Church Life, Leadership, Stewardship

Taking the Lead

Last night I stayed up late watching baseball, fell asleep, then woke again to find my favorite team, the Washington Nationals, was still playing and had taken the lead over the Los Angeles Dodgers. This morning I scrolled through Twitter and watched video clips of the game and victory celebrations. They were all fun, but one in particular struck me. While the team consists of 25 professional baseball players, there are rankings both formal and informal that indicate the place of a particular player. This one is a star, and this one is reliable, and this one keeps morale up even if he does not score many runs. 

One of my favorite players is a relief pitcher, Sean Doolittle, who has been the closer of many of our games this season. He is the last one to pitch, and by the nature of his role he plays under the pressure of minute examination. We like him at my house not only because he is a good ballplayer, but because of his support for inclusion of LGBTQ+ fans, and his love of Star Wars and indy bookstores. After last night I also admire his team leadership. In a post-game interview, he did not focus on himself, but instead talked up another player who did well last night, one who was sent down to the minor leagues for a long swath of the season after struggling to hit the ball, a guy so understated that his version of a celebratory reaction is a shy smile, but who made the amazing catch that won the game. 

It’s good leadership to celebrate others, to recognize contributions of time and talent, and to lift up the person whose faithful service might go unremarked.

It’s good leadership to celebrate others, to recognize contributions of time and talent, and to lift up the person whose faithful service might go unremarked. As we enter the stewardship season in many of our churches, I wonder whose gifts of time and talent we might highlight? Who stays on top of things that others might never notice? Who does what needs to be done without expectation of attention? May we take the lead in appreciating their efforts. 


A version of this post appeared in the RevGalBlogPals Weekly e-Reader.

Subscribe to Reflectionary, my weekly Revised Common Lectionary email launching Monday, November 25, with ideas for preaching and original liturgy.

Reflectionary

Point of View

I get a lot of email intended to broaden my thinking or deepen my spiritual life: daily devotionals, weekly round-ups, and monthly epistles. They come from pastors, journalists, coaches, and writers, or from newspapers, magazines, organizations, schools, or collectives. I choose what I subscribe to, so most of the time, even when I’m not informed on a particular issue or situation, I’m in a sort of comfort zone for my point of view. 

It’s a surprise, then, when I see an unfamiliar name attached to an organization I support, then read further and realize that within the umbrella of the organization’s interests, there are people whose foundational points of view clash with mine. We share an interest or a belief, but we diverge on something that matters deeply to both of us. 

Does that person have something, anything, to say that I need to read and consider? Would they even read my writing, if my name were on an email in their inboxes?

In the faith world alone, there are plenty of people who share my love for Jesus, but differ on beliefs I hold dear. Will their reflections on scripture, or their application of the gospel to action in the world, resonate with mine? One day last week, I looked up a name and made an uncomfortable connection and decided to keep reading. I found there are some feelings I share with this person about scripture. I want to resist saying, “but…” with regards to our different points of view on interpretation, but I cannot. There is no way to ameliorate theology that excludes, and does it in the name of Jesus. 

Study, then, led me to prayer, for a point of view that truly centers on Jesus, who reached and touched and comforted and exhorted everyone.

Really. Everyone. 


A version of this post appeared in the RevGalBlogPals Weekly e-Reader.

Subscribe to Reflectionary, my weekly Revised Common Lectionary email launching Monday, November 25, with ideas for preaching and original liturgy.

Books

Book Review: Red State Christians

I’ll confess it. When I learned of Angela Denker’s book Red State Christians: Understanding the Voters Who Elected Donald Trump (Fortress Press, 2019), I felt the tension between interest in a colleague’s work, a commitment to amplifying the voices of other clergywomen, and exhaustion with profiles intended to provoke my compassion for people who, I assume, don’t have much sympathy for LGBTQ+ people like me. Denker is both a pastor ordained in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and a journalist who has written for Sports Illustrated, the Washington Post, and Sojourners, and as I hoped, she brings both her theological insights and her journalistic gifts to this wonderful book, which I highly recommend.

