Thursday, October 27, 2016

Things we don't talk about

I recently heard Mark Charles, a Navajo speaker, writer, and advocate, give a lecture on the Doctrine of Discovery. The Doctrine of Discovery was when the Church in Europe, through a series of Papal Bulls from 1452-1493, instructed the nations of Europe to go and conquer lands and people not ruled by Christian rulers. These indigenous people were considered less than human, and their sacred lands were for the taking.

This attitude extends through our nation's history as reflected in the treatment of Native Americans from Columbus to present day, and is hiding in plain sight in our revered historical documents like The Declaration of Independence and The Constitution. And it's modern-day effects are being seen in the Dakota Access Pipeline opposition in South Dakota.

The phrase "the merciless Indian Savages", hidden in plain sight in the Declaration of Independence.
If this is news to you, I am sorry. I am sorry our educational system has not undertaken this difficult topic, and instead of using it as a starting point for healing it's been buried and forbidden. Many would prefer not to talk or think about it, proclaiming, "What does the past have to do with me? What am I supposed to do about it?" Many are ashamed of this part of our history, but by not working through it we may be doomed to repeat it. What we need is lament and reconciliation to our land and our native peoples.

One could argue that we live in a time where the question is not whether we are racist or not, but whether our racism is explicit or implicit. We are all racist, some of us are just better at navigating the language or posture around it. What we need now is to acknowledge it, shine a light upon it, and fix the broken parts within ourselves that allow us to think that we are somehow better than other sacred children of God.

Some of the vitriol we've seen this election season springs out of a frustration with not wanting to--or not having the vocabulary to--have the hard conversations needed to move forward: racism, sexism, xenophobia, and disregard for human life from cradle to grave are hard issues to tackle over coffee or Bible study. This is hard, holy work that will take a long, sustained effort. And we could learn a lot about effort from the Navajo.

In a break out session following his keynote speech, Mark Charles explained that Navajo time is not like "American" time. Instead of being oriented to time- and place-specific appointments on a calendar, Navajo are goal-oriented: they stay till the task is done, however long that takes. They do this out of love for the land and the desire to care for those around them.

"Hundreds of people, mostly Native Americans, gather near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North Dakota to protest the construction of an oil pipeline on Sept. 21. If completed, the Dakota Access Pipeline would transport 470,000 barrels of crude oil each day from North Dakota to Illinois." Jim Seida / NBC News

That's what I've admired most about those gathered in South Dakota to resist the pipeline: they are prepared to be there until the task is complete and their goals are met. They've set up shelters, stores, even midwifery services! Those gathered and connected to the sacred ground are the true hosts and defenders of the Earth. They are showing us how to care for the land and preserve the water, because water is life. We should be listening and watching their example.

Is it any wonder we treat each other the way we do when we treat our land as a trash can or ATM machine? It's time to start talking. It's time to have the hard conversations. Though we won't fix it overnight, if we commit to work till the job is done, however long it takes, we can be reconciled to God, to one another, and to our Earth.

What hard conversations are you having lately? What hard conversations do you need to have?

Thursday, October 20, 2016

5 Things to Know About Your Pastor's Family

There is a common misconception that pastors and their families are somehow superhuman and/or perfect, born to lead and well-equipped to do so. The truth is that 80% of pastors and 84% of their spouses feel unqualified and discouraged in their roles (source). What's even more terrifying is that 80% believe pastoral ministry has negatively affected their families, and many pastors' children do not attend church as adults because of what the church has done to their parents (source). 

I'd be lying if I said those statistics didn't hit close to home.

When Todd and I decided to follow God's call to ministry we knew, but didn't fully understand, the impact this vocation would have on our entire family. We've chosen this life, but that doesn't mean it's always been easy. But God is good and we've been shaped and strengthened in the past 5 years of ministry. 

Since October is Pastor Appreciation Month, I thought I'd give you a glimpse into the life of your pastor's family. Perhaps this will give you a more human perspective on the people serving your church. 

