Category Archives: Uncategorized

Who We Say We Are and Who We Really Are

I hear from pastors fairly regularly that the church they’ve been called to serve is not who they said they were when that pastor was interviewing to lead them.  Examples:

  • Church A says they want to reach out beyond the walls of their sanctuary when what they really mean is that they want to attract people who look like them who want to participate in the mission they’re already doing.
  • Church B says that they want to be more “diverse” when what they really mean is that they are happy to welcome 1-2 families who don’t look like them as long as they act like them.
  • Church C says that they are excited about moving forward into the future but what they really mean is that they want their former pastor to participate in future weddings and funerals and they can’t bear to let the church administrator go even though she doesn’t want to learn new computer skills.

I was reading about an upcoming course at Columbia Theological Seminary yesterday which is being offered because the pastor’s vision conflicts with the congregations (authentic) vision.

Despite rhetoric and confessed beliefs about Gospel mission and mandate, it remains true that congregations are a type of religious community. As such, they operate more like family or tribe despite also being a body organized around a mission. Simply put, congregations, as communities have a tendency to be bounded, focused inward, generative, and focused on self-preservation. None of those are “bad” in and of themselves, but their reality can hint at why it is so difficult for clergy to move a congregation toward an outward-looking, missional ministry orientation. Israel Galindo

Amen and amen.

Every day I talk with congregations who minimize the differences between who they say they are and who they are.  And this is what’s placed us where we are today as the institutional Church.

We say we want to be disciples of Jesus Christ and follow the way of Jesus.  But actually we want to survive as an institution.  We only want to change when we have no choice but we continue to believe we have lots of choices.

Here’s the Good News:  Jesus’ Church is thriving at this very moment as we can’t worship in sanctuaries.  God is working in the thick of this to remind us that our basic purpose in life is to glorify God and enjoy God forever.

We are still doing this without church buildings and face to face board meetings.  Once God came to show us up close and personal what it looks like to be the living Word.  And now God is showing us how to be the living Word through an uncontrollable virus.

Many will die and I don’t want to think about that.  I want to focus on the resurrection that will happen after both the physical and the institutional deaths.  God will always have a Church.  Our role – if we are serious about our faith – is to be the Church God created us to be.

Noble Things

“We completely lost sight and touch of what really matters here.” Joshua Dial, Campaign Manager for Joe Exotic in the final episode of Tiger King

One of the episodes in Tiger King is called “The Noble Thing to Do” which is among the more ridiculous possibilities made in a documentary with very few noble characters.

I succumbed to watching this Netflix show over the weekend and I truly have no words for what I watched except – in a nutshell – people who love exotic animals became enemies when they lost sight and touch of what really mattered – namely the animals.  Their once noble ideas turned into a battle over money and power which is often what happens in our own noble pursuits.  (Also there were mullets, bigamy, country songs about tigers, and a one-armed woman who became the voice of reason.)

Organizations are usually created to offer something noble:

  • A non-profit that houses homeless veterans.
  • A business that builds a better ventilator.
  • A foundation that supports young adults after they age out of foster care.
  • A school that teaches poor kids how to play musical instruments
  • A restaurant that offers Meals on Wheels for people with HIV.
  • A church that wants to show their neighborhood what the love of God really looks like.

We are blessed in these pandemic days to hear stories about people offering noble pursuits and it shows the best of who we are.  The best looks like this: generosity, selflessness, kindness, patience, creativity.

But if we lose our focus, if we become dazzled by power or personal gain, it all falls apart.  It doesn’t take much for a benevolent (and maybe even holy) mission to become all about the wrong thing.

I see churches diminished by this all the time.

  • The church that was established in the 1950s to offer Christian nurture to the neighborhood worrying more about their discomfort with demographic changes than their original mission to love all God’s children.
  • The church that was once The Big Steeple involved in everything from community mental health initiatives to teaching English as a Second Language focusing instead on that steeple and how badly it needs to be painted.
  • The church that started the best preschool in town now more concerned about pleasing the Preschool Director than pleasing God.

