Whose Government?

A new poll from CBS News/The New York Times says 89% of Americans distrust government to do the right thing. 89%!

The skepticism is understandable. Things are in a mess, and leaders don’t seem to working together. I wonder if they realize that if they demonstrated some cooperation, many folks might begin to feel increased confidence. Some of them might then decide to spend some money, which would help the economy.

At the same time, I am reminded that the government is not a foreign entity (despite the view of some who seem to see our own government as an invading force). The government is us. We get the government we put in place. Some would say we get the government we deserve.

That may be too harsh, because as both the Tea Party and Occupy protests remind us, there are powerful forces driving much of what happens. It is hard to overcome well-financed interests, who can have outsized impact on elections.

Still, it is our country. I am praying that we all remember this–certainly those with power who may get confused and think it belongs only to them, but also the rest of us who can, if we pull together, create the change we need.

God May Have Some Good Ideas

The newspapers and online news sources are focusing on the economy, and rightly so. We are in a mess, in the United States, and in Europe, too.

I notice that many stories are about things that are not going well–the latest unemployment numbers nearly always bring on a downer. The news from the housing industry is not very good either.

But I have begun to notice that among these negatives there are little sprouts of positive news. For example, I have read recently about new housing construction remaining flat, and prices continuing to go down most places, but there are signs of some resurgence in prices, too.

Every time there is a small sign of an uptick, there is also caution: don’t get carried away, the gain is very tentative and could stop in an instant.

It has caused me to increase my prayer for economic health. It feels to me as if we have little flickers of resurgent economic life and that we need to fan them into larger blazes. Prayer can help with that.

Prayer is more helpful than much of the rhetoric that politicians throw around. Much of the time they seem to be more interested in proving that the other guy’s idea is wrong than in fixing anything.

Prayer is connecting with God, and trusting that God has some good ideas. In God We Trust. How about trying that for real, and not just printing it on our money?

Countering Culture

I don’t think of myself  as especially “countercultural,” but I have been seeing and hearing the word a lot lately–primarily as a description of Jesus and the kind of lives he calls his followers to lead.

This is fairly disconcerting, because as I listen it becomes clear that there is a real cost to Christian discipleship. I know this intellectually–have known it for a long time–but this is more than an intellectual exercise. Living faithfully, following the Risen Christ, has consequences.

For example, Jesus is really clear about loving our enemies, and forgiving people–advocating and practicing peace.

I heard today that 5,000 Americans have died in Iraq since the U.S. invasion in 2003. Did you know that in that same period that 25,000 Americans died at home from being shot or committing suicide? For every U.S. person killed in Iraq, 50 have died violent deaths at home.

The speaker said that shows that we are pretty violent society. He also said Jesus expects us (me) to do something to change it.

I think he’s right. I don’t know what it will be yet, but I am praying to be shown how, when it comes to guns and violence, I can be more countercultural.

When Good Things Happen . . . .

Two great things have happened to me this week.

I signed up for Medicare (Parts A & B). . . . wasn’t easy. The bureaucratic channels are not all that straight forward, but I succeeded–well almost. I’m still waiting on my official Medicate number (my social security number and a letter of the alphabet to be told to me later) and until I have that I can’t sign up for Part D (prescription drugs) and the Medicare Supplement Plan.

But I’m on my way to this new chapter in my life. Feels good.

But the other thing is even more wonderful. I am finishing up a seminar, sponsored by the Alban Institute (the leading organization for congregational development and leadership), “New Vision for the Long Pastorate.”

I joined 25 other pastors–from California, Canada, Maine, Nebraska, Virginia (3 of us), North Carolina, and elsewhere–to be led by Ed White, a 79-year-old consultant and long-time Presbyterian executive, in how we can build on our work as pastors to date and become even more effective over the long run.

Ed White

It has been a great learning experience, because of Ed White’s expertise (he’s a great example of creative, powerful longevity) and the opportunity to share stories and wisdom and hope with colleagues from a wide variety of traditions: Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Methodist, United Church of Christ, Lutheran, Unitarian, United Church of Canada, Disciples of Christ, and some I am forgetting.

Why is this so great for me?

I already was clear I want to pastor for some more years. Now, I have so many new tools and insights. What a glorious journey lies ahead!

