Category Archives: Uncategorized

Could Walls and “Extreme Vetting” Revitalize the Church?

. . . while the gospels instruct followers of Christ to help the poor, oppressed, maligned, mistreated, sick, and those most in need of help, Christians in America have largely supported measures that have rejected refugees, refused aid to immigrants, cut social services to the poor, diminished help for the sick, fueled xenophobia, reinforced misogyny, ignored racism, stoked hatred, reinforced corruption, and largely increased inequality, prejudice, and fear.  Stephen Mattson

This Sojourners article about American Christianity shares a  difficult truth.  Onelasalle-street-church
of the sermons in the stash I carry around the country is called “What Do We Love More Than Jesus?” and the reality is that we love quite a few things – often ridiculous things – more than we love Jesus.  Stephen Mattson notes that  “it appears that the sole purpose of (American) Christianity is to selfishly protect people’s own self-interests instead of sacrificially serving others.

Ouch.

Before we turn on each other or continue to act self-righteously (“my brand of Christianity is holier than yours“) I am beginning to see these anxious days with new eyes.  The daily news that brings deep anguish to many of us (e.g. The Wall, reviving the Keystone XL pipeline and Dakota Access pipelines, deporting undocumented workers, closing doors to refugees) also brings opportunity.

“Conservative Christians” and “Progressive Christians” alike are united in concern for Syrian refugees.  Building a wall instead of a bridge seems especially un-Christlike.  Having a leader who bragged about assaulting women has united both women and men who are ashamed to call such a person President.

But there is hope.  This could be the time when we step up.  This could be the disaster that moves us to get off our sofas and go volunteer or organize or reach out to just one vulnerable person.

I know it feels overwhelming.  I know that systemic change takes a long time.  But if we are not moved to stand up in the name of Jesus now, we never will.

In the words of Stephen Mattson:

These presidential orders, which will refuse help to many of the world’s most vulnerable individuals, are what many Christians voted for. This is the fruit of their political labor, but it’s not the Fruit of the Spirit. In fact, love, joy, peace, happiness, and self-control are notably absent from the current administration.

If we do nothing else, we can intentionally choose to love, to seek joy, to offer peace, to share happiness, and to control ourselves in the name of Jesus Christ. We can show the world what it looks like to follow Jesus.

Because God is God and we are not, it’s quite possible that God can use even walls and “extreme vetting” to revitalize the Church.  Things are so dark for so many these days that there becomes no place to turn but to The Holy.

God can use even these days.  And God will definitely use us.

Image from LaSalle Street Church in Chicago.

 

Marching for Women of Color

I’d like to see a million White women march to the grave of Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth or Audre Lorde, or perhaps to the campus of Spelman College to offer a formal apology to Black women. Jamilah Lemieux

women-of-color-and-white-womenOne of my first memories about People of Color is from my preschool years. The woman who took care of me and my two little brothers while both of my parents worked outside the home was named Thelma.  That’s what we called her.  I have no idea what her surname was.

What I remember is that Thelma carried my brother everywhere.  What I don’t remember is why I never asked my parents: “Who takes care of Thelma’s children while she’s taking care of us?”  I would see her children in the front yard when we took her home at the end of the day and wave from the car window.

Women of Color have a harder time living their lives than anyone else on the planet.  Check out this site.

In my profession, I know that Women of Color have a harder time being called to pastoral positions in ministry.  African-American churches often interview and hire only male African-American pastors.  Korean-American churches in my denomination might call a Korean-American clergywoman to serve as an Associate Pastor or a Youth Pastor, but rarely the Head of Staff.  Many Women of Color in my denomination serve predominantly White churches or multicultural churches.  I secretly ponder how we might shift this for the sake of the Future Church.  The best pastors I know include Women of Color but those same women are often overlooked.

Although last week’s March for Women drew record crowds and many Women of Color joined in, the crowds – at least in Chicago – were very White.  This article and this article offer insights on why.

Question to all who marched last Saturday – male and female, from west coast to east coast and harriet-tubman-graveinternationally:  If there was a march to the graves of Harriet Tubman or Sojourner Truth or Audre Lorde, or perhaps to the campus of Spelman College would you go?  I hope that I would.  And I hope there would be words of lament and apology spoken for Thelma and all other Women of Color who made it possible for White Women to prosper.

I wonder if something like this is in the works.  Please let me know if you hear.

Top left images from AfroPunk and The Help.

Jan Nods a Lot

One of my and Denise Anderson’s goals as leaders in our denomination is that Presbyterians (and everyone) would be more comfortable talking about race.

So we made a short film than turned into six short films.  You can see all of them here.

PS Happy Birthday Rev. Anderson.

The Truth About Lying

little-book-of-alternative-facts

Pilate asked Jesus, “What is truth?” John 18:38

Great question.