1. My husband doesn't tell me everything, and that's OK. In fact, it's critical that he maintain confidentiality with those that seek his help. So if you've met with him privately, don't assume I know anything about it. If you want me to know, please tell me, or tell him its OK to share with me.  If you need my prayer or counsel, please ask. Nothing is more awkward than talking to someone in the greeting line after Sunday worship who thinks you know about that thing but you have no idea about that thing, and you just smile and nod and make a mental note to ask your husband about it later.  

2. We can feel lonely, even in a crowded sanctuary. We are itinerant, so though you may have grown up around the saints and members of the church we're serving, we haven't. To combat this loneliness and to build relationships, Todd and I commit to having people over for dinner about once a month. But you'd never believe how many times we're turned down! You're not in trouble if we invite you over--you're not being called into the principal's office. Since we move around a lot and don't have family nearby, we have to cobble together a support system wherever we go. Gathering new friends around out table is how we try to do that.

3. My husband might work for the church, but I don't. I'm not part of his job description. I have a career of my own and have made many sacrifices to honor my husband's calling. Though we're in this together, my role is often to support him, which translates to being the parent at home with my young daughers. That's where I'm needed most days, and I can't get these critical years back. Anything I do for the church is because I want to or because I know I have gifts to get the job done. Consider me like any other church member or volunteer. If I can help, I will. If it interferes with my family or my job, I won't. 

4. My husband and I have made the decision to serve the church as a vocation. My kids haven't. They get to decide how they participate and where they feel they fit in. We hope to raise children who have a healthy view of the church and desire to serve as they grow. Please don't be the one that makes them want to run from church because of how you treat their parents (or each other). 

5. Before you criticize how my husband or I do something, ask yourself how you'd react if someone said the same to you. This is more than just a job to us: were trying to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world here. So my parenting style or how I dress or how I allow my kids to dress or what my kids watch on TV should not be your concern. Are my kids being unsafe or unkind? Feel free to let me know (or correct them yourself!). We are doing the best we can. There are always things you don't know that affect how we might run our household. Take for example the fact that my husband hasn't been home for bedtime 7 days straight due to evening church obligations. Some weeks are better than others, and this is a busy season with charge conferences (times 3!). Please always assume the best in us and we'll continue to assume the best in you. 

If  you don't already, please keep your pastor and his/her family in your prayers. Even better, drop him/her an encouraging note occasionally! And if you ever have questions, ask. I’m really quite happy to talk about most anything. 

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Lost in translation

Jesus told his disciples: “There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions.  So he called him in and asked him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.’
“The manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg— I know what I’ll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.’
“So he called in each one of his master’s debtors. He asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’
“‘Nine hundred gallons of olive oil,’ he replied.
“The manager told him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred and fifty.’
 “Then he asked the second, ‘And how much do you owe?’
“‘A thousand bushels of wheat,’ he replied.
“He told him, ‘Take your bill and make it eight hundred.’
“The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.  
John 16:1-9

I was asked to prepare a children’s message on the above scripture recently. I realized it would be a tough and nuanced concept to try to explain to kids (and maybe even adults) in a 10 minute time slot. As I got down to business, I realized there was a major difference in my translations of this particular chapter--It’s titled “The Parable of the Shrewd Manager” in the NIV version, but “The Parable of the Crooked Manager” in The Message. The words shrewd and crooked evoke dramatically different feelings for me, so I got to wondering: is one better than the other? Would that chapter title alone sway how I feel about the manager and his actions?

In a country currently fueled by political and ideological division, it’s a valid question. As I write this, the 24-hour news cycle is again abuzz with shocking and unforgivable words caught on tape from the Republican presidential candidate. Many are defending and dismissing Trump’s words and actions as “out of context” or “media bias”, and I’m not writing to dispute or affirm those claims. I am, however, asking the following question: what makes one person shrewd but another crooked? Who decides, and how?

We’re faced with a difficult choice this election season. Though I will proudly cast my vote for Hillary Clinton and believe she is ready to lead this country with experience and compassion, she is not perfect. Women in power don’t get there without having learned to play hard ball, and I fear she is being held to a higher standard than that which we hold our male leaders.

