Category Archives: Uncategorized

Minds in the Gutter

Yep, my mind is in the gutter. Maybe yours is too.

When the President’s Press Secretary suggested earlier this week that reporters’ minds were in the gutter if they interpreted the President’s words about Senator Gillibrand “that way.” He had tweeted Tuesday morning that she was:

someone who would come to my office ‘begging’ for campaign contributions not so long ago (and would do anything for them)

It sounds to me like he was saying that she would offer sexual favors for money.  I go there because  he has shared similarly demeaning things about women in the past.  I didn’t read his tweet in a vacuum.

We live in a culture in which our minds indeed “go there” if we have personally witnessed and maybe even experienced sexual harassment.  We have heard ugly words with our own ears.  We have seen ugly things with our own eyes.

When I hear the story of a Kentucky State Senator accused of assaulting his daughter’s friend during a sleepover when the girls were teenagers, I believe it because it also happened to a friend of mine when I was in high school.  (Note:  The state congressman from Kentucky died by suicide on Wednesday.  My friend never told the police what happened to her.)

When I read about a church leader who makes creepy comments to his female pastor, I believe it because it’s happened to me.

When I see a tweet accusing someone of “doing anything” in order to succeed, I equate “doing anything” with sexual favors because I know women who have been accused of this too.

We need to be aware of what happens in the world to most women:  the comments, the assumptions, the hands.  Maybe our minds are in the gutter because we’ve been there.

But gutters can be cleaned and life can be redeemed. We were created to treat each other with love and respect worthy of the children of God.  God is with us no matter where we are – even if we find our minds – or our very selves – in the gutter.

One of the jobs of the Church is to clean out those gutters and offer safety and protection to the vulnerable.  How are we doing with that these days?  (Better, I hope.)

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What They’ve Been Through

 “As hard and as horrible as it sounds, we need people to imagine what it is like (to lose a child to gun violence.) Without that imagination, we’ll never change.”  Jeremy Richmond, the father of Avielle who was killed five years ago today in her classroom at Sandy Hook Elementary School

 When face to face with a person whose loss is too great to imagine, I’ve said, “I can’t imagine what you’ve been through.” I don’t want to imagine something so bitter and horrible.  But maybe I need to.  Jeremy Richman suggests that very thing here.

We never know what to say in times of tragedy and actually no words actually help.  Sometimes it’s best to sit in silence.  Five years go by and – still – our words fall short.

Nevertheless imagining what someone is going through – however imperfect and incomplete – builds empathy.

Frankly, I’m tired of people whose empathy quotient expands only when they are personally impacted.  The father who approves of same sex marriage only after his own son comes out as gay.  The white person who believes that Black Lives Matter only after witnessing abject racism with her own eyes.

Sometimes it takes an up-close-and-personal knock upside the head to move us to care when we’ve had no reason to care before.

Tragedies create activists: the mom who established Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Nancy Brinker who lost her sister to breast cancer, parents like Mark Barden who has become an anti-gun advocate after the death of his son at Sandy Hook.  I believe this is one way God makes sense out of senseless tragedies.

But God is also the Creator of the human imagination.  As difficult as it is to go there, we could all use less individualism and more corporate empathy.  We could all stand to stop saying, “There but for the grace of God go I” and start standing with those who grieve to do what we can to change the world for good.

This is the basic message of all the world’s great religions – in spite of a growing trend to seek the best for us and our own first.  There is nothing Biblical about putting ourselves (much less our nation) first.

God had given us imaginations so that we might connect more intimately with those in pain.  Empathy generates a better, more compassionate world.  Let’s try to imagine what it might be like . . .

Image of those killed on December 14, 2012 in Newtown, CT.  Thousands more have died from gun violence since that horrible day.  We have the power to make it stop.

Falling In Love Again

Being in love with HH and being in love with God are obviously two different things.  I don’t feel “married to Jesus” although The Church has occasionally felt like my work wife.

This time of year has rarely been a love fest for me in terms of worship planning.  I have preached about John the Baptist so many times that I not only feel like I’m repeating myself; I am repeating myself.

But I just received this in the mail yesterday and it has made me fall in love with The Church again.  David Bentley Hart’s translation of The New Testament is extraordinary.  Check out James Parker’s review  for The Atlantic here.

Many of us think that the institutional Church is a mess.  (Note: it is.) But Hart’s translation reminds us that the First Christians were also a mess.  In his introduction, he writes:

“Most of us would find Christians truly cast in the New Testament mold fairly obnoxious: civically reprobate, ideologically unsound, economically destructive, politically irresponsible, socially discreditable, and really just a bit indecent.”

