Moving….Day Something…

The days are starting to blur.  Requests for meetings and bulletin information at the new place.  Goodbyes, delegating, and final packing details at the old place.  Fierce love for two congregations.  Concerns about how the move will affect Dayo and Gracie, our cats.  Concern for Allen in his own transition.

It’s enough to make you want to crawl back under the covers.

About a year ago, in the midst of a sinking spell, I prayed to God, “Holy One, the path has grown so dark.”  A response came:  “Light the way with thank yous.”  Wouldn’t you know?  It’s worked every time.

In the coming days and weeks, there will be many people to thank.  Today, I want to thank one person, in particular–Pilgrimage’s Administrative Assistant Lynne Buell.

I’ve often said that Lynne far surpasses any Admin I could dream up.  (And I’m a big dreamer!)  She’s extremely competent, creative, kind, and exudes love for people and for Pilgrimage UCC.  The church is–and will continue to be–blessed beyond measure by Lynne’s work and presence among them.

Lynne, working with you has been one of the great joys of my life.  Thank you!

Pilgrimage UCC, Marietta, Georgia ONA Covenant, 10/22/17

This morning at Pilgrimage UCC, we re-affirmed our ONA covenant.  Here’s the text of the covenant along with a picture of the mat we all signed.  The mat will frame the text of the covenant and we’ll display it at the church.  As you’ll see in the pic, the rainbows showed up today!  Thanks be to God!


Pilgrimage United Church of Christ

Open and Affirming Covenant

July 2017


We, the people of the Pilgrimage United Church of Christ, Marietta, Georgia, guided by the love of Jesus Christ, celebrate the diversity of God’s creation. As such, we seek to practice extravagant welcome and radical inclusion. Through this resolution, we declare publicly that which we have been, in fact, practicing as a congregation since its inception. We are an open and affirming congregation. We are called to act as agents of reconciliation and wholeness within the world and within the church. We know that our lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender family members are often scorned by the church and devalued and discriminated against both in the church and in society. We believe that such practices are incompatible with the gospel. We commit ourselves to caring and inclusion of people of all sexual orientations, genders, gender identities and expressions, relationship identity, and romantic preference identity.


Further, we declare ourselves to be a congregation that is open and affirming to all marginalized groups. Thus, we affirm, honor, care, and support

people of every race, including bi- and multi-race people,

people of every ethnicity and nationality,

people of any socio-economic status,

people of all ability levels.

We strive to be a place of unconditional love that inspires all people in our community and beyond.


To keep this covenant, we will practice its tenants in ways that include but are not limited to the following:

  • Welcome all people who enter into our community
  • Be intentional in using inclusive language throughout our community and in our hymns
  • Be inclusive in worship practice by encouraging persons to share their talents and energy in worship, ministry, mission, educational programs, and leadership of PUCC
  • Invite all voices to speak and participate in decisions affecting the congregation
  • Actively and publicly celebrate diversity through acknowledging histories and displaying pride flags, for example
  • Support and celebrate relationships, partnerships, and families of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people
  • Practice non-discrimination when hiring church staff and contracting for goods and services
  • Condemn acts of violence, be it homophobic, sexist, racist, religious, or otherwise directed toward a particular group of our world-family
  • Support the work of the Open and Affirming Task Force to work with the congregation and its council and committees to implement the covenant statement in the life and ministry of Pilgrimage United Church of Christ.


(Resource: Open and Affirming Covenant of the Edgewood United Church of Christ, February 7, 2010)




The Pilgrimage Statement

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I imagine Jesus is doing a lot of sighing this morning.  The Nashville Statement.  Several evangelical leaders–President of the seminary I attended among them–so narrowly defining marriage, that not even my husband and I would be considered married in the eyes of their God.  (Procreation is given as one of the purposes of marriage.  That’s never been an option for us.)  They have drafted a statement–14 articles long, plus a lengthy preamble–excluding from the church large numbers of people because their sexual orientation or gender identity does not conform to a rigid, binary understanding of sexuality or gender.  Excluding people from the kindom of God because they don’t understand them.


A trans woman in our congregation grew up in church in the South, but now practices as a pagan.  One Sunday during prayer time, she said, “If I had had a church like this one when I was growing up, I would still be Christian.”  Because of the way the church treated her when they learned of her true self, because of statements like the one issued yesterday by evangelical leaders, that person has given up on Christianity.  Is it any wonder?


