Category: made me think

The Things I’ve Learned from Rob Bell Over the Years…

Yesterday I read this piece on CNN Outlaw Pastor Rob Bell Shakes Up The Bible BeltI have a few thoughts about Rob Bell worth reading, but I really want you to read that article. So if you click on it and read it, my work here is done. You can also read my thoughts and THEN click on it, because I’ll link it up at the end, too.

Where to begin? First can we talk about the fact that somehow talking about welcoming others, letting women preach (gasp) and standing up against hate somehow makes you an “outlaw?”  I mean, honestly. Reminds me a bit of, oh, I don’t know… JESUS. Silly headlines aside, I’ve been “tracking with” (as he would say) Rob Bell for years. One could say I’m a superfan. He would dislike that term, I think. At any rate, he’s in the hall of fame for people who have influenced my thinking and faith journey, and I’ve been wanting to thank him for that, but have missed out on multiple attempts to meet him in person (in recent years, that is.) Rob Bell is a lot like Jesus, methinks, and one of the ways is that people are always wanting to touch his robes and drain the life right out. I get it. It’s hard to narrow down all the things I’ve learned from him, but here are the top ones. Rob Bell, if you’re reading (haha!) thank you so much for everything you’ve taught me. Here are just a few things…

First thing I’ve learned from Rob Bell over the years: Don’t let people co-opt you into their “group.”

For years and years Rob Bell has refused to let people label him.

Then

Everyone: Aren’t you an evangelical?

Rob Bell: Uh….

Now

Everyone: Aren’t you one of those new progressive Christians?

Rob Bell: Uh…

Everyone has wanted to claim Rob Bell and then disown him. He won’t be put in a box. “You’re one of us!” and then “You’re not one of us!” He just keeps doing his thing. Writing his books, speaking his truth. Hanging out with Oprah. It’s annoying, frankly. It’s also inspired by the Holy Spirit.

Second thing I’ve learned from Rob Bell over the years: As you grow in faith, your faith changes. It evolves. This is not an emergency. It’s a good thing.

There’s a box somewhere, probably in my parents’ basement, that has a photo of 19 or 20 year old Traci hanging around a 27 or 28 year old Rob Bell at a Youth Specialties conference. It’s an actual physical photo because no Instas or Facebooks. Just an actual photo, taken with an actual camera. WITH FILM IN IT. (I am not lying.) In those days Rob Bell wasn’t talking about whether or not hell exists. Everyone assumed they knew what he thought about hell, because, “Doesn’t everyone think the same thing about everything?” Nineteen year old Traci had some different views back then. So did nearly 30 year old Rob Bell. You know why? Because people change when their faith changes. True. Story. Rob Bell is one of the few Christian leaders I can think of who has not apologized for changing his views but has said, rather, “Darn right I changed my mind. That’s what you do.” Mark my words, Rob Bell’s faith will continue to change and grow, and he will continue to write about it. More people will try to label him and put him in a box and it won’t work. New groups will try to claim him and dismiss him. It will be ok.

The third thing I’ve learned from Rob Bell over the years: Become a master at forgiveness.

There are a few talks/lectures/poems that I listen to multiple times a year, as therapy or routine. For the last five years, THIS TALK BY ROB BELL is one of them. DVD available HERE.

If you’re a pastor, it’s required watching. Yes, required. I can’t speak to other professions, but I really think it’s required watching for all human beings. It’s in my top five list of important talks OF ALL TIME. There is a draft in my drafts folder for this blog called “Write about the Rob Bell talk Death By Papercuts.” I may still write about it sometime and talk about why it’s so personally meaningful to me, but just, go… watch it.

Final Rob Bell over the years thing: (for now) Preach in the pulpit or outside the pulpit, just preach.

I’ve heard Rob Bell preach at Mars Hill, Youth Specialties, Willow Creek, and all the places. I’ve also heard him preach on CNN and theater stages, podcasts and Oprah. It’s all the same. Worried that the church is in decline, pastors? Don’t be afraid. There are pulpits everywhere.

Rob, thanks for everything. Traci

Here’s that article again from CNN, yesterday.

“Blink and she’ll be 24….” Thoughts on how fleeting it all is + a free practice from #FaithfulFamilies

not little for long!

This morning I was at a cafe getting some work done while my four-month-old daughter Marina Lynn was sitting beside me in her stroller. When her smiling and cooing turned to fidgeting and crying, I picked her up out of the stroller and started to pace around in the cafe. Two women caught our attention. “We’re grandmothers” one said.

“She’s gorgeous!” exclaimed the other  “I don’t suppose you’d let us hold her while you finish up your work.”

“Actually,” I said, “I would love it,” and I plopped Marina into their laps and hurried back to what I was doing.

I listened with one ear as they doted over her, and I finished up my emails as quickly as I could. When it was time to go, one of the grandmothers looked at me, teary eyed and said “I know old people say this all the time, but enjoy every minute. It goes by so, so fast.”

I recognize there are problems with that statement. One does not enjoy every moment of parenting. I did not enjoy it when one of my older children learned to remove his diaper and “made a mess” in his room (I promise you, whatever “mess” you are imagining, the reality was worse). I did not enjoy the dry heaves and vomiting when I was pregnant with Marina Lynn. I do not enjoy trying to balance the pressures of work and writing and parenting. I do not enjoy having to apologize when my child causes someone to trip in the grocery store because he’s not watching where he’s going. And so when these two grandmothers told me to “enjoy every minute,” it would have been tempting to say, “Yeah right! You forgot how it really is!” but instead I said, “You’re right,” because they are.

Whether we enjoy it or not, these years will fly by. Our children are four months old. We blink and they are four years old. We blink again and they’re fourteen. Blink one more time, and our children are having their own children. I know this is true because I have experienced it myself, and because my elders have told me it is so.

So how will we live out these precious few years we’ve been given? I’m a strong believer in tradition and ceremony. We ought to try and make these days count. My book Faithful Families is an attempt to create sacred moments at home. In between the chaos of daily living we can carve out moments of connection. A prayer here, a ceremony there.  Mother’s Day is coming up soon, and many of us will shower our mothers with candy and cards. There’s nothing wrong with that. And yet, my suspicion is that many of the mothers you know are longing for something deeper than this. We’re longing for connection. We want our days to count. We know they’ll be gone too soon.

Faithful Families: Creating Sacred Moments at Home is a book of simple practices designed for mothers (and fathers) who want to create meaningful connections with their children. On this Mother’s Day our gift to you is the gift of gratitude. Download the free gratitude practice, and enjoy these moments, fleeting though they may be.

How to Transform Scarcity Mentality to Abundance Mentality in Ministry

Do you feel like your ministry is marked by a lack of time, volunteers and money? You’re not alone. Many ministry leaders feel this way, and while there’s no “one size fits all” remedy, I’ve come to believe an abundance mentality is part of a successful ministry.

The idea of abundance mentality comes from Stephen Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (now a classic!). Covey writes,

Most people are deeply scripted in what I call the Scarcity Mentality. They see life as having only so much, as though there were only one pie out there. And if someone were to get a big piece of the pie, it would mean less for everybody else.

In deep contrast to this mentality is the abundance mentality. The abundance mentality says there’s more than enough (time, volunteers, and money) to go around.”

