Category Archives: Uncategorized

Some of the Life-Changing Ministry that the PCUSA Supports

No time to write a post today, so I’ll let CNN do the work:

You can support the Immokalee Farm Workers here.

Pentecost Sunday

There will be no rush for Pentecost Brunch today.  Nobody’s sending Pentecost cards.  But it’s my favorite day in the liturgical year.  Who’s ready to set the world on fire?

Unnecessary Roadkill

I’m writing this on the road after a great experience at Mo-Ranch (where – I’m told – God lives.)  Driving through the back roads in Texas from Hunt to Austin, I observed a colorful array of roadkill:  armadillos, possums, deer, squirrels and raccoons. Among the living fauna along the road were buzzards (eating the dead armadillos), wild turkey, horses, Belted Galloways, Long Horns, goats and elk (roaming somebody’s ranch.)

I saw a lot – A LOT – of dead armadillos.

Armadillos are not speedy animals although they can be trained to race.  (!)  They inherently jump up when startled – rather than immediately run forward which means they often don’t make it when a truck is speeding down the road . . . except apparently for those who race.

Although their armor gives them the appearance of being tough guys, armadillo bellies are soft.   Their claws are sharp and their tongues are sticky – all the better to dig deep and take nourishment easily.  Best of all, Nine Banded Armadillos – in spite of their propensity to get hit by traffic – are the treasured State Small Mammal of Texas.  

Metaphor alert: Sometimes I see roadkill in congregations.  

While some church members are treasured, they also get run over if they become startled by changes or if they don’t move fast enough.  I’ve known curmudgeonly members who seem as tough as armor, and yet they are actually quite soft inside. They have worked hard – sometimes for the sake of survival – but they are easily nourished spiritually, or at least they seem to be.  They have been attending church Bible studies forever and those classes seems to feed them well.

As the institutional Church is swiftly changing, it’s easy to hit them and keep going. This is unnecessary.

An elegant elderly gentleman wearing the pale yellow suit once asked me “what we could do to encourage men to wear suits to church.”  This happened immediately after I had taught a class in his congregation about the shifts we need to make if we hope to be a 21st Century Church.  Frankly, it was tempting to say:

Did you not hear a word that I said?  The days are over when men wear suits to church.  God doesn’t care what you wear to church.

But instead the Spirit opened my mouth and more generous words came out than I would have naturally chosen:

It sounds like one of the ways you honor God is to dress up in a suit on Sundays and I hope you will keep doing that.  But other people honor God in different ways.  Some  – especially children – honor God by making the effort to come to worship before or after a soccer game which means they are wearing their soccer jerseys.  But they are honoring God by showing up in the best way they can.  Others might be dressed more casually because they are headed to a picnic or maybe they are headed to work and they’ve dressed accordingly.  But I believe God would rather have us come together – whether we are wearing uniforms or play clothes or dress clothes – than not gather for worship at all.

It’s easy to become impatient with those who are slow to move.  I am often one of those impatient people.

I want people to get with the program.  I want them to move faster.  But I’m missing the point if I run over them and leave them wounded on the side of the road on my way to the 21st Century Church.

It takes time to make these important shifts.  Some of us will be the latest of latecomers and the reign of God will not be slowed indefinitely.  But we are called to respect even those who are slower to make changes.  If they have indeed been nourished spiritually by the  church of their youth, then they will be spiritually mature enough to recognize that we need to be a different Church for different times.  Relationships matter.  Church roadkill is unnecessary and – ultimately – destructive to the Bodyof Christ as a whole.

Living for a Cause

Quick question:  What are you living for?  Yesterday’s Memorial Day post was about dying for a cause.  But for what cause are we living?

A talented colleague said to me the other day:  “Serving immigrants has become my life’s work.

Not only does she serve the documented and undocumented immigrants of her community, but she is also a faithful spouse, a loving mom, a generous pastor, and a good daughter.

What has become our life’s work – whether it’s what we do for money or what we do for love?

Most of us have more than one life’s purpose:  to be a loving partner, a committed parent, a reliable volunteer, a force for good, a person making a difference in the world via teaching, preaching, banking, creating, selling, fixing, counseling, cleaning, serving.