The Jesus I know, the Christianity I practice, is inclusive.  The meme where Jesus says, “What part of ‘love your neighbor’ aren’t you getting?” sums it up.  “Love your neighbor.”  At Pilgrimage, we talk about love in terms of “acting each other into wellbeing.”  Acting someone into wellbeing begins with accepting that person for who God has created them to be.  As the t-shirt worn by a person to whom I served lunch yesterday at MUST declared:  “God made me.”  The statement was underlined by a rainbow.  Exactly.


If you are looking for a community of Jesus’ followers that truly seeks to follow Jesus, the one who rejected no one, the one who welcomed anyone–anyone–to the table, the one most concerned with how we treat the least of these, I invite you to join us any Sunday morning at Pilgrimage UCC.  You will be welcomed.  You will be challenged to live the faith of Jesus with integrity and inclusion.  You will experience the expansive, radical love of God.

Come Sunday.  We’ve got a seat reserved just for you.

The Sin of Racism by reallifepastor

I’ve seen numerous calls on Facebook for white Christian pastors to speak out against white supremacy and Nazism.  I suspect the call comes largely out of anger that our President is not speaking out.  Or out of frustration that fundamentalist Christian pastors aren’t speaking out and, in some cases, are offering support of the alt right.

As a white Christian pastor, I hear those cries of “Speak out!” and think, Have we really gotten no farther than this?  Has Christianity gone so far down the rabbit hole that people aren’t sure where the faith of Jesus stands in relation to overt racism, white supremacy, anti-Semitism, and Islamophobia?  Is all people want from Christian pastors that they “speak out?”

So, let me speak out.  Racism is sin.  White supremacy is sin.  Anti-Semitism is sin.  Islamophobia is sin.  


What is sin?  Sin is whatever diminishes human beings or creation, whatever prevents someone or creation from becoming who God is creating them to be.  Sin is whatever ignores or diminishes that bit of God inside every single person and everything God created.

Was marching with torches chanting Nazi slogans sin?  Yes, it was sin.  Was lashing out with violence sin?  Yes, it was sin.  Was intentionally speeding into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing one and injuring 19 sin?  Yes, it was sin.  That act could not be accomplished without seeing the human beings in front of you as less than human.  Is failing to denounce the events in Charlottesville (or to do so consistently) sin?  Yes, it is sin.

In many respects, denouncing the sin of racism is the easy part.  Dealing with it–or seeking to transform it–is a whole other story.


If racism in our country is to be transformed, we’ve got a lot of work to do.  Racism–like all the other “isms”–is systemic.  Each of us changing our individual behavior is important, but focusing only on one’s own behavior is kind of like spitting in the ocean–it feels good to you, but doesn’t really change the ocean at all.  If we are to transform racism in our country, we must work on changing systems.


The first step for white people in working to transform systemic racism is to recognize our complicity in the system.  As a woman, I have struggled hard against systemic sexism.  For most of my life, that struggle has defined me.  In light of that struggle, it’s been difficult to acknowledge my white privilege, to recognize that some things have come to me–or come easily to me–because I am light skinned.  Acknowledging my white privilege floods me with shame.  In truth, it makes me a little sick to my stomach.


In February, I attended a gathering of Muslim scholars and others at Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in Norcross.  One of the speakers–a historian–talked about how Islam came to the United States initially.  It was slaves who brought their faith with them.  Many of those who came were well-educated and tried as best they could to practice their faith in their new circumstances.


The lecturer quoted an African proverb that addressed how important it is for people to know their histories.  He was speaking, of course, to African Americans, helping them to reclaim an uplifting part of their history.


As the great, great, great granddaughter of slave owners, reclaiming my history is not uplifting.  It’s excruciating.  And necessary.  For a time, my family thrived on the backs of human beings they thought they had a right to purchase.  What those family members did in that time would be unthinkable for anyone in my family now…


…but tracing racism from slavery through reconstruction, Jim Crow, and now mass incarcerations (please watch “13th”), I have to ask what it means for me, a 21st century white woman, to be descended from slave owners.  How did the vile practice of slavery shape my family?  What vestiges of that history still reside in my DNA?


I share a song I wrote while wrestling some with this painful heritage.  It is a first step, only a first step…but the first step all white people must take–locating ourselves in the insidious web of racism.



Moral Courage

Let’s talk about moral courage.  

