Spiritual whiplash

I’m raising the white flag. I can’t write tonight. It’s late and my eyes are closing on me while I’m trying. My sentences aren’t making a whole lot of sense. I haven’t had downtime today to process a day marked by dramatic spiritual and emotional whiplash for me.

My quick thoughts before I sleep –

1. I am grateful for the opportunity to have attended the National Prayer Breakfast with my congresswoman, Rep. Lauren Underwood. It was an honor to be her guest, talk about our district, share pieces of our lives, and hear from each other what drives us, what inspires us, and even an understanding of our calls at this point in our lives.

2. I am also grateful for the opportunity to see this event with my own eyes and hear it with my own ears.

3. I am in awe of the representatives I had a chance to meet who are doing good, hard work in very difficult times.

4. I worry about them, too. This kind of work must weigh on their bodies and spirits even though it can hopefully also be very rewarding.

5. The keynote speaker Arthur Brooks laid down a theologically and biblically sound address reiterating Jesus’ call to love our enemies. I have always bristled at the word “enemies” in that passage. I don’t like to think that I have enemies. I don’t like hearing that I might be someone else’s enemy, but that’s what’s in the book! I’ve got to live with that and maybe recognize that that bristling is part of the power of the teaching. I appreciated one segment of the address that has been reported about at least on the New York Times website. Dr. Brooks asked for a show of hands of everyone who was in a relationship with someone they love, either friend or family, with whom they disagree politically. The report goes on to say that just about every hand in the room shot up, except the president’s. That was true. What came after that poll was the statement Dr. Brooks made that said (not a direct quote, but from my typed up notes and I’m too tired to go back and find it in a video online), “If this is not true for you, you live in an echo chamber.” His address went on to challenge us to get out of echo chambers, intentionally put ourselves in situations with people with whom we disagree, and get about responding in love as opposed to contempt which is tearing the country apart. I thought it was very well done.

6. There’s no other way to say it other than the president completely shifted the feel of the whole event. Shaking not one, but two different papers to an intentionally bipartisan audience who were present to unite in the spirit of prayer was taunting and disappointing. His address also took the content of the event in a dramatically different direction. It was no longer an encouragement about loving others, especially enemies, and instead became a justification for division, denial of other’s expressions of faith, and something that felt much more like a campaign rally than an address grounded in faith and the practice of prayer. There was a *lot* of support for the things he said in the room. That was another disappointing piece. I had had good conversation with people around my table, including one with a a tablemate who told me about how he, as an elder in a PC(USA) church, led a group of members out of his former church and re-affiliated them as a PCA church, a version of Presbyterianism that doesn’t allow women to follow a call to ordained ministry. And now, these same tablemates were standing and applauding the idea that loving our enemies is too much to ask.

7. Despite the president treating the room as if it were a monolithic audience in lock step with his feelings of contempt for other leaders involved in the impeachment process, there were people who were not marching to that drum. Not a lot, for sure, but there were some. I saw it around me; I saw it in me. And the mirror of Mr. Brooks address was being held up in front of us – both because we may have been feeling like we were looking at our enemy and because we had just been named the enemy of someone else. That is a strange feeling. The challenge of loving and praying for our enemies (I still don’t like that word) got real.

8. Lastly, for now, I got to watch the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater at the Kennedy Center after dinner and it. was. church. It was moving and beautiful and hopeful and inspiring. It was what I didn’t know I needed today, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to celebrate life and strength in extreme adversity and ancestors and prayer. I absolutely loved that I ended up seated next to the mother of one of the dancers. Her joy and pride in seeing her daughter dance took the performance to another level.

Well, that ended up longer than I thought it would and has kept me up well past midnight. I have got to sleep. I might address more later when I finally get to see some the news I know others have seen or when my thoughts are more organized and coherent. We will see.

34 thoughts on “Spiritual whiplash

  1. Reading this well past midnight. Wow. Just. Wow. I’m in awe that after such a day you could write it. I didn’t experience it and I’m going to have to reread tomorrow. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I was thinking of you today, and hoping you could figure a way to survive “being in the room” without being too badly injured.  Sounds like you’re well on your way.  Blessings !


  3. I’m so grateful for your witness in that room and at that table. Thank you for pushing through to write this last night. I know you were well beyond exhausted.


  4. Hi. First time reader. Thank you for sharing your views of this event. I do believe that articulating positions as you have done is a HELPFUL way to express disappointment, but also humbleness…as you took the challenge to love your [person with whom you tend to disagree] to heart immediately. He was sitting right there; doing and saying the things that make you question your own sanity.Yet, you were able to walk away and write coherently in the late hours…about a difficult topic. You didn’t bash HIM, but identified where you struggle with him. I find this approach refreshing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, James. This is encouragement to me because it’s exactly what I was trying to do. I didn’t want to return bashing with bashing. I might still come back and address the rest of the speech. I hope I can maintain that same tenor.


  5. I hope you have read about how President Carter left his old church because it held women back. God gave us all gifts to further his kingdom, including women who are led to preach. May God richly bless you on whatever path you are led. He ensure your success whenever you share the Good News of Jesus Christ!


    • I have heard those reports from a few years ago. I have great respect for him. I’m grateful to be a part of a tradition that has been welcoming of women in ordained ministry longer than I have been alive.


  6. Rev. Stephanie, your post was recommended to me by one of my United Methodist friends. I edit a website, United Methodist Insight, that primarily covers The United Methodist Church but is also open to writings from those of other denominations and faiths. I’d like to republish this post on our website, with full credit to you and links back to your blog. Please let me know as soon as possible if you’re willing to have us host your account of the National Prayer Breakfast. Thank you.


  7. Thanks, Stephanie. Beautiful. And, therein, a lesson on a form of meditation (writing without self-censoring): ‘Just start writing’!


    • You’re welcome. That’s the truth! I think I said it in my post from the day before – I write daily in a journal for my own meditation. Writing for public consumption (beyond sermons) is not my norm, but apparently just start writing still works!


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  9. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughtful perspective. I have read Arthur Brooks’s book as well and I am talking with our rector and a lay leader in our church about how we might take those ideas and provide opportunities for respectful and thoughtful discussion within our church.It especially saddens me that there is such divisiveness among all of us who call ourselves Christians. I value our differences. I would like us to demonstrate respect and value for each other in the midst of those differences.


    • You’re welcome. I haven’t read Brooks’ book, but will likely check it out. I’m trying to figure out the best way for me to share my experience of this breakfast in my diverse church, thoughtfully and respectfully.


  10. I know you were tired when you wrote this. Thanks for preserving, because it’s a fascinating read.

    What will you do in the short-term? I’m so troubled to hear that most of the spiritual leaders there stood up and applauded hatred and a call for vengeance.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Thank you for sharing your perceptions and insights on this momentous occasion. It too frightens me, even though I have faith in the lord, that this divisive president would not use these events to attack his enemies and act in such a pompous self serving manner. I fear his leadership and the path that it is taking America down. We as Christians need to pray for our democracy because we have an autocrat as our president.


  12. thank you so much for reviving your blog. i’m looking forward to following your posts and reading your archives. after many years out of parish ministry, i’m back in the saddle and looking for thought-provoking sites. i really appreciate you


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  14. I’m seeing this several days after but thank you so much. Hearing about it via news sources is not the same as hearing personal perspectives. I have been praying for those there that their hearts would be opened but had mostly assumed all those there agreed with the president. Thank you for sacrificing your time to attend and for being a witness for Christianity. For such a time as this.


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