The Big Ask

So it is Lent, and that is a time of confession, right?  Well, I will start with a confession:  I am about to plagiarize my dear friend, Pastor Ken Wilson, without shame in this article.  Very little of what I am about to write comes from my own Prayingbrain and heart.  Today, I am serving mostly as translator—translating a powerful process for Lent from the Evangelical world into the world of progressive, mainline Christianity.

Here it goes.  I am learning a new way to pray from my good friend.  It is very foreign to me, and at times, quite uncomfortable, but I am finding many wonderful treasures on this journey.  Ken and his colleagues of Blue Ocean Faith (, a movement of progressive Evangelicals endeavoring to engage the secular world faithfully, have this prayer concept, called The Big Ask.  Here is what Ken says (with a few tweaks) about The Big Ask in a sermon he preached last week:

I’m going to suggest we each search our hearts to ask, “What do I really want for myself?”  Another way to get at it: If I were my best friend who knew me well, what would I want God to do for me?

You say, that’s not hard. that’s easy! Until you actually try it.  Because once you actually try it, you will meet resistance….Our religious self is nothing if not quick to criticize and it will say:  sounds so selfish!

Let me remind us of difference between YHWH, God of Israel, and the confederation of local deities served by the Canaanite tribes:  These local deities had one thing in common: They didn’t care about their worshipers.  It was all about getting worshipers to serve them.  “Give me stuff to keep me off your back!” said these gods.  But YHWH says, “You know, I’m doing fine.  I’m the happy God.  What I’d like to do is share my happiness with you.  So here’s my question: how can I do you good?  Because that’s what I’m about: doing you good.”

Jesus said, “I did not come to be served but to serve.”  That was a good sign he was truly YHWH’s boy….

Is this a formula for getting whatever we want from God?  Ah, no.  We ask and sometimes we don’t get what we want.  That has been my experience and I am guessing yours as well.

Now, when we are thinking clearly and non-passionately, we can imagine a good reason this might be so.  If a child, in ignorance, asks for something not good for them, will a good parent grant the child’s request?  Of course not.

But we also ask for legitimately good things and do not get them.   Inexplicably.  And there are no good answers why not.

So we put our guard up and stop asking.  That is the adult thing to do.  But what if we’re not adults in relation to this God?  What if in relation to this God, all of us are little children?  Have you noticed the optimism and dogged persistence of little children asking for things, starting with the cry of a baby for its mother’s milk?

Can we grow close to a personal God by protecting ourselves from God disappointing us?  Does that work in your personal relationships?

No.  Faith can be spelled R-I-S-K.  Faith is not a move of self-protection, it is a move of vulnerability.  Faith is about being vulnerable and growing in faith is about remaining vulnerable despite our instincts otherwise.

So, wanna give something up for Lent? Let’s give up that Kevlar vest we put on to guard against God disappointing us and ask God for what it is we really want.  And ask God every day.  Take the risk:  ask. And see what happens.  Maybe just the act of making ourselves vulnerable will have its own reward.

The Big Ask is a stretch for most of us.  Our tradition, unlike many Evangelical traditions, emphasizes service to others.  It emphasizes working for justice.  We pray hard for the powerless and the disenfranchised, the poor and the marginalized.  Our tradition hasn’t encouraged us to pray just as hard for ourselves.

In one of our recent conversations about this, Ken challenged me when I told him my Big Ask, which was nice and tidy, and to be frank, practical.  He said key to The Big Ask is to ask for something that would be almost impossible without God’s work in our lives.  It is not about self-improvement or having God play the role of life coach.  It is about opening to God’s willingness to doing us good.

What do you need from God?  What do you need that seems impossible without God’s help?  Whatever it is, that is your Big Ask.  Let’s do this together and see what God can do….



The voices of the unheard

The news of Darren Wilson not being charged with a crime is distressing, overwhelming and enraging.  Again and again, we see white men, police and citizens alike, and their fear being valued more than black and brown people’s lives.  Since August, we have seen injustice in the courtroom and in the streets in Ferguson.  Last night we watched with heavy hearts as disillusioned, hopeless and voiceless people took to the streets.  We lamented when some of these people could no longer contain their outrage and disappointment.  They lashed out with violent anger, and the images of tear gas smoke, cars and buildings burning and rocks being thrown are now front and center in our country’s media industry.

