Category Archives: Uncategorized

“Mom, We Lost the Cobbler”

Parenting experts say that it’s important to model the qualities we want to see in our children.  If we want to raise children who love to read, it helps if they see their parents reading.  If we want to raise kind children, it helps if they see their parents being kind.

PKs (pastors’ kids) grow up in bipolar communities.  They live in a world where people take casseroles to each other after births and deaths.  And they also live in a world where they witness firsthand the hypocrisies – if not the cruelty – of church members.  They also grow up among other kids whose parents hope their offspring will learn to be faithful and kind human beings in a spiritual community.

The world, however, privileges children who are “successful”  rather than faithful and kind.  How many of us parents have gotten together with other parents and – in catching up with each other – highlight our children’s successes?  Success on the playing field. Impressive college acceptances.  Cool new jobs.

This article – Stop Trying to Raise Successful Kids.  And Start Raising Kind Ones by Adam Grant and Allison Sweet Grant reminds us that kindness seems to be in decline.  We certainly don’t want our children to be bullies.  But we also don’t want them to be pushovers.  We want our children to be “the good kind of competitive.”  We want them to help their peers just as long as they win at life.

When FBC and SBC were in high school, I made dinner for friends who were going through rough days, but I couldn’t take the dinner over there myself. TBC had an event.  And so the boys were charged with driving the dinner over and I remember thinking, “It’s good for them to do this.  They will remember what it feels like to care even for neighbors they don’t know very well.

In the middle of TBC’s event, my phone started buzzing.  I stepped out to take the call and FBC said, “Mom, we lost the cobbler.”  A car in front of our car had stopped abruptly and peach cobbler had flown into the dashboard, into the AC vents, and all over SBC.  What was left of the dinner made it to our friends’ house but what they remember is – not the act of taking dinner to friends in need but the reason why that car smelled like peach cobbler for the rest of the years we owned it.

Teaching kindness is not a one-time lesson.  Most of us agree that the world seems endlessly divided. And the next election already feels like a referendum on the life and death of our nation.  Every day I hear someone express how dire the future looks if a certain candidate is elected or if a certain candidate is not elected.

Between now and then, how can we be kind?  How can we teach our children to be kind?  It’s not enough to be “successful” especially if our success comes at the expense of others.  My own young adult children who happen to be double PKs can be both ferocious and kind.  And so can I.

I’m – for one – praying that I practice more kindness in the months leading up to the 2020 election.  With a ferocity based on my faith in what Jesus teaches, it seems most faithful to be both.

And in the meantime, write notes of appreciation.  Smile at dogs and children.  Bake cobbler for those who need cobbler.

Here’s a delicious Berry Cobbler recipe if you need one.

Thank You Veterans, and Also . . . See

Saying “Thank you for your service” is just the beginning of supporting our Veterans.  It’s important to acknowledge that there are all kinds of Veterans out there:

  • Career military people who gave at least 20 years of their lives in service to our country
  • Veterans who served but were never deployed
  • Veterans who are wounded warriors whose lives are forever altered physically and/or mentally after their deployment

I’d like our nation to focus on this last group today.

Pete Souza, President Obama’s White House Photographer met Army Ranger Cory Remsburg in 2014.  After five years of recovery Sgt Remsburg joined Mrs. Obama in the House Chamber Balcony during the State of the Union that year. And Souza has continued to take photos of Cory Remsburg after the glow of publicity faded away.

It was said that Cory Remsburg “has never given up.”  We would like to believe that every injured Veteran is that kind of hero – one who never gives up and who smiles valiantly through the pain.

Please read this article today as an act of appreciation for our Veterans.  It clarifies not only the heroism of this particular Veteran Cory Remsburg.  It also describes what has happened in the ten years since his injury.  His brain has changed.  His parents’ lives have changed.  His future has changed.  And he still cannot walk without assistance.

There are hundreds of Veterans like Cory Remsburg.  And there are other Veterans who have died by suicide when the injuries became too much to bear.

We Americans need to be sure to vote for candidates who will fully fund the best medical care and physical therapy in the world for these Veterans.  We need to focus on what best supports the military and their families in appreciation of their service. Check out this list of deferred projects that would have benefited our military but was deferred to spend money – instead – on the wall at the Southern Border:

  • A Child Development Center in Maryland
  • An Ambulatory Care Center in North Carolina
  • A Fire Crash Rescue Station in Florida

The list is long.

