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The Covid-19 pandemic has shut down much of what we hold dear and essential. We are no longer gathering in our church buildings to worship. We have put on hold meeting with family and friends, exchanging greetings with handshakes and hugs and sharing coffee and donuts as hospitality. I have not mentioned singing hymns and songs of praise, baptism and holy communion, and other activities that assist us in feeling connected to Christ and one another.

Our everyday and ordinary lives have been disrupted.

I don’t need to remind you that you have moved out of your office to work at home, are giving up prom and graduation, spring sports, shopping, and eating out at our favorite restaurants. Much of our everyday living, which we have taken for granted, has shut down until further notice.

A New Normal

Many of you have done wonderfully well in adapting to these abrupt changes. You have discovered new ways of communicating and connecting. You have been faithful to perfect the use of technology and to step into what is being called “a new normal.”

Over the past two months, there has been very little talk about any subject other than the Covid-19 pandemic and the effects on our lives and on the economy. No other time in my life has there been daily press conferences announcing new deaths, new cases, or new discoveries. Each day bringing another discussion regarding what has been shut down and what we have given up.

As I have reflected upon our current reality as a church, I have discovered there are at least three things the Covid-19 pandemic has not shut down:

Pandemics Don’t Shut Down Love

When everything seems to be taken away, there is one thing that cannot be taken away: love. Whether it is family, friends, colleagues, neighbors, strangers, or enemies, the pandemic cannot shut down our love for one another.

You and I are created to love. As I have written before, it will be in our relationships that we will find hope and healing.

I am convinced that our human connections, God’s love in and through each of us as the church, can and will drive real change, even in the midst of a pandemic. When we see, experience, and love one another truly as human beings, we can no longer see each other as anything else.

To love God and to love neighbor is our mission. When what we hold dear and essential has been shut down and put on hold, love will find a way.

Please don’t lose sight of that fact, because it is God’s love in and through each of us as the church that will help us face the other two things that have not been shut down by this pandemic.

Pandemics Don’t Shut Down Poverty

There are more children living in poverty today, one in every five children, than any other time in the history of our nation. Even in Ohio, there are approximately 513,000 or one in five children living in poverty. The poverty rate in Columbus is 20.8%, which means that one out of every 4.8 residents of Columbus lives in poverty.

The effects of poverty contribute to social, emotional, and behavioral problems. It contributes to poor health both physically and mentally. The risks are greater for children who experience deep and persistent poverty when they are young.

Although the pandemic did not cause this poverty, it didn’t shut it down either. Covid-19 has brought this fact to our immediate attention.

Your church, the churches of the Capitol Area South District, and the churches of the West Ohio Conference have an opportunity to love God and to love neighbor has never before. The God who loves each of us has brought our mission clearly before us. The pandemic cannot shut down our love for one another. In the midst of poverty, in and through the church, love can find a way.

Pandemics Don’t Shut Down Racism

On a warm Sunday afternoon in February 25-year old Ahmaud Arbery was shot and killed while jogging through his Brunswick neighborhood. He was an athlete. He had a job. He worked out and jogged regularly.

Ahmaud’s death is similar to the shooting death of 17-year old Trayvon Martin. Although Trayvon was not jogging, he was shot and killed while walking home from the store where he had purchased candy.

What do the two have in common? According to the men who shoot Ahmaud and to the man who shot Trayvon, “they looked suspicious.” I’m sure there is much more to both stories and maybe I should be more aware before moving forward with what I’m going to say, but I know this for sure, the Covid-19 pandemic has not shut down racism.

I have not personally experienced racism like our African American neighbors experience on a daily basis. Until recent years, I seldom thought of being white. But I have learned that my black brothers and sisters think of it and are reminded of it every day.

The murder of Ahmaud Arbery is another example of the distance we still must travel for this land to be a land of “justice for all.”

Similarities between Covid-19 and Racism

Tim Taylor, in his new documentary “Reach, The Documentary” has highlighted the parallels between Covid-19 and racism. Here a few:

  • Covid-19 is invisible to the eye but known by its effects. Racism is invisible to the eye, but easily seen by its effects.
  • Covid-19 can thrive with no outward symptoms. Racial prejudice can endure with no outward indicators.
  • Covid-19 can be carried and spread by unsuspecting carriers. Racism can be carried and spread by people unaware of their subconscious attitudes and beliefs.
  • Covid-19 has been spread by intentional disregard (witness the spring break revelers, and the churches that insist on gathering on Sundays). Racism has been spread by institutional disregard.
  • Covid-19 hits hardest those with limited means. Racism always has.
  • Covid-19 spreads without regard for state lines or boundaries. Racism endures without regard for state edicts or legislation.

Differences between Covid-19 and Racism

Even considering these similarities, there is one major difference between Covid-19 and racism: The virus will pass, but the cancer of racism within our culture and the church, if left unaddressed, will remain.

Tim Taylor writes, “When it comes to racism, however, we don’t seek to “flatten the curve.” We seek to raise up what author Jamar Tisby calls the “ARC” of racial reconciliation: Awareness. Relationship. Commitment.”

