Author Archives: Deb

About Deb

Wife, mom, sister, pastor, chaplain, friend and Buckeye. I Yam what I Yam. Frequently imperfect, completely loved, and grateful.

Pastoral is Political: I’ve Already Said Too Much

(The Eternal continued speaking to Job.)
Eternal One: Have you heard enough?
Will the one who finds fault with the Highest One now make his case?
Let God’s accuser answer Him!
Job 40:1-2 (The Voice)

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I sit here at my desk, comfortable, white and quiet. I write from my very white, suburban, straight female perspective. And it is abundantly clear to me that I used to be living in some version of Fantasyland. As a pastor and a hospice chaplain, I have been listening to the anger and grief around me. I am coming out of a zombie-like existence, where what is reality and what I have perceived it to be are two very different things, indeed.

There have been moments since the US presidential election that I have been angry, despondent and scared, too. But was it really “unthinkable”? What bias skewed my understanding, my perceptions of my country and my culture? Where was my faith in a God of justice and peace? I joined in the conversation and reactionary posts on social media.

“Sit your white ass down and shut up.”

That was the response from my self-righteous protesting, “but… but… I am NOT like those white women who voted for Trump!”

For a few weeks, I was shamed into an uncomfortable silence.

And then, I came to realize that I am guilty by association and by my inaction. I did not see the depths of prejudice my friends and neighbors suffer. I did not complain to corporations where I have money invested. I did not write my elected officials or call them directly when I disagreed with their actions. I did not support candidates financially to the degree I could have.

Though I did not vote for him, I am part of the reason Donald J. Trump won the US presidential election.

I have much to learn from my brothers and sisters who have lived under systemic violence and hate.

I have worked in churches that are majority white, have a few persons of color in the membership, and thought it was “enough”. A kind of, “yay, good for us” mentality. I thought that I am not like pastors at those other churches! (Pharisaical thinking, much? Yikes.)

I can’t change my history… but I am trying to listen and learn to change how I respond in the future. Perhaps that is the most “pastoral” thing I can do.

(Job answered the Eternal.)
Job: Oh, I am so small. How can I reply to You?
I’ll cover my mouth with my hand, for I’ve already said too much.
One time I have spoken, and I have no answer to give—
two times, and I have nothing more to add.
Job 40:3-4 (The Voice)

“When people want to learn about God revealed in Jesus Christ, there stands the mythic white male figure. Some white male theologians and preachers frequently make Jesus sound more like Uncle Sam than the nonviolent, Jewish revolutionary described in the gospel narratives. With a pseudowhite male Jesus let loose in the church, the boundaries of acceptable theological reflection have neatly aligned with powerful, elite American male interests.”
Drew G. I. Hart in Trouble I’ve Seen: Changing the way the Church views racism. (p. 163)

“We are the least scrutinizing, least critical, of the people whom we believe support us. The folk who really know how I am and appreciate me, they’re the ones I don’t worry about. …It is possible to be seduced into silence and stillness by affirmation that is really coming from the wrong lips.”
Benadette Glover-Williams, “What the Devil Didn’t Know” in Those Preaching Women, Vol. 4 (p. 23)

“Studies show that people of all colors use and sell illegal drugs at remarkably similar rates. If there are significant differences in the surveys to be found, they frequently suggest that whites, particularly white youth, are more likely to engage in drug crime than people of color. That is not what one would guess, however, when entering our nation’s prisons and jails, which are over-flowing with black and brown drug offenders.”
Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass incarceration in the age of colorblindness. (p. 7)

“No one alive today created this mess, but everyone alive today has the power to work on undoing it. Four hundred years since its inception, American racism is all twisted up in our cultural fabric. But there’s a loophole: people are not born racist. Racism is taught, and racism is learned. Understanding how and why our beliefs developed along racial lines holds the promise of healing, liberation, and the unleashing of America’s vast human potential.”
Debby Irving, Waking up White and finding myself in the story of race. (Introduction).

 


Rev. Deborah Vaughn is a hospice chaplain and pastor, affiliated with the Alliance of Baptists. She lives in Maryland outside of Washington, DC with her husband and young adult daughters. She is a contributor to the RevGals book There’s a Woman in the Pulpit and maintains a personal blog at An Unfinished Symphony.


