Juneteenth is a Spiritual Milestone

Tomorrow this country marks as a federal holiday—for the first time—the celebration of Juneteenth, commemorating the anniversary of when the final enslaved Americans in Galveston, Texas heard the news of their freedom, almost two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. These people—God’s people—were always free in their divine creation, but sinful systems of slavery had denied that freedom for generations. Juneteenth, which we observe today, marks a moment when human chains fell away to recognize what has always been true: God’s desire of freedom and fulfillment for every creature. Of course, there’s a great deal more transformation to come until people of every race, gender, orientation, identity and class are able to experience the loving freedom that God intends for all lives, but this Juneteenth milestone belongs alongside other epic liberation moments of spiritual history. The exodus of enslaved Hebrews from Egypt, the return from Babylonian exile, the overthrow of Rome’s deadly crucifixion in Christ’s resurrection—and also the enactment of freedom in every enslaving part of this country—are true highlights of human history, when we see more clearly the arrival of God’s reign come and God’s will done, on earth as in heaven.

Cover image: YWCA of St. Paul, Minnesota.

On the Conviction of Derek Chauvin

Tuesday’s verdict in the Derek Chauvin case was a momentous one, even though it was just one court decision in one case. As I said to Conie while we watched the verdict being read, the powerful validation I felt seemed strange, considering that the jury was affirming what seemed obvious to anyone who watched the video of George Floyd’s murder. Yet in the midst of a legal system that treats police with such deference, this decision was cause for relief.

Continue reading “On the Conviction of Derek Chauvin”

Lamenting anti-Asian Violence

As Christians we believe that every body equally reveals the image of God, yet this week’s violence in Atlanta has magnified further what has been growing worse over the past year—racial hatred against people of Asian descent. Where the Christian church has been complicit with European colonizers, our own ancestors of faith perpetuated such violence (and sowed seeds for White supremacy now). The Congregational denomination (which included our predecessor Edina and Morningside churches, and later became part of the United Church of Christ) actively partnered with American military and corporate interests to invade Hawai’i and overthrow its monarchy in an effort to establish plantations and missionary churches. The UCC has confessed our guilt in this and started to make amends, but that incident is just one reminder that White supremacy runs deep, even in our sacred communities.

Continue reading “Lamenting anti-Asian Violence”

Patriotism and Faith

On this weekend when we celebrate Independence Day, I’m reflecting on the “dual loyalty” of being a Christian in America (or any other nation). How are we to hold together both a national spirit which sings “God Bless America”, and also the conviction of our faith that sings “O God of all the nations” (in the hymn “This Is My Song”, #591 in the New Century Hymnal)? It feels all the more challenging when we remember how much distance there is between our nation’s noble ideals, and the actual sinful practices of racism, sexism, and ethnic hatred that are an overwhelming part of America’s history. How can Christians praise the God of all nations, and recognize the failings in our own, while still feeling proud to be Americans?

Continue reading “Patriotism and Faith”

Truly Good Worship

Today I had the gift of worshipping at Javen’s church, Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in St. Paul. I’m grateful for eyes to see there the upside-down realm of God, among us right now. In truth, it’s American society that feels like The Upside-Down, given #ICEraids, entrenched politicians, social alienation, climate disasters and God knows what else. Yet today brought a glimpse of what God intends human community to look like, oriented to praise God and serve neighbor rather than to worship power or glorify wealth.

Continue reading “Truly Good Worship”

Pastoral Statement on the Immigration Crisis

In recent days, I’ve been continually more disturbed by the conditions our government is creating for migrant families fleeing for safety from Central America, crossing Mexico and and seeking asylum at the southern border of the United States. The nation’s immigration and asylum systems are stretched beyond capacity by this humanitarian crisis, and our government’s response has been to try to deter those seeking safety with further hardships at the border: rightful requests for asylum denied, months-long lines in Mexico, squalid holding conditions, inadequate access to legal aid in native languages, parents separated from infants, forced relocation for thousands of “unaccompanied” minors, and children facing judicial hearings without any legal help whatsoever. Being under orders to perpetuate this sinful abuse has sickened the souls of those charged to protect the border on behalf of the American people, exposing terrible racism and prejudice in some who wear the uniforms of our government.

