By Rev. Kathryn Ray
“How does it feel to be a problem?”
The question fell to me to answer in a small group setting last February, when I attended Rev. Dr. Greg Ellison’s Fear+Less Dialogues workshop as part of the Young Adult Initiative in which NSBC is participating. He calls it “one of the five most difficult questions to answer.”
Rev. Dr. Ellison- pastor, psychologist, and professor at Candler Theological School- did not come up with this question on his own. He draws it from The Souls of Black Folk, by the luminary thinker W.E.B DuBois. Rev. Dr. Ellison also believes that this experience of problem-ness is something many of us- across diverse backgrounds- can relate to. When you are blazing a new path that those around you cannot see, when you are living or working in a space whose values, whose basic assumptions about life, conflict with your own, you may come to find that you are a problem.
I don’t remember exactly how I answered the question, but I remember the feeling that rose up in my body. It was like the grinding of two tectonic plates against each other.
It was a feeling that finally took on a form months later, when I heard these words from the Chicana scholar Gloria Anzaldúa, writing about her experience living on the border between the US and Mexico.
She writes that “The US-Mexican border es una herida abierta where the Third World grates against the first and bleeds. And before a scab forms it hemorrhages again, the lifeblood of two worlds merging to form a third country- a border culture.”
I know for a fact that I did not use this quote that day, in that small group setting. But when I remember that dialogue, Gloria Anzaldúa’s words are the only ones that come to mind. Two worlds grating together, causing a wound that cannot quite heal because they keep grating. That is what it feels like to be a problem.
To be a problem is to constantly chafe against the edges of the world around you. To be a problem is to be wounded and to bleed.
In I Samuel 14, Jonathan is a problem.
His father, Saul, is the king, the most empowered man in all of Israel. In his zeal to defeat the Philistines, he makes a vow to God on behalf of his people. He vows that no one shall eat until victory against the Philistines has been delivered into his hands.
Jonathan was not present when this happened. He doesn’t know about the vow. He sees some honeycombs that look delicious. He dips his sword in, and eats the honey. And the text says his eyes were brightened; he feels better.
Without even realizing it, Jonathan has become a deviant. He has strayed from the faithful path of a people following their God. The Israelite people shared a collective identity before God, they were not individuals, they were a unit. So when Jonathan broke his father’s vow, it was like the entire people of Israel had transgressed. He was now contaminating the nation with his action.
In short, Jonathan has become a problem.
If you have been following the history of the Israelite people, this is a story you have heard before.
In the book of Judges, the military leader Jephthah makes a vow to God that if his enemies are delivered into his hands, he will sacrifice the first thing that steps out over the threshold of his house upon his return.
Of course, in the finest of tragic ironies, the first living being to cross the threshold of his home is his daughter, his only child. He laments greatly, “why did it have to be you?” But his daughter replies, “There is nothing to be done. You made a promise to God, you must fulfill it.”
And so he does.
Promises to God had to be fulfilled, or greater consequences would ensue. You didn’t renege on a vow to God. That was the law. That is why I would expect the story of Jonathan to go exactly like the story of Jephthah’s daughter.
But the remarkable thing is that it doesn’t. Jonathan refuses to go away quietly.
When Jonathan comes before his father, you can almost hear the sarcasm in his voice. “Yes, I ate a little honey. So I will die.”
You know the statement is not earnest or contrite, because of the way his father responds. He acts like someone whose power has been threatened.
“You’re darn right you’re going to die. I am going to kill you dead.”
Jonathan belittled his father’s vow. He goes from publicly criticizing Saul to publicly shaming him. The emperor has no clothes. The finger is turning back towards Saul. Maybe Jonathan wasn’t the problem at all. Maybe the problem was the rash and foolhardy actions of the king.
And then the MOST remarkable thing happens. The people defy their king. They support Jonathan. They stand against the king’s attempt to make good on a vow to God in order to protect Jonathan from death.
The “problem” demanded that attention be paid. And attention was paid. The relationship between king and people changed that day because Jonathan, the problem, stood up and refused to quietly go away.
This is the power of being a problem. It is the power to effect change. It is a power that rises at the margins and works its way inward, and what it touches, it changes.
This is the power of Gloria Anzaldúa’s border culture, the culture born of the open wound, the herida abierta, where the Third World grates against the first and bleeds.
She proclaims this power when she states:
“This is my home
This thin edge of barbwire.
But the skin of the earth is seamless.
The sea cannot be fenced,
El mar does not stop at borders.
To show the white man what she thought of his arrogance,
Yemayá blew that wire fence down.”
She, too, demands that attention be paid.
I do not know what it is to call the thin edge of barbed wire my home. That is not my lived reality. And yet the reverberations of her words strike a chord deep in my soul.
My soul tells me that I recognize something of what it means to bleed when grated against another world. What it means to be a problem.
When I shared this feeling of grating with my small group that day, I was met with knowing, compassionate nods and smiles, coming from people from very different walks of life.
That was a tremendously affirming experience.
This is why I am captivated by Greg Ellison’s assertion that many of us, of different ages, races, and cultures, know what it feels like to be a problem. I am further convicted by his belief that by getting in touch with that feeling, we can build empathy for others, even when their situations are entirely different from ours.
