The Pastoral is Political

The Pastoral Is Political: We Shine Brighter Together

A dozen candles of various shapes, sizes, amd colors

©2017 Cindi Knox. Used by permission.

I serve a tiny church. It was once a center of activity for a German immigrant community. Later, it was a neighborhood center.

Now it is a small band of committed people.

There is diversity in these people. We have people whose ancestors come from Africa, Europe, East Asia, and also the Caribbean and Central America – which have a diversity all their own.  We have mostly older members, but some young as well. We have gay and straight members, cisgender and transgender members. We have members with economic security, and members who are homeless.

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The Pastoral is Political: Squad Goals

elizabeth-warren-tweetThere were plenty of things about what happened to the Honorable Elizabeth Warren, Senator from Massachusetts, that got under my skin:

  • the way the old boys called her out to protect their friend and colleague,
  • the racist history of the nominee she opposed,
  • the fact that they silenced her while she read a letter by the late Coretta Scott King.

Yet nothing about it frustrated me more than looking at the list of the senators who voted to silence her by a count of 49-43. The senator we used to call “moderate” and “reasonable,” “centrist” and a great representative of my former home state of Maine, was on that list of 49. Susan Collins was not the only woman to vote to silence her colleague, but it was her name that lit my fuse. If women won’t let women do their work, what chance do we have of getting men to let us do it?

You see, it was not too long ago that a female colleague silenced me by hijacking the end of a meeting.

The circumstances were less public, but the assumption that a different voice should take priority was identical. Surprised, I did not try to get the attention of the gathering again. Cable news was not waiting for me outside the Senate chamber, as was the case for Senator Warren, but friends expressed their annoyance at what had transpired. I later learned that she doubted my capacity to lead the group simply because I did not match her assumptions about leaders. I was not tall, or loud, or strong.

It’s true that I am neither loud nor tall.

It’s also true that it’s not the first time that while leading this ministry, designed to offer resources and community for women in ministry, I have been undercut by a female colleague who made a remark about my height or my voice. I expect that kind of nonsense from men; a (tall) male colleague once joked that I should stand on a chair to be seen in a room full of pastors at a denominational meeting. Did he intend to undercut what I planned to say, or was he just horsing around? It didn’t matter. In that case I had a reputation, and others listened. In this more recent case, I must admit, I had to ponder the meaning of what I had been told. Why do women apply a standard to each other drawn from a masculine model for leadership, a model of height and volume as the measure of power and strength?

Sisters, we need to do better.

In a season when the world is in turmoil, and the church has struggles of its own, we have important work to do on behalf of Jesus Christ. We need to encourage, embolden, and inspire one another.

If I could, I would declare these our squad goals:

  • to elicit leadership that is not modeled on the tropes of white, straight, cis patriarchy;
  • to kindle more networks that highlight the effective and faithful work of women;
  • to exhibit respect for voices and accents that may not sound like ours; for energy that may not be on the same wavelength as ours; for strength that may derive from patience, intellect, warmth, and perhaps particularly persistence.

I continue to ponder the negating description offered to me. Although an intended compliment followed on the opening salvo, it never had a chance of landing. You don’t lift a sister up by putting her down first.

And you might miss something important if you impose the power of your voice, or your vote, to end the conversation.


Martha Spong is the Executive Director of RevGalBlogPals, a writer, and a clergy coach. She stands 5′ tall, knits socks for anyone who asks for a pair, and is a verified ecclesiastical badass. Follow her on Twitter @marthaspong.


RevGalBlogPals encourages you to share our blog posts via email or social media. We do not grant permission to cut-and-paste prayers and articles without a link back. For permission to use material in paper publications, please email revgalblogpals at gmail dot com.

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Pastoral is Political: Massacring the Good People of Bowling Green

Okay, I totally wasn’t going to write about this. Really, I mean besides being kind of funny on some memes – is it really worth talking about? I mean should I give my time to she who speaks lies?

Unfortunately, yes, and in this instance she’s hit home for me. As this RevGal was born and raised in the town of Bowling Green.