I know it will good for me. My prayer is that it will be good–even great–for those God has called me to serve and lead.

Overall, a really good week . . . and it’s not over!


I have had a crazy few days. I think today will be no exception to what the past several days have been.

It is almost as if after a quiet birthday on Monday, God, or the universe, turned up the speed on the treadmill and said, “Get a move on it, buster!”

And yet, in the midst of many different pressures and needs and expectations, I am feeling centered. I am almost afraid to mention it for fear I will jinx it. But it feels less like something I am doing and more like something God is doing. 

The only way I can jinx it, or God, is by denying it.  Which is why I am claiming it.

I am claiming what God is making available to me, a deeper center, a more holistic relationship with all creation. All creation: my husband and family, God’s church (the one in Richmond God is empowering me to serve and lead, as well as the wider global movement of MCC and allies), the community of those in Central Virginia and the wider commonwealth working for justice and equality, my country, the world including the natural world and all my siblings in hope and faith around the globe.

None of this is perfect–except God, of course–and certainly that is especially true of me. And yet, there is a symmetry to what I am experiencing that leads to balance and wholeness and joy and serenity–even in the midst of a lot of crosscurrents.

I am seeing glimpses of that “peace that passes all understanding.”  Wow! Thank you, God!

Go, Emily!

I talked to my daughter Emily last evening. She is teaching in a Montessori school in Mexico City. It is her first year teaching and it is rough.

She enjoys the work–it feels like her life’s work–but it is very hard. I have never known a first-year teacher who did not feel that way. Her mother knew that experience.

Emily with a challenging student

Teachers are trained, but it is not until they get in the classroom–alone with 20-30 or more students–that they develop the mettle to manage it all and actually help students grow. Teachers, like other leaders, are called upon to be both the center of the life of the group and agents who get out of the way so that others can grow.

It is a balancing act–to be center without being the star (or at least the only star). What a good teacher works for is to assist in the creation of an entire galaxy of stars–people who are claiming their God-given potential.

I am proud of Emily. She knows why she is in the classroom, and she is unafraid of the hard work to excel in her calling.

She is changing–not her core values, but how she relates to the students–recreating herself to be what is needed for her students. She is a leader. Leaders recreate themselves to be what the people they serve need.

I like to think she learned a little of that from her old man. I know he is still changing.

Getting Up

Sometimes, I have to get up when I don’t want to.

I don’t mean in the morning, because I am a morning person and generally like to get up and welcome the day. What I mean is when I feel down, or feel knocked down.

The temptation is to blame someone else, maybe even God, for my being down, but in truth there is only one person who can keep me down. That person is me. And the truth is that God is always rooting for me to get up, to move forward. So I have an ally, all the time.

On this 43rd anniversary of the first worship service of MCC–October 6, 1968, in Troy Perry’s living room in the pink house (left) in Huntington Beach, CA–I am reminded of that central truth: the only person who can keep me down is me.

So today, as I pray is true every day, I stand with Troy and Troy’s God, my God, our God, who lifts me up and empowers me to lift others up.

This is the day God has made, and God calls me to make the most of it.

Praise God, and thank you, Troy–and all the others who have brought us this far, by faith.

My Default Position

I am, by nature, a hopeful person.

Recently, when I said that in conversation, the other person said to me, “What is the source of that attitude for you?”  At first, I was kind of put off by the word “attitude,” thinking it was something more substantial. But, the more I thought, the more I realized that is exactly what it is, an attitude that is my normal perception, my normal stance toward whatever comes.

Another way to say is that hope, hopefulness, is my default position.

Maybe that’s why I have difficulty understanding people who spend so much time criticizing, being negative, focusing almost entirely on what’s wrong. Oh, there are so many in the world who live that way so, of course, I have learned to live with them, to listen, and to care for, and even love, them.

But their default position mystifies me. And draws my sympathy. What a hard way to live, always finding fault and seeing the worst in others!

That’s not to say I am always upbeat and happy, or that I cannot be critical. Criticism is often needed. It can help us grow. But if that is all there is, then there is little or no growth.

So what, or who, is the source of this default position of mine? It seems clear to me that I trust God, and thus trust others, that I live grounded in God’s free gift of life and love. It is not hard to be hopeful, to have hope, on that basis.

I feel blessed. I hope you do, too.