pcusa

Reformed Guidelines for Interpreting Scripture… Why I’m Proud to be #Reformed and #Presbyterian

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Note to readers: This is a slightly edited version of what I posted in the Northwood Presbyterian Newsletter The Breezeway for the month of March.

Have you ever heard someone speak with absolute certainty about who God is, based on a verse or two from the Bible? I have to admit, whenever I hear someone says “The Bible clearly says…” I get a little nervous. After all, the Bible is a complex collection of books written with profound historical, cultural and literary layers. Sometimes what the Bible says doesn’t appear to be clear at all. Often there are passages that are confusing and complicated. Christians have wrestled with particular passages of the Bible for thousands of years. Different cultures wrestle wtih different passages at times, and our understanding of what is, and is not, acceptable (according to scripture) has changed, often in line with the ways in which culture has changed. At one time in our Christian history, slavery was justified and accepted, on Biblical grounds. Folks came to change their mind on that issue based on an understanding of justice and a careful listening to the Holy Spirit. Christians still have deep disagreement on biblical matters. One of the things I most treasure about our Presbyterian and Reformed heritage are the principles we use to interpret scripture. I listed these in a recent sermon, but they are so impotant, I felt I should share them here as well. Take a look and let’s chat about which of these principles are the most interesting or challenging to you.

Rules for Biblical Interpretation in the Reformed Tradition*

  • Scripture is to be interpreted with confidence in and openness to the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
  • The scripture principle: Scripture is to be interpreted in light of scripture, comparing scripture with scripture, with openness to hear the whole Word of God, not just selected parts of it.
  • The Christological principle: Scripture is to be interpreted in light of God’s central self-revelation in Jesus Christ.
  • The rule of love: scripture is to be interpreted in light of the one commandment of God that summarizes all other commandments, love for God and for all our neighbors.
  • The rule of faith: Scripture is to be interpreted with respect for the church’s past and present interpretation of scripture.
  • Scripture in to be interpreted in light of the literary forms and historical context in which it was written.
  • Scripture is to be interpreted seeking the word and work of the living God in our time and place.
  • Scripture is to be interpreted with awareness of our limitations and fallibility and with openness to change our mind and be corrected. “Reformed” means always being reformed afresh by the Word of God.

* Found HERE complete with links to relevant creeds.

I also recommend and love Rob Bell’s series What is the Bible?  You can start with part one HERE.

Happy Studying!

TMSSIG

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

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

put in her place

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

angerissues

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#EndFamilyDetention #EndChildDetention

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

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

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

3. Connect:

Mission Presbytery Refugee Family Response

Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service

See also: Babies in Jails

 

*Names changed for privacy

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!

 

When a Dog in a Pink Sweater isn’t Just a Dog in a Pink Sweater… #GaDog

As you may know, I’m a Presbyterian pastor. Every other year Presbyterians get together at a huge homecoming called the General Assembly where we vote on important issues, get together with one another socially and have a big ole Presbyterian Part-ay! (Except, well, maybe it’s not just a party, maybe it’s a serious, serious gathering with important issues to discuss.)

This week our denomination’s website, the PCUSA put up this advertisement to promote the General Assembly which is being held in Detroit, MI.

#GAdog

The text says “Attend the 221st General Assembly” and there’s the logo for the general assembly right on the image. Clearly it wasn’t a mistake that this image, a dog in a pink sweater, was attached to the idea of the General Assembly. Someone noticed and posted the question on Facebook, where I saw it, and posed the same question: Why? Since then there’s been a lot of discussion about the dog (tagged #GaDog on twitter and facebook) and I think this discussion really, really matters. While much could be said about it, I’m going to offer an initial thought for reflection and see where the conversation takes us.

The thought is this: design and branding matters, a lot.  Inadvertently (it seems, though no official comment has been made) whoever put this dog in a pink sweater next to the invitation to the General Assembly “branded it.” The brand for the GA in Detroit is now “Dog in a Pink Sweater.” Some people say “wow, that’s really, funny/bizarre/strange” or “We could have a lot of fun with that!” others say “No, that’s ridiculous and tragic, and it overshadows the REAL brand of the conference, which was supposed to be “Abound in Hope.” My own view is somewhere in the middle. I think there’s a lot of fun to be had with this pink dog. I love the idea of “GaDog for Moderator” as a little lighthearted satire of this whole debacle. The truth is, though, this dog in a pink sweater shows something very obvious about the PCUSA — we don’t know what we’re doing when it comes to branding. 

I’m currently in the design stage for my book on families and faith (yet to be named, that’s another blog post, I promise.) The process of branding the book and finding an image that will represent it is not a process that I engaged upon lightly. In fact, I was very persistent and very vocal that I wanted the best designer I could find to work on it and to really think about it. I know that whatever image is carefully chosen and put on the cover will brand the book forever. If it’s a dog in a pink sweater, I’ll have to live with it, and I know it.

I know that there is an individual (or group of individuals) behind the decision to put the dog in the pink sweater in this image, and my intent is not to make that person (or people) feel stupid. I would like to know a little bit more about the thought process behind it though, because my guess is that the answer is “We didn’t realize what a big deal it would become.” Which is, of course, exactly my point.