10 Years…10 Learnings

commissioning

The night of my commissioning, June 2008

10 Years…10 Learnings

This June, 2018, will mark 10 years of licensed/ordained ministry for me. This photo was taken the night I was commissioned as a provisional elder (received my credentials) in 2008. I can’t believe it’s been 10 years already! It seems like not long ago I was kneeling before the bishop and taking my ordination vows. I have been pondering lately about my time so far in ministry and the things I have learned. So here it is…10 things I have learned in 10 years of ministry.

  • You can’t please everyone: I’m a people pleaser by nature. So it’s been a challenge for me to live into the reality that not everyone will be happy with me all the time. And, for me to be ok with the reality that it’s not my job to please everyone. Instead, my job is to love, come alongside, pray, gently challenge, and allow people to feel what they need to feel.
  • Collaborate: Ministry is about collaboration. The United Methodist Church has a long standing tradition of being driven by lay people, not the pastor. So when new ministry ideas arise, it is important to collaborate. Sometimes we all feel that if we just took care of something by ourselves, it would be done “right” or it would just get done. Ministry is about playing well with others and listening to all ideas.
  • Take time away: As a pastor, I wear many hats. If I don’t take time to take them off, my well runs dry. I take my day off every week. I take vacation. I take time to learn, pray, grow, and be in fellowship with friends and family. It makes me a better pastor and leader.
  • Be flexible: “They don’t teach you that in seminary!” is a phrase I say often. I have learned over the years that being a pastor isn’t just one thing and there isn’t a set of “duties” I have to complete each day. My husband will tell you that as far as personalities go, I used to be an “A+” who needed to have everything in order and know what I was doing and when/why.

Now, I find myself more at a B or B- personality. I have learned to be flexible and to expect the unexpected. Being a pastor is many things, and means taking on roles I never thought that I would. As a pastor, I have led worship, meetings, and taught classes. I have prayed over the sick and dying. I have baptized babies and married couples.

I have also plunged toilets, been a part of a dance group, walked in a parade, vacuumed up glitter from the carpet after youth group, picked up dead mice, changed church signs in sub-zero temperatures, and prayed to rid a home of “evil spirits.” Each day is different. Each day is an opportunity to stretch myself in a new way.

  • The church is messy but beautiful: Fresh out of seminary, I was ready to take on the world as a pastor and had a view of the church that was perhaps too idealistic. I have learned over the years that church is a MESSY place. It is messy because it is made up of human beings, with our imperfections, our tendencies to gossip, be petty, or be afraid of change. The church is also a BEAUTIFUL place because it is the Body of Christ. At church we come together, experience God in worship, pray, and love one another. In the messiness, there is beauty. After all, that’s why we celebrate the Incarnation.
  • There is power in the sacraments: Baptism and Communion never get old or lose their meaning for me. And being called to preside over the sacraments of our church is a privilege I do not take lightly. Whenever I have seasons in ministry where I am frustrated or question my call, the sacraments draw me back to why I do what I do.
  • Preaching is a profound privilege not to be taken lightly: a mentor of mine always says that “Pastors have the power of the pulpit and of convening people together. Don’t ever underestimate that.” I realize that each week I have the opportunity to listen to what God is saying to me (and to you!) through the scriptures and how that message is relevant to our world and faith today. And then my task is to share that with you. Over the years of ministry, preaching is something that has really taken shape for me and has become a key component of what I do. It is a responsibility I do not take lightly. I am still learning.
  • The world is my parish: When I walk out the church doors each week, I am still a pastor. That is why I connect with people in our community, other pastors, and our neighborhoods. Jesus himself taught mostly from the fields and on the road. He met people where they were. The best pastors are those who look beyond their own congregations to meet people where they are- I have learned not to limit myself and my role.
  • Love your people: I once had a District Superintendent, who after our annual meeting, after hearing about everything going on in my ministry setting, would say, “Do your people know that you love them? Do they really know?” Well, do you??
  • Pray often: sometimes I don’t feel that I pray enough. It gets too busy. I forget. I don’t know how to pray for a certain situation. I find excuses. As a pastor, I must pray for the church, for the people, for the hurting places in the world, and for my colleagues who are on this road with me. Without it, I’m not sure where we would be!