I think this general concept is a very useful one for ministry, and I’ve been thinking a lot about it recently. Often, it seems, when we open ourselves up to abundance, we find it. When we’re in “scarcity mode,” we’re anxious, overwhelmed and unsatisfied. Scarcity mentality leads to cynicism and burnout.

Having an abundance mentality means focusing one’s energy on the belief that resources are not limited, and that there is more than enough to go around. Covey writes that leaders with a scarcity mindset will compete for resources even when there’s an abundance of them.

Properly understood, the abundance mentality can be helpful in combating some of the common struggles and challenges of ministry: lack of time, volunteers, and money. I’ll start with time:

Scarcity mentality: “I don’t have enough time to get everything done.”

Abundance mentality: “I can delegate, prioritize, and let go.”

Being busy is often seen as such a badge of honor and evidence that a person is productive. It’s not true. Some of the most productive pastors, authors and parents I know have plenty of time to relax and enjoy life. Conversely I know some people who are constantly “busy” who don’t seem to produce very much. Lack of time is often lack of time management. When we feel like there’s too much to do, often the solution isn’t more time, it’s a better handle on how to complete the tasks before us in the time allotted. Have you ever had the experience of getting surprisingly little done when you didn’t have that much to do in the first place? That’s because of Parkinson’s Law which says work expands to fill the time allotted for its completion. To have time in abundance, remember to delegate, prioritize, and let go.

  • DELEGATE – Ask yourself, do I need to be doing this task? Which lay leader or staff person might be better equipped to do this? If I feel I’m the only one who can do this, why do I feel that way?
  • PRIORITIZE – At the beginning of the day, ask yourself what absolutely has to happen today? Try, if you can, to get the “must dos” done as early on in the day. One abundance trick I learned recently was to put only three items on the to-do list each day and ask about each item “If this was the only item I got done today, would it be enough?” One of the tricky things about ministry, I think, is that there are so many balls in the air, all the time.
  • LET GO –  I used to have a little post it note on my desk that had two questions: 1. What is the value in getting this done? and 2. What is the risk in not doing it? There are a lot of things we do out of habit and think they are important when, in fact, they take up a disproportionate amount of time for their value. One classic example of this for pastors is Newsletter articles. I agree with MaryAnn McKibben Dana that many pastors should consider not doing them. 

Scarcity Mentality: “I don’t have enough volunteers to do the work of ministry.”

Abundance Mentality: “I can ask, empower, train, and thank.”

Most churches I know run on volunteer power, yet it can sometimes be a challenge to keep everything running smoothly. Working with volunteers is a huge part of ministry, yet it’s not taught or talked about in seminary very much. If you have people in your congregation, you have potential volunteers. To have volunteers in abundance, ask, empower, train and thank.

  • ASK – The first step in getting volunteers is to ask. Seems obvious, but often overlooked, at least when it comes to asking in a way that will get people to sign up. Some common mistakes in terms of getting volunteers, in my experience are
    1. Doing a blanket ask rather than a personal ask. Putting “all calls” in the bulletin or standing up in front of worship and trying to get volunteers is great, and sometimes it works, but nothing is more effective than thinking about the specific job you need done and making a phone call or asking a specific person face-to-face. It’s easy to ignore “if you’re interested in volunteering, please talk to me.” It’s much harder to turn down the personal ask.
    2. Being super apologetic/having a low standard for volunteers. This is something I learned from Doug Field’s book Purpose Driven Youth Ministry back in the day. In that book he talks about how Youth Directors often stand up and say “We need volunteers for the youth group. We’ll take anybody. Pleeeeeease help.” In reality, the pitch should be “Working with our youth group is an amazing privilege and opportunity for you. Apply to help out and we’ll consider you!” His point was that the youth deserve the best possible quality in their volunteers and the volunteers deserve to know that what they’re doing is important and makes a difference. The same thing is true when asking for volunteers to do any other job in the church. It’s important to be confident you’re not asking them to do something painful, you’re asking them to participate in the kingdom of God on earth.
    3. Not being clear about what you want or need. “Can you help with the soup supper?” is a completely different ask than “Will you bring two bags of tortilla chips to church for the soup supper?” or “Will you come one hour before the soup supper and set tables?”
  • EMPOWER – One of the things ministry leaders need to be crystal clear about is that our ministries work better when we’re not the center of everything. I know many ministers who take on all kinds of tasks that would be better suited to volunteers, either because they don’t know how to delegate, or because they’re afraid that if they don’t do everything, their congregations will think they’re lazy. I appreciate the wisdom that says leaders are effective when they’re able to work themselves out of a job, or at the very least, not have catastrophe when they’re away. Empowering means allowing people to take ownership and do things “their way.”
  • TRAIN – Sometimes things that seem obvious to the leader or minister are a challenge to the volunteer. Organizing a youth lock in is a piece of cake to a youth minister who has done it a hundred times before, but to a volunteer, there are a daunting number of moving parts. Take the task you need done and break it up into simple steps. Walk the volunteer(s) through exactly what needs to be done at each turn. Creating guides or videos with the directions is a great way to only have to do the training once.
  • THANK  – Minsters get paid for the work we do. Volunteers are, by definition, unpaid. So often we are running to the next thing that we forget to say thank you. Notes, sincere hugs with “thank you so much,” announcements, and simple gifts of recognition are easy and they increase the likelihood that volunteers will stay engaged.

Scarcity Mentality: “We don’t have enough money.”

Abundance Mentality: “We live within our means, take calculated risks, invest in what matters, and are faithful with what God has given us.”

Let me be clear. An abundance mentality when it comes to money is not the same as saying “If you think positive thoughts or pray hard enough, or are holy enough, you and your congregation will be rich.” I believe there is an important difference between the abundance mindset described by Covey and the message of abundance taught by advocates of the prosperity gospel.  Both are rooted in the idea that it is important to cultivate positive thoughts and think positively, but the prosperity gospel teaches that financial success and health are evidence of God’s will and favor. In writing about an abundance mindset here, I’m not implying that those whose ministries are struggling and suffering are not following God’s will. On the contrary, God always shows up among the marginalized and disenfranchised. That said, a scarcity mentality when it comes to finances often leads churches to destruction because they are unwilling to “think big” or invest in their futures. To have money in abundance, make the following true for your congregation: we live within our means, take risks, invest in what matters and are faithful with what God has given us.

  • LIVE WITHIN YOUR MEANS: In church budgets, as with home budgets, going into unsustainable debt is the quickest way to financial scarcity and anxiety. One of the biggest ways churches run into this kind of trouble is by having buildings that are too large for them.
  • TAKE CALCULATED RISKS: Many times in order to grow, churches need to try something new or take a risk. Oftentimes the best thing a dying church could do would be to spend money on consultants or other investments that would help them get out of trouble. With a scarcity mentality, there’s a belief that spending money in order to grow or get out of trouble is foolish, and “saving money” becomes a self-destructive idol. I love Dan Pallotta’s TED talk The Way We Think About Charity is Dead Wrong  for more on this way of thinking.
  • INVEST IN WHAT MATTERS: Churches aren’t trying to make a profit, so the way we handle money is fundamentally different than the business world. Our “business” is the kingdom of God, so when we spend large sums of money on caring for those Jesus calls the “least of these,” we’re making an investment in something we can’t put a price tag on. Often churches find that when they invest in mission and outreach, the money follows. Why? Because people are inspired and invested and they want to be a part of it.
  • BE FAITHFUL WITH WHAT GOD HAS GIVEN: Recently the church I pastor noticed that a sum of money was in an account that, instead of earning interest, was actually being charged a small amount of money each month. A group of people got together, made a plan, and put the money elsewhere. They did it because it was the right thing to do. Later, when we received a larger amount of money, we were prepared. A struggling church should ask the question “How will we manage our funds when there is a surplus?” and begin to implement the answers right away.

