Dear Mainline Church people (a response to the Nashville Statement)

Dear Mainline Church people,

I’m writing this in response to the Nashville Statement, a pernicious manifesto issued today by a coalition of conservative Evangelical Christians. In a season when the church could be speaking out against White supremacy, agitating for peace in a troubled world, finally getting some clean water for Flint, and mobilizing to help after Hurricane Harvey, they felt it was instead the time to reiterate their condemnation of LGBTQIA+ people and to be particularly specific in their disdain for trans* people.

Now, my Church people, some of you make space for your LGBTQIA+ siblings; we can really be part of the body of Christ with you. Some of you think you do it, but maybe you stopped at making a statement without doing any further work to figure out what might make us feel welcome to do things beyond coming to worship, or worry that if you have a rainbow anywhere on your premises, people will think you’re “the gay church.”

Meanwhile, our Evangelical cousins, empowered by the political success of the right, have doubled down on theology that is exclusive and cruel. They’ve affirmed their own superiority, denied the full humanity of LGBTQIA+ people, and declared that anyone who doesn’t agree and come over to their side of the line they are drawing is not a faithful Christian.

For Jesus’s sake and in Christ’s name, mainline pastors and leaders, have the conversations you’ve been putting off. I say these things with all love. Get clear about what it means to be welcoming and affirming. Fix up the forms parents fill out at Sunday School; why do they need to be gendered? Consider new signage for your bathrooms. Be ready when one of your young people comes out to you, ready to love and embrace that young person instead of setting them on the path of rejection. Have a Bible study and discuss alternative interpretations of scripture used by others to condemn, equipping yourselves for larger conversations in your neighborhoods.

Maybe even buy that rainbow flag for the outside of your church, so we know it’s safe to come inside.

Faithfully,
Martha

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I bought this t-shirt

I bought this t-shirt at UCC General Synod in Baltimore and wore it home yesterday. I’ve admired it on friends’ social media and went to the Exhibit Hall looking for it on Monday. The back of the shirt lists all kinds of Black Lives that Matter, including women and trans* people. I especially feel convicted by the line on the front in smaller print, “White Silence is Violence.”
When I stopped in Shrewsbury, PA, to get an iced coffee, I got out of my car in the Starbucks parking lot and wondered if anyone would react. I don’t wear politics on my clothes much. In the town where I live, I’m running an action as an LGBTQ+ person every time I grocery shop, go to the doctor’s office, or attend a school or sports event with my wife. When I was in a pulpit, I preached Black Lives Matter, but I’m not in a pulpit now and don’t know how likely it is that I ever will be again, at least around here.
At Starbucks, the family parked next to me included a White dad, a Black mom, and their two teenaged daughters. I stood in line with the dad while the rest of the family used the restroom. I wondered what they thought of the shirt. I know in my town we’ve heard People of Color say they don’t want attention drawn for fear of getting racists more riled up than they already are. I don’t want to make things worse for any particular person in order to make a larger point, do I?
While I stood waiting for my drink, the mom passed me on her way to the door. As our eyes met, she said, “I like your shirt.” Then we both said, at the same time, “Thank you,” and she touched my arm, and we both had tears in our eyes.
I am not looking for cookies here. That moment in the Starbucks felt unearned, although I appreciated the moment of connection. I’m pondering the difference between sharing articles online, which is easy for me to do, not only because I do a lot of my work online, but because it feels safe, and actually showing up, which I don’t often do because … why? I have a list of reasons (a few) and excuses (quite a few).
Mostly, being transgressive feels scary, which I conclude is the point. We can’t make change by staying in our safe zones.
The back of the shirt. Buy it here.

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.

(Originally posted at RevGalBlogPals – The Pastoral is Political: Squad Goals)

Only love can do that

I’m in the strange-for-me position of being out of the pulpit for the foreseeable future, and at least for now, I am attending my wife’s church as a worshipper.

Yesterday, in the first session of a wonderful and thoughtful Sunday School on Peace, Reconciliation, and Forgiveness that includes all ages from 6th grade to Senior citizens, we were asked to share in small groups the names of people we thought of as truly good. I was proud of The Boy when he named Martin Luther King, Jr., then saddened to hear a trusted adult respond, “He was good, but he was not perfect.”

