Tuesday, October 27, 2020

We All Belong


Every day that I travel to and from church, I pass a flag flown by one of the neighbors of the church. The flag says: Trump 2020 Make Liberals Cry Again. The other day, my husband pointed out that particular flag and expressed his dismay over how anyone could have pride in that. My husband’s words have been lingering in the back on my mind. And today they emerge as a blog.

Trump 2020: Make Liberals Cry Again. Are liberals not Americans, too? This promotion of Americans are on two different teams at war with each other is tearing our country apart and allowing sin to rule our nation.

It is one thing to call out bad behavior or bad policy, but to personally attack people in the hopes they cry is un-American. If you don’t like the specifics in the Green New Deal, by all means criticize it, but do not attack Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for being dumb, uneducated and a little girl. If you do not agree with how Gretchen Whitmer is handling the pandemic in her state, then criticize the safety protocols. But do not engage in chants to “lock her up.” These personal attacks are not how people of integrity conduct themselves.

Now, we cannot expect all people everywhere to behave in certain ways on either side of aisle. But we can expect the people we elect to serve the people, to be people of integrity, people who serve all Americans, not just the ones who aren’t liberal.

I understand the desire to elect someone who is not a politician and to crave a new way of running the government. I agree that there should be a lot of changes to how our elected people serve their constituents. In my opinion, there should be term limits, there shouldn’t be a two party system, there shouldn’t be a monetary requirement to get a name on the ballot, elected officials should not need to spend the majority of their time soliciting donations to stay in office, and there should be no room for companies to use money to get their agenda pushed forward. But Make America Great Again or Keep America Great, isn’t changing anything, it isn’t moving forward. It is actually looking backward. It is saying that the corrupt ways of the running the government in the past is how it should be. And what has been revealed by Make America Great Again is that corruption is dominating.

If you boarded the trump Train because you wanted to feel like you belong to something great or to feel connected with others to fight against a common enemy, may I remind you of Romans 15:5-7. “May God, the source of all strength and encouragement, enable you to live in perfect harmony with one another according to the Spirit of Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and one voice, you may praise the God of our Savior Jesus Christ. Accept one another as Christ accepted us, for the glory of God.” (Priests for Equality. The Inclusive Bible. Sheed & Ward. Kindle Edition.)

You belong in Christ Jesus. You belong to God who gives you breath. You belong. We all belong. All of us.  And we should all be fighting against the evil in this world. Not one another.

Friday, July 31, 2020

Elephant, Donkey or Jesus?

This past month there have been many different ways that people have been reaching out to me, to support me as a pastor leading a congregation in uncertain times. I’ve gotten video messages, a book on prayer and meditation, cards, invitation for Zoom conversations and more.  I will be honest and say I am stretched, I am tired, I’m sad and lonely. But I’m also renewed, hopeful and engaged in the new work that opens up my imagination and creativity. Beyond the tremendous sadness and grief of lives lost and the constant back and forth of how to handle the pandemic, I believe for the church, we now have more possibilities than we ever had before. And I see the blessing in this time. For me, however, the difficulty of this exile is preaching the gospel in a country that is viciously politically divided. 


Whether we like to admit it or not, the Bible and the church are political. The Bible is a collection of stories, many of which teach people how to live in a society as one people. The gospels tell us stories of Jesus who came to help the people being oppressed by the Roman Empire; stories of Jesus teach us to be disciples in a world of injustice. The church is a collection of people who follow a church constitution and bylaws, who are run by a church council, where every member gets a vote and majority rules. Though we would like to not be thought of as political, we very much are. The one thing the church should not be is partisan, because we follow the law of God.

The difficulty of following the Gospel and God’s commands is there is a power over the American people called patriotism; this idea that we must pledge our allegiance to a flag and our country. We vote people into office based on a two party system. Though I realize there are alternatives to the two systems, those options are rarely voted in. We have become a two party system in which people declare themselves as part of one or the other, and stick with those party lines across the board. It makes the voting system simpler, one does not have to necessarily research particular candidates and what their morals are, how they would take care of the people, and what priorities they have as elected servants. You can pick red or blue and make assumptions on where they stand on particular issues in a cut and dry approach. You do not need to understand their “grey” areas, their morals or beliefs. When elected servants cast their votes, they don’t need to grapple with their convictions or morals or what they feel they can live with, they vote the party line to keep this two party system a sacred process. 


