Sugar? Football?

Fifty years from now, what will we consider objectionable that is considered okay in 2017?

It used to be acceptable to hit your children.  It was okay for men to pinch random women’s fannies.  It was tolerable to do more than pinch in some circles.  And clearly many still believe this is okay.  Nevertheless, it seems that in many ways we are becoming more humane and more human.

Personal assault has always been frowned upon and – thankfully – is newly deemed unacceptable. That’s a good thing for everyone both theologically and sociologically.  But – fifty years from now, what will we consider unacceptable which is now considered okay?

Some friends and I were discussing this recently and we came up with two things: sugar and football.  Thanksgivings in the future may never be the same.

As I take a break from pie-baking to write this, it occurs to me that I’ve used several pounds of sugar and a bottle of Karo Syrup before most people are awake this morning.  I’ve also used over a pound of butter, for what it’s worth.

One of my grandmothers purportedly filled her children with sugary baked goods in hopes that they would choose the sugar in cake to the sugar in alcohol.  This was a real thing:  it was once (and maybe is now) believed that if we satisfy our sugar cravings with cookies we will not reach for the bourbon.  It’s hard to imagine “being as American as roasted beets” rather than “being as American as Apple Pie” but maybe that’s our future.

And as a person who’s lost at least one friend to a football-related brain injury, I wonder when we will stop loving a sport that involves crashing heads into each other.  Someone told me that professional players experience what amounts to multiple head-on car crashes with each game.

Maybe we’ll find a healthier option to sugar.  Maybe someone will create an even safer helmet.  But mostly, I’m thankful this week that we continue to learn new ways to be better/healthier/more faithful human beings.

What do you think we will have given up in fifty years after realizing it isn’t good for our bodies or our souls?


Sometimes We Are a Fine-Tuned Machine. And Sometimes We Aren’t.

The pie baking has begun.  I have a system that makes it possible to bake five different pies and get them safely over the river and through the woods in time for Thanksgiving.  This year, I’ve added two kinds of muffins.  I feel like a Baking Machine – in a good way.

It isn’t always like this in our home.  We still have boxes to open after moving here almost seven years ago.  And my closets could use some help.

A few weeks ago, a colleague told me that her church was almost like a machine – but not necessarily in a good way.  Every Tuesday this happens.  Every Sunday morning that happens.  Nothing much changes but nothing is setting souls on fire either.

The whole manager/visionary juggle is real.  Yes, we need the proverbial trains to run on time.  But we also need – even more – for someone to ask the What If? questions. We need creativity and authenticity and humor and wonder. We need both relational leadership and managerial leadership actually – working in tandem rather than in opposition.

My pie-baking chops could be flawless. But if I don’t love the people who gather to eat them, if I don’t remember that the point is not perfect pie – we are all missing out.

What is running like a fine tuned machine in our lives and could that machine use a tweak?  Or an overhaul?  Are our souls on fire to be who we were created to be?  (It’s a good time of year to ponder this.)

Image source.


I Slept 12 Hours Last Night

She goes and she goes and she goes.  And then she stops.  HCE

A church leader once told me that serving in a particular position in the denomination had probably shortened his life by three years.   I’ve never forgotten that.

Sometimes I sleep for 12 hours straight for the sake of recovery.  Like last night.

Our natural lives can be shortened by so many things – mostly stress-related. Family conflicts, job anxieties, health stresses, trauma.  The irony is that even serving One who said “I come to bring abundant life,” can drain us.

So who/what is the thief in your life shortening your lifespan instead of energizing you these days?  May you find a comfy bed with a chunk of time or even a hard bench in a beautiful place for a long sit very soon.

Have a wonderful weekend.

That Time I Had to Give Up My Favorite Boots

Actually the problem was one boot.  

It was midnight last Saturday after a great day celebrating a colleague’s installation.  I’d flown from CT to WI and looked forward to hitting the pillow when I realized that the zipper was broken on my right boot.

The zipper would not budge. It. Would. Not. Budge.

A comedic workout ensued. (Feel free to imagine me attempting ridiculous gymnastic exercises in hopes of removing the boot from my foot.)

Nothing worked. I was going to die wearing that right boot.

I phoned the front desk to ask for help (making the night shift concierge’s day) and he arrived with scissors and a serrated knife. Clearly, the only way out was to cut the boot off my foot.  Cut boot = ruined boot.

