Access Codes


Mark 5: 21-43

Have you ever been to a cocktail party with a doctor?  I have. I married one. Perhaps the only thing more riveting than a party with a physician is a cocktail party with both a physician and his minister wife. Basically, every time we go out, there is a 90% chance we are either going to hear about someone’s irritating mole, or someone’s irritating pastor, sometimes both. The only time it is truly unbearable is when we are talking with an irritating pastor about his irritating mole! Never mind the fact that Rob doesn’t know much about moles, he is a radiologist.  And clearly, I do not represent every pastor, of every church, in every denomination of all time. But folks have expectations and needs. If a person is sick, they seek a physician. Isn’t that what the gospel says (Luke 5:31)? 

If you want to understand how good it must have felt for JESUS to float away in a boat from the crowds of people who needed him, imagine being trapped by a woman named Betty Becker in a corner at a cocktail party, while your husband (whom you used to trust) refuses to save you.  Selfishly he’d rather you talk about Jesus than subject himself to a deep dive on Betty’s persistent mole. Betty was like that little lady in the Poltergeist movie, 4 feet 7 inches, popping up when you least expect her, attempting to draw you into the light with her little voice. “Now Lori”, she states, “I have had a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus for over 30 years now, and Heis telling me that I should ask you if you have been saved?” 

‘Uh oh,’ I panic to myself, ‘where’s Rob?’ 

“Thank you, Yes Ma’am,” I politely mumbled, “I have.” 

“And when was that exactly?” 

‘Oh, Heaven help me,’ I think. It was a cocktail party, which means I had had a cocktail, which meant I would be neither polite enough nor silent enough. I look up. ‘Wait,’ I notice, ‘is that Rob laughing at me?’

I mouthed the words over Betty’s tall hair, “HELP ME!” 

Then, I went back down with Betty to have that fun, party conversation on grace (by faith alone) and salvation, starting with; “actually, yes Ma’am I was saved a long time ago, around 33 ad or so.” I was very polite and patient, but she promptly proceeded to explain why my ordination was invalid, according to the laws of scripture. After all, ‘women are commanded to support and obey our husbands’ (her words not mine).  

It is true I know folks who may align their households or their theology a bit more with Betty, but Margaret Towner, the 1st female pastor in our denomination, was ordained 62 years ago and clearly, God didn’t plan on that being the end of it. According to the Board of Pensions, PCUSA there are actually more female seminary graduates than male within our denomination.

We still have plenty of work to do. Of all our solo and senior pastorates, only 25% or so are held by women. Also, within our largest congregations, those with more than 1000 members, just less than 8% of them employ a female head of staff. So polite or not, you may wonder how my conversation with Betty ended. 

Well, God bless Betty. In spite of herself, sheexpectedGod to show up.  She was committed to working through some things regarding her faith, and her mole. Isn’t that what we all do in one-way or another? We expect God to show up. Perhaps God was doing what God does too; confronting our narrow-minded rules, doctrines, and assumptions about what it means to be faithful.  In Mark’s gospel, we also find a huge crowd expecting Jesus, and at least two of them were in desperate need. 

We all know how this goes. The first thing you or a loved one does after a cancer diagnosis is ‘Google’ survival rates against doctor’s orders. Then, you consider the options, create a health care plan of action, and stay the course in good faith.  If plan A doesn’t work, adjust the expectations and move to plan B. If Plan B doesn’t work, shift expectations and move to Plan C. If that doesn’t work, drop to your knees in earnest hope and pray for a miracle. According to those survival rates, and how our bodies respond, some of us die, and some live, until we eventually die too. From dust we have come and to dust we shall return (Genesis 3:19). But to claim that one is healed by God’s miraculous touch, while the other is left to suffer, points to a pretty maniacal God. 

If we are honest, these healing stories of Jesus uncover a deep, hidden grave of doubt; doubt that is otherwise buried in logical, common sense, and good old-fashioned skepticism. Jesus releases a man from the possessive chains of demons and mental illness. Jesus rubs a salve of spit and mud on the eyes of a man who was blind but now can see. A crippled man is walking the walk, and so now he talks the talk too! Ten lepers are leaping, because they were healed. And to top them all, our brother Lazarus stumbles out of the tomb, four days dead, looking a little worse for wear, but breathing.  Are they metaphors or hokus pokus? Maybe Jesus is a superhero. 