Donald Trump, in contrast, is not ready to lead. He has no political experience, and his highly touted business acumen isn’t fully known since he won’t release his tax returns. While Clinton has a vast legislative record we can analyze (sometimes to her benefit, but sometimes not), we do not have the same abundance of material for Trump. An absence of a record doesn’t make him a better candidate (or a better person), it makes him a question mark and a liability. Frankly, he scares me.

I’ve seen a lot of folks—Christian folks, even—try to defend Trump with the argument that Hillary isn’t a saint, either. Both candidates are undesirable in some ways and in need of grace and possibly even repentance in others. But badness in someone else doesn’t make your bad less bad. Bad is still bad.

What we need to look at is fruit—has any good come from this imperfect person? Where is his/her heart? Is that reflected in his/her words and deeds? The shrewd/crooked manager in John took his influence and used it to better his situation so that once he lost his job he’d potentially have allies or at least a sympathetic business contact. He reduced the debt of others, which is a good thing, to make them more likely to help him, which could potentially be a bad thing. Not much different that politics these days, no? As Ecclesiastes says, there is nothing new under the sun.  

The Bible gives Christians much to debate, but there is even more that is clear cut and universally understood: blessed are the poor, the meek, the merciful, the peacemakers, and the persecuted. That, friends, is never lost in translation. 

Monday, October 3, 2016

Fair Trade Month Giveaway!

October is Fair Trade Month. If you've followed the blog for any amount of time you know how much I love fair trade companies. I've written about and personally own items from companies like The Root Collective, Noonday Collection, FashionABLE, Sseko, Better Life Bags, The Giving Keys, and People Tree. I also purchase fair trade chocolate and coffee. I believe in the mission of fair trade and ethical companies and know how I spend my dollars matters and sends a message.

I recently hosted a Noonday Collection Trunk Show and received a bracelet as a hostess gift, and having bought several bracelets recently, I thought maybe my dear readers might like to have it instead. So here's my first Fair Trade Month giveaway: the Arabian Sea Bracelet!

Here's how to enter:
1. Post a comment below with your favorite fair trade company and product. Add a link if you can. You can post as often as you like! Feel free to share this post with your friends, too. 
2. I'll randomly choose a commenter at noon on Friday, October 14. I'll email the winner to arrange shipping or pick up.

Good luck! And thank you for supporting fair trade and ethical companies!

Friday, September 30, 2016

Send in your second

I'm among the millions of Americans obsessed with the musical Hamilton. You might even say I'm #ham4ham. There's much to love about Lin-Manuel Miranda's masterpiece, which tells the story of the rise of founding father Alexander Hamilton,whose life is intertwined with and ultimately ended by Aaron Burr in a duel. I'm particularly fascinated with the darker aspects of the show: the dueling, and in particular, the idea of a "second".

So I did some research. According to PBS:

"In a typical duel, each party acted through a second. The seconds' duty, above all, was to try to reconcile the parties without violence. An offended party sent a challenge through his second. If the recipient apologized, the matter usually ended. If he elected to fight, the recipient chose the weapons and the time and place of the encounter. Up until combat began, apologies could be given and the duel stopped. After combat began, it could be stopped at any point after honor had been satisfied."

Here's more about seconds from a random website with a dueling-themed t-shirt:

"...The role of the dueling second was crucial and necessary to the duel– the role of a second contributed to the legitimacy of the duel itself, because his presence alone made it virtually impossible for the dueling parties to stage a fake or illegitimate duel. The principal had to choose his second wisely because not only was the second responsible for negotiating the terms of the duel, but he had to be present to ensure that the duel was conducted with honor by both parties. A Dueling second, according to Code Duello, had the right to intervene and join in a duel if he felt that the duel was not facilitated in good faith. Therefore, it was an honor to be chosen a second." 

In the musical, the duel which took Hamilton's life was precipitated by Hamilton's endorsement of Thomas Jefferson for President over Aaron Burr in the election of 1800, which Aaron Burr took as a personal slight. Both characters had past experiences with duels and thought them childish and immature. But in the end, satisfaction of honor prevailed over common sense and Hamilton's story was cut short.

