Making New Friends As A Middle-Aged Adult

I once observed three preschoolers checking out the new kittens at the vet while their respective parents were talking about canine flu and dog meds with the doctors.  It was fascinating.

In a matter of minutes, the three children from three different families had exchanged their names and their dogs’ names.  They had each pointed out which grown up was their particular parent.  They had shared a couple of jokes.  They had discussed the possibilities of taking home one of those kittens.  And they were making arrangements to hang out together.  “Maybe you could come to my birthday party,” one little boy offered the other two.  Seriously.  They were making social plans less than ten minutes after meeting by the kitten kennel.

Last night I attended a one night hand lettering class offered through Skill Pop at the suggestion of a colleague thinking I’d learn a new skill and – if I was really lucky – I’d make a new friend who had nothing to do with church.

Two things to note:

1- I love my church friends.

2- Crafts are not my thing unless we’re talking about arranging a cheese board.

I indeed met some fun women at my table – a couple of twenty-something women who work together and brought wine.  There was another woman who looked like somebody I’d love to be friends with – creative, mom of three grown kids and two step-kids, native New Yorker, young grandmother, cool haircut and fun eyeglasses.  We chatted about everything from having babies to hormone-related acne.  (Like I said, we were all women at this table.)  I got some shopping tips.  The young women offered to share their prosecco.  But I left with my art work and no plans to meet my classmates for coffee.  No one invited me to her birthday party.

Actually, if one of those women had invited me to her birthday (or any) party, I probably would have felt awkward.  I mean we had just met.

Most of us meet new friends through work – which is great – but work-related friends have boundary implications.  Many of us have old friends from childhood or high school or college – which is also great – but with different work schedules and family schedules, it can be hard to get together.

I frankly like to be alone but it’s a new adjustment as I now live alone for the first time in many decades.  I’m grateful that HH is just a phone call away, but it’s weird not turning to him on the sofa to tell him something that happened today.  We’ll figure it out.

Figuring out how to make friends as an adult is trickier.  Nevertheless I’ll be taking more Skill Pop classes – mostly for the classes, but you never know.

Image from Skill Pop.

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“That’s the Best Thing a Church Has Ever Done”

Okay – calm down.  It probably wasn’t the best thing the Church has ever done, but it was pretty great.  This video is 14 minutes long but if you don’t want to watch it, just keep reading . . .

I took a Lyft to the airport last Friday, leaving General Assembly early for a wedding in Philadelphia. It had been a great week for a long list of reasons and I was staring into space and relishing the memories when this conversation happened:

Lyft Driver Kevin:  Were you here for a conference?

Me:  Yes, the Presbyterian Church USA.  You might have seen us on the news Tuesday night.  We were on the local Fox channel.

LDK: Why were you on the news?

Me:  We marched from the Convention Center to the Courthouse with $47,000 to bail out some people who couldn’t pay their cash bail.  It was our worship offering from Saturday.

LDK:  Your church did that?

Me:  Well, it’s not just my church.  But yes, we did that.  We paid the bail to release about 3 dozen non-violent offenders.  It was pretty great.

We got to the airport, pulled over, and when we went to his trunk to retrieve my luggage, Kevin said, “I feel like I’ve met a friend today.  That’s the best thing the Church has ever done.”  And he hugged me good-bye.

This is what the world is looking for, my friends:  less talking, more concrete ministry that helps those in need here and now.  It wasn’t the very best thing the Church has ever done, but – like I said to Kevin – it was pretty great.

Image  by Danny Bolin from the march on June 19 march led by the Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, Stated Clerk of the Presbyterian Church USA.  You can still donate to this action here.

Sometimes We Get It Wrong

Yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling to affirm the ban on travelers from Iran, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Venezuela and North Korea (five of those nations being predominantly Muslim) felt like an anti-American mistake to some of us.  Writing for the minority, Justice Sonia Sotomayor called the decision “gravely wrong.”  She compared it to the 1944 Supreme Court decision that allowed the detention of Japanese-Americans during World War II – a decision that has since been overruled.  Donald Trump called for a “Muslim ban” in 2015 and although he has tweaked that message as President, his travel bans still smack of sanctions against a particular religion. This is inconsistent with the principles of our democracy and with the message of Jesus.