The truth is, plans A, B, and C have all failed for both Jairus and the woman. Now they have two things in common; their profound need, and their faith in Jesus’ power to heal. Nothing reminds us of our humanity and God’s divinity more than staring death in the face. As much as Jesus’ healings are intimate gifts of compassion Jürgen Moltmann is right when he insists that, together with the proclamation of the Word, Jesus’ healing and miracles are the most important testimony to the dawning of God’s Kingdom on Earth. 3.

There is a deep and eternal truth that is far more profound than anything we can explain or prove or manipulate for our own personal gain. But, it is so much easier to dismiss this truth than face the fact that we need God to intercede in our lives.  We haven’t got it under control.  We don’t know it all. We actually do need help. Come to find out, we are not gods after all. Look, I don’t blame Jairus. It’s been 12 years of joy and prosperity for this family. His daughter isn’t quite a teenager, which means she is still sweet to her daddy!  Now he is experiencing his worst nightmare and would do anything to save her. What parent wouldn’t? 

Jairus expected God to show up, and to do what God had always done, but he also knew people.  He was connected and respected, righteous and faithful. He knew how to navigate the crowd and how the system worked.  He was a leader. He had access. Sure, he benefitted from the way things functioned, but Jairus had faith! You know what his Instagram account looked like: #BLESSED # BLESSED NOT STRESSED. # BLESSED WITH THE BEST# BLESSED BEYOND BELIEF! 

So we ask ourselves, ‘how can something like this, happen to a guy like that?’ Makes no sense, he did everything right. You know that saying, ‘Let Go and Let God?’ Jairus didn’t buy it for one second. He knew neither silence nor politeness would get him what he needed. Scripture says he implored Jesus. He didn’t exactly beg him, Jairus instructed and entreated Jesus. He called on Jesus with a specific purpose, in earnest and with power (parakalei).  Jairus dropped to his knees and told Jesus the way it was going to go. He said, ‘I know you will, Jesus, because I know you can!’ Man, that’s a bold prayer! Maybe we expect it from a guy like Jairus. It seems like his hope and God’s will are lining up, which in many ways is Moltmann’s idea of what a miracle is all about (Moltmann, 190).  

Jesus and Jairus were on their way. Things were moving according to plan, except for this one huge problem; a lady without a name interrupts and steals Jesus’ healing power right out from under Him! Without permission or invitation, she sideswipes the edge of his cloak. She didn’t ask. She didn’t apologize. He felt the power leave his body! And I want to stop right here to tell this woman that not only is this interruption a bit impolite, it’s downright unladylike, improper really, against the rules, all the rules. Every woman (especially from the south) knows what I mean, and perhaps a few more men in Hollywood should consider this little rule: it is unacceptable to touch, much less take, that which does not belong to you. 

My mom has imparted many more life lessons than rules, upon my sisters and me but God bless her, she is the ONLY reason I have any manners at all. According to her, if you walk through the china section at the Belk Department Store, you have three choices:  1. You may slide your hands into your pockets and keep them there. 2. You may clasp both hands firmly behind your back. 3. She will stare at you like the devil is coming through her eyeballs to burn your fingers off. ‘Young ladies keep their hands to themselves,’ and I passed this little gem right along to my children along with all these other rules: Wait your turn. Don’t talk back. Ask permission. Don’t insert yourself where you don’t belong. Do not lose your temper, and always, always, say please, thank you, yes Ma’am and no Sir!  As a long distance runner, I about sent her over the edge the day I raced in a big high school track meet and spit right on the track in front of all the spectators. When I got home that night she asked, “Lori, was that really necessary, young ladies don’t spit?’She had a point, it was pretty gross, but a girl has to do what a girl has to do. 

As Professor Emerson Powery puts it, this woman in the crowd is downright bodacious. 4.  There is not a rule she didn’t break in her brave pursuit of Jesus, and let’s be honest ladies, based on who wrote the rules that is what it takes sometimes. Everyone knows you typically don’t provoke change or gain access or build power by asking permission or being polite or keeping silent or waiting patiently. Jairus certainly did. She doesn’t touch Jesus cloak because she’s greedy, sneaky, or dishonest. No, she’s desperate! Just like Jairus she would do anything for wholeness, healing, and restoration. It was Moltmann who quipped that, healing is more than the restored function of an organ. The healing of a body, leads to the healing of the soul. The healing of the soul, can lead to the healing of the body (Moltmann, 191). Ask anyone you know who is in recovery, suffering a long time illness, or navigating depression or anxiety if this is true. What would you risk to be whole? It takes courage to pursue healing like that.  

