Month: April 2014

On Friendship, Mentorship, and Kelly Allen for Moderator of the PCUSA

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Kelly Allen for Moderator

www.kellyformoderator.com 

OK, warning… this post might be boring if you are not Presbyterian (USA). I say might because it’s also a post mostly about friendship and what it means to be a good friend, which I think applies to everyone.

Every other year in the Presbyterian church we all get together and vote for someone to lead us. That person has a largely symbolic role. (sorry moderator candidates! It’s true!)  After all, the moderator doesn’t have much actual power. He or she can’t decree something or change the rules. Nevertheless, it’s a huge deal and what that person represents and says and does can make a lot of difference in the culture and climate of our denomination.

This week I saw the Presbyterian Outlook’s spread on the three moderator candidates and it sort of took my breath away to see the picture of my friend, colleague and mentor Kelly Allen smiling up at me. I’m so proud of her and excited about her candidacy. Though I’ve wanted to write a post about this for months, it almost feels overwhelming because there’s so much to say (hence the reason you should just read about the candidates for yourself on the article I just posted.)

There are a ton of things I could say about Kelly:  I could say she is a passionate advocate for society’s most vulnerable (it’s true). I could say she loves Jesus (true.) I could say she’s a bridge builder and a master dialogue-r (those things are true, but dialogue-r is not actually a word. Whatever.) I feel fortunate and confident that Kelly’s views on all kinds of matters in the PC(USA) align with the direction I think we need to be going, but I don’t really want to write a blog post about those things, because what took my breath away when I saw that picture smiling up at me was that this is a great friend, and mentor, and while that might not make a difference in the race for moderator, it makes a difference to me.

My first introduction to Kelly was shortly after I moved to San Antonio. She dropped by my office to welcome me to town. As in, she called me up, asked if she could come over, made an appointment and came over. That very simple fact speaks volumes. She didn’t say ‘Stop by, anytime!’ She didn’t say ‘my door is always open,’ she made the effort, and there was no real need to do that other than what I saw (and still see) as a genuine desire to be present for a new colleague At a time when we need to be reaching out to others, (and when isn’t there a time when we need to be reaching out to others) she shows what that means.

One of the things that Kelly said to me in that first meeting was this: “When I was first starting out in ministry, I had a lot of people helping me, and so if you ever need anything, I would be glad to listen and tell you what I know.” In the past two years, I’ve taken her up on that, many times. Without getting too sappy and boring and long winded, let me tell you some things that I’ve learned about Kelly as a friend and mentor that I have 100% confidence would translate over to her work as moderator:

1. She has time: I’m not going to read her impressive resume of all the impressive and fancy things she does, but she does them. Her church is big, it’s busy, it’s all of those things that people who run for moderator have. But I have never, not once, not even for a minute thought “I bet she doesn’t have time to help with my silly old problem.” I’m guessing she feels cramped for time, but I’ve never seen or felt it.

2. She’s collaborative: I’ve worked with Kelly in a number of settings and they have one thing in common: bringing people together. She makes introductions and lets people share their own gifts. She doesn’t hog the spotlight; she facilitates discussion.

3. She’s fair: Good friends and mentors don’t just listen to what you say and then rubber stamp it. They challenge you and say “I wonder if you’ve thought about that in this way.”

4. She doesn’t just regurgitate what she thinks she’s supposed to say: Kelly recently posted on her Facebook Page a long and interesting question about what it means to talk about a theological or political “spectrum.” One of the things she said was  

I am passionate about Jesus Christ being the center of my identity as a person of faith and committed to sharing this good news AND I am passionate about honoring the dignity and learning from the wisdom of people of other faiths. Does that make me a right wing evangelical or a left wing liberal or do those do just cancel each other out and put me in the muddled middle?

I love that because 1. It sounds just like the Kelly I know (asking brave and challenging questions that make a lot of sense) 2. After that she said “So help me come up with a metaphor that works. (see also: collaboration!) Love.

Ok, so what I really want to do is keep going and gushing and using words like awesome and amazing and “I want to be like her when I grow up” (true, true, and all true) but I don’t want to be like that person at a wedding that keeps yammering on at the speeches time (you know who I’m talking about). I’m sure that in the coming weeks there will be lots of endorsements and opinions coming out and running around and I wanted to put mine out now, before I start to censor it and wonder if I should write it at all. Because here’s the thing: she’s a good friend and a good mentor, and that matters. It would matter to me if I were voting in this election in Detroit this summer.  Good Luck, Kelly!

