The Greatest Thing We Can Do . . .

. . . is to help somebody know that they’re loved and capable of loving.

The Reverend Fred Rogers

As I travel today, there’s no time for a real post, but I’ll leave you with this and hope you’ll join me in buying tickets.  Opening day is June 8th.  Have a lovely day.


A Love Letter to My Country

Dear Friends and Citizens of the United States of America,

I love so many things about our great nation:  March Madness, recycling, voting, ice in my drinks, Costco, smoke-free restaurants.  There is much to love.


I grew up being taught and believing that . . .

  • American colonists partnered with and benefited Native Americans.
  • 19th Century Southerners treated their slaves well.
  • Robert E. Lee was a great man who made the heart-wrenching choice to support his family over his country.
  • American troops saved the world against fascism in the 20th Century.
  • We (Americans) are the Good Guys.  We don’t do what Bad Guy nations do (i.e. torture, slaughter, break treaties.)

The truth is clearly more complicated.  There is a great deal of historic documentation proving that we were not always The Good Guys.

After 9/11, the question was “Why Do They Hate Us?” – especially if we are so good?  The truth is that money has been our god from the beginning: We could make big money off tobacco and other native American crops. We could amass wealth if we didn’t pay for labor. We could control stories to benefit ourselves all for the sake of financial gain.  Perhaps you see this practice today in terms of how our current administration is governing this nation.

We can be blind to what is true.  Or we can shine a light to reveal the truth.  And this is a spiritual choice.  (That’s why we in the Church encourage Prayers of Confession. Acknowledging the truth about ourselves is essential to spiritual growth.)

No longer can we call ourselves A Christian Nation – and not only because non-Christian faiths are also protected by law.

We cannot call ourselves a Christian nation:

  • if we refuse to provide clean water to every city,
  • if we refuse to treat all Americans (from Puerto Ricans to Appalachians) fairly,
  • if we continue to torture prisoners or tolerate those who have tortured people in our name,
  • if we regulate traveling pets more than we regulate the sale of assault weapons,
  • if we have different rules for black and brown and golden people than we have for white people,
  • if we tolerate a President (of any political party) who displays contempt for what is honorable, fair, and true.

I love our country and this country has been good to me.  But this country has not been good to many others.  It’s harder to be a poor person, a Person of Color, an immigrant, and a physically and/or mentally ill person in this country than in many other places in the world.  And please do not say, “What about . . .?”  What about South Sudan?  What about North Korea?  What about Bulgaria?  What about Honduras?

If we truly want to be The Greatest Country on the Earth, why compare ourselves to the poorest, most dysfunctional nations?  Why not aspire to bring freedom and justice to all?  Why not aspire to offer the best healthcare, the best infrastructure, the best educational system for all Americans?

Where to begin?  Please join The Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival.  For the love of God, who can argue that we don’t need moral revival?

This is a movement with the poor – not for the poor.  At the root of all racism, sexism, and classism is the issue of greed.  (Not a new story.)  And at the root of all things destructive are lies that we tell ourselves about ourselves, about our country, about each other.

We can be a better country than this.  Let’s unite as a nation – regardless of color, religion, or political party – to be a better nation with liberty and justice for all.

Thanks for reading,


Image of Robert Shetterly’s children’s book Americans Who Tell the Truth – a collection of portraits of famous Americans – initated after the attacks on 9-11-01.

The Death Penalty for Drug Dealers

Today at an address in New Hampshire, the President said the United States must “get tough” on opioids. “And that toughness includes the death penalty.”  The image at the top of this post is what immediately popped into my head.  I believe that the President was referring to the death penalty only for the people on the left of that photo.

One of the reasons why so many black and brown men have been incarcerated is because the laws are harsher for black and brown men.  I can name many young white men who have used and sold illegal drugs and not one has been jailed.

This is not about getting tough on opioids or other illegal substances.  I fear that this is another “opportunity” to destroy men of color.  Or maybe the death penalty comment was just a hyperbolic remark tossed out for cheap applause with no intentions to follow through.

Either way, addressing opioid addiction is crucial.  Addressing the uneven incarceration of men of color is also crucial – and it’s been an issue for hundreds of years in this country.

Two blog posts in one day is not my norm.  But I couldn’t not say something.

