What’s Great About Being White

White Privilege Make up LineMy first workshop today at #PHLWPC17 was called “Laughing Out White (Superiority)” with Jackie Battalora.  Obviously humor dilutes tensions and speaks truth in ways that we might not hear it otherwise. There are things Chris Rock can say about being black or Margaret Cho can say about being Asian that I cannot say.  But I can speak about my white experience.

We were asked to write a (funny) list about What’s Great About Being White.  None of us are comedians, but some of these are funny.

WHAT’S GREAT ABOUT BEING WHITE (with gratitude to our workshop groups):

  1. You’re the same color as Santa.
  2. And Jesus.*
  3. Nobody randomly touches our hair.
  4. You can play any ethnicity in the movies.
  5. It took ten times to arrest Winona Ryder for shoplifting.
  6. Because your family always went to camp and not just between the years of 1941 and 1945.
  7. You can drive a Lexus through any neighborhood and not be pulled over.
  8. You have so many makeup choices.  (See image)

My particular group reflected on the number of makeup choices white people have.  So, is this funny in any way to you?  Or does it sound like the post of an angry white lady?  As I sit through these talks, I feel more sad and overwhelmed.  We can do better, America.

*Actually Jesus’ complexion was most likely similar the complexions of these people.

Image of our workshop group’s imaginary White Privilege Line of makeup.

I Can See You Roll Your Eyes


As you read this, I’m arriving in Philly for the White Privilege Conference.
(Thank you Synod of Lincoln Trails.)

I can see your eyes rolling, my friends.

Among the comments posted about the 2015 conference:

So there’s that.

Warren Buffett  – who is nobody’s wild-eyed liberal – has said this:  “My wealth has come from a combination of living in America, some lucky genes, and compound interest. Both my children and I won what I call the ovarian lottery. (For starters, the odds against my 1930 birth taking place in the U.S. were at least 30 to 1. My being male and white also removed huge obstacles that a majority of Americans then faced.)”  I would venture to say that a majority of Americans (i.e. females, people of color) still face those obstacles.

I also won the ovarian lottery. I enjoy a great deal of privilege based wholly on the fact that I happened to be born in the United States of America with parents who could provide everything from piano lessons to braces to a college education.  Plus my skin is white.

There are other privileges I enjoy based on the fact that I can walk, hear, see, and think fairly clearly.  But one of my greatest privileges – one that has certainly opened door or at least not closed them – is my skin color.

Yes, race is a social construct.  But I am judged on my skin color and so are you. That is a fact. And in my case, those judgments have almost always made my life easier.

I’m attending this conference in hopes that I will learn how to make somebody else’s life easier for the sake of the Gospel.  And I hope to share some of what I learn.  Please try not to roll your eyes.




Imagine getting a resume that announced from the bold-typed first line:

William Jones, BUMS

(Note:  BUMS is the academic acronym for Bachelor of Unani Medicine and stained glass window with conf flagSurgery.  It’s a real degree.)

My twenty-something son whose ink has been covered up for assorted job interviews teaches high school kids that you can’t show up for a summer job interview wearing bathing suit shorts unless you hope to be a life guard.

If your business holds a press conference on a new venture for women and the three employees at the mikes are all men, somebody will notice.  And not take your seriously.

Optics are obviously huge.  And in Church World, optics are sometimes overlooked to the detriment of our ministry.

  • Who is staffing your refreshments table after worship?  Is it the person who best represents the hospitality of your congregation?
  • Do you self-describe as open and inclusive but your artwork, your website, and your Up Front People reflect only one race/ethnicity/sexual orientation/gender?
  • Do you say you value children in church but the nursery toys are all broken?

Consider paying a  few strangers $20 each to do a walk through of your church building, digital presence, and worship experience for an Optics Review.  We might be surprised by what strangers notice.

Image of a window in the National Cathedral in Washington, DC.  There are plans to remove the window according to this.

The Future of Ministry is All About . . . Curiosity

Top executives from Fortune 500 companies offer sage advice about the Firstquestion-mark-painting Day On The Job in this article and it’s all about curiosity.  The same could be said for ministry – professional or your everyday variety.

Fortune 500 leaders advise this:

  • Don’t be intimidated. (Even though you’re new, come in ready to learn.)
  • Learn every day. (You don’t know everything no matter how seasoned you are.)
  • Ask questions. (Be willing to learn from everybody.)
  • Focus on relationships. (Building trust creates a team.)
  • Be patient. (You might have to ask proactively for feedback if you aren’t getting any.)
  • Put yourself in the customers’ shoes. (It helps focus on what people really want.)

