Back to School – It’s a Beautiful Thing

As a child growing up in a college town, my favorite time of year was the week The Students came back.  Franklin Street was crowded again and restaurants were full and everyone was excited.

This is the week that students return to the University of Virginia in Charlottesville and it’s a beautiful thing.

Image lyrics are by Gungor.

A Traumatized Bird

Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not of more value than they? Matthew 6:26

On my way to church a couple Sundays ago, a male cardinal was stuck in the breezeway between our house and garage.  He swooped by my head as I was locking the kitchen door to go out and he was terrified.  I was not exactly a picture of calm myself. #OutOfNowhere

I opened the back door to help him fly out.  Then I opened the front door and he escaped. But you can tell from the photo – if you look closely – that he was feeling a bit stressed. His crest looked like a bad hair day.

This morning we had a totally bald cardinal at our feeder.  He looked like a tiny buzzard tentatively chomping on black sunflower seeds.

The online ornithologists out there said that he could be a victim of parasites or – more likely – trauma.  Maybe this bird was the one in our breezeway or maybe not.  But I can imagine that the trauma of banging up against glass doors for God-knows-how-long would cause one’s feathers to fall.

Trauma damages us too.  There’s no doubt about it.

I believe that a strong 21st Century Church will need skills in loving and serving the traumatized.  Whether our communities include war veterans, cancer survivors, abuse victims, addicts, families of addicts, or any other neighbors carrying heavy burdens, we are increasingly living among people who need lavish love.  We are increasingly called to reach out to the isolated and lonely.  We need tools for recognizing mental illness.  We need to understand the systems that perpetuate traumatization.

Who says the Church is irrelevant?

 

When Was the Last Time You Were Scared for Your Life?

When asked if she was more fearful of this past weekend than when she was as a little kid watching a KKK march, she replied, “Absolutely, I was.”  (Interview with the Rev. Traci Blackmon about Friday, August 11, 2017 in Charlottesville, VA)

I was home alone during Christmas break my first year of college when someone tried to break into our house in broad daylight.  He knew I was inside. He saw me through the window and I saw him.  He went from door to door, window to window trying to get in.  It was absolutely terrifying.  I called 911 and stayed on the phone until I saw the police car pull into my driveway and I literally leapt into the officer’s arms at my front door.  The guy got away.

On 9-11-2001 I was serving a church just down the road from the Pentagon.  HH was in a car on the way to Capitol Hill when the plane hit and we didn’t have cell phones to touch base. To this day, when I watch historical news coverage from 9-11, my heart starts pounding and I feel paralyzed.

When I heard the Rev. Traci Blackmon speak about the gathering in St. Paul’s Memorial Church in Charlottesville last Friday night, I got that same feeling of paralysis.

The plan was for religious leaders to gather at 7:45 pm for worship the night before a Unite the Right rally scheduled for Saturday.  Traci Blackmon was the preacher. But as the crowd was worshipping, another crowd of mostly white men wielding torches gathered outside the church building chanting Nazi slogans.

We were not allowed to leave the church because of this mass mob that was out on the streets with torches,” she said.

There are protests.  And there is terrorism.  This was terrorism.

When was the last time you were terrified to the point of fearing for your life? This is what we are dealing with here.  Supporting white supremacists is not just about threatening our way of life.  It’s about threatening life.

Please speak up against this kind of hate – especially if you are a white person and you voted for President Trump.  More than anything else God has ever called you to do, God is calling you to do this today.

Image from The Times of Israel of white supremacists outside St. Paul’s Episcopal Church across from the University of Virginia in Charlottesville on Friday, August 11, 2017.

Have You Stopped Watching the News? Or . . . Why Should We Care If We Aren’t Wahoos?

I have friends and family members who have “stopped watching the news.”  It’s too upsetting.  It’s negative.  It’s unending.  It’s loud.   While I kind of understand this, I also believe it’s a luxury granted only to those who are not touched personally by pain.

Our TBC is a University of Virginia graduate and we have cried with her over the sight of angry young white men wielding torches and chanting “Blood and Soil” on the campus that was once her home. She saw people she recognized in the news footage.  HH and I have friends who were roughed up while singing hymns.

HH and I have wondered if we would feel so enraged if we didn’t have a personal connection to Charlottesville.  I hope we would.

It’s true that human beings are more distraught over tragedies when we have a personal connection or when we can imagine the tragedy happening to us.