Over the past several months much has changed. We have made significant sacrifices in our churches and in our communities. This Covid-19 pandemic has put a temporary stop to much we have held important, but it is undeniable that the greatest challenge facing our nation, our communities, and our churches has not been shut down or gone away. We must acknowledge it directly. We must isolate and attack it. We must pursue a cure, always aware that, even if we defeat this foe in one place, it will seek to regenerate and strike in another.

Your church, the churches of the Capitol Area South District, and the churches of the West Ohio Conference have an opportunity to love God and to love neighbor has never before. The God who loves each of us has brought our mission clearly before us. In the midst of racism, in and through the church, love can find a way.

You and I have given up a lot in regard to Covid-19. What if we embraced this pandemic as a gift that has revealed the truth of what surrounds us? That is what we must do if we are to take advantage of the unexpected opportunity before us. That is what we must do if we are ever going to bridge the growing divide of poverty and the deepening gulf of racism that the church for too long has accepted, allowed, and perpetuated.

Your Next Step

Please know that I am not trying to put more on you as a pastor or congregational leader, but I am writing to remind you that no pandemic has the power to take away the love that can and will address the sins of poverty and racism.

Take advantage of this time to get acquainted with your community. Make contact with community leaders. Get to know school teachers and administrators. Develop relationships with police officers and firefighters. Introduce yourselves to your neighbors. Get to know your neighborhood and community.

Ask yourselves the question, “What do we need to do that no one else is doing?” If you decide to provide meals, develop relationships with the people you serve. Come alongside them. Become vulnerable and risk loving others as God in Christ has loved you.

Pray this prayer, “God, send us the people no one else wants and help us love and accept the people you send to us.” Accept each person as a gift from God who will enrich your life and will help you become more who God has created you to be.

This pandemic has not shut down everything. Take advantage of loving God and loving neighbor, so when this pandemic is over, you know that God’s love has made the difference in changing your world.

On Friday, May 1 Tim and Sara hosted a Facebook Live question and answer period to respond to questions submitted. You can find the list of questions and approximate time stamps below.

You can also find the original Facebook post here.

Approximate Time Stamps, Notes, and Questions Covered 

[00:00:00] Welcome and greeting one another
[00:02:45] Defining the purpose/boundaries of this video
[00:04:39] How do we best love one another in a way that shows a witness to the rest of the world?
[00:06:17] You are loved.
[00:07:07] Timeframe of Phase 1-3: The Virus Doesn’t Know a Calendar
[00:11:30] What will stage one, stage two, stage three, what is going to look like, and what is expected of us come May 24
[00:14:23] How long will Phase 1 -3 last? What does the calendar look like?
[00:18:19] Story of one Freshman in High School – Expectation Setting
[00:19:42] What about VBS, summer activities, and outside groups using the church building?
[00:21:05] Are there recommendations somewhere for proper cleaning?
Here are two documents from the CDC:
[00:22:50] Explain what 10 people in the building means? Per space or total?
[00:24:17] Are the phases set by each individual church or do we follow the guidelines given by government officials?
[00:25:24] What is, what’s the age for, what is the age at which we’re talking about folks being at risk? What about at-risk groups?
[00:29:50] What is the significance of May 24?
[00:33:19] Why can we not use bulletins? What’s the thinking on that? And if we just put the bulletins out for people to pick up on their own, could we do it that way?
[00:36:26] Are there additional guidelines that can be offered? Can we continue to celebrate communion if you already have the authority to do so?
NOTE: As we concluded the live stream it occurred to us that during phases 1 and 2, face masks will be worn. It is impossible to partake of the elements with a facemask on. When you take a face mask off, you should wash your hands. As you can see, the logistics of celebrating Holy Communion in person are challenging, if not impossible.
[00:44:16] What about hallways and aisles?
[00:45:45] What about the length of service?
[00:48:30] Why no responsive readings?
[00:50:35] Why wear masks?
[00:52:30] Wrap-up and reminders
[00:54:24] Closing Prayer

How are you doing this week? I know it was another challenging week. You got word that your congregation could gather for worship on May 24, and then you received guidelines for worship that seemed to make it impossible to gather.

As you look for direction in the midst of conflicting voices, you continue to face a time of uncertainty. It is a time of disappointment, lack of security, and fear of the unknown.

How Are You Responding?

You can respond in one of several ways.

You can spend time focused on what has gone wrong.

It is easy to get lost in grieving the things that have been put on hold. You miss gathering with family and friends, singing hymns and songs of praise, celebrating holy communion, exchanging greetings with handshakes and hugs, serving coffee as hospitality, and gathering as a worshipping community.

Personally, I have come through several times of uncertainty. Times of not knowing what the future might hold and being paralyzed regarding what decisions to make. Being uncertain about the future, I felt confused, disappointed, and alone. I confess, I spent a lot of time thinking about could have, would have, and should have been.

You can spend time focused on what is going right.

I’m not denying the situation you and I find ourselves, but there is another way to respond. Instead of grieving the loss of activities, celebrate the relationships each activity provided.

In the midst of my anxiety, a colleague and friend stepped in to help me face my uncertainty. I didn’t get a lot of sympathy, shallow agreements, or unrealistic platitudes. Who I got was a person of faith who did two things: allowed me to be me and helped me discover a new perspective.

