Refusing To Be Comforted

grieving-angel-statueFebruary 15, 2018
“A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted because they are no more.” Matthew 2:18
This scripture-within-scripture is originally found in Jeremiah 31:15, but in Matthew’s gospel it refers to the slaughter of the innocents. You know, that part of the Christmas story that we would rather not think or talk about. That part where innocent babies were slaughtered because of political posturing and a need for power. Yeah, we don’t want to talk about that.
So here we are again, watching the blood run and the families howl with inconsolable grief. And we see lots of social media posts with “thoughts and prayers” and “remembering the victims” and prayers of “Lord, keep our babies safe!” And we dare to cry, “How can this happen? How long, Lord?” And we have the gall to say, “Lord, do something!”
Jesus wept.
Jesus weeps and demands of us, “How long? How can this happen? DO SOMETHING!” I imagine that the families who grieve appreciate the thoughts and prayers, but I think that they hold no comfort for them. They are refusing to be comforted by thoughts and prayers when action is required. Take time for a moment of silence? Yeah, that’s great, but they are crying for us to take action.
In yesterday’s Ash Wednesday reading, Isaiah* the prophet brings a word that God is disgusted with the “fake fasting and mourning” of God’s people. Empty words asking for righteousness when we continue to practice unrighteousness.
The words, “our thoughts and prayers” taste like ashes in my mouth. The hand-wringing by the people in power who can (but don’t) end this horror, is enough to make me want to vomit. And I am venturing to guess that God is saying the same thing today he said to another prophet: “Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” (Amos 5:23-24)
The shooting in Parkland, Florida on February 14th was the 18th school shooting this year. Think about that.
When government officials say “unspeakable tragedy” they mean they don’t want to speak about common-sense gun control laws. Refuse to be comforted.
When the governor says this was an act of “pure evil” my stomach turns because what is pure evil is the fact that politicians don’t have the guts to say “enough!” to the powerful gun lobby. Refuse to be comforted.
When the mental health of the murderer is mentioned by the president but there is no mention of the fact that this administration did away with controls put in place previously to prevent people with mental health histories from getting weapons. Refuse to be comforted.
So, I am doing something. I have notified my representative to congress and my senators how I feel. I urge you to do the same. You can find them at the links below.
If you quote the second amendment to me, I will have a hard time talking to you right now. But I will. I will dare to have the conversations that we need to have to use our common sense and our compassion to see that this country stops being the greatest in the world—in the amount of school shootings and gun violence.
Pastor Sue Corley


Jesus rebuking demon

Trump has chosen to mock those who disagee with him. He says we are resisting change and what is good for the country No. No, we are resisting fascism and an end to the noble idea of democracy. We are resisting you, Mr. Trump. We are resisting big business (big pharma, big oil, big sugar, big insurance) that rape the Earth and Her citizens. We are resisting ignorance that masquerades as patriotism and Christianity that wants to have all the power. Because true patriots want freedom and justice for ALL and true Christians know that bending to help the lowly is what God sees as greatness.

You may continue to trumpet away, but we have seen your like before. Those who call lies truth and who try to divide and conquer. The Herods who would do anything to hold onto their power and who hid behind a religious sect that they neither believed in nor cared about. Small children who threatened his power were annihilated. Not even his own children were safe in the end.

The Caesars who tried to maintain order with swords and crosses (or nuclear weapons and fighter jets.) They could maintain a peace, by force. But it was not true peace.
We have seen this before in Hitler who masqueraded as a unifier of Germany but proved to be a monster whose megalomania and narcissism caused the deaths of millions of innocent people.

History has seen you before. And God has dealt with your kind before. God is not mocked. Righteousness and peace will kiss, (Psalm 85) and the whole world will see it. The wilderness will be a highway for people to find the God of grace, mercy and love. No walls, just a level ground for ALL to be welcomed. And the world will see you for what you are.

Stuck In The Middle With You


We are in the middle of some turbulent times. You might say, “The Times, They are A’Changing!” Click to hear Bob Dylan sing. And in the middle of change, everything looks like failure and chaos. Until God speaks again over the chaos and helps us to find our way to peace, justice, love, and freedom; we have some work to do!  So right, left, and everyone in the middle, just some thoughts.

To my people on the right; I love you! You may be sick of hearing it, but “white privilege” is a thing. As white people, we have things better, we have an advantage, even here in America the “land of opportunity!” We have got to notice and understand, and realize that people that don’t look like us are not getting the same rights that we take for granted. And no one is being a whiny snowflake for calling it out!

As a woman, I face things that men will never understand. We’re not even talking about waxing, here!  It just a fact.  As a woman alone, I have to be concerned when I go to an unfamiliar place where there are men that I don’t know. I need look like I take no s**t but to not be too bold or too friendly, because that may send the wrong message and I may find myself in a compromising situation. When I have been alone and stopped by a police officer on a dark road somewhere, I have experienced a flutter in my heart that a man never would. A twinge of fear that a male officer of questionable character, may take advantage of my vulnerability.