There are many things I am still learning, and my goal is to never stop learning. My hope is that you will continue to learn with me and grow alongside me. We are better together.

“Pastors assist people in ‘giving birth’ to a new or deepened relationship with God. We are not the center of the action, or even key players in the drama. We perform our role in a variety of ways, for instance, by teaching, leading worship, and visiting the sick. We tell the Christian story, coach and encourage, listen and pray. What unites all of these roles and activities is that each provides an opportunity to encounter God.” -Martin Copenhaver, This Odd and Wondrous Calling

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Why I Spent a Morning with Guns

Why would I, an anti-gun pastor and mom, choose to spend a Saturday morning learning about guns, and even shooting a few herself? Read on!

On my very first Sunday at my current congregation last summer, someone approached me just a few minutes before I got up to lead worship, to let me know that he had put a “glock” in my office. Misunderstanding him at first, I finally realized what he had said. Someone had left a gun on the trunk of their car, and seeing it as a potential hazard, someone else brought it into the church and placed it for “safe-keeping” in MY office.

Fear was my initial response because 1) my toddler and mom were playing in my office and 2) I am terrified of guns and think they should be nowhere near a church building, let alone inside.  One of our members, who happens to be our media/tech guy, was standing next to me when this came to my attention, and as we were running down the hall, he said to me, “I’m an NRA gun safety instructor. Don’t worry, we’ll take care of it.” And he did.

The end of the story was that one of our members had meant to place his gun in the trunk of the car, but forgot. Soon after this whole incident, it was back into the hands of the owner. I don’t think I need to know anything else about what happened to it after that.

But this got me thinking about several things.

One, of course, is that in the wake of mass shootings, gun violence in our communities, and global attention on the United States for our “addiction to guns” and the “gun problem,” I realized that my perspective is very one-sided.

Two, is that I am terrified of guns and know nothing about them. What kinds are out there, what do people use them for, why do people feel they need to own one (or several), and how to use one?

Three, I am in a season of my life where I feel the need to “step out of my box” and attempt to truly understand people with perspectives different than my own. Maybe this stems from my frustration with the divides over homosexuality in the United Methodist Church and how I struggle with those who disagree with my position. I try to hold fast to love for the other person first and foremost. But I confess that I sometimes I become angry, resentful, and bitter- not just with individuals, but with a denomination/institution that just can’t seem to get it together and go in a direction that I think we should go.

I confess that my personality is such that I have a really hard time accepting that my position could be wrong. I don’t think that it is, but someone else (many someones!) does. And that person is just as worthy to hold their opinion and position as I am. That is sometimes a hard and humbling realization, don’t you think?

I realized that it was the same way with me and gun control/gun rights. I have people in my congregation who own guns and feel strongly about their right to own them, and this is a topic that is widely discussed amongst my colleagues, friends, and in the national spotlight all the time. We hear about it the most, unfortunately, in the midst of a tragic situation.

So in the interest of expanding myself as a pastor and a person, I thought, what better way to immerse myself than to spend a day learning about guns and even shooting one?

And I could think of no better person than our tech guy at church- the one who saved me from myself that first morning at my new congregation, remember? His name is Alan, and I have very high respect for this man. I probably wouldn’t have had the courage to do this with anyone else! So, thank you, Alan, for your time and patience with me.

Corey came along for education and “moral support.” We spent the first part of our morning learning about different kinds of rifles, pistols, and firearms. We got to see and hold a variety of (unloaded) firearms, including the AR-15. We learned about gun safety, how guns work, and what to expect at a shooting range. I asked questions on legislation and different opinions on who can purchase guns, how, and why. And then we were off to the firing range to see some of the them in action.

