Putting Me in My Place

“Remember you are dust and to dust you will return.”  Genesis 3:19b

Ash WednesdayIn world where we humble-brag, where we are encouraged to climb the proverbial ladder, where we push our children to be on top, where we push our neighbors out of the way to get to the top ourselves . . . the voice of God reminds us that  – actually – we are broken, weak, ridiculous, and hurt, if we tell the truth about ourselves.

Ash Wednesday puts us in our place.  This is day when we remember that – while wonderfully and fearfully made – we are also mortal creatures who will die one day.  And how we will live this one remarkable lifetime we have been given?

  • Seeking to know who we are and who God is.
  • Serving in proportion to our privilege.
  • Living to bring heaven to earth.

This is my favorite season.  What an opportunity.

That Time I Voted in the N.H. Primary

I faithfully voted in North Carolina until 1984 when I was briefly living in New Hampshire and couldn’t resist voting in the N.H. Primary.

voting in NH

Every day when I walked to work from my house past the Hanover Inn to the old Mary Hitchcock Memorial Hospital for a Clinical Pastoral Education residency, I’d see at least one presidential candidate hanging out.  Jesse Jackson would be in the bakery.  Gary Hart would be eating a sandwich in the diner.  Walter Mondale would be interviewed on the corner.  I don’t remember ever seeing Ronald Reagan but he was probably there too.

Reagan ran unopposed.  There were at least nine candidates on the Democratic ticket.  And Independents could vote in either party’s primary, so it was only fun – Democrat or not – to vote in the Democratic Primary.  We filed into a school gym on Tuesday, February 28, 1984 and did our civic duty.

But as we voters were leaving the gym, Dartmouth students handed us slips of paper that said something like this:

  • If you voted for Mondale, tell the media you voted for Jackson.
  • If you voted for Askew, tell the media you voted for Glenn.
  • If you voted for Hart, tell the media you voted for Mondale.
  • If you voted for Hollings, tell the media you voted for Askew.

You get the idea.  In the throes of media madness when we sometimes do not believe our vote matters – because somebody has already predicted who will win, so why bother? – we were keeping our votes to ourselves . . . at least until someone had time to count them.

Political Nerds have almost as much fun as Theological Nerds.  Sometimes it takes a little whimsy to get us through this political season.

People We Should Know: William Barber

One of my favorite parts of the Transitional Executive Ministry Training I took last fall was the session on Conferences We Should Attend, Blogs We Should Read, etc.  [FYI: among the must-attend conferences are NEXT Church for Presbyterians and White Privilege for everybody.]William_Barber_at_Moral_Mondays_rally

I have another list:  People We Should Know . . . if we are interested in 21st Century ministry.  Friends, we should all know William Barber II.

I first heard him speak at the Wild Goose Festival in 2013 and 2014 and this was after he had gained national attention as the creator of Moral Mondays in N.C.

Moral Mondays – which has now spread to twelve other states – was created to peacefully protest state government actions which impede voting rights and cut social programs.

Cornel West has described the Rev. Barber as “the only (Martin Luther) King-like figure we have in the country right now.”  His messages are powerful and Spirit-infused.  And in these days when the words of our political candidates are often violent (one wants to “carpet bomb” ISIS until the sand glows) and do not sound Christ-like in spite of coming out of the mouths of those who self-identify as Christians (“I will bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding”) Barber believes that – because words can still become flesh – we need to speak prophetic words in the likeness of Christ.

These, for example, speak to us all:  “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others.”  (Matthew 23:23)

William Barber keeps reminding us what the weightier matters of the law truly are.  You can read more here.

Image by TW Buckner.

Sacred Assumptions

I go to UVA!  I go to UVA!  I go to UVA!”  Martese Johnson being arrested outside a bar in Charlottesville, VA on March 18, 2015

It always bothers me when someone judges me based on my appearance.  My age.  My gender.  My race.  I might be wearing pearls but it doesn’t mean I’m not tough.  I might be pushing 60 but it doesn’t mean you can peg me in terms of my politics or my theology or my cultural proclivities.

NegrolandNegroland by Margo Jefferson is a great read about a black family who lived on the Southside of Chicago in the 1950s and ’60s who were wealthier, worldier, and better educated than most people of any race or ethnicity in those days.  I highly recommend it.