If I learn to truly hold my woundedness in love, it can open my eyes to the wounds of others. My pain can call me to pay attention to the pain of others, to connect across our shared woundedness.
When that connection is formed- when your pain calls to mine and we know we are not truly alone in this struggle- that is a truly revolutionary moment. That is the moment in which we share the power of being a problem.
When we join in our woundedness, in our mismatched existences, we can stand up together to the foolishness of kings. We can challenge misguided commitments.
That is a moment that has the power to transform our reality from inside out, from the margins to the center, from the barbed-wire border to the halls of power.
So I put the question to you again:
“How does it feel to be a problem?”
 W.E. Burghardt DuBois. The Souls of Black Folk (Electronic Text Center, University of Virginia Library), p. 1.
 See Gregory C. Ellison II. Fear+Less Dialogues: A New Movement for Justice (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2017), p. 114.
Gloria Anzaldúa. Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza. (San Francisco: Aunt Lute Books, 1987). p. 25.
¿Alguna vez te has sentido decepcionada de la vida y sientes que nadie puede comprenderte?
“Amándote un poco más… eres libre!
Un evento diseñado para ti!
Ven a disfrutar de enriquecimiento personal y espiritual.
Habrá varias sesiones con temas a escoger.
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By Rev. Kathryn Ray
The story of David and Jonathan is one of the great love stories of the Bible. The text tells us that, soon after they first met, the soul of Jonathan was bound to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul. They are thus, perhaps, the first known soulmates.
When I was doing background research for this sermon, as is my wont, a lot of articles that came up were debating whether or not we could see David and Jonathan as a gay couple. When we read these words of David that Jonathan’s love "surpassed the love of women," it does fire the imagination.
It’s important to remember that neither of these men would have claimed a sexual orientation. That understanding of human sexuality is alien to the text. And furthermore, marriage in this time was not what it is in our day and age. It wasn’t a union between lovers or soulmates. It was a property transfer, a formal arrangement to ensure and to safeguard the creation of children who would literally keep you alive in your old age and insure that you had a legacy.
But keeping in mind this distance between us and our text, I think I stand on solid, biblical ground when I say that the love between David and Jonathan was deep, true, and abiding.
Every year, the neighborhood of Lakewood Balmoral has a yard sale the Saturday after Labor Day. The church always provides hospitality (water and restrooms). We also set up food stands featuring traditional cuisines from our different congregations.
This year, we have decided to celebrate the talents of our family, friends, and neighbors by hosting a Crafts & Vendor Fair. We hope to offer a variety of local, handmade items.
If you are a crafter or artisan and would be interested in participating, please review the information at the link below, and fill out the included form.
Crafts & Vendor Fair Information and Application
or download this pdf
On Sunday, August 5, we will gather on Lakewood Avenue in front of the church at 11:30 am for a picnic and block party. All are welcome!
This summer, we will again be hosting a Summer Mission Explorers series for our children. Rather than doing a one-week VBS program, we will be gathering during the traditional Adventures in Learning hour -Sundays from 11:30-12:30 - to learn more about the mission work of the church and do crafts together. Summer Mission Explorers will take place on July 29, August 12, August 19, and August 26.
This year, we will learn more about the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America; the church's work in Retalhuleu, Guatemala; the Samaritana Ministry in the Philippines; and our lunch and shower ministry for those experiencing homelessness.
In April, Anna Mangahas from ONE Northside (a community organization of which NSBC is a member) came to the Church Council meeting to discuss the work of the Grassroots Association for Police Accountability (GAPA). At its meeting in May, the Church Council voted to formally express support for the work and recommendations of the coalition, which we believe furthers the work of building peace, justice, and right relationship in the city of Chicago.
GAPA describes itself as “a broad-based coalition of community organizations committed to making our neighborhoods safer, improving police practices and accountability, and transforming the relationship between the Chicago Police Department and the communities it serves.” The coalition formed two years ago in order to create an avenue for broad-based community input in the city’s discussion regarding police oversight reform. Over the past two years, it has been hosting community conversations between various stakeholders, including the police department, local businesses and organizations, and members of communities experiencing high levels of violence.
Based on these conversations, GAPA has formulated a proposal to establish a Community Commission for Public Safety and Accountability, which will share oversight responsibilities of the Civilian Office of Police Accountability and the Police Board with the mayor. Members of the commission, while elected by the city, will be required to have experience and education in fields directly related to the work they will be overseeing. The full proposal can be found on GAPA’s website.
By Rev. Kathryn Ray
Jesus answered, "Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, 'You must be born again.' The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit." "How can this be?" Nicodemus asked. -John 3:5-9
You know when you've done something basically your entire life, and then suddenly one day it's like you're discovering it for the first time? This is the story of how I rediscovered sacred reading. Even though I'd literally been doing it the week before.
On June 10 at 11:30 am, join us in celebrating the end of another year of Adventures in Learning. We will see presentations from each class, celebrate our graduates, and thank our teachers.
This was so much fun, we are doing it again! On Friday, May 18, we will gather in Howel Hall at 6:30pm to share a simple dinner and watch together one of last year’s best and most life-affirming movies, Coco. Again, this will be a semi-potluck --
entree, soft drinks, and popcorn will be provided, and you are asked to bring a salad, side dish, or dessert. (Everyone especially likes the desserts.)