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I open this reflection with a cautionary note. I want to prepare you. I want to prepare you for a tearing open of the heavens. For the urgency of the Spirit driving us out into the wilderness places of our days. For the need to identify and name the devils with which we are tempted. Here. Now.

I want to give you a heads up that my use of hashtags* as I share this Word with you today might be unsettling. Unnerving. In fact, I hope that it is unsettling. It should be unsettling. For a shift is urgently needed. A transformation. A tearing open. A revealing of God’s kin-dom here… God’s Word here… God’s hope, God’s love, God’s grace, God’s giving, God’s frustration, God’s tears, God’s Spirit… this urgency… this immediacy, must be here—and NOW.

For the heavens have been torn apart (Mark 1:10, NRSV).

To you, O God, we lift up our souls (adapted from Psalm 25:1, NRSV).

And we weep.




On Thursday morning, February 15, the words that spewed forth from the television speakers in my living room came from NBC’s Lester Holt as he named the “uniquely American nightmare” of gun violence in schools. Mass murders of children. On a day designated for celebrating love, Valentine’s Day. It seems that we as a country cannot even agree on how to identify what counts as “gun violence” in our schools. Some news reports and statistics report that there have been 18 instances just this year. Others define “gun violence” differently, and report eight events that have occurred in schools in the United States in 2018. Either number should drive us into a wilderness of despair. There have been eight school shootings that according to The Guardian “have resulted in death or injury during the first seven weeks of the year.”[1] These are children. Teachers. Spaces that are supposed to be safe. For learning. Growing. Music. Sports. Laughter.

The heavens have been torn apart (Mark 1:10, NRSV).

To you, O God, we lift up our souls (adapted from Psalm 10:1, NRSV).

And we weep.




In January of 2016, I traveled to Israel and Palestine with an interreligious group of professors and peers from the Chicago Theological Seminary. We were a blend of individuals from a range of faith traditions—Muslim, Jewish, Christians—and those who did not identify with any faith tradition. We spent 2 weeks immersed in dialogue with a wide variety of people in Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Tel Aviv, and other places across Israel and Palestine. There we met with, listened to, and learned from groups involved in creative resistance. Ways in which to respond nonviolently with conversation, art, learning, protesting, speaking out, and engaging with social media, to change systemic oppression. In the West Bank, in the Aida Refugee Camp, we caught small glimpses of this resistance bursting through the overwhelming oppression. Particularly through the youth and young adults. We spent time with a group called “Beautiful Resistance.” Their motto encourages the empowerment of children and women affirming that “everyone is a change maker.” Using drama, art, and music, Beautiful Resistance works to build “a culture of living and hope, not death & despair.”

There, in a refugee camp, in the West Bank, surrounded by Israel’s security wall, which is covered with graffiti and burn marks from the ongoing conflict, we encountered a place in which empty tear gas canisters are scattered about as children play in the streets. And we heard about the experience that youth from Beautiful Resistance had had when they travelled to the United States the previous year. These kids from Palestine, who had only known living in a refugee camp their whole lives, with air raid sirens, guard towers, and check points all about, had spent a week in Kentucky, visiting sites here, in the States—including schools. Sitting there, in the West Bank, listening to these youth share their experiences in the US, I was struck by their impression of our schools. They reported that they were surprised by how dangerous the schools in the United States are. They were stunned by the gun violence in schools. The metal detectors. The locked doors. The bulletproof backpacks. They… the kids living in poverty in a refugee camp… in a war zone… thought the kids in the United States had it worse. Much worse.

The heavens have been torn apart (Mark 1:10, NRSV).

To you, O God, we lift up our souls (adapted from Psalm 10:1, NRSV).

And we weep.



What does it mean to us when… following the shooting at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, last November—on the day that I was installed here, at Memorial UCC as pastor—that as our Church Council discusses (rightly) whether or not we should consider participating in active shooter training here… at church… a topic that is unsettling to us adults… and should be unsettling to us adults… that the response of some of our youth is that they are unfazed by this idea. For, why wouldn’t a public space prepare for an active shooter situation? Many of our children go through similar practices at school.

How should we, as a faith community, balance responding not in fear, but in love? In faith? How and when should be take risks and speak out? Act out? Gather in prayer? Show up to protest? #CreativeResistance.

For the heavens have been torn open. The Spirit has descended. The Divine is driving us out into wilderness places. Can we as a congregation begin to identify the wilderness places in our communities… our country… our world… today? For not only our schools, but many of our neighborhoods, our nursing homes, prisons, minimum wage job sites, are wilderness places. The debates around welcoming refugees, acknowledging the Dreamers and DACA recipients in our midst, concerns around immigration, are wilderness places too. As is the #MeToo discussion around sexual harassment and sexual assault. Debates in our state legislature around “a set of ten bills making changes in programs such as FoodShare, subsidized housing, Medicaid, childcare support, and the Earned Income Tax Credit”[2] which are happening now. There is… so… much… wilderness.

