We’re depressed. Here’s why.

3 09 2020

Like many of you, I’ve lived my entire life being quite comfortable with peoples’ differences. My American family has Roman Catholics and Protestants, Republicans and Democrats; and my Danish family has Pentecostals and Lutherans, devout Social Democrats and staunch fiscal conservatives. I have friends and colleagues from different countries and backgrounds, all with different tastes in food, music, and clothing. And in the four different churches I have served, I’ve sought to faithfully pastor congregants with differing views on everything from Scripture, to budgets, to the music used in worship.

Many of us have lived lives full of great diversity. And for most, while that diversity has sometimes prompted intense and hard conversations, it has almost always wound up expanding our thinking, broadening our perspective, and enriching our lives. It has made us wiser: more tolerant, more inclusive, and more respectful.

But sadly, four years ago, this all began to change. And that is why today so many of us are so depressed!

Most of us aren’t clinically out of whack (although sometimes it may feel that way!) but there is an ever-present, and at times an all-consuming sadness, that lurks in our souls. And it rises up within us every time we turn on the evening news, read the headlines in the Washington Post and the New York Times, or open our FaceBook newsfeed.

Today, peoples’ differences appear to be greater than ever. But sadly, our differences are not revealing the rich beauty of the world’s diversity. Rather, they are revealing the broken, fearful, and selfish side of humanity; and that reality is destroying our relationships. We see our country being torn apart by a megalomaniac, and that concerns us greatly. But in the midst of his terror, relationships are being destroyed. That is what has counselors and therapists working overtime these days. And that is what has so many of us, so depressed.

Consider some of the differences we’re dealing with today: lies vs. truth, law vs. justice, and politics vs. principle.

First, far too many people we love have chosen to overlook the daily lying of the current administration. They have been willing embrace leaders who don’t just avoid truth-telling, but actually punish truth-tellers. And while every administration plays with the facts, and while both political parties expediently determine what information will or will not be shared with the public, no administration in our lifetime has so boldly lied to the American people the way this administration has. And fact-checkers on both sides of the aisle agree on this. News is not ‘fake’ just because someone in power doesn’t like it. And ‘alternative facts’ are not even a real thing! That such terms have even entered into our vocabulary is depressing.

Second, law and order – a term that was used all the way back in 1962, when Officer Krupke in “West Side Story” sought to deal with the racism of the Jets and the Sharks – continues to distract people from the importance of “liberty and justice for ALL!” So when family and friends, particularly those who claim to be followers of Jesus, cannot spot the INjustice of implicit bias and White privilege, we are rightly concerned. When they are so distracted by what they perceive to be the anarchist and unpatriotic challenging of American values, values that are in fact no way reflective of the nation our Founders sought to establish, we are are rightly disturbed. And all of that is depressing.

And third, when people we care about are so willing to put their political agendas ahead of everything else, including both the very principles that we all believe to be at the heart of this great American experience, values like equity, respect, and the common good; but also the principles lifted up in the Christian Scripture, values like kindness and compassion, goodness and grace – when both of these sets of values are sacrificed for one’s own political agenda, we are stunned and bewildered. One simply cannot overlook the President’s lack of character and integrity solely because we think he has the power to advance our politics. The ends do NOT justify the means; and that so many don’t yet get this, is just depressing.

The current state of American politics is not normal! Lying, not just misinterpreting or misrepresenting facts, but unabashedly lying, is wrong. Always! Ignoring the injustices of this nation that we all love and call home because of some pejorative understanding of law and order, is also wrong. Always! And sacrificing the most basic principles of our democracy and our faith because of some narrow and narcissistic political agenda, is wrong. Always! And when people we love, the people who raised us and the people we thought we knew, embrace such ideologies, depression is actually the least of our concerns.

Never the less, the depression is very real; and that is what so many of us are feeling these days. Depression over relationships strained, relationships tested, and relationships lost.

So to all of you who are depressed, know that you are not alone. I am too! And while at times we may be tempted to think that we simply should have kept our mouths shut . . . remember that silence IS consent. And as Martin Luther King Jr. once said, ‘the ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty of some, but the silence of others.’ Racist comments, sexist jokes, and religious bigotry, can never be tolerated or accepted; and if we don’t speak out, who will?

You may also be tempted to think that it’s your fault the politics of our day has broken, or perhaps even ended, a relationship. But don’t do that to yourself! Relationships require mutual respect and admiration in order to remain strong. And while they can survive without those two important characteristics, those relationships will never be as strong as when they are present. Losing respect and admiration for another is not your fault. Unfortunately, it’s just life!

