The Unimaginable

If you haven’t noticed yet, all my posts this week include Hamilton lyrics.  (The touring company opened last night in Chicago.  Thanks be to God.)

sarai-laraI’ve been thinking about Evangeline Lara whose 16 year old daughter Sarai survived childhood cancer but was killed by gunshot at a shopping mall in Seattle last weekend.

Let this sink in for a moment:  Imagine the monumental stress of parenting a child through cancer.  And then a person shoots her at a shopping mall.  Shoots.  Her.  At.  A.  Shopping. Mall.

I’ve been thinking about Samaria Rice whose 12 year old son Tamir was shot by a police officer in Cleveland because his toy gun was mistaken for a real one. He had been sitting on a swing in a playground. Who can accept this, even years later?

I’ve been thinking about the 26 teenagers shot and killed in Chicago in 2016. Almost all of them were 15 or 16 years old.

I’ve been thinking about the families of the 20 children who died at Sandy Hook. I’ve been thinking from the perspective of being a parent myself.  It’s unimaginable.

There are moments that the words don’t reach. There is suffering too terrible to name. You hold your child as tight as you can,  and push away the unimaginable.*

What will the Church do about this violence?  What can we do?  There are plenty of church buildings with “No Guns” decals on the doors.  But there are other churches with gun-wielding parishioners in their pews because that’s their culture.  It feels impossible to imagine a world without gun violence in the United States.

What moves  us to demand change  are those glimpses of the unimaginable becoming real.  These are not “somebody else’s children.” These are our children.  God’s children.

What can we do?  

Get to know the police officers in our communities.  Invite the police chief or sheriff  to church to talk about how we can support them.  Invite them to hear our own community concerns (and fears.)  Introduce them to our children – especially to our brown and black sons. Be in relationship.

A world without gun violence might well be unimaginable in your community. Or if you feel like your community is safe, try to imagine – just for a moment – what it must be like for the parents of these lost children.  And then be brave.  Be outspoken for the sake of the Gospel.  Be the Church.

Image of 16 year old Sarai Lara.  Lyrics from “It’s Quiet Uptown” by Lin-Manuel Miranda.

The Room Where It Happens

I’m leading a workshop at NEXT in March 2017 called Seasoned Allies in hopes of closed-meetingstirring the pot a little bit. Here’s the description:

This is a Top Secret Workshop for leaders at least 60 years old, who have been Christian for over 40 years, & part of the Church for at least 20 years.  (It will be more fun than it sounds.) We will collude together about what we can do behind the scenes to make way for the PCUSA’s next chapter.  There will be sarcasm and laughter.  There might be t-shirts.
50-somethings might want to attend as well.
As a longtime church pastor and current mid-council staff member, I work with many creative, energetic people who happen to be in their 50s and 60s.
But I also have ample experience working with pastors who are merely hanging on until retirement.  Some admit that they are tired.  Some tell me that they have no interest in making the necessary shifts required for serving a 21st Century congregation.  Some tell me that they cannot afford to retire until they are at least 70 even if it means their congregation will falter from lack of innovation.  Those last comments are especially hard to hear.
Some of us need to make way for fresh leaders.
We 50/60-somethings have ostensibly been in power for several decades in church and beyond.  We’ve been in the room where decisions are made.  We’ve sat on councils and been invited to lead things.  But it’s time to share.
Its time to ensure that different people are invited into the room where things happen: younger people, people of color, LGBTQ people, immigrants, and differently-abled people.  In the unlikely event that the power in your particular institution solely rests in people younger than 50, then – of course – invite Baby Boomers and The Silent Generation into the room.  But more likely, our congregations are led by older generations.
I am a big fan of co-mentoring between generations but this doesn’t work if the older leader merely wants the younger leader to carry out his/her vision.  It doesn’t work if the gifts of younger leaders who are not in the dominant culture are lifted up for show but set aside when decisions are made.
If you love Jesus, find the unknown exciting, imagine earth as it is in heaven, and have visions about where God is leading the 21st Century Church, I want us to be together in the room where it happens.

Who Tells Your Story?

arnold-palmerThe story being told today about Arnold Palmer is that he was a lovely man.  He was one of the best golfers in history.  He was an avid pilot.   He was the namesake of a delicious summer drink.

All in all, his story is securely honorable.  The same can’t be said of everybody.