Sometimes even our Supreme Court gets it wrong.

The same is true for Church councils and courts.  Sometimes we get it wrong.

Presbyterians believe that – in the context of an equal number of ruling elders and teaching elders (pastors) at the General Assembly every two years, the commissioners  – guided by advisory delegates and informed by the 170 Presbyteries  – are charged with “discerning and presenting with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, matters of truth and vision that may inspire, challenge, and educate both church and world” (Book of Order, G-3.0501c).

This is how the General Assembly makes decisions and in the case of constitutional changes, those decisions must be further approved by a majority of those 107 Presbyteries.  (Note:  For God so loved the world, God didn’t send a committee.)

This is how my denomination has discerned changes in everything from the ordination of women to the decision not to wholly divest from fossil fuels – and many, many things in between.

Some believe that last week’s decision to vote down divestment from all fossil fuel stocks in denominational investments was not the faithful decision.  Others believe it was the right decision for this time.

Sometimes we get it wrong and sometimes we get it right and truth (with a small “t”) is like that.  It changes.

My hope is that one day the Papal Head of the Roman Catholic Church will discern that it’s “right” to ordain women and allow priests to marry.

My hope is that one day my siblings in the other Presbyterian denominations will discern that it’s indeed “right” to recognize that God calls faithful LGBTQIA people into leadership.

My hope is that one day soon, fossil fuels will be replaced by alternatives that do not wreck the earth.  Especially for our faithful siblings whose livelihoods come from oil companies, know that your calling as Christians includes caring for this Earth that God gave us.

All of us need to do better in caring for the planet.

All of us need to educate ourselves about our Muslim neighbors.

This is how we get it right.

Images are The Four Justices by Nelson Shanks (2013) which hangs in the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC and from the 223rd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church USA in the St. Louis Convention Center last week.  [Note:  Not all the Justices of the Supreme Court are women.]

Long Ago When I Used to Read The New Yorker Cover to Cover

I was a lonely pastor in my twenties.  I lived alone in a town of 400 and was the solo pastor of a lovely church with a very part-time organist and – until she died after tripping over the mimeo machine in her kitchen – a volunteer bulletin person.

It was the kind of place where people phoned me if they saw a light on in the manse at 3 am – concerned that I might be sick.  It was the kind of place where – if out of town guests were visiting – everyone commented on the out of state cars in the driveway.

It was the kind of place where I left town on my Sabbath – either taking the train to NYC for an overnight with ALC or driving the short distance to Manchester, VT for the day where I ate blueberry pancakes at a little place across the street from an independent book store.  And then I spent the rest of the day in that book store.  I read art books and poetry and it saved my life in terms of my loneliness.

I also read The New Yorker cover to cover every week because it was my escape.  I lived in far upstate rural New York and it connected me to the city.

Sometimes I wrote notes to Peter Cameron after reading one of his stories and sometimes he wrote back.  Once I attended a reading by May Sarton at the independent book store and I wrote her too.  She sent me a an autographed book of her poems.  I had time to do those things.  Living alone = more alone time.

Today, for the first time in a long time, I read The New Yorker cover to cover.  I read about construction issues at the 21 Club and about the sad Paisley Park museum where Prince used to live.  I read a cute story by Simon Rich and a book review for Famous Father Girl: A Memoir of Growing Up Bernstein by Leonard Bernstein’s oldest daughter.  I read some articles about politics in Mexico and looked at all the cartoons.  It was like eating dessert all day long.

Call me elitist/blessed/lucky.  Whatever you wish.  But what’s lovely today is that TDA and I are the former co-moderators of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church USA.  So I took Monday off.

Cover of The New Yorker on August 28, 1965.  (Mom’s 32nd birthday)

 

We Have a Hate Crisis

Why do so many of us seem to hate each other?  While it appears that we have an enormous immigration problem in our country, the bigger issue is that we have a hate problem.

