2017: The Year of Dignity

God gave each of us inherent worth and value; accept it in yourself, discover dignity-mosaicand encourage it in others, and peace may just be possible.  Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu

Depending on who you talk to, 2017 is slated to be The Year of The Rooster or The Year of the Deal or The International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development.

I’m hoping for something different.  A mentor recently recommended Dignity: The Essential Role It Plays in Dissolving Conflicts and it was the last book I read in 2016.

We live in undignified times.  

We are about to inaugurate a President who was recorded saying words that would have gotten him expelled from most elementary schools. At least one Pulitzer Prize-winning fact check organization has had a field day with his statements.  And to make matters worse, at least half the nation seems to hate this man.

There are some who will hate him and relish in schadenfreude no matter what he does in 2017.  And there are some who will love him and excuse his missteps no matter what he does in 2017.  So what’s a person to do?  Especially a person who is trying to follow Jesus.  Especially a person who loves this country.  Especially if we want to embrace our own human dignity and act accordingly.

dignity-by-donna-hicksDonna Hicks (the author of Dignity) writes that “dignity” is not the same thing as “respect.”  All human beings are born with an inherent dignity and worth.  We don’t have to respect everybody though.  Respect is earned.

My hope is that the 45th President will earn our respect and one of the ways he can do that (for me) will be to treat  women, refugees, Muslims, People of Color, and undocumented workers with dignity.  He will earn my respect when he pays attention to the needs of the poor.  He will earn my respect when he listens to people without waiting for his turn to talk.  He will earn my respect when he does not use the Presidency for personal gain or for the personal gain of his children.  This is my prayer.

In the meantime, we must treat him with dignity as a child of the living God. This is not always as simple or as easy as it sounds.  I will need divine help.  The President-Elect’s words have already hurt people I love.  His threats have already made a tangible negative impact on their lives.

But today brings a new year. And as a new spiritual discipline, I’m going to try to make 2017 The Year of Dignity  – at least in my own head.  My hope is that it will change my heart.  And as a bonus, maybe it will also help me with bad drivers, rude people, cranky people, bullies and Duke fans.

The mosaic shows 2016 highlights of human dignity acknowledged by ordinary people – and the Pope.  Clockwise from top left  1)  Pope Francis washing the feet of Muslim, Orthodox, Hindu, and Copt refugees in Castelnuovo di Porto, Italy, 2) LGBTQ support group meeting in Charlotte, NC  3) a man helping a child with special needs in Glasgow  4)  an aftercare worker comforting a trafficking victim in Guatemala City, 5) Muslim and Christian volunteers feeding the homeless in London, 6) a U.S. soldier visiting orphans in South Korea.  Not only do we belong to God; we are all created in God’s image. Amazing.

Good-bye 2016

As I  go semi-radio silent for the rest of 2016, here are some of my favoriteobama-waves-good-bye finds from the past year.

[Note:  I am a late-ish bloomer so what I discovered recently you might have discovered years ago.  Feel free to share your own discoveries in the comments if you wish.]

These are not in any particular order.  But all of these things have changed my life for good in the past year:

  • Standing for Co-Moderator of the PCUSA General Assembly is the way to go.  The 222nd General Assembly was the first time that Co-Moderators (rather an a Moderator and Vice-Moderator) could be elected . . . and we were elected.  The pluses include having an officially equal partner in this ministry and being able to model a healthy way to divide the travel responsibilities. Denise and I are committed to being away from our respective homes and jobs no more than 10 days a month (each.)  Usually it’s been more like 5-7 days away per month (each.)  This is doable  We hope to model that you don’t have to be retired or away from your regular job terribly much to serve as Co-Moderator.
  • Colson Whitehead is an extraordinary writer.  The Underground Railroad was my favorite novel  in 2016.
  • Chance the Rapper is the real thing.  Blessings keep falling in my lap.
  • Sally Kohn speaks the truth.  I’m not really a fan of the term “correctness” whether we are talking Political Correctness or Emotional Correctness, but we have got to learn what she calls Emotional Correctness if we are going to be a civilized nation.
  • Hydration Serum with Peptides by Lucrece makes me feel better.  I turned 60 in 2016.  Although I’m a big fan of wrinkles because it means your face is doing what it’s supposed to do (smile, frown, think hard) I also want to look kind of fresh faced . . . for a 60 year old.
  • Being 60 years old is underrated.    This is worth a whole blog post but you’ll just have to trust me on this one.
  • These are great days to be the Church.  Maybe the best of days because God does God’s best work when the world is a hot mess.  And the world is a hot mess.  As church participation continues to dwindle in most parts of the United States, congregations who have lost their reason to exist (clue:  Jesus didn’t die for church buildings) will continue to close and congregations that make an impact to care for the poor, the hungry, and the broken will continue to grow.  [Note: “best of days” means it’s good for God but probably stressful for God’s people.  500 years ago was no picnic for Christian Reformation leaders either. Luther was excommunicated less than 4 years after hammering those 95 theses into the church door.]
  • Hamilton was ubiquitous in 2016 among the privileged, but it continues to be the finest piece of art created in a long time. Look around, look around at how lucky we are to be alive right now.

