Brenda Bos (she/her) is the first openly lesbian bishop elected in the ELCA. She serves the Southwest California Synod, whose territory sits on the homeland of eleven indigenous peoples and includes the Hollywood sign, “The Valley”, coastal cities, farmland and urban deserts. She and her wife Janis spend their free time hiking with their dogs and making their house more fun for their young granddaughter.
An Easter Reflection
By: Bishop Brenda Bos
I am so angry. Angry about the state of the world. Angry about the state of the church. Angry that racism and homophobia and sexism and ableism and all the other ‘isms’ that divide us are having a field day in the ELCA. As a bishop, I’m angry that I have not found the way to talk about this publicly. I’m angry that I have to think about this all the time – who will I offend? Who will I abandon as I take a stand? Where am I complicit? I have power, more than I think, less than I think, and there are no clear guidelines on how to use it.
I am so sad. Sad that people I love have hurt each other. Sad that some people in power have the privilege of looking the other way. Sad that committed leaders have shown their weaknesses in painful, public ways. Sad that people of color in the ELCA are crying out… again. Sad that LGBTQ people in the ELCA are crying out… still. Where will we find solace?
I am so confused. As a queer bishop (it’s a small group, if you were not sure) serving a synod with diverse communities, I do not know where my guiding principles should take me. Gospel first, YES, but what does that mean exactly? Jesus Christ is the Savior of the World? The first shall be last and the last shall be first? Seek ye first the kin-dom of God? Beware the tax collector? Jesus looked at the crowd and had compassion on them? Therefore there is no male or female, Jew or Greek, slave or free? Which gospel text is supposed to guide me in these murky waters? Because Jesus says a lot about love and forgiveness and says a lot about hypocrisy and self-righteousness and apparently there is supposed to be a clear message I can follow, but I cannot find it.
Anger. Confusion. Grief. Words we have used constantly in the past two years and again now, as the Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries community tries to find its way forward after suspending a member from the historic roster on charges of racism. Anger. Confusion. Grief. As our siblings of color tell us over and over how difficult it is to find a place in this church. Anger. Confusion. Grief. As leaders of the ELCA do not have a clear path forward, especially when it comes to reconciliation and renewal. God help us.
Anger. Confusion. Grief. We think of the disciples after Jesus was arrested, as He stands trial without them, as He is executed by the state without friends nearby. The disciples were so angry. So confused. So devastated. They had trusted Jesus, had committed their lives to Him and now He was destroyed. Their ministry was destroyed. Their identity was destroyed.
Christians like to believe those feelings were dissipated the moment Jesus was resurrected. My mourning was turned to dancing, the psalmist writes, and Christians love to cling to that dance. We are Easter people, we proclaim. Christ is risen, He is risen indeed. Everything is coming up roses. Or lilies, if you go to church.
But consider the story, really. Mary does not recognize Jesus in the garden. Why? Her grief, her confusion, her anger had blocked her. Later Jesus appears to His disciples, several times, but in sporadic ways. They could not trust Him to show up at a certain time or place. His revelations were random, which, in my mind, would make it more stressful. Would He stay forever, or was He abandoning them slowly, like a lover who keeps texting even after breaking up with you. Christians like to believe those first weeks after Easter were exciting, but I believe they were excruciating. I think Jesus was preparing the disciples for the rest of life on earth. Confusing, infuriating, sorrowful. A constant search for Jesus.
A strange message for Easter, isn’t it? I focus on Mary – she did not recognize Jesus. Her grief may have obstructed her ability, but I suspect Jesus was not recognizable. I suspect Jesus is not recognizable now either. I am so angry that places and people and organizations which used to look like Jesus do not anymore. Or is it me? Is it them? Or is it Jesus, transforming into random, irritating, beautiful things?
I wonder if this is the problem. We have stopped perceiving Jesus in each other. We have been devastated by the human condition, no doubt. We have hurt each other, absolutely. I ask forgiveness where I have hurt you, I ask for sacred power to forgive you when you have hurt me. I am not asking anyone to forgive too quickly. But I am challenging us all to find Jesus in each other. The resurrected Jesus: unrecognizable, strange, illusive. Holy. Maddening. Demanding. Loving. Present. Difficult. Friends, if it were easy, everyone would be doing it. My prayer this Easter is that we can truly acknowledge, truly experience Jesus in each other. He is disrupting us, and in that disruption, He will heal us.