 

So what do you think? Where do you see abundance mindset working for your ministry? Comment and let us know!

Food for thought:

https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/252840

http://www.success.com/article/john-c-maxwell-6-tips-to-develop-and-model-an-abundance-mindset

 

On Marina Lynn, Fetal and Maternal Health Worldwide, and Other Musings

Well, well, well… look what’s been going on around here! A little over a week ago, we welcomed little Marina Lynn into the world. She came in to the world at 6 pounds and 4 ounces of pure awesome, and I can’t wait to see what adventures she takes us on. I’ve had so many thoughts this last week, and with so many friends, family, and readers to share them with, it seems like a little reflecting and updating is in order. Here goes…

On her name… 

I love names. I love hearing the story of people’s names, the ways people come up with names for their children, and the story of their nicknames. Names in the Bible are a huge deal, too. In the Bible, people give their children and even places names that are significant to them. Often God or an angel tells them what to name the child or the place.

In this spirit, Elias and I put a lot of thought and discussion behind what we would name each of our children. The name Marina Lynn was “on deck” as a girl’s name for both Clayton and Samuel, and this time we finally got to use it!

Marina was Elias’s mother’s name. Marina raised her two children, Elias and Mavit, all on her own. She worked very hard and taught them the value of working hard, too. Marina loved roses and beauty. Unfortunately for the children and I, we never had the opportunity to meet her, because she died when Elias was just 17 years old.

Lynn is my mother’s name. She’s spunky and energetic and fun and compassionate. She loves her grandchildren like nobody’s business. She blesses our lives and the lives of her grandchildren in immeasurable ways.

We love that this little one is named after her two grandmothers, and the name suits her.  Marina Lynn: it has a nice ring to it, we think! We are excited for her to have two great role models always before her as she goes through life.

On her birth… 

Each of my children has had a birth story as different as they are! Clayton was born after two days of labor, a whole lot of “off script” interventions, and hours of pushing. Samuel came flying out 18 minutes after we left for the hospital. (Elias nearly missed his birth because he was parking the car.) Marina Lynn, too, has a story we will love to tell her as she gets older.

We went to the hospital for her to be induced on Tuesday night, January 17th. Our midwives felt induction was necessary because she had a two vessel cord, and also because she was diagnosed with IUGR. They told us we had every reason to believe and assume that the birth would go well, but we were, as you might imagine, very nervous and ready to get on with it. Soon after we got there, they gave me a medication that was supposed to get things prepared for the next day. In my case, all it did was give me horrible and annoying crampy contractions I could tell weren’t doing anything, and so I asked to be taken off of it so I could sleep and be prepared for labor the next day. Since this was baby #3, they agreed and I got a little bit of sleep. (After watching just half of Bridget Jones’s Baby with Elias. Note to self: re-rent to see how it ends!)

Wednesday morning was when it got really interesting. At 8:00 a.m. they put me on Pitocin, the medicine that starts contractions, and by 9:00 a.m., I was huffing and puffing and crying like nobody’s business! I had been mentally prepared for a day’s worth of laboring and felt so defeated and heartbroken that I was already feeling exhausted after just an hour. Elias (correctly) called it by saying “I think it’s so intense because you’re about to have the baby!” The midwife came in at 9:20 a.m. and agreed that the baby was on his/her way. She said that if she broke the baby’s water, she thought we would see him/her within an hour. She was absolutely right, and by 10:07, little Marina Lynn came out, pink and squirmy and crying loudly. Her one minute Apgar score was 8 and her five minute score was 9. Healthy, happy baby! After all the worry and scare about potential complications from labor and birth, the NICU nurse that looked her over gave her a clean bill of health and she was allowed to stay with us the entire time we were in the hospital.

During the short (and challenging) labor, the things that got me through the most were looking at the “It’s a surprise!” sign the nurse had written on the whiteboard and listening to this song, a song that has helped me through so many challenging times. I also couldn’t help but think of Kelly, my soul friend and the first friend I told when I was pregnant with Marina Lynn. Kelly is another person I hope and pray Marina Lynn has always before her as a role model and example of fierce, principled and warmhearted living.

 

On complications shortly after her birth… 

The morning after we got back from the hospital, Marina’s weight had dropped more than the doctor was comfortable with. We talked about how to get her weight up and she told us to make sure and monitor her wet and dirty diapers throughout the day. Throughout the day Marina was more and more lethargic and her diapers weren’t wet at all. On Friday night we called the on call pediatrician who told us to take her in to the hospital. When we did, the doctors put in the teeniest tiniest IV you will ever see, gave her fluids and ran a variety of blood tests. Thankfully the blood tests revealed that her sugar and electrolytes were good, and there were no other infections or abnormal markers in her blood. The wonderful and compassionate ER doctor listened to all of our questions and spent a ton of time with us. He said there was no reason to think she wouldn’t be able to pick up where she left off after this new “reboot” of fluids and sent us home.

Thankfully, since then we’ve been back to the Dr., her weight is up, and she’s eating (and filling her diapers) like a champ!

On my stitches and recovery… 

I’ve had stitches after each of my babies. Who would have thought that the teeniest baby would have had some of the most painful and challenging stitches of all? I learned from my midwife that sometimes small babies can cause as much (or even more) tearing than larger babies because they don’t smoosh and stretch. In Marina’s case, because her labor was so fast, things were even more problematic in this regard. The stitches I had after Marina’s birth were incredibly painful (worse than the labor itself) and, because I didn’t have an epidural or other pain medication, I felt them in excruciating ways.

As I was stitched up, we realized the local anesthesia wasn’t working.  Having Marina in my arms to look at and snuggle was the only thing that got me through. That experience has been rolling around in my brain a lot this week, which leads me to…

On fetal/maternal health worldwide, giving back and making something beautiful out of all of the challenges… 

This week I’ve been thinking a lot about women, particularly about fetal/maternal health worldwide. I’m mindful of the fact that all of the excellent medical care Marina Lynn and I have had — from the prenatal care and diagnostics that allowed us to know what was happening with her before her birth, to the stitches. (Painful as they were and are, without stitches, my life would be changed forever, just as the lives of so many women worldwide are forever changed by tears and other birth complications that are routine in the US). I have been remembering the book Half the Sky that talks extensively about how women are affected by complications in childbirth and lack of access to healthcare. Though Half the Sky is several years old, there’s a ton of great information, and I absolutely adore the phrase “Women hold up half the sky” from which the book gets its title.

When we got back from the ER with Marina Lynn, I was praying for her continued healing and made a promise to not let all of this pass by without doing something concrete for pregnant women and newborns worldwide. I decided to make a printable for everyone who wants to put this beautiful, empowering message on her wall, or refrigerator, or message board. You can find it in the Etsy store HERE.

100% of the proceeds of this printable will go to the organization Every Mother Counts. For the first 100 sold, I’ll kick in the Etsy fees so your entire $5.00 purchase will go directly to Every Mother Counts. After that, the fees will be discounted, which means that $4.22 will go to Every Mother Counts and .78 will go to Etsy for the fees. Cool minimalistic poster for your wall and helping mothers and babies around the world in honor of Marina Lynn? Yes please! 