Continue reading “Pastoral Statement on the Immigration Crisis”

MN House Testimony

Good morning. I am the Rev. Oby Ballinger. I serve as pastor of Edina Morningside Community Church, a congregation of the United Church of Christ in Edina. In my ministry I have seen the grief and loss caused when a driver’s license is taken away. Without a license, one person has to settle for the minimum wage job that’s within walking distance. Another has lost the freedom to attend worship or get groceries independently. Children become chaperones as their parents talk about the loss of dignity that comes without a license. None of these people are new to Minnesota, but theirs is the experience of any immigrant who was here when drivers’ licenses were taken away, causing untold grief, job-loss, and harm to human decency.

Continue reading “MN House Testimony”

The Worship Challenge

It’s come very quickly, but the church season of discipleship and renewal that we call Lent begins next week! If it takes twenty-one days to learn a new habit, the forty days (plus Sundays) of Lent give Christians more than twice that time to renew a past practice or start a new commitment. You may already have something in mind for Lent, but if you don’t let me invite you to double down on the church “habit” this year. I challenge you to attend worship every time it’s offered in Lent. If you’re out of town from your customary place of worship–like I will be on one Sunday–the challenge means finding a service where you are at. This starts with Ash Wednesday next week, continues with each Sunday between February 18th and April 1st, and culminates with Holy Week worship on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. (Some churches also offer Easter Vigil worship on Holy Saturday–it’s a remarkable service!) For anyone who is out of the regular worship habit, I challenge you to get these dates on your calendar now. Even for those who regularly lead worship as singers or readers, this may be a challenge if you’re tempted to take a day off rather than to come and receive the spiritual nurture you so often share with others. And if Sunday mornings don’t work in your calendar, most churches offer some sort of weekday evening enrichment possibility in Lent. Continue reading “The Worship Challenge”

From Bystander Silence to Claiming our Voices

Last night, Javen and I joined members of my church to see a church youth (pictured) perform in the Edina High School production of MEAN, a musical about bullying. The show emphasizes that people can find every reason to pick on one another (reading ability, headscarves, weight, sexual orientation, etc), and the consequences can be deadly. It struck me as relevant for people of all ages, since our society has become toxic in its displays of intolerance, partisan taunting, and bitter division. Yesterday afternoon, for example, Javen and I joined others from our congregations at an interfaith solidarity response at Dar Al farooq Islamic Center, after Muslims in Minnesota were slammed for “infiltration” simply because they were learning how to caucus. Bullying happens long after teens leave their high school cafeterias.

Continue reading “From Bystander Silence to Claiming our Voices”

A Public Faith, Following Jesus

This past Sunday after worship, almost a dozen folks from my congregation gathered in the church library to hear about Beacon Interfaith Housing Collaborative, who are a church-started organization advocating for affordable housing in the Twin Cities. Then yesterday, I joined with others from Edina Morningside Church (above) to attend a training and press event by the statewide, multiracial and multi-faith group ISAIAH. We helped announce the Claiming Our Voices Faith Agenda, developed from house meetings with thousands of Minnesotans over the past three months. It names the top priorities of these faithful neighbors as we anticipate the 2018 election season, including a caring economy and a democracy that honors the God-given dignity of every person. Javen and I are joining with others across the state to be trained as “Faith Delegates”, taking these principles into the caucus and convention processes of both major parties. (You can sign up for trainings here, or join Javen and I at a Mayflower UCC one next Thursday night.) We’ll stand together across artificial partisan and geographic divisions, asking whoever would lead Minnesota in the coming years to hear the cry of God’s people for loving justice in every corner of the state.

Continue reading “A Public Faith, Following Jesus”