Denker traveled the country to interview Christians in communities that we might assume are full of Trump voters, and that was the case in almost all of them. Regional histories and economies play as much a part in their varied motivations as do theological and social commitments. She takes the reader to metroplexes, affluent suburbs, and declining small towns. Denker offers a fair representation of the people she meets, yet throughout, she offers the reader both her counter-arguments to and in some cases her areas of agreement with the points-of-view of conservative Republicans who represent that majority of self-identified evangelical Christians who voted for Trump. Their motivations include Christian Nationalism, attachment to guns, opposition to abortion, and a love for a particular ideal of America. The foundation of racism and White Supremacy is apparent in many of the ideas shared by the people Denker interviews.

Her visit to El Paso is particularly poignant in the wake of the recent Wal-Mart shooting. There the churches are living in the midst of what is sensationalized by the President in speeches and on social media; people cross the border to work and to shop and to visit with family and friends. When we are up close to other human beings, how can we dehumanize them and still call ourselves followers of Jesus Christ? Yet even some of the Hispanic families in El Paso support Trump, and Denker unpacks levels of privilege and internalized racism that illustrate how difficult it will be to reach common ground even on topics that seem obvious (to me) on Christian principles.

I live in a Red community in a Purple state, not too far from one of the communities profiled. The book reminded me that while I sometimes despair that conservative and progressive Christians will ever find common cause in a broad sense, I actually live among and worship with Trump voters, and we do manage to find ways to communicate with one another, because we are already in relationship. It’s not always comfortable, and there are some compromises I can’t make. Denker’s engaging journey around the country encourages me to keep being in relationship and hoping that others will see in me the humanity Denker so aptly portrays in Red State Christians.


I received a complimentary copy from the publisher as part of the launch team. I also recommend the discussion guide available from the publisher, which would be a great resource for congregational read-alongs.

coaching, group coaching

Register for group coaching

Coaching empowers pastors and church leaders to make adaptive changes that transform the ministry of the church.

Group coaching offers the guidance and accompaniment of coaching with the added benefit of collegial connection and support. Starting in September, I will offer two coaching groups for pastors, running until May, 2020. All group sessions will meet on Zoom for 90 minutes. 

Sustaining Clergywomen – group coaching for up to six women serving in local church settings – first Wednesday of the month at 2 p.m. (Eastern time) – begins September 4th.

LGBTQIA+ Clergy – group coaching for up to six people serving in any ministry setting – first Thursday of the month at 1 p.m. (Eastern time) – begins September 5th.

Group Coaching Rates: $225 per person for nine monthly group sessions. A payment of $100 is due at registration; the balance of $125 will be due 1/15/20. Follow this link to register

coaching, group coaching

Group Coaching

Group coaching offers the guidance and accompaniment of coaching with the added benefit of collegial connection and support. Starting in September, I will offer two coaching groups for pastors, running until May, 2020. All group sessions will meet on Zoom for 90 minutes. 

Sustaining Clergywomen – group coaching for up to six women serving in local church settings – first Wednesday of the month at 2 p.m. (Eastern time) – begins September 4th.

LGBTQIA+ Clergy – group coaching for up to six people serving in any ministry setting – first Thursday of the month at 1 p.m. (Eastern time) – begins September 5th.

Group Coaching Rates: $225 per person for nine monthly group sessions. A payment of $100 is due at registration; the balance of $125 will be due 1/15/20. Follow this link to register

#amwriting, coaching, Ministry

Own Goals

The US Women’s Soccer team finished group play in the Women’s World Cup with a perfect record, and they are scheduled to meet France in the quarterfinals later this week. They are amazing athletes performing at the top of their game, and no one who knows soccer is surprised that they are dominating. Yet there were complaints in the early rounds that the team scored more goals than needed to win and celebrated goals and wins with too much enthusiasm. 

Play smaller, said the critics. Don’t make so much of yourselves. 

The pushback came on as strong as the soccer team. Would we ask this of men? No. In sports, you work hard and play hard, lead with your gifts, and celebrate your victories. 