But I was free. It’s amazing how okay you feel giving something up if it was keeping you from moving or resting or feeling free. And yesterday I replaced the boots with a pair with no zipper and a better fit. Happy ending.

We can replace the word “boot” with all kinds of things that need to be replaced in our lives. It’s really hard to toss things we love but sometimes we have to do it.  I’d hoped to keep those boots forever but – to be perfectly honest – they looked better than they felt.  Sometimes they even hurt my feet.

What does the church need to replace even though we really don’t want to do it?  What have we hoped to keep forever even though it’s causing a little pain – if we are perfectly honest?  What would it take to give it up?

Susan Brownmiller 42 Years Later

Ever since “locker room talk” became part of our national conversation and accusations of assault became daily events, I’ve been asking men I know and trust about such things.  I’m the mother of two men, the wife of one, the daughter of another, the sister of two others. I honestly do not believe they have participated in “locker room talk” as defined by our President.

But this article makes me sad.

“harassment was not something he had thought much about before” 

I’m not sure most men have thought it about it much because they don’t have to think about it.  Yes, men can be victims of harassment (hello Kevin Spacey) but women have been harassed and worse since the beginning of time.  Susan Brownmiller wrote about this in 1975.  Even since men realized they could physically overpower women, there has been harassment and worse.

I do not believe that all men cognitively participate in objectifying women.  But there are many who know exactly what they are doing and it’s about power.  All women are subjected to power plays – some very ugly power plays – and it’s become so normalized, we shove those experiences aside and move on.  They run the spectrum from unwitting to intentional.

Years ago, I was officiating at a graveside ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery, burying a beloved parishioner.  It’s an enormous privilege to officiate at a burial in Arlington.  You are surrounded by  history and precision and reverence.

I was standing beside the widow who had just been presented with a neatly folded flag by the honor guard when the funeral director leaned over and whispered into my ear what he would like to do to me after the service.  The operative words here were “do to me.”

Creepy men count on women not to make a scene.  What was I going to do?  Slap the funeral director at the graveside at Arlington National Cemetery?  My only response was to find another ride home after the service.  I was not about to get in the hearse with that guy and I never got in a car with him again.  But I didn’t report this to anyone.  The only people I told were other clergywomen who might work with him and my words were a warning, not a sexual misconduct report.

In my late 20s I attended a Volunteer Fire Department banquet which honored several men in my congregation who were volunteers.  The keynote speaker from a State Fire Fighters organization sat beside me on the dais and identified himself to me as a Christian who didn’t believe in the ordination of women.  He even had a Bible with him and he pointed out a couple verses to make his point.  And then he stood up and began his address with  a rape joke.  I can’t make this stuff up.

Ours is a rape culture.  I hate to say that.  I hate to write such a negative thing on a beautiful Monday morning, but it’s true.  And what we can do about it is to call everyday violence against women – along with the obvious criminal activity – what it is:  dehumanizing.  If we believe that women are created in the Image of God, if we believe that women are holy and treasured then all of us will work to shift this culture.

Abusers are counting on the fact that their victims will be too afraid to speak up. They count on the fact that ladies have been taught not to make a scene in public when someone pinches them or grabs them or whispers vile comments into their ears.

We not only need to teach men about consent.  We need to make it safe for women to make a scene.

Image from the Twitter account @Son_of_JorEl22 .  When I see this kind of thing in the future, I hope I’ll have the guts to start a conversation.

They Could Do It; They Just Don’t Want To

Once upon a time there were church people who volunteered a little or a lot or not at all in their congregations.  But they would all gather in pews on Sunday mornings after Sunday School, and the pastor would lead worship and then everybody would go home or head out to brunch.

Those congregations are dying today mostly because their church culture hasn’t kept up with the cultural shifts in our world.  21st Century Pastors are called to be culture shifters in hopes that our communities look more like the Biblical Church.  Almost every day, I hear colleagues tell me what they would love to do with their congregations:

  • Expand a ministry to include disabled neighbors.
  • Offer classes in radical hospitality.
  • Re-work the Christian Education schedule to make it easier for new members to participate.
  • Partner with other local congregations for community mission.
  • Open an unused space for daily use by homeless neighbors.
  • Invite unchurched teenagers to use their church gym after school.

