Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Does time heal all wounds?

I led a memorial service for a family whose loved one had died some time back.  For some reason, as I listened to the music during the service, the old saying “time heals all wounds” popped into my head.  I have no idea why – I really don’t like that phrase.

If you know anything about wounds, physical or mental or spiritual, you know that some of them sink in deep.  Deep wounds need good care:  antibiotics, possibly surgery, perhaps even a stint in one of those oxygen-rich hyperbaric chambers.  Truly, even small wounds need care.  Just take a look at the legs of a kid who keeps scratching mosquito bites!  I’ve been in hospital rooms and have sat through enough times counseling church members to know that time alone does not heal.

Why did that phrase pop into my head?  Maybe it was this:  as I looked at the family, I could see they were making it through the passage of time.  The loved one had died quite a while ago, yet here they all were, hugging and telling stories and sharing their tears.

Time, it seemed, had given the family a gift.  The death had occurred during terrible weather, denying the family the opportunity to put together a proper service. With the forced extended time, they put together a service that felt right to them. During the extra time, they had found poetry to read, had hired a skilled musician to play during the service, and so on.  There had been time to find ways to “treat”, if you would, the grief.

So, I’m not sure if time itself heals, but how you use the time matters.  Here are a few ways I’ve found that people make good use of the time (and may experience some healing) after experiencing hurt or loss:

  • just crying it out.  Sometime when you’ve screamed and cried until you’re just worn out, you will feel a cloud lift.  (it may take several crying sessions.)  A good cry is a powerful force – it can help rearrange your emotions, pushing things into a more manageable place.
  • Putting together a worship service.  I must admit I find it hard to understand when people insist on not having a funeral.  Worship services held during a time of loss (funerals, candlelight vigils, and others) are a lot of work to put together.  Yet the time put into it can bear fruit:  fellowship with good friends, building up of community, a renewed sense of purpose.
  • Therapeutic activities — support groups, seeing a therapist.  Over time there may be results from continued conversation.  You might not feel like you “got anything” from one particular session, but a positive effect may compound over time.

Grief and loss are part of the human experience. I hope we will use the time of grief we’ll.

Life in Hills & Valleys

Just today I heard another story on the news about the increasing wealth gap in the United States.  I’m also reading about how people perceive the wealth gap, economic success, the American Dream, and related ideas.  Apparently, many people in this country believe that we must all take our turn with achieving financial success:  those who have worked hardest and longest get rewarded first, followed by those who still need to put in their time.  People who believe this way are enraged at what they see as line-breakers:  women and people of color being two groups of people often accused of breaking in line.

From personal experience, I can tell you women don’t always get preferential treatment. Many a female 12th grader was disappointed in my high school, as they applied to a particularly desirable university nearby.  That university was simply looking for more males to even out the gender ratio of the freshman class.  Also, when I got to college, I found that spots had been reserved for freshmen from underserved or rural areas (and most of the people living in those areas are white.)

One writer described the struggle to achieve of the American Dream as a trek uphill, waiting to get to the top.  At the top, people believe, one can find a home, cars, and a comfortable life.

Here’s my question:  how did we get to the point where we believe life is just a trip up one single hill?  Aren’t there multiple hills, and even mountains, in life?  And why do we feel as though we are in line to reach the top?

Let me be clear – there is such a thing as a good level of financial stability.  I am not romanticizing poverty and the inability to pay for basic expenses.  But why do we believe in just one version of stability or success?

Consider an older person or couple who could really use some help with household chores or meals.  They “made it” to the top in terms of owning a home, but now find there’s no cash to pay the wages of an in-home helper.  Perhaps adult children could move in, but that could mean those children quitting their own jobs.

More and more, I hear stories of people who have moved off-grid and created their own version of success.  They garden, hunt, fish, and/or farm.  They build their own house.  They rarely venture into town.  To me, these are people who skipped the line entirely and made their own version of the American Dream.

I think if we were to just look around, we would find some fertile ground wherever we are.  In fact, most of the time, fertile ground is found not on mountaintops but in valleys. We could do more as a society in terms of making the valley a better place to live.  Yet each of us needs to decide where we want to be.  If we really want to climb the big hill, so be it.  But there are other good places to be as well.

View from the hilltop on an old farm, now a park

a good word from a friend

Seventeen years of wonderful friends, mentors, and colleagues … and with God’s help more to come.