It’s also true that institutions like the Church have been complicit in creating systems of racism and the only faithful choice now is to break down those systems. “White supremacy and racism stand in stark, irreconcilable contradiction to God’s intention for humanity” and it will not be tolerated.  

@OmanReagan took a clip from the 19 43 US Dept of War propaganda film Don’t Be a Sucker and it’s gone viral post-Charlottesville. It’s essentially a video version of the famous Martin Niemoller speech known as “First they came for . . . “

I wonder how we in Church leadership could have failed so miserably to teach the Biblical message that we are called to care for people even if we are not related to them, even if they are strangers, even if they are enemies.  

What do we not understand about the Parable of the Good Samaritan?  What do we not understand about caring for people we don’t even know?  Who is my neighbor?  The wounded guy on the side of the road.

I wonder how people can so easily forget the name of Tamir Rice who was doing what many 12 year old boys do on a fall afternoon.  He was playing with a toy gun on a playground when police pulled up and shot him within two seconds of arriving at the scene.  The police then handcuffed his 14 year old sister on the ground while her little brother lay wounded.  No one treated Tamir for four minutes.  Perhaps it goes without saying that Tamir Rice and his sister were black.

Can we imagine this happening to a child in our neighborhood?  Can we imagine the outrage if a 12 year old white boy had been shot in a playground in leafy suburb and left to bleed while his teenage sister was handcuffed?  We are talking about a 6th grader and an 8th grader here.

But I’m shocked to talk with people – smart, well-educated people – who have never heard this story because they’ve stopped watching the news.  And the Tamir Rice story is old news.

There are strangers wounded every day that we are ignoring because it’s either too upsetting or it doesn’t concern us personally.

But unless we are aware of what’s going on in the world, we will have no incentive to fight it.  For the love of God – literally – we have got to stand up to white supremacy and gun violence and terrorism.  Someday it could be our own children.  But the point is that today it is our neighbor’s child.

Thanking God today for the lives of three of God’s children – our neighbors – who lost their lives last weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia:  Heather Heyer, Jay Cullen, and Berke Bates.

 

 

How Can I Possibly Love This Guy?

“They will know we are Christians by our love.” Peter Scholtes

“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”  Jesus in The Gospel According to John 13:35

I have feelings of hate for this person whose name I will not type.  I share his photo (left) only to note that while he looks somewhat like David Tennant’s Kilgrave in the first season of Jessica Jones, he also looks like the kind of ordinary person I might sit beside in church or stand in line with at the CVS.  He organized the nationalist rally in Charlottesville over the weekend.  I believe he is spiritually sick.

I also have strong unloving feelings for this person and this person.  I fear what I might do if I was in a room with either of them.

How can we possibly love people whose actions both display and propagate hate? I get it when those counter-protesting the white supremacists and terrorists who showed up in Charlotteville want to return punches for punches.  I get it when they yell epithets over Nazi chants.

But we who follow Jesus are commanded not even to hate the haters.  Jesus didn’t even want Peter to attack the high priest’s servant on the night of Jesus’ arrest.   An infinitesmally few Christians follow this commandment.  I can only think of a handful:  Martin Luther King Jr, John Lewis, all those others who were attacked as they tried to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge in 1965.

How can I possibly love these utterly broken and sin-sick human beings who have desecrated the Grounds of UVA?  They are certainly not the first to instill utter hatefulness upon innocent people and they won’t be the last.

First, I must recognize that I, too, am a broken sinner with tendencies towards self-righteousness, hypocrisy, and ignorance.  And secondly, I must confess that there is nothing in me that wants to forgive evil or love my enemy … except that Jesus has commanded it.  It’s impossible without God.

And so I look to those who model love in Christ better than I do, hoping that one day I, too, will have the capacity to love those I consider to be evil.  It’s the only way to stop the madness.

It’s the only way to stop the madness.

Talking About Slavery & Making People Uncomfortable

There are things we don’t like to talk about because they are unpleasant. Channeling my inner Scarlet O’Hara, I could easily think about other things and be done with it.

But I was among the white children taught that:

  • People were “good to their slaves.”
  • Masters brought eternal salvation to their slaves by teaching them Christianity.
  • Slaves possibly liked being enslaved.

Yes, I admit before you and God that I believed such things and wanted to believe such things.  But, in the ongoing project of educating myself about this sickest of sins in my ancestral and our national history, it strikes me as an unequivocal duty to learn all I can about those years when my country and my own ancestors thought it was okay to own other people. And my owning them, I mean:

  • Utterly taking away the agency of certain children of God by naming them, selling their children, keeping them from establishing families, deciding who will learn to read and who won’t, keeping them in sub-standard housing, chaining them, and punishing them for real or imagined infractions.
  • Perpetuating a system that chose money over humanity, fear over faith, and injust incarceration that continues to this day.