Now, this was going to be the further point of the discussion – we are all in need of God’s grace, as the Presbyterian Confession of 1967 was used to illustrate – but I felt frustrated that an adult would administer that kind of corrective to the one student in our group. No one questioned any other suggestions.

When the full class shared answers, The Boy whispered to me, “Don’t say it. Don’t say it.” My heart hurt.

img_0055Later, as we sat in our pew before worship, he picked up the bulletin and saw the quote on the cover. He pointed out the words and the name to me and said, “I wasn’t wrong!”

No, son, you were not wrong.

We went on to read portions of the Letter From Birmingham Jail as the Confession and the Statement of Faith, alongside a text from Luke reminding us that the hometown crowd tried to throw Jesus off a cliff.

Thus it has ever been with prophets, even the 6th-graders.

Tech Sabbath (a prayer for pastors)

Spirit of God,
You move like the wind,
are everywhere,
in everything.

But we are not looking for you
when our noses are bent toward
small screens and large,
when our eyes cross
and vision fades
after hours of studying
tiny images
held in our hands.

We know this, but it was a shock
when the 11-year-old said,
“Hey, maybe we could all
take a break from electronics!”

Hmmm. People might need us for something.
Suppose there is an actual emergency?
How can we arrange this?
Phones in a basket on the counter?
(We know the difference between
the ringer and a Facebook chime,
a tweet, a Bleacher Report update.)

After church, said the clergy parents.
After church, until Monday morning.

Today, may we find peace
in some Sabbath hours
unbusily spent
reading,
playing games,
going for a walk,
looking each other
in the eye,
looking for You.

Why Do You Go to Church?

The two preachers at my house have a disagreement in principle about church attendance. Oh, we’re both for it under ordinary circumstances! We grew up in families where everybody went to church. We loved Sunday School and Youth Group and special choirs. Really, seriously, most of the time we are eager to get up and go on a Sunday morning, to lead worship in our respective congregations.

But on vacation? There we disagree. I love to visit other churches on vacation. My spouse does not. And she may have a point. Church is our workplace, and maybe the occasional Sabbath spent on a beach or walking in the woods is a good thing. (Although we spent the last joint Sunday off on the road returning from vacation.)

Perhaps when I visit other churches I do it with the keen, appraising eye of a professional, taking notes for my own worship leadership. In fact, I’ve been guilty of preaching at one church while taking vacation from another, a kind of busman’s holiday.

Why do you go to church?

Some do it out of obligation, and others to see their friends. Some do it because they always have; it’s a habit. Some do it out of fear they will end up on God’s bad side. I’ve heard people say they went to church every week when they were younger because in the day of the Blue Laws, there was nothing else to do and nowhere else to go. I find I wonder this about the people who come and listen to me on Sundays, particularly when they look unenthused about the experience. Believe me, I bring that home to ponder.

Why *do* you go to church?

In October we heard the Ten Commandments in worship and received the reminder to keep the Sabbath holy. Christians worship on Sunday to mark the Resurrection. It’s our less elaborate adaptation of the Jewish Sabbath. Most people feel no cultural pressure to attend, and some have no experience with church, and others have made other choices for legitimate reasons of their own including past hurts.

Why do you go to church?

In February I visited my childhood church in Virginia, where, yes, I preached on a vacation Sunday. It’s the place I first heard the words “I was glad when they said unto me, let us go into the house of the Lord.” (Psalm 122:1, King James Version) And I think that’s the reason I keep going to church on Sundays, the reason I responded to God’s call to local church ministry: I go because I am glad, week in and week out, to go into the house of the Lord.

Why do *you* go to church? I would love to know.

Stained glass windows in the balcony at my childhood church.
Stained glass windows in the balcony at my childhood church.

I can’t find the liturgy (a prayer for pastors)

Holy, holy, holy God,

In that moment when
I can’t find the liturgy
I know I wrote
on Wednesday
at the office,
but for some reason
it’s not on Dropbox,
grant me the peace of mind
needed to dress and get to church
and find that I saved it
to a local folder.

Please, oh, please, may it be so.

Amen.