We have holy work to do in 2017.  The nation is divided. The incoming administration does not seem to plan to prioritize the poor.  Fake news and vulgar behavior have become the norm.

This time next year, I hope we can look back and say that there was justice for those who have experienced injustice.  I hope we can look back and recall scientific breakthroughs, great art, feats of heroism, and another World Series win for the Cubs.  Okay – I’d be happy without another World Series for the Cubs, but it would be nice.

Happy New Year everyone.  May God bless each of us with strength.

So . . . Now That The Baby’s Born

christmas-ladderI believe the birth of Jesus changes things here and now.  

If it doesn’t, then Christmas is merely about presents and food and parties and a sentimental old story.

So*. . . what’s next?  If we believe the light of Christ has come into the darkness, we will want to let that light shine, right?  But sometimes shedding light on darkness is uncomfortable.  Cockroaches run when the lights are turned on.  Lies are revealed when light shines on them. Sometimes those lies are whoppers.

Among my personal favorites from a lifetime of professional ministry:

  • You are an only child.
  • Your uncle died in the war.
  • Your mother left the family for several months for cancer treatment.

Sometimes we lie to protect others.  Sometimes we lie to protect ourselves. Sometimes we lie to promote our agenda.

This article–  from what I believe is one of most reliable newspapers on earth – talks about today’s ubiquitous topic:  fake news.  Its twist is that political conservatives are accusing mainstream news outlets of being purveyors of fake news too.  It’s not just about outrageous stories coming out of new services called 100percentfedup.com or Huzlers.  Some fake new sites have real-sounding names like Bipartisan Report and ABCnews.Com.co.  A good list to check out is here.

But this morning’s article is about conservatives accusing journalists from top notch journalism schools with deception.

We live in a time when someone can repeat a lie over and over and over again to the point that people start to believe it.  But we need the truth – both politically and spiritually.

The truth will set us free, but first it might make us miserable.  The truth is that there is deception on all sides and it’s often hard to figure out what’s factual. Example:

  1. The Atlantic magazine reported on November 2nd – as did many outlets – that an African American Church was burned in Greenville, MS in November with “Vote Trump” painted on the wall.  This story was used as an example of more brazen racism as a result of Trump’s candidacy.
  2. The NY Times reported on December 21 – as did many outlets – that an African American member of the church was charged with the arson (so ostensibly it wasn’t a politically motivated event after all.)
  3. News outlets on both sides took these stories and used them for their own political purposes saying either that a) “Trump’s candidacy/election is incendiary“or b) “These accusations against Trump’s candidacy/election are false.”

Pontius Pilate once asked, “What is truth?” and it continues to be an excellent question.

From the NY Times story today: “We now live in this fragmented media world where you can block people you disagree with. You can only be exposed to stories that make you feel good about what you want to believe. Unfortunately, the truth is unpopular a lot. And a good fairy tale beats a harsh truth every time.”

So how do we connect our faith in the One called the Light of the World with what’s going on in our divided nation today?

Jesus said:  ‘See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”

  • Read a variety of sources from media outlets.
  • Be critical thinkers.
  • If something you read makes you really, really angry, do your research.  It might not even be real.
  •  Here are more ideas for discerning real from fake news.

We who follow Jesus are called to be different.  I believe this and hope you do too.

Image of Christmas Ladder by Christian Ryan.

*h/t to my HH.

Merry Christmas 

Peace to all.

Great “First Calls”

There are jobs and there are callings. My first jobs included babysitting and waiting tables.  My first “call” to professional ministry was with a tiny church in a tiny town nowhere near family or friends.  I stayed for five years and the experience changed my life for good.

Now I work with clergy seeking their first calls and – on the cusp of this new year – I have great hopes for all who have finished the seminary race, have been deemed “ready” and now await the nudging of the Spirit.  What we have here is an Advent/New Year’s Resolution mashup.

