24 September 2016


Today was one of those days I won't soon forget.

I knew it was coming.
I have been anticipating it for months.
I have had mixed feelings about it.
Sometimes I have been eager about what it would mean.
Sometimes I have wondered what I signed up to do!
I never expected that it would mark me in such a way as it did.

Today I was installed as Regional Moderator for the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Kentucky.  In all honesty, I viewed this installation as nothing more than a formality.  I was to stand there and say "yes" to the questions asked of me.  The real work begins now and that moment was just a ceremony, the last thing in a 3-day series of meetings and worship and time with "my people."

But then ...

Then I stood there at the front of Crestwood Christian Church, with my new friend and colleague to my left and a long-time friend and colleague to my right.  With the others who we installed to the board today, I promised to do my best to fulfill this calling that has been extended to me.  I committed myself to the work of the Region for these next 2 years.

As I looked across a room, I saw my own journey there.
I saw people who - just 4 years ago, at my first regional assembly - were not even "strangers" to me.  They were just bodies in the pews.  I had no idea that I would look them in the eye one day and call them beloved friends.

I saw teenagers and young people.
I saw trusted colleagues.
I saw mentors.
I saw saints whose mere presence have strengthened my ministry.

And probably more than half of who I saw, I could call by name.
I realized that in just 4 short years, I have gone from being a stranger in this denomination, to a trusted leader.
I saw in the eyes of those gathered today, a prayer of blessing on my (our) leadership.
I saw hope.
I came to understand that they are counting on us.
And they ground* me.

Once the installation was complete and the business session over, I had just 20 minutes before worship was to begin, and I was to lead communion.  In a hurry and really just wanting a couple of minutes to regroup and think about what I might say, I walked to the back of the sanctuary to get my microphone and mentally prepare for worship.

I was greeted there in the narthex by a friend and fellow board member, who was - in that very moment - already composing an email to me and the rest of the board leadership.  He said to me, "I can't tell you how excited I am to get to work with this team!"  For 15 of my available 20 minutes, we just dreamed about what it could be.  We tossed around ideas for better communication and deeper connectivity.  We discussed how deeply this matters to us - both as professionals in the region and as people with a heart for the church.
Honestly, I didn't want those minutes to slip away.
I wanted to stay there.
I wanted to keep dreaming!
Because already in those minutes, I was growing* as both a minister and a leader.

I don't often get to preside at the table any more.
When I was on staff at FCC Paducah, I led in communion at least once a month, if not more.
Since we have moved to Central KY, the days are few and far between when I have the opportunity to invite any and all to come.
No matter how often I do it, I am moved every time.

I became a Disciple for a variety of reasons, but the central reason for me was the Table.
Disciples celebrate communion every Sunday, and I have come to depend on those moments to nourish my faith.
We are known for saying that "unity is our polar star," but for me it is the table.  The table is that which roots me to my faith; it is what guides my decisions; it is what shapes who I am becoming.

In many traditions - including my own - the table is a somber, reflective moment.  But today I was so overwhelmed by joy and hope and potential, that I found myself reminding the gathered community that we remember this table as a precursor to Jesus' crucifixion, but for the disciples it was a celebration!  The Table for them was the Passover table - the celebration of God's deliverance from Egypt (their polar star)!  I invited us all to the table to celebrate how God is overflowing* in abundance!  And I offered them the bread and the cup in celebration of whose we are!

This is the way I want the next 2 years to go for us.  I want us to be radically hospitable, driven by the celebration of the table, grounded in the community we love and serve, and deeply connected to one another.  I want my leadership of this biennium to be remembered as a time when the Christian Church in KY was bold and creative!  I want this to be the time when we strip off the masks we hide behind; when we find our courage; when we find our voice to proclaim to the world that God is in our midst and the Kin-dom is now.

We have a lot to do.
It's time to get to work!

*The theme for the 2016 Regional Assembly of Kentucky was "Grounded, Growing, Overflowing."  In the moments of today, I experienced all of those.

29 January 2016

Who Do You Want To Be?

