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The Truth About “Anglo-Saxons”

“Why be apologetic about Anglo-Saxon superiority, that we were superior, that we had the common heritage which had been worked out over the centuries in England and had been perfected by our constitution?” Winston Churchill, 1943

In 1955, an all White, male jury were charged to do their duty “as Anglo-Saxons” as they deliberated whether or not J. W. Milam and Roy Bryant were guilty of torturing and murdering 14 year old Emmett Till. The men were found “not guilty” althought Milam and Bryant later admitted their guilt in a paid interview with Look Magazine.

“Anglo-Saxon” was a not-so-secret code for White Supremacy back in the day. The term was used by social organizations like The Anglo-Saxon Clubs of America which apparently was a fancier version of the Klan. And the 19th Century French “intellectual” Edmond Demolins wrote a popular book called Anglo-Saxon Superiority which – according to this article – Teddy Roosevelt carried into Cuba with the Rough Riders in 1898.

Today, people who look like me with a Protestant European heritage tend to call ourselves WASPs – often proudly – without acknowledging how KKK-adjacent this term really is.

So, why is there a dark brown man featured on the 13th Century Domesday Abbreviato – the official survey of England which spelled out who owned what land? For details read this.

While we with Ancestry.Com accounts dig through our family histories in search of royal connections, the truth is that the original “Anglo-Saxons” were often migrants from the sub-Sahara. Some of the earliest medieval coinage of the “Anglo-Saxons” have Islamic designs. According to this excellent article:

From the eighth century onward, these (Old English) charters increasingly favored granting land to laypeople, many of whom were migrants. Those Americans who seek a return to the roots of Anglo-Saxons should realize that this actually translates to more open, inclusive borders.

For what it’s worth, this WASP and history lover embraces her darker ancestors and neighbors with gratitude. Jesus himself was one who knew something about more open, inclusive borders. You can read about it in the Bible.

Have a wonderful weekend.

Thanks to HH for sharing the Smithsonian article.

Savior

A friend of mine was a medical missionary in Malawi in the 1990s. Although she was a trained cardiologist, most of her days were spent delivering babies and treating people with AIDS. She wrote in a letter that during an emergency procedure, when the medical team was trying to save a man’s life, someone said, “Hey, M. – you’re the Christian, right? This would be a good time to pray.”

Oh right” she said. “Praying. I’m supposed to call on God in times like these.”

This resonates with me as I spend time with People of Faith who say things like:

  • We are thinking about closing our church but we don’t know what to do next.
  • We are wondering what to do about our preschool expansion.
  • We are thinking about restructuring our church staff and there’s a lot of conflict.

It doesn’t occur to them to pray. It doesn’t occur to them to study scripture and talk and pray together in faithful discernment.

This is why many congregations struggle right now: we have forgotten that we are not a social club nor are we an institution that is dependent upon sentimentality or cultural control. We have a Savior.

We have access to divine direction. We are blessed with a God who is interested in shepherding us into something holy and purposeful.

I hate to say this but many, many Church People would not think about turning to God for help and direction even in times of trial.

I have shared the story before about former parishioners who arrived late to worship every Sunday. Almost every Sunday, they stumbled into the sanctuary just after the Prayer of Confession with their two little girls. At that time, I also had young children and I got it: it’s really hard to rally the troops on Sunday mornings.

I was lightheartedly talking with the parents one Sunday and I shared that I’m in solidarity with about how hard it is to get to worship on time on sleepy Sunday mornings. To my surprise, the Dad of the family said, “Oh, we come to worship late intentionally. We come after the Prayer of Confession because we don’t want our kids believing they have anything to confess.” And while my Presbyterian mouth was still agape, the Mom said, “And we don’t like that Jesus Loves Me song. I don’t want my girls to grow up singing that they are weak and He is strong.”

So, my first question then is “Why do you need a Savior?” If you have nothing to confess, nothing to repent of, if you are so strong, why do you need Jesus?