Home to the Corvette plant, Western Kentucky University and Fruit of the Loom Bowling Green is a located in south central Kentucky about an hour north of Nashville, Tennessee. Fun fact, when I was growing up we had more restaurants per capita than anywhere else in the country. AND as of a few years ago (maybe still) you could see several pictures of me in the entry way of the Applebee’s. 

Bowling Green is one of these “small cities” where housing is plentiful and there’s need for all kinds of skill sets in jobs and so resettlement works. There is a sense of community and refugees thrive, thanks to the people in town who work hard to make it happen.

In high school I was asked to show two students around who had recently been resettled from Bosnia. They were sisters. My teacher thought I could help navigate the confusion of the lunch line for them, as the teachers could usher them from class to class, but when it came to lunch time, students were on their own.

As I walked with these sisters down the hall I talked and talked until I realized, they didn’t understand a word I was saying. Wide eyed with looks of excitement and skepticism, we went through the line, they got exactly what I did. A baked potato with nacho cheese, sour cream, and “bacon bits”. They picked at it but never ate it (not that I blame them).

I tried to have discussion during lunch but not a word was understood, and I did that awkward, “talk loud and slow as if they couldn’t hear me” thing. Guess what? Not the problem.

Three years later we all graduated together, one of the sisters was in the top 10 of the class. They spoke fluent english and had thrived in our small town. I remember looking at them on graduation day in awe of everything they had been through, I remember seeing smiles and hearing laughter as they walked through the halls with friends. I was proud of them, proud of who they were and to know them.

My senior year I met another refugee from Bosnia, he was in my youth group at church. On a retreat he once described what it was like to live under a hostile regime. He had gone to the market one day, at just a few moments after arriving men with machine guns appeared and killed everyone in the square.

Except him.

Somehow he had survived. After that his family moved to a refugee camp and after a long vetting process, to the U.S. and were resettled in Bowling Green. He wept with survivors guilt, wondering why those people died and he had lived. Wondering what God’s purpose was for his life. Wondering how his family had been so lucky to get out when so many others were left in camps. We all wept and wondered in awe.

And if these two experiences weren’t enough for me to care about the refugees of my hometown (besides the fact that my faith calls me to care for all refugees) then one more experience would.

My former mother-in-law, Patricia Meacham, taught citizenship classes and is now an ESL teacher for Western Kentucky University. She also helps orient international students to the culture of the city as well as helping them with their English.  She has countless stories – some sad, some funny, all inspiring – about the people she serves.

According to her, about 10% of BG’s population are refugees. The International Refugee Center of Kentucky which is in Bowling Green and Owensboro have taken in around 10,000 refugees over the years. And she’s right.

So currently, in a town of about 60,000 people 5-6,000 are refugees and even more have already become citizens (some thanks to Patti!). But it’s not just that refugees randomly appear with everything in place. There is a whole system of townspeople who donate beds, clothing, linens, cars, offer jobs and safe haven. And not all who help in the resettlement are paid, hundreds of volunteers make this happen. Last year they resettled over 400 refugees, 40 of them from Syria.

The town of Bowling Green is a shining example of caring for the stranger in their midst when it comes to refugees. Could they be better? Sure, everyone can. And in 2011 when two men went to trial and pled guilty to terrorist plots, our country temporarily paused it’s resettlement until adjustments could be made and they were. So even if KellyAnne misspoke, she’s still wrong.

In the almost 20 years since I left for college the town has grown almost 25,000 people, it has thrived and expanded and become widely more diverse, some thanks to refugees. 

There are many things about the city of Bowling Green I could complain about but their example of a refugee city? Not one of them. I am proud of that fact and will stand up to anyone who disagrees.

I like to think that my teacher entrusted those scared young women in my care, because she trusted that I would be welcoming. I grew up with resettled refugees all around me and their stories are part of me today and has helped shape my faith and my humanity.

I welcome refugees into this country and into my life because my ancestors were once strangers in a strange land and someone welcomed them. I welcome them because radical hospitality is the way of Christ. I welcome them because my life has changed for the better by diversity, of race, creed, sexual orientation, and human experience.

So thank you Bowling Green, keep up the good work.