Who Do You Want To Be?
29 January 2016
Lexington Theological Seminary Chapel
II Samuel 12: 1-13

We live in a difficult time.

In a world of facebook
and twitter
and 24/7 news coverage,  
we are more connected than we’ve ever been before.

But we’re also more anonymous than we’ve ever been before.
We hide behind the electronic personas we’ve created for ourselves. 
We share images and articles
and our particular flavor of political commentary
in formats where we don’t have to listen
when someone pushes back against it.

We sidle up to programs
and websites
and agencies
that reinforce what we already believe
and     We.       Cover.             Our.              Ears.
to the voices that disagree.

We are more connected than ever before
and yet we have separated ourselves               from the community.

Living in chosen anonymity is hard.
And it’s also dangerous.

When we choose to insulate ourselves
from the many voices
and hear only the one,
we begin to believe our voice
is the only voice that matters.

We call ourselves prophetic when we talk about “hot button” issues.
We believe we’re advocating for what’s best for our community –
Whether that be our position on guns in schools
or term limits for elected officials
or salary caps for professional athletes.

We believe that being prophetic
means being an irritant against the systems
we believe are wrong.

In a way, that’s true.

But how we go about being prophetic is critical.

The scripture this morning picks up in the middle of a larger narrative.

What we have not read this morning is the back story that most of us will know:
          A few months prior,
David has been lounging in his castle
when he sees Bathsheba across the way,
bathing on her roof.
          David longs for her and has her sent to him.
He lies with her and she becomes pregnant.
Bathsheba is married to Uriah – a prominent soldier in David’s army,
And he is LOYAL!

When David finds out that Bathsheba is pregnant,
he gives Uriah a bit of a vacation from the war
– encourages him to come home for a little “r and r.”
But Uriah refuses to enter into a “romantic interlude” with his wife
so David does what any self-righteous king would do.

He sends Uriah back to the war
with the instructions to put him
at the front of the combat.

He puts one of his trusted leaders
in the place he
– as King –
should have been
– at the greatest risk of death –
in leading the soldiers in the worst part of the combat.
In essence, David kills Uriah.

Now that Uriah is out of the way,
David takes Bathsheba into his home
as one of his wives.

This is where we pick up the story.

With Nathan.

Nathan comes to David and tells him a story.
A story of a poor man with one little lamb that he loves.
And a story of a rich man with a whole flock.
In his greed and his lust,
the rich man takes the one little lamb from the poor man
so he can serve it to his dinner guests.

David is outraged!
He declares condemnation on any man
who would do such a thing.

David cannot see what he is doing:
          he condemns himself.

Power and privilege do that to us.
They mask the reality of the world around us.
Not just political power, either.
The power of being in the majority.
The power of having resources.
The power of health insurance
and clean water
and education.

The power we have blinds us to the errors of our ways.

David’s story is a story about power.
It’s the story of the powerful abusing the weak. 
David’s position of power puts him in the driver’s seat.

Bathsheba has no authority to act in her own best interest.
Uriah doesn’t even KNOW he’s being manipulated like a pawn.
Only David knows the full scope of the story.
And he acts in whatever way will make HIS life easiest.
He refuses to hear the other voices in his community.

David never takes into consideration that Uriah is a loyal servant.
It never occurs to David to question if Bathsheba wants to be his wife.
He doesn’t even think about
what the death of Uriah
will do to his own political efforts
on the warfront.

David thinks only of his situation
and of getting himself out of trouble.

That’s the problem with having privilege –
the situation looks different to you
than it does to everyone else.

The people of God are called to be Nathan in this world.
We are called to speak the truth – to name the sin in our midst.
We are called to be the voice of God
in a hurting and broken world.
The prophet Micah teaches us to do justice,
to love mercy,
and to walk humbly with God.
Jesus tells us the poor will inherit the kingdom of God,
the hungry will be satisfied,
and the grieving will reap joy.
King Jesus takes the role
of the lowest servant
when he washes his disciples’ feet.

The Kingdom of God is the Upside Down kingdom
where the least become the greatest
and the King is the filthy servant,
kneeling on the dirt floor
to wash the manure from our feet.

