Category Archives: Uncategorized

When I Get to Be the Broken One

Pastors rarely get to be The Broken One. Here are some socially acceptable times when clergy might get to be Broken:

  • Pastor’s parent/spouse/child dies.
  • Pastor acknowledges addiction (but only when he/she is headed into a treatment facility.)
  • Pastor’s house burns down/floods – assuming parishioners’ homes were not also destroyed.  If Pastor’s house was merely one of several homes lost in a disaster, the Pastor still has to be The Strong One.
  • Pastor has cancer or some other life-threatening disease.
  • (Possibly okay) Pastor is going through a separation or divorce.

One of the nourishing things about clergy support groups is that we clergy can be vulnerable without fear of breaking boundaries or confusing roles. My group is called the Preaching Roundtable and we just finished our 18th gathering.

Most of us clergy were trained to be pastoral caregivers and not to be pastoral care receivers.  This means that some of us are in need of pastoral support but we don’t know where to find it and we – for some reason – have not yet found a therapist, coach, mentor, and/or spiritual director, not to mention a team of cohorts.  (Get on that, my friends.)  I need Team Jan.  Your pastor needs a team as well.  And that deep vulnerability support team cannot come from our congregations.

Nevertheless, it’s important for us to show our brokenness.  I am an imperfect mess sometimes and that fact not only makes me feel real;  it is real.

I remember a friend telling me about her church’s interim pastor whom she loved because he spoke about his own disappointments and imperfections in such a way that those in the pews felt like they could do the same.  His sharing made him more approachable.  And – perhaps most importantly – he didn’t make the stories about him nor was he the hero of his stories.  He was sharing the stories in self-deprecating ways to make a theological point related to how God works in human life.

Every caregiver – whether you are clergy or not – needs space to be vulnerable from time to time.  If you have a pastor, you are doing her/him a favor by recognizing this.

I know pastors who suffer great loss (death of a loved one, family catastrophe, health crisis) and the congregation doesn’t want to hear it.  Or at least they don’t want to hear it for long.

Perhaps the congregation will allow the pastor to grieve for a week or so, but then the pastor is supposed to snap out of it.  (Yes, this can be true when people in the general population suffer great loss.  Others hope that the broken will move on  and stop talking about it.  But it’s even more true for spiritual leaders.) The pastor is often our spiritual mother or father. We don’t believe they need much in the self-care department because it’s their job to care for us.

My hope for all clergy is that each of us has a group with whom we can be vulnerable.  Because sometimes we are The Broken Ones.

Image is of a statue in Cormeilles-en-Parisis, Val d’Oise, France.  I thank The Roundtable for being part of Team Jan as I head to my next thing today.  And I thank God for my friend and brother Jeff Krehbiel on whose team many of us have found ourselves, especially over the past five weeks. We remember today that in life and in death, we belong to God.

White Preacher Ideas

I’m pretty good at discerning what God is calling other people to do but I struggle with what God is calling me to do. (I’m only sort of joking.)

As my preaching group meets this week to talk about Preaching While White, I find myself sensing a call to preach a series of sermons about race even though I never get to do this anymore as a person who preaches in a different congregation every weekend. Here’s what I’m thinking and I invite you to take/borrow/steal these ideas.  Or you can invite me to preach several Sundays in a row after June 16, 2018.

[Full disclosure:  I believe that we will continue to have issues about race until we talk about race more/all the time.  White People will continue to have an issue with White Privilege until White People spend each day thinking about what it means to be White.]

Three Sermon Ideas:

  1. Let’s Talk About the Curse of HamGenesis 9:20-27  First of all, how many of us don’t know the story about naked drunk Noah?  And then there’s the evil  notion that Black People are cosmically cursed because of Ham.  Maybe your people never heard this in Sunday School but too many Good Christian People did hear this. And deep in their souls, they still believe it.
  2. When Did You Learn About Japanese Internment?   1 Kings 10:1-13  The Queen of Sheba (a dark-skinned woman) had heard of King Solomon but she didn’t know the whole story. (And we perhaps didn’t know that the QoS was black.) Maybe you’ve heard now about Henrietta Lacks and Katherine Johnson or maybe not. But some of us are angry to learn that these women and their contributions have been hidden.  And in our school books, the ugliest true life stories of our great nation’s history have often been – wait for it – whitewashed.
  3. Aunt Grace is Mistaken Romans 12:3-8  My family members reading this will remember Aunt Grace, a beloved Church Lady and my grandfather’s sister who passed away in 1973.   One Sunday afternoon while I was a child helping Aunt Grace “make a party” (i.e. Sunday afternoon snacks) she leaned down and whispered into my tiny ear, “Don’t ever forget, Jan, that the Edmistons are better than everyone.”  I remember feeling confused and – as soon as I could – I tattled on Aunt Grace to my father.  I told him – my Dad, the Sunday School teacher who had said more than once that ‘God loves everyone no matter what‘ –  what Aunt Grace had whispered into my ear.  And his single-line response was, “Aunt Grace is mistaken.”  The ugly truth is that many of us believe we are better than (or being white is better than, or being male is better than, or being American is better than, or being Christian is better than.)  When Paul wrote that we are connected to each other, he was also saying that we cannot be “greater” than each other in God’s economy. Compared to Jesus, all of us are broken and ridiculous.  Even Aunt Grace.

