Category Archives: Uncategorized

Sermons I Can’t Wait to Preach

In a nutshell, God does a lot of talking when we are quiet.

Here are the sermons that popped into my head during my vacation week:

The History of Our Faith in Six Cups – I love this book and reread it on vacation.  Just as Tom Standage tracked the history of the world in six glasses, I’ve figured out that our faith history can be tracked in six cups in the Bible.  (There was glass in Jesus’ day, but it was too expensive for drink ware.)  This sermon will be based on six cup stories.

Sword PlayMatthew 10:34 – Jesus didn’t wield a sword.  He was the sword. (And if we follow Jesus, there will be conflict.)

That Thing About Politics and the PulpitLuke 22:70-71 – Jesus was executed for rebellion against the Roman government. Just calling himself “Son of God” was crucifixion-worthy.  If we align ourselves with Jesus and his message, it’s just a matter of time before someone accuses us of being “too political.”

Being a Christian is Very Inconvenient (And Other Things They Don’t Teach in Sunday School) – There are lots of Bible stories about the expense of following Jesus.  And on my way to vacation, I met a woman with no home, no car, no phone, no food, and no money.  And she wasn’t a con artist.  She was an amazing person who’d fallen through every crack.  And I met her while heading out of town on vacation.

Like I said, God does a lot of talking when we are quiet.

Image of the view from our porch on vacation last week.

 

 

Radio Silence

Sabbath is good.  Sabbath = books and walks and conversations about things that matter and no WiFi.  See you August 5th.

My Name is Jan & I’m (Trying to Be) a Biblical Socialist (Because Jesus)

(Have you noticed how calling someone a socialist is the latest slam?)

I’m much more of a theologian than an economist, and while one could make a case for Jesus being a capitalist (Matthew 25:14-30), Jesus said quite a few things that make him sound more like a socialist:

Jesus said more about money than any other social issue.  16 of Jesus’ 38 parables are about money.  288 verses in the Gospels are about money.

Capitalism in a nutshell = private property, wealth accumulation, paid labor, free exchange of goods and services, a price system, and competitive markets.  In a perfect form of capitalism, everybody has the chance to work hard and build wealth. But capitalism can go awry when – for example – pay ratio between the CEO of a company (like Mattel) and the average worker of the same company is – wait for it – 4987 to 1.  I believe this is a sin.

According to this article, the CEO of Marathon Petroleum was paid 935 times more pay than the average employee in 2017. “One of Marathon’s gas station workers would have to toil more than nine centuries to make as much as (the CEO) grabbed in just one year.”  Again, I believe this is a sin.

Socialism in a nutshell = sharing wealth for the common good (and I admit that this is an extraordinarily simplistic definition.)

But my point is that both political sides increasingly demonize the other over economic theories and “socialist” has become the epithet of choice among some political leaders these days.

Offer health care to all?  Socialism!

Care for refugees fleeing violence?  Socialism!

Providing affordable housing and a livable wage? Socialism!

And yet, what does Jesus command us to do?  I believe we are called to work hard and be responsible with our resources.  And I also believe we are called to offer a safety net to those who need some assistance.  We are called to look out for those without the advantages we have.  We are called to give everyone an equal opportunity to thrive.

So, call me a socialist if it means I’m following Jesus.  I’m frankly not great at it, but – because of what I’ve been given – I have no option but to try.

Image source.

I Finally Have a (Partial) Answer

What do you see for the future of the Church?

This is probably not a pressing question in your world, but it is in mine.  I am asked this question regarding The Church (universal) and regarding “our church” (specific congregations) several times each week.  Here is my partial answer:

  • Churches who have become private clubs, personal chapels, or participants in a “what do we do to survive?” culture will close as soon as they run out of money.  They are filled with lovely human beings who unintentionally have made decisions that set them on the road to closure for decades.
  • Churches who exist for the sake of sharing the message of Jesus, who don’t focus on “getting new members” and who will do whatever the Spirit tells them to do in order to serve others will thrive.

There will be large congregations with both resources and the faith to try and fail at new ventures.  And all those ventures will be about making disciples (not branding or good public relations.)

There will be medium congregations who connect with other medium-sized congregations to transform their corner of the world in the name of Jesus. Partnering together, they’ll be able to do what the cathedral-ish churches can do. They won’t be concerned if they are working with the Methodists or the Lutherans or the Catholics – or the Muslims.  They will be concerned about sharing the life-changing news of resurrection with their towns and cities.

There will be small congregations who know and love their communities to the point that they serve according to what breaks God’s heart in their particular context.  And they will be vital to the life of their neighborhoods and towns.

We are going to see lots and lots of church closings in all denominations and in all non-denominations in the next five years.  And this will be an opportunity to resurrect into something new.  What will be new?

