picture of fruits of the spirit passage from the book of Galatians in the Christian Bible

Notes to Myself: Commitments for Talking Politics with Care

picture of fruits of the spirit passage from the book of Galatians in the Christian Bible

“…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control…” ~Galatians 5:22-23 (NRSV)

Monastic rules of life have drawn Christians through the ages to the spiritual disciplines. New monastics often look to one of the most well-known – the Rule of Benedict – and then write their own rule of life to order their lives in community. I have never been terribly successful at thinking of the Christian path in terms of discipline. In fact, at the mention of living the spiritual life “by the rules,” my inner self goes running for cover.

However, the fraught reality of public discourse in our time demands more discipline and less venting, more intentional, measured speech and less passion. In fact, it requires every bit of spiritual discipline the Christian can muster (and then it pleads for more from the Holy Spirit). Amidst the ever-widening crisis of public discourse, I have found it necessary to set down a rule for myself about speaking to and around my children. We all have steam to let off these days, but heaven knows we all need to speak with a little more care.

I have found three motivations for this care-filled speech at work in me, nudging me to speak with intention. First, I understand the pastoral office to be a listening office. This is ironic, I know, since few other professions boast 15 to 30 minutes of public speaking to a more-or-less willing audience every week. Even as I must preach the audaciously good news of Jesus without apology, I must also use language that does not blindly parrot phrases from political parties, denominational in-fighting, or other popular influences. And yet, to pastor is to move people along the path toward God and the Kin-dom of Heaven (the place where, in Christ, we are all kin to one another). The pastor is always inviting and always listening, so she must choose her words with care.

Second, I confess that I deeply want to avoid alienating people. This internal motivation is possibly the least important of the three, but nonetheless the most pressing to me. It is a desire for everyone to continue belonging to one another, especially when and where I am in charge. As a natural-born mediator (conflict avoider), I have little capacity for conflict when it might lead to alienation. I am not the first minister who likes to be liked, but this is a character trait which must be examined daily to be transformed from approval-seeking to the truer virtues of kindness and gentleness.

The third motivation involves my children, and to some degree, older generations of my extended family: I want to maintain open dialogue with my children and my family’s elders. One day my children will disagree with me on some of life’s most important issues. At that point, it might be too late to begin trying to mind my manners in discourse. I hope to have spoken in such a way while they were young that dialogue will still be possible when I am old.

Given these motivations, I would like to share with you my commitments for participating in public discourse, particularly related to political speech: Read more

"For Everyone Born" in text set in front of a rainbow-colored silhouette of the St. Louis skyline

Supporting Your Methodist Friends

"For Everyone Born" in text set in front of a rainbow-colored silhouette of the St. Louis skylineDear Non-Methodist Friend (who probably cares about and knows at least one United Methodist pastor or lay person),

Today I write to you as a United Methodist Church (UMC) pastor who is fighting for justice and full inclusion for all people at all levels in the lives of our churches and denomination. As you probably heard, last week the UMC held a big meeting, called a General Conference, to discern the role of LGBTQIA+ persons and allies in our body. This was a special, called meeting, held between regular quadrennial meetings, and the sole topic of this meeting was LGBTQIA+ persons (even though they weren’t mentioned by name for most of the day of prayer) which we have been debating at General Conference since 1972 – 4 years after we were established.

As you may know, the UMC is the 3rd largest denomination in the United States (behind only Roman Catholics and Southern Baptists); and we are a global denomination with 12.6 million members worldwide. Approximately 60% of our membership is in the United States. In some countries where we are in mission and ministry, it is illegal to be in a same sex relationship and is punishable by death. In other places, like the Northeast and Western US, fully welcoming LGBTQIA+ persons is a necessity to reach our communities. There is a great divide.

This divide was very evident at our Special General Conference when it was voted 53% yes, 47% no, to uphold the “Traditional” plan which would redefine same sex relationships in church law, increase penalties on clergy who break church law—including the revocation of credentials, and more. Much of this plan was deemed “unconstitutional” by the Judicial Council, which functions like the United States Supreme Court in our denomination. There are many questions about what the result of passing this piece of legislation will be. Suffice it to say, we won’t know for a while. In the meantime, all “sides” are weighing their options for staying or leaving the denomination while knowing that the conservatives will have a larger percentage of delegates at our next regularly scheduled General Conference in 2020.

