The Stimulus Check Challenge

HH and I received a stimulus check last week and frankly I was surprised. I didn’t think we qualified. We have been among the privileged during this pandemic.

We’ve experienced minimal pain. We still have steady paychecks and can work from home. We have excellent health care. 

We don’t need this stimulus check for daily expenses.

Of course we could use this money for future purchases or to add to our retirement accounts. But we have neighbors in food lines and neighbors living in tents by the highway because the winter shelters are closed.

Here’s the challenge: if you don’t need your stimulus check for your own daily needs, please consider giving it away to those who have more daily needs than we can imagine

  • Keep it local..
  • Don’t tell anyone.

Being poor is not a sin. Ignoring the poor is.  And those of us who can live without a stimulus check have been given the opportunity to stop being ignorant.

Happy February.

We’re Tired. We’re Anxious. Now What?

To be perfectly simplistic, I’m seeing two kinds of churches out here:

  1. Churches who are wringing their hands about whether or not their congregations will survive this pandemic.
  2. Churches who are practicing flexibility as best they can during this pandemic.

All of us are tired and somewhat anxious.  All of us feel a little like burnt toast.

But this is where we are right now and there are opportunities to find both relief and hope.  My brilliant colleague suggests that we preachers do what preachers do:  tell stories. (Thank you PH.)

Tell the story of the single parent who can now participate in Tuesday night Bible study because it’s virtual and there’s no need to hire a babysitter.

Tell the story of the families who have joined them via live-streaming for a couple months now who might have never crossed the threshold of their church building.

Tell the story of the member who can’t meet anyone in person because of chemotherapy treatment but finds so much comfort in seeing friends during online small group meetings.

Tell the story of members who have increased their financial giving to support the special needs that have arisen due to the pandemic.  The food pantry has never received so many donations.  The people who have shared their stimulus checks because they didn’t themselves need them have grown the mission funds.

We all have pandemic stories.  Many of them are tragic.  Some of them are inspiring.  It’s up to us to share the inspiring ones while comforting those traumatized by the tragic ones.

Have a good weekend.  Tell somebody a story.

When Being Inclusive Doesn’t Make Sense

Being inclusive – as a society, as a church, as a community –  is one of those things we are all supposed to do and be.  From playgrounds to boardrooms, we’ve all witnessed situations when somebody isn’t included and it’s painful.  What’s even more concerning is when we live our lives never noticing who’s not at the table and whose voice is not being heard.

And yet, in organizations like the Church, sometimes our mission is sabotaged when “everybody” is included.  For example:

  • A congregation elects a Pastor Nominating Committee and there’s a desire to include a member who is a reliable naysayer.  He has strong opinions and many believe it would be a good thing to include him so that he feels like he’s a part of important decision-making in the life of the congregation.  A Pastor Nominating Committee needs to be on the same page in terms of what the congregation wants in the next pastor.  And this particular guy has announced that under no circumstances will he allow the church to call a clergywoman, even though their denomination ordains and supports women in professional ministry.  This not only frustrates the work of the PNC; it also blocks the movement of the Spirit.
  • After a year of study, St. Thomas Church on the Hill votes to build affordable housing on their property for homeless veterans.  They have prayed about this for a long time and they feel that God is calling them to do this.  The vote was 89% in favor of this project during the congregational meeting, so it’s going to happen.  When putting together the six person team to work with the builders, the pastor includes two of the members who voted against the project.  Unfortunately, those two are doing their best to sabotage the construction process even though the congregation is overwhelmingly in favor.  They are asking questions and making demands that have already been settled.  They should never have been added to the committee, but – for the sake of inclusion – they were.

See what I mean?  A healthy governing board indeed includes a diverse group of people who are representative of the congregation, and yet the board needs to be able to debate an issue and come out of it as a united body.  Healthy elders and deacons might disagree with what the others approved, but they leave the meeting backing up the the majority vote.

In a healthy church, there are not “winners” and “losers” in terms of congregational decisions.  If our focus is on pleasing God, and we have prayerfully discerned the situation, we have to agree to agree with each other and show a united front.

I hope this makes sense.  What I’m not saying is that we forego inclusion of different ages, heritages, and perspectives on our church leadership teams.  What I am saying is that we must be committed exclusively to following the Spirit’s lead.  Otherwise, we are wasting everybody’s time.