Like Arnold Palmer, Keith Lamont Scott can no longer tell his own story. But the general account of Scott’s life depends on who is telling it.  Some say he was a good neighbor and employee.  He was family man  – married to the same woman for more than twenty years and father of seven children, one of whom he was waiting for at a school bus stop the afternoon he died.  Others say that he was a convicted felon, arrested more than five times, that he had brain damage and temperament issues.  In the coming months, his story will be debated and there’s nothing he can do about it.

Even in life, we don’t always get to tell our own story.  (Check out Denise Anderson’s encouragement here.)

Who is telling your story out there?

We don’t tell our stories when church isn’t safe.   The same people who sit beside us in worship and other church gatherings have too often been known to shred us behind our backs.  Sharing false narratives about each other is a common sin.

We don’t share our stories if nobody invites us to do so.

Imagine a Church that invites all people to share their real stories  – even the hardest ones – and then helps connect the dots between those stories and God’s story.  That, my friends, creates a relevant spiritual community.

Imagine that kind of Church.  It would be so refreshing.

Money Week: What Will Be Our Legacy?

lighting-a-matchJust to be clear, my most treasured legacies live in  Manhattan and Our Nation’s Capital.  They are the three twenty-somethings HH and I raised and my best efforts rest deeply in each of their souls.

They will probably not inherit piles of money from me and HH.  But we are blessed to share a bit of what we have.

In the meantime, there are many things HH and I want to support financially in addition to our grown children.  As I write this, my local public radio station is having their fall campaign and – God knows – there are requests to give to political campaigns every day.  But are their other contributions we can make?

Our theology informs how and what we will give to others.

One of the blessings of being a national officer in my denomination is that I have easy access to information about countless opportunities to give financially.  I’m talking about lifesaving, earth-shattering, soul-filling opportunities from this to this to this.  We have the power to save lives, my friends.

But this is not a pitch to give to your local shelter or your international rescue fund.

This is actually a call to small congregations who look at their future and see the end.

To the many  tiny congregations out there who find themselves getting older with buildings requiring expensive maintenance who are increasingly dependent upon renters to pay the bills, here is my question:

What legacy do you want to leave the community you love?

Last weekend, we closed a wonderful congregation that was far from dying.  They simply did not feel as though they had the energy to move forward to do what was needed for them to thrive in a 21st Century culture.  Their financial resources were limited.  Many of their members were either moving out of the area or hoping to take a step back from all the responsibilities of keeping a church going.

The legacy they leave – because they prayerfully and intentionally chose to close and share the resources from the sale of the church building – will make a huge difference in the lives of people whose homes have been destroyed by floods and fire, the lives of local victims of domestic violence, the lives of fragile families in Uganda, the lives of teenage addicts in their county, the lives of homeless men in their town, the lives of people with insufficient sanitation, and several other life-changing ministries in their county and beyond.  They leave a legacy of healing and hope rather than a legacy of bitterness and regret.

Perhaps your church is faithfully vibrant, making disciples and loving the neighbors to the point that – should your ministry end – the pain would be felt by thousands of people.

But if your church is struggling . . .

  • if serving the outcast and broken in Jesus’ name has been replaced with meetings about broken windows and how much it costs to replace a boiler,
  • if there hasn’t been an adult baptism in years, much less an infant baptism
  • if there is less joy than there is anxiety and hang-wringing . . .

then perhaps it’s time to consider leaving a legacy that will show the world that you actually do believe in resurrection.  Sell you building.  Give the proceeds to something that will bring good news to people who desperately need it.

I don’t mean to sound harsh, but this is our calling.

Money Week: Why Spend Money on This Book or That Class?

chicago-roarMost white church people I know have never had a person of color over for dinner in their homes. They have never invited a person of color to spend the night in their guest rooms.  They have perhaps never even had dinner in a restaurant together side by side with a person of color.

And of course few of our congregations find white people and people of color together in the same pews on Sunday mornings.  There are multitudinous reasons for these realities.

Last weekend, my Presbytery shared this book with all our commissioners in waking-up-whitehopes that people will read it and talk about it and be troubled/inspired/discomfited by it.  As the world changes – demographically and culturally, whether we like it or not –  we can decide to hunker down and pretend like we can segregate ourselves forever into communities that will always look like and sound like and think like we look, sound, and think.

Or we can try to learn from each other. Please read this book.

And if you live in the Chicago Area, please register here for anti-racism training to be held Saturday, October 1st at 9 am at Friendship Presbyterian Church.  The registration deadline is Monday, September 26.  Bring your mother.  Bring your neighbor.  Bring your co-worker. Invest in your own education for the sake of all that is good and holy.