Love Remains

What I learned then and what to reaffirm now is, when everything seems to be taken away, there is one thing that cannot be taken away: love.

So, first, let me remind you to recognize, understand, and name your feelings. It is okay to grieve. Your feelings are your feelings. For you to become who God created you to be, you will need to be vulnerable and courageous. You will need to be kind to yourself and generous with the people around you. As I have written in the past, the payoff is worth it: better health, better decision making, better relationships, and a better you.

Then, second, love your neighbor. It is okay to need people.  You are created to love others. It will be in your relationships that you will find hope and healing, as well as a way to face the uncertainty of this pandemic.  It will be in and through your relationships that you will discover the power to face your grief and develop a new perspective for stepping into the future.

Together

Dr. Vivek H. Murthy, the 19th Surgeon General of the United States, in his book Together writes about healthy relationships being as essential as vaccines and ventilators for our global recovery. He says we have the opportunity to fortify and strengthen our connections and communities during this crisis.

He writes,

“There is a need for medications such as antibiotics, for blood pressure, and antidepressants.  Medicines can help, but there is nothing more powerful than love in its ability to heal.”

He goes on to say that the clearest way we feel and experience love, is through relationships; authentic, open relationships.” Building community, developing relationships, is essential for healing. We are born to be relational. Our connection to one another is necessary.

Who would guess, something so simple, something we take for granted, has the power to heal in such extraordinary ways? So, how do we move the world toward love?

Tip the World Toward Love

This pandemic is giving you the opportunity to do just that, one person at a time. It begins with the decisions you make every day. So here is one place to begin:

  1. Wear your mask in public.

Wearing your mask is not so much for you as it is for others.  By wearing your mask, you are saying, “I care about you.  I take you seriously.”

2. Observe physical distance.

We are calling it social distance, but you want to maintain your social connections.  By observing the physical distance of 6 ft or more, you are saying, “I am thinking of you and I want you to be healthy.”

Those are just two ways you can begin to tip the world toward love.  It seems simple, but it is the sacrifice that will be noticed.

Intentionally Develop Relationships

If you are wearing your mask and observe the appropriate distance, then practice developing relationships outside the activities that are on hold.  Start with someone you know.  Here is what you can do:

  1. Identify a friend or colleague to be your conversation partner.
  2. Call, text, email, zoom, your partner. Make arrangements for a 15-minute conversation.
  3. Before the conversation, give yourself permission to be vulnerable and to be your true self.
  4. Then, explain to your partner you are seeking to tip the world toward love. Give your partner permission to love you by allowing you to be yourself and by helping you discover a new perspective.

This will seem silly and unnecessary at first.  Then as you seek to develop relationships with others, this exercise will become more difficult. It will require the courage to be vulnerable.  But you will begin to take a chance on others as you begin to believe more in yourself. As you build relationships in your life, you will make it possible to build a more relational world.

So, let’s try it.  Love your neighbor. Whether you are a pastor, teacher, congregational or community leader, you can tip the world toward love.

The clearest way to feel and experience love is in and through relationships.  This is our hope. To love your neighbor as yourself.

Let’s take advantage of this pandemic and tip the world toward love.

 

 

Want to practice self-compassion and kindness towards others in this time?

There are at least three things you’re going to need. Below, I outline what you’ll need and what can get in the way. At the bottom of the page, you’ll find a YouTube link to watch a conversation Tim and I have with some of our pastors.

First, consider Psalm 103:1-18. As you read that psalm, notice the qualities of God. Then consider this question: do you treat yourself the way God treats you? For most of us, the answer is no.

In this season, self-compassion and kindness are needed. Yes, they’re always needed. But, as we’re trying to quickly adapt to the changes around us and navigating a new landscape, it’s much easier to be hard on yourself. Here’s what you’ll need to practice self-compassion and kindness towards others.

What You Need

  1. Self-kindness

    • This is about being accepting and understanding of yourself when you suffer, fail or feel inadequate. We have all, at one point or another, felt inadequate in the past month as we’ve navigated this pandemic. Here’s your reminder to talk to yourself and others the way God talks to you. Here are a few reminders about the nature of God:
      • God’s not easily angered
      • God’s rich in love
      • God doesn’t endlessly nag, scold or hold grudges
      • He knows us inside, out and remembers we’re made of mud.
  2. Remember our Common Humanity

    • Suffering and feelings of personal inadequacy are a part of the shared human experience. It’s something we all go through rather than something that happens to you, all alone. 
    • How many of you have thought, “I’m no good at this? I’m the only one who can’t do this? How many of you are frustrated because caring for people can’t happen in the same ways? Yeah…it is called being human. You’re not alone!
  3. Paying attention

    • Self-compassion requires paying attention to your emotions and interactions. Specifically, it necessitates balancing your approach to negative emotions. Don’t suppress or exaggerate your feelings. You can’t ignore your pain and feel compassion at the same time. (You might want to read that last sentence again.)


Now, consider this: which one of the above items do you do well? Which one do you need to improve? If you’re brave, share your two numbers in the comments below. You’ll hear others have already done so on the video we share below. 

What Gets in the Way?

Here’s what gets in the way of kindness and self-compassion. These might be thought of as the opposite end of the spectrum from the items listed above.