If David had understood that, this would be a very different story!

It is our job to be faithful to the Kingdom,
to build the Kingdom,
to speak truth to power
and to work for justice.

We have to live like Nathan, unencumbered by fear.

But how?
How do we serve as that
irritant to power
without making the situation worse?
Our words are so often lost in the noise of the world around us.
It doesn’t do any good
to stand in this pulpit or any other
and proclaim that we must care for the poor!
It doesn’t change the systems
and the structures that keep them poor. 
It doesn’t change the access they have to a job. 

Is it enough to call our elected officials and scream about justice?
Do we march on our capitol cities to tell them we’ve had enough?

How do we live like Nathan in a world so different from his?

Maybe the real issue is not so much
that our world is different from Nathan’s
as it is that we are different from Nathan himself.

This is not the first time David and Nathan have met one another.
Nathan shows up as advisor to David
and to his predecessor, Saul,
in other places in I and II Samuel.
Nathan is a Jew.
He is part of the covenant community.
It would be feasible that Nathan
is actually a member of David’s royal court.
The two men have a relationship with one another prior to this encounter.

As a prophet, Nathan’s job
is to advise the King on matters
the King may not see fully from his position. 
Nathan’s position is unique because
he is compelled to speak the truth
to the powerful King,
but he has to do it in such a way
that the King is open to hearing him
rather than condemning him.
Nathan comes to David hoping to create
and repentance,
not hostility
and violence.

Nathan does not come to a stranger and demand he change his ways.

What Nathan does
 is to come alongside a member of his community
and call him out for his sin.

That’s hard.

If we’re honest with ourselves,
we know it’s easier to call a stranger’s office
 and tell him we disapprove of his policy making
than it is to come alongside our next door neighbor
and talk to her about the violence
she’s living with
in her home.

It’s much easier to post a meme on facebook
lambasting the choices of our elected officials
than it is to engage in a conversation
with a friend
who supports those choices.

We can rant and rave
about a lack of legislation
to get the guns off the streets.
Or we can befriend an advocate we know
and begin to understand the problem

We can call out the Church Elder Board
for not doing enough
to care for the hungry children
at the local elementary school.
Or we can find out the name
of 1 family who needs
groceries this week.

Nathan risked a lot.
He risked his job, more than likely.
He risked his relationship with David.
He risked his very life.

Nathan had to be open to the fact
that the King of Israel could have said,
“HOW DARE YOU!?!  Put him to death!”

But because Nathan is in a relationship with David
that is not what happens.
Rather, David sees the truth in Nathan’s words.
He says, “I have sinned against the Lord!”

You see,
when we live in covenant community with one another,
 we are more able to take the risk of vulnerability.

Being vulnerable means more than “putting yourself out there.” 
It means you have to be open
to the change that may happen
To.    You. 
For Nathan, that change could possibly be the loss of his life. 
For us, it may be something entirely different.

But we cannot go into a situation
certain we know the exact right answer
and shout and scream
until we get our way.

Being prophetic is not about being right.

Being prophetic is about keeping
the covenant community
in relationship
with God.

We have to start by putting aside our need to be right.

I have very strong feelings
about some of the political issues
our country is currently facing.

Some of us probably disagree wholeheartedly on those issues.
If I choose to engage you in a conversation about these things,
          I have to be vulnerable. 
          I have to share my deep passions,
                              my worst fears,
          and I have to be open to what
                              you have to say,
                                        as well. 
If I can’t honor the fact
          that your convictions are just as strong
                                        and just as valid as mine,
                    I can’t live in community with you.

I have to come to a conversation
          realizing that I may walk away
                    with a different position than I had. 
It is entirely possible
          that you may convict me
                    of the error of my ways.

I have to be willing to be changed by you.
If I’m not, we are not living in community.

Will we choose to live that way?
Who will you be?

Will you choose to be David,
          manipulating those around you
                    to keep your own life as tidy as possible?

Or will you choose to be Nathan,
          risking everything for the health and well-being
                    of the community you love?

If we can choose to live like Nathan,
          we have immense power.

When the needs and well-being of the community come first,
          lives are changed.