Riots are the language of the unheard.  –Dr. King

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke out against violence of all kinds, including the violent response of some parts of the Civil Rights movement.  But Dr. King never diminished the brutal reality that lay beneath the rioting.  People riot, not because they are bad, undisciplined, greedy people, but because they are unheard.  Hear their voices—I mean really hear their voices—and the rioting stops.

Burning buildings and police cars are vivid images, and these images have become the dominant cultural narrative for our nation.  It will be tempting to focus on the rioting as an isolated response to a particular verdict from a particular grand jury and prosecutor about a particular crime.  It will be tempting, especially for us white folks, to cluck our tongues in disapproval and disappointment, and think, even if we don’t say it aloud, “don’t they know they are only hurting themselves.”  That is exactly what white supremacy wants us to think and believe.

But as a Christian, I know that my faith calls me to refuse to accept this narrative.  It is too easy.  It gets white people off the hook.  It blames the victims.  It denies the historical and current reality not just in Ferguson, but in the United States of America.   It silences the unheard.

The true narrative is that Mike Brown, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, Renisha McBride, John Crawford III, Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, and thousands more, were killed and many of their killers go free because of racism.  Period.  The true narrative is there are voices of resistance, voices that will not be silenced, voices that are angry and persistent and unwilling to be trivialized or demonized. Period.

Dr. King reminds us that our God hears the voices of the unheard.

God has called us into a faith with a long legacy of resistance.  Moses and the prophets refuse to let the powerful mute the story of the powerless.  John the Baptist, with his wild hair and locusts, cries out in the wilderness for our repentance.  Jesus says that if we are silent, the stones would shout it out.

Many of us are heavy with grief.  Many are burning with anger.  Many are numbed by shock.  That is because we are hearing the unheard.  That is because some of us are the unheard.

I have been praying Isaiah 61 this morning.  Isaiah reminds us of God’s promise to the unheard and God’s presence to us all.  Dear brothers and sisters, hear the prophet’s words.  May they be a balm for your soul.

 The Lord God’s spirit is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me.
He has sent me
to bring good news to the poor,
to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim release for captives,
and liberation for prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
and a day of vindication for our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
to provide for Zion’s mourners,
to give them a crown in place of ashes,
oil of joy in place of mourning,
a mantle of praise in place of discouragement.

May it be so.

An Open Pastoral Letter to the Lesbian, Bi-sexual, Transgendered, Gay and Questioning Communities of Michigan

Marriage Equality

I am a local church pastor and this is my letter of apology to the people of the LBTGQQ communities in Michigan.  I apologize for the harm that has been and continues to be done in the name of Christ.  I apologize for your deep pain inflicted upon you by the weaponizing of the Bible.  I apologize for the political and theological rhetoric that gives subtle (and not-so subtle) permission for violence. I apologize for the years, the decades, of warfare that Christianity has waged against you.  Most importantly, I apologize for choosing silence much too often while you and the people you love have been demonized and marginalized.

I don’t blame you if you are hesitant to trust my apology.  I don’t blame you if you can’t help but anticipate the inevitable “love the sinner, hate the sin.”  No one pastor can make up for the oppression you have endured—the pain runs too deep, the wounds are too numerous.  One Christian voice cannot silence this mean-spirited rhetoric completely.  But I hope that this letter might offer, even if only to one person, the tiniest bit of healing.

It is time for another Christian perspective.

I am an ordained pastor in a “traditional” marriage.  I am a follower of Jesus.  I hold the Bible as sacred and foundational.   I cherish Christian community.  And I deeply, fully, passionately believe:

  • that God loves you, just as you are, with a love that will not let you go,
  • that God celebrates and rejoices in love between people,
  • that love mends the world, love never harms it,
  • that Jesus had/has a special and profound love for those are the margins of society,
  • that Jesus never reinforced the status quo because he was rooted in the prophetic tradition of his Jewish faith,
  • that Jesus tirelessly challenged unjust and oppressive structures of power, and
  • that I am called, because of my Christian faith, to stand in solidarity with the LBTGQQ communities.

I am not the only pastor or Christian with this understanding of our faith.  There are thousands of us, hundreds of thousands of us.  We are not as loud.  We are not as well-funded.  We are not as inclined to impose our faith onto others.  But we are here.  You are not alone.

