Category Archives: Uncategorized

Would You Rather? Clergy Edition

Would you rather lose all of your money and valuables or all of the pictures you have ever taken?

Would you rather the general public think you are a horrible person but your family be very proud of you or your family think you are a horrible person but the general public be very proud of you?

You know the game.  Sometimes the questions seem impossible to answer.

The Clergy Edition goes like this:

  • Would you rather accept a call that isn’t right or would you rather wait for the right position – maybe for years?
  • Would you rather serve a church with more opportunities in a rural area or serve a church with limited opportunities in an urban area?
  • Would you rather leave professional ministry to live near loved ones or would you rather serve in a clearly called position that requires you to live away from loved ones?

Decisions become even more difficult when we are talking about holy matters:  Life purpose.  Calling. The Will of God.

Sometimes people don’t understand why we choose what we choose in terms of our professional/spiritual decisions.  If it’s assumed that we will always live near family, it can feel hurtful to them when we accept a call to Chad (unless our family lives in Chad.)  If we come from a culture that presumes that each call will involve an ascending move, it will confuse those who wonder why we moved from a 500-member congregation to a 100-member congregation.

The Bible includes countless stories about human beings doing curious things to follow God.  I once moved to a rural town of 400, far from family and friends.  Another time I traveled to Syria while ISIS was still active on the other end of the country.  And now I ponder new possibilities that might make people wonder what’s up.  But God moves us to do/be something different.

Exhibit A:  A Virgin tells her fiancé she is “with child” from God after embracing an angelic announcement.

Image is Naomi and Her Daughters-in-law by Chagal (1960)  It’s the story of Naomi and her sons’ Moabite wives Ruth, and Orpah.  Ruth leaves her homeland to move to Judah with Naomi after all the husbands die.  It was a surprising but holy choice.

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Actually EVERYONE Loves a Cheerful Giver

Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 2 Corinthians 9:7

I once worked with a “stewardship elder” who demanded that I give $1000 more beyond my annual giving.  I felt badgered and stalked.  And I was the pastor.

True story:  I was both reluctant and under compulsion when I wrote that check.  It literally made me feel sick because HH and I could not afford to give beyond our pledge.  The weird thing – for pastors –  is that I was giving money to fund my own salary.  (That’s fodder for a different post.)

I love giving money away 99.9% of the time.  I love playing Santa/angel/fairy godmother.  We had two extra movie tickets to “Coco” last week and I loved searching for people who might love to receive free tickets.  (Young couple with children?  Bingo.)

Today we have a unique opportunity to make an impact for good. Someone Somewhere has deemed this day Giving Tuesday and we have this one specific day to do something good, corporately.  When our $25 is added to many other $25 donations, organizations can do so much more than they could do with our single, simple gift.

Don’t give because you have to.  Give because we are privileged to do so.  Give because it makes us feel even more cheerful after the fact than we felt before.

What do we care about beyond ourselves and our circle of family and friends? Connect with them today and make their work a little more secure.

Need ideas?  This is where I plan to start:

Presbyterian Mission Agency – benefitting everything from disaster assistance to ministries supporting the leadership of People of Color and Young Adult Volunteers and Mission Co-Workers.

NEXTChurch – shifting the church we love into the 21st Century.

Interfaith Youth Core – working with college students to make interfaith cooperation the norm.

REBOOT Combat Recovery – supporting veterans who experience PTSD and other post-service issues.

Thank you!

 

 

 

My Father Was a Hugger

My Dad was in no way a lasciviously grabby man.  He was warm and quick to warm my cold hands or offer a hug.  He was particularly respectful of Women of a Certain Age, especially after his own mother died.  He would hug some of the older widows in church telling me later, “It’s probably the only time they will receive a human touch” this week.  By no means did he stand in line and hug everybody.  His affections were limited to people he knew well.  But he knew the value of wholesome human touch.

Things are different now.  Al Franken self-identifies as a warm person too.

I can imagine having a conversation with my Dad – if he were still alive –  informing him that not everybody likes/wants to be hugged.  Even if he asked first, I can imagine him asking “Can I give you a hug?” while moving in for the hug before someone can respond.

Remembering Dad and the importance of human touch, I became a hugging pastor.   I would often hug people as they left the sanctuary on Sunday mornings, especially cognizant of those who might need comfort.  I was their pastor and I often knew when they were going through difficult times.

To be honest, there was at least one person who asked for hugs and it felt icky.  A basic sideways-ish hug is not about sexual power.  It’s about restorative human connection.  But it can be abused.

Have we reached a point when we need to stop hugging each other unless we know for sure that someone wants to be hugged?  “May I hug you?” can feel like a cursory question (asking while zeroing in on that hug.)  We might assume that “everybody likes to be touched warmly.”  (Not true.)