It’s not as fun as waiting for Santa.

I’ve observed too many new pastors experience soul-sucking first calls.  The common denominators to these debacles include:

  • Congregations who were not transparent about their issues during the interview process. The issues might range from  no money to actually pay the new pastor to a failure to inform the new pastor that the Town Matriarch is actually the de facto pastor and you’ll be working for her to an expectation that the pastor is the hired help and it’s expected that he’ll do everything while we watch from the pews/parking lot.
  • Pastors who were not honest during the interview process. You said you loved youth work when you were just kidding/desperate to get ordained.
  • Colleagues who pitch themselves as collaborators but are not. You find yourself sabotaged by other staff members/volunteers for all kinds of reasons including feeling threatened, jealous, or basically cranky.

A good first call is a joyous thing and I’d love to hear your tips to finding a good first call if you have positive wisdom to share.  What I’ve noticed is this:

  • A good first call is all about God.  It’s not about “getting ordained” or “paying the rent” or “being in the same town with ___” or “impressing the parents” or anything other than being where God calls you to be.  You do not want to be where God isn’t calling you to be.  #disaster
  • A good first call will bolster your pastoral identity.  Whether your first call is in a parish, a hospital, a school, a homeless shelter, an interfaith organization, or a soup kitchen – if you are called to professional ministry by God in that particular setting, your understanding of yourself as a pastor will blossom.
  • A good first call is among people who allow you to have a life apart from work.  Your people will want their spiritual leader to have a social life, an intellectual life, and – yes – a spiritual life that will be fed beyond the congregation/ministry site. They will expect you to take your day(s) off.  They will be happy when you take vacation and study leave because they care about you.
  • A good first call allows for mistakes and missteps.  New pastors fail in small and huge ways.  Forgiveness goes both ways.

Actually these are helpful tips for all calls, but if they don’t happen in the first call, a pastor could find herself wounded and cynical to the point of never wanting a second call.

And here’s the last thing (which should be the first thing in your process towards ordination):  everyone is called to a life of ministry but not everyone is called to professional ministry.  This is one of the few professions that cannot be achieved like a certification program.  We can leap through every hoop and still not be called to that first call and, yes, that feels brutal.  But the good news is that we are still called to ministry.  It’s possible that it’s just not what we expected.

So to any of you who might hope that 2017 brings ordination:  I hope that for you too if that’s where God is leading you.  It’s all about the One whose birth we celebrate later this week and – just like the coming of the Messiah –  it’s always different from what we expect.

All I Want for Christmas is . . .

Let’s start with this.

A smart person I know mentioned recently that it’s easier to call people names (racist, stupid, privileged, misogynist, self-righteous, dismissive) than to attempt to connect.  [Note:  most of us are racist, stupid, privileged, misogynist, self-righteous, dismissive in our own way.]

In other words, we will never connect with anyone by calling them names (either out loud or in our heads.)  And do we really want to understand each other?  Or are we happy living in enmity?

Only  the sickest among us wants verbal/proverbial/actual war if you ask me.

Please watch the Sally Kohn TED Talk on the difference between political correctness and emotional correctness.  It might change your life and it’s less than six minutes long.

Basic takeaway: “We can be politically right and emotionally wrong.”

In the meantime . . .  this article was published recently about the long-standing racial divide in Arlington, Virginia which was my home for 22 years.  I love Arlington.  I love its politics.  I love its walkability.  I love its diversity.  I love how LGBTQ friendly it is. I love that it used to be part of the District but now it’s not but if you live there you still feel like you can say you live in DC.  I love how our neighbors were so interesting (our neighbors included lots of former Peace Corps workers, a professional magician who starred in TV specials, assorted White House staffers, teachers, an opera singer, several immigrant families.)

Also, Arlington County has some of the best schools in the country. Nevertheless, the high school in our neighborhood was Wakefield – also known as “the ghetto school” or “the bad high school.”

One of the problems with this article is that the white people on the north side of the country are called “pasty” which is not a helpful/emotionally correct thing to say.  And it’s not even factually true.  There is racial-ethnic diversity in North Arlington.  There is also economic diversity.

