Category Archives: Uncategorized

Re-Entry

All of us have moments of re-entry into our Normal.  We return home from vacation.  We’re released from the hospital.  We get back to work after an out of town conference.

spacecraft-re-entry-4When natural and technological bodies enter the earth’s atmosphere from outer space, they do it in one of two ways:

  1. Uncontrolled entry” is what happens when space debris or asteroids come crashing to earth.  Sometimes they careen into a perfectly tranquil setting.  Sometimes they plummet into the ocean never to be seen again.
  2. Controlled entry” is what happens when NASA guides a spacecraft back home. This orderly process is called EDL:  Entry. Descent. Landing.

I prefer to be space craft rather than space trash, of course.  I’d rather keep the careening and the plummeting to a minimum. Gliding is good.  Crashing is not-so-good.

When I re-enter after being away, I’ve learned to choreograph the transition if at all possible.  Add a buffer day between vacation and returning to work so that there’s time to recover/do laundry/re-fill the fridge.  Clean the house before leaving so that we don’t return to a mess.  Clean sheets changed before leaving make the first night home so much sweeter.

Today I re-enter my office for the first time in almost two weeks.  It hasn’t been a time away like other times.  I left as a commissioner to the 222nd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church USA.  I return as one of two co-moderators of that Assembly with 103 weeks of added service to the church in my future.

Co-Moderator or Moderator of the General Assembly is not a paid position.  The Office of the General Assembly expects this to be a half-time job and since I am sharing this job with another pastor, we will each be giving about a week each month to our denomination.  We hope to model a new way to serve in this office to show that it’s possible to continue in “regular ministry” while also being co-mods.

I’ve planned a gentle re-entry to my “real job.”  Yesterday was a work day but it was spent in an off-site meeting with a single focus.  Today, there will be catch-up meetings and some debriefing about what happened at General Assembly and looking forward to shifting roles and schedules and wading through ten days of office emails and voice mails.  It might feel uncontrolled.  But I trust that God will navigate me.

Taking gentle care of ourselves is surprisingly difficult.  We who are in helping professions or have helping personalities tend to be self-care challenged.  But this is why God invented naps and pedicures and automatic email responses and Sabbath.  I won’t get everything done today, but that’s just fine.  We never get everything done.  It reminds us that we don’t actually spin the planets.

As we come and go this summer, may our re-entries be controlled, may our descents back down to earth be smooth, and may we all stick our landings. Thanks to all who have committed to praying for me and Denise in the coming 103 weeks.  We both need and appreciate it.

 

Assuming the Worst (Let’s Not)

Church trolls are the worst.Trolls riding Slugs

Like run of the mill trolls, they denigrate our character and malign our motives.  But in Church World, their demonization of people and selective truth-telling has cosmic  – as well as earthly –  consequences.

Attempting to set records straight with trolls is basically a waste of time.

Nevertheless, it’s not true I want to turn the PCUSA General Assembly into a year-round Wild Goose Festival.  It’s not true that the other Co-Moderator of the 222nd General Assembly said that we Christians are just like the Orlando shooter.  It’s not true that the Presbyterians prayed a Muslim prayer at General Assembly.   (What is true:  I find Wild Goose inspiring and fun.  We Christians are often guilty of doing violence against LGBTQ people.  And one of our interfaith guests at the General Assembly said something in his greetings about Allah which means “God” in Arabic.  Note:  Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are all Abrahamic religions.  We all worship the one true God.  Also, our Stated Clerk actually apologized for “anything that might have offended.)

A bigger issue is this:  Why Do We Assume The Worst About Each Other?  

Why are we quick to believe that someone on the other side of the theological fence is evil? Why do we spread half-truths about people?  Why do we take words out of context in order to create a better story?  Why do we presuppose that someone we don’t like or don’t know has said/thought/done something vile without knowing what we’re talking about.