She is an unclean, unaccompanied woman, exiled from community and forbidden in the temple. She’s crossed every boundary you can imagine, risked public humiliation and profound punishment. Why? If you need to be healed, you seek a healer. Her faith is a matter of life and death (Powery, 132).  For 12 years, she has done everything within her power to be restored. She’s spent every last penny within the system and nothing has changed. At this point she has nothing left to lose. No touch. No money. No more children. No social life. No spouse. No status. No temple. No purpose. No access. No power. No name. Nothing. And while we want to blame her isolation and her desperation on her, or at least her illness, we cannot.  

It is the system itself that denies her access and tells her no. ‘You are not worth anything.’ Both this woman and Jairus are faithful, courageous, and committed.  They have everything in common except Jairus, by the very nature of his being, has access and power within a system that was not only built for him, but it is controlled by him too. He is the temple leader.  It is his responsibility to maintain the tradition and integrity of God’s law, to set policies and procedures intent on keeping people like her out. 

Let’s be honest, we aren’t really that offended by the woman are we? She can take what she needs as long as it doesn’t impact us, slow us down, or change the way things are. Poor thing, we may even feel sorry for her. If we have time, we might even drop off some hand-me-downs or leftovers. The thing that is so radical it offends us, is the fact that Jesus stops in his tracks and makes Jairus wait! He could have kept going. By this world’s standards, he should have. He could have rushed through the throngs of people to the temple leader’s dying child. Not just any child, Jairus’ child. Instead, Jesus stops. He puts the agenda on hold. Ignores the voices, even those in his own party. He forgoes the rules, the structure, the system, and the policy.  He challenges and contradicts the hierarchy, levels the playing field, and halts the pace of the status quo! Why? What could possibly be so important? The Truth! Not a sound bite. Not 144 characters. The whole truth. A nameless, dirty, bleeding, leftover, has-been, without a penny to her name, drops to her knees in fear and tells the whole truth.

So yes, Jesus’ healings are incarnational signs of God’s grace and compassion, but they also reveal the divine power of God’s Kingdom as a foretaste of the resurrection (Moltmann, 190). Boy ole boy, people don’t know what do to with this sort of justice! We know it’s going to cost somebody! It’s so radical, it’s offensive.  

“Come on Jesus, are you serious, we don’t have time for the whole truth, do we Jairus?” I would have been losing it if I were he. “Hurry up Jesus, it’s going to be too late!  There is not enough, Jesus! Not enough time. Not enough space. Not enough power. I have done everything right! I asked you first, Jesus! For God’s sake, don’t waste your power on this woman, when my daughter doesn’t deserve to die!” Is God so inadequate? Is God’s capacity so scarce? Is our God so small, that there is not enough grace for all of God’s children? 

To lose a child is a tragedy that God knows far too well. Again, I don’t blame Jairus or his people, and neither does Jesus. Remember, Jesus is unconcerned with the cause of our condition, only that we are suffering (Barth, p. 232). Jairus is about to learn the essence of that old African American gospel song that says, God may not come when you call, but God will be there right on time (Powery, 132).’ 

Even Jesus’ disciples don’t know what to do with him. “You can’t possibly expect us to know who touched you, Jesus. Look at this crowd! If we ask their names we will to have to deal with them. You know Jesus; they all want something from you. Just keep moving. It isn’t practical, or logical, or even possible to touch them all.”

 If only they knew what we know. Behind every nameless woman is a story of tenacity and courage. You show me a woman without a name in the Bible, and I’ll show you a bonafide, bodacious, firecracker, tough as nails, risk-taker who had neither the privilege to be polite nor the time to be patient.  If women are included in the narrative at all, they are often painted as pathetic or weak characters, but to be clear they do not want our sympathy or need our pity. They want restoration, wholeness, and peace. They need justice, security, and love. They want the same things we all want, the freedom and grace ‘to enjoy God and to serve God forever’ (Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q1). 

According to the scholarly work of Rev. Lindsey Hardin Freeman, women in scripture account for about 1.2% of all biblical words. Of the 93 women who spoke, about half of them are unnamed.  The woman caught in the act of adultery. The woman at the well. The widow who quietly gives her last two coins. The sinful woman who anoints Jesus’ feet. Where is Jesus? Right there with them on the edge. Befriending, respecting, empowering, and restoring them. The authors of their stories do not give them names, but Jesus does. He calls them daughter, little sister, and beloved child of God. 