This opinion piece by Paul Krugman last week spelled out a couple of explanations for why our personal hate quotients seem to have ratcheted up, especially in light of the turmoil on the US-Mexican border.

  1. Misinformation about immigrants at the border is rampant.  Immigrants rarely take our jobs or murder our children.  In fact, there is a negative correlation between violent crime and undocumented immigrants.  Most Americans do not want jobs that involve picking tomatoes eight hours a day or cleaning hotel bathrooms.  And whether people are being held in cages, tents, or barracks, the language around housing for immigrants is emotional and terrifying and can be incendiary.
  2. People tend to hate/distrust what is unfamiliar.  According to the Krugman article “The most anti-immigrant states seem to be places, like West Virginia, where hardly any immigrants live.”  Even if we do not have immigrants (or other groups that are often hated because “they aren’t like us“) in our communities, we need to try to learn.
  3. Too many people are okay with our President name-calling and sharing false information – as long as the economy is strong.  Using words about people like infest are dehumanizing.  Dehumanizing language literally kills people.

Just to be clear, righteous indignation and anger are not the problem.  Even God gets angry.

Jesus was angry when he witnessed injustice.  That Cleansing the Temple story is important enough in Scripture to be mentioned four times:  overturning tables and chairs according to the Gospels of Matthew and Mark, simply driving out the temple salesmen in Luke and pulling out a whip in John.

This is not the same as stirring up a crowd with epithets and lies.

There are times when righteous indignation is our responsibility:  when innocent people are being targeted, when there is no one speaking for the poor and powerless, when bullies are terrorizing people, when lies are proclaimed as truth.  If we are not speaking up in righteous indignation in those situations, we are as guilty of denying Christ as Peter.  Remember that story?

So what do we do when we interact with someone whose behavior has been hateful?  Do we heckle them in restaurants?  Do we refuse to serve them? Do we shame them in return for shaming others?  Jesus has told us what to do about these situations, but it’s very hard.  It takes a level of spiritual maturity that I do not yet have.

When our leaders seem to delight in shaming people, it’s important to speak up against that evil, but it’s not okay to return the evil for evil.

So . . . how to we tone down our culture’s Crisis of Hate?  I have a couple ideas.

  • When we hear something outrageous, we need to do our research.  Was Sarah Huckabee Sanders “kicked out” of the Red Hen Restaurant over the weekend?  Actually, it sounds like what happened was less dramatic and more thoughtful.  Check it out.
  • When we are confronted by someone who profoundly disagrees with us, we need to listen to them.  (And listening is not waiting for our turn to talk.)
  • We need to learn from each other. Why is my neighbor terrified of transgender people?  Why have parents risked their lives and the lives of their children to come to Texas from Honduras and El Salvador and Guatemala?  What can I learn from the undocumented person in my Church or my school?  What can I learn from the former coal miner or the addict or the barrista or the English as a Second Language teacher or the Black Lives Matter protester in my town?

We have got to take a breath and try hard to see each other through God’s eyes.  We have got to fight the hate that is bubbling around us – and in our own hearts.  It’s going to kill our souls.  And it’s going to kill more bodies.

Image source.

 

 

Too. Many. Words.

I love words. Beautiful words artfully placed together by the likes of Toni Morrison and Mary Oliver and Lin Manuel Miranda can change lives.

But sometimes there are too many words and this post is written after a week of reading overtures, manuals, articles, liturgies, indices, and quite a few tweets.  These are my end-of-the-week thoughts about words in Church World.

  1. No wonder the average person thinks Church is irrelevant when we spend more time in committees discussing the use of upper case vs lower case letters than having conversations with the people around us.
  2. Boxed factoids are a quick read and they spark interest:
    1. Did you know that Presbyterians in St. Louis during the General Assembly last week bailed out over 3 dozen poor, non-violent offenders who could not pay their cash bail for minor offenses?
    2. Did you know that there’s an Arabic speaking Presbyterian Church in Des Moines, Iowa led by a clergywoman from South Sudan?
    3. Did you know that members of the PCUSA have donated over 1.5 million dollars in grants to Puerto Rico since Hurricane Maria hit the island in 2016?
    4. Did you know that the Presbyterian Church has 220 congregations and 22 schools serving 6000 students in Pakistan?
  3.  Long form articles go unread much/most of the time.  (Are we still printing church newsletters with “musings from the pastor“?)
  4. We clergy like to hear our own voices.  Invite Ruling Elders to talk more.

