Have I mentioned that it’s hard to do church with a toddler? It is, and still the toddler is the reason I try. When the news of yet another mass shooting in a school broke in the late afternoon on Tuesday, I couldn’t quite put her down easily for the rest of the day, and as a week of rage and grief unfolded, I couldn’t put social media down either, desperate for a Greek chorus that would echo my fury. So I had to try to get us all out the door to church today, to take refuge from the world that not only allows such things to happen but allows them to happen again and again, sickly and identically and endlessly again. We would be safe there— she would be safe there. Not that church is safe either, not in that sense, but at least there we are safe from the callous disregard of the world.
And not that church has any idea what to do either, really, although we can do one thing: We can name what happened and call it what it is. Pastor Dwight preached on the unnamed slave woman in Acts 16, following Paul and the other disciples around, her spirit of divination exploited by the men who owned her. Paul casts the spirit out of her, bringing the men’s anger upon himself and Silas. Paul might have been annoyed by the woman, but rather than take it out on her, he sees her situation for what it is: she possesses a gift that has been so twisted and abused that it has become a curse. Likewise, on Memorial Day, when we remember those who died in battle on behalf of this country, we have to confront our own curses on their behalf: the curses of white supremacy, of violence against the vulnerable, of the worship of guns above so much else. And, like Paul, we must conclude that the only way to rid ourselves of curses is to cast them out—to be free to act, and act differently from the forces that exploit and enslave.
Cast them out, or live with them to die with them. What does that look like? It looked like slavery in the Book of Acts and it still looks that way in our time. What we called slavery might be over, but that’s not to say it doesn’t still exist, in different forms by different names. This week it looked like nineteen children and two teachers enslaved to our fantasies of what power and freedom look like—because what is slavery if not an inability to escape someone else’s vision of what your life and death should be?
“I don’t know where I’m going with this,” Pastor Dwight confessed towards the end of his sermon. “I hope God does.” There are twenty-one crosses made from salvaged fence posts on the church lawn. They ask us to refuse to look away or let others do the same. It might not change everything, but at least it isn’t nothing. Maybe we don’t know where we’re going. But God knows where we should go.
I took her to church because I want her to be safe, and to be free, and to have a different idea of what safety and freedom looks like than the one that too much of this cursed country wants to sell her. Because I want to be free to act and I want her to do the same. Because twenty-one people no longer can. Because the cross, the symbol of the ultimate act of freedom, of the rejection of empire and its sick, sham powers, stands twenty-one times on the front lawn of the church to remind us that we must.