A Message from Senior Pastor Kai

(This  is from the May 30th issue of “It’s Monday”, a series of email messages from Pastor Kai. If you would like to receive the “It’s Monday” emails, please contact Erin Thorstad, Director of Communications.)
 

Senior Pastor Kai Nilsen

Twin Cities to Chicago to Columbus, Ohio to Norfolk, Virginia. A week ago when we left, these cities were simply stops on the way to see family as we began a cross country trek to help my son and daughter-in-law move in to their new home in Norfolk, Virginia. As I write this, they are four of dozens of cities across the country with marches protesting the killing of George Floyd, including a peaceful march five stories below my son’s new apartment. As we know, from the gut-wrenching images in our own cities, all the marches have not been as peaceful.

How did we get here?

We can start 400 hundred years ago when the first black slaves were shackled in chains in putrid bellies of slave ships for thousands of miles across the oceans then sold, as property, to the highest bidders. Listen to that again, “Sold, as property!” Human beings. Each made in the image of God. Sold, as property, then submitted to a lifetime of body bruising work and abuse so that our “economy” could grow. Has a familiar ring to it, doesn’t it? Wealth for some created at the expense of human dignity and life for others.

That was then, right? Isn’t it time we got over it? Interestingly enough, when I was driving through Virginia there were multiple communities where the most prominent image you could see from the highway was a confederate flag, flying freely and proudly in the wind. Are we over it yet?

I used the phrase “Black Lives Matter” in a social media post earlier this week. As happens each time I use the phrase, someone asks, “Why not just say ‘all lives matter?’” Here is my quick response: When one of my four kids got hurt, it didn’t seem to make sense to say to them, “All my kids matter.” In that moment, I embraced them and said, “You matter. Your pain matters. Your healing and return to health matters.” That doesn’t diminish my love for my other kids. It expands my capacity to love as I live with another person’s pain.

Jesus did the same thing in his ministry. He didn’t say, “all people matter.” He went to those who were hurting, who’d been denied a place at the table, who had been cast out of community and said “You Matter.” Samaritans matter. Women matter. Tax collectors matter. Lepers matter. Did that mean he loved the people of Israel less? By no means. His life and ministry expanded the vision and capacity of his followers to love as they broke down the religious and cultural walls that had long divided people.

The black community in America is, has been, and will continue to be in pain. George Floyd died because a white officer knelt on his neck for over eight minutes while he was handcuffed, face to the ground, gasping for air. “I can’t breathe.” And then his last breath escaped his body.

The image is breath-taking. The pain is traumatizing. The cries of protest from the masses and the messages of friends I’ve received who are afraid every time their black sons go out the door are heartbreaking.

Where do we go from here?

Candidly, I don’t know. Cities are is still in flames. Hearts are still burning with rage. Blocks upon blocks of business and local clinics and police precincts have been reduced to rubble and smoldering ash.

It feels overwhelming. Confronted with the enormity of it all, maybe you feel as helpless as I do.

But, I go back to this thought, “Nothing will change unless something changes.”

Prayer: Prayer most often changes me. I’m going to pray to have eyes of Jesus—eyes that see and are moved by the pain of the world around me, eyes that imagine a different world, eyes that see the massive gap between the world that is and the world that Jesus imagined.

Protest: We must protest the systemic racism that is embedded in our culture. Call it for what it is. At the same time, in the spirit of Jesus, we can’t let violence be the answer to violence. Lives are at stake on so many levels; those who try to protect the peace, those who owned businesses, those who ran needed community services that were destroyed. Violence and random destruction are not the answer.

Friendship: Fear and confusion are rampant. Reach out to someone you know who needs to know they are not alone. Be present. Listen.

Work: There is much to do, much of it will evolve over the next days and months and years. We will be in contact with area church leaders to see how we can specifically help out. The work of compassion for our neighbors and justice for those oppressed goes on… and on.. and on. Don’t lose heart. We will do this work together.

I prepared this weekend’s Pentecost sermon before I left and then added some words at the end as this week emerged. Even before the events of this week, the themes were critical for us to embrace: When the Spirit of God lands in human hearts, our capacity to love expands to all nations, all ethnicities, all people, especially those who have not had a place at the table. When the Spirit of God seizes our imaginations, each place in our lives—our homes, our communities, our job—become places where we can extend the love of God.

You have heard me say these words many times: Jesus didn’t come so that we can build bigger and better churches; Jesus came to help us imagine and then co-create a better world.

In the spirit of Pentecost and the hope for a better world,
Peace. Kai