Name Above All Names

Jesus BillboardI counted five electronic Jesus billboards on a visit to Minnesota recently.  One could be seen from my hotel window.

They were each part of a loop of other electronic messages that included ads for everything from yogurt stores to insurance companies.  I don’t know whether the red, white and blue color scheme was tied to the recent Independence Day holiday or whether it was a “Jesus and America” message or whether somebody just liked those colors.

I’ve been trying to find out who paid for these signs and what they hoped to convey, but no success on that front.  (Minnesotans:  if you have information on this, please weigh in.)

Because I can’t find out anything about these particular billboards, I can’t know the hopes and goals of the folks who paid good money to project the name “Jesus” high up along the highways outside Minneapolis.  I wonder:

  • Do they hope that simply seeing the name “Jesus” along the highway will bring a serene reminder to believers?  Calm down.  Don’t worry.  Think about Jesus.
  • Do they hope that seeing the name “Jesus” – for non-believers – will spark curiosity to the point that some people might check Jesus out when they reach their destination?  Hmm.  Jesus.  I should pick up a Bible and read about Jesus this weekend.
  • Is it a reminder that Jesus is watching us?  I’m going to slow down and obey the speed limit because . . . Jesus.
  • Is it some kind of weird competition with billboards like these?

I got home from MN after not watching or reading the news for a couple days to learn that someone named Alton Sterling was shot by at least one police officer in Baton Rouge on Tuesday.  Mr. Sterling apparently had a criminal record but on the day he died he had been selling CDs in a store parking lot, and it’s not clear that the police were aware of his previous crimes.  It seems to me that – criminal record or not – nobody deserves to be executed in a parking lot.  It’s not even clear if he himself had a gun, although some believed he did.  From the video, it doesn’t look like he was pulling a gun on anyone.

I wonder if having an electronic Jesus billboard overlooking that Triple S Food Mart parking lot might have helped.

Someone or several someones decided it was worth their money to project Jesus’ name along popular Minnesota highways.   But I wish there were more people who simply exemplified Jesus in parking lots and on playgrounds and along sidewalks than people who want to put Jesus’ name in the sky.   I’m at the point, though, where I’m willing to try anything – anything – to stop these shootings of black men.  For the love of God, what is wrong with us?

POSTLUDE: I wrote this post before Philando Castile was shot four times by a police officer in Minneapolis after being pulled over for a broken taillight.  No Jesus sign would have mattered.  Dear God, how do we convince people that Black Lives Matter?

Image taken along a highway in Minnesota yesterday.

 

20-Somethings

PathsI’ve convinced that the Twenties are the hardest decade.  For every Mark Zuckerberg or Alexander Hamilton, there are millions of 20-somethings who are trying to figure out who they are, what they are called to do and be, with whom they will spend their lives, and why they exist.  Bless them.

Yes, the other decades are tricky.  HH and I spent a decade trying to keep our kids alive. We spent another decade trying to juggle their lives and ours.  Now, on the cusp of our sixth decade (for him; I’m already there) we will try to avoid cancer, heart disease, and an insecure retirement.

What is The Church doing for 20-somethings beyond praying that they will connect with our congregations and teach Vacation Bible School?

I am the mother of three 20-somethings.  They may or may not ever connect with a traditional congregation again.  What they want includes:  meaning, support, community.  What they don’t want: guilt, pressure, fakery.

Some of our congregations are demographically bereft of 20-somethings.  Maybe we live in retirement communities or expensive neighborhoods or places where there are no jobs or colleges.  Some of our congregations are demographically blessed with 20-somethings.  How can we serve those in the most difficult decade?

  • Be flexible.
  • Offer authentic support.
  • Love them for who they are.
  • Assume they are smart.

Twenty-somethings often become thirty-somethings who are somewhat more settled. Sometimes they have children.  Sometimes they have a desire to serve in their communities.  In the meantime, we can be the kind of community that any follower of Jesus of any age would want to be a part of.

Although I Don’t Want to be THAT Person . . .

I have an exceptionally good life.  Honestly, I can’t think of many people whose IndigoSlaveSaleSC1769-smlife is better than mine in terms of family and friends, health and prosperity, opportunities and grace.  I am blessed, lucky, privileged, and randomly fortunate.