Or maybe it’s not a “cause” that gives our lives meaning.  Maybe it’s a mission statement.  One of the best family mission statements I’ve heard recently is “We are pro-cuddling and we vote!” (h/t to BN) But whether we realize it or not, each of us has a de facto mission statement.  Maybe it’s something like this:

  • I will do the best I can do in this office and then I’ll get out and enjoy retirement.
  • I will shepherd my children through high school and then go back to work.
  • I am going to be the best ___ I can be.

I imagine that some of us (or most of us?) basically get through each day without a long range plan or a defining mission.  We just want to be safe/secure/comfortable.

One of the Reasons to Live in my Presbyterian faith tradition goes something like this (with a nod to inclusive language):

Q. 1. What is the chief end of humanity?
A. Humanity’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy God forever.*

Many of us live to enjoy life. Whether we are actually enjoying it or not is another thing.

But “to enjoy God forever” is an interesting twist.  I believe in a God who was so willing to offer abundant life that this God would turn water into wine, heal lepers, and even die for us.  Too few of us seem to be enjoying what we would call “an abundant life.”

Our life’s purpose changes over time.  As the mom of three little ones, my daily purpose was once simply to keep them alive for another day.  These days, I’m especially interesting in a life spent talking about race, learning about people who are not like me, speaking up about interfaith understanding and teaching about church culture shifts.  I’m also spending some time cheerleading for the PCUSA – a church I love.  I’d also like to live long enough to retire with HH and to be an interesting old person.

I live for these causes.  What about you?

Image from a school for Syrian refugee children in Lebanon taken in March 2017. *From the Westminster Shorter Catechism


Dying for a Cause

“Two men lost their lives and another was injured for doing the right thing, standing up for people they didn’t know against hatred. Their actions were brave and selfless, and should serve as an example and inspiration to us all. They are heroes.”  Ted Wheeler, Mayor of Portland, OR

I happened to be in Our Nation’s Capital for Memorial Day weekend and so I visited Arlington National Cemetery Friday to visit graves of some of special people.  I officiated at several graveside services at ANC during my years as a pastor in Alexandria, but none of those souls died in combat.  They were mostly WW2 veterans who returned home to the United States in the 1940s to live fruitful lives and raise strong families.  One of the graves I visited belonged to the three year old daughter of a Naval officer who died tragically on Mothers’ Day weekend many years ago.

Memorial Day is when we remember those who have died in service to their country.  I was struck by the grave marker of Army SFC Ernest F. Briggs Jr (Devine, Texas), SFC John T. Gallagher (Hamden, Connecticut), CW3 Dennis C. Hamilton (Barnes City, Iowa), CW3 Sheldon D. Schultz (Altoona, Pennsylvania), SFC James D. Williamson (Tumwater, Washington) who died in when their helicopter was shot down over Laos.  It took 29 years to retrieve their remains.  You can read more about their sacrifice here.

Sometimes people confuse Memorial Day and Veterans Day.  With all due respect to veterans, it seems essential to offer a special tribute not only to veterans who died in service to their country, but also to the men and women who died in service to humanity.  I’m thinking today of  Ricky John Best and Taliesin Myrddin Namkai Meche who died standing up for 16 year old Destinee Mangum and her 17 year old friend who was wearing a hijab.  Mr. Best and Mr. Meche stood up against a man who was saying that “Muslims should die.”  These men are heroes.

They were not professional soldiers.  They didn’t wake up Friday morning expecting to risk their lives that day.  But they stood up against ugliness and lost their lives trying to do the right and beautiful thing.  Their sacrifice is just as holy as that of a soldier or sailor defending the freedom of this or any country.

My hope is that – instead of hesitating to do the right thing for fear of being in harm’s way ourselves – that we would remember Ricky John Best and Taliesin Myrddin Namkai Meche (as well as Micah David-Cole Fletcher who was also injured defending the teenagers but is expected to live.) I also hope that each of us would stand tall and defend the weak.  Dying for a good cause continues to be a holy thing and not just on a battlefield.

A Love Letter to Family & Friends Who Voted for President Trump

At the risk of offending, I believe that following Jesus is political.
Dear Friends and Family Who Cast Your Vote for Donald Trump on 11-9-16,

Some of us have talked about our differing politics but I write this letter about something bigger than politics.  I hold sacred assumptions about you. Because I have known you and loved you for a long time, I trust that these things are true:

  • You love Jesus.
  • You love your country.
  • You want to do the right thing. (The right thing = The loving/fair thing)

Some of you have explained to me that you voted for Trump for the sake of the Supreme Court.  Some of you said that you couldn’t bring yourself to vote for Hillary Clinton and I have trusted that that had less to do with her gender than her politics.