We who Preach While White have an underused opportunity to speak about race and we have to do this.  We have to do this.

We have to do this.

Image of Chelsea Handler whose Netflex series is worth a watch.  Also do yourselves a favor and invite Jessica Vasquez Torres to teach your church group.

Preaching While White

It’s Roundtable Week – the week I meet with my longtime clergywomen’s preaching group to share what’s going on with our lives and our churches. The theme this year involves anti-racism training (and how to preach about it.)  The brilliant Jessica Vasquez Torres will be sharing her wisdom, thanks be to God.  And then I’ll finish the week attending the White Privilege Conference in Kansas City with TBC.  Wish you could be here too.

We who self-identify as Biblical preachers have the power to be prophets, poets, proclaimers, entertainers, teachers, and speechers.  I believe it’s our calling to be equal opportunity offenders in terms of Speaking the Truth in Love to Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, Independents, and every brand of Jesus Followers including those who don’t really consider themselves to be Jesus Followers.  When I preach, it’s my prayer that:

  1. I don’t waste people’s time.  They made the effort to show up.  The least I can do it proclaim something that points to God.
  2. I stretch people a bit.  If I say nothing that discomfits them a little, I’ve missed an opportunity.
  3. I comfort people a bit.  If I say nothing that brings even a hint of relief, I’ve missed an opportunity.
  4. I say something that pleases God.
  5. I am not boring.

Holy Scripture is pithy and pointed and funny and disturbing.  Preachers get to speak to all of it.

As a person who considers myself white and therefore in the dominant culture, I also have a duty to use the opportunity to point out injustice.  And sometimes that injustice is connected to race.

Maybe those in the pews are white or maybe they include People of Color. But if I fail to note that my pale skin automatically grants me privilege in this world and that I am spending my life trying to follow a brown man whom I believe is the Messiah, I’m failing God’s people.  And if I fail to connect the dots between what Jesus said to 1st Century People with what Jesus is saying to 21st Century People, I am missing the point.

My daily work includes recognizing my personal cluelessness about my own privilege and using my privilege for good as often as possible.  This includes the blessing (and curse?) of Preaching While White.  I have a responsibilitity to understand my power and my limitations.

And how are you dealing with preaching in the skin God gave you?  Do you find you are aware of how your words are impacted by the color of your skin?  I would love your thoughts on this.  Thanks.

Image sources are here and here

Resurrection Idea: Don’t Be Clueless

I am far from being Woke.

The first time I read Waking Up White, I was shocked  to hear – for the first time – that the GI Bill was not made available to the vast majority of men of color. This means that white men got an institutionally-sanctioned leg up:  free college after military service and maybe even free graduate school which meant no student loans to repay which meant you could use your salary to buy a house in a nice neighborhood with good schools and low crime which meant that your own children would reap the benefits of a solid education and a neighbor with safe sidewalks which meant they, too, would get into a good college, which meant . . .

I had no idea.

This is one of the ways that white people have accumulated wealth.  Sure, people worked hard, but being white = enjoying privileges unknown to people who are not considered white. This is how wealth is built and this is how wealth is withheld.  But I was clueless.  And I still am in many ways.

I have grown up assuming my life is the norm, my skin color is the norm, my experience is the norm.  It is not.

One of the things we can do to bring about resurrection in our nation and our world is to become less clueless.  We can notice and appreciate other norms, skin colors, and experiences.  We can become more curious.

In order to kick start curiosity:

  • Read books, blogs, articles and listen to podcasts by People of Color.  These are some of my favorites.  (What are yours?)
  • Pay attention to who is in the room.  And who’s not in the room?
  • Learn about differences:  the difference between Sunni and Shia, the difference between a hijab, a niqab, and a burqa, the difference between a water protector and a pipeline protector, the difference between Sudan and South Sudan, the difference between a sexual orientation and gender identity, the difference between a refugee and an immigrant.

It’s embarrassing how clueless many of us are about people who aren’t like us. And – I hate to admit this, but it’s true – the most clueless among us are the ones who look like me.

Earth will never become “as it is in heaven” until we wake up even though Jesus taught us to pray for this.  And Easter is not just a day; it’s a way of life and we are called to work for resurrection in the image of Christ.

One way to start: be less clueless.