The term came to me when I learned of former President George W. Bush’s book, Portraits of Courage.  The book contains portraits and brief bios of soldiers wounded in armed conflicts Mr. Bush was responsible for during his presidency.  The portraits were painted by Mr. Bush.

I confess that I was not a fan of Mr. Bush’s when he was president.  But Portraits of Courage has floored me.  I’m sure all presidents give serious thought to the devastating effects of war on service men and women before ordering engagement.  But how many take the time to sit with those adversely affected by the war they approved, paint their portraits, then contribute all proceeds for the book to those most directly affected by their decisions to go to war?


I’m still making my way through Mr. Bush’s book. I look forward to becoming better acquainted with the courageous Americans represented in it.


Today, though, in the wake of our current president’s decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement, it’s former President Bush’s courage that most inspires me.


Moral courage.  Recognizing that my actions affect other people.  Having the strength of character to take responsibility for those actions. Doing my best to make reparations for harm done by my actions.  The moral courage of individuals is commendable.  To apply that courage to national and international arenas?  That’s what it means to be a good leader. That’s what it means to be a good human being.


Yesterday’s decision to pull the United States out of the Paris Climate Agreement was an act of moral cowardice.


The current president’s concern for the livelihoods of some Americans is commendable.  But when that concern is divorced from any acknowledgement of the devastating impact of our country’s profligate use of fossil fuels across the globe, that concern rings hollow.

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Though China’s growth spurt the last couple of decades has moved it to the front of the line in carbon emissions currently, cumulatively, the United States has been the single greatest contributor of carbon emissions in the world’s history.  And who most suffers the effects of our conspicuous consumption?  Poor people across the globe.


Withdrawing from the Paris Climate Agreement was a cowardly abdication of moral responsibility.  By many accountants, the Paris Agreement only began to scratch the surface of what the planet really needs to begin its process of healing.  So much more needs to be done.  But to get nearly 200 countries to sign on to the agreement?  For 147 of those countries already to have ratified it?  The Paris Agreement reflects a near-global conversion to the reality that if our planet is to be saved, we must work together.  

I weep at the loss of all we as a nation might have contributed to that work.

Mosaic Cross Story

Several years ago as part of a renovation of our sanctuary, stained glass windows were installed.  As the sun makes its “pilgrimage” across the sky each day, vibrant rainbows of color journey across our worship space.  Our sanctuary is modest by many standards, but those colors!  The space itself becomes magical, holy when the colors make their trek across the room..  One person was so inspired by the colors she said, “I hope to die in the sanctuary when the colors are shining brightly.”

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I was so inspired by the colors that I asked one of the crafty people in the congregation if we might create a mosaic cross.  “Sure!” she said.  We talked about something small, perhaps to place on the communion table.  “Just get some plexiglass, some mosaic tiles or colored glass, and E-6000 glue.  For the plexiglass, you’ll need someone with a circular saw.”


I talked to a church member who I knew had a circular saw.  (I later learned he has two circular saws.  J)  As we talked about size, the cross grew from 2 feet to 6 feet.  Bill purchased a couple of pieces of acrylic, cut and glued, and set the resulting cross on a folding table in the front of the sanctuary.


For my part, I bought a few packs of sea glass and a tube of E-6000 glue from Michael’s, set them on the table, and wrote a sermon for the first Sunday of Lent that ended with the line, “Bring your brokenness to the cross.”


After that first service, I knew the project had captured congregants’ imaginations.  The seriousness with which they processed to the cross, shared glue, and placed the bits of glass on the cross…it was holy.


The experience was holy, but the cross didn’t stand up too well.  Bill worried that, once we installed the cross, it might break.  So he went back to the store and bought a thicker sheet of acrylic, cut it, set it on the table in the sanctuary, and glued new pieces of sea glass into the approximate places congregants had placed them the Sunday before.

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With each passing week, congregants began taking ownership of the cross.  After each sermon, when invited to “bring their brokenness to the cross,” they came forward in great reverence and focus.


After the third week, another church member came to me and said he had an engraver.  “Maybe we can engrave names on the glass.”  Beginning the fourth week, we invited people to write on slips of paper  names, words, and phrases they’d like to be engraved on the glass.


By week 5 of Lent, we knew something special was happening.