I celebrate Independence Day today, recognizing that this is historically a white holiday.  There was independence with the signing of The Declaration – but not for everybody.  Even our forefathers who were against slavery owned slaves.   And women, of course, could not own property, vote, or consider themselves “autonomous”   – although with Independence Day came the ability to divorce and have child-custody rights.  There was some semblance of freedom for women –  except of course for women of color, most of whom were slaves.  Women of color have always been the last to be free.

So, I don’t want to be that person who always mentions the underside of what is good in our culture.  I don’t want to be Debbie Downer at the barbecue.

And yet – for people with my skin tone, no matter how hard we have worked – much of what makes America great came on the backs of enslaved people.  Slaves (along with free Blacks) built The White House and Capitol. They worked in and for our oldest and most prestigious colleges and universities.  Their servitude made our colonial economy thrive.  Important reading for this national holiday is this.

Happy Birthday, America.  I love my country and that’s why I want us to be better than what we are now.  We are a better country than the gun violence, the torture of our enemies, the toxic water, the law enforcement disparities, and the everyday racism convey.  We are not only better than this; I believe we were created to be better than this by almighty God.

And so I celebrate today.  But let’s not forget that there are many people who are grieving that our beloved nation is not what it could be.

Image of a poster  from 1769 in Charleston, S.C.

Random

kokpitDuring my sabbatical in Turkey in 2009, TBC and I were in the Ataturk Airport in Istanbul half a dozen times. We always ate at the Kokpit Kafe while waiting for flights to smaller cities in Turkey.  Every flight went in and out of Istanbul.

Yesterday another terrorist attack happened.  Once again, innocent people were randomly killed.

I have no words of wisdom here.  Just a reminder that our days are not guaranteed and life is precious and evil brings random destruction.

With that in mind, I pray that our congregations in conflict will stop treating each other disrespectfully.  I pray that pastors who have lost the energy and the will to love their people will step aside.  I pray that colleagues will not sabotage each other for the sake of power.  There is so much good work to do.  A world beset with random violence has no time for church foolishness.

Image of the Kokpit Cafe in the Ataturk Airport where over 35 souls perished yesterday.

 

Re-Entry

All of us have moments of re-entry into our Normal.  We return home from vacation.  We’re released from the hospital.  We get back to work after an out of town conference.

spacecraft-re-entry-4When natural and technological bodies enter the earth’s atmosphere from outer space, they do it in one of two ways:

  1. Uncontrolled entry” is what happens when space debris or asteroids come crashing to earth.  Sometimes they careen into a perfectly tranquil setting.  Sometimes they plummet into the ocean never to be seen again.
  2. Controlled entry” is what happens when NASA guides a spacecraft back home. This orderly process is called EDL:  Entry. Descent. Landing.

I prefer to be space craft rather than space trash, of course.  I’d rather keep the careening and the plummeting to a minimum. Gliding is good.  Crashing is not-so-good.

When I re-enter after being away, I’ve learned to choreograph the transition if at all possible.  Add a buffer day between vacation and returning to work so that there’s time to recover/do laundry/re-fill the fridge.  Clean the house before leaving so that we don’t return to a mess.  Clean sheets changed before leaving make the first night home so much sweeter.

Today I re-enter my office for the first time in almost two weeks.  It hasn’t been a time away like other times.  I left as a commissioner to the 222nd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church USA.  I return as one of two co-moderators of that Assembly with 103 weeks of added service to the church in my future.

Co-Moderator or Moderator of the General Assembly is not a paid position.  The Office of the General Assembly expects this to be a half-time job and since I am sharing this job with another pastor, we will each be giving about a week each month to our denomination.  We hope to model a new way to serve in this office to show that it’s possible to continue in “regular ministry” while also being co-mods.

I’ve planned a gentle re-entry to my “real job.”  Yesterday was a work day but it was spent in an off-site meeting with a single focus.  Today, there will be catch-up meetings and some debriefing about what happened at General Assembly and looking forward to shifting roles and schedules and wading through ten days of office emails and voice mails.  It might feel uncontrolled.  But I trust that God will navigate me.

Taking gentle care of ourselves is surprisingly difficult.  We who are in helping professions or have helping personalities tend to be self-care challenged.  But this is why God invented naps and pedicures and automatic email responses and Sabbath.  I won’t get everything done today, but that’s just fine.  We never get everything done.  It reminds us that we don’t actually spin the planets.