It’s been a long week of words but – the great news – is that many of those words moved people:  the words of a young man who felt safe enough to come out in a room full of siblings in Christ, the words of the second Arabic-speaking woman ordained in the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon, the words of children asking questions at the communion table, the words of installation to new Co-Moderators of the General Assembly.

But let’s use our words wisely and sparingly.  We have a lot of listening to do.

I Don’t Want to Love Ivanka

Worship yesterday morning at the PCUSA’s 223rd General Assembly was going to be especially wonderful because Najla Kassab would be our preacher. I met Najla in Lebanon last year and ever since I’ve become a shameless Fan Girl.  She is extraordinary.

And then God promptly cracked me over the head via Najla’s sermon.  Najla preached on this text and suddenly, surprisingly Ivanka’s face popped into my brain when these words were spoken:

First from the Apostle Paul:

“regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation”

Then from Najla:

“Imagine if we saw everyone from a heavenly point of view.” 

And then from God to Jan:

“You can be a new creation only if you see the tender age shelter worker, the immigration officer, and Ivanka through the eyes of Christ.”

I confess before you and God that I have an especially hard time loving Ivanka. She seems to be tone deaf in her social media presence posting professionally posed photos with her own son while other mothers’ sons are being taken out of their arms on the Mexican border.  She seems to care about appearances more than true service, posting a tweet last week (which has since been removed) about the fact that the images of crying children at the border are a PR problem (but not a justice problem?) She seems to be using her proximity to power for enriching herself (coincidentally?) receiving coveted new trademarks in China just prior to her father promising to help President Xi Jinping save the Chinese telecommunications company, ZTE.

And just yesterday, she thanked her father for “taking critical action” on a crisis he himself initiated. 

I do not want to love her.  She strikes me as being the opposite of Jesus.

But I do want to be spiritually mature and whole and able to forgive as I’ve been forgiven.  I cannot change her – or anyone else – but I myself can change with some potent doses of divine help.  But I need to want to accept that help.

Who do you have a hard/impossible time loving?  Consider those people who have hurt the people you love or those who have hurt you:  the bullies, the abusers, the cheaters, the thieves.  And consider those who hurt the innocent in Flint and Syria and Tornillo and Yemen and Nigeria.

Najla preached on the importance of seeking “moments beyond the flesh.”  If we can see people – even those we deem as evil – then we can challenge them without hating them.  Again – this is a profoundly difficult spiritual practice.  Most days, I don’t want to love people like Ivanka.  I really don’t.

But I know that I need deep peace in order to do the work I’m called to do.  As a Church, we are called to have the energy to do what we Presbyterians did on Tuesday.  But we cannot do it well if we are incapacitated by anger towards other human beings.  Anger towards evil actions or lack of action – definitely.  But I for one am trying not to hate people.

It’s not easy.

Image source here.

 

This is What Theology Looks Like

I could not be prouder of my Church today.  About 400 of us marched from the St. Louis Convention Center to the courthouse to share $47,000 to bail out non-violent offenders who could not afford to pay their cash bail.

It has been our hope that the Presbyterian Church USA General Assembly would not merely come into town for a convention but that we would make a practical difference in the lives of regular people in the name of Jesus Christ who spent a lot of time talking about care for the poor.

We continue to meet to discuss issues and changes to our constitution.  But if we achieve nothing else, we have made a difference in the lives of at least three dozen people.

Here’s the local news report.

This is what theology looks like.

A Plea to Churches: Give Our Young Leaders Power

Live from the Presbyterian Church USA 223rd General Assembly in St. Louis:

We elected amazing new Co-Moderators on Saturday night and – as with all votes – “Advisory Delegates” cast their votes first.  And then the actual Commissioners vote after being advised.