As I've served churches alongside my husband, I've noticed many Christians are afraid of conflict. Conflict itself isn't bad, but how we handle it can be. If we had to loop in two other parties to settle an argument, would that help? In an age where independence is highly valued, do we think acting through a second is weak? Gossipy?

If I'm being completely honest, I have no idea who I'd choose as my second if I were challenged to a duel tomorrow. Do you? It confirms a belief I've held for a while that our connections to people in our modern age of social media and globalization are more wide than deep, more acquaintance than friend. As I've gotten older, I've gained many Facebook friends and Twitter followers but have lost the real, deep friendships I enjoyed in high school and college. Chalk it up to busyness or itinerancy or a particular stage of parenting, but it's true for me and I'd wager it's been true for you at some point in your life: we don't have seconds anymore.

In contentious business or legal matters we use mediators. Both parties in a troubled marriage might turn to a counselor for guidance. In church, we might convene a committee to work through a problem. These are modern-day seconds.

Social media is the modern dueling ground. It's easier than ever to wound (though not mortally) an offending party. But without our trusty second giving us the time and space to process or a time and a place to settle it, we can make rash decisions that can have long-acting consequences. I'm not saying dueling is a better system, but at least the duelists could see their enemy. They could look him in the eye, and so could their second. These days, we hide behind screens and hurl our insults at both no one and everyone in moments flat.

Do we need to bring back seconds? Who is your second?

Friday, September 2, 2016

Best seat in the house

So. many. questions. all the time.
I think I am socially awkward. I'm a textbook extrovert, meaning I get energy from spending time with other people rather than by being by myself, but I'm not always graceful about it. I never know where I fit in the social hierarchy of people at a party (or a meeting, or a conference, or a worship service, or a small group...), and my inner dialog goes, "am I just the spouse of an invited guest, a close friend of the hostess, just an acquaintance, in the wrong place entirely? WHERE DO I SIT?" I've written about this awkwardness before.

So I was relieved to learn that I'm not alone. I recently heard a story on NPR that confirmed my suspicions that humans are not always good at defining friendships or social relationships. In fact, we're really bad at it. Studies have shown that about half the time, people we consider to be our closest confidantes don't feel the same way about us and might not even include us in a list of their top 5 friends. Half the time! It's not just in my head. Awkward high school lunch table survivors, unite!

Todd preached on Luke 14:7-11 last Sunday, and I realized that Jesus had something to say about seating chart politics, too:  
When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: "When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
In Jesus' time, banquets or wedding feasts were all about the social hierarchy. Where one sat was an outer sign of one's status. Greco-Roman society did not consider humility a virtue, but Jewish law in the book of Sirach advised careful attention to one's tendency for greed. Jesus took this law even further and made humility a cornerstone of his teaching. 

This kind of social hierarchy guidance is helpful in avoiding embarrassing seating scenarios, but it's not all that great for fostering authentic relationships.

Jesus' words give me an answer to my social seating anxiety: humility and gratitude. I am to place others above myself and be grateful for opportunities to be in community with others. 

I don't need to come to the party with an agenda or a role to play, I simply need to be there--my presence is enough. It doesn't matter who I am or what titles are attached to my name, my host extended the invitation to spend time with me. This frees me up to use my energy meeting new people and deepening existing friendships instead of worrying about where I sit. The best seat in the house is the one where I am seated among people I can learn from, listen to, and love.

How do you navigate tricky social situations? Where is your favorite place to sit at a party? 

Saturday, August 6, 2016

A Country Mile

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. 1 Peter 5:7
I've become an anxious person. It's been creeping up slowly over the years as I've watched my children grow. I get worried about the kind of world they're inheriting, if they're being poisoned by our land, air, and water, and whether or not I'm doing enough to shape them into good people. For the most part, I can keep it under control and I don't lose sleep over it, because I feel the undeniable presence of God in our lives. But there's one place I'm having an increasingly harder time keeping it together: the car.

I don't believe my car anxiety has anything to do with my kids, more a fear of being broken down somewhere without the ability to get home. We live in rural Illinois, so being lost somewhere in the middle of a cornfield without reliable cell service is a legit possibility.

So imagine my sheer terror while driving to an unfamiliar place and nearly running out of gas.