Finally, you may also be tempted to think that the burden of restoring the relationship is on you! And it may very well be. But it may not be as well! Remember that just as people change, so too do relationships. And just because we may be grieving what was, doesn’t mean we can, or even should, go back. In fact, when we see people for who they really are, we can never go back. We can continue to love, but we can never go back. And that too is why so many of us are so depressed.

Author and poet Octavia Butler, a wise woman of color who left this world far too soon, at the age of 59 back in 2006, wrote the following: Choose your leaders with wisdom and forethought. To be led by a coward is to be controlled by all that the coward fears. To be led by a fool is to be led by the opportunists who control the fool. To be led by a thief is to offer up your most precious treasures to be stolen. To be led by a liar is to ask to be told lies. To be led by a tyrant is to sell yourself and those you love into slavery.

It’s sad when people we don’t know, don’t do this. It’s maddening when people we do know, can’t do this. But it is depressing when people we love, won’t do this!

So hang in there friends. Depression is like grief. It comes, and it goes. We just need to be patient.

Dear Treyvon,

12 08 2020

How does an old White guy like me even begin to write a letter to a young Black teen like you? Eight years ago the worlds in which we lived truly were Black and White, and even if we had an opportunity to meet, our words would have likely been few.

But today my words are many, and I write to apologize. I write to you as a way to lament, to grieve, and to simply let you know how very sorry I am . . . for everything!

Treyvon to this day, it is your murder that continues to motivate so much of my living. You are the reason my life has changed, and the reason I continue to seek to become a better ally to the people of color that God has placed in my life. In loving them, I hope that I am loving you, and even if in just a small way, I pray I am atoning for our nation’s taking of your life. My blindness to your experiences as a Black person in America is the reason you are no longer here. And sadly, that blindness, and the blindness of so many other people like me, has allowed the taking of other Black lives to continue: Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, Philondo Castille, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and the list goes on and on and on.

Your murder, eight and a half years ago this month, on February 26, 2012, came at a point in my life when I had just begun listening to the voices of people who I had long ignored: Black voices, full of pain, anger, frustration, and fear; but at the same time voices full of more kindness, grace, understanding, and even love, than people like me deserve. Those voices helped me begin to explore my blindness, and after your death they forced me to deal with my complicity, and the complicity of my church and my country, in your murder.

I had never been to a protest before, but that night eight years ago, standing on a local college campus, candle burning brightly and tears flowing freely, I remember struggling to make sense of what happened to you. Up until then, my anger had been directed towards your murderer. It was towards a police department that had neglected to take appropriate action and arrest the one who had taken your life; and towards a state that continued to put laws like “stand your ground” on the books, knowing that they would only be used to oppress the already marginalized and oppressed. My anger was towards a nation that allowed guns to be placed in the hands of law-enforcement wannabees with distorted views of ‘law and order’; and towards all those red-necked racists who lived in places like rural Florida.

I couldn’t get your picture out of my mind; and I couldn’t get the words of your mother out of my head. “My son is your son!” she told the world. But while I understood what she was saying, her words weren’t really true for me. They may have been true for other Black parents, but they were never true for White parents like me! My sons were never treated as you were treated. They wore hoodies all the time. Whenever I wanted them to look their best, I would tell them to put on a collared shirt – a demand that they still laugh about today. When they went to school or church I wanted them to look respectable! But that wasn’t because if they didn’t, their lives might be threatened. White people don’t have to worry about those kinds of things. My sons put on hoodies all the time and no one ever thought that made them appear ‘suspicious.’

So I was angry with everyone and everything: people, systems, churches, police departments, politicians, the media, and anyone else I could possibly blame for what happened to you. But looking back, that protest, that vigil that sought to honor your life, began changing things for me. In what I think was less than an hour, all of my anger began to shift. And I now realize that it was being redirected from all those other people and places, to me. I was beginning to see that I was just as responsible for your murder as anyone else; and if anything was ever going to change in this country, I needed to acknowledge that.

I wish I could blame my cluelessness as to what had been happening to Black people in America for so long, on the lack of social media, or even the failure of the news media. But in reality, that wasn’t the problem. I was the problem. I wasn’t paying attention.  I didn’t want to see the racism that was all around me.  I didn’t want to think about the possibility that my own racist thoughts had become so internalize that I couldn’t even recognize them – so natural that I didn’t even know they were there. I thought your death was their fault, not mine.

That’s how bad things were for me. American racism was. . . is . . . so systemic, that I failed to realize that it was in the very air that I was breathing, in the very water that all of us Americans were drinking. My life was saturated with racism and I didn’t, couldn’t, wouldn’t, see it! And while today, eight years later, I’m growing, that doesn’t change the fact that it cost you your life . . . you and millions of other Black men and boys, women and girls. It’s been going on for 400 years, and that reality should haunt every one of us.