If our congregations are so secular that we are simply going through the motions of having spiritual lives, then no wonder the Church is struggling. To be honest, I know many faithful churches who indeed seek first the Kingdom of God. They are thriving.

But when prayer is so foreign, when faithful discernment is an afterthought, our congregations cannot possibly thrive. We are the Church because we need a Savior.

Image of The Prodigal Son by Heinz Warneke in the gardens of The National Cathedral in Washington, D. C.

Saver

Professor Yolanda Pierce – who was the Curator of Religious Artifacts for the National Museum of African American Culture and History and now serves as the Dean of the Howard University Divinity School – once said that the difference between treasures and trash is that treasures have a story attached. Thanks be to God, people through the years saved Nat Turner’s Bible and the shards of glass from the stained glass windows of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham after terrorists bombed it. And now we can see them here.

Lots of us save things we don’t really need. People of a certain generation blame this on The Depression. Others of us are just lazy. There are piles on our desks and we are slow to clear the piles.

I have enough historical information to open a museum dedicated to my parents and grandparents. How many of the same pictures of my grandfather do I need to save? I have 20 copies of the exact same pose. Why? I have all my parents love letters when he was based at Fort Huachuca and she was home living with her parents. Hundreds of letters about pretty much nothing. But I’m never getting rid of them.

What do we save and why?

Churches save the minutes of meetings and the bulletins of special worship services. We save the random gifts that parishioners give us when they don’t want to get rid of them from jars of expired jellies left for the food pantry to Precious Moments figurines they think will look nice in the church parlor. A parishioner once gave me a box of vintage troll dolls (some of you might remember these little creatures with the fun hair) to put in the church nursery. She didn’t have the heart to give them to Goodwill or the Salvation Army.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that when a congregation spends more time pondering what to save – whether we are talking about the old lamps in the church library or the annual Chili Dinner – than pondering what God might be doing next, that church needs to reassess its priorities.

COVID has helped with this issue somewhat. When we are concerned about an international pandemic and the health of our neighbors, we don’t have as much time to wrestle with whether or not to save the old pew cushions even though they were replaced with new ones in 2008.

Are you a saver? Is your church a congregation of savers? And does saving old things hold us back or remind us of a holy story? Do we save trash that weigh us down or do we save treasures that remind us of life-changing moments?

Image of shards of glass found by Joan Trumpauer Mulholland outside what remained of the 16th Street Baptist Church on September 18, 1963, the day of the funeral for three of the little girls killed in a bombing perpetrated by four klansmen. This, my friends, is part of the story of our nation even though some want to silence this history.

Savor

This word has come up often recently: in an ordination, in a staff meeting. We need to savor the blessings of these days.

The photograph below is the last of my birth family with my mother. I call it my savor photo because I have looked at it through the years and thought to myself, “We had no idea how fortunate we were that everyone was alive.” Of course new people are alive since then and life is sweet, and yet I wish I’d savored that moment more. (Note: I am the weary-looking woman in the flowered dress after just giving birth to the newborn who just turned 33 last week.) My dad would also be gone two years later. We had no idea.

A pastor I deeply respect suggested today that everybody is Soul Tired these days. There are deep levels of anxiety and disorientation in many of our institutions, including The Church, that an occasional massage or weekend away will not fix.

And yet there is much to savor: the presence of people we love, the smell of salt water or mountain air, the opportunities cracking open because of COVID, so many interesting people doing cool things in the world. I savor the perfect empanada from my local coffee shop. I savor the good-humored jesting among church leaders.

This is a time to let go of petty things and savor the deeply comforting things, and pray we know the difference.

Is This the Wave of Retirements We’ve Been Waiting For?

The Church has always been in transition but it feels like a whirlwind right now. From Rick Warren to the rural Pastor out in the county, Pastors are retiring in record numbers. COVID-19 moved some to retire earlier than they’d planned and the general toxicity in our culture has made retirement appealing for others. Read this for examples.