Images are of actors playing drug dealers.  On the left are characters from The Chi (which is one of the best shows on television if you are looking for something to watch.)  On the right are actors from “The Preppie Connection” based on the true story about student cocaine dealers at Choate Rosemary Hall.  The white kid was arrested and convicted.  He got five years of probation and no prison time.


Wall of Culture

The Loyola Men’s Basketball team wowed fans all weekend, first defeating Miami and then defeating Tennessee – two teams that outranked them throughout the season.  The secret to their success includes a team nun and a wall of culture.

Every family, every organization, every spiritual community lives by sayings and norms often passed down from generation to generation to the point that it becomes part of our DNA.  Sometimes they make no sense to outsiders as in these Loyola ditties:

  • Ride the Shoulder High
  • Ball-You-Man
  • Get Out of the Mud

Loyola’s cultural sayings are painted on their locker room wall and all that really matters is that they know what the sayings mean.

What are the (honest) cultural sayings that you would paint on  your church office or sanctuary walls that reflect the reality and aspirations of your organization?  Would they look like this?

  • Always Look Backwards
  • We Heart Secrets
  • Gossip is Our Life Blood
  • Fail and Be Shamed
  • Cast Them Out

Or this?

  • Let’s Try It
  • Expect the Best of Each Other
  • Relationships Over Rules
  • Who’s Not Included?
  • Tell the Truth

Ingrained systems can keep congregations, mid-councils, and other non-profit organizations stuck and dysfunctional or can set them up to move forward and thrive.  If we do not know what’s on our proverbial wall of culture, we will continue to perpetuate unhealthy practices.  

Our culture spells out what we value, what we tolerate, what our true core values are (as opposed to what we say they are.)  It would be interesting to ask our boards and staffs:  What’s on our Culture Wall?

Image of Men’s Basketball Coach Porter Moser in front of Loyola’s Wall of Culture.


This Might Scare Us (Or It Might Give Us Hope)

Take four media leaders:

  • One grew up with no religious tradition.
  • One is a pastor’s kid who never really felt “the faith part” of his religious tradition.
  • One is another pastor’s kid who explored a variety of faiths before returning to her father’s tradition.
  • One is a Muslim American who grew up surrounded by evangelical Christians in Alabama.

They got together this past week in Austin for a South by Southwest conversation and it might have changed my life. The panelists – Ana Marie Cox, Ben Howe, Noor Tagour, and Bree Newsome – spoke about some of the authentic spiritual needs of people in every generation, tradition, and political demographic. Please listen here.

They range in age from 24 to 45 which is “young adult” only if your denomination’s average age is 60. But the next time someone says  . . .

  • Where are all the young people?
  • Why don’t young people come to Church?

. . . invite them to listen to the South by Southwest podcast.  They might feel uncomfortable (there’s a Muslim on the panel!) or sad or scared or tired.  But I deeply believe that the future Church will look and sound more like this panel conversation than what happens most Sunday mornings in sanctuaries throughout this country.  What’s the future Church going to look like?

  1. There will be more conversation and less sermon.  Someone (a theologically trained leader?) might start the conversation, but there will be more back and forth, more grappling, more group spiritual direction.
  2. There will be more focus on faithful action that brings positive impact.  More active service, and less “thoughts and prayers.” More worshipful work and less sitting in pews going through the motions without knowing why.
  3. We will remember that God is in control. We tend to nod and say those words while digging in to cling to our institutional power, pet projects, and deep-seated belief that our way is the best way. Letting go is perhaps the holiest practice of 21st Century ministry. (And speaking of letting go . . . )
  4. We will let go of finding common ground or agreeing in our divided world.  “There are as many religions as there are people,” said one SXSW panelist.  The goal is not to make everyone agree.  The goal is to love each other in spite of our differences. Changing each other is not the same as loving each other.
  5. We will acknowledge that God is God is and we are not.  We will remember that no one – not Franklin Graham, not Jerry Falwell Jr, not even Pope Francis – speaks unequivocably for God.  We cannot know what’s best for other people.  We cannot assume that God is on our side.  We must trust God to know what’s best.  We must seek to be on God’s side.
  6. We will remember that people don’t solve issues.  God solves issues.  We are simply tools for transforming the world, and we pray that we do this faithfully. (This is true even if we don’t acknowledge it.  I don’t care that Stephen Hawking didn’t believe in God.  Hawking’s life is still a miracle.)
  7. We will remember that relationships are everything.  If we are in a congregation – whether it’s been 6 months or 60 years – and we do not have soul mates who hold us accountable for the way we live, we are missing out.  A deep relationship with God and with God’s people is not only possible; it’s essential for spiritual growth.
  8. Spiritual communities will increasingly be about building resilience.  In these days of overwhelming levels of violence, corruption, addiction, indebtedness, and trauma, there will be an increased understanding that we cannot endure without a power that’s greater than ourselves.