I’m especially interesting in the truth these days when there are so many accusations of deception.

The new President accuses the media of lying.  The media accuses the new President of lying.  And everybody’s talking about “alternative facts.”

Lying to delegitimize our institutions is a dangerous game:

If I don’t get my way, things are rigged.  If I do get my way, things are legitimate.

Yikes.

There is so much distrust in the world that we tend not to believe anything unless we see it with our own eyes.  When I saw this photo I was surprised because in the 22 years I lived in Our Nation’s Capital, I never saw empty bleachers on an inaugural parade route. Never.

I saw this with my own eyes on Saturday in Chicago and I indeed believe that there were 250,000 souls present.

Holding each other accountable is not only the job of the press corps and the government they cover.  It’s also the job of the Church.  We are called to speak the truth as we share The Truth.

Thomas in the Bible said something about not believing something unless he could see it with his own eyes.  I get that.  Seeing is believing – except when it’s not.  As we’ve seen with inauguration photos from last weekend, sometimes seeing is dependent upon one’s perspective.

The biggest challenge of our day might not be trade or women’s rights.  That’s small stuff compared to the challenge of restoring authentic trust in each other and in our institutions.  The world longs for trustworthy leaders – in government, in business, in the Church.  How do we make trade deals and laws about women’s rights without institutional trust?

Again – lying to delegitimize our institutions is a dangerous game.  I might even call it evil.

Image by Tim O’Brien.

If We Won’t Be a Global Nation, We Can Still Be a Global Church

white-house-websiteAt the end of a long work day, I see that:

Our reputation as a global nation might be shifting, but we are still called to be a global church because Jesus calls us to make disciples of all nations.  For God so loved the world (not just the United States.)

Sorry for all the hyperlinks.

A global Church seeks to:

  • Speak the language of the people. Thank you PCUSA for printing materials in English, Spanish, and Korean because those are the languages of the people in our congregations.
  • Be stewards of creation.  Thank you PCUSA for encouraging churches to be Earth Care Congregations.
  • Protect the vulnerable.  Thank you PCUSA for appreciating and lifting up the gifts of LGBTQ persons.
  • Seek justice for all. Thank you PCUSA for expanding our ministry to minorities, refugees, and the poor.
  • Remember that it’s not about us.  Thank you for our Reformed theology.  

Now more than ever,  the Church is called to be different, to counter the culture, to be like Jesus in the world.

I’m not giving up on my country.  But it looks like the Church will increasingly need to take the lead in showing the world what God is calling us to be and do.

Carnage and Me

Let’s talk about carnage.
car·nage ˈkärnij/  noun
  1. the killing of a large number of people.

But for too many of our citizens, a different reality exists: mothers and children sandy-hooktrapped in poverty in our inner cities; rusted out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation; an education system flush with cash, but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge; and the crime and the gangs and the drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential. This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.  From the Inauguration Speech of the 45th President of the U.S.A. 1-20-17

I have never personally witnessed what I would call “carnage.”  I have never fought in a war, been in a multi-car accident, stood on the grounds of  a school shooting, or observed a natural disaster first hand.  My life has been remarkably sheltered. But what I have witnessed first hand is this:

  • The testimony of my friend Mindy Corporan about April 13, 2014 when a white supremacist shot and killed her 14 year old son and her father in the parking lot of the Jewish Community Center in Overland Park, KS.  Note:  the shooter killed three human beings that day.  Killing Jews was his goal.  He killed three Christians which I share only to note the absurdity of this day. How did this Neo-Nazi get a gun?  How does a person so thoroughly hate people who happen to worship God in a different tradition? Gun accessibility has produced unspeakable carnage.
  • The testimony of my friend Valarie Kaur, a Sikh activist, who talks about the family friend who was shot on September 15, 2001 just days after the attacks on America by a person who mistook a patriotic Sikh business owner for a terrorist because of his turban and beard. He was shot in cold blood at his small business in Mesa, AZ.  Why did this person think he could take the law into his own hands? How did this shooter get to adulthood without a working knowledge of what people of other faiths believe and look like?  Hate crimes have produced unspeakable carnage.

This is the carnage I have observed.  And I’m not even talking about the carnage resulting from crimes against unarmed black men, crimes against police officers and gang violence in this city I now call home.

This is a carnage I know.  My prayer is that our new president will explore up close and personal this carnage rather than depend on cliches.

In the meantime, we who call ourselves The Church are called to address any and all who suffer these days.  I, for one, am grateful and – yes – proud to be part of a denomination who:

This is not the time to stare at whatever carnage you see or imagine.  This is the time to step up and serve in the name of all that is good and holy.  We were created for this.

Image of Sandy Hook Elementary School after the 2012 carnage resulting from a mentally ill shooter who should never have had access to guns.

