Love, a Country Church and Covid-19

My Column for The Elgin Review March 25, 2020.

We love our little country church. We love its bell tower and bell—Its rope recently repaired by Jon Grothe so Norman could ring it first to call us to worship on his confirmation day last spring. We love the timelessness of the church’s clean prairie design. We love how it sits proud, nestled in a grove of trees atop the little rise across from our graveyard, next to our playground, neighbor to Kinney cattle and Currie family fields. We love the church’s interior, the warmth of the well-worn walnut pews, the banners made by the Reddings hanging neatly, demarking the seasons of the church year, the burgundy curtains over the age rippled windows. We love the pretty old piano that Joann Anderson wakens from its weekday slumbers into full-voiced praise on Sunday mornings.  We love the cross that lights up above our chancel and the brass vases on the altar lovingly filled with flowers by Sharon Wilkinson. We love the plaque at the back of the sanctuary bearing the names of our congregation’s charter members, names that include Clarks and Kinneys and Curries, descendants of whom are still among our members today. We love our little country church.

But what we love more than all those truly lovely things, is each other. Sunday morning in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic we loved each other so much we kept away from each other and didn’t find our way to our little church on the top of the rise ½ mile south of HWY 70. Instead, we traveled a new way to find each other via Zoom, the online meeting application. Gwen Kinney connected with Zoom by landline while on speaker phone with her mother-in-law, Phyllis at The Willows in Neligh. Barb Henery and Sharon Wilkinson mastered new tricks of technology and video-conferenced in from the comfort of their homes in Elgin. Others called in on cell phones and landlines while Mike and I attended from the comfort of the parsonage in Neligh.

Our worship service wasn’t what we are used to. We didn’t sing hymns because they lag badly on Zoom. When we prayed the Lord’s prayer it wasn’t exactly in unison—our voices were like echoes and descants of each other’s. I shared scripture and some thoughts about the story and we passed Christ’s peace to each other, not by shaking hands, but by listening as each took a turn “checking in,” sharing how we are doing in the midst of social distancing and news about the pandemic. We prayed for each other and for our neighbors and when I’d given the benediction at the end of the service, I had tears in my eyes as I clicked the button on my computer to end our Zoom session for the day. God was truly with us.

Park Church isn’t our building, as lovely as it is. Park Church is people who love God, each other, and you, our neighbors. If you find yourself lonely, longing for community and connection during this challenging season, you are welcome here. For now, our services will be on Zoom. E-mail me at beckyzmcneil@gmail.com  or call me at 402.540.5615 and I’ll give you the link and instructions for meeting with us. If you’re having difficulty during this time, give me a call or send a text. I’ll try to help. God is with us. God is always with us.

A Very Present Help

My column for The Elgin Review, March 17, 202

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult. The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. (Psalm 46:1-3,7 NRSV)

What a strange and disquieting thing it is to live on the front side of a silent, invisible disaster. Last spring, when the floods came to northeast Nebraska, the waters roared and foamed, the ice creaked and cracked in our rivers and our eyes could see the devastation unfolding around us. There was evidence of the danger at hand.

This spring Covid 19 threatens to roar over us like a world-wide flood, not of waters, but of disease and we cannot yet see it. Trucks whir past our houses down the highway. Children laugh and goof around on the sidewalks. Calves frolic in the fields. Everything feels so normal, and yet not. I don’t know about you, but the pit of my stomach feels funny.

Here in Antelope county, life around us goes on almost like normal for now. For my kids, living in other places, the spread of the virus and its threat is more real.

My son in New York City has been working from home since last week. He texted us his current fear is catching cabin fever. Usually he works on the 39th floor of one of the World Trade Center buildings. Now, his “office” is his large computer monitor in his very small bedroom in his small apartment shared with two roommates. He may be working from there for the rest of the spring.

My daughter-in-law just started working from home in Minneapolis instead of in the big corporate office where she usually writes software.

My son in Pittsburgh, PA drives Lyft for a living. He wonders how long he will be able to or want to continue to drive in close quarters with strangers who may be carrying the disease. He doesn’t want to get sick, but even more urgently he doesn’t want to become a vector for the spread of Covid-19. What if he gets it from one of his passengers, and before he knows he’s sick, spreads it around the city by driving people where they need to go? But, what will he do without income?