Why does an organization you love and support exist?  Does it’s current existence reflect why it was formed in the first place?  I hope so.

Image of food collection for a neighborhood in Charlotte, NC serving those who’ve lost their employment this month.

Trauma Brain

Last week I missed a morning ZOOM call (thinking it was in the afternoon.)  I also forgot the name of my children and how to put on shoes.  (Not really but sort of.)

Word on the street is that our brains are not working as well as they usually work because of the social distancing, unexpected home schooling, Clorox-wielding way of life we are now living.  We’ve all heard of:

  • New Baby Brain – When was the last time I took a shower?
  • Bride/Groom Brain – Of course it’s worth it to pay for white doves to fly into the horizon as we climb into our limo.
  • Home All Day with Toddlers Brain – Just lick the apple sauce off the table, Sweetheart.
  • Grief Brain – I can’t believe this is happening.  This is not happening. Who cares that you can’t find a @#%$-ing parking space? My mother/husband/child/sister is dead.  (I have multiple examples of Grief Brain.)

Clearly we are living with Coronavirus Brain – and we don’t even need our own personal diagnosis of COVID 19 to have it.

There are numerous articles out there about our brains during times like these.  But the basics are these things:  We’ll need to sleep more.  We won’t be as productive.  Daily beauty will be more essential than ever.  Checking in on each other is imperative.

That last one is especially difficult for me because I spend each day checking in with church leaders, committees, cohorts, and colleagues.  By the end of the day, I don’t have the energy to talk with more people.  I just want to shut down and pull the covers over my eyes.  This is okay too.

Random gifs seem to help. I have found joy in this deep dive into Triscuits.

One of my friends has been sending short prayers in his own buttery voice to several of us and frankly, his voice is everything.  He could be reading The History of Straw and it would be soothing.

I’m keeping hot pink flowers in my apartment because I need something bright and alive in here.  I have a lavender candle burning.  Both are better than Calgon.

I’m still loving my lavender infused wool dryer balls. They’ve changed my life.

And I’m giving my own brain permission to slow down.  All of us will be in this situation for a while and so let’s not pass up this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to let our brains rest a bit.  We will come back stronger and more grateful.

Image source.

 

Not a COVID-19 Post – Thanks Be to God

In addition to having Zoom Fatigue, I need to ponder non-pandemic things today.  What’s giving you life that has nothing to do with the news?

  • What’s growing in your garden/home right now?  My Christmas cactus is confused but aren’t we all.
  • What are you cooking/baking?  Polina will send you lovely recipes everyday.
  • What’s are you reading that’s COVID-free?  I liked Colin Jost’s piece on his childhood commute to school.  It’s not very long.
  • What have your ordered online in the past week?  I ordered new Wool Dryer Balls and now all my clothes smell like New Zealand.

Share whatever non-pandemic things are in your life right now.  Dog photos especially appreciated.  Seriously, we need to hear from you.

What the Pandemic Reveals About Us

I can’t remember which Zoom call it was yesterday, but one of my colleagues pointed out how revealing this situation is in terms of who we authentically are.  On any given day, people say that “the United States is the greatest country in the world” or “if you work hard in this country, you’ll succeed.”

A pandemic shows us what’s actually true about us:

  1. There is a digital divide in this country that separates the haves from the have-nots in terms of access to information and convenience.
  2. Many of us do not trust our government.
  3. Many of us do not trust the media.
  4. Many people want to help their neighbor (while others hoard essential items.)
  5. We can be flexible and creative when we want to be.
  6. There is an economic divide in this country that separates the haves from the have-nots in terms of human value.
  7. (also known as 6B) A lot of us who self-identify as “pro life” are slow to support programs that help babies and children after they are born.  Some of us call ourselves “pro life” and then vote for leaders who perpetuate “pro death” stances.

It’s times like these when are true nature is revealed. If we say we love God and then vote for policies that serve only the wealthy, we do not love God.