African Americans face things every day that I will never understand because I am white. I see and recognize that there is a real threat to the black community from police in some communities. Does acknowledging that automatically say that police officers are bad? No of course not: I love and respect police officers for the amazing, terrifying, and thankless jobs they do. But are there officers that are racist, prejudiced, sexist, and just not good people? Yes! Because they are people, for God’s sake!

Black Lives Matter IN NO WAY says that other lives don’t matter! Please, please, please, hear me say that! It isn’t “either/or” but “both/and.” Seriously, if you look at our history at all, you can see that we still need to come a long way. So when a black football player protests a system that seems to devalue the lives of young black men, he has a right to do that in this country. We might all consider taking a knee.

Which brings me to another topic: patriotism. Patriotism comes in many colors, shapes, and types. But there is a difference between patriotism and nationalism. I heard it defined this way: “A patriot is proud of their country for what it does. A nationalist is proud of their country no matter what it does.”

Let’s not be nationalists. When our country begins to act in ways contrary to every ideal on which we were founded, we the people have a right (a duty!) to protest, resist, and reclaim. Look at how this country was formed!

Defending immoral and unjust leaders regardless of what they do, does not make us “patriots.” It makes us “nationalists.” It’s the difference between the way a 1st grader loves their dad and a grown adult loves their dad. When we are young, our dads are “heroes” who can “beat up anyone else’s dad.” To our young eyes and hearts our dads are flawless. When we become adults, we understand that our dads are human, they made mistakes, they have flaws.  As adults, we still love our dads—sometimes much more deeply for knowing the things they overcame! But we don’t fool ourselves.

To my people on the left; I love you! You are awesome; fighting for rights and standing for the marginalized! Fighting for animals and for Mother Earth. What I’ve noticed is that sometimes people want to make their point so badly, they will alienate the very people that are starting to come over to their side. It happened to me. I was starting to get “woke” about a lot of stuff, and yet, I was lambasted by some people from the far left who wouldn’t accept any movement I made, unless it was the “full monty.” And that just does not make sense. Because I am not the enemy. I am coming over to your side, at least trying to, and what you do pushes me away. Maybe dial it back a little. I understand that “political correctness” is actually just being kind to one another, but we can go overboard on being offended when no offense was meant.

I remember a conversation in seminary with a male African American classmate. He was talking about a church not wanting him because they “weren’t ready” for a black pastor. I heard him and shared that it sucked that we were still there. I said that as a woman pastor, churches “weren’t ready” for me either. Afterward he called me aside and made it clear that I really shouldn’t have entered that conversation because I didn’t understand his story. I was hurt and confused. I wasn’t saying it was the same thing, I was trying to make a step toward compassion and I got shot down.  I realized that this is a lot of what goes on with dialog about our hurtful past. Please be careful not to shoot the people coming to the table, no matter how slow their steps.

We are stuck in the middle with one another. Let’s keep our hearts open to compassion and understanding. And, for God’s sake; let’s keep our sense of humor!

Sue Corley    September 4, 2017


Strange Fruit


Our nation is exploding into violence as neo-Nazis, white supremacists and KKK members rally to protest the removal of statues that glorify a past that made black bodies property. We cannot be fooled that this is about statues. It is about racism and hatred and oppression rearing its ugly head and it is about a choice to normalize it or to call it out.

People that I love cannot seem to see the danger and still want to hang their hopes on a president who will not denounce these groups, and by not doing so; he is giving them power. I am at a loss for what has happened. I literally wake up each day and, for a brief moment, feel as though I am waking from a nightmare. Sadly, the nightmare is real.

This helplessness I feel is taking its toll. I sometimes feel like I am sinking into a hole that I’m not sure I can get out of. I don’t understand how we are reverting; going backward to a time when freedoms were reserved for the white skinned. When we were separated not by a wall, but by a color line. By fountains, bathrooms, and bus seats.

I remember when I was a young girl, by mother had an album by Billie Holiday. I think she and my father had seen Ms. Holiday perform in New York. My parents were not religious, church-going folks, but they had a sense of a God-given value for all people. Although my father’s use of the “N” word made him sound like the worse bigot, he was a product of his time and was surprisingly open-minded and open-hearted.  Anyway, there was a vinyl record that I listened to called “Strange Fruit.” (listen to it here  It rocked me. Billie Holiday’s passionate voice rasped out the words:

Southern trees bear a strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees

Pastoral scene of the gallant south
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth
Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh.