And what patriotism and party affiliation has done is squeezed out Jesus. Following the first commandment to love God has been replaced with the first amendment. The work of Jesus is now seen through a democratic or republican lens. Issues that should be loving your neighbor issues, are no longer, they are either a democratic or republican issue. We are no longer looked upon as Christian disciples; we are either democrats or republicans. The word Christian and patriot are so closely linked, that being a follower of Jesus no longer exists. What easily glides off peoples lips are partisan talking points, or counter arguments instead of Scripture and the words of Jesus. These labeled words of "Conservative Christians" or the "Christian Left" have taken on this whole partisan terminology and embraces this idea that everything, even Jesus has a side. 


Jesus is on the side of justice, Jesus is on the side of the oppressed, and Jesus should be in front of you, if you are claiming to be a Christian. If you can’t find words from Jesus that support your stance, you aren’t following Jesus. And I’m not saying you have to, I’m saying if you want to follow Jesus, you cannot be consumed with patriotism and party affiliation. If you want to follow Jesus, the commandment to love God must always come first. It must come first in your heart, in your family, in your career, in your finances and giving, in your community, in the voting booth. 


Until this country moves away from the two party system that people buy into before anything else, preaching the Gospel will forever be the most difficult part of being a pastor. If there is no place, not even church, where we are able to recognize that we are bringing our partisan loyalties to the communion table, and set them down at the feet of Jesus, I don’t know where that would ever happen. 

Jesus was a humble servant. He believed everyone who came to him asking for help. He especially recognized the women and children because they were being treated as property in Roman Society. He reached out to the hungry, the naked, the imprisoned, the sick, the stranger. He taught us to love our neighbors with compassion and understanding. If you are standing for those things, because they all translate to things happening in our world today, then you are following Jesus. If you make exceptions, if you judge others and therefore deny them support, if you base your compassion for people on laws, if you see someone hurting and you fail to be Jesus in the flesh to them, you are not following Jesus.


Jesus was executed by the Roman government by request for not following religious laws. According to the Gospel of Luke, he was crucified with two robbers beside him, in which he asks God for forgiveness for them before death because they “do not know that they are doing.” He did all of this while hanging from a cross as people jeered at him and celebrated his Crucifixion. If you claim to follow Jesus, I hope you’d choose to be one of the people who celebrated Jesus’ resurrection, not one of those who celebrated his death.


I hope you want to resurrect too, and leave behind your label of Republican or Democrat.       

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Where's the Heart?

Are you outraged about the looting in Minnesota but not the murder of a black man? 

I am an ordained pastor in the United Church of Christ for three years. I am a person who comes from a diverse area in Illinois and now lives in a predominately white suburb in Wisconsin. I am a child of a stay-at-home mom and dad who retired from Chrysler. I grew up with none of the extras, but never went without the necessities.  As a young married couple, my spouse and I had some moments where we could not afford health insurance and struggled financially. And I now sit behind this computer as a forty-year-old privileged white woman with two teenage sons.

In my early twenties, not too long after graduating with a bachelor’s degree in English from Aurora University, I sat on my first jury for a case that involved a dispute between two young black men where one was shot. The prosecutors on the case miserably failed in proving guilt. The jury all agreed that we really had no idea what happened the day of the shooting. However, the jury I was on wanted to convict the young black man because he had run from the cops. They said running from the cops must have meant that he was guilty.

I remember recalling my criminal justice class that I had taken as a required course. In that class I remember learning that African American families do not teach their children to trust the cops. I was one of the youngest people in the room and I shared that for a black man, running from the cops is not a proof of any guilt. One other person brought up that the proof must be beyond a reasonable doubt, and he did not think that there was enough proof. I was so thankful for this other person that spoke up because I honestly cannot say that I would have held my ground if I was the only one. I want to believe I could have taken on the group by myself if I had to, but I honestly fear I may have kept silent.  It took us into the late evening, but finally the two of us got everyone to say not guilty.

I think of that moment every time I know that I am required to speak up against racism in America and that speaking up will have consequences. It is not enough for me to talk about privilege, racism and the disparities in the criminal justice system with my sons reminding them they have to use their privilege if they find themselves in a police situation with their friends of color. I must do more because my ordination vows require it.       

Today I caught the end of a town hall hosted by the Boys and Girls Club of Dane County CEO Michael Johnson and Madison365 CEO Henry Sanders discuss the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis with local police officials and community leaders. They invited a black mother, Jacquelyn Hunt to speak. As I listened to her, I began to cry, and I knew my tears meant that I cannot listen without then acting of some kind.