Guess what we call the woman in our narrative today, the woman with the issue of blood! We don’t like to talk about it, but most women have an issue of blood.  It’s part of how God created us, in the case we choose to have children. Back then, the ability to procreate was the only path to value and safety within her community, and it is the very thing that turned against her.  If her condition was the result of a difficult childbirth (which some scholars suggest), then 12 years ago, at the same time in history, the world judged her and rewarded Jairus for the exact same thing, reproduction.  Remember it’s not her illness that has marginalized her. The world she lives in tells her she is not allowed, not invited, not welcomed, not worthy. 

We dismiss her too as we shirk the gospel and assume she is a hopeless case. But we are so wrong!The world has judged her but Jesus has not. We walk past her and so many others every day: through the crowds, on the streets, in our schools. Men, women, and children alike line our hallways and hospitals. They dwell in our retirement communities, streets and shelters, and populate our screens too. Who are we keeping out?  Who are we afraid to touch? Do we really want to know their names or would we rather sentimentalize and pity them? Isn’t it easier to send a little bit of money and pray from afar, than to slow down, learn their names, hear their stories, and make room for them in our policies, schools, communities and churches? 

If we, the Church, are the Body of Christ we cannot walk past without hearing the whole truth. Tell me, whois handing out dignity, status, inclusion, access, and healing for free these days? The idea is so radical, it’s offensive. If it’s not the Church, I’m not sure what the Church is for. Lest we forget there’s nothing free about it, Jesus suffered in order to heal the world. Jairus and the nameless woman alike: neither of them could earn it, hoard it, manipulate it or control it. They both needed it, and only one of them had to steal it. 

Now, I know what you might be thinking. You are wondering when I might talk about politics and power, or policy and tradition: access to affordable healthcare and mental health care, the opioid crisis and lack of treatment facilities, equitable education and zip codes, racial justice and white supremacy, or maybe incarceration and cash bail, perhaps affordable housing and living wages, maybe gender equity and the ‘me- too’ movement, certainly the complicated issue of immigration and children who are separated from their parents?

But I’m not.  

After all, I’m just a polite woman telling a story about a Savior who heals. Jesus is a healer who reveals a compassionate and merciful God, intimately concerned with human suffering, and a Kingdom of hope, justice and peace.  A Kingdom where every tear is wiped away, every nameless woman is called daughter, and every suffering child is called to rise up and sit at the table to feast on the Bread of Life and drink from the overflowing Cup of Salvation. It’s so radical, it’s offensive. 


1.     The Board of Pensions, PCUSA. “Living by The Gospel: A guide to structuring minister’s terms of call for Committees on Ministry and the congregations they serve.” July 1, 2018. p.10 and 13.

2.    Spencer, Frank, M.Div. “Hope and Challenge: Vocation within the PCUSA.” The Presbyterian Outlook.May 21st, 2018. v.200 n.8 p.19. Print. 

3.    Moltmann, Jürgen. The Spirit of Life: A Universal Affirmation, trans. By Kohl, Fortress Press, 2001, p.188

4.     Powery, Emerson. True to Our Native Land: An African American New Testament Commentary, edited by Brian Blount. Fortress Press, 2007, p.131and Christian Imagination. (Louisville: John Knox Press, 2003), 294.

5.     Barth, Karl. Church Dogmatics IV/2, edited by Bromiley and Torrance, London: T&T Clark, 2010, p. 223-225.

6.     Freeman, Lindsay Hardin. Bible Women: All Their Words and why they Matter,Forward Movement, 2014, Chapter 1.

7.         Wall, Lewis, Md. “Sorrow beyond Childbirth: Obstetric Fistula in the Developing World.” March 3, 2014. 


The Busy Bee

In any given beehive, there are thousands of worker bees. Thousands, responsible for the magnificent maintenance and well being of the hive. The worker bees are assigned vocations according to their age and place in the colony. With time, comes experience and more responsibility. Deep in the safety of the hive young ‘nurser’ bees are busy feeding the larvae a diet of royal jelly, and caring for the intricately structured cells of the hive.

The Sanctuary at St. John's Abbey. Collegeville, MN

The Sanctuary at St. John's Abbey. Collegeville, MN

The builder bees construct each wax cell, meticulously. The hexagons are God’s perfect architecture, with short sides created by transforming preciously produced honey into beeswax at a rate of 8:1.  There is never a drop to waste. The broad honeycombed cells gain strength as they are compressed tightly together, and each nook cradles larvae, honey, or a resting bee. Janitor bees constantly ensure the lattice dwelling is neat and tidy, while protector bees do their part keeping an eye on things.

