Marching Because . . . Jesus

Over the weekend, there was a March for Life on Friday and a Women’s March on Saturday. The first was generally touted as a Christian gathering.  The second was generally reported as a secular event.  Although NPR noted that there were Christians at the Women’s March, most secular media did not report both events as acts of religious devotion.

But for many participants, they were indeed acts of religious devotion.

Of all the people I know who gathered in various cities for The Women’s March, most of them were marching because of Jesus.

Jesus didn’t say anything about abortion per se.  He said nothing about bearing arms and in fact, he chastised Peter for slicing a Roman slave’s ear the night of his arrest.  Jesus didn’t say anything about homosexuality.

Jesus did say this about the hungry, the homeless, the naked, the stranger, and the imprisoned.

Jesus said this about touching the untouchables.

Jesus said this about greed.

(And I could go on, but you get my point.)

I was asked in an interview once if – as a pastor – I would ever participate in a march on the National Mall, and I answered that question with another question:  Are you asking me if there’s anything I believe is worth marching for?  If so, that would be a big yes.   Isn’t there anything you would stand up and march for (or against) as a follower of Jesus?

  • My faith in Jesus demands that I speak up about injustice.
  • My faith in Jesus demands that I stand with the people Jesus stood with – the ostracized, the untouchables, the sick, the imprisoned.
  • My faith in Jesus requires that I not look the other way or say “that’s just the way things are” or “it’s none of my business” when I see or hear hatefulness.

It’s not just my job as a professional minister to notice the world’s suffering or to work to make earth as it is in heaven or to be Jesus’ hands and feet in this life. It’s my responsibility as a baptized member of Jesus’ Church.  (And if you are baptized, it’s your responsibility as well.)

I often hear that some preachers are too political.  The truth is that – as my RevGalBlogPals family notes – the pastoral is political.  Jesus was crucified because he was political.  And several of his followers were killed for being political in his likeness – from the first disciples to Bonhoeffer to King to countless others.  Each was speaking God’s Truth – and they paid for it with their lives.

Yes, the pastoral is political but Scripture is an equal opportunity offender in terms of Democrats, Republicans, Green Partiers, or Libertarians.  This is  especially true today in our politically torn country.

I trust that many of those who marched on the anniversary of Roe v Wade were led to march by faith.  I trust that many of those who marched on the anniversary of the inauguration were led to march by faith.

I also believe that Jesus would never call someone “an illegal.”  Actions might be illegal but people are not.

I believe that Jesus would take in refugees.  His own parents were refugees who fled to Egypt when he was a baby.

I believe that Jesus loves people that we are uncomfortable loving.  He regularly was a guest in the home of “unclean people” and I wonder if we are as willing to hang out with people we consider to be “unclean.”

The press often doesn’t know what to do with people of faith.  Yes, Friday’s march involved many people of faith.  But Saturday’s march involved many people of faith as well.

Image source here of women marching in Washington, DC on 1-20-18.  PS – Marching is one act of spiritual devotion.  Contacting members of Congress, voting, volunteering for non-profits that address human needs, and giving money to those organizations are also acts of spiritual devotion.  Pick one to offer today, in faith.

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Missed Opportunities: Go Gumshoes!

SBC and I deeply bemoan the fact that the School Board of Joliet, IL missed a once in a lifetime opportunity in 2013 when they dedicated the Lynne Thigpen Elementary School – named for the wonderful actor Lynne Thigpen – and failed to name the mascot The Gumshoes.  Come on!  It was so obvious!  

Imagine that every science class, every art class, especially every geography class (!) doing their work as “gumshoes” – detectives committed to discovering the answers!  Where in the world is The Sphinx?  Machu Pichu? The Mona Lisa?  Honestly, this is among the worst missed opportunity I can imagine.

But I see this every day in Church.

  • A congregation meets – literally – beside an elementary school with a large free and reduced lunch population and they have zero relationship with that school.
  • A march is scheduled outside an urban church building and the elders decide to close the building that day (to prevent strangers from entering) rather than serve water and coffee out front and let guests use their restrooms.
  • The church building has a fellowship hall that nobody uses Monday – Saturday and there are homeless people sleeping in the streets.

I could go on and on.  We – as the Church – need to work on our own gumshoe skills to figure out how we might serve those in our community.  Sometimes the clues are so obvious.

Image of Lynne Thigpen as The Chief in the television show “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?”  She died suddenly in 2003 and her hometown named their newest elementary school after her in 2013.  (But they missed the boat on naming the mascot.)

A Two Part Dream


Thanks to my friend SP-B, I have a two part dream today:

  1.  That all families – not just families with Black and Brown children – will have The Talk.
  2. That one day there will be no need for The Talk.

We – White People – need to talk about these things with our White children and remind them that racial bias is real.  Maybe one day it won’t be.

This Proctor and Gamble commercial was first broadcast last summer. It was also broadcast at the end of Blackish this week.  It should be shown during every newscast and sports event on every channel until we don’t need it anymore.