I love these people.  I loved The Misfit Toys Feel of real church where those who are struggling sit side by side with those who are sitting pretty.  I love the beauty of trans people praying with people who don’t think they know any trans people. I love not being to tell who is homeless and who is not in a gathering of God’s children.

Read. This. Book.  It conveys how confusing, jolting, and grammatically shaky the Greek Bible truly is.  The King James Version is “literarily admirable” in Hart’s words.  But grappling with the strangeness of the Koine Greek brings relief and joy as we grapple with the strangeness of these times.

I’ve fallen in love with The Church again.  In the throes of Advent and Christmas activities, I hope you will find a renewed love for The Church and especially for The Church’s Head.

Image of a church building used in the movie The Revenant.  Note:  The Church of Jesus Christ is not a building but this image conveys some of the mess of who we are.

The Best Things Happening Right Now

‘Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.’  Jesus according to Matthew 11:3

As I travel around for the Presbyterians, I’m often asked to speak about “what the denomination is doing” about everything from gun violence to a lack of millenials in worship. I love being asked about “best things” I’ve seen, but I would also like to know:

What are the best things YOU see in the Church right now?

What is making an impact in your soul and in the souls of others in your community?  What have you seen that makes you say, “God is at work here”?  Where do you see the Church making a difference for good?  Whose lives are better because of your congregation?

Ready . . . and . . . GO!

 

Image of Syrian children in refugee schools in Lebanon. (March 2017)  This is one of the great things happening in the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon.

This is a Test

This is a test of the Emergency Broadcast System. Broadcasters, in your area have developed this system to keep you informed in the event of an emergency. This is only a test.

Our nation faces a test this week.  This is an emergency.

  • Tomorrow, the people the Alabama will decide who they are as human beings and whom they will serve.  My hope is that the voters of Alabama will choose integrity over politics.
  • Thursday is the 5th Anniversary of the shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School.  Many of us thought that the killing of mostly white elementary school children by a mentally ill person would be the last straw, bringing more sensible gun laws.  (It hasn’t made much of a difference when children of color are killed.)  We thought it would make a difference when country music fans are killed by a mentally ill man shooting from a high rise hotel. (So far – nothing.) My hope is that our leaders in Washington and throughout the country fear God more than the NRA and do something.

God has given us choices.  Many of us have more choices than others.  I believe that a time will come when we will face our Maker and be told if we’ve passed the test or not.

Yes, there is grace.  But God also calls us to be obedient to the message of Jesus.

When people show you who they are, believe them.

A Letter from the Co-Moderators of the 222nd General Assembly

December 6, 2017

Dear Members and Friends of the Presbyterian Church USA,

We write this today as leaders of our denomination – and specifically as leaders who are women – to address the harassment and abuse stories being shared via the #MeToo and #ChurchToo hashtags. For many, this movement has been both empowering and triggering, as people find themselves reliving sexual trauma from their past. We stand with all who have been victims of assault and objectification in the Church and beyond.

While it goes without saying that healthy boundary training, child protection training and criminal background checks are the responsibility of every congregation and council, we are called in this unique time to seek a deeper cultural shift.  We are called to stand up against a world that allows predators to flourish and victims to be shamed into silence.  The Church is called to be what the world is not:  safe, life-giving, and willing to hold people accountable.

Our denomination – through the ministry of the Advocacy Committee for Women’s Concerns and the work of the General Assembly – suggests concrete tools for addressing these issues.  We strongly encourage you to use these resources in your ministry:

Resources for setting church policies:

  •       The PCUSA Child/Youth/Vulnerable Adult Protection Policy and Its Procedures  from the 222nd General Assembly

Resources for teaching:

Resources for preaching:

Culturally, we must come to terms with the all ways we victimize and objectify people, including actions that are often less noticeable. We have to be willing to examine and confess implicit gender biases that show themselves, among other ways, in pay disparities and comments about personal appearance. While the stories being shared in the media are representative of perhaps the most egregious forms of sexual violence, gender bias must be disrupted everywhere it presents itself. We must be a church committed to gender equity in all areas of our life together.

We humbly ask that the Presbyterian Church USA continue to be a Church in prayer, asking God to bring healing to the victimized, redemption and correction to the victimizer, and a cultural shift to our denomination so that we might have the abundant life promised to us by Jesus Christ.