It’s not enough to say, “Thank you for your service” today.  We need to support our Veterans in tangible, economic actions.  Please vote to support them.

Image of Army Ranger Cory Remsburg after one of his dozens of surgeries.

 

The Impulse to Talk About It

I know it’s been a good sermon, a good retreat, a good movie, a good class, a good Netflix series when the impulse to talk about it with other people is overwhelming.  I’ve experienced this lately after:

Experiencing the creative juices of certain people partnered with the thoughts in my own brain is enough of a reason to live to get through these anxious days.

I would love for every sermon to spark the impulse to talk about it.

I would love for every retreat, every meeting, every class, every conference to spark that impulse.

This is what evangelism is all about:  sharing the Good News of something life-giving and idea-sparking.  When was the last time you experienced this?

What’s the buzz that makes it impossible for you NOT to talk about it with others?  For me it’s the buzz God reveals to me.  The God who created Harriet Tubman and Cynthia Erivo, and Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Scott Galloway and Shannon Kershner and Colson Whitehead and Damon Lindelof is the God I’m very interested in knowing everything about.  It’s the kind of creativity that lights fires and imaginations and relationships.

I pray you experience something this weekend that blesses you with the impulse to talk about it with someone else.  It’s amazing.

Image of bees outside the hive.

What Would You(r Church) Do If Someone Gave You an Unexpected $10,000?

Everyone once in a while someone contacts me to share that they would like to give The Church a chunk of money.

“Is there anything you could do with $10,000?”  Why, yes, there are lots of things we could do.

In late 1999, I was having coffee with Deb – a deacon in the congregation I was serving – and she had an amazing idea:  to use church space to open a computer training lab for underemployed neighbors.  We had just closed our preschool and space was available in the church building.

Here’s the miracle:  Deb presented her idea to the elders at the same meeting that we received a surprise $10k check from a church member.  Without a whole lot of discussion, someone moved that we give Deb the money to start the computer lab.

It’s not like we didn’t have building maintenance needs to address or a budget to balance, but the whole $10,000 was passed to do something impactful for our community.

On November 20, Computer CORE celebrates its 20th Anniversary.  The lab has since moved from the church building to a larger location and thousands of students have graduated and moved on to get hired into well-paying positions with dental benefits.

What would you do if your Church was given an unexpected $10,000?  

Fix the roof?  Pave the driveway? Send the long-suffering church administrator to Hawaii?

The answer to this question determines the spiritual health of your congregation.

Yes there are administrative and property needs but Jesus didn’t die for a new boiler.  I’m convinced that funds to replace the HVAC system will come when people feel uncomfortable enough.

And I hope that the faithful are most uncomfortable when their neighbors are in need.  Every single congregation in the world has neighbors who deal with hunger, homelessness, addiction, mental illness, and violence.  What could we do to alleviate their pain?  It depends on the situation, but $10k could make a difference.

That $10,000 our congregation was not used to start a project that would “bring in new members.”  Most of the Computer CORE students are not Christian and don’t want to be Christian.  But they have experienced the love of Christ in a very tangible way.

At the first graduation of CORE students a young man from Morocco kept taking my picture – a bit surreptitiously.  It was a little unnerving frankly.  Finally I asked him why he was taking my picture.  And this is what he said:

I told my family in Morocco I was taking computer classes in a Christian church building and they told me to ‘Get out of there!  The Christians will try to kill you!’  But he told them that ‘The Christians are not trying to kill me.  They are helping me.’  I wanted to send them a picture of the pastor of the Church that’s trying to save my life.

Whose life could your congregation save with $10,000?

Image of some of the students of Computer CORE.  You can donate your $10k here.  Seriously.  Make a donation.

For the Love of God . . .

. . . trust Black women. 

I’ve had a couple experiences in the past week during which leaders who happen to be Black women have been ignored or written off or unfairly criticized.  I see this often in my line of work and it’s crushing.  And a sin.

Trust Black women – not merely because they vote, not only because they are wise, not simply because they are strong.  Trust Black women because they are unspeakably gifted.   That’s all I have to say today.

Image source.

Paying Taxes is Patriotic

Today We The People get to vote.  Some of us get to vote on increasing our local taxes or not.  

Mention the word “taxes” and most Americans will groan.  But I, for one, am grateful for the privilege of paying taxes to my government.