Jacquelyn Hunt asked, “In the moment, at that moment, where is the heart that heard that man say, ‘I can’t breathe.’” Where are our hearts, White America? We have a deep deficit with compassion for others. I see you not once showing your outrage over George Floyd, but speaking up about your anger over the protests, rioting and looting. I see you using quotes about peaceful protests from Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and condemning the acts that happened after peaceful, unarmed protesters were met with smoke bombs, tear gas and flash grenades. I see you jumping to speak about right and wrong done to property, but not the wrong done to a black man’s life.

As a white mother and pastor, it is my job to call out your lack of compassion and racism. And as a white mother it is also not my job to take the spotlight. I lift up the words of other black mother’s because I do not know their pain. I lift up the words of Jacquelyn Hunt and ask you where your heart is? I lift up the words of the Reverend Traci Blackmon, “In times like these. My mind always returns to this African proverb: The child who is not embraced by the village will burn it down just to feel its warmth.”

I am deeply disturbed and heart broken by our lack of compassion for human life. As people we intensely struggle with grace and compassion for ourselves and more so for others. But we are called by scripture to give the grace that we receive from God. Ephesians 4 verses 29-32: “Be on your guard against foul talk. Say only what will build others up at that moment. Say only what will give grace to your listeners. Don’t grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, all rage and anger, all harsh words, slander and malice of every kind. In place of these, be kind to one another, compassionate and mutually forgiving, just as God has forgiven you in Christ.”

White America it is now your job to check your racism and have hearts of compassion for all the pain that this injustice has caused to black America. Pain that you know absolutely nothing about.

Monday, April 29, 2019

"Authentic Christianity"

We must be careful of those that claim to have a monopoly on God, the Bible and Christianity.  

I have a very small platform compared to Franklin Graham, but as a follower of Jesus, and an ordained minister, I cannot remain silent. I must add my voice in support of Rev. Dr. William Barber and his response to Franklin Graham's call for Mayor Buttigieg to repent for being gay. For far too long there has been this platform for people declaring Christianity as their faith to make claims about the Bible and the Christian faith. These sins that Franklin Graham and others like to talk about are often abortion, homosexuality, extramarital affairs and women having power. The loud platforms of these claims have caused a misunderstanding of the Christian faith to be a faith that is hypocritical, homophobic, sexist, and controlling.

There are some denominations that declare Christianity as their faith, that claim the Bible says homosexuality is a sin and that marriage is between one man and one woman when it clearly does not. These beliefs are in fact biblical interpretations that theologians of the past have written to explain the meaning of some biblical passages. These theological interpretations that are then adopted by a church or denomination are often called a doctrine.

In opposition to these claims of “Authentic Christianity” there are other Christian denominations that do not agree with Franklin Graham. My denomination, the United Church of Christ, believes that we take the Bible seriously, not literally. In order to be able to fully understand the Bible one must know Greek and Hebrew, read it from the original scrolls and study the history of which the Bible was written. Therefore, we use the Bible as a resource that points to the direction of God, but we do not need to apply every part of the Bible literally to our lives today.

As a Christian denomination, we do, however, rely heavily on the life of Jesus as a model to how we must live in community with others. Therefore, I understand that sin is anything unloving; anything that does not meet the requirement of loving your neighbor. And we all sin because loving your neighbor is by far much harder than it sounds.

So, in opposition of Franklin Graham, as long as Mayor Buttigieg and his husband are loving their neighbors, there is nothing they need to repent of.  And I suggest that Franklin Graham should focus less on what he claims to be the sins of others and instead follow Jesus: care for the poor, the hungry, the widows, the children, the strangers, the immigrants, people of color, people with disabilities and people of other faiths. Jesus asked us to do one thing and that was to love our neighbors.

I cannot let Franklin Graham’s voice be THE voice of Christianity. My Christian voice is in support of loving one another, taking care of all our neighbors, doing justice, and walking humbly with God.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

My Silence is My Exhaustion

 I am sixth months into my first called position as a pastor. This past week, I led an Ash Wednesday service, presided at a funeral and of coarse led a Sunday worship service. On Ash Wednesday, the day I reminded my flock that one day, they will die too, seventeen people were murdered at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida. Now as a pastor, I’m sure there is some expectation that I hop on social media and start preaching in some way; I certainly had that expectation of myself. So, in the middle of preparing for a funeral, I am reading tons of posts, memes, articles, videos, etc. that I could just share instead of having to take the time to write something of my own. Now there were a lot of really good material out there and some of it I “liked.” I did not, however, find anything that I could post that would actually represent my thoughts. And so, I posted nothing and instead tended to my people.