If you don’t live in Chicago, check out the anti-racism opportunities in your town.

It will make a difference in the way we live our lives.

 

Money Week at A Church for Starving Artists: You’re Fired?

“The only time to look in  your neighbor’s bowl is to make sure they have enough” Louis CK

Yesterday I heard the best sermon  that I’ve ever heard in my life on The Parable of the Dishonest Manager.  It was about God’s economy and the preacher – though seminary educated – left seminary early to become a school teacher in an alternative school in Chicago.

Basic takeaways:

  • There are many good preachers out there who are not “professional ministers.”  Note:  All followers of Jesus are ministers.  Only a few of us get paid for it professionally.
  • God’s Economy is not like the world’s economy.  Note: We need to become experts in God’s economy.  Imagine being as passionate about God’s economy as the fiercest trader on Wall Street is about making money.
  • We all need to check out and learn from My Classroom Economy. Note:  Yesterday’s preacher shared that the youngest children are more likely to share with somebody who doesn’t have enough.  They have an innate desire to help their classmates.  The older children get, the more they become tight-fisted, but ironically, the older, less generous kids are most likely to end up in debt.  Jesus preached about this.

There are millions of ways to spend and share our money.  How we do this reflects what we believe in our deepest soul.

At the risk of “getting political” note how the candidates running for office have shared their own money.  Almost all candidates for political office are wealthy and in unique places to make a huge difference in the world.  I hope we will consider this before we vote.

The question asked of yesterday’s preacher as we go to the polls in November:

Is this candidate a person who can come into office & allow people to participate in God’s economy?

Thank you DM.

The Way I Remember It

warrensburg-fall-header

30 years ago today, I remember.

I was serving in my first call in a rural congregation in NY.  I was 30 years old and pretty sure that celibacy was my thing.

I had just visited my parents in NC and when I packed the car and prepared to return to upstate NY, my mother cried as if she would never see me again.  It really bothered me.

Mom was in remission from breast cancer.

When I got back to NY I called her oncologist – who was also a member of my home church – and our conversation went like this:

Me:  I just left Mom and she cried like she’d never see me again.

Dr. P:  (crickets)

Dr. P:  She didn’t tell you what was going on with her cancer?

Me:  No.  She didn’t.  What’s going on?

Dr. P:  Your mother is no longer in remission.

Me:  What do you mean?

Dr. P:  The cancer is everywhere.  It’s in her toe bones.

Me:  What should I do?  Should I quit my job?

Dr. P: There’s no way to know how long your mother has, Jan.

Me:  But can you guess?  Can you give me some idea about how long she has?

Dr. P:  I don’t think she’ll be alive a year from now.  And there’s no way she’ll be alive two years from today.

Later that day, I met HH.  We married in 1987.  My mother died of metatastic breast cancer on September 16, 1988, just short of two years from the day I had the conversation with her doctor.

Also, because life is interesting:

  • Dr. P. died of cancer before my mother did.
  • I gave birth to her first grandson six weeks before she would fall into a coma and slip away.
  • I would rather have my mother for 32 years than some mothers I’ve known who live to be 100.

So here we are on September 17, 2016.  I’m so grateful for unspeakable gifts.  I don’t understand it, but grace abounds.

Note:  I met HH 30 years ago today in Warrensburg, NY.  Thanks be to God.

Who Will Carry On the Family Name?

“Within the domain of White Christian America, white Protestants have been locked in an internal dispute over who will carry on the family name.”  The End of White Christian America by Robert P. Jones

robertpjones-theendofwhitechristianamericaI didn’t change my name when I married HH but our children have his name (as well as mine in the middle.)  There are lots of Edmistons in my family and not many with HH’s last name.  If our kids wanted to hyphenate that’s their choice. But – from what I’ve noticed – they identify with both/all family names.

Carrying on the family name means different things to different people and I like the way that The End of White Christian America talks about the struggle to claim who is a “real Christian.”  In my denomination, there is also an historic battle over who the “real Presbyterians” are.

Maybe we should all get together and remember that we are cousins (with the same name.)  Cousins don’t always agree but ultimately we have the same roots.

Whomever carries the name ostensibly carries the power.  And whomever does the naming wields great power as well.  Remember Adam?