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Photo by Becca Schimmel

The Reverend Shannon Meacham is the mother of two exhausting children Maggie and Gus, and she currently serves Ashland Presbyterian Church in the safest part of Baltimore, the suburbs. You can find her musings about any and all subjects on her personal blog pulpitshenanigans.com.


RevGalBlogPals encourages you to share our blog posts via email or social media. We do not grant permission to cut-and-paste prayers and articles without a link back. For permission to use material in paper publications, please email revgalblogpals at gmail dot com.


 

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The Pastoral is Political: Defense Edition

The pastoral is geeky, at least.

I’ve had an episode of Star Trek (TNG, for those of you who care) stuck in my head this week. The one in which the Enterprise encounters one of many unknown phenomena: this one washes waves of energy over them which threaten to tear the ship apart. So, of course, they raise their shields.They assume a defensive posture, to safeguard not only the military-esque Starfleet personnel, but their families on board.

It’s human nature to self-protect, and to want to protect our families and loved ones. Even those who would willingly give their own lives for a cause will hesitate, when asked to give the lives of their beloved, their parents, their children. None of us would readily question the need to “raise shields” in moments of danger, real or perceived – most of us would be quite willing to defend first, ask questions later. Safety first.

When one is crouched behind shields, however – whether they are force fields against space, or harsh rhetoric, or physical barriers – everyone on the other side is going to look like an enemy.

Jesus, facing those who had come to arrest him, rebuked the disciple who drew his sword. And we nod wisely, when we read the end of Matthew 26: of course we shouldn’t attack, meet violence with violence. But I don’t think we question why there was a sword: of course it’s right to be ready for whatever comes. Of course it’s wise to defend ourselves.

And so we miss the point.

The current administration, facing the threat or perception of violence, draws its proverbial sword and raises its shields. All in the name, not of promoting violence, but of defending ourselves. And those who read Matthew with us in our pews, those who admire the crew of the Enterprise in their moment of crisis, question only the methods, not the impulse of defense.

But perhaps we should.

Because it’s a TV show with a very discreet story arc, the folks on Star Trek figured out (in the nick of time!) that the more power they poured into their shields, the stronger the phenomena became, until it nearly destroyed them. At the crisis moment, the answer was to drop the shields, to remove the barrier.

Jesus, facing his own arrest, not only rebuked the sword-wielding disciple, but warned the entire group: who relies on the sword will perish by it.

In this time of deep anxiety and anger, many Christians are – I believe rightly – calling out policies that scapegoat certain groups entirely. But perhaps it’s time to take a step further back, beyond even the current administration, and question the underlying assumptions that put swords in our hands, and shields up: the assumptions that defensiveness will keep us safe; that the threat of violence will deter violence.

It is a risky posture, to lower our defenses when the world around us feels so violent, when reports of attacks and violence flow daily through our newsfeeds. It leaves us vulnerable – and harder still, it leaves our loved ones vulnerable. As vulnerable as the children in Aleppo. As vulnerable as a group of church folk at Bible Study. As vulnerable as Jesus when he left Gethsemane.

As vulnerable as the person who sees before them, not an enemy, but a human being.

As vulnerable as the person who relies, not on the sword, not on barriers, not on exclusion and the expectation of violence, but on the possibility of love, and compassion, and vulnerability.

Our scriptures do not tell us that love will keep us safe. Mary, weeping  at the foot of the cross, may well have wished that the disciple had ignored Jesus’ injunction. Our scriptures simply point us on the ways of death, and the ways of life; the ways of this world, and the ways of the realm of God.

And our scriptures tell us not to fear.

Not to grab for our swords. Not to put up our shields. Not to see anyone as inherently enemy, inherently “other.” Not to go on the defensive.

Not to fear. Even when the cross is looming before us.

Not to fear. Even when our place of comfort seems to be coming apart.

Put away your sword. Drop your shields.

Make it so.

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Rev. Eliza Buchakjian-Tweedy is Senior Pastor of First Church Congregational, UCC, in Rochester NH. She blogs at sermonizing.wordpress.com.

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The Pastoral is Political: Pointing in the Wrong Direction

RevGal Erin Counihan and friends at the Women's March in St. Louis.