For those of us engaged in ministry, curiosity always makes us better leaders, When starting a new job/program/project/team/mission:

  • Don’t be intimidated.  (If God has called you, it’s going to be fine.)
  • Learn every day.  (Acquaint yourself with the resumes of your team.  Expect to learn from them.)
  • Ask questions.  (“Why?” is the best question of all.  Why do we do it this why?  Why has this been our practice?)
  • Focus on relationships.  (Be authentic.)
  • Be patient.  (It takes time to shift a church’s culture.)
  • Put yourself in your neighbor’s shoes.  (I guess we could say that our neighbors are also our ‘customers’ but most of all, be partners with those we serve.  Jesus served alongside the poor, the sick, the oppressed.  Be like Jesus.)

Last week, I was honored to spend three days with some of the newest pastors in my denomination.  We’ve been together for the last three years, gathering for two retreats per year.  Last week was our sixth and last retreat.

What makes these not-so-new-anymore pastors so extraordinary is that they are curious human beings.  They are not know-it-alls.  They know the value of taking further classes and reading books and studying.

I know seasoned pastors who haven’t taken a class in years.  They only attend conferences if they are the leaders.  They come into most situations believing they already know what they need to know.  Their ministry is stagnant.

The future of effective ministry is curiosity.  Being curious about everything from the people we serve to the people we work alongside to the world in which God has placed us is everything.

Image source.


Doing Nothing


After ten days of rib-bruising hacking and other basic cold symptoms, three retreats, and assorted beyond-the-usual-work-things activities, I canceled a work trip to San Diego to recover.  This is not something I do.

So now I am home Doing Nothing in the hopes of regaining my health and more.

Doing Nothing for me usually means:

  • Having time to pay bills, sort laundry, clean out the fridge, and update my Angie’s List and Yelp reviews.
  • Catch up on Thank You notes.
  • Bake.

But this time I am really Doing Nothing.  (Note:  this blog post is my last until the hacking subsides.)  May you find the time to Do Nothing soon.

On the Cusp of Retirement: Cliff Explains It All

“I was trained that this is a lifetime calling.  I feel blessed that it’s worked out for me.” 

Note: Cliff Lyda is my brother in Christ and my friend.  And for the past three Cliff Lydayears, he and I have partnered in facilitating the 23rd group of New Pastors in our Synod.  The following wisdom was shared last night with the twelve not-so-new-anymore pastors who gathered for our sixth and final retreat.  Cliff retires from professional ministry in May after 42 years of service. These words are Cliff’s, as noted by me (Jan.)

We all know that there are challenges in the life of ministry.  But here are five struggles that might inform your ministry, especially if you are years or decades away from retirement yourselves:

  1. There will be a lifelong struggle with ego.  Our egos are inflated if for no other reason than because “we speak for God.” But it’s more complicated than that:  Too much ego and you’ll be in trouble.  Not enough ego and you’ll be in trouble.  You can’t be too self- assured and – at the same time – you can’t be a doormat.  Ego management is a very serious issue if you want to be successful in ministry.
  1. Too many accommodations will damage your personality. Ministry means making constant accommodations:  We accommodate ourselves to the culture of the church.  We accommodate ourselves to the expectations of the people to whom we minister.  We accommodate ourselves to “what a minister is supposed to look like, act like” etc.  We accommodate ourselves to everything from where we take our vacations to the kind of car we want to drive.  (i.e. They can’t be too extravagant or people will talk.) We say yes when we wish we’d said no.  Over time, this constant accommodation will damage our personalities and leave us angry, resentful, and vulnerable, unless we take care of ourselves.
  1. There will be many “Blows to the Head.”  Think what happens when football players get blows to the head.  Blows to the head in ministry are all the things that happen to us:  friends leave the church for different reasons.  They might still like us but they don’t like the denomination anymore.  Or they simply want to leave the church and they need to create a reason so that it will make sense.  (i.e. They are angry with us.)  Of course we take it personally.  It hurts.  There are other kinds of blows to the head: Attempts to undermine us.  People who tell you one thing and do another.  People who take swings at us.  And all these experiences will impact our ministry enormously.  It’s like a concussion.  (For days, I’m in a daze.)  We went into the ministry believing that everything and everyone would be nice and good, but – actually – if we don’t learn to become spiritually and politically savvy, we won’t last long.
  1. We will develop scar tissue. I did my first church funeral in 1980. I don’t know what the number is, but I’ve lost a lot of people.  Don’t think those scars don’t layer.  Ours is a relational profession and relationships end.  People move.  They die.  Over time the number of losses will affect you and too much scar tissue hardens us.  Dealing creatively with loss – your own loss – is essential.
  1. No one warned me that I would become “a heretic” over time. We are meant to progress in our faith and so orthodoxies will get shattered.  We might find that we become better with pagans than with church people.  No longer is God in a box because our faith becomes broader.

