Living Life When Threat Levels Are “Severe”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s still Eastertide, my friends.


Image source.

Christian Teens Having Sex

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How is your congregation at addressing sex?

What Are Your Personal Religious Relics?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Bearers of Brunts

It’s not easy to be a pastor . . . or a teacher, health professional, caregiver, spouse, parent, child, social worker, housekeeper, office administrator, civil servant, human being.  I have been thinking about those among us who “bear the brunt” of life’s difficulties.  The dictionary describes this as “enduring the worst of bad circumstances.”

Consider . . .

  • The families who bear the brunt of a person’s addiction.
  • The spouses who bear of the brunt of their husband or wife’s dementia.
  • The child who bears the brunt of a parent’s mental illness.
  • The employee who bears the brunt of an employer’s frustration.
  • The poor who bear of brunt of greedy people.
  • The human beings who bear of the brunt of working for an erratic commander-in-chief.

I can’t imagine what they are enduring.

It’s a beautiful day in Chicago this afternoon.  Take a moment to say a word of thanks for someone who has borne your brunt.  Take a moment to imagine what it’s like for those who cannot enjoy the day because they are bearing someone else’s brunt.  And reach out.  Maybe we can give somebody a break.

This post was inspired by this article and all who are enduring the worst in difficult circumstances.

Adventures in Ignorance (Airport Version)

As I was walking from an airplane to baggage claim over the weekend, I heard an announcement that a Protestant Worship Service was about to begin in one of the five interfaith chapels in the Dallas-Ft. Worth International Airport. Who goes to a religious service in an airport?  I almost said this out loud.

I can think of many reasons why people would not do this:

  • We wait in line for baggage checks and security checks.  Who has time to stop by the chapel?
  • If there’s pre-flight time, most people seem to spend it charging their phones or buying a snack.
  • You don’t need a chapel to pray or take a Xanax if you suffer from several aviophobia.

I imagined airport chaplains as faithful volunteers who have a lot of sitcom-worthy stories to tell, assuming that people who seek out the airport chapel services are particularly interesting/strange/easy to mock.

I can imagine makeshift prayer services on an actual airplane in the event of a disaster or a health emergency.  But if had a deep prayer concern at the airport, I would probably not go in search of an airport chaplain.

I did a little research while waiting for my plane trip home.

  • Most major airports have designated chapel areas.  Noted exceptions include Las Vegas and LAX.
  • I wondered if airport employees use these chapels. Over 60,000 employees serve Hartsfield-Jackson Airport in Atlanta, for example, and maybe they appreciate a quiet place to breathe and pray.  (Note:  Disney World depends on about 70,000 employees and they do not have a chapel – although there is a  “designated meditation area” in Epcot’s Morocco Museum.)
  • Maybe travelers use these chapels going to and from difficult destinations like funerals.  I remember that – after airline disasters – trauma specialists often gather in airport chapels to give information to distraught families.

But honestly, I imagined airport chapels as underused spaces staffed by lonely volunteers.  So I asked somebody.

There was a young woman at the Gate 27 desk in DFW and I asked her about the chapel in the airport.  “This might seem like a strange question,” I said, “But do you know anything about the airport chapel?  Does anyone ever use it?

She looked at me like I was daft.  But then she said, “Of course I know about it. It’s especially full on Sundays when people are working or traveling.  I was just at services this morning.”

Adventures in ignorace.  My ignorance.

It’s true that I tend to look askance at something if it’s not familiar to me – as if my own personal experiences are normative for everyone.  If I can’t imagine why anyone would visit an airport chapel, then everyone must have a hard time imagining it, right?

When we otherize people for doing/being something unfamiliar to us, it only shows our own ignorance.  If I’m surprised that people would use an airport chapel, maybe I just don’t know enough about airport chapels.  Or travelers.  Or airport employees.

If why we find ourselves shocked when people vote for a real estate tycoon who has never before run for public office maybe we need to talk to a different set of voters.  If we are stunned that people would gather in Charlottesville with torches chanting, “Russia is our friend” – maybe we need to get out more. Maybe we need to talk with people who don’t think like we think.

Cruelty should always shock us, I believe.  We should never allow injustice to become so normal that it no longer stuns us.

But the everyday lives of regular people vary broadly and I – for one -am ignorant about people who are not like me.  For the record, perfectly wonderful people practice their faith differently than I do and some of them seek out airport chapels while traveling through or working in airports.

One of the great things about what’s going on in our country right now, is that we realize our own ignorance about our neighbors.  Some of them have different experiences and different perspectives from our own.  Maybe we need to make some new connections and try to understand.

Image of one of the Interfaith Chapels in Hartsfield-Jackson Airport in Atlanta.

The Last Time I Begged God for Something . . .

it involved mothering.  In fact, the only times I’ve ever begged God for anything, it involved mothering:

  • Please don’t let my mother die.
  • Please let my mother die.
  • Please save my kids.

We remember moms this weekend.  But I am also remembering that the God I believe in loves me like a mother.  This changes everything for those of us who have mixed feelings about Mothers’ Day.

As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you.  Isaiah 66:13a

Many of us who are or have been or pray we will one day be mothers are reminded this weekend that sometimes we are beggars.

Image is Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 1 (Portrait of the Artist’s Mother) by James Whistler (1871).

When I Say “Poor People” Who Do You Picture?

  • Criminals?
  • Lazy People?
  • Black or Brown People?
  • Drug Addicts?
  • Unlucky People?
  • Cursed People?

On the drive home last night, I heard back to back to back stories about poor people.   They ranged from 1) a single mother with a voucher for Section 8 Housing who – nevertheless – could not find a landlord who would rent to her, to 2) a new book called Generation Wealth (which is “more about wanting than having” money) to 3) the story of Susan Burton who established a program for poor, formerly incarcerated women in Los Angeles.