RevGal Erin Counihan and friends at the Women’s March in St. Louis.

Ever since the election in the U.S. in November, I’ve noticed a tendency for many of us on the “losing” side of the election to turn on each other. People of one race blame people of another for not getting their vote out. People who supported Secretary Clinton blame people who voted for Jill Stein or Gary Johnson. People who voted blame people who didn’t vote (I’m completely on board with that one, if I’m honest).

It’s come up a number of times since the election too.

Should our elected leaders attend the inauguration and mark the peaceful transfer of power? Or should they stay away from it to highlight the huge irregularities in the election from Russian involvement to the work of the FBI director in the days before?

The Women’s March on Washington was either a great idea, or a horrible, and possibly racist one. Rather than talk to each other about the concerns we had, or the hopes we had, about it, we accused each other of bad intentions and didn’t listen to each other’s concerns.

Wearing pink pussy hats was either a clever, grass roots response to reclaim boorish and dangerous language from our new president or was an affront to feminism.

RevGal Katya Ouchakof joined the protest in Madison, Wisconsin.

RevGal Katya Ouchakof joined the protest in Madison, Wisconsin.

I’m not saying everyone should just tow the line and have one unified response to this Presidency and our current political situation. There are real differences and we need to find ways of discussing them without assigning motives to people who respond differently than we do.  Feminism, in particular, has a fraught relationship and history with people of color. White feminists need to listen and educate ourselves to the concerns our sisters of color have. (Revgals is having a number of conversations on this topic. More information here). If the word “intersectionality” is new to you, it’s worth your time to find out more.

We cannot normalize the dangerous behavior of our new President. I will pray for him to act with civility and to have the best interests of our nation in mind.  But when he lies, employs known white supremacists, appoints people unqualified for their posts, repeals and overturns policies that will leave people vulnerable and at risk, refuses to abide by ethics standards, I will respond.  When he mocks and impugns women, people who are differently abled, people of other religions and nationalities, and mischaracterizes our inner cities as “war zones,” it emboldens people to respond in kind. I will respond.

I worry, though, that every time we point fingers at each other for responding differently to this political reality, we are pointing in the wrong direction. We need to be with and for each other, trusting intentions, seeking clarity, and encouraging each other as we navigate.

RevGal Julia Seymour says she will never forget this woman who marched in Anchorage, Alaska.

RevGal Julia Seymour will never forget this woman who marched in Anchorage, Alaska.

Are we really going to spend time complaining about the color and style of a hat women are wearing instead of noticing the news out of the White House? Friends, we don’t have that kind of time. 

I was with a thoughtful group of church folks last night, and we were discussing how to channel our energy in positive directions and move forward. The talk kept turning to “others”. The unemployed, poor white people did this. Fox News did that. Millennials did something else altogether.  After a while of letting people vent, I reminded them (I reminded myself), that we can’t change the behavior of Fox News watchers or the unemployed poor. All we can do is look to our own behavior, our own thoughts, and our own hopes. We cannot force someone else to share our hope.

At its most basic level, it’s about standing clearly in our own space, and allowing people to stand clearly in their own space. As we add layers of nuance, it’s about acknowledging the privilege that stands with us as we occupy our space. And helping to make sure that others have the freedom and safety to occupy their space, regardless of race, gender identity, sexual orientation, or religious affiliation.

I worry all of this infighting  is pointing us in the wrong direction, away from meaningful opposition. I’d like our civic behavior to not remind me of a Monty Python sketch.

 

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Marci Auld Glass is the pastor of Southminster Presbyterian Church and lives with her husband and sons in Boise, Idaho. She is a graduate of Trinity University and Columbia Theological Seminary. She serves on the Clergy Advocacy Board of Planned Parenthood and the Mission Agency Board of the Presbyterian Church USA. Marci blogs at Glass Overflowing and is among the contributors to the RevGals book,There’s a Woman in the Pulpit (SkyLight Paths).

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The Pastoral is Political: #ReclaimMLK

reclaimmlkFriends, I confess this Martin Luther King, Jr. national holiday feels so…complicated today, when in just a few days bigotry and hatefulness and misogyny and blatant white supremacy will be inaugurated into the White House.  All of that, in the space of five days?  That’s a lot for one justice-loving heart to hold.