Here is the fruit for the crows to pluck
For the rain to gather for the wind to suck
For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop
Here is a strange and bitter crop

This song has come back to haunt me. As did the sad history that caused it to be written. It was not written by Billie Holiday, but by a Jewish teacher named Abel Meeropol, who wrote it to protest lynchings of blacks in the 1930s. I saw the photograph that inspired Meeropol to write his haunting words. If you have the stomach for it, you can find it on the internet. It is a photo of Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith, hanging in the tree in Marion, Indiana, in front of the courthouse where they should have had justice.  The picture captures a crowd of white folks, who nonchalantly mill about, while their black bodies swing from the tree in front of the courthouse; strange fruit, indeed.

I am preaching a sermon series called “Trees of Life” and last Sunday I preached on “The Tree in the Center.” It is the story of Genesis 3 and the disobedience of those first people—taking matters into their own hands, reaching for fruit that was forbidden, exposing our human bent to sinning. They started that long slide down by trying to take the place of God when, in fact, we were all made to be like God all along. And even if you don’t believe in a literal Adam and Eve, you can surely see that our history as humans is soaked in selfishness, greed, and blood.

lood on the leaves and blood at the root. We are beautiful, broken vessels and there are seeds for beauty and seeds for destruction inside each and every one of us. Now is the time to choose. Will we be people who try to break the curse? Or will we allow ourselves to be frightened by others that don’t look like us, speak like us, or believe like us?

I am reminded of a song from the musical South Pacific called “You Have to be Carefully Taught.” View it here

It is sung by the American Lieutenant Cable; a wealthy, white Princeton graduate, destined for great things after World War II. He has fallen in love with a Polynesian girl named Liat, but his racist upbringing will not allow him to bring her home with him. He laments that we are carefully taught to hate and fear:

You’ve got to be taught
To hate and fear,You’ve got to be taught
From year to year,
It’s got to be drummed
In your dear little ear
You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made,
And people whose skin is a different shade,
You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You’ve got to be carefully taught!

Racism is a sin—and we can make excuses and justifications for our sin, just like Adam and Eve did. We can deny it or say that it’s not my fault; the devil made me do it! But racism is a sin that infects us all. And we must acknowledge it, repent it and seek reconciliation with God and with one another. Sin is in the leaves and in the root—but so is God. We have just as much saint in us as sinner and (with God’s grace!) we can choose to allow the better angels of our nature to prevail.

“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”
Abraham Lincoln in his first inaugural address in 1861

Farewell to Our President

  • temporarilyoutoforderHe wanted to make America great, but not with hate
    or a wall;
    he just wanted justice and healthcare for all.
    But they questioned his birthright- that ain’t right!
    he wasn’t some Esau that sold out for stew what he knew was the future of a nation.
    He was patient and gracious when they spit in his face.
    It’s amazing with all the hazing he withstood
    that the good inside never got sidelined.
    They said ‘he’s a Muslim!’
    Then let me be one!
    Cause what I see is someone showing humility, the mark of Christianity and humanity.
    Compassion that’s not in fashion on that hill in DC.
    But there will be an accounting for all this hate and fear that’s mounting
    at the call of that trumpet blaring,
    because the truth is staring us in our faces.
    But our eyes are too puffed up with pride to recognize that the tide has turned and its flowing
    toward a place we don’t want to be going.
    And so many will be crushed in the amber waves and the tempest tossed will be lost because…
    America will be temporarily out of order.


Michelangelo's_PietaIn 2008, in my third year of Seminary at Duke Divinity School, I did an internship as a chaplain at Duke University Hospital. Many church denominations are requiring that their pastors have some experience in what is known as CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education) and for good reason. It is a time of intense immersion in pastoral care as well as a time of deep and intentional self-reflection. For me it was a difficult journey in learning to be a ‘calm, non-anxious presence.’ In other words, to learn to ‘be’ and not ‘do.’ Learning the balance of the two is what I came to call the Sinatra Principle: do, be, do, be, do!

CPE requires a lot of self-reflection. It can get a bit tiresome at times—always thinking about how you feel, what you think, why you did what you did.  Blah-blah-blah. It feels almost self-indulgent. But it is the most important part of this endeavor. Because it is in trying to understand our own theology, our own theodicy and our own definition of ministry that we have any hope of being able to offer anything at all to the people to whom we are called to minister.

One night in October I was doing an ‘on-call,’ which means you are at the hospital all night long, sleeping (yeah, right!) in a tiny room and (as the name implies) you are the chaplain on-call for any need. I received a call to the Emergency Department and my heart sank. A 22 year old African American man had died unexpectedly at home, his older brother had found him and come along in the ambulance. I went downstairs to the room where the older brother sat, stunned and silent in an uncomfortable chair. His name was Daniel (not his real name) and he was about 26. It struck me that my two sons were the same ages.