So I’m writing to to apologize . . . for everything, but especially for my apathetic indifference to the state of race relations in our country. I’m sorry for all the times I didn’t speak up when someone in my family used inappropriate language when talking about Black people. I’m sorry for all the times I used language born in racist thought and practice, without thinking about what stereotypes I was perpetuating or what inaccuracies I was advancing. I’m sorry I sought an education that was so skewed and biased, so historically inaccurate, and so . . . White. I’m sorry that for so long I ministered in ways that failed to acknowledge America’s original sin, and that I never tackled the subject of racism from the pulpit. And I’m sorry that even now, I still remain unsure of how to either use my privilege to seek change, or appropriately surrender that privilege altogether. I’m so very sorry Treyvon, for all of it.

Rest in peace son. But also, rest in power. Rest in the knowledge that your name is still being spoken, and by people you never knew. Rest in the knowledge that the shortness of your life and the evil of your death have not been forgotten. Rest in the knowledge that whenever I eat a Skittle I am reminded of you, and the life that I need to be pursuing. Rest in both peace and in power, as I and countless other White people, finally being to wake up and learn to better live into the words of Frederick Douglas that your mom shared in the Paramount Network’s documentary on your murder. We’ve all prayed about this stuff long enough. Now it’s time to take action.

In the words of John Lewis, it’s time to seek good trouble!

Your life mattered, Treyvon. Sadly, it mattered more than you will ever know. And this old White guy is grateful for you.

Thank you, and I’m sorry. Love, Bob

America Exposed

4 08 2020

I’m hearing way too many people ask the same frustrating question these days! “If schools in Europe can reopen, why can’t schools in America?”

It’s such an absurd question, born in an arrogant American naivete and exposing a blatant ignorance of how so much of the rest of the world operates. We like to think that the United States is capable of doing whatever any other nation is doing, and probably better! So if Danish schools are capable of reopening, American schools should be as well.

But this is simply not true. And it’s not true because of the saddest part of American exceptionalism: our selfishness! That is what makes America the exception in so many other parts of our world: our selfish individualism. And Donald Trump, and the COVID-19 pandemic, have exposed this embarrassing side of the American persona for all to see.

The great Protestant Work Ethic gave rise to rugged American Individualism long ago; and the Reagan Revolution’s “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” mentality has only modernized and further developed our national identity as a narcissistic and self-centered people. When coupled with American Evangelicalism’s obsession with the personal nature of salvation, we wind up with a populace that is more concerned with me, than us! Individual rights supersede individual responsibilities, and personal liberties transcend the general welfare of everyone. What so much of the world calls civility, we derogatorily call socialism; and while we like to talk about equality, we remain unwilling to have conversations about cultural inequity.

The preamble to our constitution reminds us of the common nature of our national identity. “We” the people, not ‘me’ the people, exalts our commitment to unity and oneness, and seeks to ensconce in the American character a commitment to the safety and security of all people. But under the polarizing leadership of the current administration, and as the corona virus ravages communities around our country, we continue to fall short of this ideal.

Whether talking about everything from the wearing masks and the necessity of vaccines, to calls for ‘law and order’ and a return some distorted sense of American ‘greatness’ — today, we in these United States are anything but united. And we do not want to be. For to be united, truly united, means that we recognize that none of us succeeds unless all of us succeed! It means acknowledging that we ARE our siblings’ keepers. It means that all lives do NOT matter, unless BLACK lives matter. It means that there is no peace if there is no justice. And it means securing the “blessing of liberty to ourselves and our posterity” is for everyone who calls America home, and not just a select, privileged few.

Why can’t we open our schools like they are doing in Europe? Because we’re not Europe! And we have been unwilling to do what most European countries did to keep one another safe. We don’t want anyone to tell us what to wear or where we can go, and we certainly don’t want our lives to be in any way inconvenienced . . . not because of a mere few hundred thousand deaths!

The government has no right to tell us we can’t go to church – because then we’d be forced to deal with the fact that faith is about so much more than ‘going to church,’ and that might require too much of us. The government has no right to give bakers the freedom to tell us we need to wear masks in their bakeries – although it’s perfectly acceptable for those same bakers to tell us they don’t want to serve us if they don’t like the people we marry. And the government definitely has no right to tell us we can’t reopen our schools – because that’s a “justice issue,” and we’re awfully concerned that doing so will too harshly impact the most vulnerable families in our communities . . . the very same families, by the way, whose concerns about living wages, affordable housing, health care have fallen on our deaf ears for years!

This is why we can’t open our schools like they’ve done in Europe! And to selfishly do so, would only be to honor and exalt our selfish motives. Do we really believe that a few more months of home-schooling is going to harm our children’s brains? Do we really believe that our children’s social abilities are going to be thwarted because they are not in school this fall? Even if such nonsense is true, it is selfish to think that the benefits of opening our schools outweigh the risks. Everyone wants schools to open. Everyone wants to get the economy going again. Everyone wants some sense of normalcy to return. But this should only happen safely. COVID-19 it taking peoples’ lives, and dis-proportionally the lives of people of color. So nothing should be more concerting than that!

