Do You Trust Me?

Trance to Venial SinI’m a suspicious character in Church World even before I utter a single word because I serve on a Presbytery (i.e. Middle Judicatory Church) Staff.  Not that I’m oozing with power or anything, but I can make people’s lives easier or more difficult based on what I say in an ordinary reference check or personnel meeting or phone call from a Big Deal Church Nominating Committee.  Also, I grew up in the PCUSA in North Carolina (read: Montreat) and I have a big Presbyterian family and I am blessed with lots of churchy friends and so I Know Things.  

Some of the things I know break my heart.

Anybody familiar with Church World knows that rumors abound, cattiness is rampant, and all of us are prone to wander (and not just from Jesus.)  We are pretty good at sharing kudos, but we are not so good about holding each other accountable.  Often this is true because we simply don’t trust each other.

For example:  if you observe me eating donuts every day for dinner or if I am drinking too much or I am flirting with someone who is not my HH or I am kicking the dog – and I trust you – please know that you have my permission to – and that I have a serious expectation that you will  – Say Something To Me About It for the good of my own body and soul and the well-being of the community.  Hold me accountable.  Pull me aside in love and tell me you are concerned.  Remind me who I am and to whom I belong.  For the love of the God, say something.

So here’s my quandary as a generally distrusted Institutional Church Suit:  How do I hold my friends and colleagues accountable?  Options:

  • Over coffee, I tell you that “everyone knows” that you are being unfaithful to your spouse.
  • In a private corner after worship, I let you know that I saw you staggering out of a bar last night.
  • I talk about you behind your back.  (Note:  I hate this option and will not do it, unless I am so angry that I can’t stand it anymore.)
  • Keep the rumors/possible truths to myself.

If you trust me and I trust you, we can talk as a sister or brother in Christ and we will understand that we are not trying to shame each other or ruin each other’s lives.  But trust is a rare commodity in many of our churches.  Parishioners do not trust their pastors.  Pastors to not trust their parishioners.  Colleagues do not trust each other.

How can we build trust in our communities of faith?  We start by being trustworthy ourselves.

 

Image of Volume 27 of Encyclopedia Americana.  Because sometimes we are merely dazed and other times we are engaged in random sinfulness.

Reentry

spacecraft-re-entry-4Many of us are fortunate to be returning from vacations and study leaves and sabbaticals today.  HH and I – after taking two whole weeks in a row off in 2013 – decided that we like that.  A lot.

And so we are returning back today after two weeks of vacation – cut short just a bit with the adoption of a lab mix who needed to be home recovering from a life on the road – literally.

So, here’s my question, brilliant readers:

How do you return well?  Assuming your voice mails and emails have piled up, what are your tips for weeding through it all?  It’s a real question.  Thanks.

Connected Crosses

BBT once told the story of observing a neighboring farmer as he erected one of those three-crosses installations on a rural
Social Justic Quilthillside in Georgia.  Each day as she drove to work, she saw that he was working very hard to install each of the three enormous poles, and she wondered why he didn’t stop at one.  Yes, the Biblical story mentions three crosses, but wouldn’t we get the message if just one cross was erected on the hillside?  Maybe not.

It occurred to her that “One cross = a crucifixion.  Three crosses = a church.”

Tomorrow morning, thousands of preachers will offer sermons and liturgy that have the power to heal, inspire, convict, and uplift hundreds of thousands of hearers. Please, God, let those preachers speak to the horrors of this past week.  

  • It was a week when people in Gaza shared tips on tear gas avoidance with people in Ferguson, MO on Twitter after the shooting death of an unarmed teenager.
  • It was a week when a beloved actor and comedian took his own life and the national conversation about mental illness reminded us that many of us are still ignorant about depression.
  • It was a week when Iraqi minorities were starved by their own neighbors and threatened with death if they don’t convert.
  • Two UN Peacekeepers were killed by a suicide bomber in Mali.
  • Ebola is killing our brothers and sisters in Liberia.
  • Boko Haram is still kidnapping children in Nigeria.
  • And in my own part of the world, a 16 year old girl was shot and killed today within blocks one of our Presbyterian churches.  I could go on and on and on . . .