Because the jobs of these younger worker bees do not depend on daylight, they are up and down all the time. Throughout the seamless days and nights, bees can be found napping within the warmth of the inner cells for short periods of time.  Sleep will come, but for now they get the job done with laser efficiency and purpose. It’s good to be useful when you are a worker bee.

To be clear, the hive houses only a few hundred male drone bees. The rest are female. Lazing around the hive, the drones have one job, and one job alone. In due time they are summoned by the Queen for a nuptial flight of kamikaze-kama-sutra. If he displays enough skill to land the Queen bee, the force of this magic moment causes an explosion SO powerful the poor drone falls to his death whilst leaving a special part of himself still in the Queen Bee. Tragic? Yes, but probably not a bad way to go. Alas, another story for another blog.

Outside view of the sanctuary at Collegeville. 

Outside view of the sanctuary at Collegeville. 

When a young female worker bee matures and its time to take flight, she thanks God to have been given the room to fly. She is ready. A busy bee (as one might say), she has been working extremely hard within the safe walls of her hive and now the possibilities literally open up before her eyes. Spring daffodils, make way for marigolds and the blooms of southern azalea all within in span of only a few weeks. Where does one begin? 

Certainly the hive could use what she has to offer. Without gatherers, without honeybees who are willing to fly far and wide to forge pollen or to scout the landscape for new hive locations, the entire hive would surely come down. Plus, its just so tempting; zinnia, roses, lilies and jasmine.

She loves her job more than life itself. Which is a good thing, because if she uses her stinger even once, she’s dead. While flight is risky and bold, her’s is a vocation of connecting, sharing, growing, and nourishing. She reminds herself each morning that not only do her fellow bees depend on her,  but the flowers need her too.

Older bees had warned her, forging could be exhausting. Forger bees might nap within the bud of a flower, but its typically not safe. Instead, each finds rest in a cell on the outer edges of the hive as the sunsets, and sleeps deeply until dawn. This sounded nice to the bee. Since becoming a flyer, she had still been helping the nurses and cleaners. She worries about the larvae sometimes, and honestly she wasn’t so sure about those younger bees. The other night she found herself reconstructing a few cells, as a simple distraction from all that keeps her up at night.  There has been an ongoing battle with the drones, as she and a few other honeybees fight for equal hive space on behalf of bees everywhere. Lately, she struggles to wind down, and the idea of a rest seems like a luxury more than a forgone conclusion.

Often a forger bee dances, ‘a waggle dance’ for her colleagues. Yes, a waggle. With speed and direction, she shares location details of pollen and other resources according to the hive's location in relationship to the sun. But lately her dancing had suffered. By the time she landed each afternoon, she could barely think. Forgetting where she had been and why she had gone there in the first place, the flowers were nothing more than a blur. With erratic dancing and incoherent directions, her communication skills were in deep decline. She knew she needed a break.

With the support of her hive the bee flew to a favorite field, turned her antennae off, and curled up in the most beautiful bloom she could find. It felt safe. Day and night she was still, until one morning she began to hear the leaves on her stem bending low to the ground with the push of a breeze. The bounce of the flower lulled the bee into a calmness she had longed for, deep in her soul.

Eventually the loud buzzing of another bee zipping by interrupted this listening prayer. Her wings were so tired. When a bee flies, the speed of her flapping wings against the wind creates quite an alarming noise.  Frankly, she was tired of hearing herself buzz. The cradle dipped slowly with the bellowing stem. DOWN, two, three, UP, two, three… the sun bounced off the red petals of the tulip she hid within.  DOWN with the wind… UP, two, three… the bee closed her eyes as she slowly came to terms with how disengaged she had become from the One who created her in the first place. The bee felt ashamed and humbled. She felt gratitude and joy. The bee listened and prayed.



The Truth about Charleston

What sacred narratives do you engraft into the grooves of your child’s heart?

The way your grandfather’s calloused hands masterfully honed a freshly cut piece of timber? Or the way he whistled as he tenderly coaxed a row of pole beans into obedience. The way he smelled of woodchips and bourbon at the end of a long days work.  Perhaps it's the story of your husband’s childhood. The day he decided to send his dog sledding down a flight of stairs. Or the day your sister was lost at the fair. The day you hit a double. Or the day you didn’t make the team. The day your father died as he leapt in your wife’s womb.