Then came week 6—Palm Sunday.  Each week leading up to Palm Sunday, I warned people only to put one piece of glass on the cross.  I didn’t want us to run out of space on the cross before the last Sunday.  So, in the invitation to “bring your brokenness to the cross” on Palm Sunday, I joyfully gave permission for folks to fill up all the spaces.


A member raised his hand….which, for a pastor, is a little unnerving in the midst of a worship service.  But he did raise it politely.  “Yes, Ric?”


“I’m wondering if we really want to fill up all the spaces.”

“Why’s that?” I asked.


“Well, don’t we worship the still-speaking God?  Don’t we talk all the time about staying open to what God might be doing in our midst?”

I stood there stunned for a minute.  Had my sermon just been hijacked?  With a more sound theology?  Um, yes.  Sometimes sermons come from the pulpit; other times they’re delivered to the pulpit.


So, we left blank spaces, or in artistic terms, “negative space” between the glass pieces.  After a year of looking at the cross, I realize just how right Ric was.  The glass speaks volumes… the spaces speak even more loudly sometimes.


Ric also is the person who thought of back-lighting the cross.  The string of LED lights—and the dimmer switch Bill installed—add a whole other layer of beauty to the cross.


So, that’s the story of the mosaic cross at Pilgrimage United Church of Christ.  When asked “Whose idea was that?” I always say, “The community’s.”  Then I tell the story.   No one envisioned the cross as it now stands.  The cross as it now stands grew out of an open collaboration of congregants.  Because everyone remained open to the process, open to God’s spirit, and open to each other, creative ideas were able to emerge.  To date, it’s the most profoundly communal experience I’ve ever had as a pastor.  I continue to be humbled by the project.


A picture of the cross in process from last year popped up in my FB feed a few days ago.  A couple of people commented on.  Here’s what they said:


*“I am not sure we will ever come up with another idea that was as meaningful as this one was.  Every week it brings me a sense of community and peace.”


*“Every time I look at that cross I fondly think of my deceased sister who is no longer suffering.”


*“When I see ‘our cross,’ I think of each person adding a piece of glass, and that they were probably thinking of someone special to them, or perhaps themselves, and I believe the whole finished product is infused with the gamut of human emotion.  It’s the most beautiful cross I’ve ever seen.”


Amen and amen.

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Love Wins?

As a follower of Jesus, I’m all for love.  I believe God so loved the world.  I believe in loving my neighbor and my enemies.  I believe love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  I believe love never ends.  I believe that, while hope, faith, and love abide, the greatest of these is love.  I believe Jesus loves all the little children, including me.

What I don’t believe is that love wins.

To say that love wins is to turn loving into a zero-sum game.  When winners are declared, losers are named.  If lovers label haters as losers, has love won anything besides bragging rights to having won?

Christian ethicist Beverly Harrison described love as “the power to act each other into wellbeing.”  When we talk about love at the church I pastor, that’s how we describe it.  It reminds us that love isn’t just a nice word that makes us feel all warm and gooey inside.  Rather, love is best grasped in action, in action single-mindedly focused on the wellbeing of the beloved.

I’m having trouble seeing how making losers of haters contributes to their wellbeing.  If love actively engages in diminishing another, can it be said to have won?  Can it even be said to be love?

I get where the “Love Wins” and “Love Trumps Hate” folks are coming from.  It’s a call to remember what Abraham Lincoln called our “better angels.”  The protest signs, no doubt, are birthed out of a desire to reduce hateful speech and actions and to “speak truth to power.”

I wonder, though, if their (our) aim might be better advanced by changing the phrase to “Love transforms.”  “Love transforms hate.”

If love seeks to transform hate, might not that come closer to reducing the amount of hatred in the world?  If lovers seek to act haters into wellbeing, might not that simultaneously reduce the number of haters and increase the number of lovers in the world?  Might not the best way to reduce the hatred of haters be for lovers to love everyone always?

Love transforming

Who Do YOU Say that I Am?

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Until 15 years ago, I was a Baptist.  A progressive Baptist…which isn’t an oxymoron, as many would suppose.  In truth, the phrase is redundant.

True Baptist values are best described in terms of freedom–freedom for the individual to interpret Scripture for him or herself, freedom of conscience, freedom for congregations to govern themselves, and religious freedom (manifest in a strong commitment to the separation of church and state).  It was and is my belief that any exclusive or coercive policies or beliefs espoused by Baptists or their institutions is a departure from true historic Baptist principles.