I was supposed to follow my husband with our 3 girls to his new charge on a humid mid-July morning. We wanted to meet the members of this new congregation, as my husband had been appointed there (in addition to his 2 other churches) July 1. So he jumped in his car and I hopped in the van with the kids to follow him. I'd been to the area before, but there was a detour because of bridge work, so I needed to follow him to take the "super secret" way.

I noticed as soon as I turned the ignition that the car needed gas, but I suppose it didn't register how low the fuel level actually was. And since we were in a crunch for time (Sunday mornings, can I get an amen?) I figured we'd have enough gas to get there.

The low fuel light turned on only a few miles into the journey. Though my stomach dropped, I knew that meant we probably had 25-30 miles of gas, which would be plenty to get us to our destination (and a gas station). But as we drove further and further, the gadget on my dash that tells me how much gas is left until empty didn't change, so I had no idea how much gas I actually had.

Why is it that a country mile feels so much longer than a highway mile?

As we continued along the unfamiliar route I entered full sweaty-palm mode. There was a lot of sweating everywhere, to be honest. We were literally in the middle of nowhere--fields of corn, roads that barely count for roads, no houses, GPS like "What?". And if I were to stall, my husband would be late for church. I started taking deep breaths.

I could hear my heart beating in my ears. I forced myself to breathe and blink. My girls were counting on me, and we needed to arrive safely. It was only upon reaching full despair mode that I remembered to pray.

Eventually we made a turn and I started to recognize where we were, about 10 miles from town. I kept it together. As the church came into view the gas light on the dash started to flash and ding. I parked the van in the lot and prayed I'd have enough gas to start it and drive the 3 blocks to the gas station after church, since my husband would immediately be scurrying off to lead the second of three services that morning. I was shaky from adrenaline but relieved. And then my attention snapped to keeping the toddler from running down the aisle toward a basket of snacks on the chancel.

I know that "The Lord has heard my cry for mercy; the Lord accepts my prayer" (Psalms 6:9). I also know to "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding" (Proverbs 3:5). So why is it that I'd forgotten to pray? Maybe because I feel like running out of gas is such a small thing. If there were some kind of prayers-are-answered-in-the-order-they're-received rule, there are prayers I'd want God to answer way before mine.

So I think I need a new prayer: to help my anxiety. Because much like a country mile feels longer than a mile anywhere else, my anxiety makes small things feel much, much worse than they really are. It skews my perception and bends my heart toward fear instead of gratitude. And there's enough fear in the world around me right now--I don't need to be adding to it.

What do you do to calm your fears and anxieties? What prayers help? 

Friday, July 22, 2016

Rescued but stranded

This memorial art installation greets you at as you enter the Beyond Katrina exhibit at The Presbytere in New Orleans. The bottles represent the dead. The blue hands represent the many helpers. The sense of floating you get standing beneath is disorienting, which I think is the point. So much about Katrina was about being un-tethered--to one's home, family, and culture. No one expected to not return home after the storm. 

The bottles outnumber the hands, to be sure. The storm claimed many lives. But the hands are part of the story. Groups from near and far came to help in the recovery effort after Katrina. It's part of the beauty of what the city is now becoming--a resurrection story. 

But there's another side to the story, too. Many people were rescued in the immediate aftermath of the storm only to be left stranded in places with no food or water. Those rescued were better off on dry land, of course, but they had no way to take the next steps in making a new life. They struggled to meet basic needs. It literally came down to where you got dropped off after your rescue and how adept you were at navigating a confusing, dangerous, and rapidly changing relief situation.

 I vividly remember sitting on my couch in Michigan, holding my new baby and weeping at the footage I was seeing on TV of the aftermath of Katrina. This was happening in America? I was an anxious mess for all the mothers there trying to feed, diaper, and comfort their babies without any means to do so. I was home that September day because I had opted not to work that school year so I could stay home with Madeline. And even though I had to work part-time in the evenings to help make up for my lost income, I had family to provide care for my daughter. Perhaps it was then that I began to realized my privilege.