I lasted about 25 minutes in the range. I never would have imagined I would be in a place like it. I recalled a time last year when I listened to a podcast sermon where a pastor visited a gun range and interviewed a person who worked there. 5 minutes into this portion of the sermon, I had to turn it off. The sounds of guns going off repeatedly was just too much for me. So it took me a good 5 minutes of standing in there (with ear protection) to not jump every time a gun went off.

Then it was my turn to shoot. The first 2 guns I shot were lighter and easier to shoot. One time I shot off one of the clips that hold the target. Corey about doubled over in laughter at that one. Good to know, however, that “it happens all the time…” especially with newbies such as myself 🙂

The 3rd one I shot was very powerful. In fact, I can still recall the feeling of shooting it even now as I’m typing. I’m a small person, and shooting that gun seemed like it sent a shockwave through my entire body. Some might say that they enjoy the powerful sensation of shooting a gun like that. I did not. I found it scary and disturbing. But at least I know now what it actually feels like. Ironically, the last gun I shot was the only time I got 3 holes onto the target paper! I’m not sure what that says about me!

I’m grateful for the experience. I’m grateful that I could take the time to learn about such a hot button topic in a safe, educated, and even loving manner. I’m thankful that I have trustworthy and respectful people to bounce ideas off of, to answer my questions, and to help me understand.

My positions have not changed- I feel strongly that we should have stricter gun laws and legislation, screening, and rules in place that keep guns out of the hands of people who should not have them. I am one who believes that it is a gun problem AND a people problem. It is not just one or the other. But I feel that I have been changed by this experience in several ways, and that yet another wall has been broken down for me. At the end of the day, it’s good to remember it’s about people and their stories, and connecting on a personal level- trying to understand, taking time to educate yourself on what all is out there, and at the end of the day, loving one another, whether we agree with a position on something or not.

In this world of one-sided media and our personal “echo chambers,” we all need immersion experiences that remind us to get out of our boxes, break down our walls, and spend some time out there in the real world.

I wonder what wall I can begin to chip away at next.

 

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Happy 50th, United Methodist Church!

(This is the May newsletter article for my congregation- I thought it might be of interest to share here, too!)

Happy 50th, United Methodist Church!!

Do you know or remember that the United Methodist Church was officially formed on April 23, 1968 with the unification of the Methodist Church and the Evangelical United Brethren Church, along with the dissolution of the Central Jurisdiction, a segregated group of African American congregations?

We celebrate this important milestone in our denomination and the ministries and mission we share in common in the name of Jesus Christ, both here in the United States and around the world.  Now, more than ever, we need to live into our mission statement: “To make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”

Beginning on August 5, and running for 8 weeks, I will be doing a sermon series called, “This We Believe: United Methodist 101,” which will cover basic United Methodist doctrines and will celebrate our heritage, where we are now, and where we are going.  This will be a good time to refresh your knowledge of our theology, or perhaps hear it for the very first time. I’m personally looking forward to digging into this series with you as a reminder of why we are United Methodists and what makes us unique!

In the midst of our denominational divisions and the unknown future ahead, I confess to you that I am weary and that I get frustrated by the state of things. And since I am on the Indiana delegation going to the special called session of General Conference in 2019, I am constantly bombarded with the divisive and “hot button” items on the agenda.

But I also know that the church, the United Methodist Church in particular, is where my relationship with Jesus Christ really began and continues to evolve and grow.  The United Methodist Church is where I felt a call into ordained ministry, and where I have since grown as a pastor and a disciple. It is where my mentors, colleagues, and dearest friends help me and shape me into who I am and who I will be. It is here, in this denomination, where my heart resides in the biblical foundations and the doctrines of John Wesley that still speak into our journeys today.

Recently, I asked a dear colleague of mine how he is not overly frustrated by the divisions and brokenness in our churches and denominations as a whole right now. He simply said, “It is frustrating. But, find the bright spots.” For me, the bright spots come in moments of fellowship with each of you, through the music of our worship, through the art and challenge of writing a sermon, through teaching moments where we wrestle together, through times where I see the Spirit alive and moving in our midst. Sometimes, we just need a reminder to open our eyes and our hearts enough to see the bright spots. What are they for you?