And yet this is not how we think. We’ve given up on the hard work of “forming a more perfect union.” We offer mere lip-service to our being “ONE nation under God” and fail to understand the meaning of “liberty and justice for ALL!” Our selfish individualism has us thinking only about ourselves: what we want, what is convenience for us, and what will make our individual lives easier.

That’s why we can’t open up our school like they’ve done in Europe. Our national character and identity has been exposed for all the world to see. And we’re selfish. Like our president, we are a selfishly narcissistic and individualistic people.

And it’s as simple as that!

Maligned and Misunderstood Millennials

2 07 2020

Anyone besides me tired of hearing people condemn and criticize millennials?

Every generation has it’s strengths and it’s flaws, and as the father of three millennial children, and the father-in-law to two more, I see a generation that is no better or worse than any other. Never-the-less, while generalizations can be dangerous, when it comes to societal change and the eradication of social ills, I see far more good in the lives of millennials than many people seem willing to admit!

Countless books and articles have been written proclaiming millennials to be the real ‘me’ generation. Among other things, they have been accused of being lazy, entitled, and narcissistic; and I want to challenge all three of those descriptions.

First, there is a difference between being lazy, and simply rejecting most busters’ and boomers’ workaholism and unbridled passion for accumulation and material abundance. All of my children are hard workers, but they also know that they don’t live to work. They work to live! And that realization is an important one. Working hard allows them to play hard, and both are critical to healthy living. As a result, they are enjoying productive, joy-filled, and balanced lives.

Second, I don’t see a sense of entitlement so much as I see a concern for and a commitment to basic human rights. For millennials, it is absurd that in one of the wealthiest and most powerful nations on the face of the earth, there is still a debate about whether or not health care should be guaranteed for all people, or whether or not hunger and homelessness are societal evils that need to be eradicated. What some see as entitlement, and still others regard a form of socialism, the millennials I know simply regard so many of the issues being debated today as a matter of basic civility. And the kindness and compassion they seek to display should not be condemned, but rather celebrated! Perhaps it will be the millennials that lift America to that place where our Founders stood, and where so much of the rest of the world already stands: that place of liberty and justice for all.

Finally, and most importantly, millennials appear to be the least narcissistic of the generations that are still around today. More than both boomers and busters, millennials are well able to put themselves in another’s shoes, and to see things from differing perspectives. And this is most evident in the social change that they have been ushering in for the past several years. As the first generation unwilling to place boundaries on who people should be allowed to love and marry, it was the millennials who led the way in changing society’s attitudes towards gay marriage. And while they were certainly standing on the shoulders of several generations of activists that had gone before them, they are the ones who finally led society across the rainbow, into a world that understands “love is love is love!

Further, it appears to be the millennials who are leading society to that place down by the river, where the chariot swings low, and where all people truly shall, overcome! Once again, while people of color have been pursuing justice for 400 years, today that movement is being led by millennials! Perhaps, finally, change is gonna come. And if it does, it will be with millennials leading the way. They appear to have little tolerance for injustice, and are quicker than many of the rest of us, to give up their privilege and power for the sake of others. Almost all of the Black Life Matters organizers are under the age of 40, and they have taken up the mantra and ministry of MLK and the countless other people of color who have gone before them, pursuing a more equitable and just, nation and world.

Millennials have also effectively chipped away at the rigid gender stereotypes that have confined and constrained people for generations; and while gun control appears to be taking a little longer, should common sense restrictions ever be placed upon the Second Amendment, that too will likely be the result of well educated, responsible, and socially active millennials.

So let’s cut our kids some slack! Maybe we’ve done a better job raising them than we think. No, they are not perfect! But the ones I know are more passionate, empathetic, and socially responsible, than some of us will ever be. And maybe, just maybe, they will be able to do for our nation and our world, what we have been unable to do.

Virtue Signaling?

17 06 2020

Most people who know me well know that I hate attention! In spite of my job — standing before a crowd of people in worship, week after week, daring to think that I have something worthwhile to share — I do not like being the center of attention. It makes me extremely uncomfortable, and I am usually quick to try and deflect the stares.

But when it comes to racism, and issues of White supremacy and fragility, one of the best things we White people can do is point to ourselves. We need to learn to tell our stories; and not for attention, or to point out how virtuous we are, but so that we might begin to take a critical look at our lives in order to do a better job of recognizing our UN-anti-racist ways.

So, here’s the most recent story from my own life.