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The Pastoral is Political: The Olympics on the World’s Stage

The weeks and months leading up to the Olympics were full of the usual stories of a massive urban clean-up, of building costs close to a billion dollars (99.3 million, to be precise), of concerns about traffic, parking, terrorism, security and pollution. Add to that list the political turmoil in Brazil, including a recession, teacher strikes and an impeached president. And then there’s the highly publicized Zika virus, the polluted waterways, and a doping scandal disqualifying the entire Russian gymnastics team! There is quite a stain on the Olympics this year. Yet, the TV production machine blares on, with highlights and tape delays, live events and athlete bios.

The Opening Ceremonies lauded the history of Brazil, including its indigenous peoples, the history of its slave trade, and the colonizing Europeans’ influences. I was bemused. Much like the history of my own country (USA), these are points in the timeline where one might feel uncomfortable. Is it enough to just mention it? Are we tasked with doing more?

There was also the nod to the rain forest and the Amazon basin, a creative and a worthy inspiration. But its inclusion highlighted our international indifference towards global warming and deforestation. As part of Creation, do we forget we are tasked with the vocation of caretaking our planet? Do we understand the importance of the rain forest, the so-called “the lungs of the earth”?

I ponder the cost of the world-class sports facilities, and the favelas* that were leveled to build them. I grumble at the Rio committee, who in its zeal to beautify the area around the venues, leveled neighborhoods of homes built and occupied for generations. I remember a similar theme in the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, where the Techwood neighborhood was demolished to build the Olympic Village, and the construction of the Olympic stadium displaced the residents of Summerhill, Peoplestown and Mechanicsville. (Source: Southern Spaces) Disproportionately, people of color and lower socioeconomic status are impacted by the building of these facilities.

Maybe the hype is getting to me. Maybe the ridiculous number of commercials (and delayed broadcast) of the Opening Ceremonies set me on edge. Maybe it was a personal health issue (healing nicely, thanks) that made me less indulgent of ‘MERican nationalist chants and star-spangled swimwear.

At the same time, like many of you, I’m watching almost every event! I’m musing on the strange dichotomy of Olympic athletes, waiting tables and working retail grunt jobs to pay for their training, and Olympic officials hauling in huge salaries. I marvel at the athletes’ grace, grit and skill, competing for the love of sport and the dream of a medal, any color medal!

For those of us in pastoral roles, there is a call to proclaim justice.

For athletes whose families work extra jobs to pay for coaches and trainers. For neighborhoods demolished for Olympic infrastructure. For the environmental impact of our casual and careless use of fragile resources in rain forests, not only for the health of our planet, but the survival of the species who live within it.

Part of our pastoral responsibility includes owning our part of the problem.

And here I’ll ‘fess up: I am not the best at conservation. I like my air conditioning in the summer. My 14-year-old car is wheezing along with abysmal gas mileage. I use electricity to wash and dry my clothes, my dishes and charge my many electronic devices. But I am also learning to compost, recycle and reduce my use of plastics.

In the end, the focus, even from the TV production machine, comes back to the athletes. Their hard work, dedication and competitiveness. The glory of their victories. The celebration by their families.

I was reminded of Jaques line from Shakespeare’s As You Like It:
“All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players…”

Yes. These athletes are players on the world’s stage called the Olympics. But so are we! May we take this opportunity to use the larger stage of the Olympics to hone our awareness and our actions. Our greater world depends on it.

 

*(Favelas, by the way, are not slums, though they were labeled as such to justify razing them! According to the Catlytic Communites website, favelas are sturdily built homes, held for generations, with working utilities and even internet service.)

 

Rev. Deb Vaughn works as a Board-Certified Chaplain for a hospice in the Washington, DC area. Deb maintains a personal blog at An Unfinished Symphony.  She is among the contributors to the RevGals book There’s a Woman in the Pulpit.

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Friday Five: Your Grown-up Christmas List

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Put on your slippers and enjoy a cuppa of your choice as you share with us five items on your grown-up Christmas list. Serious or silly, share in the comments section below or on your blog.

Merry Christmas to all of our RevGals and Pals. May your wishes come true!

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The Pastoral is Political: Check Your Speech

As the United States’ political primary season ramps up its rhetoric and partisanship, I find it harder and harder to find the language of acceptance and tolerance in our political climate. I marvel at some candidates’ inability to accept that people can differ on theological grounds, and still want a country that supports a thriving middle class.