So I am thankful that the Movement for Black Lives is calling us to a national week of action, starting today, to #ReclaimMLK as we gird up our courage to resist this incoming administration and all the harm it wants to do – and is already doing.

Now more than ever, we need all our ancestors in the struggle around us.  Now more than ever, we need to reclaim Brother Martin’s legacy to us.  And, especially if you’re white like me, we need to be clear about who he was and what that legacy is.

Institutional whiteness has tried to rob MLK of his power, turning him into a “respectable” icon of community service, not revolution.  We’re given a day off, not taught his principles for how to rise up.  The now-dominant narrative about him is that he was just a “dreamer;” we have forgotten that he asked hard things of all of us.

In his time, MLK was not considered “respectable,” or “peaceful.”  He was targeted, bombed, stabbed, surveilled, jailed, beaten, and murdered for what he preached and embodied.  He was accused of being a communist (not unlike how Black Lives Matter is slandered with being a “terrorist” group today), an enemy of the state.

Now we celebrate him as a national hero (which, obviously, he is, please don’t hear me saying otherwise), but at what cost?  How well do we (and I’m really meaning white folk here) heed his words, and let them compel us to action?

From his “Letter From a Birmingham Jail:”

I have been so greatly disappointed with the white church and its leadership… all too many others have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained-glass windows… I have looked at the South’s beautiful churches with their lofty spires pointing heavenward. I have beheld the impressive outlines of her massive religious-education buildings. Over and over I have found myself asking: “What kind of people worship here? Who is their God? Where were their voices when the lips of Governor Barnett dripped with words of interposition and nullification? Where were they when Governor Wallace gave a clarion call for defiance and hatred? Where were their voices of support when bruised and weary Negro men and women decided to rise from the dark dungeons of complacency to the bright hills of creative protest?”
From his speech, “Beyond Vietnam:”

The war in Vietnam is but a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit, and if we ignore this sobering reality…we will find ourselves organizing “clergy and laymen concerned” committees for the next generation…We will be marching for these and a dozen other names and attending rallies without end unless there is a significant and profound change in American life and policy…

…I am convinced that if we are to get on to the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

“Rallies without end”…that gets me. So what would Brother Martin ask of us today?  I listen to his words and let them work on me, sit in the discomfort they cause me as a white clergywoman.  And I think he would ask us to rise up, to gird up our courage to dismantle the “giant triplets” and build up a whole new world. Even in this moment of chaos there is immense opportunity for a resistance that shows up against harm and builds up a just world, if we are bold enough to grab hold of this moment, look our fear in the eye, and act anyway.

And I think he would tell us to not do it alone. Freedom is a collective movement. Remember Brother Martin had Ella Baker, Fannie Lou Hamer, Vincent and Rosemarie Harding, Anne Braden, Amelia Boynton Robinson, Daisy Bates, and so many others.  He was not alone, and neither are we.  Thanks be to God.

Now let us begin.
Now let us rededicate ourselves to the long and bitter, but beautiful, struggle for a new world…
The choice is ours, and though we might prefer it otherwise,
we must choose in this crucial moment of human history.

(from “Beyond Vietnam”)


Rev. Anne Dunlap is a UCC pastor, activist, and herbal warrior serving as Community Minister for Racial Justice & Solidarity in Denver, CO, where she is a member of the United Church of Montbello.  Her work includes local organizing, pastoral and spiritual care in the movement, teaching, farmhanding, and coordinating the Showing Up for Racial Justice faith working group.  Anne invites you to take a listen to the new Showing Up for Racial Justice podcast. She writes at FierceRev Remedies.


RevGalBlogPals encourages you to share our blog posts via email or social media. We do not grant permission to cut-and-paste prayers and articles without a link back. For permission to use material in paper publications, please email revgalblogpals at gmail dot com.

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The Pastoral Is Political: Last Christmas

Christman Advent WreathAs I stood looking out at the congregation as we held our candles and sang Silent Night late Saturday evening, a sadness fell onto my heart.  What will next Christmas look like?