Final note from Jan:  Many of our new pastors will not last 42 years for a wide variety of reasons.  But all of us can benefit from the wisdom of one who has done ministry well.  Thanks Cliff.

Authentic and teachable pastors are like gold.

Remember Those Binders Full of Women?

[Note:  I am a white clergywoman.]

rainbow binders

Back in the 2012  election, one presidential candidate mentioned in a debate that when he was governor, he sought out female leaders to appoint to his cabinet. When only male applicants had applied, he approached women’s groups who provided “binders full of women” for the governor to consider.  See this for a refresher.

For the record, I also have binders of women.  Actually they are PDFs in a computer file.

I collect the dossiers of exceptional women because we still live in a world in which male pastors are favored.  I have nothing against male pastors.  But I admit before you and God that I have a special place in my heart for clergywomen and specifically for clergywomen of color for the sake of justice.

Last week I came across this article:  Why the Gender Leadership Gap Is So Much Worse for Women of Color.  We know this story –  or we should.  “There are more women working today than ever before (55% of the total global workforce).  Women earn the majority of university degrees according to data from Census reports

Yet female leadership numbers remain dismal.  For women of color, this gap is even wider.”


So here’s what really struck me:   ” . . . this is not a pipeline problem.” Apparently, in the secular world, there are many women of color in “the pipeline.”  They are well educated and talented; they just don’t get the interviews or the jobs.

I don’t think this is the situation in Church World.  Women – and specifically women of color – still do not get the interviews or the jobs sometimes. But I don’t think we have a huge number of women of color “in the pipeline.”  Please correct me if I’m mistaken.

  • How many women of color are under care of our denominations in preparation for ordination (in denominations that ordain women)?
  • How many women of color are in the Master of Divinity programs of our seminaries and divinity schools?
  • How many of our girls of color are encouraged by their church leaders to consider professional ministry as a vocation?

In 2012 26% of the clergy in my denomination were female.  Of those 7% were women of color.  But here’s the thing:  the African American, Asian American, and Latina clergywomen I know are among the finest pastors in the Church today. They are profoundly gifted.  Why aren’t there more women of color serving our congregations?

In my experience as a person who works with congregations,  some of our racial- ethnic churches will not will not interview women at all and many of our predominantly white churches will not interview women of color.

Although I have hope that this will change in the future, some of us in leadership positions can make a difference now.  There’s more we can do besides collect binders.

  • We can invite women of color to informational interviews so that we know them and can encourage them to apply to openings (while also encouraging search committees to consider them)
  • We can take note of women of color who are in leadership in their congregations and talk with them about seminary.
  • We can become familiar with women of color in our and in other denominations and keep them in mind when asked to suggest names to Pastor Nominating Committees.

Why do I suggest these things?  It’s not to fulfill quotas or give special breaks. It’s to give talented leaders who are often overlooked a fair chance. And frankly, it’s selfish:  we in the Church are missing out when the best leaders are not considered and – many times –  the best leaders are clergywomen of color.

P.S.  We who have ecclesiastical power are called to open the doors for all people who are called by God.  There are many LBGTQ clergy or potential clergy who – also – do not have it easy in the call process.  More about that later.



What’s Really Going On? (It Makes a Difference in Our Ministry)

[T]he knowledge of God and the knowledge of ourselves are bound together by a mutual tie . . .   John Calvin*

5180807921_17d9954f77_bLate one night I was called to the hospital to sit with a beloved parishioner.  She was fine, but a frenemy of hers was dying and 1) she didn’t want him to die alone and 2) she didn’t want to be alone with him when he died.

I threw on some jeans and a sweatshirt and met her at his bedside.  He was already on the cusp of eternity and as we sat through the wee hours together K. regaled me with stories about what a terrible person this guy was.  Seriously, he was not a good guy.  But she was a really good person and she didn’t want his life to end without an advocate present.

After several hours, a hospital chaplain came into the room, took at look at the scene before her and assumed that K was the grieving soon-to-be-widow and I must be their grieving daughter.  She introduced herself but she didn’t ask who we were, how we were, and why we were sitting there.  She invited us to pray so we all held hands while she offered up to God some earnest requests that the Spirit would comfort both this devastated woman as she witnessed her husband’s death and their broken daughter as they said good-bye.  The whole time we were praying, K squeezed my hand so hard that I thought she’d break it.