As we come and go this summer, may our re-entries be controlled, may our descents back down to earth be smooth, and may we all stick our landings. Thanks to all who have committed to praying for me and Denise in the coming 103 weeks.  We both need and appreciate it.

 

Assuming the Worst (Let’s Not)

Church trolls are the worst.Trolls riding Slugs

Like run of the mill trolls, they denigrate our character and malign our motives.  But in Church World, their demonization of people and selective truth-telling has cosmic  – as well as earthly –  consequences.

Attempting to set records straight with trolls is basically a waste of time.

Nevertheless, it’s not true I want to turn the PCUSA General Assembly into a year-round Wild Goose Festival.  It’s not true that the other Co-Moderator of the 222nd General Assembly said that we Christians are just like the Orlando shooter.  It’s not true that the Presbyterians prayed a Muslim prayer at General Assembly.   (What is true:  I find Wild Goose inspiring and fun.  We Christians are often guilty of doing violence against LGBTQ people.  And one of our interfaith guests at the General Assembly said something in his greetings about Allah which means “God” in Arabic.  Note:  Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are all Abrahamic religions.  We all worship the one true God.  Also, our Stated Clerk actually apologized for “anything that might have offended.)

A bigger issue is this:  Why Do We Assume The Worst About Each Other?  

Why are we quick to believe that someone on the other side of the theological fence is evil? Why do we spread half-truths about people?  Why do we take words out of context in order to create a better story?  Why do we presuppose that someone we don’t like or don’t know has said/thought/done something vile without knowing what we’re talking about.

Trolling is the cousin of gossiping, and we would serve God well to stop doing both.  Random lie-spreading is just evil.

Before TDA and I decided to stand for co-moderators of the PCUSA General Assembly, we asked former moderators their best advice.  These two suggestions were shared more than once:

  1. Go to the rest room every chance you get.
  2. Brace yourselves for evil.

Duly noted.  But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Regarding #1 – just ask if we’d like to visit the rest room before we speak/preach. And regarding #2 – If you hear something that sounds off (e.g. Jan eats babies, Denise worships the Sun God) please check into it.  This goes for your neighbors and church friends – and church enemies – too.  Thank you – for the sake of the gospel.

Image of trolls-riding-on-slugs statues on sale at Big Lots recently.

Week 1, So Far

TDA and I will be working on blog posts specifically related to our term asPress Conference denominational leaders over the next two years.  But for now, I am moved to share what’s happened so far – both the sacred and the ordinary:

  • We Presbyterians added a new confession to our set of creeds. While we have a long, long way in addressing systemic racism and racial prejudice, this was a profoundly holy moment.
  • We have been chased by an international delegate seeking a selfie. Seriously.  He chased us.
  • We have received an array of wonderful gifts simply for being elected co-moderators (books, stoles, a museum-worthy toolbox with a hand-crafted gavel, several crosses, magnets, pens, pins, those cool things that stick to your phone to carry your drivers’ license.)
  • We have “brought greetings” to at least twenty groups and eaten lots of carbs.
  • We have hugged hundreds of people.  And we liked it.
  • We have been hung out with people of every age and from all over the world.
  • We have had memes created about us.
  • We have been (unofficially) invited to Pakistan, Jamaica, South Africa, Egypt, Scotland, Puerto Rico, Congo, Zimbabwe, Ghana, South Korea, and Bolivia.

People comment that we “must be exhausted” and we are, but this is the experience of a lifetime.  We are unspeakably humbled.  (Thank you General Assembly 222.)

Image from our first  press conference.  

The Next 104 Weeks

So, this happened last night.  Denise and I ask for your prayers over the next 104 weeks.  We are very grateful for this opportunity to serve the Church.

Installation

Photo by Columbia Theological Seminary.

Two Family Reunions

June 2016 = two family reunions in my life.

Family Reunions

There’s this one in Portland held every other year in June or July.  This reunion will include fourteen people who are related to me by blood or marriage.  But there will also be hundreds of others present who are related to me by theology and baptism.  We will pray together. We will eat together. We will debate.  We will disagree. We will agree. We will hear stories. We will elect officers.  We will have some fun.