The boys’ mother lived outside of Durham by about 45 minutes and so we waited while hospital staff called and asked her to come. They did not tell her what had happened, just that she needed to come to the hospital. Daniel spoke to her briefly, but he found it hard not to tell her the truth, and hurried off the phone. I waited with Daniel, mostly in silence. He was in shock and I was terrified at the prospect of being with his mother when she found out that her youngest son had died.

In that paradox of time, it seemed like both an eternity and the blink of an eye and we were standing at the automatic emergency room doors as the mother and some other family (aunts and cousins, I think there were only women) came rushing in with the coolness of the fall night. A hospital staff member ushered us to a different room where we could all fit as we waited for the doctor to come. I thought, ‘at least I won’t have to deliver the news’ and I felt like a liar.

A young woman came in and introduced herself as Dr. Somebody. All I could think was, “I have shoes older than her!” and I prayed that she would be gentle and wise. The words came out, right after her introduction, like a bomb. “Your son has died.” Even I felt myself reel. I looked at the mother, and she was going down on her knees before my eyes. I held onto her, her son held onto her and we all ended up on the floor as she sobbed. What did I say? I don’t remember, just that I was so, so very sorry. And I held her and I cried too.

After what seemed an eternity, she asked where they had taken his body. She was assured that she and the family could walk down to the secluded room where he was and she could see him one last time. It was the oddest thing, but she kept her eyes closed the entire time we made our way down the hall to the curtained bed where his body lay. Her family led her by the hand. Someone pulled back the curtain and I couldn’t say if she ever opened her eyes, as her fingers traced his form under the white sheet. It profoundly affected me in ways that I am still trying to figure out.

In all my self-reflection, I have come to terms with the fact that I have absolutely nothing to offer. What can I bring to a mother whose 22 year old son died suddenly with no explanation? What can I do that would make it any easier for a mother of a newborn with profound medical and physical disabilities to accept that her child’s life may be measured in hours and not years? What can I offer a man who must face death each day as cancer drags him further from his family and into fear and despair?

I think our biggest mistake is in thinking that we might possibly have the right thing to say. Or to imagine that we can help take away someone’s sadness, anxiety, guilt, fear. The biggest lesson is to learn that we do not ‘do’ anything but that we are called to ‘be.’ Knowing that we have nothing in ourselves to offer frees us up to understand that it is not ourselves that we bring into each encounter. We are just conduits. What we are bringing is a glimpse at the kingdom of God. Our being there, caring, listening, loving, is pulling back a corner of the veil and allowing others to see the kingdom of God. Jesus explained the kingdom in parables. My parable is this; the kingdom of God is like a person who has nothing, who goes and sits with the sick and the dying and in doing so offers them everything.

Son Reflection  

Written by Susan Corley    October 17, 2008

I first see you coming in through the hissing, automatic doors.

Your family gathers from different points—and NO ONE KNOWS.

Nothing has prepared you for what you are about to learn.

And my heart aches—physical pain—as I imagine your pain.

I am called to represent the Holy One in this unholy space and time.

Who is equal to such a task?

I wish I were somewhere else—can visualize myself floating up, and out the hissing doors.

I close my eyes and open them slowly, but the scene is cursedly the same.


In the overcrowded room, we all wait as the doctor walks in and lets the words escape.

Even I am shocked at their power: YOUR SON DIED.

Your family surrounds you, holds on tight, but you are going




Your knees hit the floor and I am pulled down with you by a force stronger than gravity.

Deep calls to deep—blood to blood—mother to mother.

I kneel on the cold tile floor and hold on to you as your life is ruined.


You ask the ancient question: WHERE HAVE THEY TAKEN HIM?

We make a slow and solemn pilgrimage to see your son.

We pull aside the curtain and enter the darkness of the chamber.

Sorrow has sealed your eyes like a tomb—you will not see this.

I watch in silent awe as your loved ones lead you to his side.

Your strong black hands move against the brilliant whiteness of the sheet.

Such excruciating tenderness that I must look away.

No Michelangelo sculpture can compare to the profane sacredness of this moment.

you are mary



Into The Swirling

LoveisourGenesisAs I lay here and my tears fall into my ears, I hear the waters of chaos.
Let me feel you pull me to the surface and say “Stand! Walk! See, I command the waves and the wind, you have no reason to fear!”
Because the weight of this stone on my chest is almost welcome, pulling me down. Sea creatures surround me as I fall
fall  into the swirling.
But you have surface-work for me to do.
You have airy things for me to accomplish and I cannot stay here in the deep.
So grab my hand and yank me, gasping, to the foaming break of day. Toss me on the shore where I can gasp and sputter back into what you have called me.
Sing the sacred song into my ears again until that small, knowing smile breaks across my face like dawn and I remember and I am grateful.

*image-original alcohol ink painting by Sue Corley: Love Is Our Genesis