The Circus

ringling-bros-and-barnum-and-bailey-circus-tickets-jpg-870x570_q70_crop-smart_upscale

The news that Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey Circus is shutting down didn’t feel tragic to me.  SBC and I were reviewing his Circus Memories yesterday and he had no recollection of attend RB, B&B Circus at the age of two.  (Actually he slept through it.)  He only remembers The Big Apple Circus when he was a little older.

I remember marveling over the Ringling Brothers Circus as a child but I almost slept through it in the early ’90s too.  It struck me as dated.  The Big Apple, on the other hand, was more impressive to me as well.  Fewer animal tricks (which are often achieved through cruelty.) More human skill.

Life can be a circus, of course, and The Circus Quotient feels particularly high this week.

Some of us love a circus (the more rings, the better) and some of us prefer a quiet corner with a book.  But things need to get done in this world and there is much work to do.  Let’s learn from the circus.

  • Cruelty might seem to get results, but in the long run, somebody notices that the elephants are in pain and it’s evil.
  • It’s better to have one ring of excellence than three rings of mediocre.
  • The casual observer wonders how someone can possibly fling herself off a trapeze and live. But that trapeze artist is – in fact – A) an artist and B) extremely well-rehearsed.  Skills require lots of practice.  And sometimes good work is simply an art.
  • Some clowns are scary.

So, my friends, find your art.  Practice every day and you will be able to do amazing things.  Don’t be cruel.  And don’t be a scary clown.

 

Meet Chad Crow

I wish everyone would read  this article by Yawo Brown today.  And then, could we talk about it?

There is immense division in our nation.  We start this work week with a federal holiday commemorating Martin Luther King Jr. birthday.  And we end the work week with the inauguration of the 45th President of the United States.

Few of us embrace being called racist and yet those who voted for Mr. Trump subtle-racismhave been accused of racism.  People who didn’t vote for Mr. Trump certainly have racist proclivities too.   All of of us live in a nation steeped in racism so embedded in our way of being that we who are in the dominant culture barely notice.

(Note:  The Waking Up White supplementary study is now ready here.)

Racism is part of the DNA of this country although that term makes us uncomfortable and defensive and angry. So what if we called it Polite White Supremacy?

Affectionately, it’s called #PWS for short. It has been referred to as the Casual American Caste System, Delicate Apartheid, Gentle Oppression, or what I like to call it after a few drinks: Chad Crow, the super chill grandson of Jim Crow.

Chad doesn’t force people of color to use separate bathrooms or water fountains. He doesn’t make people of color enter his home through the back door or bring their own cups.  But he makes assumptions about people of color based on erroneous information (e.g. some people are rich because they work harder.)

I am quite far from being fully awake to my own racism.  But – especially on this day and especially on this week – perhaps we who have enjoyed life in the dominant culture could commit to waking up to Polite White Supremacy.  More than ever, we need to see each other with the eyes of Christ.

Image source.

Wearing the Church

So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked cindys-stoleout for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It’s your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it.  Colossians 3:12-14

On any given day, I am wearing at least one of the following:

  • A tartan scarf given by The Church of Scotland
  • A beaded bracelet given by Presbyterians from Pakistan
  • A beaded PCUSA cross given by the Native American pastors of the PCUSA
  • One of several stoles given by the Committee on Local Arrangements for the 222nd General Assembly by the Presbytery of Cascades or by the Office of the General Assembly or by The Presbyterian Church of Korea

My partner in Co-Moderating wears an ancient cross around her neck which is actually three crosses riveted together.  It’s the Moderator’s Cross and Denise is wearing it the first year of our two year term.

We wear the Church wherever we go.

Wearing the Church is not the same as being “clothed in love.”  Our confusion about this has lead to the diminishing of our ministry in the Mainline Church. We have confused “being good Church People” with being faithful disciples of Jesus. I remember the funeral of a church member years ago during which his former pastor named him as One of the Great Church Statesmen.

With all due respect, I hope nobody ever calls me “a Great Church Stateswoman.”  Our faith in Christ is marked more by how well we have worn love.  Do we walk through the day wrapped in a cloak of compassion or dressed in the right outfit according to human expectations?

I’m a fan of dressing appropriately, but if we do not wear our faith out in the world, people will notice.  God certainly will notice.  A clergy collar worn at a rally is damaging if that collar is not accessorized by compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, and self-discipline.  A cross around the neck is confusing when worn by a cruel person.

As I celebrate the 150th anniversary of the First Presbyterian Church of Santa Fe this weekend. bedecked in all my Church-wear, I pray people will know I am Christian (and you are Christian) by our love.  This is especially the case as we remember the ministry of Dr. King this weekend.

Image of the stole which once belonged to the Moderator of the 219th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church USA.

 

For Your Consideration This Weekend (and always)

mlk-march-on-washingtonThis holiday weekend is not about linen sales or car deals.  It’s about this. Please join us.