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Deny Yourself, Pick up Your Cross, and Follow Jesus: An invitation to the best-worst journey ever.

To my beloved CLC,

Sunday morning you welcomed me into your homes to share a message God placed on my heart surrounding Matthew 16: 21-18. For those of you unable to tune into the livestream/unable to access audio recordings, I did not write out a sermon for Sunday, but instead presented conversationally/freely. However, what I am about to share and write here presents the same message as Sunday morning, just through a different story/lens.

I wrestled all weekend with what to say and how to say it. I made speech outlines. I started writing out a speech. I started creating a powerpoint. But still I wrestled. Not because I did not know what to say. I knew exactly the message and invitation God had for us—that our cross is to choose love, a restorative love, a love that will cost us everything we think we desire but bring us everything we truly need and desire. But I also know the times we are living in, and I know the kind of preacher and teacher I have been in the past and know that it would not work in our context nor in the context in which we are living today. I am a motivational teacher, speaker, preacher, life coach, enthusiastic human being. I love big and I love deep and I love wide. When I jump into something I make a big splash. I have been known to bring the thunder and lightening of God, the power and force of God through speaking and activating a crowd of young people into setting the world on fire with love (a provocative metaphor in these times perhaps, but I have prayed for years the world would be set on fire with love…I prayed it metaphorically, but ask those of you uncomfortable to hold tight in what we are seeing in the world that there is a fire that heals. I know there is so much violence taking place but I promise you there are people working towards deep, restorative healing. They are my friends and my partners in this work, the sanctuaries I found when I left the church, and the places affirming me that the time has come to step fully into what we are doing. They are pastors and community members who want their neighborhoods restored from the devastation that has plagued them for years…but I digress). What I realized in preparing for Sunday morning is that your youth and emerging adults need my full thunder. They need the bigness and openness of my love that shatters barriers and walls and forces people to confront themselves without my even trying (trust me, this is a pattern in my life we can talk about over coffee sometime). I am aware of who I am and the gift it is to a generation and to people that have felt imprisoned for years but have not known how to get free. And many of you reading this outside that demographic long for and desire these things as well. I am aware that as much as you are an answer to my prayers, I am an answer to yours. And I love you and thank you for the welcome received that has sparred this journey on and brought new life to me.

But for some of you the changes taking place around you are really hard. Life has been really hard. And I knew I was speaking to an audience more diverse theologically and culturally than I am used to, especially knowing it was on the live stream and available for the world. So as much as I was wrestling with how to present the word to you, I was also wrestling with how to present the invitation to the world.  I know that 2020 has been different for each of us. Some of us have felt isolated and alone, cut off from those we love and the things we love, and for the first time maybe ever in life, we are having to face our doubts, fears, and insecurities in ways we never have before. We are having to engage parts of us and things in us we didn’t even know were there. Some of us are doing fine. Life hasn’t changed that much and/or the ways that it has changed have actually proven really beneficial for you as individuals and families and, other than not loving the state of the world around you, you yourself and as a family are doing okay. Then I think of my own community. How many people have lost jobs and been displaced from work because of COVID. How many are scared because they are teachers and nurses and doctors and things are not okay. How many are grieving because the people being shot are their friends and family and loved ones. How many are grieving because their husbands or wives or kids are cops who really do want to do their job well and feel trapped and unheard in the war between the system and the people. We are all experiencing different things in 2020 and the only thing we can do is remain true to the path Jesus has called us to walk, remaining anchored in his love and Creators love and the call of the cross that leads to the promise of resurrected and restored life.

And so I wrestled. And I prayed. And in the end I laid down every outline I made for Sunday morning and picked up the cross of having an open, honest, gentle yet real conversation with you all. Sunday morning felt vulnerable for me and was a personal act of stepping out and trusting God. Teaching on Sunday for me was like Jonah finally going to Nineveh, only unlike Jonah, I had asked God to help me learn to love people who once were/represented my oppressors and was trusting that God had indeed been preparing your hearts to receive the message and come along this journey you began before I even arrived. Rather than be angry about the injustices committed, I had to lean into my hope I have for you all, a hope God planted and you have watered in my soul through your love, welcome, and embracing of me and who I am and what I bring to the table, holistically. A hope that says maybe, just maybe, there really is a community of people who want to love the world around them and share in the goodness of Jesus, no matter the cost. Maybe there is a church that exists that wants to be a true sanctuary and safe place for every member of humanity. I’m telling you, I am in love with everything you say you stand for and plan to do. It is EVERYTHING I have been looking for in a community and church. But now we have to learn how to do it. We have to learn how to embody our core values so that we can carry out our five year plan in a way that holistically meets the needs of the world in which we live.