There are or will be 20 openings in one of the Presbyteries near me in 2021 due to retirements.

Is this the moment that younger generations have been waiting for in terms of long-term Boomer Pastors finally moving on so that they can step in? Not necessarily.

  • After long pastorates, some congregations have decreased in energy and capacity to the point that the retiring Pastor will be their last full time leader. They can only afford a part-time spiritual leader and it’s almost impossible to grow a church with a part-time Pastor.
  • Church staffs with one or more Associate Pastors are replacing those APs with Directors of Youth, Directors of Worship, Directors of Adult Discipleship.
  • Rural Pastors are retiring from churches in towns that were once more vibrant when they started there decades ago. But these days there are no jobs, no schools, no reason for locals to remain in town. And so rural churches are struggling to afford Pastors.
  • Some younger pastors – nowhere near retirement age – are choosing to leave professional ministry because it’s too discouraging. They set out to seminary with deep faith and great hope, and yet they’ve found that Church – for too many – is not about Jesus. Read this.

Yes there are healthy congregations out there with the ability and will to call fresh, faithful leadership and some call them Healthy Dinosaurs. For now, things are okay. But extinction is quite possible in a decade or so.

So, why do I have hope for the future?

There will always be people who crave what Jesus offers. An agnostic 30-something might throw up a little bit in their mouth if that’s how we couch it when we first meet. Read the Gospels and we see that Jesus offers relief among other things.

It’s about loving and serving broken people. There are broken people in every neighborhood and people are looking for authentic purpose and authentic relationships. Church: This. Cannot. Be. Faked.

We have got to let go of all the trappings of religion and take a deep breath and figure out who God is calling us to be and who God is not calling us to be.

I am a broken record about this. But it’s true. If our congregations are making a difference in the lives of members and neighbors, faith will deepen and Christian community will grow. It’s as simple and as difficult as that.

Image is a stock photo that looks like a cartoon to me.

Love the People. Dismantle the System.

I don’t know Carlos A. Rodriguez but I wish I did. He’s the CEO and Founder of The Happy NPO in Puerto Rico and I follow him on Twitter. Yesterday, he tweeted this:

Just recently I was called a hateful ultra liberal who wants everybody to change their pronouns. For the record, I’m conservative on quite a few things and my pronouns are she/her/hers. But this post is not about me. It’s about hate

I love how Carlos A. Rodriguez clarifies the activism that seeks to shift unjust systems. And I believe that Jesus was all about this.

Jesus loved people that many found hard to love (tax collectors, lepers, foreign women, fools, self-righteous people) and he didn’t leave it at that. He spoke up and acted in ways that showed us how the world should be.

We live in a world that continues to keep poor people poor, to exclude people based on their skin color, to tell LGBTQ+ people that God rejects them, to hurt children. The world works well for those of us who are White and Educated and Prosperous. But God created the world for all people of all skin colors and all circumstances and we are called to break down these systems when they are opposed to what the Gospels tell us.

We are called to love the people and dismantle the systems. Everyone is invited.

The Discomfort Challenge

These are the beastly hot days of summer and the heat and humidity make life uncomfortable. Not only do we like to be comfortable in terms of our creature comforts; we like to be comfortable in terms of the company we keep.

Life is generally comfortable for those of us in the dominant culture. If we are White, speak English, and live an easy life (i.e. we have a roof over our heads and enough food to eat), we tend to be comfortable almost anywhere we choose to be.

But I have a summer challenge.

What if those of us who experience very few situations in which we are uncomfortable culturally challenged ourselves to intentionally seek an uncomfortable situation for the sake of the Gospel? I believe this might help us – White People – better understand what our neighbors go through as People of Color, People of Languages other than English, and People whose financial situations are tenuous. I’m thinking about this:

  • If you are never in a situation in which you are the only White person, where might you go to experience what it’s like to be a minority in terms of skin color?
  • If you are never in a situation in which you are with poor people, where could you go to spend time talking with folks who live in a shelter or pick up free vegetables from a church parking lot?
  • If you are never in a situation where everyone is speaking a different language from you, where could you go to spend time with those speaking a different language from your own?