My Dad also talked with strangers in the grocery store and made comments to random children in public places.  He would have needed some coaching on navigating 21st Century conventions.

It goes without saying that we do not pinch people’s rear ends.  Really.  This is not okay in any circumstance unless you and your beloved have some kind of arrangement and you both think it’s funny/affectionate.

Especially while taking photographs (remember this?) it’s not okay.  Women are taught not to make a scene, especially when a camera lens is pointing our way.

But human touch – an elbow, a shoulder – still seems necessary.  HH’s church ends each worship gathering with facing the center aisle and touching the shoulder of the person beside or behind you during the benediction.  I love this.  As my Dad might say, “This could be the only time people experience human touch that week.

Image of “safe hand to shoulder zone” from here.

When You Get Hit by a Car

My friend M was hit by a car in 2015 as she was running on a rural road.  It was horrible.  Apparently the driver fell asleep at the wheel.

M is not only alive, but she is running again and and she is wiser than ever. But don’t call her a miracle. She doesn’t like that.

What you don’t see are the invisible scars and other issues that continue to cause trouble.  But she is grateful to be alive and she is – as I mentioned – more thoughtful than ever.  She said the other day that everyone gets hit by a car sometime in life – usually figuratively.  Sometimes the car is going 10 miles an hour and sometimes it’s going 75.  But everybody experiences a real or metaphorical crash at least once.  We are lucky if there’s only one.

If you were hit by a car in 2017, please know you were not the only one.  Although it might take a while, you will learn from your crash.  Although it feels hard to believe, there will be spiritual and emotional gains.  Although people might have passed you on the road to let you languish on your own, there are others who will show up in other places.  Angels abound.

This is a good time to thank those angels.  They are the ones who kept us alive.  They are the ones who share good food and drink with us.  They are the ones who make us get out of bed and step outside.  They make Thanksgiving season last for a long time.

Have a thankful weekend everybody.

Dedicated to one of my angels –  MDCM.

 

Thankful for Frank Pomeroy Today

Pastor Frank Pomeroy of First Baptist Church, Sutherland Springs and I probably disagree on many things.  Although we both embrace Jesus as our Savior, we probably disagree in our Biblical interpretation, our theology, and subsequently our politics.  But he is my brother in Christ and I am deeply thankful for him today.

He is being a brave and faithful pastoral leader to a heartbroken church while also grappling with his own grief and doubts.  As we sit at table today – whether that table is in a restaurant, a familiar dining room, or a kitchen corner, there could be people there with us with whom we disagree.  But they are an essential part of our lives and we are called to connect with each one.

This is a good day to pray with and for each other.  We can be thankful even for the not-so-obvious blessings.

And as a PS today, this article sparks so many other important conversations for traumatic times.  The quotations are all from Frank Pomeroy.

  • “It is hard to be strong for everyone else when I have my own heartache.”  This man lost his own daughter and many, many friends in the shooting. Please remember that pastors also grieve and break.
  • “Those reports hurt a lot of people who needed the church to grieve.”  It was reported that the church building would be razed, but actually, this has not been decided. Please stop repeating false information because it hurts people.
  • “I tried to talk to him a few times but he wouldn’t listen or engage.”  Mr. Pomeroy knew the shooter and he had tried to build a relationship with him. Sometimes reconciliation is not possible – at least in this life.
  • “I think that if I were there I could have done more, but who is to say?”  I, for one, am grateful he was not there because his congregation needs him now in a way that nobody else could possibly offer.
  • “It is encouraging that although there was one bad guy who tried to steal the day, thousands of good people have stood up in support.”  Let’s be those supportive people, standing not only with victims of gun violence and domestic abuse, but also standing with victims of LGBTQ bullying, sexual harassment, emotional abuse, and ecclesiastical malpractice.

God has blessed us beyond measure.  We were created to share those blessings with others – even those with whom we disagree.  Happy Thanksgiving!

Saying Nice Things

This is a good week to say nice things to each other.  

The nicest thing anyone ever said to me was uttered by Sam Schwartz the year he was playwright laureate in Washington, DC,  two years before he died.  As I was leaving a party, I said, “See you in church” which was our little joke because he was Jewish and his church attendance was more of an obligation to please someone else.  But we met occasionally to talk about faith and life and pain.  He was wonderful.

After saying, “See you in church” I overheard another guy say, “Who is that?  Your mother?”  And then I heard Sam reply, “If that woman had been my mother, I would have saved $10,000 on therapy.”

Wow. That felt amazing.

 

This is an excellent week to appreciate each other’s quirkiness and queerness.  It’s a perfect week to remember that all of us fall short of the glory of God.  It’s a wonderful week to thank God for our differences.

It’s a good week to say nice things to each other.

Image source.

Sugar? Football?

Fifty years from now, what will we consider objectionable that is considered okay in 2017?