I Like My Steak Medium and My Church Well Done

[Note: Apologies to any vegetarian and vegan readers.]

“Medium” is my go-to for all meats:  salmon, burgers, pork, steak.  “Medium Church” – not so much.

I’m not sure what to say about a Rare Church today except that Well Done Church also seems to be Rare.

This is not to say that any Church perfectly executes their ministry.  The appearance of “Perfection” seems a little fake anyway.  I find that a Well-Done Church has the following distinctions:

 

  1.  Authenticity.  People genuinely care about each other more than they care about appearances.
  2. Curiosity.  People want to learn more – about God, about their neighbors, about themselves.
  3. But Curiosity is Not About “Getting Smarter.”  Often we seem to go to our Bible studies, our book discussion groups, our speaker series and then we go home smarter, but nothing changes.  A Well Done Church acts upon what they’ve learned together.
  4. It’s about God.  You can feel it.
  5. There is laughter.  It’s funny (not humiliating) when mistakes are made from the pulpit or in the parking lot.  No shaming and blaming.
  6. Things flow.  Although the Holy Spirit makes this happen, leaders also work together well to create worship that moves through the liturgy smoothly, lifting up special themes and foci.
  7. Hospitality is genuine and the circle is wide.  (This is sadly rare.)  We who think we are friendly are usually talking only to our friends.  The heavily pierced guy or the unfamiliar woman of a certain age sitting alone or the tall trans lady don’t experience hospitality in many congregations.

Although it’s easy to make a Medium Steak into a Well-Done Steak, it’s not easy to shift a Medium Church into a Well-Done Church because the issue is DNA rather than temperature.  Both take time.  But shifting a congregation’s DNA or culture takes an enormous amount of time and a particular devotion to make that shift.

It happens only by focussing on God and figuring out who God is calling us to be as The Church in our particular context.  It will involve people leaving.  It will involve hurt feelings.  But it will mostly involve a vision so clear that we cannot help but move toward it.

It’s monumentally easier to order a rare steak and be done with it.

Start with Uber

Not every community has Uber and some who do are still angry with them.

But I’m trying to figure out how White People might connect with people from other cultures when all their friends, family, and colleagues are also White.  Maybe we could start with Uber if it’s in your area.

My last four Uber drivers were from Jerusalem, Tunis, Addis, and Karachi respectively.  Three were Muslim.  All four were proud fathers.  Three were college graduates.

When I take an Uber from Midway Airport in Chicago to my home in the South Suburbs, I have a good 30 minutes to get to know my driver.  Weirdly, I don’t talk with people on planes, but when I’m in a car and there are just two of us, it feels bizarre not to talk with my travel companion.  Sometimes I sit in the front with the driver.  Sometimes I sit in the back, especially if the front passenger seat is filled with the driver’s stuff.

By the time we pull into my driveway, we have often shown each other photos on our phones of our kids.  A couple times we’ve prayed.  We shake hands and move on.  We exchange words of gratitude for the other. It’s very friendly.

It’s also impossible to leave the car denigrating “all Muslims” or “all immigrants.”  I’ve loved catching a glimpse of the lives of my neighbors.  I’ve appreciated the gift of hearing their stories.  I’ve marveled at how our lives are similar. There is almost always a connection.

We need to get our of our little lives and notice people whose accents, skin color, ages, and lifestyles are different from our own.  Often they are invisible to us.  Or their presence makes us shut down and keep to ourselves.

What if instead of fearing/ignoring/keeping away from people who are unfamiliar or different from us, we took the opportunity to learn something from each other?  Curiosity is an excellent tool for expanding our universe.

If not Uber, what would you suggest?

 

How to Live in a Disturbing World

The world has always been disturbing.  There has always been cruelty and greed.  There has always been abuse and hatefulness.

But now it feels heavier in a nation that has called itself #1 for a long time.

The truth is that we have rampant addiction crossing every economic and educational level among our young adults.  School principals and teachers serve students overwhelmed with everything from addicted parents (listen to this) to undocumented parents to neglectful parents to demanding parents who will accept nothing less than an Ivy League acceptance letter.

In every community there is food insecurity (I’m even talking about “the best suburbs.”) Young adults are crushed by college debt.  And middle-aged adults wonder how they will live into their 70s and 80s without pensions or enough savings to cover the medical costs that come with aging.

Our nation is led by (mostly white) men who embarrass us.

How do we live in a disturbing world? 

We start in our own homes and neighborhoods.  We teach our children to respect all people – even those who seem foreign to us in their behavior or their appearance.  We speak up when we hear people disrespect other human beings.  We make our children proud by defending the weak.  And we reward them with praise when they defend the weak.

We honor doing the right thing.  We learn from people we do not understand.  We talk with each other.  We are real with each other.

This is who the Church is called to be in these days.  We can no longer be a social club, a service organization, or a sentimental fellowship.

We exist to transform the world for good in the name of Jesus.  We are called to live in the image of Christ – which is no small thing.  It sometimes gets people killed.