When I hear people (and often Church People) complain about “the Mexicans” or “the people who won’t go back to work after receiving COVID checks” or “the Blacks” or “the gays” or “the Fundamentalists” or “the Liberals” I wonder how proximate we are to “those people.”

Chances are that our only access to people we complain about or have a bias against is through media. And the media is notorious for sharing half truths that divide us.

So I am challenging each of you – White readers – put yourself in an uncomfortable place this week. Take a book to read a library in a predominantly Black or Brown neighborhoods, go eat in a Spanish-speaking neighborhood, visit a park where you are the other person who looks like you. And ask God to reveal something holy. This is not an anthropological experiment. This is an openness to connect with people we tend to ignore.

Jesus intentionally put himself in what the rest of us would call uncomfortable situations. But he was comfortable because he understood that all people are God’s people. To my White siblings: consider this a spiritual discipline for these summer days.

Image from a famous story in 2019 in which three young Black men invited an older White women to join them for dinner in Oxford, Alabama when she was eating alone. We can only hope we would do the same.

Just in Time for Summer Vacation . . .

This post is 100% from Rev. Victoria Lawson and I share it on behalf of pastors everywhere.

It could be your pastor’s vacation time. It could be parental leave. It could be your pastor’s Sabbatical. Speaking as a person who’s been in professional ministry for over 37 years, I can share so many examples of times when I chose my church over my family and it was a mistake. It was my own decision to miss Senior Night for a Session Meeting or agree to officiate a wedding on my child’s birthday. I was trying to be all things to all people (except to my family.) These kinds of sacrifices only create resentment deep inside.

Please note the factoids in yellow on the poster.

Examples of times to call your pastor even if she is in labor or he’s at his own father’s funeral:

  • There’s been a fiery crash involving the youth.
  • There’s been an explosion in the church building with people in there.
  • The Church is going to be on the front page of the local newspaper tomorrow and not because of a happy thing.

Most emergencies can wait a day or two. Note to pastors: please have someone on call for you if you’re unavailable for more than two days. And make their contact information available on your email auto-response and your phone voicemail greeting.

Your life and your emergencies are important and yet your pastor is not the only one you can call.

Now get out there and have a great summer!

Since publishing this post, I’ve learned that the artist is Victoria Larson from Barn Geese Worship and Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Westborough, MA.

If I Were Doing Your Premarital Counseling

My calendar includes lots of Post-COVID weddings and I’m officiating at least two of them. In some cases, the couples were “paper married” during the pandemic and now it’s time for the “big wedding” (also known as “the God wedding” in our family although the LORD blesses courthouses weddings too.)

I’ve officiated in hundreds of weddings and I’ve always found premarital counseling to be less than satisfying, often because it’s an afterthought once the reception venue has been reserved and the flowers have been ordered. I like PREPARE-ENRICH for premarital counseling, but what I’d really like would be for couples – in the weeks and months before their ceremony – to select one of the following questions to discuss in depth over the course of a whole week or a whole month.

Consider it a date. While sipping coffee together on a Saturday morning, choose one of these questions and discuss thoroughly. The point of premarital counseling – at least for this pastor – is to ensure you have discussed what’s important in depth.