I’m cleaning out clutter, so I can have room to think in 2018.

I found an old journal with prayers and reflections.  Seventeen years ago, apparently I confided in a friend that I felt like a wimp.  My friend said, “A wimp wouldn’t have gone all the way to Yale Divinity School to enter what is basically a man’s field.”

Today there are a lot of women in ministry, but times were different almost two decades ago.  In those 17 years, I have received so much from women colleagues and mentors.  (Yes, from men colleagues and mentors too!)  I’ve been privileged to walk with women seminarians and new pastors.  Resources for women in ministry are a lot more abundant than they were 20, 30, 40 years ago.

It’s not a career for wimps, that’s for sure.  But we all wimp out from time to time, and God works through others’ words of wisdom to strengthen us.

I thought about throwing the journal away, but I think I’ll keep it.  Might need to flip to that page again.

Thinking about Lent already…

I started using a new Bible for daily devotions, one that divides the Scriptures according to “timeline,” or when events detailed in Scripture occurred.

To be honest, I was a skeptical about reading this thing.  We don’t have a calendar notifying us that Light was created on April 21, 5 million B.C. — and I get tired of people arguing over that subject.  No matter how we humans got here, I still believe we were created by God to enjoy and glorify him.   (See the Westminster Catechism!)

Yet the Bible was a gift, so I cracked it open.

What I’ve found has surprised me.  Immediately after giving me the stories of the Fall, Cain & Abel, Noah, and the tower of Babel, the book plunged me right into the Book of Job.  Right off the bat, a new year beginning with daily readings about suffering and sin.  I haven’t put Job and Genesis together before, and it has been a welcome challenge.

So I may write some more posts on this come Lent.  Specifically, some posts dealing with the question, “Is God Mean?”  We’ll see how it goes.

In the meantime, I’ll hopefully post something before Lent gets here — it’s on the way!

The First Day


Happy New Year! The first thing God created was light. I pray that the Light of the World will shine in your life this year.

“give it to God”

Something weird happens when people talk to me about prayer.

Most of the time, whoever is talking to me will mention the phrase “give it to God” or “let God handle it.”  Sometimes I also hear “God won’t give you anything you can’t handle,” but that will be a subject for another post.

And when I hear the phrase “give it to God,” I nod my head.  I recall Philippians 4:6 (Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.)  Yes, as God’s children we are not left to handle everything alone.

But what do we mean when we use that phrase?  Give what to God:  the issue itself, or the anxiety over it?  And do we relinquish all responsibility for events in our lives when we give things to God?

I think there’s a great treatment of the concept “give it to God” in the movie The Dilemma, released earlier this year.  In the movie, the lead character Ronny discovers his friend’s wife in an adulterous relationship, and prays to God about the situation.  Alone in the city at night, he prays, “I know I’m supposed to give things up to you… .”

I’m not sure if the movie character realizes it, but sometimes we actually have very little to “give” to God.

In some situations, there is not much that we can control.  The character Ronny is worried about an upcoming business deal, but there is little he can do once he’s made the initial sales pitch and signed the loan papers.  The project is now in the hands of his partner the engineer, who will have to muster up enough creativity and stamina to see the project through.

What can we “give” to God when a situation is out of our hands?  It may serve us well to clarify things:  to ask God for help in letting go of anxiety, to ask God to help those whom we care about but can’t control.  Perhaps what we need to give away is the desire to control other people.

The character’s other “give it to God” struggle involves dealing with the adultery he discovered.  He begins to act like a jilted lover who is out of control.  He wants to be the judge, the lawman, the punisher (and maybe the redeemer, if people meet his qualifications) but he’s not doing a great job at any of those things.  He freely admits to God that he doesn’t quite want to let go of this situation yet.  He wants to be The One who sorts everything out in a way that makes him happy.
What he’s really asking for is a blessing — a divine OK, giving legitimacy to his vigilante justice.  Truthfully, he doesn’t want to “give” anything to God in this situation.  He wants God to well, make him God instead.   And the thing is, in the areas where he could exercise power, he doesn’t want to.  There may be a million creative ways to deal with this sticky situation, but this character doesn’t want creativity.  He wants things to be fixed, his way, now.
So I’m still stuck with the question, what does it mean to “give it to God?”  Are we giving away selfish and senseless desires?  Misguided intentions?  Misunderstandings?  I just hope we don’t give away our creativity and desire to do the right thing.

let them

Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.’  (Matthew 19:14)

Yesterday at our church a man who had been homeless was baptized.