It’s best to exclude those who don’t play well with others.  Love them.  And love your church by electing those who are most excited to expand the congregation’s mission.

Scenes from a Brewery Restroom

HH and I live in a neighborhood within walking distance of four coffeeshops, three breweries, and about fifteen restaurants. We have a lot of choices about where we will spend our time and money.

We like the brewery closest to our home, not just because it’s convenient, but also because they have a culture of hospitality and especially a culture of service to the community that makes us want to be with them.  The photos above were taken in one of their clean and modern bathrooms.  Note the accomodations to parents.  Note the organizations they partner with for the good of the community.

We also live within walking distance of nine houses of worship.  Although my ministry involves working with 93 Presbyterian congregations – including three within walking distance to my home – I often ponder, “What church would I join, if I could join just one?

I would connect with a church that has a strong culture of hospitality and an especially strong culture of service to the community.

Even and especially in this season of social distancing and face masks, we can offer hospitality and outreach into the neighborhood.  Congregations who continue to offer those things are thriving during this pandemic.

As followers of Jesus, we have the added opportunity to partner with people in faith.  What does that look like during a pandemic?

  • Include both prayer and relational time in Zoom meetings. Open each Bible Study, Book Study, or meeting with a relational question: Share what you know about your own baptism. Who has had the greatest impact on your spiritual life besides Jesus? Share the first time you remember observing racism.  Make the question fit your context. Yes, this will make the meeting Zoom run longer but it might be the most important part of the meeting.  And pray specifically for people by name. 
  • Call those going through both good and not-so-good things and pray with them on the phone.  (Your pastors can teach you how to do this if you don’t know how/feel too nervous to pray out loud.)
  • Invite people to participate in activities that serve others during this pandemic.  Write letters to strangers in retirement communities or nursing homes. (Look up the ones closest to you and find out where to send the letters for distribution.)  Start a drive to share stimulus checks (if you do not need the check for your own day to day needs) with a local food pantry or shelter.  Collect gift cards so that each family in the hotel for evicted families gets at least one.  

How sad is it when a brewery builds a better sense of community than many of our churches?  It can be really fun to change this.

Images from Pilot Brewing in Charlotte, NC

Moving Forward

Hey Church: It feels like a good time to make plans for 2021 if we haven’t done it yet. The attacks at the Capitol and the changes in national leadership delayed looking past mid-January, but now’s the time to assess where we are and where we are going this year.

I hope we are moving forward. I hope we are creating new paths for ministry not inspite of the pandemic but because of the pandemic.

Do we need to open a door and let the light shine into our meetings and mission plans?  Over the past several months as COVID-19 has weighed us down, I’ve heard these comments from Church People I love:

  • We can’t use our unused property to build a shelter.  I’ve always imagined kids playing soccer on that field. (NOTE: The church building has been there for over 50 years and there has never been a soccer game – or any game – played on that lot.)
  • We can’t use our Education Wing for transitional housing.  What if we get an influx of children who need Sunday School space? (NOTE: There are five children in the congregation and they are thriving without traditional Sunday School.)
  • We can’t close our church.  Sure, we have only eight people participating, but once the pandemic is over everyone will come back!  (NOTE: There were only twelve participants pre-COVID and so “everyone” will not give us the capacity to thrive without some death and resurrection.)
  • We are hoping to call a pastor who will bring us back to our glory years after this pandemic is finally over.  (NOTE: The glory years are long gone.  They are never coming back in the way we remember them. The right pastor can lead your congregation towards looking more like the Reign of God, but you have to want that.)

At 9:21 last night, we lived through the 21st minute of the 21st hour of the 21st day of the 21st year of the 21st century.  It’s time to get moving into the next days and years and centuries.  Or we can stop here and close our church buildings.

It’s easy to say, “Yes, we want to move forward” with our lips but we don’t really want it in our deepest souls.  I’m praying every day that our faithful Church People ask God to make us crave this desire to move forward with more than our words.

Image source and the article is pretty good too.

Written on the Evening of January 20, 2021

I drove a car much of Inauguration Day so, although I listened to the ceremonies, I didn’t see the faces, the jewel-toned suits, the wind blowing through everyone’s hair.