For me, it’s easier to celebrate others, and that sometimes gets in the way of achieving my own goals. I hesitate to put myself forward at the same time I have no problem applauding and promoting others who do the same kind of work I do, whether it’s writing or coaching. I rely on peer coaching to be sure my goals don’t become an “own goal.” 

One of my goals, after Denial is My Spiritual Practice was published last year, was to work on another book. I’m delighted to tell you that I recently signed a contract with The Pilgrim Press to write for and edit The Words of Her Mouth, a collection of original psalms written, in conversation with scripture, by ten clergywomen and faith leaders who represent a diversity of age, race, orientation, and denominational affiliation. The book is scheduled to be published in 2020. I place a high value on amplifying the voices of other women, and I’m excited to bring this idea I have been nurturing to reality. 

What are your goals in this season?

Who will help you reach them?

When will you stop playing small?

Work hard and play hard.
Lead with your gifts.
Celebrate your victories.


Are you a pastor considering coaching? Beginning in September, I will offer two new coaching groups, running until May, 2020. All group sessions will meet on Zoom. 

Sustaining Clergywomen – group coaching for up to six women serving in local church settings – first Wednesday of the month at 2 p.m. (Eastern time).

LGBTQIA+ Clergy – group coaching for up to six people serving in any ministry setting – first Thursday of the month at 1 p.m. (Eastern time).

Group Coaching Rates: $225 per person for nine monthly group sessions. A payment of $100 is due at registration; the balance of $225 will be due 1/15/20. Follow this link to register

Reflectionary

Run. Hide. Fight.

Wednesday dinnertime at the Manse is always catch-as-catch-can, given the back-to-back Handbell Choir rehearsals involving the rest of my family. I was not surprised this week to get a text from my wife, who passed our son in the rehearsal room, asking if I would take the starving 14-year-old out “for something fun to eat.” 

In the car, we talked about the day, and he noted that there had been another school shooting. I had just been reading about the student who died engaging one of the shooters in Colorado, and earlier in the day his mom and I had talked about the response being taught in some schools, to “Run Hide Fight.” As we stood waiting for our order in the short-handed Dairy Queen Grill&Chill, I thought, as I often do now, how vulnerable we all are. 

Over his 6-piece chicken strip basket, our son told me the strategy he had developed with his best friend, based on an elaborately imagined scenario taking place in their school cafeteria. These two 8th-graders have chosen the closest exit, the surest path out of the building, their destination to be a neighborhood close by where they could call for help. 

He also described the instructions students have been given to follow in a classroom. I thought of a mom on Twitter; her child reported the class was told to divide up, leaving the half closer to the windows more vulnerable. And what happens to disabled students in an active shooter scenario?

This is a kid who just a year ago heard our smoke alarm and stopped, dropped, and rolled, without realizing you only do that if you are on fire. I hate that he has had to grow up so fast and that this kind of worst-case scenario planning is his reality, yet I’ll admit I felt relieved that his inclination was to run and get help. And I recognize that even having these thoughts signifies our white privilege.

In a crisis, with fractions of a second to decide what to do, adrenaline fuels our responses. Two young men bravely fought at UNC-Charlotte and at the STEM High School in Colorado. I’m married to a person who runs toward trouble, and despite my limitations of size and power, I have readily inserted myself into situations of physical and emotional violence in the past. I’ve never been tested by the threat of a weapon, however, and do not know how I would react. I admire Wendi Winters, who charged the shooter in the Capital Gazette newsroom and saved her coworkers’ lives. The question is not whether sacrifice to save others can be noble; it is. Yet I worry that we are creating a culture of martyrdom that serves not God’s purposes but human ones, shifting the narrative to the courage of people who should never have had to use it.

We live in a slow-rolling crisis of gun violence in public places that threatens to numb us with its frequency. If we fear talking about it with our family members, our neighbors, our congregants, and even our colleagues, we allow people with pro-gun agendas to frame the narrative. We must find a way to incapacitate their arguments.

Will we run, will we hide, or will we fight? 


A version of this post appeared in the RevGalBlogPals Weekly e-Reader.