Faith Reflection: Love Until Freedom Comes

I was asked to share the manuscript of the faith reflection I shared at the August 2019 Faith in Action Alabama Montgomery Hub Meeting. The following reflection contains excerpts from the sermon I preached at the African Descent Lutheran Association – Atlanta Chapter 2019 Summer Festival and includes my perspective on why I participate in justice work, including that of Faith in Action.

I am Tiffany.

I am a 39-year old Black woman.

I am a Lutheran pastor.

A lifelong Lutheran.

My grandparents are among the founding families who started the Lutheran church I grew up in.

From a student in primary Sunday School class to a preacher in the pulpit, faith stories have shaped me.

In the Christian tradition, a popular story from our faith text is that of the Good Samaritan. In the story, an unlikely candidate is the one who shows love to a man who needs it. After the faith leaders, people like you and me, pass the hurting man by on the side of the road, the Samaritan loved him…and he loved him more than just enough to get by. When he left the man with the innkeeper, he told the innkeeper to take care of him. He said, whatever you spend, I’ll repay you. He loved him without measure. There was no limit to his love. There was no quota – no rule that says once you have loved “this much” you can stop. No. He loved him extravagantly.

This is how I believe we are called to love – love the one who is hurting, love the one who is alone, love the one who is passed over, love the one who is not yet free, and love them extravagantly. We are called not just to go be nice; but, to break down the stereotypes, break down the walls that have been built.

I believe we are called to an out of the box kind of love, not just loving the people we are comfortable loving but even more than that. Love the one outside our family, love the one outside our church, love the one from a different faith tradition, love the one who is from a different country, love the one who speaks a different language, love the one who has failed to love us. Love the one who is beat up, bloody, lying on the side of the road. Love them too.

And, it is this belief about love that brings me to the work of justice, as a person and as a faith leader.

I realize there is still so much more love to give. We have to love until we are all free. And, we’re sure not there yet.

I cannot fully celebrate my freedom while living in a state where the prisons are so oppressive, that they have been deemed illegal, unconstitutional. And that’s in a state where the death penalty is legal, so as one Alabama legislator put it, it’s more legal to be put to death in Alabama than to be in our state’s prisons.

I must keep loving until freedom comes.

I cannot fully celebrate my freedom while living in a time where a person can work 40 hours a week at a job and still not earn a wage that will allow them to be able to afford food and housing.

I must keep loving until freedom comes.

I cannot fully celebrate my freedom while some people’s lives are stifled by fines they cannot afford to pay – they are being punished simply for being poor.

I got a speeding ticket back in the Fall. Because I had a clear driving record and because I had a disposable $40 or $50 dollars to pay for a driving class and because I had the availability to go to a class on a Monday night for 4 or 5 hours, I was able to avoid the much larger ticket cost and avoid having the ticket on my car insurance, preserving my lower car insurance rates.

Because I had money, I saved money. Yet, someone else who could not afford $40 or who worked at night and couldn’t take off for the class, would have had to then pay more money for the ticket and potentially higher insurance. And, if they didn’t have the ticket money available, then, of course, we know the spiral that comes from not paying fines – suspended license, losing vehicles, not being able to get to work, missed income, and so on. Disposable income is a privilege. Flexible time is a privilege.

I must keep loving until freedom comes.

I don’t believe we can settle for a world where anything less than love and compassion is accepted as the standard. We have to keep calling for our leaders to see us, to see our children, lying on the side of the road, bleeding. We have to keep calling for justice in our legal system, demanding policy change until it comes. We have to hold our leaders and public officials accountable, hold those we elect accountable, not settle for silent voices.

And, this isn’t about politics, it is about love. In all of our faith traditions, we are called to love.

Sometimes, the story of the Good Samaritan is read as a warm and fuzzy story. But it is anything but warm and fuzzy. It is about loving beyond our comfort zone. It’s “helping the bleeding person in the ditch kind of love,” which sure ain’t warm and fuzzy.