 

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A Prayer for San Antonio Parents and Teachers in a Time of Fear

Single Butterfly Line Art

One of the obvious things I do as a pastor is pray. I often feel that my prayers are insufficient or incomplete, but I feel called to continue to do it. I lift up, every day, the needs of my congregation and the concerns they lay before me. It is an honor and a privilege.

This week I’ve been praying for the parents in my congregation who have children in school. Though we always pray for our children, these parents have been especially troubled this week as threats have been made against their children’s safety. What are these threats? Are they a hoax? In this context what does a “hoax” even mean? Any threat against our children is to be taken seriously. Very seriously. And so, I do what I always do, I pray.

I wanted to put a prayer on this blog for parents to share with one another tonight and tomorrow, an encouragement to stand together and come to God with our hopes and fears and solidarity.  Fear is powerful, and when we are afraid we can always come to God in prayer. Let us all come together and light candles together, and pray.

A Prayer for Parents and Teachers in a Time of Fear 

Gracious and Loving God,

We come before you with anxious and worried hearts, asking for you to hear our prayers on behalf of the children you created. When our children are threatened, our hearts are heavy and emotions run deep. We are anxious, sad, scared, tired, overwhelmed.

Draw near to parents, we pray, whether they decide to keep their children home or send them to school, help them to have peace of mind that the decisions they make are best for their family. May we support and love one another, knowing that Your Spirit leads each of us in different ways.

Draw near to teachers, we pray, give them strength and courage as they do their already difficult jobs on an even more difficult day. May they feel our support, our compassion and our love.

Draw near to our children, we pray, and give them a palpable sense of security not just today and tomorrow, but each and every day. May they know that they are loved, protected, and safe. May they know that the adults in their lives will stop at nothing to ensure their safety and security.

We trust in you, O God, and ask you to draw near to us when we feel worried and afraid. Give us strength and courage, and a knowledge of your presence. In Christ’s Name we pray, Amen.

Four Reasons Why This Pastor Encourages Egg Hunts in Churches

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The Saturday before Easter, my lovely congregation will be holding a little Easter Egg hunt with cupcakes, cascarones, music and laughter. Some pastors might argue this is liturgically, theologically or spiritually inappropriate. I don’t think so, and here are four reasons why.

1. The Easter date was chosen to coincide with a pagan festival... there’s already ample historical precedent for the church putting itself squarely in the middle of culture. The early Christians thought it was a good idea to celebrate the risen Christ in the middle of where the party already was. They contextualized it. It doesn’t make Jesus any less risen, it makes him risen at a time when people are already having a party. I’m fine with that. Eggs and bunnies, chicks and candy aren’t going anywhere, culture-wise. Children will associate Easter with bunnies and chicks and candy and eggs even if there is no egg hunt on the church lawn. So why not have a celebration that includes these things in a place where there are adults who love them and will also share the message of Jesus and resurrection and new life?

2. It’s a great way to reach out to people who don’t have a faith home. Eggs and candy and games are a very low-stress way to drop by a church. If a child and his or her parents drops by and has a great time and is inspired to come back, I see that as a huge win. If not, it’s an opportunity to share our love and joy with the community.

3. There is time for deeper reflection and Good Friday Mourning later One of the arguments against holding Egg Hunts before Easter (during lent or on Good Friday or on Holy Saturday) is that it is to be a time of penance, mourning and reflection. I agree with this, and I think that families can do a lot of age-appropriate things to teach their children about meditation and grief and restraint. At the same time, let’s let children be children, let’s let them be joyful even if we ourselves are in mourning Life is hard and our children will be adults soon enough. I believe that we, as adults, have a responsibility to shield our children from some of the darkness that is Good Friday. There is a balance here. We can’t ignore the truth of what happened on the cross, but we have to be mindful of what little heads and hearts can grasp at tender ages.

4. There is room for both. I don’t think we should baptize the Easter Bunny, but our children can have both. They can understand that Easter is about the Resurrected Lord and it’s also about celebration and joy (and sure, candy eggs, why not?) There is nothing to fear. If we do our jobs, Jesus will become more real with each interaction they have from loving adults and pastors who will stop at nothing to make sure that they grow up to be fun-loving, Jesus-following, life-giving people.

What do you think?

For Further Reading: Where Did the Easter Bunny Come From?