On “other musings” 

There’s something about those late night feedings and hours upon hours inside the house that makes a person super pensive and reflective. I’m not sure how all of these thoughts will make it in to the blog or other writings, but I’m very thankful for this time. I think I’ll leave you with this amazing spoken word poem by Sarah Kay. If you haven’t heard it, it’s definitely worth your time, both the beginning

If I should have a daughter, instead of “Mom”, she’s gonna call me “Point B.” Because that way, she knows that no matter what happens, at least she can always find her way to me.

and the end

Your voice is small but don’t ever stop singing and when they finally hand you heartbreak, slip hatred and war under your doorstep and hand you hand-outs on street corners of cynicism and defeat, you tell them that they really ought to meet your mother.

Links:

Every Mother Counts 

Half the Sky Printable 

If I should Have a Daughter 

No Woman, No Cry – a great documentary about women’s prenatal care in the US and Worldwide

 

 

A Quick Thought About Santa Claus, Jesus and Unconditional Love When You’re “Naughty”

“Mama, does Santa bring you presents if you are bad?” My five year old asked me that question this week with a worried look on his face.

“Yes,” I said.

“That’s not what I heard. I heard that if you’re bad you don’t get anything at all.”

“Well, in this house, we don’t believe in that. We believe that Santa is like Jesus and that Santa knows what is in your heart, and if you do something bad, you say you’re sorry and you do better next time. Santa knows that you are a good person, even if you make mistakes sometimes.”

That answer satisfied him, and we moved on to other things, but I’ve been thinking about it a lot this week. Apparently my child has been too, because today in the car he said “Mama, Santa and Jesus and mama and papa are all the same, aren’t they?”

“Um, what do you mean?” I asked.

“All of them love you, even when you make mistakes.”

This is the message I want my children to grow up with their whole life long. It’s not that there’s no room for making mistakes or improving or getting better, but don’t we need our children to know, I mean really know that they are loved unconditionally, all the time? I have a hunch that as we grow and move through life we are prone to doubt this simple truth that we are loved without condition.  For those who are worried about what will happen to children who are taught about both Jesus and Santa Claus at Christmas time, I have this thought to offer: make sure Santa and Jesus are both agents of unconditional love and forgiveness.

Similarly, see: No Elf on Our Shelf by Lee Hull Moses

 

 

15 Reasons Pastors Should Visit As Much as Possible

15reasonstovisit

A couple of weeks ago an article called “Fifteen Reasons Why Your Pastor Should Not Visit Much” by Thom Rainer was circulating widely on Social Media. It has been rattling around in my mind for a few days and I’ve debated whether or not to post my own thoughts on visiting. Ultimately, I decided to write my own list of fifteen reasons I take a different approach to visiting. My goal is not to say that my way is the best way or that the original article isn’t worth some food for thought. Different churches require different leadership styles, and no two church (or minister) is the same.  My own philosophy is to visit as much as I can, knowing that balancing all the demands of ministry is always a challenge. There are seasons when I feel like I’m woefully behind on visiting and other seasons when it’s great to catch up on folks.  Here are fifteen reasons I think pastors should try to visit as much as possible. I’ve tried to address the opposing view of many of the arguments in the original piece.

  1. It is biblical – The Ephesians text about pastors training others to do ministry reminds us that church members must be mindful that visiting isn’t exclusively the job of the pastor. This doesn’t mean that the pastor is “off the hook” for visiting because he or she has trained others to do the work. Pastors have many examples in scripture about the importance of bearing one another’s burdens, visiting the sick and needy, and praying for one another. These verses don’t speak exclusively to pastors, but pastors do well to remember them as we visit out in the world.
  2. Visiting sets a positive example for members to follow – It is absolutely true that ministers should not be the only visitors in a congregation, but pastor can lead by example as we visit our members, even bringing other elders and members along with us as we do this.
  3. It brings in people who are out on the margins – The most important people to visit are those who don’t have strong connections to other church members or strong family relationships. Visiting these members helps them to maintain connected to the church, particularly when they’re not as connected as other people. There are simply some people who fall through the cracks. The pastor is often in a unique position to know who these people are and visit them.
  4. It fosters an “out in the world” mentality – I have written before about how important it is for pastors to be out of their offices  and visiting is a great example of that. When folks stop by or call and hear the office administrator say that the minister won’t be able to take the call because s/he is out visiting, it sends a strong message that the church is out in the world.
  5. It enhances sermon preparation – Sermon preparation requires study and office time, to be sure, but it also requires a connection to the living word in the world. The pastor’s sermons are enhanced by getting out of the office and visiting his or her members. It connects pastors to the people to whom they are preaching, and it helps ground the weekly message.
  6. It helps ministers understand the community in which they are ministering and serving – When pastors are visiting, we are in homes, hospitals, retirement communities, detention centers, jails, schools and countless other places in our community. It is on these visits that we can learn about what life is like for our parishioners on the six days a week they’re not in worship.
  7. It strengthens relationships – We can only get to know one another so well in five and ten minute snippets. Its during longer visits that we have the chance to hear the whole story about how Mr. and Mrs. Jones met and fell in love, or what happened so many years ago during that Christmas Eve service.
  8. It allows congregants to get to know their pastors on a deeper level, and even give back by caring for them – I am usually visiting to help show love and care and concern for my church members, but they always show that same concern for me. It’s a joy for me to be able to share stories about my call to ministry, my family and my views on where the church is headed with congregants and visitors, and they appreciate hearing these things too.
  9. It means so much to the people being visited – I have heard people tell about visits they had from a pastor that happened years ago, when someone came by to offer a special word of encouragement and prayer when it was most needed. Visits provide community, comfort, conversation and connection.
  10. It can be energizing for pastors and remind us why we went into ministry in the first place – To be engaged in a person’s life at the happy and sad moments is a true honor and a privilege. There is truly no more important task in ministry.
  11. It provides an opportunity for “out of the church” thinking – Sometimes folks think differently about the church when they’re not sitting within the walls of the church. This goes for pastors and parishioners alike.
  12. It is an investment of time that is multiplied many times over – When the pastor visits one person, that person often tells other people. Instead of being a negative as pointed out in the original article, this can be wonderfully positive. Congregations gain a sense of assurance that their leader cares for them. Just because there is potential that someone might feel slighted (why wasn’t I visited?) doesn’t mean the solution is to not visit anyone.
  13. It can be wonderfully affirming for pastor in a very healthy way – So much of ministry is never finished. There are always more goals to reach, new projects to take on. Sometimes the satisfaction of saying “There is still suffering in the world. I did not get all of the things crossed off the to-do list, but for one hour today I know that my presence made a difference in someone’s life” is enough to help a pastor to feel encouraged.
  14. It can share the good news about your congregation to many more people than just your members – When we visit we get to meet our congregation’s family, their friends, their co-workers and their neighbors. Sometimes we run in to people we’d never meet within the walls of the church.
  15. It is a sign that the church is alive and well – Visiting should not happen to the exclusion of other, equally important and vital tasks, but I would never say that a pastor who visits his or her members is a symbol that a church is dying. If so, we ought to redefine our definition of life and death.

Good leaders lead by example, and visiting is a very important part of a healthy ministry. I’m curious about your thoughts! Do you think visiting is an important work of pastoral ministry? Why or why not?