But most of all that diversity is in South Arlington, along with all the eyesore kinds of properties (i.e. school bus garages, warehouses, etc.)  It’s more expensive to live in North Arlington.

esse-quam-videriIt’s also not true to describe something/someone by what we have heard and not by what we’ve experienced.  Many have heard that Black men – for example – are dangerous.  My experience however is that Black men are smart, kind, polite, ambitious, etc.  Just like men of other skin colors.  There are not-so-nice men and women of all skin tones and nationalities.  It’s just that – in my opinion – men of color have been systematically profiled as dangerous.  It’s not true and it’s not right.

FBC shared yesterday that when people found out he went to Wakefield High School the reaction was that he must be crazy because “people get stabbed at Wakefield” or “there are gangs at Wakefield.”  This is what they had heard. The truth is that Wakefield – like every other high school in Arlington – offers an excellent education but with more cultural richness than most.

We live in a world that embraces lies as truth:  Obama is Muslim. Trump won the popular vote. Republicans are – by definition – racist. Democrats are – by definition – arrogant.  Christians hate gay people.  Muslims are terrorists.

None of these things are factually true.  When we are talking about groups of people (whole political parties, whole religions, etc.) it’s true that individuals within these groups can be embarrassments and worse.

But we have got to make judgments – if we make them at all – according to our experiences and not what we’ve heard/read on fake news/imagined.

The world is screaming.  I can barely listen anymore even though I want to holler myself.  All I want for Christmas – though – is a movement to become a more emotionally correct planet.

Image Esse Quam Videri is shared in honor of those in my home state of North Carolina who indeed believe it is better to be rather than to seem.  

Overcoming Death at Christmastime

bettys-apple-cake-recipeMy grandmother Ethel died on Christmas Day 1968 and it wasn’t as sad as it could have been.  We cried.  But I remember – even at 12 – that it was fortunate that she got to see her whole family who were in town for the holidays. She had lived a very full and beautiful life, and at last she was no longer in pain.

Pastors can attest to the fact that many church people die at Christmastime. Sometimes it’s horribly tragic and sometimes it feels a bit less traumatic.

And all of us can pinpoint deaths this time of year that are senseless and beyond brutal.  The Christmas eve car accident.  The (God help us) mass shooting.

HH attended a funeral yesterday that he didn’t officiate, which is rare.  The lovely woman who passed away had lived a remarkable life, blessed with more than the threescore and ten that the Psalmist suggests.  She almost made 90.

Here’s the best part:  her family printed her Secret Polish Apple Cake Recipe on the back of the funeral bulletin.

It got me thinking:  what recipe would I want on the back of my funeral bulletin? What last “secret thing” would we like our family and friends to know that only we can share?

Maybe it wouldn’t be a recipe.  Maybe it would be the secret to getting the baby to sleep, or the secret way to get the lawn mower started, or the secret way to live a life that others want to emulate.  That last one is a little presumptuous, so it probably wouldn’t happen.

What gift do we want to give for people to carry with them beyond our deaths?  It’s a good thing to be thinking about now,  Because we who follow Jesus can bet that God had already considered this long before Jesus was born.

So now I’m headed to the kitchen to bake Betty’s Polish Apple Cake.  I didn’t know her but I love her.

Hamiltonification. Pumpkin Spice-ification. Christification.

baby-jesusI love Hamilton so much that I don’t want it to become ubiquitous and overdone. I loved it when James Corden shifted the lyrics for the Tony’s opening last summer. I loved it when First Presbyterian Church of Brooklyn transformed Hamilton into their 2016 pageant yesterday:  Bethlehem: A Christmas Musical.

How does an infant Savior, son of a whore pious virgin

Born in the middle of a forgotten spot right here in Bethlehem on Christmas Eve

The hero of our story?  We’ll move slowly.  Did I mention he was holy?

But I don’t want Hamilton to become a meme like – say Pumpkin Spice.

We’ve all observed the pumpkin spice-ification of American culture  from lattes to pancakes to tacos.  Memes are fun and distracting from real life.

We need distractions from Real life right now and not just because we can’t find the right gift for grandma.  Patton Oswalt is my muse these days.  I don’t know what Mr. Oswalt’s spiritual proclivities are, but he has helped me on the road to Christificating my life this season.

A couple years ago, Jordan Cooper wrote this article on Christification for Patheos  and it’s what we are (trying to be) about in Advent.  I can’t become Christ. But I can seek to become more like the Incarnate One.

It usually feels easier these days just to get angry or curl up in a ball of grief.  But even Patton Oswalt has arisen because it’s the only way to get through the day. He does it for his daughter.  We do it for our children or our country or maybe our God.

God did it for us.  It never gets old.  It can’t be memed.