 One of the things you will come to learn about me if you decide to continue on this magical journey of learning to embody our core values and love our neighbors and humanity well is that I will not preach or teach or lead or go or invite you to anything I am not willing to do or have not done myself. That would be abusive, oppressive, and mean, and as someone who has sought deep healing from those things happening to her and has also confronted the ways in which she has been those things, I work hard to lead in humility and love with integrity. I love you CLC. I have fallen in love with you. The more time I spend with our youth and emerging adults, the more time I converse with them and hear their stories and wants and desires, the more my heart overflows at the goodness of God in this season. Your young people are incredible and I consider it the greatest honor and joy that I get to be a part of their lives. Not only that, they want me to be in their lives, and that blessing and welcome fills me with more good feelings than I know what to do with or have experienced in my life. When I say I love you, I’m rooting for you, and I’m here for you, I mean that with everything I am.  

It seems the time has come for me to once again deny myself, pick up my cross, and follow Jesus. That is the embodiment of trusting God in this life.

Anyone who knows me and knows me well knows that I love cities. I lived in Los Angeles for a couple years and LOVED IT. It was my favorite place on earth, rivaled only by Barcelona, Spain as a I place I would want to live for life (I love Bangkok, Thailand and Buenos Aires as well, but LA and Barcelona feel like home when I’m there. Something about them just puts my soul at ease). And anyone who has met me since moving back to Minneapolis knows how much I love living in Robbinsdale and with my friend turned roommate turned sister. In fact, without her welcome into her home, I could not have said yes to your part-time work offer. However, that part-time work has shifted to full-time work, and because my doctoral dissertation is now tied into the work, I am working 60+ hour weeks in order to get in your hands what you need to understand the journey we are about to go on as a congregation and why this is what we are doing (again, it is based in your core values and the plan you all set in place before I got here. I’m just going to help you do it because it is everything I have been looking to implement and train people in for the past 2-4 years…I just thought I’d be at a university or individually consulting…but I digress).

I never wanted to live in the Midwest, but somewhere along the way that changed. I knew God was calling me to Minnesota when I left Ventura, I just did not understand why. I landed in Saint Paul because I hated Minneapolis at the time but knew I needed a city if I was going to survive. My brother and his family lived in Madison, WI at the time, my parents in eastern South Dakota and my sister and her family in Texas (so a flight no matter where I lived), so Saint Paul felt like the middle ground. Then life took me to the west metro. Then to uptown. Then back to South Dakota before calling me back to you all, beginning with a home in Robbinsdale. My boundary when I accepted a job in Lake Elmo was that I would always live in a city. However, as I pray and think through what the best way is to engage the work that is about to be developed, I know the answer is to go back to what I learned in the beginning—to move into the neighborhood and live among those you seek to serve. I have done this in many contexts. I just never thought with a call to missions I would be doing this in an upper middle class suburb (I am the person who chose slums and brothels overseas and “bad neighborhoods” in the US over a path that would lead to a big house with a white picket fence in the United States. Though through understanding and loving you all, I’m beginning to see the gift big houses and big spaces offer when connecting and gathering with people. I just knew wealth and big houses as empty and lonely and isolating spaces when growing up, but those are stories for another day. When I tell you there is room for all of us at the table, there is room for all of us. And truth be told, we all need each other just as we are, more than any of us realize).

I know what I am called here to do, CLC. I am called to serve your youth and emerging adults while helping the body/congregation learn how to make space for those not yet represented in our church and community. It is scary. It is challenging. But it is so so good and everything I am made to do. However, the only way I know how to do it is to move into the neighborhood and build relationships.

So once again I am denying myself, picking up my cross, and following Jesus, this time into the Stillwater/Lake Elmo/St. Croix Valley area. I’m moving your way. I don’t know if it will be next week, next month, or next year (I do not know the time table, but know anything is possible. Afterall, it was three weeks total from the time I applied for a job with you to the day I began working, and it involved a move across states). I am saying yes to Creator’s invitation, so trust that when the timing is right a home for me will be found and I will make the move. So be praying for me CLC, as I deny myself, pick up my cross, and move into your neighborhood to carry out my personal call in what God is asking us corporately to engage in this season. I’ll keep you posted along the way.