Not everyone voted for the new President and Vice President. Some who voted for them might not have considered them their first choice. Some were very excited today.

I’m home now, and as I watch some of the coverage of the day, I realize that I find comfort in quieter voices and healing words. I’m grateful for friends with whom I can share my hopes and my dreams of what A More Perfect Union looks like. It looks like Republicans and Democrats sitting together. It looks like the excellence of Amanda Gorman. It looks like a Latina Justice swearing in a Baptist Woman of Color with a Jewish husband.

This looks like The Reign of God to me. It’s less about politics and more about my faith in a God who has put on human skin and crossed boundaries to include those who hadn’t been included before.

Exhausted tonight and grateful to be an American. 🇺🇸

We Continue to Pray

Flags are placed on the National Mall, looking towards the Washington Monument, and the Lincoln Memorial, ahead of the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, Monday, Jan. 18, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

After walking around in our socially distanced world for many months, our Presbytery was led in prayer yesterday in three parts by three leaders for those impacted by the COVID-19 virus, for our divided nation, and for the new President and Vice-President.  That last part was mine.  Here is part of that prayer:

Just as we ask for peace for the outgoing President and Vice-President, we ask that you protect President-elect Biden and Vice-President-elect Harris.

  • Protect their bodies from physical danger.
  • Protect their vision from serving their party to serving their country.
  • Protect their minds from cynicism and their souls from hopelessness.

Grant them that deep peace that passes all understand when they are carrying the heaviest of burdens and the most difficult of duties.

  • Grant them wisdom and honesty.
  • Grant them a circle of people who will tell them the truth.
  •  Grant them – we dare to pray as Presbyterian Christians – energy, intelligence, imagination and love.

We have been praying for our nation for many months and we continue today. God have mercy upon us.

Pandemic Time Travel

I agree with my colleagues who say that this pandemic has jolted us five years into the future. In early 2019, small struggling congregations still had time to discern missional ministry shifts to keep them going beyond their historical purpose. In early 2019, healthy dinosaurs had time to figure out what was keeping people away and what was welcoming new believers into the fold.

COVID-19 changed all this. Suddenly with the requirement that worship happen online and The Work of the Church involved serving our local neighbors who lost their jobs, homes, and basic lifestyle (hello homeschooling) it became clear that the institutional Church has been forced to make decisions before they expected.

  • Congregations on the cusp of closing made that decision earlier than expected since they didn’t have the capacity to thrive on YouTube.
  • Congregations wringing their hands over the decision to build affordable housing realized that This Was The Time to provide for those in need.
  • Congregations debating the whole “let’s do things the way we’ve always done it” versus “let’s take the leap to be God’s hands and feet in our community” were forced to resolve the debate sooner than they expected.

As I’ve written before, congregations who were thriving before the pandemic continued to thrive after the pandemic and congregations who were struggling before the pandemic were practically dying after the pandemic started.

Time travel.  We have projected into the future at least five years.

I share this comment with all love and respect:

This is the time to consider (now) what God is calling us to do and be.

Some tell me that “this is not the time” to invest church endowment money into affordable housing.  This is exactly the time to invest in affordable housing.

Some tell me that “this is not the time” to start new mission ventures.  Actually this is precisely the time to start new mission ventures.

Time travel helps us to realize what we should have done and what we could still do with the benefit of a cosmic opportunity.  Let’s not waste this opportunity of having a pandemic and being forced to quarantine and make some pivots.

God is good.  God has offered us this opportunity to do a new thing.  Let’s do that.

Image source.

 

Jesus said, “Love Your Enemies” and There’s More

 ‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”  Jesus in Matthew 5:43-44

I was in seminary when a would-be assassin severely wounded President Reagan. One of my classmates – a second-career student with a young child – was not a fan of Reagan, but she was staggered by a conversation with her daughter that night. At the dinner table, the daughter said with all seriousness, “Mommy, we’re glad that Reagan got shot, right?

My friend dropped her fork and said, “Oh honey, no. We don’t agree with him, but we never want him to be hurt.” My friend was mortified and it was a good reminder for her to be clear in teaching her child that even when we disagree with people, we don’t wish them harm.

I fear that this sensibility has changed especially in the 21st Century Church.