Once I heard that a FAMILY is a group of people building a story. We are rooted in the sacred stories of our families and formed by the way they are remembered by the people who share them. In many ways, we glean our identity from within the narratives we share.

She will come across the photo of four generations of women, standing together on the day of her baptism. And the one of on Easter morning, toothless and grinning in the dress she hated. Her forced smile expressing the unique tension of the day: resignation, impatience, and a sugar crash all make way for ritual.

Perhaps there will be a day when your child sees the empty cross, and asks the question. When his bright, inquisitive little mind puts two and two together, he’ll want the truth. A story that can sustain his fears and worries.

I remember a little girl, just three or four. The day after Easter, we were driving past the church running errands.  The lightness of springtime blew through the purple fabric draped across a heavy wooden cross on the lawn. Two miles toward town, we passed the big steeple churches, cross after cross. She pondered from her car seat,

‘Why do we have crosses?

‘To remind us Jesus is not dead, but alive in heaven and all around us. ’

‘How did he die?

Oh… my heart sank.

Do I tell her the truth? I certainly didn’t want to tell her. Wouldn’t it be too much?  In that moment, I wished she’d never have to know how we divide, blame, and judge. Besides the occasional tete a tete, involving a diaper change, there had been no real suffering and certainly no hatred. We were all butterflies and Kumbaya. Could I be honest, and still protect her?  

Driving in silence, I mustered up the courage to pull over and deliver the blow.

‘Baby, some people were afraid of Jesus, and they hurt him.’

‘What do you mean?’

They hung him on a cross, and it hurt him so badly, he died.

‘Why did it hurt him?’

They used nails.

No response.

Long pause.

‘Can we get a puppy?’  

Later that night I reminded her how the story ends. ‘You know, Jesus did not stay on the cross. Even though He died, they could not kill his goodness or love. After three days, He was alive again.’

What a story to tell. Ours is a narrative of hope, a promise of God’s grace. No matter how tangled and messy we get there is a way out, even in death.  God will shine a light on the next step.

But our families are complicated, and so are our stories. The temptation of course is to tell only the parts that we love, the shiny parts. Golden Anniversarys without the hard work. Instragram smiles, without loneliness. Mother’s Day, Disney World,  Elf on the Shelf…all rolled into one. The cross without the nails.

Without the nails, there is nothing to sustain a girl through the realities of life. Is there?

Simon Sinnick's book titled, Leaders Eat Last,  explains that trust cannot be obtained unless we feel safe.  He argues that when surrounded by others like us, we feel secure. With a sense of belonging, comes the confidence to take risks, experiment, fail, and explore, because we know someone in our community will support us. As he states in an interview, “they have our backs.” Survival depends on our ability to surround ourselves with those who believe what we believe.

See where this goes?

Threats on our stability, cause us to huddle. Manufactured barriers constrict our circles, to ‘us’, and ‘them.’ Without trust, we are left to our own devises and perceptions.  But our distorted version of the story is not  accurate without the other. What is the truth? How do you know? Who do you believe? Why?

This is so basic, it’s biblical.

Sarah and Hagar, didn’t trust each other as far as they could throw their husband Abraham.

 Side note: If you are a person of faith (any of the big 3), and you don’t know Hagar, I’ll bet you $4 you are white. Don’t worry; it’s not too late (click here)!

Sarah lost trust in God, because (let’s face it), God was dragging his holy, lead feet for decades. Desperate times may call for desperate measures, but all sorts of self- doubt and hopelessness creep in along the way.

Hagar couldn’t trust Sarah, because well… she singlehandedly abused, oppressed, abandoned, betrayed, and degraded her (and her child) to the point of total despair.

When we hate ourselves, we are more willing to act with hate toward other people.

Others not like us. Others who disagree with us. Others who make us feel threatened. Others who inconvenience us. People who offend us.  People we blame. People we control. People who force us to change. Even people we love.

The man driving too slowly, the co-worker not pulling her weight, The spouse who holds the mirror up right in front of your face, the teenager desperately wanting independence,  the child who can’t sleep,  the assistant, the boss, the lawn worker…

Andrew Solomon’s book, Far from the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity, explains that our suffering creates identity. Through endurance and avoidance we find meaning, meaning that shapes who we are

We must face the nails, if we hope to understand grace.  

The depths of our stories are the vessels in which we carry our meaning. These are sacred places where God shapes a new identity. In those dark places, God shines a light on the next step toward a way out, a way where there had been NO way before. (See below, Russell, p177) 


As Solomon states, “its not that our sufferings and hardships of abuse or tragedy are right, but they do become precious.”  The sacredness of who we are is found in God’s unexpected presence during the most painful moments of life.