None of these shifts are new.  Some of us have been writing and talking about them for a while.  What’s new is that this conversation happened in a world famous, secular event.

We in organized religion must also remember that Jesus challenged organized religion.  This is a wonderful and (for those of us in organized religion) terrifying season.  But these times are not about us.  It’s all about trusting in God and deeply believing that God’s plans are better than our own.

This is especially discomfitting for those of us who are most spiritually comfortable with a sermon, a choir, and pews.  But just as God shifted the church in past eras regarding sermons, choirs, and pews these shifts are happening again.  And if God is doing it, it will be good.

Image from SXSW.  Left to right: Ana Marie Cox, Ben Howe, Noor Tagouri, and Bree Newsome.

I’ve Seen a Glimpse of the Future Church (and It’s Awesome)

“Everybody” knows that the 20th Century Church is pregnant and/or dying/flat.  “Everybody” knows that the 21st Century Church is going to be something different.  But most of us have no idea what that difference will look like exactly.

I have seen a glimpse of it and it wasn’t revealed at a church camp or a worship service or a conference or in a pilgrimage to a holy place (unless you consider Austin, Texas a holy place – which some people do.)  For the first time in the history of South by Southwest – that huge music and film event held every March in Texas’ capital city – there was a panel discussion on religious faith.

For the love of all things holy, please listen to this.  It’s an hour of your time featuring  Ana Marie Cox, Ben Howe, Bree Newsome, and Noor Tagouri. They share their personal faith stories and engage in a conversation about faith in something bigger than themselves in this divided 21st Century world in which we find ourselves.

What I heard impacts the Church in every way.  More tomorrow, but – please – check it out.  It changed my life and my perspective on ministry.  I hope it will change yours.

Image is the 2018 South by Southwest logo.

Privilege and Power at 62

Like Brian McLaren, Bill Gates, and Whoopi Goldberg, 62 is my new age in 2018 and it feels amazing.  I’ve outlived my parents by several years – as some of you know – which means that every birthday brings both joy and deep appreciation.

Being 62 means I can retire early if I wish – although I won’t be doing that. And yet a constant thought is that I – as a Boomer – need to step aside unless I indeed carry the energy, intelligence, imagination and love necessary to continue in some professional role.  Actually I am beginning a new call this May.  Am I being an intransigent hypocrite?  I hope not.

I have written many times that once we clergy reach our 60s, we need to discern if it’s time to make way for younger leaders to step in and take our place.  It’s not easy to seek and find a new call in my 60s when many church nominating committees are looking – longingly –  for that stellar 30-something or 40-something or (maybe even) 50-something person who will bring a spark to their congregation/organization.  Am I fooling myself by thinking I can still offer a spark too?  I don’t think so and that thought has been affirmed by some faithful people in North Carolina.

I love that three-legged stool metaphor we Presbyterians tout. I can’t wake up one fine morning and decide unilaternally that I am called to a particular ministry.

One of the advantages of being among the oldest and most seasoned on a team is that we have the power to do more for younger colleagues in our 60s than we did when we ourselves were younger.  This is the most important reason to keep our hand in professional ministry in our 60s.  It’s not about us.

Here’s what someone with my age might be able to do in the church we love:

  • Ensure that younger leaders are considered for service.  I am often asked for suggestions regarding people for positions on important committees and commissions.  Pastor Nominating Committees sometimes ask me to recommend candidates to be their next Head of Staff.  This is a privilege and opportunity to suggest people they might not ordinarily consider:  younger, browner, queer-er individuals whom I know to be rock stars although they might not be on that PNC’s radar.  I have the power to put excellent candidates on their radar.
  • Step aside as often as possible.  When I’m asked to serve on a committee or commission myself, I have the privilege and opportunity to say something like, “Thank you.  I’ve actually served on this board before, but why don’t you contact (insert younger pastor’s name here)?
  • Connect younger leaders to resources.  When letters from foundations and denominational programs come across my desk offering everything from money to educational opportunities, it’s not only my privilege and opportunity to pass that information along to younger leaders, but it’s my responsibity to do it.  And it’s fun.