As always, know I love you, I’m praying for you, I’m rooting for you, and I am here for you.

With an overflowing love and joy found only in the goodness of Creator,

Andrea, your Director for Next Gen Ministries and sister/auntie/friend through the love that binds us all together as one people, amen. 

Posted by Andrea Zirbel

The Place I First Said Yes

I remember sitting on the balcony of our housing unit in Mexico on the final day of my first short-term missions experience. I was barely 19 at the time, and we had just spent a week in Juarez serving and working. Throughout the week, I had noticed an increasing inner pull and desire to serve at a greater capacity, so was spending time in prayer. Feeling called to continue in mission work, I remember praying to God, “God, if you want me to, I will spend my summer here in Juarez!” Almost instantly I heard a still, small voice say “Pine Ridge.” I remember responding “No Lord, I will spend my summer in MEXICO if you want me to serve you.” And again I heard, “Pine Ridge.” Leaving Juarez it was clear to me my call was to mission work, but if I were going to follow and surrender to the Lord, the path was not to Mexico, but Pine Ridge.

Choosing to spend two summers in Pine Ridge changed and transformed my life. Growing up I was taught about the battle of Wounded Knee and Custer’s Last Stand as great United States victories (I think each incident had a paragraph max in our history textbook). However, standing at the site of Wounded Knee and hearing the true story of the massacre that took place was appalling. Unarmed men, women, and children chased for up to four or five miles and gruesomely slaughtered at the hands of US soldiers. Pregnant bellies ripped open and unborn babies placed on stakes and spears, women and children scalped and murdered—all because those in charge of the United States deemed these humans as not humans and believed it their God given right to conquer the land and the people. There are legal documents in United State’s history that call for the extermination of indigenous peoples. The list of atrocities our white, United States ancestors committed horrendously goes on and on. To our shame and disgrace, the same mindset that allowed this and numerous other massacres to occur lives on today.

One of the theological concepts I was introduced to as a result of my summers on the rez was “corporate sin”—the idea that we are held accountable for the actions of our community as well as ourselves (Many of the OT prophets address cities as a whole, as does the book of Revelations when addressing the churches, etc). Living in Pine Ridge and learning the whole story of my people in this land changed my life, and became the place where I said “yes” to becoming an anti-racist (that is, someone who confronts racism wherever they find it…in themselves, in their communities, in systems, etc).

That yes has cost me a lot of things over the years—jobs, mentors, family/friends, dates, money, opportunities….and yet that yes has also given me my family, my balance, my call. That yes has defined who I am, and has transformed me into a kinder, gentler, more caring and compassionate human. That yes has killed me and continues to kill me and the things in me that need to die. And in those places of death, I have found new life, renewed life, redeemed and restored life.

Fast forward to our present times, and I am more committed to that yes than I have ever been (the yes to being an anti-racist is intertwined with my yes to Jesus and following the road set before me no matter the cost). I will be honest. There are days I am scared. I am aware of what happens to prophets and those who stand up for the marginalized and oppressed. I know how ugly and mean people can get in times of war, fear, trauma, and stress and I am so afraid that those I love but stand opposite of will seek my destruction and harm. I’m sad that divisions will arise and love will be lost—that we will forget that relationships and people matter more than anything and lose sight of Jesus and love. I’m scared of the ugliness in my own heart and the mistakes I will make along the way.

But these fears reveal two things to me. 1) I have more work to do/still have areas where I am still compliant with white supremist ways (this will always be true FYI...being an anti-racist is a lifetime journey) and 2) my own privilege in all of this…that at the end of the day, the truth is this is a choice for me. It’s not people that look like me that are being hurt by the system, killed by authorities, lynched in broad daylight. I am not the person the system is designed to oppress.

But my friends are. My community is. My brothers and sisters are. And it has to stop.

I believe we as the white church have a divine invitation and choice to make during the upcoming days and years. Will we step into the fullness of our history as white Christian Americans and seek to undo the oppression our ancestors have done? Or will be turn away because its not our fault? Will we recognize the systems of oppression that exist today and leverage our power to change them? Will we choose to stand with the oppressed and marginalized, no matter the cost?

I don’t know what your yes will cost you—that’s between you and God. I know at a minimum it will cost you your comfort, your control, your defensiveness and need to be right. But if you want to say yes to being an anti-racist; if you want to commit to doing the work, know that I am here for you and more than willing to walk this journey with you—my hope is as a community we can walk this together.