Times like these are truly a revelation – about who we really are.  And they can be opportunities to become who we are called to be.  It’s not too late to show the world what it looks like to follow Jesus in everyday life.

Image is “Revelation.” Source here.  Also I think it was Jerrod who made this point yesterday.

 

Don’t Stop Now

I remember receiving a mailing from the Audubon Society years ago with these words screaming in red:  DON’T STOP NOW!

It was the dead of winter and their point was that – if you were feeding birds, keep at it because the birds are used to being nourished by your generosity.  Don’t cut them off at this point,  You could kill them.

And so  – please – DON’T STOP NOW.

  • Don’t stop financially nourishing the non-profits that are serving our communities.
  • Don’t stop looking out for your neighbors.
  • Don’t stop showing the world what the love of God looks like.
  • Don’t stop ordering take-out from Asian Restaurants.
  • Don’t stop praying.

Yes, it’s getting old in this new normal, but we have work to do.  Rest when you must.  Accept help when you need it.  But please don’t stop being the Church.  Not now.

That Moment When We Burst into Tears

It’s going to happen, friends, sooner or later.

When we’ve hit our limit on alone-time.  When we’ve run out of coffee.  When we’ve realized that ZOOM calls just don’t cut it.  When we can’t remember how many days have passed since we’ve been physically touched by another human being.  (I’m ‘this close’ to adopting a shelter dog but who will walk that duffer if I get sick?)

The moment I broke was yesterday when I went old school and watched First Presbyterian Church Charlotte on Channel 64 at 11 am.  Familiar faces led us in familiar words and I ugly-cried through the whole thing.  First Pres Charlotte (who partnered with First United Pres Charlotte) is one of the few churches able to afford their own television presentation every week. Thanks be to God.

All our congregational leaders are straining to offer online worship, Bible studies, and business meetings.  One of our churches is planning what will essentially be a drive through congregational meeting to elect a new pastor.  Several are inviting members to grab whatever juice and cracker they can find for online communion together.  Another church I love invites everyone to light a candle – each in their own space – during YouTube worship.

Sooner or later, we will burst into tears over this new normal.  New Normal Times are often the points when we weep because a loved one is gone forever or the pain we feel is too much to bear.

And those ugly-cry moments are sacred.  They mark the points when we realize we need something Bigger.  We need each other.  We need something Holy.  We need eternal hope.

To all who offer eternal hope today – thank you.  We need you.  Keep at it.

This post is dedicated to all my colleagues who keep things going during these long weeks.  Please make an online donation or write and mail a check to any church comforting those who weep today. Image of 11am worship with First Presbyterian Church and First United Presbyterian Church on the Fourth Sunday in Lent.

Distractions During Social Distancing Time

Now that we are a mere five days into this self-imposed/CDC suggested Social Distancing Time (SDT) what are you finding are the most helpful distractions?

  • Does it help to listen to Podcasts about the care and feeding of pygmy goats?
  • Does it help to re-watch Season Two of Glee? (i.e. Blaine)
  • Does it help to Kondo a closet?

After multiple Zoom Calls this week, it probably helps to go for a walk?  Maybe the best thing is to Telehealth with your therapist and then go for a walk.

Complete the following sentence:

I never realized how much I enjoyed ______until we shifted to SDT.

  • I never realized how much I enjoyed eating in crowded restaurants by myself (as opposed to eating by myself in my apartment) until SDT.
  • I never realized how much I enjoyed a simple touch on the arm until SDT.  (I have not physically touched a living thing – except for plants – in five days. Who has a COVID-free puppy?)
  • And so we distract ourselves in healthy ways.  I worry about our 12-Step Groups as there is so much time for day drinking.  And overeating.

    Finding the thing that soothes us might be a weekend goal.  In the meantime, be gentle with yourselves out there.  And share – if you wish – what you are missing and what you are distracting yourself with.  Thanks.

    Image of Darren Criss as Blaine Anderson with the Dalton Academy Warblers. Season 2 of Glee.

    Is This the Nudge We’ve Needed?