Robert P. Jones offers a clear history of the shifts from the days when White Protestants ran the country in every way to the days when that is no longer the case.  The powerful demographic changes in the United States are shifting everything.  (And they also explain why Donald Trump is a candidate for President.)

I am a White Protestant Christian writing this post from the Mother Ship of my denomination in Louisville, KY.  One of our ongoing conversations concerns how we as an overwhelmingly white denomination will move forward to be a  church that is relevant – and pleasing to God – in a changing world.

My first thought involves repentance.

Some of my people share the same name with people who have a darker skin color and that’s because of slavery.  People with my last name once believed that they could own people.  And then name them.

We who have benefited from injustice must acknowledge that we have indeed benefited from institutional racism all our lives regardless of our financial standing.  (Note:  we can be financially poor white people and still be privileged because it’s easier to be a poor person with white skin than a poor person with brown or black skin.)

We (in the dominant culture) need to educate ourselves about what it’s been like in this country to grow up without the obvious and not-so-obvious power of whiteness.

This is important because I believe that God claims us and renames us – whether we realize it or not.  We share one family name.  And remembering that truth is a spiritual discipline that changes everything.

Thinking Days (When Is Yours?)

staring-out-window-coffeeAs a parish pastor, I took almost every Monday as a Monastery Day.  I would park myself in a coffee shop with my Bible and laptop and stare into space.  I did what one does in a monastery, only with coffee and wifi.

This was not a vacation day.  It was not my Sabbath.  It was my Thinking Day. It was my favorite day of the week for several reasons.*

The WSJ shared a story last week about Edmunds.com – the used car company – and it’s practice of taking a meeting-free day they call Thinking Thursdays. Imagine:  A meeting free day.

The International Justice Mission – which is a great organization, by the way – used to (and maybe still does) have a time every morning in their headquarters when there are no phone calls, no meetings, no one-on-ones except between individuals and God.

We need this.  Here’s a really good TED Talk about Slowing Down with Adam Grant who reminds us that letting ideas marinate in our brains is crucial for creativity.  Grant points out that it took 16 years for Leonardo to finish the Mona Lisa because Leonardo knew all about letting ideas marinate.  Adam Grant calls this marinating time “idea doubt.”  Our first drafts and initial plans almost always require fine-tuning.

“There’s self-doubt and idea doubt. Self-doubt is paralyzing. But idea doubt is energizing.”  Adam Grant

So . . . what would it look like for church offices to have no phone/no technology/no meeting Thinking Times each week?  It could be a whole day or it could be an hour.  Mid-council and other denominational offices could use Thinking Time as well.

If you’ve ever been on a silent retreat, you’ll know that it takes a couple days to looking-out-window-gardenfigure out how to be silent without a racing mind or (for me) excruciating smart phone withdrawal. Do I stare into space?  Do I take a nap?  Do I pray? Do I talk to myself?  Yes.  Yes. Yes. And yes.

And then the brain cracks open.

As the world continues to be a Ceaselessly Noisy Information Fest, one thing the Church can still offer for all people in all places is quiet space.  If a used car company is open to offering Thinking Days, surely we who are in the spiritual life business could do the same.

*100% of my Monastery Days also included meeting a person I never would have met in the church building.  It was a break from the quietude but God always showed up.

Images are stock photos.

Where Is God When Old Certainties Vanish?

‘ “Somebody is taking everything you are used to and you had” — your steady middle-class existence, your values, your security. It’s not that the economy is bad in all of Kentucky; the arrival of the auto industry has been a boon, and the unemployment rate is just 4.9 percent. It’s that all the old certainties have vanished.’ From this article by Roger Cohen 9-9-16

coal-country-kentuckyThis – of course – is the story of the 21st Century Church (especially if we miss the 20th Century Church.)  This is also why Donald Trump will win the votes of many who feel unheard and dismissed in Coal Country and beyond.  This is also why people are so angry at Colin Kaepernick.  This is why the world is feeling a little nutty.

Everything we used to consider certain is changing:

  • If you work hard, your job will be secure and you can stay until you retire.
  • If your church offers good preaching and strong Sunday School, people will come.
  • If you are a good American, you will be proud of our country no matter what.

It doesn’t seem fair or right.  And maybe it isn’t.  But God is in this.  We just need to figure out how and then move in God’s direction.

Because Jesus didn’t die for church institutions or corporations or flags.  Jesus died for human beings so that we might be the people we were created to be.  This is an everlasting certainty.

Image from Wikipedia.