I had no idea that my “yes” to Pine Ridge would take me on the road it has. And as disappointed and frustrated as I was early in my missionary days for not being in more Spanish speaking countries (afterall, I do have a degree in Spanish), today I look back and rejoice over the path God took me on in life. As heart-wrenching and hard as the work is to do, it is an honor to get to be part of the liberation from and restoration of what has gone so terribly wrong in this country since its inception.

I love you all. I’m rooting for you. And I’m praying the grace and love of God over each of your homes today.

Posted by Andrea Zirbel

This Ends With Us

Yesterday I had the privilege of attending a youth led and organized protest called “solidarity in the suburbs” in Woodbury.  Being 33 years old, this was the first time I attended an event where I was the oldest person in attendance…and not just barely—by far I looked like the oldest person there.

Between 45-50 youth showed up to stand at the corners of two different intersections to promote and support holistic systemic change. As I stood on the corner holding my sign and joining in with the chants of the youth, I was overwhelmed with so much goodness. Yes, there were people who drove by and signaled the bird (or double bird) to the youth and showed their disdain for the protest happening, but the overwhelming majority of people that passed and cars that went by honked and hollered in support of the youth and what they were doing (I would say 60-70% of cars audibly and visibly showed their support). Two different cars came with water to hand out to those of us protesting (the cars were not involved with the protest), and thanked us for what we were doing.  As I watched the youth coming together to take a stand that enough is enough and the community around them show overwhelming support, hope arose in me that perhaps we really can win this battle for systemic change through love and peaceful protesting—perhaps people are waking up to the systemic realities and atrocities that have plagued this country since its inception and are ready and willing to come together to create change.

One of the young women attending the protest had a sign that said “This ends with us.” And I hope with everything in me she is right.

For far too long we as a nation have ignored our youth. This generation has grown up with school shootings and massacres happening regularly, and as a nation we have done NOTHING to protect or defend their innocence and make this stop.  This generation has grown up in potentially the most politically dividing climate in the United States, and yet they seem to have a tolerance and understanding for each other and those from different backgrounds unprecedented by previous generations, with maybe the exception of the Millennials. This generation has already organized protests and marches against gun violence (2018), and are making their voices heard and standing up for what they believe in (think Greta Thunberg).

The spirit and fight in this generation is amazing—especially because, in my experience talking with the youth, they want unity, justice, community, love, and peace to be what prevails. They simply want a world where EVERYONE is able to live in freedom and peace. They want equality/equity. They want justice. They want freedom. They want change. And its sounding and feeling like they are not going to stop until they get it. I could not be prouder of the students I have engaged with over the past few weeks.

I know there are a lot of mixed opinions within our CLC family on what is taking place in society.  I also know the stories and narratives the media chooses to portray and spin ARE NOT the ACTUAL stories and narratives taking place on the ground. There is so much beauty, community, love, support, and kindness taking place in the midst of sitting, marching, and chanting for justice and systemic transformation. The people are coming together as one and it is beautiful. Please, if your information on what is taking place is coming solely from major news sources, I invite you to check out a live stream of a protest recorded by independent people in attendance. Yesterday Native Lives Matter held a solidarity march/protest and the messages/speakers were awing and beautiful.  But I'm guessing their messages were not shared on main stream news--which is tragic.

Truly, I believe Creator is going to bring beauty for ashes and joy for mourning.  I believe justice will come, and it will come in the fullness of goodness and love.

I also believe we are invited into this work, to be part of the justice and goodness coming. Becoming a white ally is work, work that one never arrives in, but is a continuous process for the rest of one's life. As someone who began the work of confronting my own white supremacy and racism 15 years ago, I can tell you that you never stop learning, growing, and making mistakes. We have to confront our own culture and learn to listen. We, as predominately white people of privilege, have to begin to listen to stories from outside our homogenous circles. We have to learn to enter into the stories of others, and hear what people are saying, what they have experienced, and what they need in support. We have to learn our own history, the true, complete stories, and we have to do better. We have to follow Jesus. We have to lay down our opinions and listen to the voices of the communities most deeply impacted by what is happening and honor their stories and leadership in what is needed. 

I hope as older generations we can support the youth and come alongside them.  After all, this is their future.  This is the society they will inherit. It's time they had a say in what it looks like and how we proceed forward (since we have done NOTHING to stop the violence that has interrupted and ended the lives of their peers). 

“This ends with us.”

May it be so.  


Posted by Andrea Zirbel