This has been an exhausting week for all United Methodists who are following our General Conference. We are worn out. In the UMC, we have 3 General Rules that guide us and were given to us by our founder, John Wesley. 1) Do no harm. 2) Do good. 3) Stay in love with God. Harm has been done to our LGBTQIA+ siblings, and this is not acceptable. In the words of our baptismal vows, we must “resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they may present themselves.” We have failed. We allowed evil to rear its ugly head in the way we talked to the “other” this week. Insults were thrown from all sides. This is not a good witness to our faith.

Many well-meaning people of faith have asked me what they can do to help. So I crafted this list to guide you, well-meaning person of faith in engaging with United Methodists, especially those who are grieving the actions of General Conference: Read more

Woman praying alone in church

How to Talk About Abortion in Church

Woman praying alone in churchAbortion. Does the word stir up emotions? Does it cause you unease, even anger? You’re not alone. Say “abortion” in a public setting, and undoubtedly the reaction will be strong and visceral. Say it in the pulpit? The idea is enough to make even the most prophetic among us quake and quiver.

Our discomfort with discussing abortion, privately or publicly, leads many of us to avoid the topic completely. On the issue of abortion we resort to silence in our sacred spaces. But the truth is abortion is a reality in our congregations. Regardless of our political leanings or personal beliefs, nearly one in four women in the U.S. will have an abortion in her lifetime. Women of all races, economic backgrounds, political parties, and religious affiliations have abortions. That means there are people in our congregations who have had abortions. There are partners and family members of people who have had abortions. And there are those who will seek abortion care in the future.

Given this reality, what are we to say about abortion? How are we to respond to requests from congregants to “pray for the unborn?” What do we do when our colleagues are spreading misinformation on social media about legislation that regulates abortion? How do we speak with truth and compassion about serious and complex moral issues that are deeply personal, often politicized, and almost always hidden? Read more

mug reading "read fewer white dudes" on it on a shelf next to a pile of books by non-white authors

#ReadFewerWhiteDudes

mug reading "read fewer white dudes" on it on a shelf next to a pile of books by non-white authors

The author’s reading corner. Mug from Where Are You? Press, books from Powell’s books.

Two years ago, my good friend from seminary, Casey Kloehn, wrote this blog post inviting others to join in her reading challenge to #readfewerwhitedudes. It was one of those Holy Spirit moments, where her post and invitation came just as I was coming to grips with being told how white my reading list was. When the whiteness of my reading  list was first pointed out to me, I jumped to defending my choices in my head. “These are good books! I’m a smart person! I’m trying to buy books that will help me be a better pastor and this is what’s available!” But then I remembered: I live in one of the whitest cities in the United States. And I’m a pastor in one of the whitest denominations in the United States.  As much as I wanted to stay in my comfort of being able to order the professional and personal books that seemed to “fit what I needed” at the time…. It seemed like Spirit was urging, drawing, pulling me into this invitation to include diverse voices in the books that I was reading. (And, the excuse to order another motivational coffee mug for my office certainly didn’t hurt.)

 

After the first few months or so, I noticed some changes. First, I would get asked more often about what I was reading and was able to share recommendations more readily than before because of the intention I was holding in my reading habits. Some of this was admittedly because I unashamedly drink coffee from a mug (pictured) ordered from the independent publishing company that inspired Casey’s original hashtag. But some of it is also because people ask their pastor what they are reading.

 

This season of reading fewer white dudes has brought with it a season of talking about books from voices that were stirring something new in me. Which brings me to the second change—I noticed just how much my reading habits get into my head, heart, and bones. Before this challenge, I hadn’t realized how much my inner voice lacked diversity and imagination until I got called out on it and nudged into making this shift. If we believe in the power of written words to move us, then believing that what we read matters follows naturally. And as leaders, what we read matters.

 

There is a quiet and powerful prophetic task in not only reading with intention, but sharing our reading with others. Sharing openly about the #readfewerwhitedudes challenge started to feel like a very pastoral task, even if most of this reading was what I would consider “not for work.” For better or for worse, there are pieces of our lives as pastors that get exposed to the people we lead. While plenty of times there is space for us to discern how much or how little we share about our personal habits, I’ve decided my reading list is best kept open to the public. It keeps me accountable to those voices on the margin, and in sharing my story about why I #readfewerwhitedudes, I’m able to be open with others about naming and owning my privilege and power as a middle class, heterosexual, cisgender white woman. Some of that privilege and power needs to be checked with these marginal voices. And some of it has been able to do the work of standing up to the white hetero patriarchy by continuing to drink from my motivational mug, even when it has caused offense.

