio’s recent North American gathering, “Awakenings: The Mission of the Spirit as the Life of the Church.” This reflection comes from MaryKate Morse, a Missio Alliance Leading Voice.


On April 27-29, I attended the Awakenings conference at the historic Alfred Street Baptist Church in Alexandria, Virginia, along with facilitating a pre-conference Consultation. On that first day of the Consultation and throughout the conference, I became aware of two parades marching in me: a parade of inspiration and hope and a parade of shock and lament. These parades kept bumping into each other.

Two Parades

Jesus encountered two similar parades in Luke 7:11-15. As he headed towards Nain, his disciples and a large crowd of people were following him. I can imagine how jubilant they were as he had recently taught, healed, and even rebuked the religious authorities. However, as Jesus and this joyous crowd were going into the city, another crowd was coming out. The crowd coming out was carrying for burial the only son of a widow. These two crowds of humanity were passing each other: one excited and expecting a great future and the other lamenting and expecting a dark one. The widow was without hope. Her only source of security and place was dead.

During the Awakenings conference, I was excited and hopeful hearing some of the greatest voices for Evangelicals of our day: N.T. Wright, Ruth Padilla DeBorst, Todd Hunter, Tammy Dunnahoo, Greg Boyd, Cherith Nordling, and Charles Montgomery. From each of them my soul was inspired to imagine awakenings for my own journey of faith and for the church. I sang, took notes, and imagined a future for Evangelicals. I was part of a great crowd of some 1000 hopeful souls wanting an awakening in America.

However, another crowd was moving through my heart, one of deep lament like the widow, and of sorrowful conviction. I saw another group carrying a pallet of broken promises, dead dreams, betrayals, and loss. During the pre-conference consultation I was a part of, Mark Charles from the Navajo tribe recounted the history of the Christian church from Constantine to the development of America from the perspective of a First Nations people. I had heard these things before from the great Richard Twiss, but for some reason this time, it seeped deeply into my soul.

The Church and the Empire in Bed

My mind grasped more clearly the implications for the church today of Constantine making the empire Christian and of the effects of the Doctrine of Discovery.[1] It was after Constantine that the church got in bed with the empire, and the church has sought its own supremacy and control ever since. Something precious, like an only son, died, and Jesus is with that widow.

Leroy Barber and David Bailey, African American brothers who are modern day prophets to me, challenged the pervasiveness of a system of white privilege that makes us numb and confused about where Jesus’ eyes are looking. An awakening is seeing what Jesus sees, yet, the scent of the empire is in our clothes, and we keep celebrating.

An awakening is seeing what Jesus sees, yet the scent of the empire is in our clothes.… Click To Tweet

The most poignant moment occurred during the ‘She Leads’ breakfast. Natasha Sistrunk Robinson, my African American sister, said to the women gathered, “Where were our white sisters? Why were you silent when we were speaking out during a racist, sexist campaign? Why did 81% of white evangelicals vote for Trump, and many of those were women?” Her challenge was not about Democrats and Republicans, but about ignoring the concerns of people of color and embracing a movement wanting to ‘Make America Great Again’ for only some people. Natasha rebuked us, and even as I write, I feel the pain of my betrayal of her. I knew she was right.

My Personal Lament

Three times, I wrote an article to challenge the ‘Make America Great Again’ campaign. Three times, I wrote to question white Evangelicals promotion of a man who showed little respect for those on the margins, especially people of color, immigrants, and women. But, I didn’t post them. I could not see a way forward that would not move me from one side to another on the public platform of my ministry. I kept telling myself that I am centrist and want to serve pastors on all sides of the aisles. How could I influence conservative Evangelicals to hear the voice of a woman pastor, if I had a political label? So, I was silent. I watched the dead boy go by and said nothing. Now I am lamenting. I am weary of my own privilege that blinds me to the uncomfortable things going by every day.

I can’t celebrate a triumphant King when my First Nation brothers are sitting in the back of the church watching us. I can’t continue to use the blindness my privilege brings to ignore my African American sisters weeping when their brothers and their children are suffering. The empire system is so endemic in the church that most of us white people neither see nor know that widows are weeping or why. I have heard all the ‘explanations’ that we make. I am weary of excuses. Something singular and holy about the kingdom of God is dying.

Yet Jesus Brings Hope

My only hope is that Jesus did see her. Despite the noise and excitement, he noticed her grief. The crowds’ enthusiasm and triumphalistic belief that the Prophet would at last return Israel to its glory did not overwhelm Jesus. Instead, Jesus went over to the bier and touched it. Jesus sees what the empire ignores. He touches them and says to them, “Rise!”

We think we are like him, but I know I am not. The waters into which I was born overwhelm my senses.

Nathasha, forgive me.

I want to see what Jesus sees, not what the empire fights to protect. @MaryKateMorse Click To Tweet

[1] A papal bull issued by Pope Alexander VI in 1493 granting Spain all lands to the west and south. Chief Justice John Marshall in 1823 used the same bull to justify taking the lands of Native Peoples.  The ‘Age of Discovery’ was really the ‘Age of Conquest.’

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