Their churches have the capacity to do all these things to expand their ministry and their impact.  But they don’t want to.

I’ve heard church boards hear about needs in their congregations and beyond, only to sit there with no response.  There’s simply no energy to do more than what they’ve always done even if “what they’ve always done” isn’t working any more.

This kind of stuck-ness will be the death of the church – or at least the death of some churches.  We have enormous power and opportunity to transform the world for good in the name of Jesus Christ.  But many of our people won’t even try to be the Church we could be.

Jesus suggests that leaders shake the dust off our feet and move on but that seems unnecessarily dramatic if all the pastor wants is for the congregation to try something new.

  • Is the issue trust?  (They don’t trust the pastor?)
  • Is the issue fear? (They fear they can’t afford it/someone will get angry?)
  • Is the issue a failure of vision?  (This is the worst.)

Where is your congregation in terms of vision?  Do we really want to be the people God has called us to be or not?

Speaking for myself, as I seek a new call, I am excited to find people who are energized by being the 21st Century Church.  God is doing a new thing!  I hope you feel it too.

Hopeful Moments/Hopeless Moments

Systems are very difficult to change:  systemic racism, systemic poverty, systemic political corruption come to mind.  Social workers, community activists, teachers in poor schools, and random idealists work hard not to succumb to despair.

This time last year, profound hopelessness overcame many American voters who – whether they voted for the Democratic candidate or not – found it impossible to believe that a person like now-President Trump could be elected.  Some churches even held prayer vigils.  Some churches celebrated.  Many were silent.

A year later, many who felt hopeless after the 2016 elections feel buoyant today.  The state delegate who wanted to restrict public bathroom use for transgender people was defeated by a transgender woman.  Another delegate who had been endorsed by the NRA was defeated by a candidate who ran on a gun control platform after his girlfriend was shot on live television by a troubled gunman.

These are dramatic examples of what some would call Hopeful Moments.  But we need hopeful moments every day.

We can’t dismantle unjust systems on our own.  When I talk with idealistic young teachers whose students are enduring multiple Adverse Childhood Experiences or social workers with overwhelming case loads, it’s clear that they entered their fields with the greatest optimism.  But fighting unfair systems wears us down.

We have got to work together, and I’m talking specifically about the Church here.  I’m not just talking about whole congregations working together; I’m talking about congregations partnering with other congregations and other faiths.  Organizing for justice together is one of the marks of a successful 21st Century ministry.  Organizing together makes those hopeful moments more prevalent.  And more light in a dark world is always good.

A good question for us in the Church to ask every day:  What did I do to bring hope today?  What did my community do to bring hope?

If we are only about getting the church bulletin done and finding a coffee hour volunteer on a given work day, we’ve missed Jesus’ point.


The Difference Between Making Friends & Making Allies

If you want to succeed in public life . . . you must both know yourself (what makes you tick), be interested in others (what makes them tick) and be willing to be vulnerable and accountable with others and enter into relationships with them that lead to action.  Edward T. Chambers

The Community Organizing curriculum from this training in October continues to inspire me in ministry.   Many of us would agree that:

  • Emotional intelligence is essential for effective ministry.
  • Authentic relationships make or break pastoral performance.
  • We are more connected than ever in terms of social media but we are also more isolated than ever.

Many of us Church People have known great preachers who cannot carry on a genuine conversation with another human being.  We have met great administrators whose words and actions offend.  We have know efficient task masters who Get Things Done but crush people along the way.

This is a problem.

We were created to be in authentic relationship with God and with each other.  This means that we share our imperfections and we admit our mistakes.  (God already knows about these things.)  It means that we rely on God’s grace and not an image of perfection to get through the day.  It means that we find enrichment from hearing other people’s stories and sharing our own.

The whole question about whether or not parishioners can be friends with the pastor is ongoing, but learning the difference between Public Relationships and Private Relationships is helpful.  Private relationships (friendships) happen spontaneously between roommates, co-workers, soccer parents,  or yoga pals, for example.  Public relationships are intentional alliances created by one-on-one meetings for the purpose of working together for a common passion.  The point is to connect in hopes of making the world a little bit more like God created it to be.

Relationships are everything. 

We need relationships with friends for social and emotional community. And making friends is hard – especially after elementary school.

We need relationships with allies for building a public collective that leads to positive change in the world.  And making allies takes hard work. But it’s an essential adult skill that leaders need to add to our toolbox for the sake of the Gospel.