  • When I lived in Illinois my (very high) taxes paid for amazing community fairs and a top notch public library.  I – a Southerner – had no qualms about driving in the winter because the roads were clear every day.  The commuter trains were reliable and safe.  The schools were and continue to be excellent.
  • Now that I’m in North Carolina, I will happily vote today in favor of a quarter-cent increase in our sales tax to fund arts, parks, and education here in Charlotte.  I believe it’s good for our city.

I have no children in the school system here but teachers deserve the supplements this tax increase would provide.  I rarely use the parks and greenways but they are essential for community recreation. Although I don’t take full advantage of the cultural resources in this city, the arts edify all ages and income levels.

Paying taxes is patriotic.  It means that we support what builds up our community and helps our neighbors as well as ourselves.  Would you pay higher taxes if it meant that public school teachers were paid better salaries?  Would you pay higher taxes if it meant that everybody got health care?

I hope your answer is a big yes.

We Americans are a flag-waving people – especially in regards to our veterans and our first responders.  Our taxes make it possible for veterans to receive their pensions and healthcare.  Our taxes make it possible for our police officers and firefighters to get better training.

The truth is also that our taxes pay for policies that perpetuate injustice and – again – this is why we vote. Voting expresses our desire to make changes – or not.

If we truly believe that God calls us to serve our neighbors I hope we will vote accordingly. It’s the faithful thing to do.

We are incredibly fortunate to be citizens of the United States, and I say this knowing full well that there are great and small injustices throughout our nation.  We can do monumentally better.  Unless we are cynical about the whole “liberty and justice for all” part of our national pledge of allegiance, we are all called to vote for leaders and policies that will serve our neighbors as well as ourselves.

Our allegiance is not to an institution.  Our allegiance is to each other.  We are the United States of America.

I hope you’ll vote today.

Image source here.

Was Harriet Tubman a Magic Negro?

You are familiar with Magic Negros right?  Think Will Smith in Bagger Vance.

Magic Negroes are the dark-skinned characters in fictional movies who help the light-skinned people figure it out.  They can communicate with the dead (Whoopi Goldberg in Ghost.) They can see the future (Gloria Foster in The Matrix.) Sometimes they even portray God (Morgan Freeman in Bruce Almighty.)

Harriet Tubman was not a Magic Negro.

She was the real life human woman with the faith to move mountains. She could not read and write but she could hear God’s Voice.  She could see Visions. That Voice and those Visions made it possible for her to free at least 70 enslaved people in the 19th Century United States.

Do you know what would have happened to her if she’d been caught?

Nat Turner was hanged and then flayed and then beheaded after leading a slave rebellion in 1831.  His skin and bones were literally handed out as souvenirs after his death. And he even got a trial.  I doubt that Harriet Tubman would have gotten a trial.

The fact that she was never caught is a miracle of Biblical proportions. In honor of All Saints’ Day last week, it would be a good idea to see Kasi Lemmons‘ film Harriet staring Cynthia Erivo. It’s excellent.  (Note: there is not a more elegant actor alive than Leslie Odom, Jr.)

There are people who believe that Jesus is also magic.  The miracles were like magic tricks.  Prayers are magical chants.

But Jesus is not magic and prayers are not incantations.

And the Saints of God from Joan of Arc (1412 to 1431) to Teresa of Avila (1515-1582) to Harriet Tubman (about 1822 to 1913) are not magic – even though they all exuded a deep spiritual power that made them fearless.

Each of us are also called saints of God in my Christian tradition, and it doesn’t mean we are perfect, but it does mean that we can have that spiritual power as well.  It’s just that our fear usually outweighs our faith.

Faithfulness is a power that can move an illiterate enslaved 5’2″woman to risk her life for the sake of justice.  She wasn’t magic.  She was simply filled with the Spirit of God.

This Spirit can be ours too but we’re distracted by projects like “filling the pews” and “making the budget.” (And this is swiftly killing the Church.)

Top image of Harriet Tubman and Cynthia Erivo who plays her in Harriet. The bottom image of the saint’s gravestone in Auburn, New York.

Rest is a Form of Resistance

It’s been a long week, my friends.  Actually it’s been a long couple of weeks with big meetings and a two trips and a bad cold.  You don’t have to tell me twice to take a nap.