Why Your Pastor Isn’t In… #notinmyoffice

#notinmyoffice

“I came by your office, but you weren’t there…” Yep! For awhile I’ve been thinking about all of my amazing colleagues in ministry and all of the ways they are out in the world healing, caring, advocating, spreading good news. Where’s your pastor? Here are just a few places he or she might be! I loved reading each and every one of these stories. Thank you to all of the wonderful pastors who contributed!  Didn’t get yours in on time? Share your contribution with the hashtag #notinmyoffice

  • Rev. Greg Allen-Pickett, Director of Global Mission, First Presbyterian Church of Atlanta: If I’m not in my office I might be helping to resettle a refugee family with some incredible volunteers from my church.
  • Rev. Shimiko Montgomery, Associate Pastor, Bend Church: If I’m not in the office, I can often be found working with young women who are experiencing homelessness making prayer bead necklaces as a way to earn a small income in a supportive community. 
  • Rev. Sarah Renfro, Pastor of Family Ministries, Geist Christian Church, Fishers, IN: If I’m not in the office, I can be found leading body image workshops and retreats.
  • Rev. Nick Larson, Broadway Christian Church, Columbia, MO: I’m not in my office, I might be sitting with people in their own world, reflecting and discovering the ways God is already working there.
  • Rev. Renee Roederer, Organizer of Michigan Nones and Dones: If I’m not in my office, I might be having conversation over coffee with a person who left church (or got ousted), who seeks to connect to spiritual community again, although differently and with much to teach all of us.
  • Rev. Erin Hittle, Chaplain, Avalon Square, Waukesha, Wisconsin:  If I’m not in the office, I might be visiting with a resident who just moved into the memory care unit, listening to her talk about her bowel movements and how they didn’t have birth control in her day.
  • Rev. Lisa Lopez, Christ Presbyterian Church, Hanover Park, IL: If I’m not in the office, I may be attending a court hearing for a parishioner who needs support at a trying time, or talking to the administrators at a local elementary school to organize partnership opportunities, or leading small group with young adults somewhere their friends would actually go.
  • Rev. Hannah McIntyre, Associate Pastor, The Presbyterian Church of Danville: If I’m not in the office I may be busy developing a relationship with the youth of the church by attending sports games, having coffee, going to plays, or just interacting with them out in the community.
  • Rev. Niki Brodeur, Associate Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, Greensburg, PA: If I’m not in the office, I may be busy reading and researching for a book I’m writing on clergy and mental illness.
  • Rev. Katy Stenta, Pastor, New Covenant Presbyterian, Albany, NY: If I’m not in the office I might be running a community playgroup (with my children’s help) or coordinating the church’s Farmers Market in our parking lot.
  • Rev. Rob Monroe, Director of Children, Youth and Family Ministries, First Presbyterian Church, Kirkwood, MO: If I’m not in the office I am at sporting events at our local schools, rooting for students and building relationships with parents.
  • Rev. Tully Mack Fletcher, Associate Pastor for Youth and Young Adults, Orangewood Presbyterian Church, Phoenix, AZ: If I’m not in the office I am out doing my job. Meeting with people helping them to grow their faith. Or attending events/sports games/recitals/plays for the Youth. Or building houses. Or doing Presbytery Work. When I am in the office I’m probably not doing my job
  • Rev. Cynthia Betz-Bogoly, Pastor, Elkins Park, PA: If I am not in the office I am preaching at a local nursing home for residents unable to attend Sunday mornings due to mobility and memory impairment issues. 
  • Rev. Jessica Gibo, Chaplain Pacific Health MinistryIf I’m not in my office I may be at home sleeping after being up with a family half the night grieving the death of their loved one.
  • Rev. Allison Becker, PCUSA: If I’m not in my office I might be visiting with a family who just lost their loved one, meeting local business leaders to strengthen relationships with our neighbors, or at the local seminary/school/library continuing my Call to study deeply and faithfully prepare for Sunday as we gather again each week!
  • The Rev. Dr. Maria Kane, Rector, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Waldorf, MD: I might be having breakfast with a kindergartner…I might be supporting a family in court…I might be sitting with a parishioner in the doctor’s office awaiting test results…I might be driving in my car, fighting back tears, raising my fists to the sky, and pleading with God for those whose pain never seems to end…I might be calling a friend who makes me laugh and reminds me God has had this under control for a long time.
  • Rev. Mary Newberg Gale, First Presbyterian Church, Lawrence, Kansas: If I’m not in the office I can often be found meeting with city officials, community groups, and other clergy to work toward addressing the shortage of affordable housing in our community. 
  • Rev. Katie Z. Dawson, Immanuel UMC, Des Moines, Iowa: When I’m not in the office, I might be helping to lead our connectional church in hard conversations that will impact who and how someone is welcomed (or not) in our church in the near future. …serving communion at a nearby care center…reading to first grade students at our neighborhood elementary school… Serving on the board of our Des Moines Area Religious Council and working with our shared food pantries because we believe no one should be hungry.
  • Rev. Katie Russell, Broadway Christian Church, Council Bluffs, IA: If I’m not in my office, I might be committing the body of a beloved child of God back to the earth…comforting those who are left to grieve…standing in the shadow of death and testifying to the hope we have in the promise of resurrection.
  • The Rev. Dana Blouch-Hanson, Pastor, Zion Lutheran Church, Newville, PA: If I’m not in the office, I might be at the local diner sharing a meal and listening to someone from the community who needs to talk.
  • The Rev. Ruth A. Popkin, Pastor, Salem Lutheran Church, Hitterdal, MN: If I am not in my office, I might be leading an introduction to knitting and crocheting class at the local social services’ agency, in which the group is working together to make chemo caps for the local cancer centers.
  • Rev. Stephen McKinney-Whitaker, Pastor, Peoria, IL: When I’m not in my office I might be doing interfaith work with diverse faith communities and local leaders to promote peace, partnership, love, and respect in our communities.
  • Rev Naomi Sease Carriker, Associate Pastor, Morning Star Lutheran Church, Matthews, NC: If I’m not in the office, I might be found in the local Starbucks inside the target holding off site office hours where I have conversations and share prayers with parishioners and non-parishioners who are out doing their shopping.
  • Rev. Carla Gregg-Kearns, Good Shepherd UCC, Cary, NC: If I’m I’m not in my office, I might be taking a pastoral walk with a congregant.
  • Rev. McKinna Daugherty, Altoona Christian Church, Altoona, IA: If I’m not in my office, I might be at a gathering with other area clergy…I might be meeting a parishioner for coffee…I might be at therapy because that’s what I need regularly in order to serve my congregation best. …I might be at the food pantry serving the hungry in our community…I might be at the gym because I have an evening meeting later…I might be at the nursing home visiting the folks who can’t get out.
  • Rev. Jennifer Wilder, Pastor, Broadview Baptist Church, Sunderland MD: If I’m not in the office, I am enjoying one-on-one meetings with leaders we’ve identified in the county as key partners in the changes we can ONLY do together, unified across religious perspective, geography, issue, race, age, and other differences that typically divide us into camps.
  • Rev. Elsa A. Peters, St. Peter’s UCC, Knauertown, PA: If I’m not in my office, and I’m not usually in my office, I am trying really hard to figure out the future of the church. I read books and write big thoughts as I try to encourage the small church I’m serving as an interim pastor to imagine what God is calling to them to become.
  • Rev. Lara Blackwood Pickrel, Associate Minister, First Christian Church of Smithville, MO: If I’m not in my office, I might be holding a sign proclaiming God’s love for our refugee neighbors at a political rally.
  • Rev. Rachel Helgeson: If I’m not in my office I might be at the jail providing pastoral care to inmates and their families.
  • Rev. Robyn Bles, Associate Minister, West Des Moines Christian Church, West Des Moines, IA: If I’m not in the office, I might be volunteering with children with special needs. We might be reading books, playing games or going for walks, or I might be at a local coffee shop listening for what God wants to say in my next sermon as I listen for God working within the community.
  • Rev Heather Godsey, Program Director, Wesley Foundation University of TN, Knoxville, TN: If I’m not in the office, I might be at the library listening to students’ stories while encouraging them to take a break and de-stress by coloring with me.
  • Rev. Jessica Crane Munoz, Vinton, Iowa: If I’m not in the office, I might be writing a workbook on how churches can re-envision their mission and vision statements.