Image from the 1995 movie starring Stacey Dash, Alicia Silverstone,  and Brittany Murphy. 

A Resurrection Message for (Yawn) Tax Day

This is a blog post that most of you will stop reading when you realize it’s about numbers. Terms like “tax code” make many people’s eyes glaze over – especially those of us who prefer the humanities over math.

But we in the Church need to look at numbers.  We follow Jesus who lived for 33 years, rose on the 3rd day, and served under the thumb of an empire that expected Judeans to pay an exorbitant number of taxes which kept them poor.  We are called to live differently if we take Jesus seriously.

Now that we are in Eastertide and resurrection is our message and our mission, please consider listening to this podcast with Jerome McDonald – host of the WBEZ radio program Worldview – and Jeffrey Winters –  Director of the Northwestern University’s Equality, Development and Globalization Studies Program.  It’s both golden and unsettling.

One of the most powerful excerpts:

Jeffrey Winters: “Over the last 30 to 50 years, the story of the United States has basically been one of a massive, almost mind-boggling shift upward in wealth and income. Over the last roughly 30-50 years – the great majority – well, 99%, nearly, of all wealth gains  went to the top 20% and  the biggest part of that went to the top 1%. And then if you narrow it down even more the top 0.1% really gained the most.  And meanwhile, everyone else either shifted downward or was held pretty much stagnant.  A society can sustain that kind of  change in distribution and inequality only so long before it begins to have all kinds of societal effects, some of which are extremely negative.

Jerome McDonnell : The U.S. is the most unequal of all advanced economies.  It does not have a peer.

Jeffrey Winters:  That’s right . . .  Our Wealth Gini Index is 81 which is the highest in the world.

Yikes.  Let me repeat:  The U.S. is the most unequal of all advanced economies.  I’m pretty sure this is a sin.

It feels overwhelming and perhaps even hopeless to consider working towards income equality.  And for many of us with healthy or even generous incomes, we don’t like the idea of sharing.  We worked hard for our big salary . . . 

Right.

Jesus lived and died in the throes of an unequal system that kept the poor powerless and the rich powerful.  He also rose up making the point that love ultimately wins and evil (read: injustice) ultimately loses.

When a billionaire is our President and his cabinet is filled with other millionaires and billionaires, it’s hard to believe that economic resurrection for the poor is possible.  That’s where we come in, moved by a Power that speaks up for the poor and against forces that keep people poor.

Being a follower of Jesus might just involve knowing something about economics and  the tax code – even when it makes our eyes glaze over, for the sake of the Gospel.

Tune in tomorrow for Step One in how to begin to do this.

May You Experience Resurrection

Happy Easter Everyone.

A First Century Lynching

I love the Brief but Spectacular segments on the PBS Newshour.  Last night’s segment with attorney Bryan Stevenson was perfect for Good Friday. Please watch it here.  It’s less than 3 and a half minutes long.

On Good Friday we remember that a man named Jesus of Nazareth  – whom many of us call Savior – was humiliated, tortured and executed.  Crucifixion was meant to be both a means of execution and a deterent so that others would take heed.  It’s what happened when someone challenged the empire.

It looked something like the lynchings in this country in the 19th and 20th Centuries when men and women of color were killed by angry mobs, often being tortured before or as they died.

Every single one of us who calls ourselves Christian has a duty to know about the history of lynchings in our own country.  If you were moved by the violence of Jesus’ death in The Passion of the Christ by Mel Gibson, then you’ll get an idea of what ordinary and extraordinary human beings endured in our own local Golgothas.

I would like to believe that lynchings are a thing of the past – whether people are hanged from crosses or trees or bridges.  But I believe that we continue to humiliate, torture and execute innocent people today.  We don’t like to talk about it, but it happens every day in our great nation. Sometimes it happens at the hand of those hired to defend and protect the innocent.  Sometimes it happens by bullies and bigots. But it still happens.

Jesus died much like Ed Johnson (1906 in Chattanooga) or Mary Turner (1918 in Lowndes County, GA) or  Elias Clayton, Elmer Jackson, and Isaac McGhie (1920 in Duluth, MN.)  He was an innocent man who was killed because of the sins of the world.

The message of Easter is that love wins even in a world of hate.  And our role as followers of Jesus is to love as he loved and to work against the kind of evil that killed him.

Image of the lynching of Laura and L.D. Nelson on a railroad bridge in 1911 in Oklahoma.

 

 

How Hungry Are You?

Taste and see that the LORD is good.  Psalm 34:8

Tonight – Maundy Thursday – many of us will be feasting as we remember the first Last Supper.  How hungry are you?