Last spring, when Nebraska flooded, we knew what to do. We looked out for our neighbors. We did what it took to rescue strangers. People worked hard to help each other out of harm’s way, and when the devastation was done, people helped with the clean-up, comforted those who grieved and helped each other get back on their feet.

With faith in God, and trust in our neighbors, we weathered the 2020 floods.

I’m confident we’ll do the same with Covid-19. Wash your hands. Keep your distance. Cancel your gatherings and trips and celebrations. Prepare but don’t hoard. Check in on your older neighbors. Hunker down at home. It won’t be forever, but forever God is with us.

If you’re feeling unsettled by this pandemic, if social isolation leaves you feeling sad, know that your neighbors at Park Congregational United Church of Christ stand ready to care for you. You can reach out to me at beckyzmcneil@gmail.com.

God Will

My Column for The Elgin Review 1.8.20

We gathered outside the Children’s Memorial at Yad Vashem in Israel. Ezra, our tour guide, knew I had a Bible in my pocket. “Becky, read Jeremiah 31:15.” Thus says the Lord; a voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping, Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more.

We were in Ramah, near Jerusalem, where 2,400 years earlier Jewish mothers from all the surrounding area were forced to gather, separated from their children, to begin their sad sojourn into seventy years of captivity in Babylon. Then Ezra asked me to read the story in Matthew of Herod the King, raging mad upon hearing of the birth of a Jewish child (Jesus). Herod murdered all the Jewish babies from Bethlehem to Ramah to Jerusalem to be sure he’d done away with the one who might someday cause him trouble. The story, found right after the story of the wisemen and the star quotes the words of Jeremiah about bitter weeping in Ramah over lost children.

Inside the memorial it was dark, a hollowed-out cavern. It is circular with candles burning in its center and mirrors all around so the candles look like millions of stars reaching in all directions. Portraits of Jewish children killed in the Nazi Holocaust are projected on the walls. As our group moved in hushed solemnity, a voice read the names of every child known to have been murdered by Hitler’s regime. First name, Middle name, Last name. Age at death. Nationality. Read in Hebrew, in English and then in each child’s native tongue. It takes three months for all the names to be read out loud.

Overwhelmed, with tears streaming down my cheeks, I thought of my own sons; Adam Lawrence Zahller Brown 12 years old, American. Daniel Scott Zahller Brown, 10 years old, American. Benjamin David Zahller Brown, 9 years old. American. God, how can human beings be so cruel? How was it, that I was living in a time and place where my sons were safe, but other mother’s sons and daughters were not, are not, will not be?

Listening to the names, I wasn’t aware of the hall emptying-out. Their own mothers were not there to hear their names being spoken. I needed to listen on behalf of the parents whose beloved children were slain.

Eventually, one of the other ministers in our group touched me on my shoulder. “Becky, the rest of us are on the bus now, it’s time to go.”

I asked, “How can we leave? Who will listen to the names of the children?”

Quietly, my friend said, “God will.”

This part of the Christmas story doesn’t make it into carols, or on the front of cards. This part isn’t recounted in sweet pageants with darling children playing the parts. This part is so infrequently told, that those who make it to church only on Christmas and Easter, may not even know it exists.

Who wants to hear of a massacre of children while we’re still finding pine needles in our carpets and the candy canes haven’t all gone from our counter-tops? Who wants to think of Mary and Joseph and their little one, fleeing under the cover of darkness, alone and terrified as shouts of soldiers and cries of anguished parents pierce the silent night?

We don’t want to hear it, but we need to. Jesus’s followers need to know this story by heart. Our Savior was born poor and, though he was visited by kings, his parents had no choice but to flee in the dark of night, lest they be among the parents remaining in Ramah weeping. They were political refugees.

The story is as old as time; 2400 years ago, when the Jews were exiled to Babylon, 2000 years ago, when Herod killed the children, 75 years ago, when Jewish children were slaughtered, and today.

God hears the children’s names. God wipes the tears of the grieving parents. The question for us is will we?