Assumptions were made about Margo and her family based on the color of their skin. One of the most memorable stories is about Margo and her mother shopping for the latest appliance in a Sears department store and running into the white man who does their laundry.

The laundryman did not acknowledge them.  He was their employee and he did not acknowledge knowing them.  He was buying his clothing at Sears and they were buying the latest refrigerator – or something like that – but he pretended like he didn’t see them.

We make sacred assumptions about each other every day based on appearance. A young black man is arrested outside a bar in a college town and it’s assumed he is a hooligan, but actually he’s an honors student.  There’s a story about Thurgood Marshall on an elevator in the Supreme Court Building in DC and someone thought he was the elevator man.  Lord, have mercy.

What if – upon glancing at the stranger in the grocery store check-out line or at the bus stop or in the public library – we assumed that the person before us was a genius or a national treasure or a child of God?  What if we assumed that the brown child on the playground, the green-haired teenager in the ice cream shop, the tired-looking couple in the diner were all brilliant, extraordinary human beings?

What if we set aside our sacred assumptions and treated people as individuals – each with their own amazing stories and gifts?  (It’s so much easier to lump people into unfair stereotypes.)  But we are better than this.

PS – For more thoughts about this . . . 

Mark Your Calendars: September 24, 2016

Train Tracks

‘Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.’    George Santayana

When I was a child and our family visited family in Iredell County, NC, my father often pointed out a platform near the train tracks in Mt. Mourne as we drove between Davidson and Mooresville.  He told us that the town was called Mt. Mourne because slaves were traded on that platform.  I remember exactly where that platform stood and I used to imagine what “trading slaves” might have looked like.  At least someone had the sensitivity to name the town “Mt. Mourne.”

Not only is the platform gone but I can find no historical evidence about the slave trade in Mt. Mourne.  Either my father was sharing a mythological tale or somebody has cleaned up the history really well.

The Mt. Mourne Plantation, however,  is on the National Register of Historic Places as the site where Rufus Reid owned 80+ slaves who worked his cotton fields, making him one of the wealthiest men in North Carolina in the 19th Century.  I’ve long wondered if Reid Memorial Presbyterian Church – which is near Mt. Mourne – was named for Rufus Reid.  The whole story makes me feel queasy and uncomfortable.  But I believe that my father was telling the truth about that long-gone train platform.

I have visited Holocaust Museums in both Washington, DC and Jerusalem, and they are disturbing.  They are meant to be disturbing.  School groups visit on field trips and – in the Washington, DC museum – they walk through the hallway filled with the shoes of men, women and children who perished in death camps. It’s a history that we must not forget even though it’s sickening and reminds us of how some of us have dehumanized others of us.

As Jim Wallis and others have written, human slavery is the original sin of our nation.  It’s unspeakably shameful. And who wants to remember one’s shameful past?

If I’m visiting Our Nation’s Capital, I’d rather watch the pandas at the National Zoo or check out Dorothy’s ruby slippers in the American History Museum or try to figure out how the Wright Brothers’ 1903 glider in the Air and Space Museum could have possibly gotten off the ground.

But on September 24 of this year, The National Museum of African American History will open on the National Mall in Our Nation’s Capital and we who love our country need to go – if not in September, then sometime in the near future. I believe it will help us understand how we got to where we are today – where a young white man can sit through a Bible study in S.C. and shoot the black church members along with their pastor, and where a drug-addled young man can be shot 16 times while walking away from a police officer because of – I believe – the color of his skin.

We will have the chance to see what none of us wants to see but all of us need to see – so that we will not forget how some of us in history have dehumanized others of us in history. Among the collections to be included in the African American History Museum will be an exhibition on the history of slavery.  I’m guessing these will not be easy hallways to walk through, but we have got to remember in hopes that we will not repeat this history.

I love remembering beautiful stories depicting women who were brave and men who were kind and people of all ages being generous beyond all comprehension. But we owe it to all God’s children to remember the stories of injustice as well.

Colonialism

ColonialMy personal history regarding colonialism involves 1) visiting Colonial Williamsburg, 2) liking Southern U.S. colonial-style architecture, and 3) being called “the colonist” by my co-workers when I was a social worker in the U.K. after college.

I’ve spent most of my life as a sheltered innocent.  It’s one of the privileges of growing up as a Daughter of the American Revolution (my side – the colonists -won) as opposed to growing up in an Indian colony in Nevada (“settlers” took our land) or in The Belgian Congo in the early 20th Century.