A Love Letter to Straight White Guys

white-jesusDear Straight White Guys,

We go way back – you and I.  My dad was a SWG, not to mention my brothers, my sons, and my handsome husband.  All straight.  All white males.

I love you guys.  You have had a huge positive impact in my life.  And you SWG friends have been so important to me. You’ve been my colleagues, my confidants, my mentors.

Increasingly,  I hear from some of you that things are not as easy as they used to be.  After hundreds (thousands?) of years of being in charge, it’s no longer assumed that you will get the job, receive the respect, or gain the acceptance. Nevertheless, you are more likely – than men of color – to avoid arrest and incarceration. For what it’s worth, I have straight white male friends and family who have been caught drinking under age, smoking weed, speeding behind the wheel, and trespassing. But they were warned, not arrested.

It’s also true that – if you are a clergyman – you are probably earning more money than a clergywoman with comparable experience. And in other occupations, you are – on average – still earning more than the women in your field. This is a global truth.

You still run the world. Most CEOs are your same gender, race and sexual orientation. So are most business owners, journalists, financiers, movie directors, and politicians. Every president of the United States – except one – has been a SWG. You have been the privileged ones regardless of your socioeconomic situation by virtue of your skin tone and orientation.

It’s also true that some of you are struggling. Please know that nobody deserves economic hardship, underemployment, or humiliation. But also know that Black and Brown men have endured bias against them simply because of the color of their skin for centuries. Gay and transgender men have lived at grave personal risk for centuries.  People who are not White have been subjected to laws created specifically for them which have limited their movement, their opportunities, and their general freedoms.

I love the Straight White Men in my life.  You know I do. But I am asking you to consider these things:

  • If you are feeling that life is not as easy as it once was for you, know that it hasn’t been easy for men of color or BGTQ men for the majority of human history. This is a wonderful opportunity to gain insights on your brothers’ experiences.
  • If you are offended when men of color or BGTQ men succeed, please check your sense of entitlement.  You are not the only ones created in the image of God.
  • If you are threatened by women who are smart and strong, please note that having smart, strong wives and daughters is a sign of your own intelligence and strength.
  • If you work with women, remember that they do not exist for you and they do not belong to you.  They, too, were created in God’s image.  It’s in the Bible – if that carries any weight for you.

It’s never easy to relinquish power. But in this season of Advent, we who are expecting Jesus remember that even God relinquished power for the sake of love. If we are called to live in the likeness of Jesus, perhaps we are also called – from time to time – to relinquish power for the sake of love.

In the meantime, I don’t want to live without you guys. Know that I love and appreciate you. Thanks for stepping back and stepping up for the sake of love.

Let’s keep talking – Jan

PS Jesus of Nazareth wasn’t White no matter who thinks so.



Helping Rhonda

womens-building-san-franciscoAbout six months ago, I got a new phone.  Clearly the number used to belong to Rhonda because I immediately starting receiving calls for her.

I don’t answer the phone when the number isn’t immediately recognized and so – when I didn’t pick up – quite a few voice mail messages were left for me.  In spite of my “This is Jan Edmiston, please leave a message” intro, my messages sounded like these:

Rhonda!  Girl, where the @#% are you?  Don’t think you can get away with this.

Hello.  This call is for Rhonda ___.  Please contact us immediately regarding your back payments for ____.

This call is for Rhonda ___.  This is the third warning regarding your credit card payment.  Please make full payment by ___ or call us at ___ for further arrangements.

You can’t hide from me, girl.  I am going to find you and when I do I’m going to *%^# you and your dog.

Rhonda is clearly in trouble.  I got another call for her just yesterday.  State Farm Insurance said they’ve been looking for her for several months and  – in the mean time – they promise to remove my number from her contact information.

Somewhere in this country, there is a woman named Rhonda who is hiding or trying to escape or feeling overwhelmed with debts or all the above.  She is not the only one.  There are thousands of Rhondas out there.

But this Rhonda is my special concern.  We share a phone number.

I pray she is not alone in her burdens.  I hope she is safe.  I ask that – if you are in a position to help a person in trouble this season – you will help.  The person you assist might be my Rhonda.  Thank you.

I’m keeping my eyes open for a Rhonda this season too.

Image of The Women’s Building on 18th Street in San Francisco.  The mural was originally painted in 1994 by Juana Alicia, Miranda Bergman, Edythe Boone, Susan Kelk Cervantes, Meera Desai, Yvonne Littleton, Irene Perez, and others.