Trolling is the cousin of gossiping, and we would serve God well to stop doing both.  Random lie-spreading is just evil.

Before TDA and I decided to stand for co-moderators of the PCUSA General Assembly, we asked former moderators their best advice.  These two suggestions were shared more than once:

  1. Go to the rest room every chance you get.
  2. Brace yourselves for evil.

Duly noted.  But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Regarding #1 – just ask if we’d like to visit the rest room before we speak/preach. And regarding #2 – If you hear something that sounds off (e.g. Jan eats babies, Denise worships the Sun God) please check into it.  This goes for your neighbors and church friends – and church enemies – too.  Thank you – for the sake of the gospel.

Image of trolls-riding-on-slugs statues on sale at Big Lots recently.

Week 1, So Far

TDA and I will be working on blog posts specifically related to our term asPress Conference denominational leaders over the next two years.  But for now, I am moved to share what’s happened so far – both the sacred and the ordinary:

  • We Presbyterians added a new confession to our set of creeds. While we have a long, long way in addressing systemic racism and racial prejudice, this was a profoundly holy moment.
  • We have been chased by an international delegate seeking a selfie. Seriously.  He chased us.
  • We have received an array of wonderful gifts simply for being elected co-moderators (books, stoles, a museum-worthy toolbox with a hand-crafted gavel, several crosses, magnets, pens, pins, those cool things that stick to your phone to carry your drivers’ license.)
  • We have “brought greetings” to at least twenty groups and eaten lots of carbs.
  • We have hugged hundreds of people.  And we liked it.
  • We have been hung out with people of every age and from all over the world.
  • We have had memes created about us.
  • We have been (unofficially) invited to Pakistan, Jamaica, South Africa, Egypt, Scotland, Puerto Rico, Congo, Zimbabwe, Ghana, South Korea, and Bolivia.

People comment that we “must be exhausted” and we are, but this is the experience of a lifetime.  We are unspeakably humbled.  (Thank you General Assembly 222.)

Image from our first  press conference.  

The Next 104 Weeks

So, this happened last night.  Denise and I ask for your prayers over the next 104 weeks.  We are very grateful for this opportunity to serve the Church.

Installation

Photo by Columbia Theological Seminary.

Two Family Reunions

June 2016 = two family reunions in my life.

Family Reunions

There’s this one in Portland held every other year in June or July.  This reunion will include fourteen people who are related to me by blood or marriage.  But there will also be hundreds of others present who are related to me by theology and baptism.  We will pray together. We will eat together. We will debate.  We will disagree. We will agree. We will hear stories. We will elect officers.  We will have some fun.

Then there’s this family reunion in North Carolina – annually held on the last Sunday in June where my parents and grandparents and great-grandparents grew up.  I’m preaching on the Sunday morning after General Assembly – just twelve days shy of the 60th anniversary of my baptism in that same sanctuary.  There will many, many people present who are related to me by blood or marriage.  We are the descendants of Victor Chalmers Edmiston and there are hundreds of us – plus some relatives from the other side of my family.  We will pray together. We will eat together. We will debate (more about whose cake is tastiest, than about theology or politics.)  We will disagree.  (Some of us prefer chocolate cake.)  We will agree. We will hear stories.  We already consider ourselves elected.  We will have some fun.

One of the discomfiting things about reunions, though, is that there is the potential to exclude people.  Some us are part of the old stories and some are not.

When the General Assembly gets together, I run into people I’ve known all my life from Vacation Bible School to church camp to summer conferences to seminary. Say the words “Montreat” and a huge slice of the Assembly will smile.

But not everybody has experienced the same, safe church history.  Increasingly, we in the PCUSA are realizing that what feels like a family reunion for some of us doesn’t feel that way to all.  For example, when Montreat hosts The Disgrace Conference this October, it will feel different from the youth conferences and worship conferences of the past.  It will feel uncomfortable and there will be “new people” present.