I live in a wonderful townhouse community in Northern Virginia, and outside our front door is a small, woody area with way too many trees! It was probably beautiful when the neighborhood was first landscaped 13 years ago, but today everything is too big and overgrown. So I decided to do something about it. My wife asked the president of our Home Owners’ Association if I could remove some of the dead branches on the bottoms of the trees, and he was quick to say “Sure! Go for it! It’s nice to know that someone is interested in the appearance of our property!”

So early one Saturday morning, I grabbed my retractable saw and hedge clippers, put on my Crocs, and began pruning! There were a total of 9 trees, and I trimmed up about 8 feet on 7 of them and removed 2 dead ones altogether. I love working outdoors, and I miss the landscaping that I always did when my wife and I owned our own home. So the work was enjoyable, and I went about it with great enthusiasm.

But as I chopped away, I realized how suspicious I probably looked. I was still in the shorts and t-shirt that I had slept in, and it was clear I had not been hired to do this job. So what would my neighbors think if they saw me?

But then I realized that most likely, none of my neighbors would ever dare to say anything to me about what I was doing. Why? Because I’m a White man! And as a White man in a relatively diverse community, I have the ‘privilege’ of being able to do just about whatever I want, whenever I want, wherever I want. Chances are pretty good that no one would ever question or challenge me. That, in fact, is what White privilege is all about! It’s the ability to do almost anything, without giving it a second thought, knowing that non-White people aren’t going to challenge us, simply because . . . we’re White.

So for the 90 minutes that I was out there, I reflected on this realization, and was actually quite proud of myself for being so . . . woke! All of my reading and reflecting were paying off. I had spotted my privilege and now was well on my way toward becoming a true ally and a real ‘anti-racist.’ And, for the past three weeks, as protests have taken place around our nation’s capital, I’ve put on my clerical collar, marched with my “Black Lives Matter” sign, and patted myself on the back as I’ve engaged with other protesters, and talked with the news media about Christ-followers needing to stand up for and with people of color.

But last week, on my way to work, I came to another realization. And that realization is still saddening me today. For some reason I was once again reflecting on my experience with the trees, and I began wondering what I would have done if I had seen the young Black man who lives across from me, outside, early one Saturday morning, in his crocs and pajamas, chopping down the trees in front of my townhouse?

Unfortunately, I didn’t have to think too long about my response to that question. I have never been afraid to speak up when I need to; and writing letters and sending emails that hold others accountable to MY standards and expectations are things that come relatively easy to me. So there is no doubt how I would have responded to a person of color cutting down MY trees! And my response broke my heart!

Like so many people today, my heart has been heavy for weeks now. But this time, it was not because of what so many of my White siblings are doing to my Black siblings. No! This time my heart was breaking because of what I know that I am doing to my Black siblings . . . way too often, and often without even knowing it. And as this realization settled in, it brought lament to my soul, and repentance to my heart.

Now why do I share all of this? Because again, we White people MUST tell our stories — disturbing though they may be. And we do so not looking for sympathy from our Black friends. We know you are dealing with enough these days; and the tears that we cry cannot even begin to compare to the rivers that you have cried over the past 401 years. Rather, we tell these stories as a form of confession, as a sign of our commitment to learning, and growing, and changing! And we tell them to let our White friends know that we all struggle with the implicit bias that comes with American racism, and that we all need to wake up to it. Because until we learn to spot it, and name it, we will never overcome it, and we will never change it.

In the end, being the change we wish to see in the world today really does begin with us. It begins with me. So now, whenever I look at the pruned trees outside my living room windows, I need to be reminded of my racist ways; and I need to allow my love for my Black and Brown neighbors to force me to reject any sense of supremacy that may lurk in my heart, and to use my privilege to help build a more equitable and just world for all of us.

And we who claim to be followers of Jesus Christ don’t do this because we want to draw attention to ourselves, or because we want to in any way signal our virtue. We do this because we are members of the human race – the only race that matters . . . the only race there really is.

No More Apologies

11 06 2020

Ok, it’s confession time.

I am NOT sorry that you’re tired of hearing about racism from the pulpit. I am NOT sorry that you think that race is too political for the Church; and I am NOT sorry that your privileged ego makes it difficult for you to see a relationship between America’s racist ways and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I’m not even sorry that you are offended by the subject of White Supremacy, or that talking about White Privilege hurts your feelings.

I’m not sorry for any of those things. Because every time we pastors apologize for our attempts to make racism one of the Church’s most important talking points, we are not so subtly condoning the belief that dealing with race in the faith community is optional. It is as though we are giving people permission to choose NOT to address this evil that has been plaguing our nation for the past 401 years. And we imply that peoples’ fragile feelings have the power to dictate what is or is not addressed by Christ’s body in the world today. And none of that is right, or helpful.