We have mutual friends and family who could not vote for Hillary Clinton, but they also could not vote for Donald Trump. They wrote in their preferred names knowing that those write-ins would not win, but at least they could live with themselves.

We are now living in a world with a President whose behavior should not make us proud as Americans.  It’s behavior that’s disturbing if we are serious about following Jesus.  This was true prior to the election but it’s even more true now.

I love you and I have no idea whether or not you regret your vote.  But my hope is that you will take responsibility for your vote.  My hope is that you will stand up for people in public if you witness seeing something as disturbing as what our President has said and done in public.  My hope is that you will offer your hand to those who are in trouble through no fault of their own.  Or even if their trouble is self-imposed, who hasn’t made terrible choices in life?

My hope is that you will educate yourself on what’s true and what’s not true.  For example:

If you’re on food stamps and you’re able-bodied, we need you to go to work.”  (President Trump’s budget director, Mick Mulvaney) Note:  According to the Department of Agriculture, 44% of those reliant on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – aka food stamps – have jobs.  They simply don’t make enough money to buy food for their families.

I know you have compassion for vulnerable people.  I believe you believe that hard work should be rewarded no matter a person’s race or creed.  I trust that you are against bullying and arrogance.  I hope I am not coming across as bullying or arrogant here because that’s not what I want to do.  I don’t know how to ask this of you in any other way.  Please speak up for the poor, the sick, and the disenfranchised.  Please consider the plight of refugees in the name of Jesus who was himself a refugee in Egypt.

Sounding self-righteous here is not my intention although I probably sound self-righteous.  I love you and treasure you.  And I also want you to share your thoughts with me about how we might work together to fight racism and sexism and hatefulness.  Donald Trump is a child of God, as we are.  But we have got to work together to be the people God created us to be, even if it means standing up against this President.

Thanks for reading this. Jan

Video from yesterday’s NATO meeting.  The man shoved aside is Dusko Markovic, the PM of Montenegro.

Is Jesus a Loser?

I would say no, if we’re talking cosmic terms.  But Jesus loved losers.

Peter Beinert wrote an excellent article for The Atlantic yesterday about President Trump’s tendency to categorize people into W-L columns:

“for him, America’s primary goal is not freedom or tolerance. It’s success. Trump espouses no deeply held political, religious, or moral doctrine. He sees government through the lens of business. And thus, he’s more comfortable with the language of winning and losing than the language of right and wrong.”

In addition to the terrorists responsible for the Manchester tragedy, President Trump has called these people losers according the same article:

  • Standard & Poor’s credit-ratings agency
  • Rosie O’Donnell
  • George Will
  • Cher
  • Salon
  • Huffington Post
  • Karl Rove
  • Graydon Carter
  • Marc Cuban
  • Marco Rubio
  • Ted Cruz
  • The Club for Growth
  • Ana Navarro
  • The New York Daily News
  • A Scottish farmer who tried to keep him from building a golf course
  • The Republican Party

Marci Glass also wrote an excellent post about Losers yesterday and she is right to note that we are all losers – thanks be to God.  One of my favorite songs best captures this point.

Life requires losing.  Without it we will never learn/grow/understand/empathize/win.  Without losing, there is no resurrection.

I don’t have problems with calling terrorists losers if “monsters” give them a rush.  But knowing that losing is an ordinary fact of life, I do have a problem with calling terrorists “losers” if it makes them sound ordinary.  I never want terrorism to be considered ordinary.

Jesus was extraordinary. What makes him holy is that he died for the losers and that love – to the point of death  – changes everything.

Love is our primary goal if we are serious about being 21st Century disciples of Jesus.  Love.

We lose the whole point of life if we miss that.

Living Life When Threat Levels Are “Severe”

At least ten years ago, my brother and his kids were visiting when we were living in Our Nation’s Capital. There was a heightened security threat that weekend and many people were staying close to home.

We went to The National Spy Museum. We even took the Metro.

We are not foolish people (most of the time) and we are not particularly daring or brave. But we decided that day to live our lives.  We had the museum to ourselves and a good time was had by all.  Were we lucky?  Careless?

The Brits have been especially good at keeping calm and carrying on since 1939. It says so on countless coffee mugs and posters.  Through World War II, through the 2005 Underground bombings, and now in Manchester, stoic Brits have refused to let violence or the threat of violence keep them from living their lives. It’s not that they will be careless in these days; it’s just that they will not let terrorists win.