Rev. Deborah Dean-Ware,
Pastor, The Church of the Good Shepherd, United Church of Christ
Washtenaw County, Michigan

Immanuel–God with Us and God Promised

Then Isaiah said, “Listen, house of David!  Isn’t it enough for you to be tiresome for people that you are also tiresome before my God?  Therefore, the Lord will give you a sign. The young woman is pregnant and is about to give birth to a son, and she will name him Immanuel. He will eat butter and honey, and will learn to reject evil, and choose good…”  Isaiah 7: 13-17a (Common English Bible)  

Every year at this time, I ask myself, “Can the holiday really be here already?  Where did the fall go?”  This year is no exception, and my disbelief is even more pronounced.  There has been so much going on at church this fall–all of it good and exciting stuff, but still it has been busy.  It has been a full few months, and many of us are trying to catch our breath.  Of course, now we are heading into the holidays with its intrinsic busyness both inside and outside the church.  It is a bit cliche to tell you all to breathe, to make time for quiet and prayer, to cherish time with family and friends.  But I am going to say it (not just to you, but also to myself)–breathe, be still, cherish and hold.

If we can separate ourselves from the consumerism and the frenzy, the season of Advent is a beautiful and powerful liturgical season.  It is a time filled with anticipation and of preparation, of activity and of waiting.  It is about promise in an era of broken promises;  it is about light in the darkest time of the year; it is about patience in a truly impatient world.  It is about breathing, cherishing and holding.

Advent is also the stark realization that God broke into the world in the form of a helpless infant and fulfilled a longed for promise that a little child will lead God’s people and offer God’s redemption.  And in that moment, God gave God’s creation a new promise–my world and my children, all my children, will be ruled not by hopelessness, violence, despair or hatred, but set free by my hope, my peace, my joy and my love.  Advent reminds us that we are people of promised fulfilled and promise anticipated.  We are a people rejoicing the Good News of Jesus who lived his life fully in God’s love and completely for God’s people.  We are also a people of holding onto the hope that God is not done with this world, that God is still working to bring about God’s realm, that God has not abandoned us in the brokenness of the world we know.

I deeply love this season and the paradox that it holds for us.  I love that we as a community of faith are journeying together through this paradox–holding onto Immanuel (God with Us) given and Immanuel promised.  God’s peace to you all.

Dare I say this out loud, this week of all weeks?

Public Domain: View of Crowd at 1963 March on Washington by USIA (NARA)

This week, there has been much news coverage of the 50th commemoration of the 1963 March on Washington, Dr. King’s prophetic “I Have a Dream” speech and the quarter of a million people who joined him and other leaders of the civil rights movement that day.  Most of the coverage has been a powerful witness to the civil rights movement, and I have been inspired in so many ways, often finding myself either with tears rolling down my cheeks or with my heart swelling with gratitude.  How I wish I could have been in Washington DC this week.  I will be returning to photos and videos and speeches for a long time, both of this week and the movement that inspired the original March on Washington.

This image is a work of a U.S. military or Department of Defense employee, taken or made as part of that person’s official duties. As a work of the U.S. federal government, the image is in the public domain.

I am in awe of Dr. King giving the single most powerful speech in American history since the Emancipation Proclamation when he was only 34 (one year older than Jesus).  I am in awe of Rep. John Lewis speaking at the March on Washington at the age of 23 and for his life long commitment to civil rights.  I am in awe of the thousands of young people all over the country who sacrificed everything in the civil rights, women’s and anti-war movements of the 1950’s, 1960’s and 1970’s.  We owe a great debt to those heroines and heroes.  Thank you.

However (and I know this will be controversial), this week has resurrected a long-standing struggle for me as a Gen Xer (people born from 1960-1980) who is Christian pastor and an activist.  For as long as I have been socially aware and working towards social justice, I have heard repeated comments about how young people just aren’t as committed as young people back then.  I have heard that young people are just looking out for themselves, that they have it easy and that they just don’t know what they have.  Of course, people were quick to point out to me that I was one of the exceptions, but I heard and hear the implication—my generation and the younger generations have dropped the ball.  Ouch.  Unfortunately, I heard this repeated this week a midst the celebrations.