He gave his statement of faith to the congregation, and talked about how the love and acceptance he felt here enabled him to begin rebuilding his life.

The thing that astounds me is, he said that it all started when we “allowed” him to volunteer at our annual mission fundraiser.


Sure enough.  A couple in our congregation volunteer with a local homeless ministry, and they recruited some of the men being served by the ministry to watch over the items during our huge yard sale/bake sale day.  The men were astounded, I guess, that someone trusted them with this much responsibility.  Then these men started to attend worship here, and they were astounded again at how people shook their hands and greeted them, as if they were any other visitors.

Sometimes we church folks get so caught up in worry about the supposed decline of the church, that we neglect the very people who want to be here.  It may seem unbelievable, but there are still folks in our towns and neighborhoods who would receive the church with childlike amazement and delight.

Indeed, let them come.

egg money and leadership training

During my first call as a pastor, I found out about egg money.

One Monday evening, I was listening to the treasurer’s report at the Presbyterian Women meeting, and asked why the group was giving a donation to the general church budget.  Doesn’t everyone already give to the general offering, I asked?  Well, I was told, that’s the egg money.

And what is egg money, I asked?  I learned that it was money women in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries earned on their own, without their husband’s oversight, raising chickens and selling eggs.  The tradition had lasted long after women gained equal access to the family checkbook.

Sometimes the church gets criticized, and rightly so, for being a place where only the select few are allowed to belong or participate.

Yet, sometimes the church is the only place where people can find opportunities to use their gifts and express their thoughts.  Women, slaves, unemployed people … these were groups that were cut off from full participation in the rest of society, and often from full participation in church.  So they created their own space.  Women’s groups, religious meetings in the woods, and youth groups for the countless young adults out of work during the Depression are just a few examples of how people have taken the do-it-yourself route when the system failed them.

future community gardener, maybe?

And these spaces provided great opportunities to become leaders!  I’ve always been impressed with the resumes of women from my mother’s and grandmothers’ generations … but those resumes were not necessarily formed at work, because their opportunities were restricted.  Those resumes were formed at church.  We may come in to the church building with just our egg money, or just our clothes dirty from pounding the pavement looking for work, but if the church is doing things right we can be transformed into people who claim their place at the table.

The old days are gone, and perhaps the need for an “egg money” account is no longer, but we still have people who are denied a full place and full participation.  We still have people coming to our door who could be uplifted, educated, trained, and sent out … by the church.  Think of the folks who have been edged out of the workplace, because they are too old or too fresh-out-of-college.  Or think of the refugees resettling in your area (it’s amazing to me how many little corners of America are home to communities of refugees.)  Or the people who have always been underemployed, living on the margins.

Who in your community may have a little egg money and a lot of potential?

10-A: raising the bar?

My friend Ed Brenegar commented this morning on my last post, talking about the balance of local control and the connectional system of the PC(USA).  I appreciate how he brought up the presbyteries’ role in helping congregations, so that no congregation is stuck trying to figure out how to do ministry alone.

A lot of folks have wondered how 10-A will apply in the broader contexts, as governing bodies of the church continue their functions of calling, ordaining, and installing the officers of the church.   A lot of people are wondering — if sessions and presbyteries seek to interpret the new text faithfully, will every candidate for office be painstakingly scrutinized?  And if so, what will that mean?   (I remember speaking about this ten years ago at presbytery meetings!)

It remains to be seen how this one amendment will change (or not change) the preparation and selection of the church’s leaders.  But I do know one thing, regardless of what’s in the Book of Order:  it’s time for officers of the church to humbly kneel in awe of the sacred trust placed in our hands.

We pastors, elders, and deacons ask a lot of church members and visitors.  We ask them to conform their lives to a standard that is totally foreign to some cultural contexts.  We ask them to give their hard-earned money.  We ask them to give the precious time that seems to slip away faster with each day. 

When church members do those things, they expect to have something back, and rightly so.  Sometimes the expectations get mixed up, as in, “I gave a lot of money and you won’t put my name on a window,” or “I worked hard to pick out pretty carpet for the sanctuary and the pastor’s baby crawled on it!”  But on average, those who commit their lives to Christ and his church expect that the leaders will make serious commitments too.