I didn’t feel like I could sing the carols with a sense of joy or relief.  Worry about what the next years will look like clouded my ability to hope in the way I wished.

Will Christmas be drastically different in the future?  Will the shift in our political system cause less people to have jobs next year?  Will more people suffer because of a lack of health coverage?  Will our loved ones who are racial, ethnic, or religious minorities experience greater levels of oppression because the incoming administration?

And then my overly-anxious inner 10-year-old wonders: Will we all be alive?

Late in the morning on December 22, the United States president-elect tweeted the following: “The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes.”  This mirrors the sentiments of the current Russian president.

I thought the prospect of using nuclear weapons was well behind us…

I grew up at the very end of the Cold War.  Movies like Testament and The Day After still haunt my memories –  even now that I’m in my forties.  How could human beings do this to one another?  I thought to myself as a child.  Will I grow up to experience adulthood?  I don’t want to die…

During these tween years, I would read Matthew 24, which would not dissuade my fear at all.  Even the Bible predicted such calamity.

And while I eventually learned that the Bible was written in specific contexts to specific groups of people, I know that “nothing is new under the sun” (to echo the words of Ecclesiastes).  Again and again, people found their demise in wars, and even mass extermination occurred at our hands with our missiles in 1945 Japan.

Could our country massacre an entire region of people with one directive?  Will we be at the receiving end of one of these bombs?

Here we are back in a Cold War wilderness.  Here we are in wandering.  Here we are waiting to see the Christ light through the fogs of human-induced hate.

This is when we desire that the wilderness texts of the Bible give us the hope we need.  Isaiah 40:6-8 states:

All people are grass,
   their constancy is like the flower of the field.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
   when the breath of the Lord blows upon it;
   surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades;
   but the word of our God will stand for ever. (NRSV)

Logically, I highly doubt that a nuclear war is in our future.  Yet the powers-that-be will use this to send powerful messages of fear, and that will play with the emotions in our hearts and souls.

And we sit with the wilderness Scriptures.  No matter where we are in our growing or fading, or what may come upon this, God’s comfort is with us.  God’s peace surrounds us.  Admittedly, sometimes it’s tough to see this comfort around us when our fear is so great.  So we light the Christ candle and we take that light into the world, hoping it will shine brighter than before, that nuclear winter will be a fear of the past, and that springtime resurrection will appear for us once again.

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The title of this post, Last Christmas, is in memory of musician George Michael who passed away on December 25, 2016.  While the 1980’s gave us terrifying movies like The Day After, the decade also provided us with enjoyable music from great artists like George Michael, Prince, and David Bowie whom we mourn this year.

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The Rev. Michelle L. Torigian is the Pastor of St. Paul United Church of Christ, Old Blue Rock Road in Cincinnati.  Her essay “Always a Pastor, Never the Bride” was in the RevGalBlogPals book There’s a Woman in the Pulpit.  Torigian blogs at www.michelletorigian.com.

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RevGalBlogPals encourages you to share our blog posts via email or social media. We do not grant permission to cut-and-paste prayers and articles without a link back. For permission to use material in paper publications, please email revgalblogpals at gmail dot com.

 

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The Pastoral Is Political: Elections Have Holy Opportunities

nbh8vreAs I write this, I am listening to an online mix of Christmas carols.

I heard that same music mix yesterday in the neighborhood Kroger. And the day before in a Starbucks where I pulled in for coffee on a trip across four states. And more of the same music on the “all Christmas” radio stations along that long road. Lovely background music. A continuous medley of the hymnal carols that sing our praise about the birth of Jesus — “O Come All Ye Faithful,” “O Little Town of Bethlehem” — interspersed with Hallmark-esque nativity fictions — “Little Drummer Boy,” “Mary, Did You Know?” — woven together with sentimental secular favorites — “Frosty the Snowman,” “Silver Bells.” All mixed up together.

This year, Christmas background music seems a little creepy. This year, I get a little queasy when I hear Jesus’ birthday hymns jazzed out and put in the same mix as “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.”