The word “colonial” has always been a happy word for me.  It meant four poster beds and Chippendale chairs.  It meant Paul Revere of Boston and John Turk Edmiston of Staunton, VA (my fourth great-grandfather who arrived in Philadelphia from Ulster in 1740.)

But I shuddered a bit when I saw the name of the Hilton in Nassau last week: The British Colonial Hilton.  It felt different from the feeling I have when I see the words “Colonial Williamsburg” on a tourism brochure.  And here’s why: when Columbus met the native Bahamians in the 15th Century – the Lucayan people – he took them as slaves and eventually they were freed but banished from their own islands.  Many years and countless colonizations later, the Bahamas became a British colony finally gaining their independence in 1973. Colonization was not necessarily horrible throughout all Bahamian history. But we who appreciate freedom need to recall that part of our beloved history includes settling in and colonizing places that belonged to someone else, as if we could simply arrive and claim ownership.

Sometimes we claimed to own the people as well as their land.  God have mercy upon our souls.

Oh, how I innocently have loved Chippendale chairs and all things “colonial.” Part of growing up and – I believe – growing more mature in our faith is acknowledging corporate sin.  The world “colonial” might mean heartwarming comfort for me but the word might mean cruelty for someone else.

Yesterday I head a S.C. woman rue the taking down of the Confederate flag.  “It means ‘history’ to me,” she said, “And I understand that it means bigotry to others.  But it means ‘history’ to me.

The apostle Paul often wrote about this sort of thing, including here and here. We are called to consider what hurts our neighbors or makes them fall.  It’s not about political correctness.  It’s about loving our neighbor as ourselves.

And so when I suggest that we must be sensitive to those for whom colonialism has been part of their history, I don’t mean to be that person who always dredges up the ugly side of everything.  Rather – we are called to be those people who confess before God and each other that many of our ancestors were part of the ugliness.

God redeems even what is ugly.  And we are a part of this redemption.

My First Cruise

drink on cruiseIt was a six day/five night Carnival Cruise.  You’ve seen the ads:  happy, thin, attractive people splashing around under sunny skies and I have to admit before you and God that I didn’t even get up to that level with the huge circular slide.

I was on this particular cruise To Work – albeit to work with clergy colleagues who are interesting and fun.  The only cruise I’ve ever really dreamed about taking was one of those river cruises they show during Downton Abbey commercials. You know the ones I mean.

After this – my virgin excursion – these are my thoughts:

  1. A cruise ship like this one is more than a Floatel. It’s like a little city.  I was happy to be in a little city with lots of generational and ethnic diversity.  English was not the only language spoken although it was curious that announcements were made in both “European English” and “United States English.”  Why?
  2. Not sure I’d want to take my honeymoon on this kind of ship. Kids can be loud and even on The Serenity Deck (no kids, no music) there are plenty of talkers.  Overhead in the hot tub: “I could have worked for Apple but it was all about age discrimination.”
  3. You do not have to do all the things. There are gospel concerts and stand-up comedians and art auctions and other shows but you do not have to partake.  The only extra thing I did was go to High Tea because I heard there’d be clotted cream.
  4. You will not meet the locals at portside stops (or whatever the maritime name for these layovers are called) unless you work very hard at making it happen. Or it could happen by accident.  On Thursday, I had planned to meet a colleague for lunch and when I asked a local for directions to the restaurant, she told me it was way down the island.  After walking about five miles, I was picked up by a local bus (I must have looked lost) and for $1.25 I received a tour of the island with air conditioning.  When it became clear that the restaurant was not “way down the island” but in fact in town, and after almost everybody else had disembarked, the bus driver, his sister, and I had a nice conversation. We made a brief stop where he ran into his aunt’s house to get all of us bottles of water.  His name was Danny and his sister was Epolia and we watched an episode of Madea on the bus (the one about adultery with lots of gospel singing.)  And we talked about adultery and then they took me to my restaurant. My brush with the locals.
  5. Is it disembark or debark?  Debark sounds like something cruel we do to dogs.
  6. If you are a Myers-Briggs introvert, you must get a single. You must.  On the ocean side.  They bring free room service breakfast every morning so you don’t even need a roommate to go fetch coffee.
  7. The staff was from all over with names like Genji and Chul and Martina. The good news is that they get to work on a cruise ship.  The bad news is that work on a cruise ship 24/7 and sometimes they are required to dance Gangnam Style.  It makes God happy when we tip them generously because I have a feeling they are sending most of their wages back home.
  8. Cruise ships are about privilege. What an enormous privilege to lie around on deck of a ship under 80 degree sunshine in January when the East Coast is shoveling out from a snowstorm.  Actually staying on a cruise ship – depending on the ship – is less expensive than staying in a Holiday Inn – depending on the Holiday Inn – plus 3-4 meals a day, so it’s not about having piles of money.  But I do have enough money to do something like this.  And that’s a privilege.
  9. And speaking of privilege, not many people get to work on a cruise ship like I did last week. I’m a pastor who got to work on a cruise ship talking about a topic that makes me excited and happy.  These kinds of opportunities are few and far between.  Thank you RevGals.
  10. Taking care of ourselves is part of life’s calling. Women – especially – are not good at this.  We rarely have people “turn down our beds” or replace our towels twice a day.  The average woman on this planet does not have someone to cook and clean for her.  If you know a woman who has cooked and cleaned for you on a regular basis, send her on a cruise.  You can go with her if she doesn’t have to clean up after you in your State Room.
  11. Staying in a tiny space feels like heaven if it’s called a State Room. Think about the spaces we call a Sanctuary and consider if it’s truly a sanctuary for people.  And what makes it so?