The chaplain left, K and I burst into gales of laughter, and then we stayed through the night until the man passed away.  I always imagined tracking down that chaplain later to share what our experience had been versus what her experience had been.

What the chaplain might have thought:  “I’m so glad I could be there to bring peace and comfort to that grieving mother-daughter team in their hour of darkness as their much-loved husband and father died.

What K and I thought:  “She had no idea how ridiculous that whole scenario went down.

One of the most basic spiritual disciplines involves distinguishing between what we think is going on versus what’s really going on.  One of the differences between an effective minister and an ineffective minister (and by “minister” I mean anyone serving others) is genuinely knowing who we are and how we come across to others.  As I work with people preparing for professional ministry, being authentic and knowing ourselves is everything.

*From The Institutes of the Christian Religion, 1.1.2-3

Image source.

Where Does Your Pastor Stand?

bible-at-pulpitThe Bible is an equal opportunity offender.  We can find verses to support our political views.  And we can find verses to support the opposite of our political views.

So what about the pastor who is “never political” or the pastor who “never makes waves“?  Some parishioners seek this kind of pastor.  Nobody gets offended.  Nobody feels uncomfortable.  I’ve heard church people boast that “nobody knows where our pastor stands on anything” as if that’s a good thing.

Note what I’m not saying here:

  • I’m not saying that preachers should tell people how to vote.
  • I’m not saying that God is a Democrat or a Republican.  (Or a Libertarian or a Whig or a . . .)
  • I’m not saying that we preachers should ever presume that we know the full mind of God.

I’m saying that:

  • Jesus said a lot about money (and his words convict us all)
  • Jesus was shockingly provocative about how we are supposed to treat our enemies, the untouchables, the powerless.
  • Jesus was a counter intuitive leader (e.g. the first shall be last)
  • Jesus was killed because he preached radical love to the point of being charged with trying to overturn the powers.

I’m saying that if we aren’t preaching about the evils of racism, idolatry, misogyny, greed, and inhospitality then we are failing to convey the way of Jesus. It will make some of our people uncomfortable but God calls us to notice when our brothers and sisters are hurting.

Again, the Bible is an equal opportunity offender.  Some of us need to be comforted.  Some of us need to be unsettled.  All of us need more than entertainment or pats on the head from our spiritual leaders.

We who believe Jesus rose up from death are called to help others rise up. Where do we stand on this?  Where are our pastors on this?


That Time I Thought My Dad Wrote “Up From the Grave”

Up from the GraveMy Dad awakened us – especially on Easter morning  – with a clear tenor voice singing a song I thought he’d made up.  It was a melding of theological and familial lyrics.  A family favorite along with “Is Everybody Happy?” and “Doodle Bug, Doodle Bug Come Get Your Butter Bread.”

Imagine my shock to be sitting in the preacher’s chair on Easter morning 1984 to hear the choir of my first parish sing it as the opening anthem.  I was almost too stunned to lead worship.

It was one of many moments when I would realize that – in fact – my family and I were not the center of the universe.

  • Not everybody played Monopoly by the rules we played it.
  • Not everybody made lasagna the way Mom made it.
  • Not everybody got summer vacations at the beach.
  • Not everybody was Christian (or even believed in God) aka The-Great-Debate-Dad-had-on-a-Train-in-the-UK-with-a-Young- Atheist-in-the-Early-1980s.
  • Not everybody voted.
  • Not everybody went to college.
  • Not every successful person was American.  (Embarrassing but true: it was news to me when I realized that the Rolling Stones were from the UK.)
  • Not everybody went to the dentist.
  • Not everybody had air conditioning.
  • Not everybody had a passport.

And my Dad didn’t write “Up From the Grave He Arose.”  Major shock.

So part of my resurrection discipline is to continue this process of opening my eyes to the world and acknowledging how little I know about it.  During Lent, I met White Christians who still struggle to get the Confederate flag out of their sanctuaries, Presbyterian sisters and brothers whose church property includes a slave cemetery, other Presbyterians trying to heal deep and horrible wounds in Jasper, TX.  I’ve watched my home state decide to restrict the rights of LGBTQ citizens.

Resurrection is about Jesus rising from the grave.  It’s also about us reaching out to other children of God so that they might rise up to live with the dignity and respect that Jesus never got.  Jesus died for them, as well as for me and mine.