“You better watch out, you better not cry” because someone is “making a list and checking it twice.” This does not sound so innocent to me right now. Though this Rev Grandma knows that the Jolly Old Elf has no power over me anymore, the Electoral College does wield mighty power over all of us and our future together. Today, they will most certainly elect a president who lost “bigly” the popular vote. The presumed USA President #45 won by promising to sacrifice “the naughty” ones by “fixing” the Affordable Care Act, Medicare, Social Security, and food assistance.  He has promised to “make a list” of enemies and of Muslims, and he will have the power over any existing lists of undocumented immigrants.

Unless your church is very different than the ones I have served, we maintain the cultural institution that plays the background music for a “Christian nation.” We are the anchor institution for the families — families — who count on us “keeping the doors open” until we can some day fulfill our yet-unrealized dream of re-creating the church of the 1950’s and 1960’s.

I am one of those Baby Boomers. I remember that mid-twentieth century “idyllic” time in USA mainline church life. The church provided programs for all ages. Long forgotten is that “the church” (program providers) was the paid church staff and the many stay-at-home moms. Even more forgotten is that programs were consumer-responsive products of the desire to attract more families. Baptisms, confirmations and holidays were celebrated and recorded in baby book and photo albums; disciple-making was not.

Congregations came into this election cycle with our most faithful congregants spending very limited time putting themselves in the way of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We are still program-absorbed. Our meetings spend more time talking about money and buildings than we spend sharing and growing our faith together.

As an antidote to self-absorption and a sincere desire to make a difference, we practice the church-y version of trickle-down economics at Christmas. We adopt a family or two or more; we collect toys or offerings or socks; we volunteer for a day or two. Out of our abundance, we give.  Not that there is anything wrong with that. We will do the same thing at work, at our club, in our apartment complex. People are helped, for a season.

Now, post-USA election, some are trying church again. They are not looking for a Board of Christian Ed to help out or an anemic church offering plate to fill up or even another social or civic club. People coming back to our churches are seeking to make sense out of unbelievable current events. The world — their world — is not getting better with time or by way of good intentions. They/we have tried Hallmark feel good sentiments, cultural Christmas, family first, voting for a better world, engaging in social action — not that there is anything wrong with any of those.

Now,
Fear
Anxiety
They can’t sleep.
They can’t retire this year.
Their son-in-law might be deported.
Their LGBTQI identity might get them fired.
Their Muslim neighbors’ house was vandalized last night.
Their adult son with multiple disabilities might lose his health insurance.
“You better not pout.”
“You better not cry.”

This year, elections have opportunities. Our churches can re-focus our resources on our distinctive message of Life and our much-needed purpose of being an alternative community to cultural Christianity.

Is now the time when we pastors will have that honest, no-holding-back conversation with our congregations about the current state of the gospel-sharing health of our churches? If not now, when?

More than uplifting background music or beautiful backdrops for life events, churches are commissioned to be bearers of the good news:

God-is-Love is born to the world!

And people are desperately seeking good news.


Rev. Sharon Temple is a United Church of Christ pastor in Nashville TN.  She is a contributor to the RevGals book, “There’s a Woman in the Pulpit” and blogs at Tidings of Comfort and Joy.


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The Pastoral is Political: You trumped us!

Dear USA,

Was it a case of anything you can do we can do better? Did you see what happened in the UK in June and think…mmm we can match that…no wait, we can raise you? Well you sure managed that.

From over this side of the Atlantic Ocean we have been watching you for this last year. We watched your presidential debates, we watched the news reports, we read the social media stuff and we thought, “no, it’s ok Donald will not become President, it’s not going to happen, no way!” We even went to sleep on your election night still confident that this would not happen. Some of us couldn’t sleep with the excitement and anticipation of another glass ceiling being smashed. Most of us sat up bolt right in our beds when waking to the news that Donald had trumped Hilary.

It was the same here in June when most of us went to sleep confident that the UK would vote to remain part of the European Union. That didn’t go to plan either.

So we, that’s you and us, have a new world order taking shape. And as far as I can see it’s not a world that I like the sound of.  Yesterday in church we heard the words from Isaiah that Jesus read when at the Synagogue. Now that is a word I like the sound of. But sadly, it’s not a world view that Donald shares. Or many of the Brexiteers, as we fondly call them. Instead we have a world taking shape where there is no good news for the poor; where those trapped are to be allowed to rot; where the oppressed find a boot firmly keeping them down. The world seems to be becoming even more selfish and more suspicious, fearful even, of those not like us.