Our General Assembly Advisory Delegates include Young Adults (YAADs), Theological Students (TSADs), Ecumenical representatives (EADs), and Missionaries (MADs) and you can read more about them here.  The largest group are the YAADs who range from ages 17-23 and they are among the most important voices at the Assembly . . . except that their voices do not count in the official votes.  They are not voting commissioners.

Please note in my photos from Saturday night that the age breakdown in terms of voting commissioners looks like this:

  • Under Age 20 – 5 (1%)
  • Ages 21-40 – 62 (10%)
  • Ages 41-65 – 277 (53%)
  • Over 65 – 144 (36%)

This looks pretty much the demographics for other denominations, but we have the power to make real changes in our denomination because we do not have bishops.  We can make our “corporate bishop” – the body of the General Assembly – younger by virtue of electing younger commissioners.

All commissioners to GA must be either Ruling Elders or Ministers of the Word and Sacraments and I’ve noticed that Ruling Elders and Ministers of the Word and Sacrament are elected to become official GA Commissioners after:

  • They have suggested their own names or their names have been suggested and then they are elected by their Presbyteries.
  • They have been nominated by a committee and are then elected by their Presbyteries.
  • Someone begs them to go (because nobody seems to want to go) and then they are elected by their Presbyteries.

Ministers of the Word and Sacrament – unless they graduated very early from high school and/or college are at least 24 years old after graduating also from seminary.  Ruling elders can be any age after confirmation – usually at least 13 years old.

As a former Co-Moderator of the 222nd General Assembly and as a former pastor and as a current Mid-Council leader, I am asking/begging/imploring/faithfully encouraging/praying that:

  1. Our congregations will strive to elect faithful teenagers to serve on our Sessions/Boards of Elders
  2. Our Presbyteries will strive to elect at least one commissioner to the 224th General Assembly in Baltimore who is under age 35.

Maybe your congregation does not have “young people.” But if you have a high school within 10 miles of your church building, you have young people in your community. 

  • Why are they not part of your congregation?  (Be careful for what you pray for.  The teenagers in your community might want to change some things.)
  • What is breaking their hearts and are you interested in addressing that issue in the name of Jesus?  If you don’t know or you don’t care, then your church is on the cusp of closing no matter what else you are doing.

There are young clergy people in most of our Presbyteries.  Please – for the love of God – do not use the responsibility of General Assembly Commissioners to reward older pastors for years of devotion to the institution.  Please do not elect commissioners who have no idea how to serve the 21st Century Church.  There are young in heart but older clergy who would also make excellent GA Commissioners in 2020.  Please, please, please start seeking them out now and keep your eye on the young and newly ordained as well.

This is how a denomination thrives:  when we have diversity – including age diversity.

(Also look for diversity in terms of life experience, skin color, gender and sexuality, and theology.  We best reflect God when we reflect the diversity around us that God made.)

I look forward to different age demographics among our voting commissioners in 2020.  Who’s with me?

Images are –  from top down – of the 222nd General Assembly YAADs in 2016, the 223rd General Assembly Advisory Delegate age demographics, and the 223rd General Assembly Commissioners age demographics.

 

 

 

 

Let Me Tell You About the Father of My Children

For the past two years, he has not only supported my ministry serving the General Assembly of our denomination, but he’s been my biggest fan and then some. He has taken me to and picked me up from the airport more times than we can count since June 2016.

His best days are when our kids and I are having great days.

He can be ridiculous in Dad-like ways (note the pants) and he has modeled both integrity and deep faith to our children throughout their lives and especially now that they are young adults.  He is brilliant and kind.  He loves our dog.  He makes healthy smoothies and rubs my feet when I’m exhausted.  A masterful insight or excellent pun from one of the kids makes his day.  He stands up to bullies and he has a soft spot for others who stand up to bullies.  I can’t thank him enough for being who he is and so I thank God.  It was a life-changing day when I met him.  (Thank you Susan Wonderland.)

Happy Father’s Day to the BDE.  LYB.