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. talked about the Good Samaritan in his last sermon, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop,” the day before he was assassinated. He compelled those to whom he preached to employ a dangerous unselfishness. He talked about how risky it was for the Good Samaritan to stop when he did. He talked about the Jericho Road, the setting for this text, and what it was like when he and Mrs. King drove it themselves. Dr. King said this of the Jericho Road:

“It’s a winding, meandering road. It’s really conducive for ambushing. You start out in Jerusalem, which is about twelve hundred miles, or rather, twelve hundred feet above sea level. And by the time you get down to Jericho fifteen or twenty minutes later, you’re about twenty-two feet below sea level. That’s a dangerous road.”

He said of those faith leaders who passed the hurting man by, it’s possible they did so because they looked over at that man on the ground and wondered if the robbers were still around or they thought the man on the ground might be faking in order to attack them.

Dr. King suggested that the question the people who passed by the hurting man may have asked of themselves was: “If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?”

But, he said, then the Good Samaritan came by, and he reversed the question: “If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?” To his congregation, Dr. King said: “That’s the question before you tonight.”

That was the question before the people present with Dr. King on April 3, 1968 and that is the question before us today. “If we do not stop to help our neighbor, what will happen to them?”

In a way, I’m preaching to the choir, as the saying goes. I believe the people in this room are here because we desire to help. Tonight, as we lean even more into the work of determining how we help, I pose the following questions to us:

  1. Who are the people by the side of the road you are most passionate about in this season and what risks are associated with accompanying them to freedom?
  2. As you engage in justice work and know the associated risks, how do you flip the question from “what will happen to me if I help” to “what will happen to them if I don’t help?”

Rev. Tiffany C. Chaney

August 19, 2019

On Being Bi-vocational and Saying “No”…

I’ve had to say “No” a lot this week…which reminds me of my commitment to not only share publicly about the great joys of being a bi-vocational, part-time pastor; but, also the challenges.

I’ve had to say no this week to several great opportunities in other cities to preach, participate in trainings, facilitate trainings, etc. Why? Because I will end this month with 4.83 hours of accrued PTO at my health system job; and, with the things already on my calendar for the rest of the year, I am scheduled to end the year with 4.87 hours of PTO – I use it as quickly as I accrue it.

The reality is I use about 70% of my time off from my health system job for ministry. Participating in the ADLA Assembly and Churchwide Assembly meant being away from Montgomery for 10 consecutive days – that’s a huge chunk of time! I have to be very intentional about how I plan out my time off and often plan it out months in advance. (There’s a complicated spreadsheet with color-coding and hyperlinks involved.) I say “yes” to opportunities as often as I can and as is appropriate; but, there are also times I have to say “no” and really wish I didn’t.

As someone reminded me this week, I am really tri-vocational – my mission development work at Gathered by Grace, my business development work at Baptist Health, and the synodical and churchwide work I engage in that is not directly a part of the other two. I delicately try to maintain that tri-vocational balance (sometimes missing the point of balance!)

The purpose of this post is not to garner your vacation sympathy. I make intentional choices about how to spend my time; I knew what I was getting myself in to when I began this bi-vocational call; and I have already taken an actual vacation this year and will do so again for my birthday in October. I will also spend time with my family at Thanksgiving and Christmas. There are plenty of people in this country who work multiple jobs and who can only dream of taking a vacation, let alone two vacations in the same year. I am abundantly blessed.

The purpose of this post is to continue to bring awareness to what it means to be a bi-vocational, part-time pastor. As financial dynamics of churches continue to change, the conversation of more pastors being bi-vocational continues to increase. I think it’s important for pastors and congregations to understand the realities of the bi-vocational experience and that being bi-vocational often means saying “no” more times than desired.

I consider it an honor every time I am invited to engage in ministry in any way. I never take for granted that people do not have to invite me anywhere to do anything. I say “yes” as often as I can and as is appropriate, so if I tell you “no,” please know it is not without sincere consideration. It means I have considered the delicate balance of all I’m called to do, honoring my calls to Gathered by Grace and Baptist Health, and consulted my color-coded, hyperlinked vacation spreadsheet. And, it means, I’m going to try my very best to say “yes” next time, if asked again.

If you missed the LSTC blog in the Spring sharing my experience as a bi-vocational, part-time pastor and the values I find important to this type of ministry, you are welcome to read it here:

As I say in the blog on being bi-vocational, “It’s hard every day. But, for me, it is also rewarding every day (well, maybe not every day, but certainly most days.)”