Two years after that first challenge, and I’m starting another annual booklist. Since that first list, I have resigned my first call, spent some time in Sabbath wilderness, birthed a baby and begun dabbling with a grassroots spiritual community forming in my neighborhood. Last week I got asked the question again “What are you reading?” And I stopped to share about #readfewerwhitedudes. All the while, aware that I still live in one of the whitest cities in the United States. And I’m still a pastor in one of the whitest denominations in the United States. I’m continuing this year to #readfewerwhitedudes. I’m reading fewer white dudes and more women, Asians, Native Americans, Black, Queer, Trans, Latinx writers  because as a leader I need voices in my head and my heart that will move me forward when Spirit pushes me towards justice. I’m reading fewer white dudes because I want to be able to share openly with others a habit of mine that feels honest and authentic and intentional. I’m doing it to claim small moments of being something other than status quo in a world that seeks ease and comfort. So, dear YCW and friends, want to #readfewerwhitedudes with me?

 

Pressing on to the Kindom of God

Group of people marching down the street with signs.

The author joins a caravan seeking shalom in her city, marching in solidarity for justice with immigrant neighbors.

Two years ago, I wrote an article for this publication on the significance of the United States having elected our first female President. I wrote it before the election, obviously, but hedged things in such a way that it could still be tweaked and published in the very unlikely event of Hillary Clinton losing the election, which, of course, is exactly what happened. After the defeat, even the “also ran” article hit nerves too raw, and in the end, it was all scrapped.

The past two years have unleashed and unmasked so much in our society. White supremacy, nationalism, and all kinds of fear and hate have been emboldened and empowered. The hate has been deadly. At the same time, there has been a greater public resistance than any I have seen in my lifetime. I joined the throngs in the Women’s March in Washington, DC. “The Future is Female” shirts started popping up everywhere. The #metoo movement has seen progress in holding powerful men to account for sexual assault, though we still have a long way to go.

A fire has been lit for many women who are mad as hell and not going to take it, to borrow from the movie Network. The 2018 midterms saw the greatest number of female candidates in any election, the greatest number elected, and resulted in a number of firsts: the first two Muslim women elected to Congress, one of whom is the first Somali-American elected to Congress; the first two Native American women elected to congress, one of whom is lesbian and a former mixed martial arts fighter; the first Black woman elected to Congress from Massachusetts; a Latina who became the youngest woman ever elected to Congress.

There is much to celebrate in all of this, as our elected representatives start to become just a little more representative of the diverse population of the United States. It’s a start. And yet. Lest we get too comfortable, or too self-congratulatory, I have a message for my white sisters: we’ve still got a lot of work to do. Read more

silhouette image of a hand placing a piece of paper into a slot in the top of a box

A Prayer for Election Day

silhouette image of a hand placing a piece of paper into a slot in the top of a boxEven as we speak the words
“A Prayer for Election day”
We find in our guts
the traces of humanity:
in suspicion
in wondering
what kind of prayer this might be.

For what are we asking of you,
Divine One who gave us voice
And thought
And will

What shall our petitions be
On this day we deem to set aside
For democracy
For exercising each of our own
Civically gifted political authority

And yet, still, we have need of you
Of your Wisdom and your Word.
In spite of and because of
This worldly yet holy belief in our collective voice
For it is exactly that divisiveness our suspicion breeds
That we seek to heal and make whole

So we come to You,
God of a power that is beyond our understanding.
With these prayers for our day of voice and vote.

 

For all those who vote, for their diverse voice and conviction, and for our collective discernment as national community.

We pray to You.

For the casting of ballots, may they become our voice of your creation, calling out the promise of your Love and Justice.

We pray to You.

For candidates and ballot measures and all those who work to share their message

We pray to You.

For our thoughtful considerations, debates, discussion and research

We pray to You.

For just access to ballots

We pray to You.

For volunteers and election workers and their equitable exercise of stewarding the election

We pray to You.

For what seems to us the inevitable tragedy of voter discrimination

We pray to You.

For the waiting and the watching, for our doubts and our dreams

We pray to You.

For all those who will be elected this day and for all those who currently hold public office, that their work might be enlivened by Spirit’s stirring toward our common humanity.