  • Congregations who meet – as a whole body – once a month or once a quarter.  During the in-between time, they will be worshiping and learning and serving together in small gatherings of people who meet during the week.  (Weekend church will not be the norm for new Christians.)
  • Congregations who meet in unchurchy places.  So many people are turned off by church buildings. While some traditional church buildings will continue to be tools for ministry, other folks will be more comfortable in secular spaces.  (Church people: note how few of your couples are getting married in the church building these days.)

There are more new things that will happen, but this is a start.  I have enormous hope for the future Church of Jesus Christ.  But many of our congregations will die out.  It’s okay.  Notice how congregations in Thessaloniki  and Philippi are not celebrating their 2000th anniversaries.

I can understand people who want their churches to survive long enough to bury them one day.  But imagine people – instead – saying that the Most Important Thing about their church is that they are following Jesus with joy into unknown territory.

There are many congregations who are indeed following Jesus with joy into unknown territory.  I pray there will be more.

Image of Dura-Europos Church in Syria.  It is possibly – according to this – the oldest church in the world.  Here’s the problem: when people refer to the “10 Oldest Churches in the World” they are talking about church buildings, not actual churches.  Most of the world still believes that the church is a building and that’s why so many of them are closing. 

How Women and Men Are Talking to Each Other These Days (And I’m Glad)

Note:  The post is full of generalizations.

Although I’m a Myers-Briggs Introvert, I find it easy to talk with strangers about cursory topics.  Like shoes.

I’ve noticed that women generally comment to each other about shoes, hair, jewelry, etc.  For example, last week I was in a coffee shop meeting someone and three different women commented on my cute purse.

Women #1 as I picked up my cup of coffee:  I love your purse.  I’ve never seen that purse in white.

Me:  Thanks.  I got it on Amazon.*

Woman #2 two minutes later while I was sitting at the table waiting for my friend:  Your purse is so cute.  Where did you get it?

Me:  Thanks so much.  Amazon.*

Woman #3 in the parking lot:  What a cute purse. I love the cross body.

Me:  Thanks.  

This happens frequently.  “Nice T-shirt” is a common comment I make when walking through my neighborhood.  I have generally believed that guys do not do this with each other.  But then I found myself in rural Canton, NC last week and this conversation ensued with a man fixing my car:

Me: I love your shoes.

Mechanic Guy:  Thanks.  I got them at the Under Armour outlet in Colorado.  They are so comfortable that I found an outlet near here and I bought two more pairs.

Me: So cute.

Did I just say “so cute” to tough guy male car mechanic about his shoes?  Yes I did.

I wonder – as genders are more openly fluid and gender roles are less strict – if men and women are normalizing ordinary conversation in ways like this that make people connect more easily.  Are you finding this?

This is not about flirtation or nervous chatter.  What I’m talking about here is making connections with people beyond “hi.”  When I wear this shirt, I always get comments and smiles.  Or comments and grimaces.  Relationships – even ephemeral ones – are crucial in any culture.

In the United States where social isolation is part of our culture, it’s nice to make connections any way we can between men and women, children and adults, rich and poor, rural and urban.  And so – if I may be so bold – say something encouraging to neighbors today:

I love your shoes.

Your hair is awesome.

Your lipstick is amazing.

Cute dogs.

Again (and please hear me) this is not about flirting with people.  This is about making wholesome, natural connections.  This is about noticing each other.  This is about seeing people as neighbors and human beings.

Have a friendly Tuesday.

 

Images of the cute purse and cute shoes.

*I am trying to quit Amazon.  But it’s really hard.

The Racist Bones in My Body

“I don’t have a racist bone in my body.”

Good for you, if you believe that about yourself. But to be perfectly honest, I – Jan Edmiston – have lots of racist bones.

Being called a racist is – apparently – the worst.  In the last week (and for the last 100 years or so*) people of every political stripe and skin color have been arguing about what’s racist and who’s racist.

  • Are we racist if we are members of the KKK?
  • If we are members of the Sons/Daughters of the Confederate Veterans?
  • If we live in a gated community that only allows a certain color or heritage of people?
  • If we send our children to a private school to avoid sending them to a school where the majority of students are a different skin color?
  • If we cross the street to avoid people of another race?
  • If have different rules for people who look like us and people who don’t look like us?
  • If we don’t go to stores, neighborhoods, houses of faith, restaurants, clubs where we are not the dominant race/ethnicity?
  • If we will only accept our children marrying someone of our same skin color?
  • If we support political candidates who do not prioritize voting rights or fair housing?
  • If we live in the United States of America?

Yes.