So maybe we have to put aside our own desire
          for an extra cup of Starbucks coffee
                    and buy a healthy meal
                              for someone in need and just talk.
Maybe we need to create a back-to-work program
          to help people find employment
                    that gives them
                              not only a salary, but a sense of purpose.
Or maybe we just need to know the story
          of one family in town
                    and find a way to help.

I don’t know.
I don’t have all of the answers.

Because that would mean I was living like David.

I would be decreeing to you what needs to happen in your communities and how.
That’s not community.

Community is when we come together to talk.
To dream.
To fight.
To risk.

And then we act in the best interest of the community.

Like David’s life,
          it may be that acting in the best interest of the community
                    makes our own life a little tougher.
But that’s what makes it prophetic!

We put aside our selfish desires
                    to make our little world
                              a better place!

Being prophetic is not about being right.
About anything.
          It’s not about making sure everyone else agrees with your beliefs.
          It’s not about making sure the community solves a problem
                    the way you want to solve it.
It’s not about throwing a justified fit
          because you don’t like the way
                    something is happening in your world.

Being prophetic is about doing what is best for the community.
          It’s about sacrifice.
          It’s about a willingness to listen.
          It’s about truly hearing others when they talk.
          It’s about placing the
                    sacredness of our life together
                               in a place of more importance
                                        than our own agendas.

I want to live like that.
I want our churches to be places
          where we can say to one another,
                    “Help me understand why you believe this.”
I want the Church to be a place
          where the hurts
                    and sins of our neighborhood
                              are met
                                    and forgiven.
I want our churches to be places
          where people of every stripe
                    and sin
                    and heart-felt desire are welcomed.
Not just greeted and handed a bulletin – genuinely welcomed.

We don’t have to change the world today.
We just need to change one life.

We start there.

Nathan changed David’s life.
He came alongside him,
          confronted him in love,
          brought about repentance,
                    and brought David to a new place.

Nathan didn’t change all of Israel.
But David’s story changed Israel’s history.

David becomes known as the Greatest King Israel ever had.
He is the "Man after God's Own Heart."
David ushers in a reign of peace and prosperity
          that his son Solomon continues to build.

And speaking of Solomon …

Solomon would never have been born
          if David’s plan had worked.

Solomon is
the second son
of David and Bathsheba.

If David had succeeded in convincing Uriah to lie with Bathsheba,
          and thus,
          covering his tracks,
                    Bathsheba would never have come to live in David’s house. 

She would never have borne Solomon.

We never know
          who may be hiding
                    under the layers of anonymity
                              we create in our world.

We never know
          if the next great President
          or philanthropist
          or social leader
                    is in our midst.

But even if they’re not
           – in changing a life or two
                    we have changed the future
                              of our community.

Because we will have changed ourselves.

God has made it clear who we are called to be.
But the choice is yours to make.

Who do you want to be?

Do you want to be David,
          trapped in your own self-righteous palace?

Or do you want to be Nathan,

          risking everything for the sake of your community?

06 June 2015

Crossing a Threshold

I did something today I never thought I would do.
Never in my wildest dreams could I fathom a day where I would consider myself "a runner."

But today ....
today I crossed a threshold - I have run over 100 miles since I first stepped on a treadmill a few months ago.

It has not always been easy; many days I have wanted to just skip the workout.  Many days I have thought, "Well, I could just walk today."  But instead, I press on.

And along the way I have found so much more than I ever went seeking.
I found a new way to treat my anxiety.
I found muscles I had forgotten I had.
I found endurance.
I found a love of music and sweat and hard work.
I found a new me.

I just feel better.
I feel like a new person.
I feel like a work in progress when I run.

And isn't that what we all are?

In this world of mistakes and trip-ups, aren't we all just a work in progress?
Running reminds me every time of how hard it is to make it in this world.
With every step there is risk - I could fall or I could get injured or I could overexert myself.
But I keep going.
I keep putting one foot in front of the other.
And when I break that first sweat (usually around 7 or 8 minutes in), I remember why I do this.