We pray to You.

And for the courage in the days to come to continue to seek and speak our values that are rooted in Your Love and Promise,

We pray to You, O God of Love
Who gives us voice
Who convicts our thoughts
And who calls us to lives of justice, peace, and reconciliation.

Puerto Rican flags hanging downward - red and white stripes with a white star in a blue triangle

Holy Spirit Movement: Puerto Rico Se Levanta

Puerto Rican flags hanging downward - red and white stripes with a white star in a blue triangle

There is a phrase that has become a rallying cry for Puerto Ricans, whether on the island, mainland, or those of us in authentic solidarity with la gente Boricua: that phrase is Puerto Rico Se Levanta, or Puerto Rico Will Rise. Our Puerto Rican brothers and sisters have been in mourning over the loss of the lives of their neighbors and families. Their hearts are broken by the incompetent and insufficient response of the U.S. Government to offer aid and recovery.

Though I am not Latina, I speak Spanish as a second language and serve a bilingual (English/Spanish) and multi-cultural church in Chicago. Our church began praying the moment we learned how devastating both Hurricanes Irma and Maria were to God’s people in Puerto Rico. We are a majority Latinx church; some of us have family still in Puerto Rico, and many were waiting anxiously for weeks, and even months, to hear that good news that God had delivered their lives from the devastation. My own suegro (father-in-law) migrated to Chicago from San Lorenzo, Puerto Rico over sixty years ago. But the Holy Spirit moved our church to do more.

The Holy Spirit spoke to us of the work of deliverance through the words of the Prophet Isaiah in chapter 61. Our church is located in a part of Chicago that has been an enclave for Puerto Rican migrants for many years, with the neighborhood of Humboldt Park developing what is known as Paseo Boricua in the late 1960s, and Humboldt Park still being a focal point for Puerto Rican culture, food and celebrations today.

Our church building was built with twelve apartments. Over the years, our congregation has utilized the apartments to house waves of immigrants and migrants, starting with German immigrants when the church was built in 1928. For almost twenty years, the apartments were used as domestic violence transitional shelter for women and their children, while our church basement was a transitional shelter for single men. In those years, our church began a program that is now a separate non-profit called Center for Changing Lives that is about helping people escape the cycles of poverty in a way that honors each person as creative, resourceful and whole.

The women and men we were honored to house engaged in coaching, holistic financial education, and goal setting. The majority of them now own or rent their own homes. For almost five years since Center for Changing Lives and our church became separate entities, our church has utilized our apartments for low-income housing in a part of Chicago that is being rapidly gentrified, where studio apartment starts at $1500 per month. Read more

Please, Let it Be Just Me

Image text on dark background with mountains and clouds says: "How long, O Lord? How long? Let it be just me, God. Please let it be just me." Allison Unroe

Image text says: “How long, O Lord? How long? Let it be just me, God. Please let it be just me.” Allison Unroe

Years ago when I was in youth ministry I found myself deep in conversation with a group of freshman girls in the wee hours of a Saturday morning. It was dark and cold — winter in the Blue Ridge mountains — and I’d driven a 15 passenger van loaded with kids through the ice and snow that day. I wanted to be in bed, but I knew this was important.

It had started as a bit of a joke — a sort of, “I bet we can get Allison to say that there are circumstances in which someone deserves to be raped.” The hypothetical situations they threw out were outlandish at first, but quickly the giggles had subsided and the what-ifs got very real. “What if she’s wearing a tight top and short skirt?” Nope. “What if she’s sloppy drunk and making out with him before she changes her mind?” Nope, not then either. “What if she’s walking alone at night when she knows she should  have a friend with her?” Still no.

At around 3am the 14 year old leading the charge completely deflated. Her face fell. Her shoulders slumped. She gazed at the floor and mumbled, “I know you’re right. But you’d never convince my dad…”

I studied Greek and Hebrew in seminary, not math. I still don’t know my multiplication tables beyond the easy numbers – 1s, 2s, and 5s. But I also know my fours. I know my fours well because a man I knew and trusted raped me. Before I became a survivor, though, I was an advocate, so I knew the numbers. Back then the statistics said that one in four or five American women would be the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime. And so I started counting.