That last story kept me from wanting to sink into despair, but more about that in a moment.

First I heard a woman in Dallas explain why she didn’t want poor neighbors:

“In this neighborhood, most of us are stay-at-home moms with young kids. The lifestyle that goes with Section 8 is usually working, single moms or people who are struggling to keep their heads above water. I feel so bad saying that. It’s just not people who are the same class as us.”

Then I heard author Lauren Greenfield say that:

“Materialism is the new spirituality.”

Congratulations, all you prosperity ministry preachers and political shamers and blamers:  you have successfully convinced us that people are poor due to their own lack of discipline/lack of ambition/lack of blessing.  You have convinced us that money (or the appearance of money) = class and dignity.

It’s a lie.

Rich and poor people alike sometimes make terrible choices, but the rich enjoy multiple safety nets that make their mistakes less devastating. People of color – even those with financial resources – pay more heavily for their mistakes than white people.  Exhibit A: white kids who get caught drinking under age who do not get shot leaving a party.

Jesus said many things about the poor and I tend to agree with Liz Theoharis who says that Jesus comment that “the poor you will always have with you” is not about the inevitability of poverty; it’s actually a mandate to end the systems that make people poor.

Thriving 21st Century spiritual communities are not merely about “flinging a coin to a beggar” in the words of Dr. King.  “True compassion comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.” Even if you don’t believe that Jesus is the Messiah, you have to agree that Jesus was all about compassion.

And therefore, we are called to be compassionate ourselves.  What makes neighbors like Nicole Humphrey of Dallas say that “voucher holders won’t fit in“?  What makes a kid aspire – most of all – to be “rich and famous” one day? How do we fight the notion that being poor = being bad/less worthy?

About the time I was wondering if there was hope for humanity on that ride home last night, I heard Susan Burton tell her story.  She was a poor woman who shared what she had to give other women the break that no one gave to her.  You can listen here (at about minute 21 on Marketplace, 5-10-17).

Being “good” is not about being rich or poor.  It’s about seeing people as God’s children.  It’s about feeling compassion in the likeness of Christ. It’s about living for something bigger than ourselves.  The Church is called to teach these lessons, especially in a world that worships money and condemns those without it.


Beautiful Things on a Random Tuesday

You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of us*


Yes the world is a hot mess.  But sometimes we simply need to notice the beautiful things around us.  This is what I see today:

  • My neighbor who’s been too sick to leave the house in a while was seen in her front yard today with a cane, smiling.
  • The male goldfinches are electric yellow again.
  • Our backyard looks like Ireland because of all the rain.  (And for a while a duck family was living back there in our temporary pond.)
  • Spence is back from dog camp loving life.
  • The irises are about to bloom.

What do you see?  Extra points if what you see once looked like dust.

*lyrics by Gungor.

(Not so) Secret Tunnels

Who doesn’t love them? Secret tunnels – whether we are talking about priest holes or underground passageways – bring out our inner-mystery lover.  The earliest Christians used tunnels to escape from the Romans within cave systems in Antioch.

But tunnels can also conceal nefarious business.

While finishing up a great weekend with God’s people in Colorado, I learned that tunnels run underneath Longmont.  This is so cool, except I was also told that they were used by the KKK to transport people in the 1920s.

I’ve also been reading about the secret tunnels in George Washington’s Philadelphia house which concealed the comings and goings of his slaves.   “Just steps from the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall”  slaves went in and out of his home unseen by Washington’s colleagues.  And in Jefferson news, restoration efforts at Monticello have revealed a once-secret passageway between Mr. Jefferson’s bedroom and the bedroom of Sally Hemings.

Real history includes both the noble and the shameful.  We like to share stories that make us and our people heroic and honorable, but the truth is that each of us also has an inglorious past.

And our churches each have an inglorious past as well.  I don’t know a single congregation of Good Christian People who have made all the right choices when it comes to following Jesus.  We have chosen to serve ourselves instead of serving the poor or weak.  We have excluded people in cruel ways.  And we have secretly (or not so secretly) included KKK members, Nazis, predators, abusers, and bullies in our numbers without holding them accountable.  We have a history of avoiding “unpleasantness” for the sake of keeping peace, even though that “peace” has corroded our souls.

One role of the 21st Century Church is to uncover secrets that continue to enslave us and bring the light that comes with telling the truth about ourselves. Another role is to provide safe haven for those who are terrified for their lives. As our world continues to be confused about serving the most vulnerable around us, the Church will have a bigger role in modeling what compassion looks like.

Secret tunnels are interesting, but what makes them holy versus what makes them horrible is the direction in which they lead.  Do they lead towards freedom and light  (i.e. the underground railroad?) or do they lead towards death (transporting slaves towards further misery?)

Do our own secrets bring life (surprise party!) or death (shame?)

Image of a cave opening in Antakya, Turkey  (ancient Antioch) which allowed early Christians to escape if their worship space was raided in the first century.

This is What Sin Looks Like

God is neither a Republican nor a Democrat.  The Bible is an equal opportunity offender in terms of politics.  But I’m in search of any Christian who can give me a Biblical case for:

  • removing health care for financially insecure human beings
  • deporting people who fear for their lives in their countries of origin
  • opposing abortion while also opposing support for the care of young families
  • failing to welcome the stranger, especially from poor countries.
  • breaking treaties with sovereign nations, including Native American nations
  • assuming that all people of color are dangerous.

Yes, people disagree about politics.  But can someone please explain to me how anyone who claims to follow Jesus can call for and celebrate political actions that target the poor, the sick, the powerless, the minority, the refugee, the terrified, or the desperate?  Anyone?

PS America is not a white nation.

Image source.