Happy 50th, UMC. Will you join me in prayer for the next 50?

50 Reasons to Celebrate the UMC

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“So, How Long You Been Outta High School?”

I’ve tried to be nice about it.  I’ve tried using it as a teaching moment.  I’ve tried to ignore it.  I’ve tried to ask a different question.  But after meeting someone (usually an older adult) and they learn I am a pastor, I hear all too often,

“So, how long since you’ve been outta high school?!”  or the similar, “You look like you’re 16!”  “Are you sure you’re old enough to be a pastor?”

Setting all snark aside, and with all due respect, I want to say this to people of older generations: Please, please, PLEASE stop asking questions like this to young professional women.  Just stop.  I realize that the person might be trying to be funny or may think it’s a compliment, or to connect with us, but please.  Stop and think about it.  Would you have said the same thing to a young male professional?

Young professional women are tired of feeling like we have to prove ourselves fit for ministry or our work by answering or responding to questions like this.  We are tired of having to verify our age, credentials, or education just so you can feel empowered by asking such a question.  Questions like this are disrespectful, hurtful, sexist, and are bridge burners instead of bridge builders.

After enjoying a conversation recently with an older gentleman whom I had just met, this question came.  He knew I was a pastor.  He knew I was sitting with some of the members of my congregation.  Yet he asked it anyway.  I immediately put a wall up.

Instead of asking this question or something similar to a young woman, why not ask about her ministry, her work as a pastor, her reasons for responding to God’s call upon her life?  If you’re so curious about her age, why not ask about where she went to school, or why, at a young age, did she go into ministry when there are a lot of pastors who do not go into ministry until later in life as second career? Or sometimes, it’s best just to say nothing at all.

As a young clergy woman, I want to build relationships with people of all ages and to be on this journey with them.  But when the older generation just cannot help themselves and makes comments like this, it makes it very hard.  The UMC has been ordaining women for 60 years, and I have a wonderful circle of young women clergy colleagues who are building the kingdom and the church, and we want to come alongside you.  So please, ask a different question.

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Give Them Jesus

Mark 1:29-39

29 As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 30Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. 31He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.

32 That evening, at sunset, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. 33And the whole city was gathered around the door. 34And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.

35 In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. 36And Simon and his companions hunted for him. 37When they found him, they said to him, ‘Everyone is searching for you.’ 38He answered, ‘Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.’ 39And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.

 

Kimberli and Melchor were an average church-going American family with 2 young children, but in 2015, tragedy struck.  Melchor was diagnosed with cancer, and began an excruciating journey of chemo treatments, countless doctor visits and hospital stays.  Unfortunately, his battle with cancer ended with his death in February of 2017.  Kimberli shares her story with the world on her blog as she writes about Melchor’s illness and life now as a widow with 2 children.

In one of her blog posts entitled, “Why the Church Doesn’t Need Any More Coffee Bars,” she talks about how her husband’s illness and eventual death made her view church in a new way.

Through all of Melchor’s treatments and difficult moments, he did not talk about the trendy coffee bar at church, the pastor’s trendy jeans, or the modern lighting in the sanctuary.  He talked about Jesus.  He talked about the scriptures, the sermons he heard that gave him hope.  The healing moments.  Through the long nights, he sang hymns.  He prayed.  He needed Jesus.

Reflecting back, Kimberli said,

“There are people whose marriages are crumbling, people whose finances are deteriorating, people whose children are rebelling and people like me, whose husband has passed away after a brutal fight with cancer. And these people are not impressed with the stage lighting. They could care less about the coffee flavor. They don’t need to be pumped or hyped. They need Jesus.”

As a pastor I go to a lot of meetings and read a lot of books about how to grow the church or what the latest trend or hook is to get people in the door.  But all of that means nothing if we do not give them Jesus.

From our text today, it is obvious that a lot of people were in need of Jesus.  He had just come from teaching in the synagogue of Capernaum where he healed a man with an unclean spirit.  From this moment on, his fame began to spread.  Jesus was going “viral”!