  1. Self-judgment

    • This is about beating yourself up and self-criticism. It is where you say to yourself, “I’m dumb for not being able to figure this out. Instead of, “I need to take some time to learn this. It’s all new information.” Or, saying to yourself, “I’m a bad pastor…” No, you’re a pastor who is experiencing something none of us were trained to navigate. As I’ve said many times to many people in the last month, whatever you are doing and however you are doing it, God honors your faithfulness.
  2. Isolation

    • This is where you say, “It’s just me. I’m the only one who experiences this.”
      • Nope. You’re not alone. Got it? Feeling isolated is different than isolating yourself. It’s also very different than our physical distancing right now. This is where you don’t reach out and say to a colleague, “I need to talk with you about something.” Instead, you isolate yourself and don’t ask for help, seek counsel, or guidance to get unstuck.
  3. Over-identification

    • This is simply over-identifying with your feelings. It can be in the form of suppressing, ignoring or exaggerating your feelings. You’re fixated on one emotion and because you’re fixated you’re unable to see the totality of what is happening. 

Which one of these barriers to self-compassion and kindness would you like to kick to the curb because it gets in your way at times?

If you’re brave, share your two numbers in the comments below. You’ll hear others have already done so on the video we share below. 

One Final Reminder

Return to the first three items. Notice I mentioned common humanity. We all do all of these things some of the time. When you want to practice self-compassion and kindness, it’s helpful to be aware of when it’s happening so you can hit the pause button if it’s not helpful.

Finally, remember this: compassion spreads quickly. When you’re kind to ourselves, you create a reservoir of compassion that extends to others and to the people you live with and lead. Those same individuals learn to be self-compassionate by watching you.  That builds trust.

And right now, we’re in a HUGE season of building TRUST. Next week, we’ll have more to say about trust. For now, let us know what comes easy to you and what’s a challenge in the comments below. 

Enjoy our conversation with pastors about this topic, too.

Over the past several weeks as I have reflected upon how to respond to the violence of our day, I keep coming back to the words, “Love your neighbor.” And I keep asking myself the question, “How do we love our neighbor when our neighbor is a neighborhood? When our neighbor is a different culture? When our neighbors disagree? When our neighbor is considered an “enemy”?

It may be too simplistic here, but most people think the Christian life consists of private, one-to-one relationships. Certainly this is a part of it. If we think being nice and smiling is all we need to do to live as followers of Jesus. We’re not living the full Christian life. We need to deepen relationships and live into loving our neighbor. Read more

Have you seen the television ad about the boy who learns sign language so he can share his sandwich with a classmate?  His name is Joey. The ad opens with Joey lying on his bed, looking at his phone, wearing headphones, and positioning his fingers as if he is learning sign language.

In the next scene Joey is in a swing, looking at his phone, wearing headphones, and again, positioning his fingers as if he is learning sign language. In the third scene, Joey is signing in a mirror while he is brushing his teeth.  The scene cuts to his father making a sandwich for Joey’s lunch.

Then we see Joey on a bus, looking at his phone, wearing headphones, and practicing sign language.  He arrives at school, walks down the hall, looking at his phone, wearing his headphones, practicing his sign language.  In this scene he is so engrossed in learning and practicing sign language, he does not hear his teacher say, “Hey, Joey,” as he walks down the hall.

The Final Scene

The final scene is in the lunchroom.  Joey enters the room with his lunch.  He spots a girl carrying her lunch tray.  As she sits at a table by herself, Joey walks up to her, with his sandwich, and signs out the words, “Hi. My name is Joey. Do you want to share my sandwich?”

And she signs in response, “I’d like that.” Joey sits down with her, offers her half his sandwich, and they eat lunch together.

The caption at that point in the ad is “Good feeds our connections. Good feeds us all.”

 

Connections

Wow!

When I saw that commercial for the first time, I could not believe it was a lunch meat commercial.  I thought it was an ad for a church.

The makers of the ad say,

“…choosing good isn’t always about grand gestures; sometimes it’s as simple as sharing a sandwich or doing the right thing by making better decisions when the path might be confusing and out of reach…choosing to be more imaginative, generous, kind, or loving, there can never be too much good in the world.”

Oh, one more bit of information.  The title of the commercial is “Connections.”

God’s Presence

Now, I don’t want to make more of this than it is, but I want to share with you what this ad has stirred up in me.  I experienced God’s loving presence in and through this story.

I experienced God’s love through Joey offering hospitality to someone who was marginalized by her disability.  Joey exemplified hospitality at its best.

  • Joey decided he wanted to connect with the girl in the lunchroom.
  • He learned what was needed to make the connection. Because she had a hearing disability, he needed to learn sign language so he could talk with her in her language.
  • He focused on making the connection. Joey not only identified what needed to be done (sign language), he took the time to learned and to practice the sign language.
  • Joey made his connection by sharing part of himself to meet her need. He not only learned the sign language but he developed a relationship with the girl by sitting with her, offering part of his sandwich, and making the connection.

…all in a 30-second commercial.