Because (to quote the shoe commercial) running releases so much more than sweat.
It's the only place I have ever found that my mind can be truly silent.
The grind of the run and the pace of the music are the only voices I hear for those minutes.

It's not a pretty sight when I run.
I sweat a LOT!
I'm sure my form is terrible!
My face gets red.

But you know what?
I'm ok with that because the run isn't about anyone else.
The run is about me.
It's about finding out who I can be tomorrow that I wasn't yesterday.
It's about discovering how deep my grit runs.
It's about little steps that turn into miles.

I don't know where this journey is taking me.
I don't know if I'll ever love to race or if I'll want to set a mileage goal.
I don't know if I'll be able to stay injury free for another 100 miles (so far so good!).

But I know that as long as running continues to feed my soul, I'll be lacing up the shoes.

25 November 2014

Living the Privileged Life

I live a privileged life.

I have a job that is flexible, pays me well, and that I love.
I have a supportive husband, a great daughter.
I have an extended network of family and friends who would be there in a minute if I needed them.
I have a reliable car.
I have an education.
I own a home.

And I have white skin.

It is more than likely that my white skin is one of the biggest reasons I have all of those other things - even the extended network of family and friends.  Because my family had all of those other things too, which enabled them to be present for me.  If I was sick and had to stay home from school, my mom didn't lose a day's pay for that - a day's pay that would have been the difference in the rent being met.  When I wrecked the family car at 16, my parents had the resources to get it fixed (I had to pay them back out of my part-time job salary); they didn't have to get a payday loan to fix it so they could go to work.

I was on sports teams because we could afford the uniforms.
I was well-nourished because we could buy fresh vegetables.
I was privileged then and that has made me privileged now.

I am raising a privileged daughter.

I never - ever - lose sight of my privilege.
Because to do so, is to dishonor my friends and colleagues who did not have the same story as me.
The story where their skin color gave them things instead of took it away.

Some days I am less respectful of my privilege than other days, but it is NEVER far from my mind.

A few weeks ago I got pulled over for speeding.
The white officer who stopped me started telling me even before he got all the way to the car that this was just a warning.  He continued to reassure me - even offered to assist me with getting my license out of my purse (rather than presuming I was digging out some pepper spray or a weapon).  He never asked me any questions about where I was going or why I was on a rural road in the middle of Indiana.  He never said anything but kind, sweet things to me.

And as I pulled away with my warning in the seat beside me, I started to cry.
Because I knew that my experience with that police officer was not at all the experience of a black man my age in an urban area.  I have friends raising black children.  Their boys will one day know that they cannot be their authentic selves in the presence of law enforcement.  It won't matter that they're pastors or attorneys or neurosurgeons.

Because before they are any of that, they are black men.

This is privilege.
And I don't want it any more.
I want justice instead.
I want society to stop judging people based on how they look.
I want us to stop being more afraid in the "run down" part of town than we are in the suburbs.
I want us to stop pretending like it doesn't exist.

Nothing makes me angrier than a white man who says they are not privileged.
Seriously, it makes my blood boil!

Because you are!  No amount of denying it will change it - in fact, denying it perpetuates the problem.

You want less riots after verdicts?  Vote in people who will change the broken system.
You want poor people of color to get a job?  Stop voting to slash Federal employment - a source of jobs for many!
You want people off of food stamps?  Raise the minimum wage.

Some days I am so very grateful for the life of privilege I was fortunate enough to be born into.
When I can walk the streets at night with my husband and big black dog without anyone fearing us, I am grateful.
When we pay our bills with money left for fun, I am grateful.
When I choose whether or not to talk to my daughter about yet-another shooting, I am grateful.

Because if my skin were brown, my story would be different.
My heart is broken over Ferguson.
But it's not over the decision not to indict.
My heart is broken because our laws allow an officer to kill a teenage boy in the middle of a daylit street.
My heart is broken because we have to use the word "another" when speaking of police violence.
My heart is broken at the despair my brothers and sisters feel.

Surviving and thriving are two very different things.
I have the choice of whether to survive or thrive.
Not everyone does.
Privilege gives that to me.

Lord, come quickly!