Sorry to be so heavy on a lovely Friday morning, but this is important if we are ever to understand how we got to the place in our beloved United States where African Americans are incarcerated at more than five times the rate of Whites and it’s necessary to have an organization called Black Lives Matter – as if somebody thinks that Black lives don’t matter.  Heads up:  Black lives do not matter for many people in the United States of America, or at least they don’t matter as much as White lives.

So, I’m trying to educate myself.

I’m planning my own personal slavery education tour and I consider it a necessary part of my spiritual journey.  I am trying to figure out impactful ways to lament, not so that I can tell anyone else to do it or how to do it, but so I can then step up and do something beside feel deeply sorry that something happened in the history of this great nation, and it continues to happen on my watch.  I have to do this.

Anybody out there want to talk with me about addressing slavery?

Image of Sarah Gudger who was a slave near Asheville, NC.  You can read her story here.  Also, I’m headed to Mississippi for this first time this weekend and look forward to spending time with many  people who are also grappling with this like here.  

Leading While Female

I’ve been supervised by both male and female supervisors.  I’ve supervised both male and female colleagues.  The success or failure of those experiences has had less to do with gender than with personalities.  But what is your experience?

The Atlantic Magazine – my very favorite periodical – seems to be on a Women-At-Work kick that is not necessarily helping The Cause – if the cause = thriving on the job regardless of gender.  In the past 16 months, they’ve featured:

So what’s your experience, my friends who identify as female?  Do you feel bullied?  Criticized? Awful? Unhelped?

Remember when Madeleine Albright said, “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other.” That didn’t go very well, did it?

Frankly,  there are some women who are difficult to work with and there are some men who are difficult to work with and there are non-binary people who are difficult to work with – but it’s not about gender or identity.

It’s about personality.  It’s about collegiality and expecting the best of each other. It’s about giving each other a break.  It’s about sharing the credit and taking the blame.  It’s about letting each other fail without shame.  It’s about sharing a common mission.  It’s about trust.

(Red Flag:  If your colleague’s mission is to promote herself/himself/themselves over the organization, look out.)

Women:  do you find it more or less difficult to work with other women?

Men:  do you prefer to work with one gender over another?

What’s the key to excellent collegial work lives?  Apparently The Atlantic is curious about this and so am I. Or maybe they are just trying to sell magazines.

Image from The Young Clergywomen’s Project and specifically from a post by Sarah Weisiger.

Apparently There Was a Dragon

I don’t watch Game of Thrones for several reasons but apparently there was a dragon in a recent episode.  Or maybe there are always dragons.  All I know is that some people in different families – or maybe the same family – are all vying for a throne and it sounds like more than a game.  FBC suggests that I never watch Game of Thrones because it gets ugly in a Mom-Freaks-Out-Watching-Violent-Scenes kind of way.

Some things I don’t need to see although I trust that the story line is excellent. I’m glad you like it.  It’s not for me.

What do you do if everyone in your circle is watching Game of Thrones and you don’t know/care what’s going on?  The Washington Post addressed this on Monday and it’s suggested that those of us who don’t watch merely take joy in knowing that we are getting so much done as our friends are watching the show and then spending countless hours recapping it and making up dragon memes.

I’m probably not getting lots of extra work done (because I will talk with you all day about The Great British Baking Show.) But picking and choosing our diversions is important.  It settles us.

I don’t care who The Bachelorette chose.  I don’t care who won last night’s ball game (although maybe I’ll care if the Cubs make it to the Series again.)

We all need distractions from everyday stresses.  Sometimes they are educationally edifying and sometimes they simply help us tune out.  And sometimes they strengthen us spiritually.

I’m trying to take advantage of nature in my back yard as a diversion available only in these summer months.  Bunnies.  Coneflowers. Hummingbirds.  Even though it’s not always easy to stay focussed on beautiful things, it strikes me as a nice diversion that doubles as a sound spiritual discipline.

Image of a dragon in Game of Thrones.  I don’t know if it burned up something important or not.

 

Read This Book

I can’t remember who suggested that I read Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Network and How They Shape Our Lives – How Your Friends’ Friends’ Friends Affect Everything You Feel, Think, and Do but thanks, if it was you.