What I’ve learned about social media is that no matter what you say, it does not often change anyone’s mind and it is rarely a platform for any good conversation. The people that agree with you may like and share, or offer a positive comment, and those that don’t agree with you, well, the range of reactions can vary.

The very difficult task of being a pastor is finding that key balance of being both prophetic and pastoral. Because being merely prophetic just draws a line between those who agree with you and those who don’t, and being merely pastoral doesn’t really create an environment for any change of hearts and minds. In order to make an impact there has to be some basis of trust, which isn’t instantly built between pastor and congregants.  

So, as I prepared for Sunday, with my people in mind I did the best I could to maintain the trust I’ve built so far and attempted to be both prophetic and pastoral. I asked teachers and students to light seventeen candles during our welcome music.
A congregant offered to have hearts for us to write messages to the high school and she would mail them. And I prepared a sermon that used the lectionary text, lent and gun control as the message to my people. Was it the best sermon I’ve ever preached? Definitely not, but it was an honest one during my very exhausting week.

Perhaps you are wondering why I bothered to blog since this mostly says why I have not been posting on social media. This is simply for the people who want to hear from me.

Lent is a time to let go of those behaviors that hold us back from honoring God. Jesus has returned from the wilderness and calls us to change our hearts and minds. Change needs to happen. Return to God and believe in the good news with changed hearts and minds.

For from God’s beloved dust you came and to God’s beloved dust you shall return.   

Friday, July 14, 2017

Keep Me Humble

On Sunday, I stood before clergy, my family, my friends, my congregations and the people of my flock and made promises. I promised to hear and accept the word of God, I promised to be diligent in my private prayers and reading of scripture, I promised to be zealous in speaking the truth in love, I promised to be faithful in preaching, teaching and administering sacraments, and in exercising pastoral care and leadership, I promised to keep silent all confidences, and I promised to regard all people with equal love. I made all of these promises relying on God’s grace.

But before I could make these promises, I spent three-and-a-half years proving I was worthy of God’s call upon my life. And prior to those three years I spent a couple of years running away from God and telling myself and others that I wasn’t special enough.
Though I can understand why we must truly be certain this is a true calling from God and not some personal agenda, this process also made me understand why I have encountered pastors struggling with their ego. When you spend the beginning of ministry trying to prove to others that you are prepared to do God’s work, it’s difficult to be humble.

However, this week spent on the other side has been humbling. I thought that my emotions would calm down and my tears would dry up. Instead I am in awe of the work I get to do and who I get to work with. These amazing people who picked me out of eighty-eight possibilities. The people who love and support me before I even officially become their pastor. These beautiful people who are full of excitement and hope chose me to lead them in God’s work. Five years ago, I would never have guessed my journey would bring me to this point. 

God, I beg of you, keep me humble. Amen. 

Friday, May 26, 2017

Gone by a Bullet

Last night my twelve-year-old son crawled in bed with me. For him, that happens, well like, never. The night before, our community yet again was hit by gun violence. This time, my son’s middle school classmate was killed. We knew yesterday morning that a twelve-year-old was killed, but we didn’t know if the boy attended the same school. My husband told our son on the way to school that a boy was shot and killed. The first words my son said to me when he got home from school was, “he was in my science class.”

My son is angry, sad and scared. Angry that his middle school only had a moment of silence; angry over the taking of precious life. He is angry that our community has become so use to violence that this tragedy will just be added to the pile. He is sad for the life not lived and for the parents and family that are in great despair. And he is scared that there is no safe place for him or anyone. 

My son's words were so mature, so full of emotion. I told him it was a good time to express himself in song. He got on the computer to create his music. He made the track and then could not find the words to rap. Maybe he will find the words in the next couple of days.

As a mother and a pastor, this tragedy has brought me to my knees. Last night we prayed, thanking God for the boy’s life and love that he brought to his family. We asked God for peace and strength for the boy’s family, the middle school students and for my son. Today I will finish my sermon for Sunday about prayer. After last night, I’m not sure what to say. Yes, pray, but at this point, pray and get to work. This violence has to stop. Now more than ever, we need to be the hands, feet and voice of Jesus Christ. We must be one people as God intended. In John 17:11, Jesus prayed for us, “Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.”

This boy’s death is not someone else’s problem, not someone else’s tragedy. It is our tragedy, humanity's tragedy. Whether we admit it or not, we are all connected. We are all one. We must be God’s witness in this world. Our witness must be one of community and love. We have a lot of work to do.

Now, let’s pray and get to work.