When our sermons turn into rants, or when we fail to provide quality Christian Education programs, or when we brush people off when they express fears and doubts, or when we treat our own bodies as throwaway commodities, we, the leaders of the church, are in deep trouble.  It’s not just that these failures could result in poor church attendance or low giving.  If we ask people to make commitments on a certain level, and we fail to keep our commitments at that same level, we have turned into snake oil salesmen:  exchanging people’s trust for slick and meaningless promises.

Again, I have no idea what 10-A will bring in terms of the preparation for ministry process, examination of elders-elect, and so on.  But I do hope that those of us who are currently called to office (or seeking office) will take this opportunity to re-commit to high standards and best practices.  The world is desperate for leaders who walk the walk.

Amendment 10-A: I predict … ?

So we’ve had the Big Vote in the Presbyterian Church (USA) on Amendment 10-A.  I’ll spare you an explanation, since I think most of my readers are Presbyterians!  But please let me know if you need more information.

In the days and weeks and months leading up to this vote, scores of people have predicted how its passage would either liberate or obliterate the Church.  I think a lot of people view this moment as a prophetic one, as it will reveal the moment we did something awfully heretical, or awfully faithful.

You might have an occasion to think about prophecy this Sunday morning.  One of the Scripture readings for this Sunday, May 15, is Acts 2:42-47.*  This is one of “those” passages that can raise uncomfortable questions about one’s lifestyle.  In a weird way, it is exactly what I needed to hear at this moment.

The early Christians depicted in this passage participated in a shared act of prophecy.  Theirs was prophecy in the true Biblical sense:  a statement of God’s intentions for the world, not necessarily a prediction of the future.

When a believer “does” prophecy, the Spirit speaks a word against human self-absorption and self-indulgence through her.   The believer conveys a godly word of challenge, guidance, and a reminder of who is in charge (and if you need a hint, prophecy reminds us that we are not the ones in charge!)

The early church, filled with elation over the saving act of Jesus Christ,  decided on a prophetic act of self-reliance. They emerged from a socioeconomic system based on legalized inequality and decided to take care of all their members’ needs.  Slavery, usury, and debt — the things that gave the ancient nobles power and  kept the rest of the population from fully prospering — were banished from the early community of believers, as a way of stating that God wishes to banish those things from creation.

The debate continues over the various forms of human bondage and oppression experienced today. In fact, just this evening, the Presbyterian Church (USA) website featured an article on how we can act to eliminate modern-day slavery.  Many American Christians feel that they are theologically oppressed, but there are widely divergent views of what the theological oppression is.  Some will see tonight’s passage of 10-A as a release from the bondage of homophobia in the church, and others will see this event as a descent into the bondage of theological relativism.

The problem for me is, that in the midst of all this, I still feel bound.  From time to time students have asked me about 10-A, and I have almost felt unable to speak.  I’m silent not because I can’t think, but because of what I have witnessed as a campus minister.  Among today’s emerging adults there is a gnawing need to perform, to be accepted, and to be excited — and it’s all combined with true confusion over where they fit in the world.  In the ministry I direct, students have been all over the map in regard to sexuality and intimacy.  Some have come out, others have retracted their coming-out, some have gone too far with a date, and others have been totally unable to find a date.   And no matter what the circumstance, they are incredibly anxious, confused, and desperate for guidance.  Some days I feel like Job’s friends, who, before they smothered him with long speeches, simply sat with him in silence because his suffering was so great.

I’m oddly comforted by the prophetic witness of the early Christians with their shared resources.  There is a way out of bondage!  There is a way to challenge the things that we happily accept because we’re unaware of the chains tightening around us.

And even though prophecy doesn’t always equal telling the future, my big prediction (drum roll) is that we aren’t done yet with larger issues of sexuality.  Until we who call ourselves followers of Christ can free ourselves from the bondage of:

  • the “me-first” approach to relationships;
  • our fear of discussing sex within our homes;
  • our aversion to commitment;
  • our belief that momentary pleasure equals deep spiritual meaning; and
  • a sex-saturated media environment,

we will not be done with this conversation.

I’m ready for a prophetic word on how God wants us to live out the matters of the heart.  If God can challenge the entrenched financial realities of the Roman Empire, surely God can help us learn to be together in a way that God could call good.

I love the church that raised me and I pray for her every day.  May the Holy Spirit continue to speak the needed word to my dear church and to the surrounding world.

* at First Presbyterian we’re actually doing a sermon series, so this week’s Scripture will be from John.