Then there’s this family reunion in North Carolina – annually held on the last Sunday in June where my parents and grandparents and great-grandparents grew up.  I’m preaching on the Sunday morning after General Assembly – just twelve days shy of the 60th anniversary of my baptism in that same sanctuary.  There will many, many people present who are related to me by blood or marriage.  We are the descendants of Victor Chalmers Edmiston and there are hundreds of us – plus some relatives from the other side of my family.  We will pray together. We will eat together. We will debate (more about whose cake is tastiest, than about theology or politics.)  We will disagree.  (Some of us prefer chocolate cake.)  We will agree. We will hear stories.  We already consider ourselves elected.  We will have some fun.

One of the discomfiting things about reunions, though, is that there is the potential to exclude people.  Some us are part of the old stories and some are not.

When the General Assembly gets together, I run into people I’ve known all my life from Vacation Bible School to church camp to summer conferences to seminary. Say the words “Montreat” and a huge slice of the Assembly will smile.

But not everybody has experienced the same, safe church history.  Increasingly, we in the PCUSA are realizing that what feels like a family reunion for some of us doesn’t feel that way to all.  For example, when Montreat hosts The Disgrace Conference this October, it will feel different from the youth conferences and worship conferences of the past.  It will feel uncomfortable and there will be “new people” present.

And that’s a good thing.  Nevertheless, some will scoff that talking about systemic racism is too controversial for church.  “What ever happened to old-fashioned mission conferences?” some will say.

God bless those sisters and brothers in the PCUSA who have met Jesus in places and contexts different from Scottish festivals and historic church camps.  We welcome you who have come into our tribe of Presbyterians through new church developments that meet in unconventional sanctuaries or through avant-garde events.

God bless those who have married into my family who have braved being the only people of color in attendance in a sea of Southern White People or those who have been the only LGBTQ family members present in a room full of people who might have shunned you, had you not been kin.

Our family reunions – both those of my own birth family and those of my family of faith – are changing.  There are people of color.  There are rich and poor people.  There are people in wheelchairs and people in strollers.  Some not only have different U.S. accents, but they might even have African, Asian, South American, or European accents.  We might have different ideas about what it means to follow Jesus.  But we still meet.  We still call each other family – even when we find ourselves on opposite sides of the theological  spectrum.

Let’s make it fun.  Let’s make it generous and loving and life-giving.  Let’s make it about pleasing God.

The Old (and New) Girls Network

One upon a time, there was a Old Boys Network that made it easier for many cropped-be-4-pheeto-headerclergymen to A) climb the ecclesiastical ladder, B) escape misconduct charges, C) start anew after a less-than-successful experience or D) all the above.  In my own 30+ years in professional ministry, I have personally experienced being deceived about a clergyman’s past so that he could “move on” without facing consequences.   I have watched brilliant clergywomen being passed over for not-so-brilliant clergymen because the congregation couldn’t imagine a woman in their pulpit.  I have heard goodhearted Christians (often other women) say, “We didn’t want to call a female Senior Pastor since we already have a female Associate Pastor (as if we haven’t experienced generations of two men in similar roles.)

But there is a new narrative out there these days.

Lately, I’ve observed clergywomen (and men) recommending women for certain positions, because they are among the most gifted clergy on the planet. I’ve watched women defend their colleagues on social media when the commentary has become misogynistic – and I’m not even talking about your run-of-the-mill trolls.  I’ve seen enormous support of women by women in a culture which has often pitted women against each other.

And with that wave of encouragement under us, I leave for Portland, Oregon tomorrow morning to meet my sister Denise Anderson  where we are standing as Co-Moderators of the 222nd General Assembly.  Our brothers in this endeavor are fine men who are also qualified for this office.

I cringe a bit when Hillary Clinton refers to this being the time for a woman to be elected president.  Yes, a woman can certainly be president, but let’s not presume that she (or anyone) should be elected because she happens to be female.  Denise and I do not want to be elected because we are women.  We pray that the Assembly will discern that we would be the best leaders for such a time as this.

There are some awesome men in my network.  Old boys.  New boys.  Old men. Young men.  This is the healthy, holy way.

But I’m especially grateful this week for the old and new girl network.  (Thank you, my sisters.)

This post is dedicated to my sisters & brothers at RevGalBlogPals, to which this blog has been connected for almost eleven years.