We in the Church can debate the various theories of the atonement or the efficacy of prayer for as long as we want. But when it comes to the Church’s complicity in American racism, and the intersectionality of race and faith, there is nothing to debate. Christians have used a warped understanding of evangelism and mission to justify the colonization of nations and people for generations. We have misused Scripture to support the institution of slavery and the separation of the races; and to this very day, many in the American Church continue to embrace a form of Christian nationalism that regards America as not just a ‘city on a hill’, but a gleaming WHITE city on a hill. Black and Brown people may be tolerated, perhaps accommodated, but they never embraced or included as siblings in the great human family.

So no, I’m not sorry. I’m not sorry that church small groups are being encouraged to read “The Cross and the Lynching Tree” and that parents are reading “Raising White Kids: Bringing up children in a racially unjust America.” I’m not sorry Adult Sunday School classes are studying the Belhar Confession in an attempt to grow their understanding of racism in the Church and around the world. And I’m not sorry that youth groups are watching “The Hate U Give” or “Dear White People.” Churches need to be doing all of this and more, and we do not need to apologize for any of it.

If your church is doing any of these things, and your pastor is preaching about any of these things, sit down and listen. And stop complaining! You are right where you need to be, hearing what you need to hear, and being called to the life to which we all need to be called.

If your church is NOT doing these things, and your pastor is NOT preaching these things, then you need to get up and find a new church. Find a place that is not afraid to tackle these challenging and difficult issues, and then get involved. Read, study, listen, learn, and then discover how to best become an agent of change.

The message of that dark-skinned man, lynched on a cross 2000 years ago, is still today, calling us to boldly proclaim that Black Lives Matter, and that where there is no justice there will be no peace . . . not in the world, and not in the Church. So pastors, if that’s what you’re doing, stop apologizing. It’s what we’ve been called to do, and no apologies are needed.

Leadership Matters

1 06 2020

Today, America needs some leadership!  

As our world continues to address the the COVID-19 pandemic, and our nation struggles with the consequences of racism and White supremacy, the American people are longing for leadership.  Foreign policy issues may have a role in issues related to the coronavirus, and economic disparity may be one of the factors behind the race riots taking place in cities from New York, to Minneapolis, to Los Angeles; but today, America does not need a diplomat, nor a businessperson.  America needs a leader.  

Today, no one is thinking about the make-up of the Supreme Court. No one’s really interested the Stock Market or the Dow Jones.  And for week’s now, I haven’t heard any talk about abortion rights or America’s immigration problem.  

Today, these issues are all secondary; because American greatness is being overshadowed by anger and violence, rioting and looting, chaos and anarchy.  And why?  Because we do not have a leader.  America does not have a knowledgeable, informed, articulate, leader sitting in the White House; and anyone who has not felt the effects of that absence for the past 3 1/2 years, surely, is feeling it today!

Is the current state of affairs in America the fault of Donald Trump? 

Does it really matter?

Anyone worthy of the presidency should be able to offer the American people at least a modicum of hope in difficult days.  But Donald Trump is not a leader.  He never has been, and he never will be. 

So take note America! This is why character matters.  This is why integrity matters. This is why intelligence, wisdom, truthfulness, humility, kindness, and compassion matter.  We do not need a president who sits in a bunker in the White House, Tweeting away incendiary, divisive, and childish nonsense. We need a president who can lead. We need a president who can motive us to our better selves, and who can inspire us to continue to build a nation where “liberty and justice for all” is not just a nationalistic reelection slogan, but a goal to which we are all seeking to aspire. We need a president who reads, and who is continually seeking to learn, and grow, and who longs to be more than a mere figure-head who is blindly worshipped.

America needs a president who can lead; and who is seeking to lead all of us. So remember that in November. Leadership matters. And Donald Trump is not a leader. He is not the kind of president America deserves. And he is certainly not the kind president America needs . . . not today . . . not ever!

My Quadrant is Missing!

22 04 2020

In the spite of the number of years I have spent in the Church of Jesus Christ, 34 of them as an ordained pastor in the PC(USA), I still find myself without a tribe. And the COVID-19 pandemic appears to have only magnified my sense of aloneness! As I, and countless other pastors, attempt to figure out what it means to “be the Church” when people can’t “go to church,” I have felt like I’m on my own to figure out what what worship looks like in these days of physical distancing and state-wide quarantines. And here’s why.

One of the ways churches around America might be grouped is according to their theology and their worship style. So on the graph above, if the x axis represents the theology of a church, those communities that are more conservative and evangelical will fall further on the left, and those more liberal and progressive will fall further on the right. If the y axis is for a church’s worship style, congregations that are more formal and liturgical will find themselves towards the top, and those that are more informal and contemporary will find themselves near the bottom.