How on earth have we come to this? And it is not just you and us. The signs across Europe are that right wing extreme views are growing. Who would have thought that the leader of the French National Front would ever become a serious contender in their Presidential race? We have seen refugee camps in Greece attacked by fascist thugs – men, women and children for crying out loud, attacked at night. People who have already faced danger and traumas we can only imagine scared for their lives in a place they thought was at least safe, if not comfortable. How have we come to this?

I don’t know. But I do know that we have a Gospel to proclaim that runs counter to all of this. And we much preach it.

So my dear friend USA, I write to you in the hope that between us we can stay strong in our faith, stay true to the Gospel and resist that tide that we face. Surely between us, with a mighty army of RevGals and Pals, we can stop the tide from becoming a rip tide that drowns out our voices.

Yours with much love

The United Kingdom


Rev Shuna Dicks is a Church of Scotland minister based in Speyside in the heart of the Malt Whisky Trail. She lives with husband Neil and their two dogs and a cat. They have two grown up children who live and work in Aberdeen.


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If God Is Sovereign…

Earlier this month I took a trip to Thailand for a human trafficking seminar as part of my duties as Co-moderator of the Presbyterian Church (USA). As you may know, Thailand’s King Bhumipol recently passed away and the country just ended a 30-day period of national mourning. Our delegation visited the country in the middle of that mourning period. Everywhere we went, a memorial to the king could be found on billboards, street corners, in lobbies of buildings, and in houses of worship. Thais, who are known for their pleasant demeanor, were visibly sullen, their trademark smiles largely absent. They are increbibly devoted to their beloved king, and I was struck by how whenever anyone referred to him, they did so in the possessive: “Our king.”

Though I was born in a country with a constitutional monarchy (the United Kingdom), I have lived most of my life in a democratic republic (the United States). I don’t really know what it’s like to live in a monarchy, so much of the “king” language in the Bible is lost on me. In their mourning, the people of Thailand helped me better understand what it means to have a king.

Of those memorials to him, they usually read something along the lines of, “From your devoted subjects.” When speaking of him, the language used connotes a sense of belonging, one to another — king to people and people to king. As his subjects, the people of Thailand understand it to be their duty to treat their king with deference in life and with a proper memorial in death. To me, an American, King Bhumipol was a king. To Thais, he was their king. There is definitely a difference.

Any sovereign (or any leader, for that matter) is identitifed by her or his subjects/followers. If XYZ is my leader, I will do what XYZ says. I will abide by XYZ’s teachings. I will, in very functional and tangible ways, love XYZ because XYZ is mine. Simply put, sovereigns have subjects.

After the U.S. elections, many Christians (perhaps with some resignation) said that ultimately God is sovereign. “Jesus is still on the throne!” “It doesn’t matter who is President, because God is my [monarch].”

That is encouraging to hear, because that means if God is indeed sovereign, then God has subjects.

Subjects who do the will of their monarch.

Subjects who will show devotion to their regent by their obedience.

Subjects who will love their regent.

What if Christians understood God’s sovereignty not as God’s ability to do what God wills, but as our responsibility to do what God wills? What if we understood God’s sovereignty not as permission to passively trust in some nebulous vision of a utopian future, but as impetus for mobilizing the reign of God “on earth as it is in heaven”?

If God is sovereign, then God’s subjects will care for the stranger, the orphan, the widow, the poor, the wronged, the marginalized, the disenfranchised, the ostracized, the exploited, the sick, and the powerless. That, after all, is the will of the sovereign — and the responsibility of the subjects.

What does our Sovereign require of us?


Denise Anderson is a Presbyterian Church (USA) Teaching Elder and Co-moderator of the 222nd General Assembly of the PCUSA (along with another RevGal, Jan Edmiston). Denise blogs at Soula Scriptura and is among the contributors to the RevGals book, There’s a Woman in the Pulpit (SkyLight Paths).


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