A colleague introduced me to The Nap Ministry which is – yes – about self-care and getting enough shut-eye.  And it’s also about much more.

Naps are a holy place, spiritual practice and a form of resistance for those living in the margins, navigating racism, poverty, violence and discrimination. What could have happened if we were allowed the space to rest?

The other night I was blessed to participate in a conversation about weathering and African American women.  This is a subject for a year’s worth of blog posts and I’ve been thinking about Women of Color who are in my life.

  • I think about my friend S. whose life has been exhausting for most of her 30 years. She is currently homeless and doesn’t want to live in a shelter because her spouse will not give her custody of their children if she’s living in a shelter.  And so – without a car or a phone – she tries to find work and shelter and food.  What takes me five minutes takes her two hours because of her situation.
  • I think about T. who took care of me and my siblings when we were young children.  One day my Dad let me ride with him to take T. home and when we pulled in front of her dilapidated house with several children my age playing in the yard, I asked her, “Whose children are these?”  And she said “They are my children.”  I didn’t ask the question out loud, but I though it: “Who takes care of your children when you are taking care of us?” (Note: We didn’t even call her “Miss T.”  Just her first name.)
  • I think about my sisters in ministry who are Women of Color.  Like all clergywomen, they have to deal with everything from comments about their hair to comments about their clothing.  But Women of Color have additional burdens.  What church will call them to serve?  (Very often African American, Korean American, and Puerto Rican congregations will not call Women of Color who’ve come out of their own congregations.  And neither will White churches.)  And then they have to deal with all the everyday stress of not appearing to be “too ethnic” or “too loud” or “too angry.”  But they also have to work all the time so that people will know they are “committed.”  It’s exhausting.
  • I think about the women at the border.  They have fled violence and quite possibly fended off further violence along the way.  And they have children who can be taken from them.  And they don’t speak English and they are hungry and they are desperate.  What I would give to be able to pay for hotel rooms with hot showers and comfy beds for every one of them.

Life is remarkably easy for me.  I don’t have to prove that I’m worth being in the room these days mostly because of 1) my professional experience and 2) my age.  My skin color has allowed me in most rooms for most of my life.

I don’t have to worry about my husband being pulled over and humiliated on his way home from a night meeting.  I don’t have to worry that someone will yell “Go home” to me if I’m out walking in my neighborhood.  I don’t have to worry about a safety net if everything goes south.

Imagine a world in which we just stopped and rested because we could?  Most of us can indeed stop and rest.  We just don’t.

And there are millions of others who can’t stop and rest because of who they are and what they are going through.

Some of us have the power to allow others to stop and rest.  Let’s do that.  And let’s nap for the sake of our souls this weekend.  We get an extra hour of sleep.

This post is dedicated in memory of Erica Garner for All Saints Day.

Because There May Not Be Anything Scarier Than Stewardship Sunday

Freezer Burn from InLighten Films on Vimeo.

For many church leaders, there’s nothing scarier than stewardship.  Check this out from Inlighten Films. Password if needed: inlighten

Happy Halloween

Freezer Burn from InLighten Films on Vimeo.

 

 

 

City Ham and Country Ham

[Note: My apologies to those of you who don’t eat pork.]

Yesterday at our Presbytery meeting we were hosted by a congregation known for its exquisite hospitality.  Usually the meetings start with coffee.  Yesterday the meeting started with coffee and homemade ham biscuits with a choice between “City Ham” and “Country Ham.”  Some of us chose both.

A lot is written about hospitality in congregations, but we sometimes conflate rules of etiquette with letting people know they are included. Hospitality is less about the right fork and more about including the newcomers, the visitors, the lost, and the ones who don’t particularly want to be there.

Each of those people can be found in church meetings.

Many of us are busy at these kinds of meetings.  And yet the first priorities must be about people rather than process.  Yesterday, I witnessed:

  • People standing in line to welcome new pastors.
  • Lavish applause offered to newly elected leaders.
  • Grace given to people whose microphones didn’t work.
  • Accommodations made for people who needed help getting around.
  • Accommodations made for people with young children.
  • Lots of laughter.
  • Two kinds of ham biscuits.

We crave authentic community in these days and it’s not about being in a crowded room.  It’s about being with people who see us and appreciate us and celebrate with us and cry with us.  It’s about looking around and seeing people who don’t look like us or speak like us, but caring about what happens to them.  This is Church at its best.