After this, he goes to Simon and Andrew’s home, and proceeds to heal Simon Peter’s mother-in-law.  Demonstrating the effects of the healing power of Jesus, she immediately gets up and resumes her daily household chores and provides hospitality to those in her home.

Word must have spread very quickly, because only a few hours had passed before all of those who were sick gathered at the door, and Jesus healed each and every one.  The next morning, Jesus got up, went to a deserted place, and prayed.  Let’s not gloss over this.  In the midst of the chaos, the noise, the countless people who called for him, the Savior of the World needed a time out to pray.  To listen.  To sit in the silence.

When was the last time you sat in the silence and prayed?  When was the last time you took a time out from all of the chaos and noise of your life to listen for and sit the presence of God?  I know I have a hard time with it.  Sometimes the only time I really get is in the quiet of my son’s nursery when I’m putting him to bed at night.

I make it a goal to put my phone down, and instead of catching up on social media or my personal vice of shopping, I try to sit in the silence and pray.  And I’ve found in these moments the reminder of how much I really do need Jesus.  Because the world throws so much at us and tries to hand us things we think we need.  But we really do just need to simplify it and re-focus our lives on him.

Jesus himself takes time in the quiet to pray before his next task in his ministry.  While he is doing this, our text says that his disciples and others “hunted for him.”  Other translations say, they “tracked him down” or “searched for him.”  Either way, we get that the guy couldn’t even get a minute to himself before the masses descended.  “Everyone is searching for you!” they said.  But instead of going back to the same town and the same people, Jesus expresses the need to go to the other towns to share his message and to heal elsewhere, because that is what he came to do.

People needed Jesus- not just in one place, but in all places.  It seems that the people of Capernaum wanted to keep Jesus for themselves.  But Jesus makes it clear that he did not come for one group or one town or one type of people.  He came for all people in all towns and places.

This got me thinking.  How often do we keep Jesus to ourselves instead of sharing him with someone else?  Or how often do we tend to think of Jesus in our own terms, or put him in a box so that he only serves us and our opinions or agendas?

A well-respected colleague of mine once said that we tend to label Jesus for our own purposes.  If we are a Republican, Jesus tends to look Republican.  If we are a Democrat, Jesus tends to look like a Democrat.  If we are Libertarian, then Jesus tends to look like a Libertarian.  If we are on one side of an issue, we believe that Jesus is standing with us.  We forget that Jesus is on both sides, healing, preaching, and leading the way of God.

In our world right now that is so divided, so broken, so hurting- we need to give them Jesus.  Not the Jesus we tend to put in our own boxes or to keep for ourselves or the one who serves our own agendas- we need to give them the Jesus that came so that all might receive a powerful message of hope and healing.  That is, after all, what he came to do.

There was this great cartoon (PIC) making its way around social media at one point where people are drawing their lines around whatever the divisive issue of the day is, and Jesus is coming up behind them erasing each line, as if to remind us that he does not stand on either side of the line, but came for all that we may be one, in spite of our differences and disagreements.

jesus-eraser

If you have not read your February newscaster yet, I encourage you to do so because I have included a lot of information in there about what the United Methodist denomination is doing around the topic of homosexuality and the church, and there is information about upcoming opportunities for you to learn and be a part of the conversation.  As many of you know, our denomination has been divided over this for a very long time, and now we are at a critical point of asking how we as a church will move forward.

The future is unknown, the reality is that we are divided on many levels, but in the midst of this, there are, in fact, holy and loving conversations happening, and we are being encouraged to keep the main thing the main thing- to give people Jesus.  Because at the end of the day, we might disagree with someone, but Jesus is standing on both sides, ready to offer grace, healing, and mercy.  We are tempted to draw that line around ourselves, but then we turn around and see Jesus erasing it, inviting us to see the bigger picture.