In Christ’s name,

The Rev. Denise Anderson & The Rev. Jan Edmiston

Co-Moderators of the 222nd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church USA

 

Why Our Christmas Cards Say “Happy Holidays”

Christmas cards are not about Jesus. At least for me.HH and I send Christmas cards every year as my own parents did for over 30 years.  It’s an intentional practice to connect – at lease one time a year with photos and a quick note.

Sending Christmas cards is more for me than anyone else, just like Yelp.  I use Yelp as a food diary (“Where did we eat that amazing burger?) and I use Christmas cards as a picture diary.  (“That the was the year TBC lost her front teeth.”)  Our Christmas cards go to Jewish friends, Muslim friends, Christian friends, and lots of “nones.”  We celebrate the birth of Jesus, but they don’t, so we say “Happy Holidays” or “Peace on Earth” or something everyone can relate to.

It would feel weird to receive Hanukkah cards or Ramaddan cards from Jewish and Muslim friends because we don’t celebrate those things.  But they also send us Happy Holiday cards.

Saying “Merry Christmas” makes sense for Christians. But not all my friends are Christians.

And Christmas is not just about greeting people merrily.  It’s about the Incarnation of God who came to us, humble and small.  It was a political act 2000 years ago for God to come to break the powers of death, and – for some – it’s a political act now to say “Merry Christmas.”  But if friendly greetings are our most public mark of our faith, we are missing the point.

Yes, Jesus is the reason for the season.  But not so that we can say “Merry Christmas” and decorate trees.  I love to say “Merry Christmas!”  I love to decorate trees.  But Jesus wasn’t born for those things.

I believe that Jesus might just turn over our fancy tables festooned in red and green if he comes back this year.  It feels shallow to focus on saying “Merry Christmas” while failing to lament the fact that Sandy Hook happened almost 5 years ago and still our gun laws fail us. It feels foolish to focus on saying “Merry Christmas” while we cut taxes for the wealthiest of the wealthy and ignore the poor.  It’s kind of ridiculous to focus on saying “Merry Christmas” while turning away refugees who look a lot like Mary and Joseph.

Not to be a downer (probably too late) but Christmas is not about what most of us focus on this season – even if we call ourselves followers of Jesus.

Followers of Jesus protect victims of abuse.  Followers of Jesus serve the vulnerable.  Followers of Jesus get angry about injustice.  In his life, Jesus did all those things for the sake of love.

Christmas is about the incarnation:  when love put on human skin.  We can say “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays” or whatever.  It doesn’t matter.  What does matter is that we mark our faith publicly by living a life of service for the people Jesus loves.

My parents’ cards usually said “Merry Christmas” because they didn’t know anybody who was not celebrating Jesus’ Birthday.  If that’s the case for you, then it makes sense for you to write “Merry Christmas” on all your cards too!

But identifying as Christian has less to do with the words we say than the acts of love we do.

Images are of Christmas Cards past.  

Embracing Imperfection

It’s a relief to say it:  My name is Jan.  I am imperfect.

My closets need to be organized.  I do not obey conventional wisdom about screen time before bed.  I sometimes eat cheese for dinner.

Here in the throes of daily accusations of sexual assault, I wonder if we have hesitated to speak up before because we need to sustain the appearance that Everything Is Okay.  Our professional and personal reputations depend on it.

This article connects a woman’s need to appear to be perfect with the growing incidence of alcoholism in women.  A glass of wine while cooking dinner here.  Another glass watching TV there.  A drink with a friend who lives in another state via Face Time.  It takes the edge off.  It marks a divide between our often stressful day jobs and our stressful night jobs tending the home fires.  I recommend this article to all my sisters.

Perfection is a special issue for the Church. In spite of professing the need for a Savior, many of us Church People need to appear to have our acts together.  Yes, we need a Savior, but not much.

Last Sunday in worship, I witnessed a beautiful tableau of Real Life.  There were men wearing suits and men wearing hoodies.  One was wearing a Batman shirt. There were women in a comparable spectrum of wardrobe choices.

There were older people with walkers and children toddling down the aisle.  Hair colors ranged from gray to purple.  Some people looked all holly jolly and some looked haggard.  Babies cried during the sermon.  Children fidgeted.  Communion was not precisely choreographed.

But it was nice.  It was comforting. It was a perfectly imperfect gathering of God’s people.

Many of us in Church continue to need at least the appearance of having our lives together.  This is old news, of course.