Will we understand that every Jewish child growing up in this season of rising anti-Semitism is a child just like our Jesus? That every child fleeing danger and poverty who arrives on our nation’s southern border is a child just like our Jesus? Will we remember that every child in Iran, vulnerable to the whims and avarice of powerful rulers is a child just like our Jesus?

God hears the weeping in Ramah.

Will we?

Fear is a Trickster

My Column for The Elgin Review June 26, 2019

We moved to a suburb of Detroit, Michigan when my sons were entering first, fourth and fifth grades. In Ohio where we’d lived before, my older boys walked the block and a half from our house to Lincoln Elementary School. My youngest son, because he had special needs, took a bus across town. In Michigan we lived about a mile from the boy’s school. They were, by then, old enough and easily able to walk a mile to school. I’d done it growing up in Omaha, their Dad walked to school in Cleveland and there seemed to be no reason for my boys not to do it in Michigan—except—there were no cross-walks, no crossing guards and two four lane roads between our house and the school. When I asked why not, I was told, “well, nobody walks to school anymore.”

We lived in Michigan more than a year when I began to hear why “nobody walks to school anymore.” Twenty-five years earlier, two suburbs over, there had been a kidnapping and murder of a child on his way home from school. Tens of thousands of school children had safely walked to and from school for generations before that tragedy occurred, but since then, fear of a similar crime taking place kept a whole generation of school kids from knowing the pleasures of walking to school.

Fear is a trickster. Fear is a natural and needed response, bred into us to keep us safe, but it can also be irrational. Fear can paralyze us and keep us from life’s pleasures. Fear can separate us from our neighbors. Fear can motivate us to take up arms when the arms themselves are a greater threat to us and those we love than what we were originally afraid of. Fear can deceive us into giving up our liberties and freedoms under the guise of security.

One of the more frequent admonitions in the whole of Christian Scripture is “Do not be afraid.”

The Bible was written over a span of 3400 years give or take. Those were years in which people had true and legitimate threats to their safety on a near daily basis and yet again and again the writers of the Jewish and Christian faith stories tell us, “Be not afraid.” God is with us and for us and will be with us no matter what happens in our lives. The one who created everything continues in creative love to make all situations new. No matter what, God’s love is with us. When we know that to be true, we have nothing to fear.

We need to be wise and prudent. We need to take appropriate precautions. Danger is real. Harm happens. Some people do evil things to others. But, live fully. Live boldly. Practice hospitality. Let the kiddos walk to school. Most people are kind and good and loving. Most people want to help others. Most people want the best for each other.

At Park Congregational Church everyone is always welcome. Have no fear, you are welcome here.

Barrier-breaking Love

My column for The Elgin Review May 15, 2019

I ran into a friend in the produce department of the HyVee near our Omaha home last week. It had been over a year since we’ve seen each other. She updated me on her kids, her husband’s health and their newest adventure. I filled her in on my new ministries and our pending move to the parsonage in Neligh and the apartment for Mike in Lincoln until he retires late next year. We talked about church. She told me she has been struggling with being part of a church for the past year or more.

My friend’s professional life involves answering a crisis hot-line.

“I’ve taken so many calls of people contemplating suicide this year. People are so divided and there’s so much hate out there. Folks are having a hard time, and, in the past month there have been even more after the United Methodist Church made their anti LGBTQ decision at their General Synod. Gay kids call and say, ‘even my church hates me. I might as well just end my life and get it over with.’”

I wonder how many of us who are actively involved in the church think about the decisions we make around faith and about the way we practice our religion and talk about God as matters of life and death? Surely it must grieve God that the body charged with sharing God’s abundant and unending love with the whole world has somehow managed to twist that message into its’ opposite, that only certain people are “in” that only the properly pious are privy to God’s grace.

If it grieves my friend to listen to teenagers who feel their lives are worthless, how must it grieve their Creator to hear that the life they’ve been given doesn’t feel worth living?

A long time ago, Paul, the apostle of Jesus, wrote in a letter to a church in Galatia, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28 NRSV).

God’s message to the world in Jesus was a message of barrier-breaking love. God’s message to the world in Jesus was that the things that separate us from each other are the things that separate us from God.