I don’t care if you want four children or no children – but I care that you two make that decision together. Please don’t save the “Do you want children?” conversation for after the wedding. Yes, circumstances shift and decisions we make in our 20s or 30s do not make sense perhaps in our 40s or 50s. But please- if you are planning a life with someone- make time to have a Question of the Week (or Month) prior to the wedding. Here are some suggestions:

  • For Christians and anyone who celebrates Christmas, do you set up a real tree or an artificial tree? White lights or colored lights? If Christmas always means the smell of fresh spruce and it’s can’t be Christmas without those fat colored bulbs, speak up now. Battles have been fought over lesser issues.
  • What holidays will be important for you to continue to celebrate together when you are married? And why? What do they mean to you? If you were raised Christian but your grownup self doesn’t care about Easter Sunday, make that clear. If you were raised Hindu, is Diwali essential for you? Do you fast for Ramadan if you were raised Muslim? Keep in mind that – if children are in the picture – you might not care about the faith of your childhood until you have children of your own. What will it be important for you to teach your children about faith traditions?
  • How do you like to spend your birthday? And please don’t say that birthdays don’t mean that much to you, when deep down in your heart, you are crushed when there’s no cake.
  • What kind of surprises do you like and what kind do you hate? Most of us agree that a bad surprise is a surprise credit card bill for $500 worth of cute shoes. Many of us disagree about surprise parties. Discuss.
  • What do you intend to be your first earthly allegiance? Say it out loud. Will your first earthly allegiance be your spouse? Your parents? Your job? Your BFF from college? I have firm opinions on this one: if you are committing yourself to be someone’s partner for life, that person is your first earthly allegiance. It’s important for you to be each other’s #1 person.
  • What are you willing to do to save your marriage during times of stress? Seek counseling? Move in with your in-laws? Defy your parents in favor of your spouse? Yes, these are hard conversations perhaps, but it’s good to talk about. You don’t have to commit to anything right now, but – if things got really hard – what would you be willing to do? Talk worst case scenarios for a minute. Then treat yourselves to some ice cream to recover.
  • What would make you leave the marriage? (Remember that “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health” part of the traditional vows?) This is another one of those tough questions, but it’s important to hear each other say it. I’m tempted to share sad stories here, but I’ll spare you.
  • What do you imagine your golden years will be like? Do you hope to retire to the beach? Do you plan to keep working until you die? Do you dream of settling down in a retirement community with golf carts? (Again, this conversation may change dramatically through the years, but please circle back to this from time to time. Two of my parishioners got divorced after their 50th wedding anniversary trip to Hawaii because one had always assumed they’d retire to Florida and the other one had no intentions of moving to Florida. It was not good.)

So, here are eight questions for the next eight weeks or months. If you are planning to be married, feel free to engage in DIY Premarital Counseling. Don’t be afraid of conflict. You love each other, right? It will be okay.

Read This Book

I was at a N.C. beach on our family vacation just after Lee Dingle died in an internationally reported accident just a couple beaches away in 2019. I had long followed his spouse Shannon on social media and couldn’t believe it. When people say, “I can’t imagine” I always think, “Actually, I can imagine this.” I’m surprised when it doesn’t happen to me. And yet it still felt unreal.

With that little clue about my own pathology, I can’t stress enough how essential this book by Shannon Dingle is for anyone who has experienced trauma, loss, mental illness, addiction, and/or all forms of disability. Her writing is engaging. Her theology is spot on. Her story is horribly tragic and yet we can all relate because she authentically walks us through the parts of life’s that crush us – or threaten to crush us.

I jotted down several needlepoint pillow-worthy sayings:

  • Bravery is never meant to be an excuse to be a dick. That’s not really brave, y’all. That’s a jackass in a unicorn costume.
  • When we’re brave, we’ll make some people unhappy.
  • I had just pretended for so long that I thought I was telling the truth.
  • The beauty of fundamentalism is how clear the rules are.

While reading Living Brave: Lessons from Hurt, Lighting the Way to Hope, I felt like I’d experienced several appointments with my own therapist. And the insights are important.

There are lots of Christian women who have become our mentors through their writing: Glennon Doyle, Brene Brown, Rachel Held Evans, Kate Bowler. Shannon Dingle is like them and not like them. Yes, read all those excellent authors. And spend a chunk of time reading Living Brave this summer because we all need it, especially in these days.