Being a 60-something leader with privileges and opportunities is extremely fun but only if I use that power for good to expand the reign of God Ephesians 4:11-12-style.  It’s essential to have the kind of honest, trusting relationships with colleagues – of every age – that let me know when it’s indeed time to move on.  Ministry continues for the whole of our lives – even if we are bedridden and weary.  But ministry shifts and flows until we die.  It never stays stagnant.  It always makes way for new leaders to come in and shine to the glory of God.

So far, the sixties are pretty great.

Image of 62 candles – enough to set a room on fire.

Trevor, Tiffany, and Many of Us

I listened to Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime and Tiffany Haddish’s The Last Black Unicorn during last weekend’s roadtrip and was struck by the level of childhood trauma they each experienced.  Oprah also talked about childhood trauma over the weekend and Bruce Perry’s books on the topic have become bestsellers.

So, it occurs to me that – whether we are teachers, police officers, social workers, secretaries, pastors or any person whose work involves other people – we all relate to human beings who have experienced at least one of the following adverse experiences – as children:

  • Physical abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Emotional abuse
  • Physical neglect
  • Emotional neglect
  • Intimate partner violence
  • Mother treated violently
  • Substance misuse within household
  • Household mental illness
  • Parental separation or divorce
  • Incarcerated household member

Children who endure four or more Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) often find that their adult years can be more difficult in terms of their physical, emotional, and social health.  Educators and health professionals are now being trained to ask students and patients, “Tell me about your childhood” in hopes of uncovering experiences that might have been traumatic and subsequently helping to explain adult issues.

As a parish pastor, I once looked out at the congregation each Sunday and was aware of some of their traumas.  I often knew who had been sexually abused by a parent or sibling, who had lived with an alcoholic father or mother, whose family member was in prison, and who had witnessed domestic violence.  Many of these parishioners were in therapy.  Many were also dealing with adult issues related to their childhood trauma.

This is not something I learned about in seminary, but there are many resources out there to help us better understand the people in our pastoral care.  Both Trevor Noah and Tiffany Haddish have obviously risen out of both poverty and abusive situations.  Adverse childhood experiences do not condemn people to lifelong sorrow.  In fact, healthy communities can counter the impact of ACEs.

A healthy church offers belonging, purpose, and deep comfort.  There are so many many people seeking exactly these things – but they don’t believe they can find it in a church.

Can they find it in your congregation?  I hope so.

Image source.  Trauma care professionals suggest that we ask, “What happened to you?” rather than “What’s wrong with you?” when discussing behavioral health issues with both children and adults.

In Praise of Young Clergywomen

The Rev. SPM was ordained yesterday and I got to be there.

We are all called into ministry by virtue of our baptisms, and some of us are called into professional ministry.  SPM is now a card-carrying, sacrament-leading, all-rights-and-privileges Minister of the Word and Sacrament.  I hope the congregation she’s serving has a flicker of understanding how blessed they are.

So, here’s the thing:  young male clergy are a blessing, over-40 second career female clergy are a blessing, Gen X/Boomer clergypersons are a blessing.  But being a clergywoman under the age of 40 still has it’s particular challenges.  Double those challenges if the clergywoman is a Person of Color or an LGBTQ pastor.

Most large congregations with multiple pastors in the United States have a male Head of Staff/Senior Pastor and so calling a young female associate pastor is not particularly risky for traditional congregations.  She adds balance.  He can teach her some things.  Maybe her voice won’t be too high.  It could be inconvenient if she gives birth while serving. If she’s single – all the better.  I have heard each of these comments from search committees seeking an associate pastor and open to calling a young clergywoman.  Calling a young clergywoman because she is maleable or helpful in completing a staff demographically is problematic.  Calling her for who she is  – period –  will make everybody happier.