I pray the day will come when no one ever again hears of a decision made by the church and feels less loved as a result.

I pray the day will come when all God’s children of every stripe, orientation and hue know how precious we are to our creator. I pray the day will come when every hurting, doubting, lonely human in need of community will find their way into a radically inclusive, love abounding, grace overflowing family of faith.

Whoever you are, wherever you are on life’s journey, you’re welcome at Park Congregational United Church of Christ.

I Say There is Hope

My Column for The Elgin Review, Elgin, Ne May 8, 2019

A member of a congregation I once served reached out to me. “If you get a minute, I could use some guidance. In a discussion with my sisters this weekend, all of them said the current political environment continues to push them further from church. They believe they see both Democrats and Republicans using Christianity to tear others apart. And if that’s true, then the church is complicit and is an underlying cause. They feel attending church is now more like belonging to a club, instead of a foundation. This breaks my heart. I know they aren’t alone in this thinking, and I have no idea how to respond. Do you have any thoughts to share? Is there any hope?”

How would you respond?  Are you with my friend? Do you see church as a foundation upon which to build your life? Or, are you more inclined toward her sisters’ view?

In my experience, and in reading church history and the news, church is as it has been throughout millennia, a mix, a collection of human beings joined together for a myriad of reasons, some holy and some wholly unholy. Political parties use Christianity to tear people apart, to sow seeds of dissension and to establish who’s in and who’s out. In far too many cases, Christians bow to the idols of power, influence and wealth and are complicit in the divisiveness of our day.

I’ve had moments when I’ve thought I would just walk away. “Please, don’t associate me with those kinds of Christians.”

I am, however, compelled by a vision of love cast by Jesus who healed and helped and welcomed and lifted up every kind of person toward wholeness and fuller lives. I am compelled by Jesus who empowered all his followers to go and do as he did. In the earliest days the church grew by leaps and bounds because people saw the ways Christians loved others.

I am compelled to cast my lot with the motley crew of the church because I saw a little boy named Calvin, snot nosed, dirty red face streaked by tears, embraced in a big hug by a man who’d never had kids when Calvin burst into a church meeting one evening, “My Daddy’s left and says he’s never coming back. What am I going to do?” Calvin’s dad never came back, but that congregation surrounded Calvin with so much love and so much support that he found his way.

I cast my lot with the church because there is a little congregation in the middle of corn fields where three pajama clad kids wandered in one Sunday morning and asked if anyone had anything to eat. Mom and Dad were still asleep (after a night of partying) and there wasn’t any food in the house. Ever since, the church serves Sunday breakfast to anyone, and now serves breakfast every school day, too, for the kids who wait for the school bus on the corner across the street.

The DNA of the Christian faith is caring for all our neighbors. Out of that DNA has sprung most of the hospitals around the world, most of the orphanages, most of the colleges, universities, and the public school movement, too, the Civil Rights movement here and the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. From the church Habitat for Humanity was born, and Alcoholics Anonymous, too.

It seems to me that attending church is something fairly easy to opt in or out of when culture and politics make us all cranky, but being church is more challenging and far more compelling.

I say there is hope.

You are always welcome at Park Congregational United Church of Christ.

Freedom and Sore Testing

In a building made of thick stone blocks, a building that stood for centuries in the center of the mountain village hymns of praise echoed in lyrical French. Early in my stay in Le Chambon sur-Lignon, thirty three years ago when I was a beginner in the language school the only parts of the worship service that I understood were the Lord’s Prayer and the Words of Institution before Communion. As the months passed and my French improved and I became acquainted with those who had worshipped in Le Temple their whole lives long, I came to understand not only the service of worship, but the service of the worshippers.

Forty years earlier the members of that congregation, led by their pastor Andre Trocme, defied their nation’s laws and opposition in their community by secretly, quietly welcoming into their homes, into hiding and safety thousands of Jewish children fleeing in terror from the Nazi occupiers. The first child came in the night with a knock on the parsonage door, and a fleeing, frightened Jewish mother pleading, “protect my child.”

Each week in worship we prayed together, “Et ne nous soumets pas à la tentation, mais délivere-nous du Mal” In English we pray, “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” Some translations of the Lord’s prayer make the translation, “and lead us not into times of sore testing but deliver us from evil.”