  • The Rev. Shannon Speidel, Associate Minister, Central Christian Church, Enid, OK: If I’m not in the office, I might be lobbying legislators in support of women’s access to support systems to better their lives. –When I’m not in the office, I might be visiting with community organizations to plan programs that meet the needs of our neighbors.
  • The Rev. Rebekah Hatch, Rector, St Alban’s, Simsbury, CT: If I’m not in my office, I might be taking a transient visitor to an AA meeting and to lunch; or, having lunch with a nearby school administrator.
  • Rev. Lyndsey McCall future Director of Youth Ministry at First Presbyterian Church Virginia Beach: If I’m not in the office, I might be at at a continuing education event that refreshes, excites and empowers me to do the ministry I feel called to do.
  • Rev. Melissa St. Clair, Heart of the Rockies Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Fort Collins, CO: If I’m not in my office, I might be taking a young adult in crisis to the drop-in mental health clinic. When I’m not in my office, I might be at Daz Bog discussing questions about the existence of God with one of our high schoolers. When I’m not in my office, I might be at a Faith Family Hospitality board meeting helping families experiencing homelessness become self-sufficient. When I’m not in my office, I might be at another congregation in our region listening to their hopes and dreams for our region and our next regional minister.
  • Rev. Erin Clausen, Pastor, St. James Lutheran Church, Western Springs, IL: If I’m not in my office, I might be helping a senior grapple with the spiritual and emotional realities of aging, or a helping a young adult grapple with issues of joblessness.
  • Rev. Katie Hargis, Rector of St. Cornelius’ Episcopal Church Dodge City, KS : If I’m not in my office I might be volunteering at the local elementary school where 95% of the kids are immigrants, helping to bring art and other opportunities to them that they might not otherwise ever have.
  • Rev. Katie Barrett Todd, Dunbar Presbyterian Church, Dunbar, NE: If I’m not in my office, I might be collaborating with pastors from across the country to create the Montreat Youth Conference theme and write the Small Group Leader manual for this summer.
  • Rev. Susannah DeBenedetto, Director of Cooperative Youth Ministry: If I’m not in my office, I might be watching a middle school softball game or a high school musical.
  • Rev. Katrina Paxson, Pastor at Beulah UMC in Valley, Alabama: I’m not in my office, I might be gathering with other clergy, getting support and ideas so I can be a better pastor for you.
  • Rev. Eliza Buchakjian-Tweedy, Senior Pastor, First Church Congregational, Rochester: When I’m not in my office, I might be designing coloring pages to bring our scriptures to life in new ways, for God’s children of all ages.
  • Rev. Allison Unroe, Pastor, Fairlawn Presbyterian Church in Radford, VA: If I’m not in my office, I might be working to Incite Safety by ending sexual assault and domestic violence.
  • Rev. Iona Dickinson. Pastor University City United Church (UCC) San Diego: When I’m not in my office I might be reading stories to kids in our preschool.
  • The Rev. Suzanne P. Miller, Local Coordinator for InterExchange Au Pair USA in Raleigh, NC:  When I’m not in my office, I might be meeting with an au pair to discuss culture shock or what classes to take while she is in the US, or I might be counseling host families and au pairs about ways to navigate cultural differences and promote cultural exchange.
  • Rev. Kedron Nicholson, Rector, Grace Episcopal Church, Orange Park, FL: When I’m not in my office, I might be standing on the street talking to the fire department, police chief or neighbors about how to revitalize our street and offer kids a place to play.
  • Rev. Kimberly Reinholz associate for service campus ministry pastoral care and mommy: When I’m not in my office I might be meeting with students, faculty, or staff at the university. Or I might be meeting with grant recipients of congregational development grants. Or I might be in Belize on a mission trip. Or I might be meeting with one of our homeless guests. Or I might be leading our weekly healing service. Or I might be feeding, bathing or caring for my toddler.
  • Rev. Lauren Evans, Parish Associate of Congregational Care, La Verne, CA: If I’m not in my office, I may be holding and praying over someone’s premie baby, sitting in a court room with a parent whose daughter is facing a serious charge, or at the bedside of a woman on hospice, as she recounts the stories of her life and we look for God’s presence within them.
  • The Rev. Beth Scriven, Rockwell House Episcopal Campus Ministry in St. Louis: If I’m not in the office, I might be at the grocery store, buying the food I will cook to feed students’ bodies and souls.
  • Rev. Erica Schemper, Director of Children, Youth, and Family Ministries, Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, San Carlos, CA: If I’m not in my office, I’m often running errands in preparation for youth and children’s events and activities: for those of us who do programmatic ministries, like children and youth, there are often lots and lots of “materials” that you can’t just order and have delivered.
  • Rev. Sarah Trone Garriott: If I’m not in the office I may be meeting with clergy colleagues to study scripture, share our insights on ministry to help one another grow, or support one another in our struggles.
  • Rev. Kathleen Anderson: If I’m not in the office… I might be helping a woman move her and her children away from their abusive spouse. If I’m not in the office… I might be in the kitchen doing the dishes from last night’s fundraising supper.If I’m not in the office… I might be at the store buying a patching cable for the sound system that broke (again).
  • Rev. Elizabeth Grasham: If I’m not in the office, I might be meeting with the Regional Committee on Ministry, which guides the ordination process for dozens of candidates in our care.
  • The Rev. Jordan Haynie Ware, All Saints’ Episcopal Church, Fort Worth, TX: If I’m not in my office, I might be negotiating a Full Communion agreement with another denomination to share resources for the future, build on our understanding of God, and model reconciliation for the healing of the nations.
  • Pastor Katey Schwind, First Presbyterian Church, Boise, ID: If I’m not in my office, I might be out gathering supplies for a sensory worship experience or a hands-on church school lesson. Pastor Katey Schwind, First Presbyterian Church, Boise, ID
  • Rev. Heather Gerbsch Daugherty, Associate Chaplain, Trevecca Nazarene University, Nashville, TN: If I’m not in my office, I might be having coffee with a student who needs someone to listen to them and tell them that they are loved.  
  • Pastor Kay Rohloff, Scandian Grove Lutheran Church, St. Peter, MN: If I’m not in my office, I might be writing a lesson for my new confirmation curriculum for congregations with small, low tech programs.
  • Rev. Karen Hernadez, Kuna United Methodist Church, Kuna, Idaho: If I’m not in my office, I might be in a nearby town sharing lunch with a young man who grew up in this congregation and is now struggling with homelessness, depression, addiction, recovery, guilt, and shame. If I’m not in my office, I might be standing on the steps of the State Capitol at a prayer vigil for human rights. If I’m not in my office, I might be reading to kids (and parents) at the public library story time as a volunteer. If I’m not in my office, I might be at City Hall in a planning meeting for community events, grants, and more!
  • Rev. Heather Prince Doss: If I’m not in my office I might be teaching about Jesus and Judaism on the Southern Steps of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.
  • Rev. Beth Martini, Christ Lutheran Church, Duncannon PA: If I’m not at the office, I might be out talking to Appalachian Trail hikers and inviting them to our meals.
  • Rev. Danae Ashley, Associate Priest & Marriage and Family Therapist, St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, Seattle, WA: If I’m not in my office, I might be leading a fertility journey support group that reaches far beyond our church walls or having lunch/coffee with someone we are forming a community partnership with to eradicate poverty and homelessness.
  • Rev. Eliza Buchakjian-Tweedy, Senior Pastor, First Church Congregational, Rochester NH: If I’m not in my office, I might be delivering ashes or communion to local business owners who can’t come to our scheduled services.
  • Rev. Mindi Welton-Mitchell, Pastor, Burien Community Church, Burien, WA If I’m not in my office, I might be meeting with the Superintendent of Schools, discussing how we can meet the needs of our immigrant students, students in poverty, disabled students, and others, because Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me… it is to such that the kingdom of Heaven belongs.”
  • Rev. Heidi Carrington Heath, Associate Pastor, First Parish Congregational Church (UCC), East Derry, NH: If I’m not in my office, I might be holding office hours at a coffee shop in the community bringing church or offering care to folks outside of our building
  • Rev. Traci Smith, Pastor, Northwood Presbyterian Church, San Antonio: If I’m not in my office, I might be offering ashes to go!