And that’s a good thing.  Nevertheless, some will scoff that talking about systemic racism is too controversial for church.  “What ever happened to old-fashioned mission conferences?” some will say.

God bless those sisters and brothers in the PCUSA who have met Jesus in places and contexts different from Scottish festivals and historic church camps.  We welcome you who have come into our tribe of Presbyterians through new church developments that meet in unconventional sanctuaries or through avant-garde events.

God bless those who have married into my family who have braved being the only people of color in attendance in a sea of Southern White People or those who have been the only LGBTQ family members present in a room full of people who might have shunned you, had you not been kin.

Our family reunions – both those of my own birth family and those of my family of faith – are changing.  There are people of color.  There are rich and poor people.  There are people in wheelchairs and people in strollers.  Some not only have different U.S. accents, but they might even have African, Asian, South American, or European accents.  We might have different ideas about what it means to follow Jesus.  But we still meet.  We still call each other family – even when we find ourselves on opposite sides of the theological  spectrum.

Let’s make it fun.  Let’s make it generous and loving and life-giving.  Let’s make it about pleasing God.

The Old (and New) Girls Network

One upon a time, there was a Old Boys Network that made it easier for many cropped-be-4-pheeto-headerclergymen to A) climb the ecclesiastical ladder, B) escape misconduct charges, C) start anew after a less-than-successful experience or D) all the above.  In my own 30+ years in professional ministry, I have personally experienced being deceived about a clergyman’s past so that he could “move on” without facing consequences.   I have watched brilliant clergywomen being passed over for not-so-brilliant clergymen because the congregation couldn’t imagine a woman in their pulpit.  I have heard goodhearted Christians (often other women) say, “We didn’t want to call a female Senior Pastor since we already have a female Associate Pastor (as if we haven’t experienced generations of two men in similar roles.)

But there is a new narrative out there these days.

Lately, I’ve observed clergywomen (and men) recommending women for certain positions, because they are among the most gifted clergy on the planet. I’ve watched women defend their colleagues on social media when the commentary has become misogynistic – and I’m not even talking about your run-of-the-mill trolls.  I’ve seen enormous support of women by women in a culture which has often pitted women against each other.

And with that wave of encouragement under us, I leave for Portland, Oregon tomorrow morning to meet my sister Denise Anderson  where we are standing as Co-Moderators of the 222nd General Assembly.  Our brothers in this endeavor are fine men who are also qualified for this office.

I cringe a bit when Hillary Clinton refers to this being the time for a woman to be elected president.  Yes, a woman can certainly be president, but let’s not presume that she (or anyone) should be elected because she happens to be female.  Denise and I do not want to be elected because we are women.  We pray that the Assembly will discern that we would be the best leaders for such a time as this.

There are some awesome men in my network.  Old boys.  New boys.  Old men. Young men.  This is the healthy, holy way.

But I’m especially grateful this week for the old and new girl network.  (Thank you, my sisters.)

This post is dedicated to my sisters & brothers at RevGalBlogPals, to which this blog has been connected for almost eleven years.

 

What Do We Talk About Every Day?

Deaf TalkThings I’m tired of talking about: climate change deniers, Donald Trump.

Things I’m not tired of talking about:  the Tony Awards, “Emily Doe.”

Very soon my denomination will be talking  about fossil fuel divestment and The Confession of Belhar, and the future of Synods – all topics that most of the world doesn’t know or care about.  But in my denomination, our General Assembly will be caring very much about these topics June 18- 25 in Portland.

I’ve been talking about this blog post by Andrew Kukla which is about what we talk about in church.   He notes that we often talk about spiritual things in Christian Education classes but not in everyday conversation.  It’s not part of our daily reflections with friends.

When someone of another faith tells me that they’ve become Muslim/Buddhist/Hindu because “it’s not a religion; it’s a way of life” I want to slap my hand to my forehead.  Since when is following Jesus not a way of life? (Hint:  since, in the words of Kukla, we’ve been  doing “classroom education” rather than “discipleship.”  We offer classes.  People go home smarter.  But nothing changes.)