It used to be acceptable to hit your children.  It was okay for men to pinch random women’s fannies.  It was tolerable to do more than pinch in some circles.  And clearly many still believe this is okay.  Nevertheless, it seems that in many ways we are becoming more humane and more human.

Personal assault has always been frowned upon and – thankfully – is newly deemed unacceptable. That’s a good thing for everyone both theologically and sociologically.  But – fifty years from now, what will we consider unacceptable which is now considered okay?

Some friends and I were discussing this recently and we came up with two things: sugar and football.  Thanksgivings in the future may never be the same.

As I take a break from pie-baking to write this, it occurs to me that I’ve used several pounds of sugar and a bottle of Karo Syrup before most people are awake this morning.  I’ve also used over a pound of butter, for what it’s worth.

One of my grandmothers purportedly filled her children with sugary baked goods in hopes that they would choose the sugar in cake to the sugar in alcohol.  This was a real thing:  it was once (and maybe is now) believed that if we satisfy our sugar cravings with cookies we will not reach for the bourbon.  It’s hard to imagine “being as American as roasted beets” rather than “being as American as Apple Pie” but maybe that’s our future.

And as a person who’s lost at least one friend to a football-related brain injury, I wonder when we will stop loving a sport that involves crashing heads into each other.  Someone told me that professional players experience what amounts to multiple head-on car crashes with each game.

Maybe we’ll find a healthier option to sugar.  Maybe someone will create an even safer helmet.  But mostly, I’m thankful this week that we continue to learn new ways to be better/healthier/more faithful human beings.

What do you think we will have given up in fifty years after realizing it isn’t good for our bodies or our souls?

Sometimes We Are a Fine-Tuned Machine. And Sometimes We Aren’t.

The pie baking has begun.  I have a system that makes it possible to bake five different pies and get them safely over the river and through the woods in time for Thanksgiving.  This year, I’ve added two kinds of muffins.  I feel like a Baking Machine – in a good way.

It isn’t always like this in our home.  We still have boxes to open after moving here almost seven years ago.  And my closets could use some help.

A few weeks ago, a colleague told me that her church was almost like a machine – but not necessarily in a good way.  Every Tuesday this happens.  Every Sunday morning that happens.  Nothing much changes but nothing is setting souls on fire either.

The whole manager/visionary juggle is real.  Yes, we need the proverbial trains to run on time.  But we also need – even more – for someone to ask the What If? questions. We need creativity and authenticity and humor and wonder. We need both relational leadership and managerial leadership actually – working in tandem rather than in opposition.

My pie-baking chops could be flawless. But if I don’t love the people who gather to eat them, if I don’t remember that the point is not perfect pie – we are all missing out.

What is running like a fine tuned machine in our lives and could that machine use a tweak?  Or an overhaul?  Are our souls on fire to be who we were created to be?  (It’s a good time of year to ponder this.)

Image source.

 

I Slept 12 Hours Last Night

She goes and she goes and she goes.  And then she stops.  HCE

A church leader once told me that serving in a particular position in the denomination had probably shortened his life by three years.   I’ve never forgotten that.

Sometimes I sleep for 12 hours straight for the sake of recovery.  Like last night.

Our natural lives can be shortened by so many things – mostly stress-related. Family conflicts, job anxieties, health stresses, trauma.  The irony is that even serving One who said “I come to bring abundant life,” can drain us.

So who/what is the thief in your life shortening your lifespan instead of energizing you these days?  May you find a comfy bed with a chunk of time or even a hard bench in a beautiful place for a long sit very soon.

Have a wonderful weekend.

That Time I Had to Give Up My Favorite Boots

Actually the problem was one boot.  

It was midnight last Saturday after a great day celebrating a colleague’s installation.  I’d flown from CT to WI and looked forward to hitting the pillow when I realized that the zipper was broken on my right boot.

The zipper would not budge. It. Would. Not. Budge.

A comedic workout ensued. (Feel free to imagine me attempting ridiculous gymnastic exercises in hopes of removing the boot from my foot.)

Nothing worked. I was going to die wearing that right boot.

I phoned the front desk to ask for help (making the night shift concierge’s day) and he arrived with scissors and a serrated knife. Clearly, the only way out was to cut the boot off my foot.  Cut boot = ruined boot.

But I was free. It’s amazing how okay you feel giving something up if it was keeping you from moving or resting or feeling free. And yesterday I replaced the boots with a pair with no zipper and a better fit. Happy ending.

We can replace the word “boot” with all kinds of things that need to be replaced in our lives. It’s really hard to toss things we love but sometimes we have to do it.  I’d hoped to keep those boots forever but – to be perfectly honest – they looked better than they felt.  Sometimes they even hurt my feet.

What does the church need to replace even though we really don’t want to do it?  What have we hoped to keep forever even though it’s causing a little pain – if we are perfectly honest?  What would it take to give it up?