Politicians are quick to cite the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights, the so-called “establishment clause” which prohibits a national religion. I wonder if they forget the importance of this Right, particularly when one reviews American history and remembers that diatribes and angry rhetoric have been a part of the religious community’s landscape since our Colonial era. I am reminded that the same Puritan settlers who fled England because of religious persecution were quick to demonstrate the same intolerance towards others, even though they were also Protestant! (See Stacy Shiff’s op-ed piece in the New York Times)

Wheaton Professor Dr. Larycia Hawkins dared to suggest dialogue rather than isolationism. Her Facebook post reminds us that each human is an Image bearer of the Divine. She sought to bring a voice of acceptance and inclusion to the discourse surrounding Muslims in American. She is on administrative leave pending the outcome of an investigation of her theological beliefs.

What sparked the brouhaha for Dr. Hawkins was her agreement with Pope Francis that Christians, Muslims and Jews all “worship the same God.” But if one reads the statements from the Pope, this appears to be taken out of context. Perhaps the best explanation is from an interview on Vatican Radio:

“No religion is immune from its own fundamentalisms.  In any confession there will be a small group of fundamentalists, whose work is to destroy in the interests of an idea, not of a reality.  Reality is superior to an idea.  God, whether in Judaism, in Christianity, or in Islam, in the faith of those three peoples, accompanies God’s people with His presence.”
Pope Francis, Vatican Radio, September 14, 2015

Fundamentalists focus on exclusion and intolerance, based on differences between religious groups. The way of peacemakers is one of inclusion and tolerance. This does not becoming syncretists, but accepting there can be a plurality of faiths, all the while following your own.

A fundamentalist “baptist” church in the Midwest has taught us the result of holding ideas and beliefs over faith in a loving, redeeming God. Marginalized and mocked, they have reduced their faith to a caricature of theology, rather than having an impact on the dialogue that shapes our society’s politics and social agendas. They (and other Christian fundamentalist groups) insist on a defining list of acceptable beliefs.

Christians who work in the public arena struggle when compared to these groups. The inference is, of course, that you must believe what “they” believe, and accept into your fold only the “true” believer. Perhaps better questions should be:

  • “Do we share common values?
  • “Can we look beyond our differences and work together for equality, justice and peace?”

As a pastor and interfaith chaplain, I am constantly checking my own bias and religious beliefs so that I can listen to my patients and their families. I am not adopting their beliefs, nor to I cease to be a Christ-follower. But I set aside my role as a pastor to enter that of chaplain and companion. My goal becomes listening and accompanying rather than proselytizing and evangelizing. Does this make my faith less vibrant? Not in the least! Instead, it gives me a teachable heart, seeking to hear and see the Spirit of God at work around me.

May we each stop and reflect in this season of Peace on Earth to discover if we are adding to its increase… or increasing the hateful rhetoric.

6 For a child has been born for us,
a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
and he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 His authority shall grow continually,
and there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom.
He will establish and uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time onward and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
Isaiah 9:6-7, NRSV

So may it be.

 

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Friday Five: Leftovers

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Before Thanksgiving Dinner: A feast of desserts!

Strange events this year meant that I did not have a BITE of all of the dishes prepared for Thanksgiving. A crazy GI bug flattened me for the day. It was NOT the Thanksgiving I had planned. (And maybe your Thanksgiving was not the ideal, either.)

But being thankful is a spiritual discipline. So I invite you to list five things, people, events or pets that you are truly thankful for this year.

BONUS: As spiritual careGIVERS we often forget to plan time to care for ourselves and we end up getting the dregs of our energies and self-care. What are you doing to make sure you aren’t getting the LEFTOVERS of your schedule for self care?

 

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Friday Five: Push or Pull?

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A dump truck’s tailgate begs the question: “Do not push! Why or why not?” Photo credit: Rev. Deb Vaughn

I am fortunate to have some great encouragers in my life. The ones who know me the best are great at knowing when to challenge me, and when to just chill and let me figure it out myself. SO… think about the encouragers and challenges in YOUR life and tell us…

  1. After achieving a goal, do you set the bar higher, or rest on your laurels?
  2. Which is better: a kick in the pants or a hug and a cuppa?
  3. What’s your baseline motivation? Fear? Competition? Not getting caught?😉
  4. When you’re facing a big challenge, do you need to talk it out, or puzzle it out yourself?
  5. Who is in your corner – always? Who helps you achieve more than you imagined you could?  (You don’t have to give names)

BONUS:

A picture, piece of art or music that expresses your experience of the push/pull process.