I remember a parishioner once explaining to me why she and her husband would be sending their daughters to an expensive private school instead of the (very good) public school in their suburb.  “We want them to make the right connections because it will help them for the rest of their lives.”

Picture Buffy sitting beside Margaret in Italian 1 which leads to Buffy spending a semester in Rome during college with Trevor who went to summer camp with Margaret and through Trevor, Buffy meets George who marries Buffy’s cousin Addison.  

The more prosperous we are, the more this kind of thing happens mostly because privileged people have broader experiences (summer camp, trips abroad, college) and more opportunities to branch out.  Not true if you’ve spent your entire life in a single small town with the same people and nobody every moves in or out.

Connections-by-privilege happen to me too.  I was at a funeral reception in Chicagoland for a wonderful older man whose spouse had died the year before where I’d met her sister who grew up in my home state and – as it turns out – I went to high school with her niece and nephew.  And at the funeral reception I met her grandson who was best friends with my own nephew back in N.C.  And maybe we are all cousins.

Christakis and Fowler in Connections point out that our social networks can be dangerous (“75 percent of all homicides involve people who knew each other”) and social networks can save our lives (” I gave my right kidney to my best friend’s husband.”)

The great thing about the Church is that we have the opportunity to make connections with people we would not ordinarily know.  I was once the pastor of a congregation that included a member of President Reagan’s staff, a refugee from Vietnam, three Sufi Muslims from Turkey, several homeless men, an undocumented construction worker who didn’t speak English, and people who spent their days inventing secret things for DARPA.  These folks most likely would not be spending time together if they weren’t part of the same church.

It makes me wonder:

Do our social networks look like the Kingdom of God?  Are we connected to people who “can help us for the rest of our lives” as well as people of different races/religions/generations/socioeconomic groups/tribes?

  • Are we connected to any immigrants?
  • Are we connected to any refugees?
  • Are we connected to anyone who is homeless?
  • Are we connected to anyone who is mentally ill?
  • Are we connected to anyone who is unemployed?
  • Are we connected to anyone who speaks a different language?

By “connected” I don’t just mean that we met them once.  Have we invited a broad spectrum of people into our homes and into our lives?  Imagine how different the world would be if we made connections with people we privately disparage or judge or fear?

Our connections are everything.  They impact how and what we eat, how we spend our free time, and how we see the world.  Being honestly and deeply connected to God makes the biggest impact of all because God is the ultimate Connector.  Jesus was connected to all kinds of people – including those that nobody wanted in their network.

I believe that it’s a spiritual practice to notice people who are not in our social networks and to care about them.  Maybe we could even connect.

PS If your church is comprised of people just like you, there could be a problem in your definition of “outreach.”

Good People (Can Be Clueless)

“…most people the world over were good.  And my family?  We were definitely good.  Our parents impressed the importance of it on us all the time.”  Debby Irving from the chapter “My Good People” in Waking Up White

All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”  Edmund Burke

Most of us think of ourselves as Good People.  We follow the rules (except when we don’t re: speed limits.)  We are honest (except when we aren’t re: lying to save face.)  We work hard (except some of us forget that we had some  advantages like white skin color.)

While vacationing in a place where Confederate flags were sometimes visible if not flaunted, I thought about Debby Irving’s chapter “My Good People” a lot. Vacations are supposed to be for relaxing and so discussing politics – for example – in a family with different political perspectives is frowned upon.  (Note: It was really hard the day Anthony Scaramucci was fired.)

Family conversations are opportunities for sharing stories and revealing opinions, and there is always that moment when I need to decide whether or not to speak up when a comment about Good People inadvertently reveals cluelessness.

Examples:

“We were good to our housekeeper.  She was like family.”  

What I wanted to say, but didn’t:  “She wasn’t like family.  She didn’t spend Christmas with us.  She didn’t go on vacation with us.  She didn’t even sit at the same table with us at meals.”

 

Maybe Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson really loved each other.”

What I wanted to say and did:  “She was 14 years old.  And enslaved.

Sometimes we keep our mouths shut when we should speak up.  We don’t want to cause conflict.  We don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings.  We don’t want to get “political.”  We want to think the best of people and we want to think the best of ourselves.

We are Good People.  But sometimes we are also clueless about the fact that we aren’t as Good as we think we are.

I believe in speaking up when we hear or see injustice or false narratives.  But sometimes I don’t speak up either.  Imagine how different the Church would be if we chose not only to speak up but to stand up.