On most days the best we can do might be to remember that we and those around us – even the cranky ones – have a value that no one can take away.

Religion and Politics and Words

Audience, Stage, Performers?Congregation, Chancel, Choir?

Spectators, Arena, Cheerleaders?

The different words we use to describe a worship gathering might illustrate semantic differences, or they might speak to our theology of worship.

Yesterday in the news, President Trump described a meeting with these words:  studio, performance, reviews.  Usually those words are used for television shows or stage acts, and political commentators made note of it.

People who have never crossed the threshold of a church building are more likely to see an audience and a stage and singers if they happen to stumble into a Christian worship gathering.  That makes sense.  Maybe most people seeking spiritual community would describe it that way.

On the one hand, we lifelong church people need to recognize how unfamiliar our language is to people who don’t do church.  But on the other hand, we need to recognize why we do what we do and hope our language describes what’s really going on.

Preachers, liturgists, church musicians and church singers are not performers – although all of us want to shine.  Charismatic spiritual leaders attract people.  But the deeper reasons why we lead in worship is not about us.

The same is true in politics.  Our political leaders are not performers although we gravitate towards charismatic leaders.  But the deeper reasons why they govern is not about them.

Maybe Oprah will run for president and maybe she won’t.  Some would say that she is already a spiritual leader.  But she – and all of us – were created for something bigger than ourselves.  I believe that God is watching us and notes who is being served.

Image from Architectural Artifacts in Chicago.

Pastors Looking for Love

What I wonder is this: “Can you love your pastor?” 

I felt queasy when I heard a preacher say this from the pulpit.  It was painful.

While all pastors want to be well-liked, respected, and even loved, that’s not why we accept the call to professional ministry.  Good pastors often have to make decisions that disappoint people or even anger parishioners.  And God knows not all parishioners are loveable.

But we are called to love God’s people, to show them what the love of Jesus looks like, and to pray even for our enemies.  Our job is to love them, not to aspire to be loved by them.

I believe this is one of the keys to effective ministry.  This is why we need emotionally healthy church leaders.

If we have not experienced unconditional love ourselves, it’s very difficult to offer that love to God’s people.  Clergy with deep emotional needs cannot themselves do the hard work of ministry until those needs are addressed.  I remember Nadia Bolz-Weber saying “we preach from our scars, not from our wounds.”

Yes, even clergy have emotional needs.  There are times when parishioners support their pastoral leaders with casseroles and hospital visits and get-well cards and prayer.  Pastors get sick and grieve and experience difficult situations.  But it’s not the congregation’s job to be the primary support system for the pastor.  And God is supposed to be the object of our adoration, not the pastor who points to God.

Vulnerable pastors inspire growth.  Needy pastors create unhealthy dependencies.  What do you think?

The Largest Roman Catholic Parish in the US is in (wait for it)

. . .  Charlotte, North Carolina. 

Not Milwaukee.  Not Boston.  Not Chicago.  The largest Roman Catholic parish can be found in the Presbyterian stronghold of Charlotte.  You can read about it here.

Guess where the largest contingency of Bahá’í live in the United States?  Not Massachusetts or California.  According to Wikipedia, The Bahá’í Faith is currently the largest religious minority in Iran, Panama, Belize, and . . .  South Carolina.

There are mosques in Gadsen, Alabama and Madison, Mississippi.  There are Hindu temples in Spanish Fork, Utah and Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

My point is this:  we need to know our neighbors.  We should not be surprised to learn that there is a Buddhist Temple in Kannapolis, NC and a Zoroastrian Center in Flower Mound, TX.  Instead of being out of the loop or shocked or even outraged that there are spiritual people in our communities whose faith is different from ours, we need to reach out and meet the locals.

As people move geographically and spiritually, we are called to pay attention and shift how we best become their neighbors – in the image of Christ.

Image of the gloriously beautiful Bahá’í Temple in Wilmette, Illinois.  It is one of ten Bahá’í Temples in the world and the only one in the United States.

Little Girls Are Watching

Little boys are watching too.  

Oprah talked last night about the power of witnessing Sidney Poitier win the Academy Award for best actor when she was a little girl.  And there are surely little girls who watch Oprah today, imagining that they too can be business women or actors or philanthropists.

It’s a busy travel season for me, so this will be short.  But as I travel throughout the Church it’s increasingly clear to me that we need more women of color in leadership positions in the church and beyond.  Little girls are watching us and they are brown and black, as well as white and olive in skin color.  Little boys are watching too and they long to see leaders who look like them.

But white children and white adults need to see people of color in leadership too.  White people need to acknowledge that people of color are essential leaders and inspirers and creators in our country for all of us.  The women of color in my own denomination are among the most brilliant and talented leaders we have.  We are missing out if we do not hire them, listen to them, and honor them.

Image of the amazing Rev. Dr. Katie Geneva Cannon, Annie Scales Rogers Professor of Christian Ethics at Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond and the first African American woman ordained in the Presbyterian Church in 1974.  Photo from Union Presbyterian Seminary.