From David Brooks’ opinion piece in The New York Times yesterday:

“Over the last 72 hours, I have received multiple death threats and thousands upon thousands of emails from Christians saying the nastiest and most vulgar things I have ever heard toward my family and ministry. I have been labeled a coward, sellout, a traitor to the Holy Spirit, and cussed out at least 500 times.”

This was written on social media by Charlotte Pastor Jeremiah Johnson after he shared this letter with his congregation in which he criticized the President.  Among other things, Pastor Johnson wrote that there is “potential great danger and trouble ahead for America if he is re-elected.”  It clearly didn’t go well with his followers.

Jeremiah Johnson got death threats. Death. Threats.

It’s not enough to disagree politically with someone these days.  Now Christians are threatening other Christians with death threats.  Or better stated, some Christians who do not consider others to be Christian enough are threatening each other.

Our nation is consumed with this kind of enmity.  Not only are we not praying for our enemies.  Some of us are threatening to kill them.

Political speeches past: “The President was my opponent and not my enemy.” Bob Dole (1996)

Political speeches present: “He’s going to do things you wouldn’t think are even possible because he’s following the radical left agenda.  Take away your guns, destroy your Second Amendment. No religion.  No anything. Hurt the Bible. Hurt God. He’s against God.  He’s against guns.  He’s against energy, our kind of energy.” Donald Trump (2020)

So, here’s my question, Christians:

  • What are we doing to give our children and our neighbors the idea that physically hurting people with whom we disagree politically, theologically, culturally is okay?  Do we casually blurt out things like, “Nancy Pelosi should be strung up” or “Somebody should punch Ivanka Trump in the face.“?  If you feel that way, try the decaf.  If you say such things, watch your tongue.
  • What are we doing to curb the meanness in the world?  Do we laugh off friends and family who make violent statements?  Do we claim to have “no enemies” but we make it clear that we “hate” everyone on the other side of the political divide?

We are supposed to be the light of the world and the salt of the earth.  We are called to pray for our enemies and those who persecute us.  This never means that Jesus wants us to wield a weapon while wearing a John 3:16 shirt.

It’s up to us to speak the truth in love. 

Nothing looked like love on January 6th, 2021 in Our Nation’s Capitol but it’s not enough to point fingers and be shocked.  We need to clean up our own acts and our own words.  We need to open our Bibles and get on our knees.

Happy Friday.

Image source.

These People Will Change Your Life in 2021

Ordinarily I write an end-of-the-year post about my discoveries in the previous year. Sometimes my “discoveries” reveal that I am a late bloomer or a late-to-the-party girl. The end of the year felt heavy a couple weeks ago but I’m ready to share some resources that will change your life.  It’s important to nourish our souls while grappling with the serious issues of our world. Here you go:

  • Bernadette Joy Maulion became one of my new favorite people last year for so many reasons. She is the Brene Brown of personal finance with a goal to help women (and specifically women of color) build wealth.  Coming from a lifetime of little to zero financial savvy myself, Bernadette has made it fun to become financially stable and secure.  She teaches online classes here and you can join her Debt Crushers group here.  And you can hear part of her story here.  
  • Jimmy Greene is a professional saxaphonist who is also known for other things.  I love his online presence.  I love his #HymnOnSunday each week. His words and music soothe the soul and not in a Hallmark card way.  He is married to Nelba Marquez-Greene who is a national treasure.  He is the father of Ana Grace and Isaiah.
  • Nelba Marquez-Greene is one of the best human beings on the earth. She has deep faith in God and also sometimes wants to break things.  In other words, she is an authentic follower of Jesus. See above.
  • Edgar Villenueva (the author not the Peruvian politician) wrote one of the best books I read last year: Decolonizing Wealth: Indigenous Wisdom to Heal Divides and Restore Balance. His N.C. roots caught my attention and his clear explanation of colonialism and its impact on philanthropy kept me engaged.  I literally see everything through a different lens because of this book.

If you have any life-changing resources you’d like to share, I invite you to do so in the comments or in a link to your own blog.  We need to be spiritually nourished in these days and I love it when a seemingly secular subject (e.g. finance, music, philanthropy) is reframed as a theological practice.

Have a wonderful Tuesday.

Image is an original painting by Ana Grace Marquez-Greene.