In the last decade before I joined the United Church of Christ, I found myself frequently responding to folks who were surprised to learn I was Baptist.  “I’m not that kind of Baptist,” I would assure them.


A lot of what I’m reading from progressive Christians these days feels familiar.  “I’m not that kind of Christian,” they say.  I get where they’re coming from.  Statements some folks who call themselves Christians make–especially those that belittle or demean others–leave me in a constant state of rage.  But is telling the world what kind of Christian I am not going to help the world to heal?


Jesus once asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?”  They said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”  But that question was just a set-up for his real question:  “Who do you say I am?”  In one of his better moments, Simon gets it right when he says: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”


Ding!  Ding!  Ding!  Ding!  Jesus says.  (That’s a rough translation.) “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but God in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

It wasn’t in describing what the other people said of Jesus that Peter became the rock upon which the church was built.  It was in describing his own personal understanding of who Jesus was.  Peter was named only as he named Jesus for himself.

I know it’s frustrating to hear the hate-filled rhetoric and see the terrifying patterns of behavior of those who call themselves Christians.  Even so, I suspect the question that still most interests Jesus is not, “Who do people say that I am?” but “Who do you say I am?”

So, who is Jesus to you?

Prayers of the People (11/6/16—All Saints; Sunday before the Election)

Holy One, the room has been full today with the memories of our faithful forebears, those people who have shown us by their lives how to live our lives intentionally and authentically.  We offer thanks for all our mentors in faith.  God in your mercy, Hear our prayer.


As we seek to live our own lives with faith and integrity, keep the eyes of our hearts and minds open to your wisdom and love…. especially as we come to the end of a tumultuous campaign season.  God in your mercy, Hear our prayer.


God of all love and all people, someone is going to be elected President this week.  Regardless of who wins, I think we can all agree that we won’t be electing a saint….unless we join Nelson Mandela in describing saints as “sinners who keep trying.”  We pray for our next President.  We pray they will “keep trying.”  We pray they will work to heal the deep divides in our country.  We pray always for his or her mind and heart to be open to your wisdom and love.  God in your mercy, Hear our prayer.


Last, we pray for ourselves.  During this election season, we have at some point, no doubt, thought less-than-saintly thoughts.  We have not always consulted our “better angels” before speaking or posting or debating.  Forgive our lapses, God.  Help us to keep trying.  And remind us again of just how much good and compassion and thoughtfulness and grace live inside us.  God in your mercy, Hear our prayer.

Confessing My Sin of Silence

As a Christian pastor, I take the separation of Church and State seriously.  I do not believe it appropriate for pastors–in their roles as pastors–to support one candidate over another.  While I do believe it’s vital that people of faith live their faith in the public sphere, I understand–and respect the fact–that the ways people live their faith commitments will be wildly diverse.  That diversity is good and energizing, both for faith and for democracy.

Here’s the thing that’s frustrated me about the current presidential campaign.  Demeaning and derogatory comments are being made with alarming regularity.  Because those comments are being made by a presidential candidate, I haven’t felt it appropriate to speak directly to the comments out of fear that talking about those comments might be construed as supporting one candidate over another.

The latest comments making the rounds–comments glamorizing the mistreatment and assault of women–have convinced me that, as a Christian pastor, I can no longer remain silent.  

To objectify women, or to advocate for and confess to harming women is not acceptable, in a presidential candidate or anyone else.  And it’s certainly not something any person of faith can advocate for….or stand idly by saying nothing while these terrible things are being said. Theologian Rebecca Chopp has described the church’s two-fold mission as “denouncing sin and announcing grace.”  She describes sin as whatever militates against human flourishing. Advocating violence against women can only be understood as sin.

In her book, The Power to Speak, Chopp also talks about how rhetoric isn’t just words.  Words are not birthed in a vacuum.  Words grow out of reality.  Words create reality.  And (this is me again) words that advocate–and valorize–violence, help create the reality to which they point. Because of derogatory comments being made right now, our country is a little less safe for women.  And Muslims.  And people of color.  And LGBTQ people.  And soldiers suffering from PTSD.  

If words create reality, I choose to use my words–as a Christian pastor–to denounce the sins being committed in our public life in this country right now–both the sin of speaking words that militate against the flourishing of so many AND the sin of silence from public figures who could be speaking out, but aren’t.

I confess the sin of my own silence up to now.  I offer these words as a first step in my penance.