I don’t know about you, but I want to hold on to hope for the church.  I want to continue to give people Jesus, and not keep him to myself.  It’s so easy to get caught up in catchy ways we can hook people in, and it’s so easy to get distracted by hot button topics, politics, and divisiveness in the church that we forget to in fact, give people Jesus.  As Kimberli, in the midst of her grief, reminds us,

“The church does not need any more coffee bars or the latest trends. Instead, tell a person how God has changed your life. Show them the love of God through your actions. Demonstrate how God helped you through the darkest of storms.

And a message to church leaders: Remember that you are not just trying to attract the hip and the cool to your church. You are reaching widows. You are reaching children who don’t have a parent. You are reaching someone battling with a disease. You are reaching a person going through a divorce. You are reaching a businessman who thinks they have all that they need. You are reaching the hurting. And the only thing they need is Jesus.”

A good reminder for us all.  A good reminder for myself- that I need Jesus.  When I get caught up in the divisiveness of the church right now, I need Jesus.  When we have days where we feel we might want to give up on this church thing, we need Jesus.  When we are struggling with health issues or we are helping a loved one through a tough time, we need Jesus.  When we are grieving, we need Jesus.

We need Jesus.  But today’s scripture lesson reminds us that yes, we need Jesus, but others need him, too.  We can’t keep him to ourselves.  That is not why he came.  So, church, let’s give them Jesus- those outside of this place who are hurting, isolated, grieving, lonely, addicted, feeling rejected, hungry, or poor in spirit.  For when we set Jesus free, we can only imagine the miracles we might witness right here in our own communities and the healing that will occur.

In what ways do you need Jesus today?  In what ways might you be holding him back?  How will you give him to someone else?

 

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Why Church?

In today’s ever-changing culture, it seems that people are finding meaning and community, even spirituality, in places other than the church.  Churches notoriously struggle with attracting “millenials,” young adults, and families with children.  Church has become in irrelevant, hypocritical, and a place with not much to offer, according to much of the population.  So, why do I, as a 35 year old woman, wife, mom (and yes, a pastor) still see church as vital and central to my life?

I confess to you that there are times when I wonder why I remain in the church as a clergy person, especially when it seems that at times we are always fighting uphill battles or arguing over the color of the carpet, type of worship music, or lately, arguing over human sexuality rather than doing the actual work of Jesus Christ. I know that I am not alone when I ponder what else I might do if I was not in the ministry.

But then, I realize that there is something about the church that calls me right back.  Even if I was not a pastor, I don’t think I could stay away from church.  I don’t think that I could stay away from God.  Like that prevenient grace that we talk about in our United Methodist doctrine, the grace of God is constantly going before us, drawing us back in, reminding us that we cannot go far from God’s presence and love.

And that is why church.  That is why ministry.  Church is the place where we go to experience God (perhaps for the first time) and to be in the rich fellowship of other human beings who are also walking through this complicated and messy thing called life and who are asking the same questions we all are.  We don’t always agree, we worry about unimportant and petty things, we have lots of meetings, we feel at times that nothing changes, yes there is pain and brokenness…yet we “do church” because we feel called to places where hope is preached and practiced, where the weight of the world is lifted, if only for awhile, where healing is possible, where people share our deepest pains, where we extend a hand of hospitality, where we pray for one another, even though we don’t really understand how it all works.

We “do church” because people love on our children, watch them grow up, and sneak them their favorite cookies.  Church will tell them about Jesus through songs, lessons, and hopefully by modeling the kind of love that all children deserve.  We “do church” because ideally, it is a safe space for children to explore, ask questions, and be a part of an extended family.  We “do church” with our kids because even from an early age, they are listening.  (Our 2 year old already asks about going to church each week- PK success!)

We “do church” because we need to be reminded that there is peace in the midst of war, healing in the midst of pain, and calm in the storm.  We “do church” because we are reminded of the stories of Jesus, who even in death, showed us the way to life.  We hear stories of how God redeems and welcomes the lost, heals those who are broken, and who brings even dry bones back from the dead.  We come to hear music that moves us, words that challenge us, and friendships that bring us back to where we need to be.  Church is home.  God is home.