Read Ed Chambers’ little book for more.  It will make Jesus happy.






It Boils Down to . . .

What does it boil down to?

It could be a mental health problem.  It could be a gun problem.  It could be a misogyny problem.  It could be a sin problem.

The cycle begins again with another shooting, another statement from the President, another non-stop media frenzy, another call for gun reform, another rush to buy more guns, another series of “thoughts and prayers” lifted.

We all agree there is a problem.  What we don’t agree on is what we are going to do about it.

There are people walking on this earth at this very moment who will be the next victims of a mass shooting.  This is almost certain.  They are at work, in school, playing sports.  It could be me.  It could be you.

In Community Organizing Training a couple weeks ago, we were taught that when someone states that there is a problem, the response is:  What are you going to do about it?

What are we going to do about it?

  • Nothing?
  • Wear armor in public?
  • Practice lock-down protocols?
  • Practice self-defense with our own guns?
  • Think and pray?
  • Write letters to our members of Congress?
  • Troll the NRA?
  • Watch 24/7 news coverage and comment on social media?

The community indeed has organized in some ways.  The Sandy Hook Parents organized.  Various gun control groups organized.  But no organization has been effective in making it stop. We can protest and bone up on mental health issues and take precautions, but what will make a difference?

It boils down to whether or not we will accept that God has commanded that we do something.  Remember those commandments?

Who will lead us?  (It’s a serious question.)


Pants We Didn’t Realize Were On Fire

It burns.  

In my years of professional ministry there have been occasional moments when someone has come to me in need of pastoral care after discovering that what they once believed to be true about their parents/siblings/spouses/friends is actually not true at all.  Sometimes these truths are revealed after people pass away or when a secret child shows up or when someone on her death bed decides to clear the air before breathing her last.

These moments can be devastating.  They can shatter trust.  And they can happen even in the thick of ordinary life in terms of “what we have always believed.”

I was taught that M&Ms melt in your mouth, not in your hands . . . until I was holding a fistful of them in my hand one summer and they melted like butter.

I was taught that our great nation offers “liberty and justice to all” and that if people work hard, they will succeed . . . until I got to know people who worked much harder than I did who were struggling to catch a break time after time.

I was taught all my life that Robert E. Lee was a great man, a general who – against his own deep sense of patriotism – chose to support his beloved Virginia during the Civil War.  I was told he hated slavery from both my history textbooks and Shelby Foote. (Shelby, how could you?)  The truth is that he, too, was a slave holder.

At the risk of having you make the false assumption that I don’t love M&Ms, my country, or my Southern heritage, can we admit that we all tell lies?

  • Sometimes we tell lies inadventently because we deeply believe they are actually the God’s Honest Truth.
  • Sometimes we tell lies because we want them to be true.
  • Sometimes we tell lies to protect ourselves or someone else.

Lying – whether we are talking about fake news, or political operations, or history as told by the winners, or face-saving devices – is a sin.  If that sounds too pious, one could also say that lies ruin things. Lies enslave people. Jesus encourages us to seek the truth because – you know – the truth will make you free.

But first it will make us miserable because we will be disappointed.

What if following Jesus = always seeking the truth – not only about ourselves but also about our world history?  Remember when Ben Affleck denied his own ancestral history of slave owningTruth is hard.

Most of us are not proud when learning that our beloved ancestors, for example, enslaved other human beings.  I know I’m not proud of it.  But shame doesn’t bring wholeness.  Wholeness comes when we confront what is true, when we lament, when we make amends, when we ask forgiveness – whatever is required in our particular situation.

Hermann Göring’s daughter never believed that her father was guilty of war crimes during WWII in spite of the evidence that resulted in his death sentence.  She said that she only knew him as a loving parent. Sometimes we just can’t bring ourselves to believe that people can be this complicated:  that a loving father was actually a Nazi.  That our ancestors could have been members of the KKK or perpetrators of sexual abuse or incarcerated for embezzlement or – that they were simply liars.

As a native North Carolinian with a Great Great Grandfather who fought and died at Antietam for the Confederate States, I have much to learn.  And I’m taking some time to teach myself after Thanksgiving.  I want to be free too, so I’m seeking the truth about my own heritage throughout the South.  I hope to light a different kind of fire.