In meetings at work and in worship at church and in workshops on retreats, at family gatherings and at dinner with my friends, I count. “One, two, three, four, five—I’m five,” I say in my head, “Let it be just me, God. Please let it be just me. Let my suffering be sufficient for all of us.” Once the numbers tip past six women I start hedging my bets. “What are the chances there’s another survivor here?” I already know. They’re way too good. Read more

droplet of water bouncing out of water with circular pattern resulting

The Stone Cast Upon the Water

droplet of water bouncing out of water with circular pattern resulting

Droplet

The August 15 edition of the “Christian Century” magazine highlighted research done by Benjamin Knoll and Cammie Jo Bolin which shows that “girls who have had a direct example of clergy-women in childhood grow up with higher self-esteem, better employment records, and more education than girls who did not.” [1]

In a spectacularly coordinated move of the Holy Spirit, just three days later, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America celebrated the installation of the Rev. Viviane Thomas-Breitfeld to the office of synodical bishop. This past May, she and the Rev. Patricia A. Davenport became the first two African-American women elected to the office of bishop in the denomination’s history.

Davenport and Thomas-Breitfeld were two of six new women elected to the office of synodical bishop in the ELCA this year. If you’re keeping count, this brings the total number of women serving as synodical bishops in the denomination to sixteen. And then you can add to that the denomination’s Presiding Bishop, Elizabeth Eaton, who has been serving in that role since 2013.

To help put all of this in perspective, here’s your quick ELCA primer:

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is the largest Lutheran church body in the United States and is among the largest mainline denominations, with about 4 million members and nearly 10,000 congregations. The congregations of the ELCA are grouped into nine geographic regions. Each region is subdivided into synods, which contain anywhere from 30 to 300 congregations. There are 65 synods, and each synod is under the care and leadership of a synodical bishop. Meanwhile, the entire denominational organization is overseen by a bishop-in-chief, called the Presiding Bishop.

In 2015, the ELCA celebrated the 45th anniversary of the ordination of Lutheran women in the United States. As of that time, women made up thirty-five percent of all active ELCA clergy. Women made up nearly fifty percent of all people ordained in the ELCA between 2010 and 2015. Currently, women represent one-quarter of the total number of bishops serving the ELCA.

As a young clergywoman serving as an ordained minister of word and sacrament in this denomination, I feel both proud and hopeful looking at these numbers. I am pleased that the number of women serving and leading in this denomination continues to trend upward.

I am in a strange and beautiful context right now, where there exist thirteen ELCA congregations in and around my town. (As a point of reference, the population of our town is 8000 people!). Of these thirteen congregations, eight of them are served by women clergy. There are also a handful of women clergy serving in other denominations and in neighboring towns, which means that most of my colleague interactions are with other women – women for whom I am profoundly grateful, both for their gifts of ministry and for their friendship. I am grateful to be living in a place and time where women in ministry are the norm and not the exception. Read more

The Cost of Inclusion

The doors may be open, but is that really enough?

There is a hymn that is often sung in churches entitled “All Are Welcome,” and in the fourth verse there is a line that goes:

Here the outcast and the stranger

bear the image of God’s face;
let us bring an end to fear and danger.

All are welcome, all are welcome,
all are welcome in this place.[1]

I have heard this song at reconciliation workshops, Sunday worship, ordinations, and baptisms. Although it may not be the origin of the phrase, “all are welcome,” it certainly has been married to the movement of inclusion. This is especially true in a post-segregation society in which we claim to live and worship.

And why not? “All are welcome,” and its sister phrase, “all means all,” seem to cross the boundaries that society had set so firmly into place. But when we bring everyone into the space without the work of deconstruction to systems of oppression, we are asking the “least of these” in God’s creation to pay the price of their dignity and pain. Are all really welcome in a space that asks the oppressed to offer their hand to their oppressor?

This song gives us the space to explore what we are asking people to do when we say, “all are welcome.” The phrase, “Let us bring an end to fear and danger,” does not ask us to stop making others fearful, it asks the fearful to stop being afraid. Fear is the natural and appropriate response by the oppressed to the dangerous acts of oppressors. It is conjured into being by those who anticipate danger. Now, I understand that the song is talking more broadly about the human condition. We all experience fear at some point in our lives. We have all experienced loss, want, and the need to belong. But when we lack nuance in our work of reconciliation and inclusion, we privilege the oppressor and ask those who have been hurt to pay the price of our welcome.

So, the big question is…should all be welcome? Read more