Very small congregations are often open to calling a young woman to be their solo pastor, but it will be lonely.  And exhausting.  Even young male clergy tell me that “the church ladies” volunteered for them quite a bit in their first small-church call – from bulletin printing to tidying up the sanctuary.  I was asked to bake brownies for the first Session meeting I moderated as a 28 year old new pastor.

Medium to large congregations tend not to call young women right out of seminary, although they might call a young man the same age – especially if he’s married.

There are exceptions to these generalities, of course, but young clergywomen will recognize some of my observations.

The Young Clergywomen’s Project was founded in 2007 by the Rev. Susan Olson with a grant from The Louisville Institute to offer support for the youngest clergywomen among us.  Today the organization is called Young Clergy Women International.  Members are ordained clergywomen under the age of 40 from a variety of Christian denominations. 

I thank God for this group of colleagues who are a fountain of support.  They remind each other that they are not alone, especially when they feel like they are doing “everything” all by themselves or when they haven’t had a date in years or when parishioners won’t stop talking about their hair.  They have been a support to me  (an older clergywoman) too.

If you are reading this and a young clergywoman is serving your congregation, please recognize that . . .

  • Not only does she have a lot to learn from you but you have a lot to learn from her. (Read about Co-Mentoring here.)
  • It’s not a good idea to touch her hair, face, or (if expecting a child) belly.  Her body is her own.
  • Commenting on her hair, shoes, legs (please don’t) diminishes her role as your spiritual leader.  Ask her instead about what she’s reading or if she’s taking her Sabbath day off.
  • She deserves a personal life as much as you do.  If she’s single, it’s none of your business who she’s dating.  If she’s married, encourage couple time.  Don’t ask when she plans to have a(nother) baby.
  • Remind her that she is gifted in pastoral care, preaching, teaching, and leadership.  That’s why your congregation called her, right?  Give her feedback beyond “nice sermon” or “I love your earrings.”
  • Pay. Her. Fairly.  Could you live off her salary?

I loved being a young clergywoman long ago.  But it can be harder than it needs to be.

Image is from The Young Clergy Women’s Project. I dedicate this post to the newly ordained SPM who has always been my first cousin once removed and is now also my clergy sister.  She preached the best sermon I’ve ever heard yesterday on the Mark 14:32-42 text.

Yes – Please! – In My Back Yard

I am thrilled and inspired about the opening of the New Hope apartment complex a few blocks away from my home in Flossmoor, IL.

It’s a newly built facility with six apartments for special needs adults, approved unanimously by the village board in 2016 and encouraged by their immediate neighbors who include some personal friends.  While there were a few initial NIMBY (Not in My Back Yard) whisperings, the overwhelming attitude in our community was actually Yes Please – in Our Back Yard.

New Hope Apartments offer a much-needed housing option for all our communities, although it’s currently the only one in Illinois.

It’s conveniently located near the train station, the public library, and our little village center (shops and restaurants) where residents can navigate their lives conveniently and in a good and safe neighborhood.  Why wouldn’t everybody want this in their community?

This article by Emily Badger from January 2018 spells out the history of NIMBY sentiments and the notion that owning a home = having the right “to shape the world beyond its boundaries.”  Some home owners are concerned that their own properties will lose value.  Others simply want to control who their neighbors are.  The origins of these sentiments begin – not surprisingly – with race.

White people have historically left neighborhoods when Black or Brown people moved in and this continues today in many urban and suburban neighborhoods.  As a White person, I would love to hear from other White home owners the honest reasons behind this.  What do “Black Neighbors” and “Brown Neighbors” mean to you?  (I know the answer, but I’d like you to say it out loud.)

The truth is that diverse neighborhoods are rich neighborhoods.  Do I really need to say that every Black or Brown neighbor is not – by definition – uneducated, unlawful, or unneighborly?

It’s also true that many urban and most suburban neighborhoods in our country are racially segregated.

And it’s thirdly true that all of us want to live in safe neighborhoods.  All of us.  We all want convenience and good schools.  We all want community.  And – if we profess to be followers of Jesus – we all want everyone to have the abundant life Jesus promises, right?  This is what true evangelism means.

For today, I am evangelically grateful that the good people of my state, county, and village all agreed that special needs adults are a blessing in our back yard.

Images of (top) the New Hope apartments and (bottom) some of the memes shared after Marco Gutierrez’ statement on September 1, 2016.