Sermon Remix: Jesus is the Son of David

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Last Sunday we read the story of Bartimaeus who stands at the side of the road and asks Jesus for healing. “Son of David,” he cries “have mercy on me.”

The crowd tries to shush him, but this makes him even more determined.  (Anybody ever had that happen to you? The more you are asked to be quiet, the more you must speak up?)

And so Jesus calls to him.

He.

Hears.

Him.

Bartimaeus throws of his cloak.

He goes.

And Jesus asks what seems to be an obvious question “What do you want?” and Bartimaeus gives what seems to be an obvious answer (I want to see.)

But I wondered out loud on Sunday if it isn’t actually the opposite, if it isn’t that what Bartimaeus wants is not as much to see, but to be seen. 

After all…. who is the blind one in this story, really?

We’re left to think on this a bit, and to ponder it, and then we hear what happens next, B, healed and seeing well begins to

“follow Jesus on the way.”

 

Some musings about getting lost, finding my way and wayfinding design…

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I have a terrible sense of direction. What I mean is: it’s impossible to overstate how easy it is for me to get lost. I mean this in a literal sense. Without a GPS or very, very clear directions, I can lose my way to even the simplest of places, even if I’ve been there before. My mother is the same way and I either inherited it or learned it from her, I’m convinced.

One of the places I get most lost is in hospitals and my job requires me to go to a lot of different hospitals. I used to try and plan to park near the entrance that would get me closest to the parishioner I was visiting. Now, I don’t bother. I know I’m going to be spending time endlessly wandering around the halls, asking for someone to point me to the right room and then asking someone again 50 feet later. If I have to come back for a follow up visit, I have to ask again, because I don’t easily remember which way I went.

A friend once explained to me that wayfinding design is an actual thing. In other words, the system finding your way in a place like a hospital, or a stadium, or an airport or some other complex place isn’t just thrown together, someone thought about it and used clearly researched principles to help you find your way. If they did their job well, you don’t get lost.

I don’t know a lot about these principles for wayfinding design, though I am intrigued when I read about them   but I do know this: many hospitals contract wayfinding designers that aren’t very good. I know this not because I know a whole lot about design, but because I get lost there and so I know the system is bad. One could argue that I’m the exception to the rule and that because most people find their way, it’s a good system. I’m just a “lose your way” kind of girl and there’s no hope. Except that shouldn’t be true. Designers should care most about people like me because people that are good with directions can find their way without their system, just give ’em some kind of map. (The word makes me shudder. I can’t read them. Really.)  If a system is really good, it should be good for someone with a terrible sense of direction.

Thus brings me to the exciting point of this post. For the past few days I’ve been at Edward Hospital in Naperville with my mama who has had knee replacement surgery. And I haven’t gotten lost one time. Not on my way to the waiting room when we were waiting for the surgery, not to the hospital, not to the multiple parking garages when I’ve had to go there to get the cars, not when I’ve gone to the cafeteria, you get the picture. In an ordinary hospital experience, I would have gotten lost many times by now, and here, not once. I know this may be exceptionally boring and not noteworthy to many people, but to me it’s huge. I am 100% serious when I say that I want to find out which design company did the wayfinding for Edward Hospital and thank them. I think designers should hire me as a test case for their systems. If I can find my way, the system passes. This one would pass. Here are the things that I think work for this system. (Pictures above.)

1. There are ceiling flags that don’t show you just one time if you’re going the right way, they repeatedly show you. If I start to go down the hall that is not the right one, I turn around half way down the hall instead of having to get to the end (or worse, make a constant wrong turn). In other words, I’m constantly being reminded (this way, go this way, this is the way, yes, this is the way.)  As a side note, I found my way through one hospital by learning that the wing I wanted was near Starbucks and so I should just follow the one sign to Starbucks that was posted constantly to remind me. Same concept.

2. There are different colors and shapes on the flags for various places, so they look very different in more than one way. Surgery was an orange X. The North Wing is a blue N, the South Wing is a hot pink S. In other hospitals they’re all numbers in circles that look very similar and I get confused. (Was I going to 1S or 1N? Things like south and north literally mean nothing to me, and most of the time there is no other color or identifier to help me know which is which.)

3. There are GIANT symbols on end walls so I don’t have to walk all the way to the end to know if I’m at the right hallway or the wrong hallway.

Can anyone help me find the wayfinding designer for Edward Hospital? Anybody have influence in hospital wayfinding design and want me to test out your system? I’m dead serious.