We are a community with countless crosses to bear.  But we are a church when our crosses connect with each other. We become stronger when we fight injustice together, when we have relationships with people who – like us – carry heavy burdens.

Let’s be honest in worship this weekend:  One cross is a crucifixion.  When more than one cross connects together, we are The Church.  And The Church’s job is to point to resurrection even after cruel death.  We have a precious opportunity this week to – by God’s grace –  transform people.

 

Image is a photo from the Presbytery of Chicago‘s Social Justice Networking Event held this morning.  Our prayers were written on linoleum tiles and connected together. (Thank you AW.)

To My White Friends & Family with Kids

please don't shoot me smI am the mother of three young adult children with white skin.  They inherited Whiter-Than-Queen-Elizabeth skin from me and Mediterranean-ish skin from their father.  This automatically makes them safer than their friends with brown or black skin if you look at national statistics.

Once, just a few years ago, an adult male friend with black skin and I with white skin got locked out of a building in the middle of a sunny day in a nice suburb.  We walked around looking for an open window to climb through and when we found one, I asked my friend to climb through because I was wearing a dress.  He said, “But I’m wearing Black skin and someone might shoot me if I climb through that window.

Can we – white friends and family – even imagine this?  That the default response when seeing a dark skinned person is danger or trouble or crime?

This is not funny.

Last year one of our kids was “stopped and frisked” in NYC, which was rather unusual considering the color of his skin.  According to the NYCLU, in 2013:

  • New Yorkers were stopped by the police 191,558 times.
  • 104,958 were black (56 percent).
  • 55,191 were Latino (29 percent).
  • 20,877 were white (11 percent).

Stop and Frisk is a bad law, but what’s worse is that our white children are much less likely to be stopped and frisked than our brown or black children.  This is disgraceful in the United States of America, at least if we take seriously our constitution and the flags we proudly wave.

What is even more outrageous – and God will be holding us accountable for this – is when brown or black skinned children are shot while looking for help, shot while walking home from a store, shot while walking down the middle of the street in the middle of the day.  For the sake of argument, let’s say that all these victims were drug-addled or mouthy or angry.  (Have any of our white children ever been drug-addled or mouthy or angry?) Shooting people should not be our first response.

Again, God holds us accountable for the way we treat each other.  If we claim to be a follower of Jesus – or even if we don’t – treating others the way we want to be treated is golden.  It’s the best way to live.

So here’s my point:  we have got to see children and young adults with brown or black skin the same way we see our children and young adults with white skin. This is the least we can do.

Image is a tapestry by Cathie Beckman which can be found here.  Please check out her artwork here.  From the artist:   “I wove the piece in 2011.  It is about the Cincinnati Riots that took place in 2001 and were the 2 nd largest urban riots in the U.S., next to Rodney King. A black man of 19 was running away from police because he was wanted for some misdemeanor charges. As he was running he pulled up his sweatpants and the police thought he was pulling a weapon and shot and killed him. The riots lasted 4 days. I was driving through a poorer neighborhood, predominately Black when I got stuck at a corner in a gridlock of traffic. On the corner I saw a young man of about 14-16 holding a cardboard sign that said ‘Please Don’t Shoot Me.’ Now his message has become mine and I try to exhibit this piece as many places as possible.”

Suicidal Thoughts

What Dreams May ComeThe first time I visited Student Health Services in college, I was given a survey to assess my basic health which looked something like this:

Have you experienced any of these symptoms in the past week?

  • Cough  ___
  • Sore Throat ___
  • Aching Muscles ___
  • Headache ___
  • Suicidal Thoughts ___
  • Rash ___
  • Earache ___

This particular litany of maladies was clearly odd because  1) the range of symptoms (soup to nuts/skin to brain) was so random and 2) the range of seriousness.  (“ingrown toenail” to “hearing voices”) was ridiculous.  But the truth was that I had indeed experienced “suicidal thoughts.”  I wonder if everyone has these thoughts at some point in life.

Some depression is situational (my mom died) and some is biological (my brain isn’t working) but depression is a killer of both souls and bodies.  According to this article by the American Medical Network, “up to 15% of individuals with severe Major Depressive Disorder die by suicide.”  We grieve today one of those deaths.