Now in my experience, there are large numbers of people in churches that fall in quadrant III. They label themselves as evangelical, and their worship style is clearly contemporary. And without distracting readers with biased descriptions, they tend to be Biblical literalists and love ‘Jesus is my boyfriend’ kind of music played on electric guitars and drums. Statistics would have us believe that this is where the largest number of Americans can be found, likely because this is where most of America’s mega-churches can be found!

My experiences would also lead me to believe that there is a smaller and relatively equal number of people and churches found in quadrants I and II. In quadrant II are those conservative churches where the pastor and the people are still dressed to the nines, and where the choir still sits up front and sings about grace saving “a wretch like me,” and that “God, his son not sparing, sent him to die” for the sins of mankind! The people found in these churches tend to be older than those from churches in quadrant III, and they are generally found in the more rural areas of the south and the mid-west.

People and churches in quadrant I are far more liberal in their theology, but they are still tied to the old hymns of the faith, and embrace a style of worship that, and again – please don’t be distracted by my descriptions, reeks of the kind of ritualistic traditionalism that sucks the very life out of my soul! Many so-called ‘mainline’ churches are found here, and quiet a few are from my own PC(USA).

But where are the churches in quadrant IV? Where are the churches that recognize the “reformed and constantly being reformed” nature of the Church applies not just to our theology, but to our worship? Where are the churches full of people who love Jesus, but who also believe that just as the Spirit has shed “more light” on the issues of gay marriage and ordination, perhaps more light might also be shed on how and what we do on Sunday morning between 11:00 and noon? Where are the Churches that are not just pushing the church’s boundaries when it comes to the role of woman and our complicity with American racism, but that are also open to new ways of thinking about the music of worship, the sacraments of worship, what is read in worship, and how we pray in worship? And please, don’t tell me to go to a seminar on Taize, or to a story-telling workshop! Because if that’s the best the Church can do, we’re in big trouble. I spent 20 minutes at a major denominational workshop last year listening to a debate on whether it was acceptable for pastors to not wear robes!

In spite of my sarcasm, I’m not so much interested in condemning churches in quadrants I, II, or III. I simply want there to be enough room in the Church for someone like me, in quadrant IV. I’m convinced that this is where more and more people are today; so why aren’t there more churches here? Maybe the restrictions of COVID-19 can help us figure this out! I think our future depends on it.

Sermons from the Days of Trump

4 03 2020

Here is the introduction to my first book; and if you’ve not had a chance to purchase a copy, you can do so at Amazon, Parsons Porch, or just Venmo me and I’ll pop one in the mail.

We all know how the presidency of Donald Trump will be remembered. This is how I want to be remembered!

Few things have influenced my preaching as much as the election of Donald Trump! 

In 34 years of ministry, countless experiences have touched my heart and soul, and a variety of personal, church, national, and world events have influenced the way I have sought to interpret and apply Scripture to my life, as well as the way I have sought to help the people to whom I preach on Sunday mornings apply it to their lives.  But nothing has had a more profound impact on what I share and how I share it than the behavior and administration of our nation’s 45th president. 

Like so many pastors, in seminary I was encouraged to preach with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other.  I have always believed that the Gospel is nothing if it is not political, and that there is no way to faithfully and effectively preach without dealing with politics of the day.  But at the same time I have also sought to avoid partisanship, and to refrain from either demonizing one party or idolizing another.         

But sadly, and tragically, on Tuesday, November 8, 2016, something happened that would dramatically alter the trajectory of our country, and influence my preaching for weeks, months, and years to come.  At no point in my lifetime has an American President governed this nation with such blatant selfishness and narcissism, nor led the free world with such pompous arrogance and sanctimony.  His lack of regard for those on the margins of our society, his naiveté with regard to the inherent racism of American life, and his disregard for the misogyny that plagues our world, can only be compared to history’s most ill-equipped and uninformed national leaders.  His moral bankruptcy and ethical infidelity fly in the face of all that is of God; and so if his presidency has NOT had an impact upon what is being preached in American pulpits, then something is tragically wrong with the American Church!   

In my experience, Scripture has never been as relevant as it has been for the past several years.  The application of Biblical principles to living life in 21stcentury America mandates that preachers embrace their prophetic voice.  As was the case when the early Church sought to minister throughout the Roman Empire, faithfulness today will be defined by our willingness to speak truth to power, and by the courage we display in challenging the predominant theology of empire and the worship of national exceptionalism. 

Scripture always has, and always will, set the agenda for my sermons.  But when it comes to the application and interpretation of what I believe the Spirit to be saying to the Church today, for the past two years the various texts have set themselves in direct opposition to the policies and practices of the current administration.  And sadly, in too many instances, these policies and practices have become the norm for the Republican Party. 