My definition of race has to do with the fact that we Americans live in a system of white privilege and supremacy where white is “normal.”  White is the color of most politicians, media stars, business leaders, and wealthy people.  Most of us with fair skin do not notice when we are in a restaurant, movie theater, office building or store where everybody is white.  We do tend to notice when we are in a place where we are the only white people (and we have been taught to be afraid in that situation.)

The fallout of systemic racism has fallen on every single one of us.  We don’t even notice when we are being racist.  We make comments that people whose bones are covered in brown or black skin are not as smart, not as law-abiding, not as refined, not as ambitious, not as responsible, not as committed as those whose bones are covered in white skin.  I have literally heard these words in the past week:

  • “You know blacks don’t stay married.”
  • “Why can’t blacks keep a job?”
  • “Why are black women so loud?”

I literally heard those words coming out of white people’s mouths.  Last. Week.  And if you think I heard them because I happen to live in North Carolina – home of the “Send her back” crowd – I drove halfway across the country and back over the last four days and, believe me, there are ignorant people everywhere.

Do I have a racist bone in my body?  I have a skeleton full.

And so do you, my pale friends. (And so do you my brown and black and golden friends – although it’s different.  That’s for another post.)

My jaw bone has been party to racist comments I’ve made.  My spine has been too soft when I should have stood up to the foolish comments of others.  My orbital bones have protected eyes that didn’t want to see the truth.  My shoulder bones have failed to help carry the burdens of my brown and black siblings.  My leg bones have failed to march alongside those who have no choice but to march.  Every one of my bones is a racist bone because we live in a culture that is racist.  It’s in our veins.  It’s in our DNA.  It’s under our fingernails.  It’s in the air we breathe.

So, what do we do next? 

We do the work of teaching ourselves.  Listen to podcasts like these.  Read books like these.

And why not stay racist?  Because Jesus.  Literally – for the love of God.  We are commanded to love our neighbors, to offer hospitality to strangers, and to recognize that the brown and black people languishing at our borders are God’s children just as surely as the white Europeans hoping to become U.S. citizens are God’s children.  And every single one of those men, women, and children we are keeping in detention centers used to be fetuses.  (But that’s for another post as well.)

When people say that somebody “doesn’t have a racist bone in their body” they not only don’t know what they’re talking about.  The claim actually proves that they are in fact racist to their core.

* The word “racist” is a fairly new word. During the centuries of slavery and Jim Crow, treating black and brown people as less than human was considered normal in many parts of the world.  The word might be new, but the existence of racism is ancient.

How Traumatic Was a Trip to the Moon?

 

I’m thinking about trauma today. Pastors are entrusted with stories of trauma from parishioners, strangers, and colleagues. Domestic abuse. Combat. Incest. Terrorism. Fire.

Pastors (and educators, social workers, police officers, and medical professionals) hear a lot of difficult stories – at least if we are authentically open to hearing them.  And I don’t know if incidents of trauma are on the rise in the world or it’s just that people are more open to talking about their trauma, but all clergy – and anyone in people professions – need training in ACEs and in Trauma Informed Care.

Can you imagine how traumatic it was to fly to, land on, and return from the moon?

Edwin Aldrin has written about both his depression and addiction post-Apollo 11.  His friend astronaut Ed White had died three years before in a fire testing for Apollo 1 and so he ventured to the moon with the realization that it was a life-threatening mission. there was always the possibility that once they landed, they would not be able to leave.

Prior to Apollo 11, Neil Armstrong and his wife lost their two year daughter to brain cancer.  The fact that he had the internal strength to fly to the moon and back after such a trauma speaks of his fortitude.  Or maybe it speaks to his need to leave everything behind.

I wonder if Aldrin – a Presbyterian – and Armstrong – a Deist – ever talked with clergy about the spiritual ramifications of flying to the moon.  Did they even have the words to express what it was like?  Did they have secret conversations comparing soulful insights, especially since they shared an experience unknown to any other human being?

Part of the training to be an astronaut is resilience building.  Even though the slightest mistake could result in death, astronauts were chosen for their ability to remain calm in disasters and clear-headed in chaos.

Just as we who work with people need to learn how to care for the traumatized, we also need to learn how to build resilience and how to teach resilience to others.  I have a feeling that the world is going to become even more traumatizing in the coming years in terms of violence and climate change and bullying.  Life feels especially coarse and cruel.

But it’s humanly possible to achieve miraculous things in spite of trauma.  50 years ago, two human beings experienced something marvelous.  They walked on the freaking moon and lived to tell us about it.  Wow.

Moon Week: What Do You See in This Photo?

What Do You See?

I am so struck by this photo of the Kennedy Space Center Control Room on July 16, 1969 when Apollo 11 was launched. What do you see?