Sharing God’s Love Through Hospitality

Have you considered showing God’s love through offering hospitality? Consider the following:

  • “Welcome one another just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God” (Roman 15:7). What would happen if you welcome one another as God in Christ has welcomed us?
  • “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). God came to be with us in a way we could understand. God relates to us to help us relate to God and to one another. What could happen if we engaged with our community or neighborhood in a way that takes the people seriously?
  • “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son…” (John 3:16). Love is the motivation for the connection. Do you and your congregation love the people in the community so much that you are willing to give yourselves?

The Question of Hospitality Transforming Mission

Consider Hospitality

Will you consider Joey’s pattern in sharing God’s love with your community and neighborhood? Consider the following:

  • Do you and your church want to connect with the community or neighborhood where you are located? Just saying you want to connect does not make the connection.
  • What is needed to make the connection? What do you need to learn about the community or the people with whom you want to connect?
  • We can and should pray. “O God, send us the people no one else wants and help us receive the people you send to us.”
  • We can and should engage people in conversation. Take a walk through the community and ask the people you meet these three questions:

1) “What do you love about our community/neighborhood?”

2) “What are the needs in our community?”

3) “Would you be willing to help us meet any of those needs?”

  • Are you willing to make your connection a priority? Are you willing to learn what you need to learn and to practice what you have learned to make the connection?

It’s time to develop relationships to make connections with others.

 

Hospitality as a Response to God’s Grace

The foundation of hospitality is found in responding to God’s grace in your life.  As individuals, we become hospitable when we receive God’s acceptance from others.  As a community of faith, we become hospitable when we live in an authentic relationship with one another.

So, who in your community would benefit from God’s love?  Are you willing to learn to connect with them? What part of yourself are you willing to give to love as you have been loved?

Your answer reveals your hospitality!

Prayer for Hospitality Transforming Mission

On December 14, 2012, twenty children and six adults were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School. I (Sara) remember thinking then, surely, this will lead to public outrage and there will never be another mass shooting in our country again.

I was wrong.

We were wrong.

In 2019 alone, there have been 250 mass shootings in our country as of this writing. One reporter in Tennessee noted we’ve had more mass shootings in our country than days in the year. (August 4th was Day 216.)

Let that sink in.

If it is sobering, it should be.

The unfortunate reality is this: we’ve been writing about responding to violence and hatred for years. That is not a badge of honor. It is a sad reality that must change.

The following resources are offered to help you navigate this time as a leader. The cities, circumstances, and names of victims vary, but the challenge to our society remains.

In Christ,

Tim Bias and Sara Thomas

Resources on Transforming Mission

11 Reflections on Responding to Violence

  1. A Response to Violence: Part 1
  2. A Response to Violence: Part 2
  3. A Response to Violence: Part 3
  4. A Response to Violence: Part 4
  5. A Response to Violence: Part 5
  6. Charlottesville
  7. Hope in Uncertain Times 
  8. What is Our Response?
  9. Holy Week Terror: Pause, Pray, and Wait
  10. Can We Be Forgiven?
  11. A Call to Ordinary Courage
Responding to Violence with Prayer Transforming Mission

A difficult prayer to pray in times of violence. Prophets often challenge us to experience God’s mercy in new ways. May God’s mercy be new each day for you and for the people you encounter today.

 

Prayer & Prayer Resources

30 Days of Prayer (use the arrows on the right to navigate to the next day)

These prayers were written at the beginning of 2017. Let us remind you, prayer is timeless.

A Prayer in Response to Acts of Violence

A Guide to Prayer for All God’s People

Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals

Resources to Contact Your Elected Officials

US Senators for the 116th Congress (2019)

US House of Representatives (note the search box in the upper right-hand corner)

You local city officials can usually be found by a simple Google search.

Share the Love

We’ll offer one last suggestion. Remind the first responders, community leaders, teachers, and/or government officials in your community that you appreciate their service.

For many of the above individuals, their daily life involves being put in harm’s way. Often, the cost is high. Reach out to someone in your local community and remind them they are loved and appreciated. Not sure what to do?

7 Ways You Can Share God’s Love

  • Write a note of thanks on the back of a postcard to a police officer
  • Write a prayer on a notecard and mail it to a firefighter
  • Say thank you to a teacher. Do it in writing.
  • Personalize a psalm of thanksgiving for an EMT
  • Send a thank you along with a written story of witnessing the service of a community leader
  • Express gratitude and care for your local government officials
  • Remind someone you see in service today that they are appreciated. Simply say, “Thank you.”

It doesn’t have to be a long letter or note. It doesn’t have to be a grand speech. But it does need to happen.

Saying “Thank you” or”I’m thinking of you” can be as simple as that, “thank you.” You also don’t have to wait until tragedy strikes. As you already know, everyday work has its own challenges. Let someone know you noticed their act of service today.

Finally, your note/action doesn’t have to be a masterpiece. If you have children or grandchildren, they can participate, too. Your note or words of encouragement and care are appreciated more than you know.

Invitation

Soon, we’ll begin offering a downloadable card/postcard to recognize one person each month to shower them with God’s love. But, you don’t need to wait for us to get started. Use the resource above. Then, sign-up here to be notified about “Share God’s Love.”

We welcome your nominations for people who serve our communities that could use a little extra love from all of us. Simply email us at connect@transformingmission.org to nominate someone and we’ll share the next steps.