The Nazi era was a time of sore testing for Christians in Germany and occupied countries like France. Would the Christians acquiesce to the civil and national authorities in order to keep themselves from harm, or would they take seriously the call of the Gospel to welcome the stranger, treat everyone as their neighbor, share bread and wine and hope in memory of Jesus? Would they be willing to risk their own lives in order to care for the “least of these” God’s children?  In Le Chambon, among the protestant congregation of Le Temple, their answer was bravely, faithfully to follow Jesus.

Though I have prayed all my life those familiar words that I would not have to live through a season of sore testing, I believe that season is upon us. This week even while we celebrate our freedoms and our liberty from tyranny as a nation, as a nation we are separating children from their families and locking them in camps–keeping them from the freedom they, and their parents have risked everything to gain.

This is not a matter of partisan politics, this is a matter of basic human decency, a matter that all good people of whatever ilk, but especially Christians, followers of Jesus Christ must stand against. We who pray to be delivered from evil, in times of sore testing must do everything in our power to deliver our neighbors from evil, too.

My Voice

There was a large hand mashed against my chest and another against my face and I strained to yell, though muzzled, until finally, the night erupted into noise as I mustered a loud cry into the darkness, “Dad!”

My sweet husband Mike rolled over and comforted me. The nightmare was so vivid it took a while for me to remember—I am a grown, 58 year old woman, sleeping in my safe, comfortable bed, next to the love of my life, who never, not in ten million years, would ever hurt me.

I’m not usually a sleep talker. I sleep like a log. Maybe I snore (there are those who tell me I do) but I sure couldn’t testify to it. Most nights I remember nothing from the time my head hits my pillow until the alarm rings in the morning.  If I remember a dream, it’s a dream I was having as I was awakening for the day, not one I had well before midnight. That’s not the case with the nightmare that interrupted our night’s sleep a couple weeks ago. When my yell woke us up, the digital clock read 11:20. I rolled over and managed to fall back to sleep quickly, and if I dreamed more through the night, my dreams were not a continuation of the one that had thoroughly awakened us both.

In the morning the panic I felt in my sleep, the will and determination and strength it had taken to cry out to my Dad for help, left me feeling weak in my knees and emotionally weary. Over coffee I played Freud with my dream. Of course, the origin of the dream was the news reports of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s allegations in regard to her teen-aged experience with Supreme Court nominee Brent Kavanagh, how he covered her mouth when she tried to cry out for help as he pinned her to a bed and groped her. In my dream it wasn’t clear I was being sexually assaulted. All I remember is being held down, with a strong male hand over my face muting me. Dr. Becky Freud asked herself over her coffee, “Why do you suppose you called out for your Dad when he’s been dead for almost a decade?” I replied to myself, “He always listened to you and believed in you. Your Dad encouraged you to use your voice and to speak the truth.” “And why,” Dr. Me-Freud persisted, “was this experience of being muzzled so vivid as to cause you to yell out in your sleep?” And my coffee began to quiver in its mug.

I am being silenced by men who do not like what I say. The assault I am experiencing is not against my body, but against my being. It is against my being a woman with words.

I am a woman with a clear, true voice. I am a minister gifted and called by God to preach and teach and care and lead. I speak words of love and passion and conviction. On occasion, called and ordained as I am to be a minister of the Christian Gospel I am also a prophet, speaking truth to power. Truth that the last shall be first, and we are all refugees and foreigners and black lives do matter and Jesus was a brown-skinned man and he died at the hands of an ungodly empire run amok. Truth like Jesus listened to women and gave them full voice in a world that worked devilishly hard to keep them silent and in their place. Truth that Jesus loves all the children, and so must we.

This past spring I spoke the truth to a man who could not bear to hear the truth. I spoke it to him in private to protect and preserve his dignity. I spoke in hope he would take heed and take action and take care of what only he could do. But the words I said cut too close and in a couple weeks’ time he figured out a way to silence me.

Complicit in the assault against me are other men quick to agree, “A strong woman is, by her very nature, a threat.”  Strong, as in I see things clearly and tell the truth about what I see.