One way to change the Church:  talk about discipleship every day. Where did I see God today?  What signs of resurrection did I notice?  How was my soul moved?  Why did I or didn’t I reach out to a stranger?  Did I even notice the strangers?

I also have an idea for changing the world:  talk about race every day. How often do we talk about race with our family and friends?

In the words of Debby Irving:  “Not talking about race (is) a privilege available only to white people.”    Irving refers to a survey she took years ago, in Waking Up White, which asked:

How often do you talk about race with your family and friends?

Without exception all the people of color answered, “every day.”  Their sons and daughters’ lives depend on knowing about racism and colorism.  Their own job security depends on knowing certain cultural codes.  I believe we should all be talking about race every day.

Why does a young black man get 3 years in Rikers without a trial, falsely accused of backpack theft?  Why does a young white man get 6 months in jail for rape? The stories are countless.  There’s plenty to talk about every single day.

What we talk about every day reveals who we are cosmically and eternally.  It speaks to our life’s purpose.

Yes, it’s fun to talk about new ice cream flavors and who’s getting the next EGOT. But God is calling us to make disciples and love our neighbors.  Let’s talk about what that looks like – every day.

Image source.

Who’s Demolishing Churches?

Many of us with PCUSA –  and especially Washington, DC  – ties have shared this 800px-Sydenham_Heritage_Church_demolitionarticle  published in the Post last weekend: “Arlington Congregation Holds Last Worship Service Before Church’s Demolition.”

The title of this article creates some confusion because:

  1. The building is being demolished, not the church.
  2. This was actually not the last worship service before demolition. They will continue to worship at 716 S. Glebe Road in Arlington, VA and the building won’t be razed for several months.

It’s not that I don’t believe that churches can be demolished.  It’s just that I believe that machines do not demolish churches; people do.

It’s a common mistake.  The image above is from the demolition of the Sydenham Heritage Church building near Christchurch, New Zealand, but the article describing this event calls it the “church demolition.”  Again, the church was not demolished.  The building was demolished.

A church is not a building.  (This notion might take a lifetime to correct.)

Cranes, excavators, and bulldozers demolish buildings.  Human beings demolish churches – and if you are interested, this is how we do it:

  • We gossip about each other to the point of creating a false narrative about a person or a group of people.
  • We fear change to the point of demonizing people who seek faithful transformation.
  • We shame and blame people who disagree with us.
  • We lose sight of why we first gathered as God’s people and we shift from worship community to private club.

Sometimes  – prior to demolition talk – I hear “closing talk” as in: “The Presbytery is trying to close our church”  or “That pastor was brought in to close our church.”  Again, this is usually misinformation.

What’s actually true is that a church has been choosing to close for many years now.

  • They chose to close when they called a part-time leader to save money, even though they could have afforded a full-time pastor.
  • They chose to close when they stockpiled their financial resources for a rainy day and didn’t notice it was pouring outside.
  • They chose to close when they allowed one or two powerful church members to bully other church members with no repercussions.
  • They chose to close when they consistently allowed fear to win over faith.
  • They chose to close when they loved their building and property more than they loved Jesus.

I understand when the secular press gets it wrong and believes that a bulldozer can demolish a church.  But it’s less understandable – or acceptable – when we human beings demolish our churches.

(Let’s stop doing that.)

Image source.

Note:  This post is dedicated to Arlington Presbyterian Church that used to worship on Columbia Pike in Arlington, VA.  They will worship there again in the future.

 

 

“If You Can’t Say Anything Nice . . . “

Jesus Cleansing Temple Carl Dixon

A cousin reminded me recently that our grandmother often said, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”  I remember that too. Maybe everybody’s grandmother said this.

Thumper also said it in the movie Bambi.  You know who never said it?  Jesus.