What are you waiting for? Go Share God’s Love!

Common Prayers for Ordinary Radicals Transforming Mission

 

 

Last week when I sat down to write “The Bias Opinion,” I did not know what to write.  This week it is different. The writing still comes with pain, but this is pain that grows in my heart.

How can I be quiet when the images of children in detention centers keep flashing before my eyes, taking up residence in my thoughts, and knocking at my heart?

Children, who have been separated from parents, surrounded by strangers, confused, afraid, not knowing what will happen next.  There are children who have become abstract statistics and detached policy arguments.  Children, who have become the fodder of political debates.

How Can I Keep Quiet?

How can I be quiet when people, wanting to help children who are in need of drinking water, clean clothing, and soap, are told that their supplies cannot be accepted? The basis for the rejection is a federal mandate known as the Antideficiency Act.  Under the act, the government cannot spend any money or accept any donations other than what Congress has allocated to it. Really? Is that true?

(Spoiler Alert: Yes.)

The US Border Patrol reported to Congress that they were holding 2,081 children in detention centers. Children sleeping on concrete floors. No access to soap or showers. No access to toothbrushes or toothpaste. Inadequate food. Lord, have mercy on us! How can this happen?

Pain Intensified

As the pain intensifies in my heart, I try to make sense of such incomprehensible conditions and treatment. Oh, I hope I’m wrong but children have been used for political expediency throughout the ages. Didn’t the king of Egypt tell the Hebrew midwives when a child is born, “…if it is a boy, kill him…?” When the midwives did not obey the Pharaoh, he commanded, “Every boy that is born to the Hebrews you shall throw into the Nile…?”1 How can little boys create such fear and anxiety?

And the one Christmas story we do not read each year is the story after the wise men from the East visit Jesus.  Wasn’t it after their visit that Herod, out of anger, ordered the death of all the children under the age of two in and around Bethlehem? There are times, even today when I can hear “Rachel weeping for her children.”

Whose Children Are They? Transforming MissionUsing Children for Political Expediency

I must confess, that doesn’t help. But isn’t it true? Children continue to be used for political expediency. Remember when World Vision, a humanitarian organization, announced a change to its hiring policy allowing people in same-sex marriages to work in its United State offices? In response, there was a group of people who rallied in protest, and within seventy-two hours, more than ten thousand children had lost their financial support from canceled World Vision sponsorships. Ten thousand children.

Then the CEO of World Vision announced the charity would reverse its decision and return to its old policy.  Children had been successfully used as bargaining chips in our culture war.

In February, as a result of the decision of the special General Conference of our United Methodist Church, several churches not only threatened to stop paying apportionments but did stop funding for projects in African countries through Global Ministries. I’m not sure who we thought we would leverage.

Digging in a Dry River Bed for Water

The first image that came to my mind was the little girl digging in a dry river bed in Nigeria. She and other children in her village would spend hours each day, digging in the sand to reach water so their families would have enough for that evening and the next morning. When I heard of the decisions to withhold apportionments, I thought of the well that Global Ministries had provided in her village.

Children, more often than not, pay the price in our attempts to leverage the system to get what we want. Even when we are acting for the right reasons, we might be doing more harm than good.

When Mark wrote, “Allow the children to come to me. Don’t forbid them, because God’s kingdom belongs to people like these children…,”3 he was not implying that children are perfect or that we should become more like children.  We all know that children, if given matches, can burn the house down, or given a saw, and cut the family dog in half.  No, what Mark implies is that children are vulnerable and powerless.  And Jesus says, “Let the vulnerable and powerless come to me…Let those who have nothing to offer but themselves come to me…” 

As Jesus followers, as kingdom people, we receive the vulnerable and care for the powerless.

How Can We Be Quiet?

So, as a Jesus follower, how can I be quiet?  At the border, when the children arrived with a parent or a relative, the border officials separated them. How can I be quiet? When many of the children have parents and relatives in the United States who are able and eager to care for them, yet the children remain in limbo, pawns in an ongoing battle over immigration enforcement, how can you and I be quiet?

Would it be different if they were our children?  Would we find ways to hold them, to defend them, to soothe them, and to set them free?

Peter Arnett, former CNN television reporter, tells the following story:

I was in Israel, in a small town on the West Bank, when there was an explosion. Bodies were blown through the air.  Everywhere I looked there were signs of death and destruction.  The screams of the wounded seemed to be coming from every direction.

Shortly after the explosion, a man came running up to me holding a bloodied little girl in his arms.  He pleaded with me, “Mister, I can’t get her to a hospital. The Israeli troops have sealed off the area.  No one can get in or out.  But you are the press.  You can get through.  Please, Mister! Help me get her to a hospital.  Please! If you don’t help me, she is going to die!”

I put the man and the girl in my car, got through the sealed area, and rushed to the hospital in Jerusalem.  The whole time we were traveling through the city streets, the man was pleading from the backseat, “Can you go faster, Mister? Can you go faster? I’m losing her.  I’m losing her.”

When we finally got to the hospital, the girl was rushed to the operating room.  Then the man and I sat in silence in the waiting area.  We were too exhausted to talk.

After a short while the doctor came out of the operating room and said, “I’m sorry.  She died.”