Robin Williams was a famous person, but there are many others who are not famous who will die by suicide in 2014 – an estimated 14 deaths per 100,000 people.  There’s a concern that – with Robin Williams’ suicide – others will consider this possibility as a clear choice.  Please, God, no.

This Washington Post article speaks to this, expressing concern that the viral sharing of “Genie, you’re free” on social media will move others to seek their own freedom from the earthly pain of depression.  I’ve been there.  Sometimes we just want the pain to be over.

Our job as human beings includes sitting with people in their pain.  We cannot fix each other’s pain.  We cannot take it from someone.  But we can stick around – which is not an easy task.  I believe this is what God has done among us.

Please contact a hotline if you are having suicidal thoughts.  And help someone who is stuck in hell.

Image from the movie What Dreams May Come which was not one of Robin Williams’ best, but the storyline is timely:  A man dies and goes to heaven.  His despondent wife commits suicide as a result of her grief and she goes to hell. But he risks remaining in hell forever trying to get her into heaven.

 

How We Eat. How We Used to Eat.

beach foodThe H & B Edmistons have been spending a week at the beach together now for 24 years.  We started the year after Dad died since we had sold our family home and needed a place to gather where we could all eat at the same table. This was an intentional move to give the grandchildren and future grandchildren of H & B time together every year without the drama that comes with holidays.  It’s just seven days of regular life – but at the beach.

We are four siblings, our spouses, our 13 children and one nibling spouse.

What we pack has evolved as the kids have been born and grown up.  But the biggest difference is in the food we eat.  Don’t get me wrong:  dessert preparation still amounts to a nightly professional bake-off.  But we are healthier as we’ve learned that kale and blueberries are super foods, and Ranch dressing is not.

Overheard on Day One this year:  “These chips are gluten free.”

These words were neither uttered nor considered in previous years, and it’s not just because we – the oldest generation –  are in our 50s and have gluten issues.  We are trying to eat healthier.

Even our desserts are healthier (frozen bananas) although my sister just baked a cake with Coca Cola as one of the ingredients.

Full disclosure:  we allow “beach cereal” (Cinnamon Toast Crunch) and Pop-Tarts for breakfast for the kids, just this one week.  But most of us eat a lean protein and berries.  Gone are the Oreos – that much is certain.

So, here’s my theological point (because there has to be one):  If the Edmiston family can shift our eating habits over the course of a mere 24 years, imagine how Middle Eastern culture has changed over the past 3000 plus years.

How can we possibly read the Bible without using source criticism, form criticism, textual criticism, historical criticism, rhetorical criticism, canonical criticism, redaction criticism  . . . ?

Naming

Dog 2We may or may not have a new dog to name. Suspense ensues.

On the way to the beach for vacation, we turned a bend on a country road to find a small lab mix eating a recently mashed turtle on the center yellow line. If we hadn’t been paying attention, we would have hit him. TBC’s screams saved his life. It’s the best thing ever to happen to Mr. Sweetheart.

We stopped and waved away other cars/potentially deadly crashers, chased the dog down, wrapped him in a towel amidst much licking and scratching, and proceeded to finding his home. After knocking on several doors and hearing that Mr. Cuteness had been wandering around for a few days, after multiple phone calls to everyone from the sheriff to vets to dog shelters, we took the Lick Master to our no-pets-allowed rented cottage. After wandering, he was clearly happy to be in our garage with regular walks, food, water, and love until we could take him to the local animal shelter this morning.

It looks like we are taking him to Illinois on Saturday unless his owner claims him this week.

And so, now we ponder what Sweet Dog’s name will be. It’s quite possible that friends will adopt him in Chicagoland, but it’s also possible that we will name him. And the suggestions are countless: Chase (because we had to chase him), Jackson (because he was found outside Jacksonville, NC), Onslow (name of the county), Wiley (because he’s slipped out of his collar twice, although we have a friend with that name and don’t want JW to think we named a dog after him.) Between “Who will be this dog’s family?” and “What will his name be?” the suspense is palpable.

What goes into naming a creature? The story goes that Adam was given the privilege of naming “each living creature” and then God named some rivers (Pishon, Gihon, Tigris, Euphrates.) And then the man named the woman.