Complicit in the assault against me are also women, like the contrary octogenarian who two years ago cautioned me against being so passionate about the Gospel. “Some of us just want to come to church, have a little communion with God and go on home, dear.” Complicit in the assault against me are women like the woman trained to take orders without question, because the orders of a man of higher rank supersede written policies and procedures. Complicit in the assault against me are the women who look the other way and pretend they cannot see, because if they see they’d have to speak, and if they speak, they too, may have to pay. Good girls keep quiet.

Complicit in the assault against me is a system that allows one man the power to insist I be quiet and good and keep my thoughts to myself –just roll over now, and act as if this didn’t happen, if you want a good reference, if you want to be able to work again. Don’t tell. Don’t complain. Don’t raise a fuss. Just let us sweep this under the rug and move on, because I’m busy with more important things.

Male things.

Wearing the robes and reciting the verses, like armor. Protecting the church, protecting the powers that be, protecting the “just want a little communion with God” and then go golfing crowd from gospel truth that might discomfort them and keep their pocketbooks closed when the offering plates circulate in the sanctuary. “Protecting” but not healing, not helping, not holding the church to the church’s true calling. Allowing the church to rot from within. Sick in self-serving sin.

Yours isn’t the church of Jesus Christ if you do not see the others whom God has invited to the table. Yours isn’t the church of Jesus Christ if you look blindly away from the racism and sexism and nationalism that is tearing God’s good creation apart at the seams. Yours isn’t the church of Jesus Christ if you remain complacent when injustice is done right smack dab in the very midst of you. Yours isn’t the church of Jesus Christ if you allow yourselves to be led by thin-skinned men more interested in their own power than in proclaiming and living the Gospel with integrity and truth.

My dad called “foul!” years ago when the politics inside a church became as vile as are the politics in our nation today. I was a teen-aged girl at the time.  I witnessed my father speak truth to the powers that be. And he voted with his feet and dusted off his sandals and moved on and he taught me to be unafraid, and bold and brave.  And so, I called out to him in my sleep. “Dad!”

And he is helping me to remember who and whose I am.

I am not anyone’s good girl.

I am a woman gifted and called by God, and by God,

I am reclaiming my voice.

Litany

Harvey Weinstein is not why I knitted four beautiful hot pink pussy hats and marched in the Women’s March last spring. I didn’t know about him last spring. Donald Trump was not why I marched in the Women’s March, either, but he was part of it.

Bobby, the neighbor boy who climbed the rough bricks outside our bathroom to peep in when  I was seven to see what a girl looked like after I told him, “no” when he offered me a dime to show him—Bobby started it. And Mark, the high school choir friend who was pretty immature but nice enough to hang around in a group until I told him I didn’t want to go with him to prom and I didn’t want to date him at all, after which he began loudly taunting me across the cafeteria so badly I retreated to one of the music practice rooms to eat my lunch for the rest of the year, and who yelled his usual taunt, loudly enough to be heard across the Civic Auditorium as I crossed the stage to receive my diploma at graduation. Mark added another verse to the litany being written deep inside me.

Then there was the nice divorced man from the church who had joined while I was away for my sophomore year of college who started showing up at my work place just as I clocked out at eleven pm. He was older and I didn’t like him “like that.” But, if somebody went to my church, I trusted them, because well, they went to my church and I had always trusted the people in my church. “Let’s go to coffee,” he’d say. “Sure.” I’d say. I had “go to coffee buddies” at college, why not at home during the summer, too?  Except one night he said he needed to stop by his house, did I mind tagging along? It turns out, I minded. I was ashamed. I should have known better. I didn’t tell anyone. Litany verse three.

Verse four, later that summer at the city pool. Shaken, I decided to leave after a man cornered me and would not accept my pleas of “leave me alone.”

Verse five, on my twenty-first birthday, when on a boat on the Baltic Sea as part of an  overseas study program, I left our group to return to my cabin alone and was followed by a drunken fool who tried to force his way into my cabin after me.

Verse six, the date with an exchange student during my senior year of college that turned ugly fast.

Verse seven, the seminary professor and admissions counselor at a school I visited, who looked me in the eye not once, but stared at my chest the whole time he interviewed me.