 

Play along in the comments, on our Facebook page, or on your own blog. Linking back is easy! Just copy and paste your link in the comments section below.

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The Pastoral is Political: Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor?

Illustration by Dez Pain. Used by permission. From http://www.rgbstock.com

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!
from The New Colossus by Emma Lazarus

Emma Lazarus wrote her sonnet as her personal response to the Russian pogroms of the 1880s. She matched her words with tireless work in support of immigrants arriving to the United States. The words from her sonnet are co-mingling in my mind with words from the Epistle of James:

Religion that pleases God… must be pure and spotless. You must help needy orphans and widows and not let this world make you evil. (James 1:27 CEV)

I have been watching the news with its endless pictures of refugees from Syria. The desperation. The fear. The exhaustion. The faces of children. I would rather look the other way.

I compare the lives of refugee families to my own. I consider my over-indulgence in my daily diet. I look at my family budget, bills and expenses, and the needs of my own congregation. I think about my hospice patients and their families, and the heartache I witness every day. I watch the evening news to hear of another shooting not that many miles away from my home.

I don’t curl up like an armadillo or run off in a panic. I become numb. I am neither passionate about helping nor angry about being asked. My heart wants to disengage, to be “lukewarm.”

The Holy Spirit is incessantly reminding me… They are my neighbors. They are my brothers and sisters. Regardless of their religion, education or ethnic group, I am called to care about their welfare. Are any of my indulgences (hello, pumpkin spice latte) too much of a sacrifice? No… not really…

But beyond choosing how and when my family and I will support refugee agencies, there are deeper questions. How will I engage my government? Who will I write in support of the voiceless? And perhaps most pertinent of all, when politicians and political candidates build walls instead of sharing our resources, will I vote them out of office at the next election cycle?

I can proclaim from my bully pulpit the message of acceptance, generosity and peace. But if I do not follow up my words with action, I am not honoring the Gospel I preach. The pastoral role is not only to point us back to a radical life of service, but one that also holds our elected officials accountable for caring for “the least of these.”

May I have wisdom to hear, see and respond with the heart and mind of Christ.

Blessed be the Name.

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Monday Prayer

Holy One,
We give this day to You;
may the work of our hands
build a stronger Church,
a kinder world.

We see the drowned
and the dying,
we grieve at broken lives
caused by leaders
with hardened hearts.

Yet we know
we too are gripped
by desires,
by egos
that only serve self
and not others.

Today
may we NOT walk by
a soul in need
without offering a hand
extended in Your Name.
For You stretched out
Your Hands for us
…and welcomed us Home.

Amen

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Monday Prayer: Traveling On

2015-07-29 08.59.45O Wisdom,

We travel on by Your Grace
Into places where we hardly know the way,
Into homes where the faces are new (and maybe afraid),
Into meetings where we long to play Candy Crush
(instead of giving our full attention and ministry of Presence!)

 

Forgive us!

For we don’t know our limits,
And we test the limits You place on us,
And we struggle to energize ourselves
When your Spirit is available to us,
(so we need not run on empty!)

 

In the week ahead,
We will find new challenges to perplex us,
And old habits that will trip us.
But before we leap into the tasks and appointments,
The school bells and the backpacks,
The bus schedules and sermon planning,
The minutia that distracts…
Be foremost in our hearts,
Be present in our plans,
And graciously bring us back, enfolded again,
In Your Grace.

Blessed Be!
Amen.

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Friday Five: Go to the Head of the Class

It’s Back-to-School time! Are you that A+ Student for life” or the King/Queen of Detention? RevGals want to know! We are all still learning (or re-learning) some kind of lessons!

Tell us about your learning edges in:

1. Reading: what’s in your “to-be-read” stack? Fiction? Church leadership? Commentaries?

2. Writing: are you blogging? Journaling? Developing a new book proposal? Or just crafting sermons? Any excerpt you’d care to share? (We won’t grade your penmanship!)

3. ‘Rithmetic: Family budget? Church budget? National debt? What are you discovering about yourself and your church/family when it comes to handling money?

4. Music: favorite new hymn or worship band?

5. Detention: uh huh… If you were supposed to report for detention today, what would be the note on the slip?

BONUS: Recess!

RevGals just want to have fun! What’s your favorite way to unwind?

Three ways to participate!

  1. Play here in the comments
  2. Play on your blog and paste your blog’s link below so we can come visit!
  3. Play on our Facebook page!

 

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