But we continue to hide our worries, passing the peace with our pew mates without daring to share what’s really going on in our lives.  We applaud acquiescent children. We refrain from talking about anger or fear or suffering.  We hesistate sharing about our family member’s imperfections much less our own.

Some imperfections seem almost trendy.  Back to wine:  addictions are increasingly acceptable imperfections because they are so prevalent.  Not so acceptable imperfections include charges of sexual assault and bankrupcy.

How can the Church be genuinely authentic in welcoming the broken while also equipping people to face our brokenness?  It’s tempting to numb out.  But there are better ways.

Does your congregation expect levels of perfection?  What happens when people fail professionally or personnally?  As we continue to move into longer nights this month and as the world itself feels dark, how can the Church be a community that bolsters personal resilience?  It’s just too easy to numb out.

Instead of lulling ourselves to sleep, Advent is the season when we wake up.  Waking up begins by admitting that we need each other.  We need God’s help.  We need to admit our imperfections.  We need to believe that grace is real.

And so we move towards Advent 2 and the very longest night 12-17-12.  I hope it will be the perfect spiritual journey for you.

 

Guys, Does That Work for You?

Apparently it does.

Although Leslie Scanlon is right in this article about the church being relatively silent on the #MeToo movement, there is not a church coffee hour or holiday party I’ve attended in the past few weeks in which the topic of sexual assault has not been mentioned by at least one woman in conversation.  My private and professional emails contain several stories from friends and strangers about their experiences.

The great majority of women have been assaulted, inappropriately propositioned, or objectified in our congregations.  We are simply trained not to talk about it, make a fuss, take it personally.

My question is always: “Guys, does that work for you?”

Does it work to proposition a friend or colleague at a church retreat?  I remember that time at a preaching conference when a guy showed me a photo of his pregnant wife and then asked me if I’d like to go skiing with him for the weekend – without his wife.

I remember that time at a church retreat a week before my wedding – when a “friend” whose wife was also a friend – propositioned me “for a last fling.”  Really, does that work?

I remember sitting in the hotel bar with friends after a long day of workshops watching a male colleague go from woman to woman to woman – all church leaders, most married, most colleagues of that guy – trying to find someone who was up for going to his room.

I remember the worshipper who – on his way out of worship in the greeting line – told me he was having dreams about me wearing an outfit I’m too embarrassed to detail in this post.  His wife was standing beside him.

Does this work for you?  Again – apparently, it does, at least sometimes.

Note: I honestly believe that there are men who do not try these things.  But there are plenty who do.  Let’s talk about it openly.

In talking about it, maybe even those guys will realize that it’s not okay.

Image from YouTube.

A Royal Baptism and Confirmation

Just like the Duchess of Cambridge before her, Meghan Markle will be baptized prior to her wedding  according to The Telegraph.  Her future Grandmother-in-law is The Supreme Governor of the Church of England.

I trust – as I trust with every baptism – that this sacrament will be more of a spiritual experience than a cursory hoop jump.  To be honest, all of us who present either ourselves or our children for baptism, have no idea what the future holds for us spiritually.  Baptism is an act of faith and grace.  The hope is that everyone comes to the font with the intention of keeping the vows we make there – just as we hope that all couples keep the vows they’ll make on their wedding day.  But we who believe that baptism is a sacrament (and marriage is not) take those vows especially seriously.

I am craving authenticity more than ever these days.  I want our entertainment personalities to be who they seem to be.  I expect our political leaders to be respectful and honorable.  I want to believe that those who take baptismal vows and confirmation vows and ordination vows have every intention of keeping those promises.  We all fall short of the glory of God.  But we can do better.

May the Holy Spirit fall upon Ms. Markle in the weeks and months to come in ways that bring wonder and newfound purpose into her life.  And may Mr. Lauer, Mr. Rose, Mr. Franken, Mr. Weinstein, Mr. O’Reilly, Mr. Moore, Mr. CK, Mr. Trump, Mr. Spacey, Mr. Halperin, Mr. Fish, Mr. Cosby, Mr. Castellano, Mr. Blackwell, Mr. Wieseltier, Mr. Wenner, Mr. Zimmerman, Mr. Landesman, Mr. Price, Mr. Oreskes, Mr. Thrush, Mr. Webster, Mr. Keillor and thousands of others discover who they really are and who they were created to be.

Image of the baptismal font is St. George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle made of Coade stone (circa 1790)