We in the church are taught to be nice.  Nice = Godly in many Christian homes.     But the word “nice” cannot be found in the Bible.   In fact, Jesus wasn’t always “nice.”

Years ago as young pastors, HH and I heard that there had been a by-invitation-only gathering after worship with a group of long-time church members and one of the former pastors who was visiting for the weekend.  (We had not been invited, which was okay.  Old friends were catching up.)

The former pastor contacted us the next day to share that the hosts of the event had trashed us throughout the meal, challenging our character, our faith, and our call.

What did the others say?” I asked, knowing that several of our most wonderful members had been in attendance.  Surely they spoke up for us.

They didn’t say a word,” our predecessor said.  “It was very disappointing.”

Those church folks were trying to be nice.  They were the guests at somebody else’s party.  If they couldn’t say something nice in response to ugliness, they chose to say nothing at all.  Some call this The Heresy of Niceness.

Now more than ever, we are not called to be nice.  We are called to be faithful. We are called to stand up for the poor, the oppressed, the powerless, the marginalized.  It’s. In. The. Bible.

So, what do we do when . . .

  • We overhear someone make a racist joke?
  • We observe someone teasing a disabled person?
  • We listen to someone threaten a gay person?
  • We notice a child being bullied?
  • We are included in a gossipy conversation?

We can be nice.  Or we can be faithful.

Being faithful is not about shaming someone.  It’s not about returning evil for evil.  It’s about expressing a different message – a message of grace.

If we do not speak up when overhearing words that incite or perpetuate injustice, we give the impression that we  concur with what’s being said.

If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”  I’m not needlepointing this on a pillow.

Image source.

“Now We Can Wear White Again”

WUWcoverFINAL-200x300With Memorial Day comes sartorial permission to wear our summer whites – even though that’s not even a thing anymore. Few of us refrain from wearing white between September and May. (Note:  it’s really about texture.  More about that later.)

Nevertheless someone reminded me recently that – after Memorial Day –  “we can wear white again.”  My immediate thought was that I wear white everyday.

I am white.  Or in the words of Ta-Nehisi Coates, I think of myself as white.

For a while now, I have found myself on a spiritual journey about race.  It’s definitely more than a cultural or anthropological journey.  It’s spiritual in that it’s informing me who God is and who God’s children are, and how – as a follower of Jesus – I am called to live in response.

The journey has worked this way for me:  While I’ve always thought of myself as a racist to some extent (because we all have our unintentional biases), I’ve also believed that I was somewhat enlightened.  The mayor in my hometown growing up was black, My high school principal was black.  My children have grown up in integrated neighborhoods and schools.   I notice when everybody in the room is white.  I experience a weird twist in my stomach.

But over the past five years or so, as I’ve paid more attention to the news in Ferguson and Cleveland and Chicago, as I’ve become unable to stop thinking about the nine human beings who were killed in their church building in Charleston last June, as I’ve watched footage of a pool party in McKinney, TX and a classroom in Richland County, SC my soul has grown hungrier for insight. As I’ve chosen to read more novels by people of color and to attend training sessions on racism and white privilege my soul has grown hungrier for more.

One of the non-fiction books I’ve read recently is Waking Up White by Debby Irving and I want more.  These days, I am waking up white myself.

And about texture:

Fashion experts now explain that it’s not the color that we should avoid in the cooler months; it’s the texture of the fabric.  We can wear white wool in December but white linen is best for June.  It’s about the fabric.  It’s about what keeps us warm in the cold and cool in the heat.

The same is true for our friendships, our interactions, our viewpoints.  It’s not about the color; it’s about the texture.  God has fashioned a world comprised of a broad texture of human existence.  Yes, our skin colors vary, but the fabric of our society depends upon all human beings being interwoven together.

This is on my mind as I countdown to the 222nd General Assembly of my denomination.  19 Days from today.  #NoSleepTilPortland