In contrast is the story of my Uber driver who took me from the airport in New Orleans to the campus of Tulane University a few weeks ago. I asked her about her Katrina experience. She shared that she and her husband got out of their home in the 9th ward even before the mandatory evacuation was ordered, sending her small child in a car with her parents, hoping to catch up with them a few hours later. She didn't see her child again for two weeks. She was in the Superdome when the storm hit. 

In the chaos that followed, she and her husband relocated to Houston and waited to be reunited with their child. Her second son was born in Houston a year later. The family barely scraped by. She hated it there. She eventually made her way back to the 9th ward and rebuilt her mother's house, which had been willed to her after her mother's death a few months before Katrina. Her marriage didn't last and her oldest child is again not with her, instead living with his father farther north in Louisiana. 

She's trying to leave NOLA for good, hoping to return to Houston and find a job with the new degree she earned in social work, inspired by the many helpers she witnessed after the storm. She drives for Uber to help pay her bills while she figures out how to navigate finding a place to live, schools for her son, a job, and a support network far from home.

As many wake up to the realities of racial injustice and inequality in the United States, are we really surprised at what happened after Katrina? That an entire population of largely poor and African Americans was left to suffer and in some cases die because of lack of resources? Are we really comfortable blaming the victims, as is often the case when we don't know who else to blame?

My visit to New Orleans helped me understand that when we rescue in the short term we might strand future generations if we fail to identify the things that caused the disaster in the first place and work to fix them. But our current political climate has shown me that many in our country are not ready to get down to the bottom of our problems, opting instead for divisive words in shiny gold letters. 

Can we be the helper hands? When we see institutional and economic racism that prevents people from getting ahead, do we speak up? When poor schools, lack of access to healthy food, polluted air, and poisoned water threaten any of us, they threaten all of us. We are stranding ourselves and our future.

We can use our voices and our votes. We can educate ourselves on social justice issues. We can listen. We can lament. We can pray. But we also must act. 

Here's an example of what happens when our compassion leads us to action:

Monday, July 4, 2016

Year in Review {2016 edition}

Celebrating the New Year in July? Nah. But since United Methodist appointments begin and end in July, now is as good time as any to take stock of the church since this time last year. 

I presented these pictures during children's time yesterday. I asked the kids if they could see themselves and their families in the pictures. A few remembered having cake at the church's birthday celebration a few months ago, others smiled at the picture of last year's VBS, and everyone pitched in to list off the babies we baptized this year. 
It's good to remember. 

This lesson was as much for the adults, though. I'd wager that many didn't know all of the good things that we do week in and week out, both inside our church walls and out in our community. And that's a problem. 

I just finished Autopsy of a Deceased Church: 12 Ways to Keep Yours Alive by Thom Rainer in my adult Sunday school class. If you have any leadership role in your church or wonder about the long-term health of your faith community, this book is a must-read. 

Rauner's book has made me look at this year's accomplishments through a different lense: are these 9 little squares contributing to the long-term health of the church? Are we serving others or just ourselves? Are we making disciples? Are we loving God and neighbor in a visible and transformative way?

Healthy churches have a missional focus. They're not stuck thinking their best days are behind them. They're not bickering over how they've always done things instead of finding new solutions to emerging problems. They don't have time--they're too busy serving others. 

For the record, I think Grace UMC is somewhere in the middle of the overall church health spectrum. There are areas in which we excel and areas that need transformation. We have much to celebrate! But we also have areas we could strengthen. 

As we enter our third year in Neoga and add a third church to our charge, I'm offering this prayer for my churches (and yours, too):
Father and mother God,
Open my eyes to the needs of others, so that I can learn how to serve. 
Give this church a heart for our community. Let us see it through your eyes. 
Help us to raise up our kids to know that church is about service and transformation and love, not just a place to sit on Sunday. 
Help us to show others this love, as you first loved us.
In Jesus name we pray. Amen. 

If you made a collage of your year so far, what would you include? What would you leave out? What work is still in progress?

Thursday, June 30, 2016


Last week I attended the GreenFaith Emerging Leaders Convergence in New Orleans alongside 60 interfaith leaders engaged in climate justice work from around the United States and Canada. We stayed on the campus of Tulane University and visited The Cabildo and the the Katrina and Beyond exhibit at The Presbytere in the French Quarter. And we traveled to Isle de Jean Charles, Louisiana to meet some of the first climate refugees in the United States. This is ground zero of climate change.