I see lots of white shirts and dark ties.  I see eyes glued to a rocket launch happening outside their window.  I see clunky computer consoles. I see white men.  I see all white men – except for one woman dressed in black in the middle of the room.  Her name is JoAnn Hardin Morgan and she is an aerospace engineer.  Surely she was not the only woman in the whole USA with the chops to sit in that room, but she was the only one who got to be there.  She is brilliant – clearly – and she also had connections that helped make this happen.  (Her father worked at Cape Canaveral for the US Army rocket program.)

I wonder about the young boys and girls of color who were not encouraged to study math and science, whose school systems were diminished by Plessy v Ferguson. I wonder about all the girls who were discouraged from studying engineering, whose parents could not imagine any future that involved outer space, especially for their daughters.

There were women including – famously – women of color who helped make Apollo 11 a success fifty years ago.  This is nothing short of miraculous that – in a culture where women’s roles were so limited – someone noticed geniuses among them who happened to be women.  Katherine Johnson. Margaret HamiltonChristine Darden. Poppy Northcutt. Joanne Thompson, Lillie Elliott, Ruth Anna Ratledge and Anna Lee Minner.  And there were many more.

Surely there were men of color who also served NASA in those days, but I cannot find their names or their photographs.  African American men, Japanese American men, and other men whose ancestors did not come from Europe were still considered dangerous in the 1960s.  (And they are today in some communities.)

I wonder – as we see images of the great Apollo 11 moments this week – if our children and grandchildren will notice how white and male those images are.  When I hear people say “make America great again” I wonder if those were the great days they are talking about.

They weren’t so great for women and people of color.  Although there were extraordinarily gifted people who were not given the opportunity to share those gifts, we are so fortunate that – in these days – there are more opportunities for both women and all people of color.  But we haven’t hit “greatness” yet. There are still structures and systems that keep some of the most talented people out of the room.

When we look at these photos, what do we see?  Do we immediately notice who is not there?

Images of Kennedy Space Center Control Room on Apollo 11 Launch Day (top) and the great Dr. Christine Darden with a fan girl at Columbia Theological Seminary in 2017.

Moon Week! “It’s Amazing What the LORD Has Let Us Learn”

I was 13 years old when Apollo 11 landed on the moon on July 20, 1969.  I remember that our family watched it on television at Mamaw and Papaw’s house in Mooresville, N.C.  I remember that it was my cousin J’s birthday.  I remember that we were all gathered around the television.  I can’t remember if we watched in black and white or in color.

My Dad had just lost his mother six months before on Christmas day 1968.  He was the same age as all three astronauts – 39.  And he commented on how much Miss E. (his mother) would have loved this moment.  He often quoted her:

“It’s amazing what the LORD has let us learn.”

Consider how much we’ve learned over the past 50 years.  And consider what we will learn – by God’s grace – in the next 50.  Let’s hope it includes cures for cancer, Alzheimer’s, ALS, diabetes, bipolarity, addiction and every other disease that wrecks our lives.  Let’s hope the future includes a way to clean the air and water for future generations.  Let’s hope there is still a place to enjoy quiet.  Let’s hope.

Image from AFP/Getty Images as published in The Atlantic magazine.

What to Do About Fake News (in Church and Beyond)

While on vacation last week in TBC’s neighborhood, I picked up a piece of trash on the sidewalk and it was a business card with the photo of a pastor and – in bold lettering – the words: “____ is an abusive priest” with an accompanying URL to learn more.

As we walked along the sidewalk, I saw more of these cards sprinkled along the ground for about a block.  And when we got home, I did some research.

It was clear that there had been a church conflict between a member and the priest.  It didn’t involve sexual or financial misconduct, but the member perceived that the priest had not been kind to his family during a difficult situation.  The priest had filed for a restraining order against the parishioner after being physically threatened.  The congregation was supporting the priest.

The member had printed up business cards to distribute throughout the neighborhood and – to put it lightly – this was not good for the congregation or their pastoral leader.

Suing somebody for slander is 1) a difficult case to win and 2) against some of our religious beliefs.  But what do we do about fake news especially when the news is about us?

All of us need to do our research.

If . . .

  • Someone says, “You know, Pastor Z has had charges brought against her” and that accusation doesn’t strike you as true from what you know about Pastor Z –  do your research.
  • You read in the paper that Presidential Candidate H is running a human trafficking enterprise out of a pizza parlor – which sounds a little crazy – do your research.
  • You find a business card on the sidewalk with the name and photo of a local priest connecting him with abuse – do your research.

The only way we can stop fake news is to stop it.  Stop assuming the worst about people.  Stop looking for dirt on our enemies.  Stop spreading gossip – or worse – about our neighbors.  It’s destructive.

We can do better.  God commands us to do better.

Image of a priest accused of misconduct.  These “Most Wanted” signs were spread all over a suburb several years ago.  I don’t know whether or not he was guilty.