    Humans are basically pain avoiders.  If we can put off the difficult conversation, the come-to-Jesus moment, or the painful decision we tend to put it off.

    Some of us relish the opportunities that come with conflict (Hello Thomas-Kilmann Collaborators!)  But most of us avoid conflict.

    So here we are in the throes of conflict and deep anxiety.  There are constant meetings to discuss “what to do?” and “how to do it?” in light of the coronavirus pandemic.  There is deep sorrow over cancelling everything from next week’s memorial service to long-expected events like Easter concerts, mission trips, conferences, and retreats – not to mention the secular cancellations (prom, senior day games, graduations, weddings, international trips.)

    The grief is real.

    As I look across the board at Church World, I see that many of us have been slow to make difficult decisions as a 21st Century Church because we are already grieving institutional losses:

    • Tiny churches with less than 20 members have been putting off the decision to close because we are talking about closing the church of their childhood where they were baptized and married.  It’s the church where they felt close to God and loved ones.
    • Churches of all sizes have been avoiding the decision to spend some of their endowment or to sell some of their property.  We have congregations who tell me how poor they are but there’s a half million dollars in the cemetery fund or they own 10 acres of land that they’ve wanted to keep for no particular reason.
    • Congregations with long-standing staff members whom they can no longer afford have dreaded the moment when those staff members will be asked to retire or find new employment.  They have become institutions.  How can we let the 80 year old organist go?  How can we ask our 72 year old administrator that we need a different kind of staffer who knows how to use a computer?
    • Congregations have ignored suggestions to use online tools because people are attached to holding hymnals, receiving paper newsletters in the mail, writing checks, and attending church meetings face to face.
    • Congregations have tolerated ineffective leadership because they are waiting for their pastors to announce their retirements, but every year the ineffective pastor stays, the congregation’s viability is diminished.

    Perhaps it takes a pandemic to be the nudge we’ve needed to close our beloved church, to spend our congregation’s rainy day savings, to sell off the unused parking lot, to honor the long term educator with a lovely retirement party, to stop electing officers without access to email, to offer Zoom meetings for all committees, to put a Donation button on the website, to have a frank conversation with the pastor about retirement.

    It might feel like being pushed out of a plane.

    And yet God uses everything – especially times of crises – to move the Gospel message forward.  There are great and small shifts we’ve needed to make for a long time for the sake of the Gospel.

    Is it possible that God is calling us to use this crisis to nudge us forward into the unknown?

    Few of us love loss and anxiety and conflict.  But these are tools that God sometimes uses for good.  It’s scary, but – in faith – the Gospel will always win.  Let’s take the leap.

     

    Church Financial Health in the Age of COVID-19

    Church leaders are concerned.  Some are afraid.

    How can we pay our pastor and staff if we can’t collect financial tithes and offerings in actual offering plates on Sunday mornings?

    Many congregations have a long history of using auto-pay or online donation buttons or giving apps.  Keep using those tools, people.  Believe me, your pastor and church staff might not look like they are working if they are quarantining themselves, but the work is different.  And stressful.

    If your congregation depends primarily on cash and checks literally placed in an offering plate each week, these will be financially tight days.  It’s an excellent time to set up online giving or apps.  And then teach people how to use those tools if necessary.

    The painful financial ramifications of this national emergency are countless.  Many restaurants will close for good before this is over.  The hospitality industry is hurting after hotel and flight cancellations.  Retails stores are hurting.  Movie theatres and other entertainment venues are hurting.

    This is a good time to buy gift cards from your favorite businesses to use once things open up again.

    And this is also a good time to be sure that your congregation and all the non-profits you financially support continue to receive your support.  If you can give more, please do.  If you can’t, it’s okay.  If you need financial support yourself, let somebody know so we can help.

    Congregations are continuing to offer pastoral care, education, virtual worship, and safe haven.  But they can’t do that without resources.

    Be generous.  Channel your inner fairy godmother.  Be someone’s Secret Santa (or Personal Leprechaun or Easter Bunny.)  And get a phone app.