 If your pastor isn’t in the office, s/he might be changing the world! #notinmyoffice 

#notmyOGHS — The @PCUSA_SO ‘s spectacular ad failure #presbyterian

Well, the PCUSA has done it again in terms of missing the mark (big time) and branding/marketing only this time, instead of a relatively cute dog in a pink sweater, it’s a campaign that makes plays on stereotypes of race and gender and portrays the recipients of mission not as vital members of the body of Christ with whom we can partner, but poor recipients in need of various types of handouts. Let’s take a closer look. For this post I want to focus on the two images which are the most disturbing to me. Incidentally, these are two of the images that are not highlighted in the PCUSA’s news article that has been receiving a lot of traffic in the last few days. I can speak to the first image directly and out of personal experience because it features a woman. Take a look:

put in her place

A beautiful young and confident looking woman with the bold headline that says “Needs to be put in her place” with smaller type that says “Math 101 to be precise” and then even smaller type talking about how a gift to the Christmas Joy offering can provide schooling to girls who need it. It’s clever and provocative advertising, to be sure. It’s edgy. I like the typography. It looks professional. One problem: It hurts.  I’m not as beautiful as that woman, but I’d like to think I have the same level of confidence. And guess what? People have said that I need to be put in my place. The intent of this ad is to say “Oh look, some people say women need to be put in their place, we’re saying that women need help and support to get an education. See? We turned it upside down!” Yes, yes, they did. I get it. Get it as I may, I look at that image and I see myself in that photo and I think of all of the times men have said subtly (or boldly) “That’s ok, sweetheart, we got this one.”  The ad is intentionally offensive. The second ad I’m going to talk about is much harder to write about because it hurts even more. It’s truly an embarrassment to the denomination I love:

angerissues

A young African American boy juxtaposed against the words “Needs help with recurring anger issues.” Then in smaller print “his country’s” then in smaller print words about how the world is unjust and full of famine. This ad reminds me of two friends I’ve spoken with about how it is to parent an African American boy. In both cases, the mothers choke up as they talk about the sense of powerlessness they feel as their sons experience the type of racism that this ad is based around. The ad’s intent, again, is to say “we’re not saying African American boys are angry! We’re saying the world is an unjust place!” Yet no matter how you dress it up, the fact remains that, in the context of everything we have been through as a nation, the PCUSA approved an ad campaign where a young African American boy is juxtaposed against the words “recurring anger issues.” I can’t imagine the hurt this ad causes African American sisters and brothers. I would encourage you to comment on the posts, though, so that those responsible can begin to reflect on the hurt these ads have caused. My boys are Colombian Americans. It’s a stereotype that Colombians are drug dealers. How would I have felt if there were an ad with a little Colombian boy and really large type floating around that said “Looking for Some Coke” and then in smaller type it says “Coca-Cola, that is. Buy these boys a soda!” I would be heartbroken. I wouldn’t think it was edgy or appropriate or funny or a way to raise funds. I think I would put my face in my hands and have a good cry. This ad is inflicting a similar pain on my mama friends who have black boys. I hurt for them. I am ashamed this ad has anything to do with my denomination. How could they not know that this would be a problem?   I was not around for the process of approving these ads and discussing them. Through the beauty of the internets, however, it appears that the powers that be did know about the concerns and chose to ignore them. What were they thinking? Seriously. What. Were. They. Thinking.? It’s ok to hurt people as long as a lot of money is raised? It’s provocative and that’s a good thing? It appears that the intent of these ads is to make them unforgettable and memorable. They are that, for sure, but at what cost? At the cost of actually hurting people. Not only are the ads plays on race and gender stereotypes, they seem to go against the model of partnership and mutuality that the PC(USA) tries to excel at. Our missionaries are called “mission co-workers” our Hunger, Peacemaking and Disaster programs seek to work at a level that is not “you vs. me” but rather “us.” We have an entire grantmaking organization called “Self Development of People (SDOP)” that seeks to empower grassroots organizations. Each of the ads proposed by this campaign sets up the giver as someone who can help the “other.” At no time is it ever suggested that the girl who needs to be “put in her place” is a partner in all of this. (And we didn’t really mean she needs to be put in her place, it’s just a ‘made ya look’ type of thing) This ad campaign needs to be removed and an apology issued.  We wanted to do the right thing and raise a lot of money for causes we all believe in and we went too far. We should have listened to minority voices and we didn’t. We will do better.   Two important things before I let y’all have the floor in the comments 1. “Special Offerings raise money for good things.” This has come up again and again on numerous threads and discussions about this campaign. I agree wholeheartedly. Special offerings raise money for Presbyterian DIsaster Assistance, Presbyterian Hunger Program, Self Development of People, Young Adult Volunteers, Presbyterian Peacemaking Program, and (hello!) Racial Ethnic Leadership Development. I (or my husband) have benefited directly from each and every one of the programs I just named. We owe a debt of gratitude to the PCUSA for providing these programs and for the good work they do. All the more reason to not jeopardize the future of such amazing programs by rolling out such a divisive and painful campaign. There will be a cost to redoing the materials for this year. There will be an even greater cost for not redoing them. 2. “PCUSA needs relevant and good marketing that appeals to young people.” Yes and no. I agree that it can be helpful to have a well designed and beautiful campaign to inspire people to give money to a cause. I was impressed by the gifts catalog that was put out for Christmas this year. It made me want to show it to people and encourage them to give. That said, slick marketing campaigns only go so far. In my experience money starts flying out of wallets when people hear the stories of what God is doing and how lives are being changed. I will encourage my congregation to give to special offerings, as I always do. I’ll be looking closely at the denomination in the coming week to see what materials they propose I use to do that.