I have three thoughts about that:

  1. I remember a parishioner who told me – years ago – that she loved coming to worship because it fed her to the point that missing worship = hole in her soul.  She was thoroughly hungry for spiritual food.  She was young and single then, but as time passed, she dropped out of church altogether.  No longer hungry?
  2. I staff the Commission on Preparation for Ministry in my Presbytery and we (the CPM) can tell when a candidate for professional ministry is hungry for spiritual food.  We see a spark in their eyes.  We hear a clear calling in their words.  You can’t fake this.
  3. I work with a few churches who have forgotten what the church is supposed to be.  They are satisfied (or unwittingly stuck) crossing the threshold of their long-time place of worship on most Sunday mornings neither expecting much nor receiving much in the way of spiritual food. But it’s okay with them, it seems, because they’ve done what they’ve always believed they were supposed to do.

I want to be hungry.

And I want to serve a Church that’s  hungry for spiritual food: people who must grapple with the things of faith because their life depends on it.  I want to be part of a Church of people who are in it to pray deeply, struggle mightily, and love sacrificially.

I relish connecting with a congregation that longs to understand people who are not like them, who are curious about the world and what God is doing. I am hungry for more congregations who take Jesus seriously.

Our hunger for holy food will determine the future of Christ’s Church in the 21st Century.  I hope we find ourselves very, very hungry.

Image Source.

Who Is Your Truthteller?

Pilate famously asked, “What is truth?” at the trial of Jesus and it’s an excellent question especially in 2017.

When the church I was serving planned to install a new pipe organ in the sanctuary balcony, the organ builder asked me, “Who is your hoister?”  I had no hoister, nor did I know our church was supposed to have one.

If I asked, “Who is your truthteller?” would you have someone to name? Would you know that you were supposed to have one?  We are in the Truth business as professional ministers.  But there is a tremendous need in each of our professional and spiritual lives for someone to safely share the truth with us too.

This article about Donald Trump got me thinking: this administration needs someone on staff who can speak “truth to power without fear of being sacked.” We in the Church need this as well.

I’m increasingly aware that the world needs safe spiritual spaces and this is not possible without safe spaces in leadership.  And – if we are talking about Church again – the leadership cannot be safe if those who supervise and evaluate them do not allow for safe truth telling.  In other words, a healthy personnel committee = a healthy staff = a healthy congregation.

Imagine a Pastor who has lost his way.  He works to bolster his own reputation. She is threatened by the gifts of others.  He can no longer work with those with whom he disagrees.  She sabotages those who quetion her.  This would not happen if there was a truthteller on board who was respected by all and could share difficult information fearlessly.

This kind of relationship comes from trusting and being trustworthy.  It comes from assuming the dignity of each team member.  (Note:  This book is a must read for all leaders.)

So . . . who is your own truthteller?  I believe we all need one.

Image is Finding the Focus © Jan Richardson. janrichardson.com   Used with permission.

Rituals That Mean Something

We are spreading our parents’ ashes today in our hometown.  Fun fact:  Mom and Dad were full-body buried in caskets sealed in “50 year waterproof guaranteed” vaults almost 30 years ago.  There are no ashes. But we will make do because we need this ritual in Chapel Hill and so that’s what’s happening.

Every healthy family,  every healthy organization celebrates Rituals that bring joy and comfort.  They might seem strange to those outside the family/organization but they bring Meaning. They bond people together.

Rituals in my assorted circles:

  • We sing “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead” everytime Duke loses a basketball game. (family)
  • Somebody gets Henry’s Hulk ornament in his/her stocking every year. (family)
  • We eat warm homemade rum cake for Kitty’s birthday. (office)
  • We do a summer outing together that has nothing to do with work. (office)

You get the picture.

Religious communities also have rituals but sometimes they are more like “practices” rather than “traditions.”  Our practices might involve having a Women’s Group Bake Sale on Palm Sunday.  Our historical traditions might include having the children march through the aisles with palms.

Sometimes our secular practices are more meaningful rituals than the traditional ones.  So many “church traditions” are meaningless because there’s never been an explanation much less an emotional connection.  For example, I once served a church with a very high central pulpit.  The Reformed Tradition behind that architectural plan was about the Word of God being the highest thing in the room.  But a young worshipper once asked me why I “preached from so high so that I could look down on people?”

Explaining our traditions is a good thing.  But making them meaningful is not something we can control  (In the words of Regina George: We can’t make “fetch” happen.)

We can’t decide that something will become meaningful to us.  It’s meaningful or it isn’t.  Or maybe it doesn’t seem very meaningful at one point in our lives but – as time passes – it’s meaning deepens.

The tasks of a 21st Century spiritual leader include being the tour guide who explains our faith traditions and the storyteller/performer who connects the brain with the spirit.

As we spread something representing my parents’ ashes this afternoon in one of the holiest places on earth, it will mean everything because we will be together in a spot we’ve been before, in a place we loved each other.  I can already feel it.