The man collapsed in tears.  I put my arms around his shoulders to comfort him.  Not knowing what to say, I said, “I can’t imagine what you must be going through. I’ve never lost a child.”

The man, with a puzzled look on his face, said, “Oh, Mister, that Palestinian girl was not my daughter. I’m an Israeli settler.  That Palestinian was not my child.  But, Mister, there comes a time when each of us must realize that every child, regardless of that child’s background, is a daughter or son.  There must come a time when we realize that we are all family.”

So, whose children are these children in the detention camps at the border of our country?  If they aren’t our children, whose children are they?

An Invitation from Bishop Palmer

The United Methodist Church has spoken very clearly on this matter. General Conference delegates from around the world call on us to advocate for the “elimination of indefinite detention [and the] incarceration of children.” (Book of Resolutions 3281). We also stated very clearly that we “oppose immigration policies that separate family members from each other or that include detention of families with children. (Social Principles paragraph 162.H).

I am asking you to join me in these actions:

  1. Organize a public prayer vigil. A resource to assist you in organizing one is found on our webpage.
  2. Contact your Congressional Representatives and our two Ohio Senators. Let them know that you are a United Methodist, a follower of Christ and that the separation and detention of children is cruel and immoral. Demand they work together to find a moral solution to the care of children fleeing violence and civil unrest. Click Here.
  3. Help your children and young people draw pictures and write letters to send to members of Congress. Click Here.
  4. Join the West Ohio Immigration Network. Email Dee Stickley-Miner at  dstickley@wocumc.org

Regardless of what you and I may think or feel.  The children are not a political issue. It doesn’t matter whether you are Democrat or Republican, Libertarian or Independent. As a follower of Jesus, as a Christian, it is time to speak on behalf of the children.  Whose children are they anyway?

  1. Exodus 1:15-22
  2. Matthew 2:16-18
  3. Mark 10:13-16

Additional Resource

Looking for a book to explore the stories of Scripture about migrants and the meaning of belonging in a Christian context? Here’s a book that is a part memoir and part Biblical exploration by Karen Gonzalez. The God Who Sees: Immigrants, the Bible and the Journey to Belonging.

Karen Gonzalez immigrated to the United States from Guatemala. She explores the Biblical stories about migrants and shares her personal stories and reflections in The God Who Sees. Meet people who fled their homelands: Hagar, Jospeh, Ruth and Jesus.

I have always heard that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.  Is that the same for the church? Are we, as the church, beyond learning new ways of relating to our communities? Are we too old to share God’s love with one another and with the people around us?

I remember a story told by Fred Craddock.  He said he had never been to the greyhound races, but he had seen them on television. He said:

Running, Running, and Running…

They have these beautiful, big old dogs. I say beautiful, but they are ugly old dogs.  These dogs chase that mechanical rabbit around the ring. They run and run, exhausting themselves chasing that rabbit. When those dogs get to where they can’t race, the owners put a little ad in the paper, and if anybody wants one for a pet, they can have it. Otherwise, they are destroyed.

I have a niece in Arizona who can’t stand that ad.  She goes and gets one every time. Big old dogs in the house. She loves them.

I was in a home not long ago where they had adopted a dog that had been a racer.  It was a big old greyhound, spotted hound, laying there in the den.  One of the children in the family, just a toddler, was pulling on its tail, and a little older child had his head over on that dog’s stomach, using it as a pillow. That old dog just seemed so happy. I watched the children and the dog for a few minutes.

Then I said to the dog, “Are you still racing?”

He said, “No, I don’t race anymore.”

I said, “Do you miss the glitter and excitement of the track?”

He said, “No.”

“Well, what’s the matter? Did you get too old?”

“No, no, I still have some race in me.”

“Well, did you win anything?”

He said, “I won over a million dollars for my owner.”

“Then what was it? Did they treat you badly?”

“Oh, no, they treated us royally when we were racing.”

I said, “Then what was it? Did you get hurt?”

He said, “No, no.”

Then what?

He said, “I quit.”

“You quit?”

He said, “Yeah, I quit.”

“Why did you quit?”

And he said, “I discovered that what I was chasing was not really a rabbit.  And I quit.” Craddock said the dog looked at him and said, “All that running, running, running, running, and what I was chasing wasn’t even real.”

Craddock finished by saying, “If you believe in God, you can teach an old dog new tricks.”

Is it the same for the church? If we trust God, can we learn new ways of loving our neighbors?

Chasing What is Real Transforming MissionChase What is Real

Our culture is going through some massive changes.  These changes are shaping our values regarding how we define family, live our faith, gain knowledge, and understand science. The changes we are experiencing are complex and coming at lightning speed. As a result, the church is being left behind as a quaint spiritual artifact and dusty theological antique.

In such an open arena of competing values and counter-Christian views, what do we need to learn to step into the future? How will we make an impact in our communities and the world?

Let’s stop chasing what is not real and begin to chase what is real.

So, what is real?

Chasing What is Real Transforming Mission1. Relationships

Develop faithful, trusting relationships with Christ, within the congregation, and in your local community.

Let me be clear. I’m not talking about adding more activities to keep people busy. We’re busy enough!