I read an article several months ago about how “your church does not need to put in a coffee bar to attract young people…just preach the gospel.”  What a concept.  Preach the good news in a world full of bad news. Give them Jesus.  The real Jesus.  Not the judgmental, closed-minded, and closed-off Jesus.  Give them the Jesus of radical love, who challenged the powers and political scene of the day to make room for a message of grace and peace, who lifted up the poor and oppressed, who healed the sick and anointed the lowly, and who died for the cause.  Give them that Jesus.

I know I will strive to live up to the calling that has been placed on my life, as it is a profound privilege and responsibility to “preach the gospel” and “give them Jesus” in today’s ever-changing and broken world.  I challenge anyone who says that the church is irrelevant, because how is a place that is preaching peace, hope, and love out of place today?  We need these words now more than ever.  We need these stories now more than ever.  Will you be a part of it?

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Terrorism…what is it exactly?

I was kept awake for part of last night- not (miraculously!) because of my 2 year old who doesn’t like to sleep, but because of the many thoughts I’ve been having about the world lately.  In particular, another mass shooting- this time, at a church.  Naturally, this once again led to discussions around gun control, mental illness, and a broken society around our country.  But it also has led to another discussion about what exactly “terrorism” is.  Does terrorism have a religion?  A cause?  A color?  A gender?  A certain group?  A particular agenda?  These are all questions people are asking.

After the Las Vegas shooting, I was struggling to understand how this man who killed dozens of innocent people was not being defined as a “terrorist.”  So, like I usually do, I called my mom to ask her what she thought.  Her words have stuck with me.  All political speak aside, simply put, terrorism is anything that invokes fear in masses of people.  It doesn’t matter if the person or group committing the act of violence is white, black, brown, male, female, rich, poor….if they are causing fear throughout a nation, in families, in places of worship, in movie theaters, shopping malls, concerts….it is terrorism.

Because of terrorism, I’ve had several conversations with church members this week about how we can keep people safe in our worship on Sunday mornings.  A church that hopes to practice “Open hearts, open minds, open doors,” is having to have conversations around which doors and when to lock them before or during worship time because of fear- fear that while we are worshiping a peaceful, loving, and merciful God, that someone could come in and take us out.  It’s happened before, and probably will happen again.

Because of terrorism, I had to have a conversation with my husband about what we would do as a family if an active shooter came into church on a Sunday morning.  How would we get to Xavier?  What would he do?  What would I do?  As a pastor, how would I handle the fear and anxiety of myself and my people, and possibly grief and loss on a massive scale?

Because of terrorism, I have daily thoughts about what I would do if, while grocery shopping at Walmart with my son, there was an active shooter situation.  How would I keep Xavier safe?  What would we do? How would we survive?  And how would we deal with the trauma afterward?

Because of terrorism, I think about how I will have to raise my child in a fearful world, where guns are available to just about anyone, and that includes just about anyone with evil intentions for any reason.  Because of terrorism, I will have to teach my son to be very aware of his surroundings, and that he isn’t even safe walking on a sidewalk or enjoying a meal on an outside patio in a busy city for fear of someone barreling through with a vehicle with intent to kill.  I am fearful for the world he is growing up in.

That’s what terrorism is.  That’s what terrorism does.  Let’s not fool ourselves or get tangled up in semantics about what it is and what it is not, who is defined as a terrorist and who is not.  Terrorism makes people fearful to live their everyday lives.  Let’s name it for what it is.

As a pastor and a Jesus follower, I know that I am supposed to be about hope, love, forgiveness, and peace.  And I am.  But I have to admit that it’s getting harder and harder to preach this message some weeks.  But I’ll keep doing it anyway, until I can fully believe it for myself.  Because if I don’t keep believing and preaching it, terrorism has won.  After all, we worship and serve a God who brings life out of death, hope out of despair, and beauty out of the ugliness.  May this God help us to live our lives without fear, to find joy and hope in the beautiful things in our lives, and to be agents of hope and peace in this dark and broken world.

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