That's a cypress tree. It's likely been rooted in that spot for generations, much like the Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw people that still live on the island today. But now it's dead. The salty water intruding upon the island from the Gulf of Mexico makes it impossible to survive there. So it holds its place in a disappearing land, receding because of man and nature and time. Who knows how much longer it will stand.

The residents want to stay. This is their ancestral home. They've existed by fishing the waters and farming the land for generations. They used native plants to heal. But the farmland is too wet and salty and they cannot graze animals. The medicinal plants are gone. The fishing waters are unsafe from oil spills and habitats are disappearing. Food, medicine, and other necessities must be accessed by a two lane road nearly at sea level, a slash of black in an open sea of blue that was land only 30 years ago.

So why do they stay? Why don't they just leave their homes in the sky and start over? 

Why does anyone stay anywhere? 

Photo credit: Jennifer Rae Pierce

I can't pretend to understand; I'm not from here. The solutions are complex and emotional. But I think it's the same reason people in New Orleans "keep an axe in the attic", so in case the levees break and the waters rise families can escape to the roof until rescue comes, if rescue comes, because this is their home. They have roots here. And sometimes that's literally all you can grasp hold of when the storm surge comes.

Or maybe they just don't have anywhere else to go.

But life goes on. As our group was talking to Edison, the local man who penned the sign that both greets and warns visitors to the island, an ice cream truck passed by blaring Jingle Bells. There is still life here. There is hope. But there isn't much time.

We don't have an escape pod, like the one pictured above. There is no new planet for us to float away to once this one becomes uninhabitable. We only have this shared land, air, and water, and perhaps a common hope that as people of faith we can make a difference. We can right wrongs and speak truth to power. We can listen and hold space for the suffering of others. We can say with one voice that we will do better. And we can stay rooted to the words of our holy writings in the Bible and the Torah and the Qur'an and the Bhagavad Gita that the earth is sacred and that we are called to care for it and one another.

I'm encouraged by this young group of leaders. We're finding ways to bring back what we've learned to our communities across North America. We're connected by what we experienced. Though we are of many faiths, we're rooted in the hope that we can make a difference.

To what do you feel rooted?

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Faith without works is dead

Again. Another gun violence tragedy. I am simultaneously numb and livid. It's taken me nearly a week to get my thoughts out from my head onto this page.

I really don't know what to say except I am sorry. 
I am sorry the victims are dead simply because they were out having a good time with people they loved. 
I am sorry the killer had legal access to such a powerful and deadly weapon, and perhaps most lethal of all, an Internet connection.
I am sorry some families learned their loved one was gay and gone in the same breath.
I am sorry that I am part of a faith and denomination that has been complicit in making the LGBTQ community "other" rather than embracing them fully as children of God. 
I am sorry that some Christian people feel the need to demonize all Muslims out of fear and ignorance.

I am sorry. 

At times like this when harm has been done my Christian faith tradition calls me to identify my role in the harm done, to repent, and to work to repair the rift caused by my actions. 

Though I may not be the one who pulled the trigger in this evil act, my silence and hesitancy to step out and lift up, protect, and affirm my LGBTQ brothers and sisters is just as dangerous. Not defending my Muslim brothers and sisters against the hateful speech being spewed against them is also wrong. 
I am sorry.

But sorry is just a word.Thoughts and prayers are not enough. Faith without actions is dead (James 2:17). 

As my family did previously after the Sandy Hook massacre we will be completing 50 random acts of kindness, one for each of the victims. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, "Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that." We will also be reading books to learn more about peacemaking and other religions. We attended a vigil sponsored by PFLAG Charleston

I've also written my representatives about working for common sense gun legislation including assault weapon bans and background checks. Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America
and Everytown for Gun Safety have resources for talking to your elected officials on their websites and Facebook pages. 

We will fight fear with facts. We will open our hearts, though our first instinct might be to close off. We will listen and learn. We will speak out when necessary.
 Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me and my little family.