Zeynep Tufekci writes about social media and – lately – about social media and terrorism.  She suggests that if we give terrorists the infamy they crave, others will repeat it.  Instead, she says we should focus on the victims of particular crimes and on the victims around the world.  (i.e. DAESH has killed many more Muslims than non-Muslims.)

In February 2017, she tweeted: “Most acts of terrorism receive wall-to-wall coverage. We face many risks in world, terrorism is one of them—but one that feeds on attention.”  What if the media reported the crime without running endless loops of gory film footage?  What if we called the terrorists “losers” instead of “extremists” or even “terrorists”?  (On this matter and maybe only this one, I have to agree with President Trump.)

We carry on.  We try to make safe and smart choices.  But we continue to go to concerts and outdoor cafes and ball games and parades. We hug our children and tell them we love them every day.  We dare to pray for peace in the world. We ask God to confound evil plans.  And we live as if love will ultimately win because that’s what we believe.

It’s still Eastertide, my friends.


Image source.

Christian Teens Having Sex

“Please let it be cancer, please let it be cancer, please let it be cancer… ”  Mary in Saved

Unmarried teenagers sometimes have sex.  Unmarried Christian teenagers sometimes have sex.  Unmarried Evangelical Christian teenagers sometimes have sex.  You know what I’m talking about, Church People.

Yesterday’s article by Sheryl Gay Stolberg about an 18 year old student at Heritage Christian Academy in Maryland would be a great discussion starter for Church Folks this week.

Stolberg shares the story of a high school senior named Maddi who became pregnant and chose not to terminate her pregnancy.  Her choice has resulted in her being removed as Student Body President and keeping her from walking across the stage at graduation.  Oh, and she was suspended from classes for two days.

Maddi’s having a baby boy after graduation and she will raise him, assisted by her parents.  If she had chosen to terminate her pregnancy, nobody would have known except her parents.  But since she made a different choice, everybody knows and she’s paying for it, Shame Style.

80% of young Evangelicals” have sex before marriage according to a study cited in the Stolberg article and by “young” we can assume that both teens and twenty-somethings are included.  (Note:  The National Association of Evangelicals  say that it’s less than 80% except that their own organization did the study.)  Another study by the Guttmacher Institute cited: “Slightly more than half of women who have abortions — 54 percent — identify as Christians.”

So, are we talking about this in Church?  Many congregations have few to no “young people” but most of us know some.  And for our congregations blessed with children, teenagers, young adults, and their parents, conversations about sex and faith seem to be especially essential for connecting who we are with what we believe.

What I’m not saying here is that teenagers should be careless about sexual intimacy.  What I am saying:  if we can’t talk about sexual intimacy in our spiritual communities, where can we?  This is possible only if we normalize conversations, agree not to shame each other, and agree that we will treasure each other as God’s precious children – no matter what.

How is your congregation at addressing sex?

What Are Your Personal Religious Relics?

I once saw a “vial of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s milk” in a museum in Italy – which was both disturbing and impressive.  Somebody in the earliest years of the First Century was an anticipatory thinker par excellence.  Throughout the world there are vaults claiming to possess relics from John the Baptist’s head to Muhammad’s beard to Buddha’s tooth.

I don’t care so much about those.  But after hearing Dr. Yolanda Pierce speak last week about some of the religious relics in the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC. I’ve been thinking about the stories around our stuff.

One difference between hoarded things and treasured things is that treasures trigger stories. (The story around hoarded things is less about the things and more about us and our personal pathologies.)

Some of our treasures have financial value but most do not.  My grandmother’s bread board looks like a worthless slab of oiled cherry wood, but – when I see it on our kitchen counter – it takes me to her kitchen where she made double batches of Angel Biscuits on Christmas morning.  I can almost smell them and believe me, it’s a religious experience.

So what religious relics do you treasure in your home, on kitchen counters or on book shelves, or in jewelry boxes?  What makes them sacred to you?  And how do their stories impact your life for good?

I can hardly wait to visit the NMAAHC if for no other reason, than to see the priceless chips of glass from the blown out windows of the Sixteen Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama.  We especially treasure our heartwrenching stories in the hope we will do better in the future.

Image of Nat Turner’s Bible which is also on display in the NMAAHC.