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in the treatment of Native Americans from Columbus to present day, and is hiding in plain sight in our revered historical documents like The Declaration of Independence and The Constitution.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!