An Immigration Policy We Can All Agree On: #EndChildDetention #EndFamilyDetention

kidsshouldbefree

I’ve been visiting a mother, Alicia* in family detention in Karnes City for a few months now. Family detention is the almost unbelievable practice of locking up young mothers and their children in prison. No matter what we think about the right of immigrants to cross the border without proper authorization, it’s hard to imagine a scenario where anyone believes that children deserve to be locked up. The United Nations agrees. The committee on the rights of the child says:

Children should not be criminalized or subject to punitive measures because of their or their parents’ migration status. The detention of a child because of their or their parent’s migration status constitutes a child rights violation and always contravenes the principle of the best interests of the child.

For several months I’ve been actively volunteering and working with Mission Presbytery’s efforts to help refugees from Central America who find themselves in the bounds of our Presbytery. There are a lot of overlapping, complicated issues. Though we see these issues through the eyes of faith (“Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt.” – Exodus 22:21) our work necessarily takes us to places where broader policy is involved.
Not everyone agrees on what the policy should be. Should there be quotas? Should more people be given asylum? How should new arrivals be handled? Should people be deported right away? How many people should be allowed to come and under what circumstances? What about people who have been here for a long time? And what about family members? Should adult children of US citizens be automatically given visitor’s visas to come visit? (This affects my own family and Elias’s adult children who have not been allowed to visit in the 6 years Elias and I have been married, though they have applied). It would take a lot of blogging to address all of these policies and to propose solutions, and these are all very complicated questions and solutions.

Instead, though, I want to focus on this mother and her children, because I think it’s something most of us can agree on:

Children do not belong in detention. Family detention must be ended.

I’ve heard people who work inside the family detention center in Karnes talk about how nice it is. “The children have school and they are fed three meals a day and they are permitted to play outside.”

These things are true, and even so, family detention is outrageous. When we talk about facts and statistics, sometimes our eyes glaze over. (Although, if you’re interested in facts, I suggest reading THIS or THIS.)

Instead of summarizing the facts you can easily read yourself, I want to tell a story, and it’s a story about the mom I’ve been visiting in detention. More specifically, it’s a story about her 8 year old son, Camilo.*

Alicia says that Camilo is having a lot of difficulty in detention. After making a harrowing journey all the way from central america, fleeing imminent gun violence and threats of death, they spent some challenging days at the US/Mexico border. Once they made their way to Karnes Detention facility, she noticed the problems: acting out at school, hitting his head against the wall, outbursts. She says he cries a lot. One of the problems, according to Alicia, is that he can’t make friends in detention. Friends mysteriously arrive and leave. He doesn’t understand why. He also doesn’t understand why they can’t go anywhere. Ever. They can’t go to the store or to church or to the soccer field. They can’t go to get a haircut.

It’s this last one I want to talk about for a second: a haircut. Last time I went to visit Alicia, I asked about Camilo. “He’s sad today. He was supposed to get his haircut, but then he didn’t. He’s been crying about it.”

It didn’t seem like she wanted to talk more about it, and so we didn’t. But I can’t stop thinking about that haircut. As I pack my two boys up in the car to take them here and there and everywhere, I can’t stop thinking about the hundreds of children in Karnes Detention facility who are locked up, in cells, because their parents dared to try and give them a better life. Family detention is outrageously costly to the US government. There are cheaper and more humane options.

#EndFamilyDetention #EndChildDetention

Three ways to begin to make a difference about child detention in the US:

1. Look for information and learn about it. Family Detention seems to get lost sometimes in the middle of a much larger immigration debate. Another reason it gets lost is that the family detention facilities are far out of the way of any major city or area. Out of sight, but not out of mind.

2. Don’t worry too much about being “too political.” It’s a dangerous narrative out there when showing compassion and basic common sense is somehow a political agenda. There is room for all kinds of politics in the immigration debate. There is not room to ever justify locking up children and denying them freedom to live in a house with friends or family while their cases are processed. Whichever political party you support, your leaders can get on board with some kind of meaningful reform. Children deserve to be free. (And, yes, some can come live with me. Mission Presbytery has families lining up to receive families in our own homes if people are given the opportunity).

3. Connect:

Mission Presbytery Refugee Family Response

Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service

See also: Babies in Jails

 

*Names changed for privacy

Do Little Girls and Little Boys Need Different Bibles?

One of the things that I’m keenly aware of as a recently published author on spiritual practices for families is how I’m now part of the world of Christian marketing. As I’ve written about before, I believe only people can be described as Christian. I don’t believe there is such a thing as “Christian music” or “Christian books” or “Christian art.” There’s only music, books and art by and for Christian people. As much as marketers try and label everything from breath mints to financial services as “Christian,” what they’re trying to do is get Christian people to buy their products which may or may not be any better or different than products by so called “secular” retailers.

My desire to write and publish Seamless Faith: Simple Practices for Daily Family Life was born out of a desire that I think most Christian parents share: to connect with our children, pass on our values and provide meaningful ways to practice our faith together. Since its release, I’ve been interested in other books and products that I might be able to recommend to readers of Seamless Faith. I perked up whenever I find a new book, CD or game aimed at helping families practice their faith together. Enter the Little Girls Bible Storybook for Mothers and Daughters and the Little Boys Bible Storybook for Mothers and Sons:

littleboysandgirls

Suffice it to say, I have a few concerns about these products, but I’ll focus on the two most troubling:

First, in a world where every single product marketed to children is gender specific, it makes me cringe to see a Bible storybook following this trend. In the introduction to the Little Boys Bible Storybook, the author even explains that raising boys and girls are different and that the little boys storybook is more “rough and tumble” than the little girls Bible. I think this is extremely problematic thinking. While my boys may or may not be more active than their girl classmates and friends, the faith that I want to share with them is a faith where gentleness and kindness are of utmost importance. Similarly, I want the girls I minister to (I don’t have daughters) to know that they are free to be strong like Queen Esther and trailblazers like the Daughters of Zelophehad. Incidentally, the story about Queen Esther in the Little Girls Storybook Bible is “Esther Wins a Beauty Contest.” This fact made me simultaneously laugh out loud and and want to cry. What is the message we want to send our little girls?

The second problem I have with the Little Girls and Little Boys Storybook Bible is that both products are marketed to mothers only. Though I’m certain the authors would agree that fathers, grandparents, stepparents and other family members have an important role in sharing faith, the fact that the title of the work is “for mothers and sons” and “for mothers and daughters” implies that it’s the mother’s job to pass on these stories. I much prefer a model whereby the whole family is involved in sharing faith together, and I know many families do too.

For those looking for a great storybook bible for boys and girls, moms and dads (and everyone in between) I recommend

The Children of God Storybook Bible by Desmond Tutu.

tutu

What do you think? Does the Little Girls Storybook Bible for Mothers and Daughters and the Little Boys Storybook Bible for Mothers and Sons serve a purpose, or are there some real problems here that need to be addressed? 

 

 

 

Traci Smith is author of Seamless Faith: Simple Practices for Daily Family Life which was published earlier this year by Chalice Press. You can sign up for her monthly email newsletter with practical faith tips for families here