Already checking out websites for next cruise . . .

I Am Here

Cruise-Ship-Carnival-Magic_tn2

This is my only blog post this week as I am semi-radio silent with the RevGalBlogPals at Big Event #9.  See you in February.

God’s Person

It’s been a long time since I’ve watched Grey’s Anatomy but I know that Jesus on the TubeMeredith and Cristina are each other’s person.  Your person is the one you can call when you get dumped, the one who helps you get home after surgery, the one you can phone in the middle of the night and say, “There’s a naked dead guy on my kitchen floor” and she responds, “I’ll be right over.”

One of the comforts of life is having a person.  The unspeakably fortunate have more than one.

So, I was praying on the train yesterday on my way to work and – to be perfectly honest – I am a distracted pray-er, especially on the train.  But these words came out:  “Help me be your person today.”   For the record, I was talking to God.

Now God can do much better than me, in terms of a reliable person.  And yet it occurs to me that it’s not a bad daily aspiration:  to try to be God’s person.  And by that I mean that there will be people out there on the sidewalk or in the elevator or waiting for a bus and they might need someone to be their person for a moment or a day.

I’m not talking about being That Person who annoyingly tries to fix everything or be helpful in ways that are not at all helpful.

I’m talking about paying attention.  It’s really cold in Chicago this week and it’s common to bundle up and brace ourselves against the weather to such an extent that we can become blind to what’s going on around us.  We miss the person who needs a person.

Trying to be God’s person feels amazing – sort of what it’s like to be a super hero. Nobody knows we have a secret mission.  But we do.

Image source.  She can also paint a picture of you and your people on the Tube with Jesus.

Who Taught You How to . . .

Who When What WhyFaithful readers: if you happen to be the Head of Staff in your church:  who taught you how to be a Head of Staff?

To those of you who moderate governing boards/the vestry/the session: who taught you how to Moderate a meeting?

To anyone reading this who runs a non-profit or serves from the second chair or organizes an event:  how did you learn how to do those things?

These are real questions and I hope you’ll share your experiences. Did you watch someone do it?  Did you go to “head of staff” school?  Did you learn on the fly? Did you read Drucker/Godin/Borden/Easum/Bandy/Bullard/Rendle?Are you being coached?

Lifelong learning is crucial for all leaders.  But what if we work with someone who doesn’t see any need to learn new skills or has no desire to tweak their expertise?  How do we encourage seasoned pastors, for example, to become more proficient?

One of the fun things about ministry in the 21st Century Church is that it’s all deliciously new.  One of the not-fun things is that many of us are not interested in the new.  We have too many leaders who are too weary or unwilling or unaware to make pronounced shifts in his/her leadership.  There are too many of us who have made ministry about us.

(It’s not about us.)

What are the best coaches or books or blogs or classes you’ve found that enhance your leadership skills for serving the 21st Century Church?  I’d love you to share.