A few weeks ago, I came home in the afternoon to flip on the news. Our house typically does not watch the news on any given day: too much to explain, too much fear, and too much hatred. What is the truth? How do you know who to trust?

But this day The Reverend Clementa Pinckney, one of the Charleston Nine, State Senator, and the beloved late Pastor of Emmanuel AME Church, was being memorialized and President Obama was speaking.

I heard him say, ‘Justice Grows out of a recognition of ourselves in each other.’ I watched the Eulogy three times. As the service was finishing, my kids walked into the back door.

‘What are you watching Mom?’

 Well, something sad happened in Charleston.


‘There was an accident, and some people died.’

Oh, my heart sank, like it did all those years ago. As soon as the words escaped my mouth, I knew the lie I had told.  The groundwork for oppression is often laid  subtly. How quickly I was willing to bastardize the Gospel in exchange for my ‘comfortable silence.’ Kumbaya would not do. 

‘You know what, it was not an accident. Nine good people were shot.’


 In a church.

‘A church? Why?’

 ‘Because they were African American.’

 What do you mean, Mommy? Who shot them?

 ‘A man shot them.’

‘In a church? Why would a man shoot them?’

 Because he hates African Americans.

‘Why does he hate African Americans?’

Because they look different than he does.

We sat together listening to the end of the speech. The camera was fanning from President Obama to Reverend Pinckney’s wife and two young children. My daughter started to cry.

 ‘Mom. What color is the skin on the man who killed them?’  

He has white skin.

A sigh to deep for words. If only this story were not part of our narrative. If only there were no nails. It is a wound so deep, there is no balm. I can never truly understand, which makes  my job as a parent so much more difficult. But I do know this, “the enmity between Hagar and Sarah, the struggle between us, will not cease unless we become children who struggle for the wider gift of God’s justice, peace, and wholeness in our lives and in the whole creation” (Letty Russell, p.196).

 The idea of peace and the work of unity and reconciliation is overwhelming, but I trust that God’s light will shine on the next step. Children will become the stories we tell them. I will tell my children the truth.

We are all God’s Children…

Oh, we do a fine job of ignoring that truth, with our clubs and hierarchies, generalizations and ideologies.  But God’s story is crystal clear.  Like it or not, we are a family. Thank God for this, because I need help getting the story right. Ours is a story of Blessing. Ours is a story of Love. Ours is a story of Hope. The light only shines on the next step, so let’s at least open our eyes and step together.


*for my friend Amantha
















 Solomon, Andrew. Far From the Tree: Parent, Children, and the Search for Identity.

 Tibble and Russell.  Hagar, Sarah, and Their Children: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Perspectives.

Investing in Your Kid's Faith- 2014

So parents, here’s the truth about giving to the church…

Every fall stewardship season comes around like an apologetic version of an NPR fundraiser. Leaders impart to our other members why they need to: pay up.  All the usual suspects appear; Responsibility and discipline (pledging is a part of being faithful), Truth couched in desperation (we need to fix the roof), awkward realities (the staff needs to get paid), inspiring yet unconvincing messages (give lots and receive even more), and my personal favorite… old fashion guilt (how much did that coffee, club, or iPhone cost?).

One summer during college, my buddy Dale Foster and I agreed to teach kindergarten Sunday school. We created globes with stars around them and discussed God’s creation. Five year olds are unpredictable and dangerous. So by 10:45, we were proud. Scissors had been involved. As we waited for parents to collect our crew, there were a few minutes to chat about what all this meant.

“You mean God made all the stars?”

“Yes, God did. Isn’t it beautiful when we look up at night.”

“And God made the ocean and the mountains?”

“Right. The green mountains around us, and the waves we jump in at the beach.”

Sam Stephens raised his hand. There is a Sam Stephens in every church across America.

“Yes Sam.”

“When Jesus slept naked under the stars, did he wear his sandals or take them off?”

‘Dale, you answer this one, I’m going to get animal crackers.’

How did we end up here? The story we want our kids to know can be tricky to tell, sometimes even dangerous.

When young couples join our church they often say, “We want our kids to grow up in a safe and vibrant community where they can learn about God’s love for them.”

How much is that worth? What is really at stake? Life is so unbearably stressful and overscheduled, why does church matter?