Can we look around? Can we acknowledge that the Spirit has driven us out into a wilderness place? Can we sense the urgency with which the Spirit is prodding us into something new? Are we as a point where we can openly name the devils with which we wrestle? Can we, in this desert, fast? Stepping away from our zones of comfort and security? Can we engage in #HolyPrayer as we are tempted to stay silent? Stay put? Do what we have always done? Can we have the faith that in this place of dryness, brokenness, and wild beasts, that we will be fed and sustained by the Divine?

Can we engage in #HolyPrayer, here… in the wilderness?

Can we respond, not in fear, but in love? In faith? Take risks? Can we be what Reverend Kerri Parker, Executive Director of the Wisconsin Council of Churches, calls “a people of #HolyImagination”?



In her book, The Fall to Violence, Marjorie Suchocki writes that, “Innate human aggressiveness and its corollary violence are the basis for sin, and that God’s continuing creative call is toward a transcendence of unnecessary violence.”[3] Hear these words again: “God’s continuing creative call is toward a transcendence of unnecessary violence.” A creative call. A transcendence. Suchocki goes on to say, “We are called toward a spirituality that embraces the well-being of all things…”[4]

Here, in the wilderness, can we as a faith community coalesce around a collective response to the wastelands into which we’ve been driven? Can we use our #HolyImagination to name the devils in our midst?

Here are two examples:

The first comes from the Wisconsin Council of Churches. Can we support the work of their Peace & Justice Commission, “which has taken on the momentous task of developing a study-action guide for our churches, to help us reflect theologically, faithfully, and honestly with one another about our relationship with firearms and violence… and to invite us to step beyond reflection into action and advocacy so that this cycle of sin and death might be interrupted”?

The second example comes from our youth—they are taking the lead.




The violence at the high school in Florida this week has changed the narrative. Youth—kids—tweeted and sent texts, took pictures and videos, sharing events live… in real time. Youth across the country are now finding their voices, and acting. On social media the past 4 days, youth are expressing their concern of #MeNext, that they themselves could be the next victim of gun violence in a school if we, the adults, don’t do something. Change the rules. Change the laws. Change the safety. Change the ways in which we provide support, engage with, love, our children… including children with behavioral, emotional, and mental health concerns. The youth have #HadEnough. On social media they are organizing a national school walkout on March 14 that will last for 17 minutes. One minute for each person that was killed in Parkland. They intend to “Protest Congress’ inaction to more than tweet thoughts and prayers in response to the gun violence plaguing our schools and neighborhoods” (FaceBook event, Enough! National School Walkout). Teachers are joining them. Faith leaders… are joining them.

Yvette Flunder wrote a book entitled, Where the Edge Gathers: Building a Community of Radical Inclusion. She notes that, “…it is of vital importance that people who have been silent and silenced far too long be given an opportunity to give voice to their struggle. Secrets kill and silence often equals death… Shadow are no longer threatening when the light shines on them; when the secret is exposed, the demon is uncovered and rendered powerless. The experiences that at one time horrified now become a resource from which to draw life…”[5] She goes on to note that, “…there are margins surrounding every community and there is an overwhelming need to take church to the edge rather than seeking to bring the margin to the center. The edge is where Jesus did his best work, but most mainstream Christians fear it deeply.”[6]







Beloved, can we be a people of God’s #HolyImagination?

For, the time IS fulfilled.

The kin-dom of God has come near.

May we be #RippedOpen.



~Pastor Kris


(Reflection on Psalm 25:1-19 and Mark 1:9-15)


*Hashtags, which look to some of us like a number sign… or pound sign… or a tick tack toe game, are a way to search for a specific topic of conversation on social media platforms such as Twitter and FaceBook. People around the world are organizing grassroots, creative resistance actions using hashtags such as #NationalSchoolWalkout, #Enough, and #MeNext.


[1] Beckett, Lois. “How many US school shootings have there been in 2018 so far?” The Guardian. February 14, 2018. Accessed February 17, 2018. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/feb/14/school-shootings-in-america-2018-how-many-so-far.

[2] “WCC Joins others in addressing proposed public benefits legislation.” WCC Joins others in addressing proposed public benefits legislation | Wisconsin Council of Churches. Accessed February 17, 2018. https://www.wichurches.org/home_page_news/wcc-joins-others-in-addressing-proposed-public-benefits-legislation/.

[3] Suchocki, Marjorie Hewitt. The fall to violence: original sin in relational theology. New York: Continuum, 2004. 87.

[4] Ibid. 87.

[5] Ibid. 39.

[6] Flunder, Yvette A. Where the edge gathers: building a community of radical inclusion. Cleveland, OH: Pilgrim Press, 2005. 131.