The ‘kin’dom, or reign, of God is about people loving mercy, seeking of justice, and walking humbly with the Spirit.  The sermons included in this book are the fruit of my attempts to encourage the Church to do this.  They are the result of the Spirit’s movement in my life in the two and a half years following the election of Donald Trump, and I hope they continue to speak to you, the reader, today! 

Each sermon was modified only slightly to better fit this forum, with congregational examples removed to make the overall message more relevant to all readers.   At times, they may appear to be overly punctuated, but they were written to be preached; and those punctuations guided my delivery.  Further, since I often ‘wander’ from my printed manuscript, I cannot fully guarantee that what I said when each sermon was preached, is exactly as it appears in this format.   But it is close! 

In several instances I have included an introduction to the sermon: a brief account about what was happening on the national stage in the weeks leading up to my message; the lyrics of a song or hymn used in worship the morning the message was given; some other element from worship on that particular Sunday; or a combination of the above.  I have also include the Scripture texts for the day, and unless otherwise noted they are from the New Revised Standard Version. 

My hope and prayer is that all of these messages will inform both your faith AND your politics; for as our walks with God are deepened, so too should our walks with one another.  At times our faith is indeed intensely personal, but it is never private.  It is lived out in our world, and thus our civic life cannot help but be impacted by the faith we profess with our lips.

If these messages offend you, be sure that it is ME doing the offending and not Scripture or the Spirit.  For if it is either of them, that is between you and God.  But if it is indeed me, I apologize.  My goal is never to offend, only to be faithful.   

God, in the Gathering

18 02 2020


I was sure I would never fit in!  I’m easily one of the youngest people in the group, and I’m a guy.  What could I possibly learn from, or have in common, with this group of 20+ older women and the occasional 3-4 older men?

Little did I know!

I’ve been participating and leading Bible Studies for almost 40 years; but never before have I been in a Bible Study like the VIC (Ventures in Community) Bible Study in the Mount Vernon section of Alexandria, VA.

Led by retired Episcopal Priest Jonathan Bryan, and held at Good Shepherd Roman Catholic Church, this Thursday morning Bible Study is easily the most stimulating two hours of my week.  And no two hours of my week gives me more hope for the Church of Jesus Christ.  Episcopalians and Catholics, Methodists and Lutherans, Quakers and Presbyterians, all come together to read Scripture and consider new and fresh ways of thinking about God, faith, the Gospel, and Christ’s risen body in the world today.  Nothing is out of bounds.  No thought is ever put down or rejected.  And no one allows any sort of rigid, doctrinal orthodoxy, to keep us from considering the ‘new thing’ that the Spirit is doing in the Church today.

More often than not, people say what we’ve all been thinking for years, but never had the courage to say out loud . . . and certainly not in the presence of other ‘church’ people! “Perhaps the Church really has taken its understanding of original sin too far!”  “Perhaps the ‘nature’ of Jesus isn’t all that different from our nature!” “Perhaps salvation is for all people and not just a chosen few!”  “Does anything really change at baptism?”  “Is the Bible GOD’S word, or humanity’s word that has been attributed to God?”

I think I’ve come to realize that while for centuries men were busy administering the Church, women were growing the Church.  They were meeting in small groups long before there was anything known as a ‘small group movement’: studying the Bible, talking theology, and caring for one another in ways that even the most progressive men’s ministries have never been able to match.  And before this generation of women is gone, we need to listen to all they have to say.  Their wisdom is stunning, their spiritual maturity puts most of us to shame, and they are the ones who hold in their aging hands the future of the Church.

For seven years now this Bible Study has quietly, subtly, and unknowingly helped me to see that I was not alone on this journey called faith.  They have taught me that not everyone is afraid of the advances in science and theology, Biblical studies and sociology, history and ecclesiology!  In fact, women have been dealing with these issues for years, exploring their impact on the faith and considering their influence on the Church.  While we men have been trying to hold on to our authority and our pulpits, women have been asking big questions about the nature of God and faith, and they have literally BEEN, the “new thing” that God is doing among us.

The question now is when will we see it?  When will we in the larger community of faith become more aware of it?  When will we stop being afraid of it, and learn to embrace it, so that it might take us deeper in our walks with the Holy!

The Spirit is continually at work in us and among us, but too often we’re blind to her activity.  Fortunately, for me, right now, my eyes are being opened to this work because of the lives of the women who are part of my VIC Bible Study.  I am certainly grateful to Jonathan and the other men who are there, but I’m particularly grateful to the women who continue to teach me what it means to be on this constant journey called Christianity. Your voices have been silenced or ignored by the Church for a long time.  But no more!  It’s time for the rest of us to begin listening.  And when we do, watch out.  The world will ever be the same!  And that, after all, is what the Gospel is all about.