When I started in ministry 45 years ago, the focus was upon the “7 Day a Week Church.” The idea was to have some form of activity in the church building every day.  There was to be no “white space” on the church calendar.  This activity form of ministry was based on getting people into our church buildings. Although it created lots of opportunities, we did not develop what was real.  Our focus was on activity and getting people inside a building.  We did not focus on developing relationships with people.

All the activity has worn us out.

We have three types of relationships that need to be nurtured: our relationship with Christ, relationships within the congregation, and relationships in the community. If one of those relationships is missing, the other relationships suffer.

Our relationship with Christ and with one another in the congregation can always deepen. Often, we fail to see the community right outside our doors. The people who live in our communities who do not have a relationship with Jesus or a church continues to grow.

Go outside the church building and into the community. Get to know the people who live in your city, neighborhood or town. Listen to their stories, their dreams, and their needs. One of the greatest gifts you can offer to others is your time. As you take the time to nurture relationships, you’ll also have the opportunity to embody the love of Christ to others.

What would happen if we were less mesmerized by numbers and more involved in developing relationships Christ, the congregation and your local community?

Chasing What is Real Transforming Mission2. Holiness

Be intentional in strengthening your inner life and bringing together your personal faith and your missional participation in the community. John Wesley called it personal piety and social holiness.

You are a child of God, free to serve in God’s love.  As God’s love takes root in your life, serve the community, neighborhood, or city in God’s love.

Be the person God created you to be. As a responsible representative of God’s love, you are free to take initiative to test your thoughts, to honor your intuition, to see what requires doing, and to accomplish it. At the same time, you are free to trust God and the people around you. You can be faithful in your living because you believe God is faithful to you.  When you face anxious times, your inner life allows you to test your wisdom, your patience, and your hope.  You draw courage, trusting God’s grace and the relationships you have developed with God’s people.

Knowing and trusting your relationship with God through Jesus, you are free to model God’s love.  You know that God is with you.  Others will come to trust God’s love because they see and experience God’s love in and through you.

What would happen if we were less concerned about looking good and more concerned about being centered upon the well-being of others, loving as we have been loved?

Chasing What is Real Transforming Mission3. Integrity

Be the person God created you to be both in what you say and what you do. Model integrity by living the life that produces the behaviors of love. When you are in Christ and are moved by the Spirit, the unexpected acts of Christian love will come in response to God’s grace.

What would happen if we were less focused upon being successful and more focused upon developing lives of love from the inside out and living lives of love, both inside and outside the church building?

I think we could teach an old church new ways of living and loving.

Let’s chase what is real!

I wrote a few weeks ago that every Friday I am answering four questions. The first question is this: Who or what am I trusting?

In the midst of the decisions made at General Conference and my desire to coach our pastors through this season, I answered that question by saying, “I’m trusting Jesus.”

My purpose here is not to delineate the plans or debate the choices made at General Conference. My purpose here is to say, I am trusting Jesus to help us embody the love of God to one another in our words, our actions, and our interactions.

I am trusting Jesus to help us remember who we are and whose we are. All so we can love God, love our neighbors, and change the world.

To that end, Tim and I extended an invitation to the appointed pastors in Capitol Area South District to join us on Thursday at one of two clergy gatherings. Our desire is to help the appointed pastors continue to be the leaders they need in this season of ministry. (Appointed Pastors, please contact the CAS Office if you didn’t receive the invitation last Friday.)

As Christian disciples, in the midst of times of stress and conflict, we trust Jesus. Read more at the link above. #trust #jesus #church #faith #pastors #coaching #transformingmission Transforming MissionWhat values are at play?

If there is anything that I can say one week after General Conference, it is this: there are A LOT of intense feelings swirling around us and in our faith communities.

So, in addition to the questions above, I invite you to consider this question: Underneath the feelings you have, what values are at play? This question is meant to help you begin to process what you are feeling, not to debate the merits of the General Conference decisions.

Our feelings are often driven by our values. When our values are pressed or denied, we can find ourselves in conflict. To explore what you’re feeling, consider the 3-4 values driving your feelings.

If you’re feeling…

  • anxious, what value is underneath it?
  • victorious, what value is underneath it?
  • hurt, what value is underneath it?
  • confused, what value is underneath it?
  • relieved, what value is underneath it?
  • sad, what value is underneath it?
  • ___, what value is underneath it?

An Invitation

I have had countless conversations with pastors and people in our congregations. General Conference has left a large number of individuals with a need to further explore their reactions, feelings, and responses. Helping people in processing is what I have been trained to do as a coach – in complete confidentiality and impartiality.

As many of you know, we created Coaching Cohorts for pastors in the district. In addition, I am making myself available for one-time, individual coaching conversations for pastors during this time.

I have created some space in my calendar over the next several weeks.
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This conversation would be different from some interactions you might have because the purpose is not to commiserate, celebrate or persuade. My commitment is to objectively help you explore your feelings, needs and responses in an environment of complete confidentiality.
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Click here to let me know if a generative conversation for the purpose of processing would be helpful to you right now.

I’m trusting Jesus. Are you? Wherever you find yourself, may you be reminded of the love of God we know in Jesus. Or as I often like to say, “God loves you and there’s nothing you can do about it!”