It is here, in church, that children develop a sense of belonging. A belonging so profound it can still an anxious soul or inspire an act so mighty it would otherwise seem impossible. At church our children are encourage to ask the questions of purpose, meaning, and life.

The questions we all ask.

As infants and toddlers, it is in church where children develop a sense of trust and a feeling of safety. Let’s be honest, parents don’t volunteer in the nursery because they just can’t get enough of their 2 year old. When Mom and Dad man-up our youngest members feel at home.[1] Through their senses, they are encouraged to explore and express their spirituality as a natural part of who they are.

As psychiatrist and researcher Dr. Robert Coles said, ‘We are creatures of language and story, by our very nature.”[2]  Unencumbered by the nuances of fact and truth, children embody this reality. While their parents are sometimes uncomfortable with myth and mystery, children embrace story as the most efficient way to find meaning. They are natural explorers, unafraid of the questions that simmer in the core of their beings as God’s children. Church goers or not, it is the mystery itself that invites curiosity and questioning.[3]

“Why did she have to die?”

“What is God like?”

“Why do we have to hurt and kill each other?”

“Why do people starve?”

“Did Jesus look up at the stars like I do?”

“Why are Mom and Dad so worried?”

Kids make sense of the world and themselves through story, and so do we.  We just forget that it is through the sacred stories of our childhoods, families, and experiences, that the truth about our very BEING is preserved, from generation to generation.

Church is the place to find those stories. In church we find fellow humans who rely on those stories, and who are bold enough to tell them over and over again. It is the place to remember, to listen, and to hope. Church is the place where we are accepted and affirmed in our questioning as we heal, cope, grow, and trust. If it is not, then you are in the wrong church.

For better or worse, research indicates our children’s sense of faith is developed by the age of six. A child in her preschool years has a primal need for affirmation and belonging that creates deep grooves in her spiritual pathways. Our youngest members are encouraged and enticed to engage the core truths about our faith.  Worship, community, and mission, are woven together with their learning through story, music, and creativity.  

How much is it worth for your child to have a healthy and theologically sound understanding of WHO GOD IS, and thus WHO SHE IS, in light of God’s love and grace?

With a God of grace, acceptance, integrity, and love, there is very little room for that ‘other god’ who motivates out of manipulation, guilt, and fear. Most of the adults I know who grew up with a god like that, want nothing to do with Church. Honestly, I don't blame them.

Church is the place where our children will be accepted and affirmed. It is the place where they are expected to include and welcome others at all cost. Here there are voices of hope singing the hymn when her own voice fails her.  In that case, I guess the roof is important.

Where else will she go? What other community roots us to God in a way that creates order and purpose for how we live? The things we do as families. How we eat. The way we engage others in our daily lives at work or at school. What we share with those in need.

Albeit a bummer, the church reminds us we are not the center of the universe. Even more, it reminds us our kids aren’t either. That must be a huge relief for them.

Can you imagine the pressure?

Church is the place where we have the courage to say it like it really is. The bible affirms this. If you want perfect kids, don’t bring them here.

We are into the messy stuff. Incarnational stuff. Jesus is in the barn, on the ground, in the ditches, hanging with the leapers and hookers. We are going to teach them stories about failure and deceit, suffering and loss. Our kids already know about brokenness anyway. They hear us argue. They worry about friendships. They know about Ebola and terrorists and hurricanes.

It doesn’t make sense to them either. When your child has the courage to ask about those things and you don’t know how to respond, the church will ask with you both. When your child can’t make sense of the suffering. We tell them the truth about redemption and hope.

Moses, Abraham, Isaac, Noah, Job, Rachel, Joseph, Mary, Jesus. Be clear, we won’t talk about Easter morning without the nails, the thorns, and the cross. But remember this, We the church, with all our bills and hopes and dreams, made a promise: In the covenant of your baby’s sweet baptism, we pledged to tell the story of life everlasting, hope beyond hopelessness, and joy in light of pain.

How much is that worth?

Worth the morning coffee? It’s not about the coffee. I love coffee.

Get your coffee, but realize that the gifts our children offer this world are rooted in the sacred essence of who they are. MORE than paying for soccer, y-guides, and horse back riding combined, is our choice to encourage, celebrate, and embrace the questions they have the courage to ask.

Their questions are our gifts… and they are priceless. Pay-up. Please.  








[1] Erikson, Erik.

[2] Coles, Robert. The Spiritual Life of Children. 1990. Houghton Mifflon. Boston.

[3] Coles, Robert.