Bestowing a name is tremendously powerful and holy. As we’ve pondered potential dog names, many have been cast off because:

  • “it sounds like something Gwyneth Paltrow would name a baby.”
  • “it doesn’t sound like something we want to yell outside.”
  • “it’s the same name as a parishioner.”

There are 17,000 to 18,000 new species of animals, plants, and fungi discovered each year and the discoverers are granted the pleasure of naming them. There is a beetle named after George HW Bush and worm named for Nikita Khrushchev. We are just talking about naming one dog.

Leading contender as of the last hour: Spence. Mr. Cuddly/Dr. Dog/Happy’s short life with us has been very Suspenceful.

And since it’s been a cloudy/rainy week so far at the beach, the suspense has been fun.

 

What If The Thing You Thought Would Crush the PCUSA Actually Leads People to Jesus?

imageWhen the General Assembly of my denomination voted (negligibly) to divest from three U.S. companies in Israel and (overwhelmingly) to approve an authoritative interpretation to officiate in same-sex marriages, there were so many people who were concerned that :

  • Global mission partnerships would be broken
  • Congregations would leave the denomination
  • Immigrant congregations would break from the denomination.

What if all of these things are true and yet . . .

  • Some new partnerships were created?
  • New congregations were planted precisely because of GA actions?
  • Immigrant congregations intentionally sought out a relationship with the PCUSA?

I’m just one person serving one corner of the church, but I’m here to say that – since the General Assembly decisions:

  • Three racial-ethnic pastors have approached me about becoming part of the PCUSA because of recent GA actions
  • Two pastors ordained in a conservative branch of the Presbyterian family have approached me about becoming PCUSA
  • My twenty-something children contacted me after the GA actions to share that their friends want to learn more about the PCUSA because of the recent votes of the General Assembly

What if what we fear actually brings growth and expansion of God’s Kingdom and glory to our Creator?.

ISO Someone Who Knows What I’m Going Through

arbThere are pathmakers in our midst who are original and brave and confident. And then there are The Rest of Us who need people who have traveled our pathways before us. They bring comfort and sometimes they even save our lives.

When our church suddenly and cruelly lost a four year old on Mothers’ Day many years ago, the mother of this precious child said, “I only want one thing: I need to find another mother who has lost a four year old. I need to know that it’s possible to survive this.”

I have found great comfort in knowing women who – like me – lost their mothers to breast cancer just as they were just getting to know their moms as adults. When I lived in Virginia, there was a group of us who understood each other in mysterious ways because we all lost our moms to breast cancer as 20 or 30-somethings. I remember one parishioner in our Moms Dead From Breast Cancer Club dropping by my office one day. As she poked her head in the door, she said, “I couldn’t get you out of my mind this morning. Are you okay?” It happened to be the fifth anniversary of my mother’s death and I believe something moved her to reach out to me. She’d been there.

While I’m a big fan of The Incarnation, I also believe that God works through people who have experienced what we’ve experienced:

  • The person who (maybe like us) lost her spouse leaving her with a young child
  • The person who (maybe like us) has been living with HIV for a long time
  • The person who (maybe like us) has had gender reassignment surgery
  • The person who (maybe like us) has parented a child who had gender reassignment surgery
  • The person who (maybe like us) has a spouse in prison

Yes, support groups are helpful but close relationships in which we can openly share the fears and experiences of our own intimate lives are invaluable. They make us feel like we are not alone.

Maybe you feel like “the only one” out there. But I’m convinced that God will use you to comfort someone else whose story is something like yours. You could be the only person who gets it for somebody else out there.

Image is the Coker Arboretum tunnel in Chapel Hill, NC.

A Skipping Heart

imageAfter my parents died, it was emotional to return to my hometown.  Whenever I  reached the Northgate Mall exit in Durham – a few miles from Chapel Hill – my heart would skip.  I was almost home.

Years later, after living in Our Nation’s Capital for 22 years, it was emotional to return after we left.  When I flew into National Airport, my heart would skip.  The Capitol. The Potomac. It signaled home to me.

So . . . as I flew into Midway Airport yesterday, I’d been sleeping in seat 2E on my Southwest flight when the pilot announced that we would be landing momentarily.  And I opened my eyes to see Lake Michigan over my neighbor in 2F and  . . .  my heart skipped for the first time since I’ve moved to Chicagoland.  After three years, I think I’m home.