Verses eight and nine the man who tried to trick me into following him into an old barn to see some things he said were being stored there that belonged to the church where I was the pastor, and the used condom I found on the seat of my car in the pastor’s parking space outside the church a couple of weeks after I’d rebuffed him.

Litany verses ten, eleven, twelve, they’re all just more of the same. More of the same old rotten thing. More of the same thing women just chalk up to “the way things are.” Unless there’s violence, unless there’s long lasting physical harm, most of the time we women just move on and try to be “smarter” the next time—because so far, there has always been a next time.

I never added up the verses of my very personal litany, I never brought them out to see the light of day. I left them, unremembered deep in the dusty file cabinet of my life’s forgettable moments until last November, when enough people were willing to excuse a self-admitted “pussy grabber” to elect him President of the United States of America.

I marched in the march for many reasons. I knit and wore my hat for one. It was a proud defiance against the litany of disrespect shown me and women throughout the ages.

Now, let me preach a moment with the fire-like passion of the prophets:

This is not the way God intended things to be.

“At last this is flesh of my flesh,” the cry of joy from Adam in meeting Eve is not a cry of domination, but of mutuality, of partnership, of communion, of shared respect and shared pleasure.

“This is my beloved and this is my friend,” the delighted words of the bride about her groom in the Song of Solomon is not about power and possession, but about the tenderness and equality of true partners, willing the very best for each other.

“Wives submit to your husbands, Husbands love your wives like Christ loves the church,” the letter to the Christians in Ephesus is not proscribing subservient women pleasing dominating men, but, in true poetic reciprocity, each loving and serving the other with self-giving love like Jesus.

How about we start a new litany? A litany with verses about respect and tenderness?

How about verses where we march to a deeply humane beat?

How about verses in which we no longer keep quiet?

How about verses where we sing the truth?

How about verses about love?

Simply love.

What a litany.

Damn that dark green sedan!

I had a recurring dream as a child. I was on my tricycle on the sidewalk in front of our house, the little light green house on North 49th Street where we lived until I was four and a half. I was on my red tricycle when a big dark green old-fashioned sedan came careening down the hill on the sidewalk. When I had the dream, I always woke up terrified and crying just before the car plowed over me.

Again and again I had that dream as a child. I was as powerless to stop the dream from recurring as I was powerless in the dream to either get away from the car, or to stop the car on its menacing dive toward my destruction.

Monday I awoke refreshed and happy from a good night’s sleep but taking my phone off its charger and sitting down in the easy chair in our bedroom I read the headlines of Sunday night’s massacre in Las Vegas. I felt the familiar feeling from childhood–the recurring dream in which I am utterly powerless, utterly unable to change the course of events around me. I wanted to scream, but instead I simply sat, stunned, sad, and suddenly weary as if I had not slept in years.

Why does this nightmare, this gun violence nightmare, this only in America nightmare, why does it keep coming, keep bearing down on us again and again and again?  When will we wake up? When will we claim our power to stop this from happening? When will we decide we are not scared little children waking from a bad dream, but full-grown adults fully capable of making this stop? When will we insist that just as cars don’t belong on the sidewalk where children ride their trikes, rapid fire weapons and hand guns have no legitimate place among us?

How long until we wake up, claim our power, and put a stop to this nightmare once and for all? Because, unlike my recurring childhood dream where I awakened shaken, but very much healthy and alive, in this national gun violence recurring nightmare– real children of God die, needlessly, violently,

Every. Single. Time.

In the name of God who said, “Do not kill” how about we wake up and collectively decide God probably got it right on that accord? How about we wake up? How about we make the nightmares stop? How about we claim our power? How about we do it, beginning now?

This nightmare needs to stop. Please, God, make it stop. Please, my fellow Americans, make it stop. Please.

I’ll do my part, and you do yours, I’ll contact my senators and representatives and I’ll be persistent and you contact yours and be persistent and dogged and unwavering and together we will make it stop.

And then, oh! and then, we will awaken, we will awaken, living the recurring dream, being refreshed and happy on each new day that the Lord has made for all of us to rejoice and be glad in.