We cannot assume that young people today are not as committed, as aware, as visionary as folks were 30-50 years ago.  The social movements of the 20th century were beyond powerful and we have seen so much progress because of them.  I realize that I might be offending some folks, and I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but truly we are comparing apples and oranges.  When we look at the differences of the generations and the social ills each faced, I think we will see that young people now are just as focused on social justice and are doing amazing work.  So where do we start?

1) Let’s not forget that even in the 1960’s and 1970’s when the mass movements were growing, those young people in the streets were only a minority of the young people of their time.  Just like we shouldn’t assume all Gen Xers and Millennials are uncommitted, we cannot assume that all young people in the 1960’s were marching and protesting and being arrested.  These movements were huge, but they were not a majority position.

This image or file is a work of a U.S. Air Force Airman or employee, taken or made as part of that person’s official duties. As a work of the U.S. federal government, the image or file is in the public domain.

Was there a higher percentage then than young activists today?  Who knows, but it demeans the movements of history when we equate baby boomer with social radical, Gen Xer as apathetic couch potato and Millennial as self-absorbed screen addicts.

2) The earlier movements seem to have clearer and more tangible foci.  There were clearly defined and visible social sins and the people who upheld them.  Ending segregation.  Ending Jim Crow.  Attaining voting rights.  Ending the Vietnam War.  Keeping abortion safe and legal.  I don’t mean to say that there wasn’t confusion and frustration and disagreement among activists. Of course, there was complexity.  Of course, there was ambiguity.  But today, most of the social and economic injustices are almost impossible to discern, let alone address with a mass protest movement.  Each injustice is deeply intertwined with and supported by other systems of oppression.  We cannot separate racism from the war on drugs.  We cannot separate rising health care costs from poverty.  Injustice mostly survives because it has gone underground.  It thrives on our ignorance and on its invisibility.

So then, how do we address immigration, mass incarceration, marriage and gender inequality, corporate welfare, the disappearing middle class, a stalled congress, violence in the Middle East, healthcare, the disintegration of the public schools, racial profiling, the rising debt crisis for college grads, the drug war in Mexico, the NSA and privacy, the gutting of the VRA, the systemic attack on labor unions, Stand Your Ground Laws, dramatically increasing gun violence and monthly school shootings when each of these depend on the others and have taken root in the post modern concept of “progress?”  Oh, did I mention big money in Washington?  Where do we start?

3) Unlike the 1950’s and 1960’s, every major American institution is now on the verge of collapse–healthcare, social security, public education,  mental health care, public assistance, higher education, the Church, the government, dare I say aloud, democracy itself (think Super Pacs, folks).  There is no stability in any of our institutions, and this fact weighs heavily on the younger generations.  While Congress refuses to work together and the political parties become more polarized, the Millennials (young people born 1980-2000) are watching with real fear and trepidation.   Who is going to have to fix the mess when these collapse?   The people born after 1980, that’s who.  When did these institutions start to become unstable?  The 1980’s, when the Me-Generation came of age.  A bit of irony here…

4) Today’s younger generations (Gen X and Millennials) are the first generations in the history of the US (with exception to the Great Depression) to earn less than their parents across the board.  People born into the middle class are struggling to stay there.  People born into poverty are often living in more severe conditions than their parents and grandparents and have even less opportunities available as corporations move their factories to China.  This fact does not discriminate—if you were born after 1960, you can expect to be worse off than your parents.  But let me be clear about something—this is not because all young people in their 20’s and 30’s want to live like their parents did in their 50’s and 60’s.  This is not because the younger generations want instant gratification and refuse to plan for the future.  This is because the single most marketed product in the US economy is credit (otherwise known as debt).  Credit makes more money for Sears than its products.  This is because childcare costs are through the roof and childcare providers are poorly paid.   This is because young adults who are fortunate enough to go to college come out with student loans that reach five to six figures, and the job market has crashed.  This is because the housing crisis (which was all about marketing credit to those who couldn’t afford it) hit young families the hardest, young families who bought their first homes on the top of the bubble and now find themselves underwater.

This is because previous generations have not passed along to the younger generations financial wisdom that made the Great Depression generation great.  This is because we now equate patriotism with spending, and our entire financial system depends on people spending beyond their means.

5) Finally, and most importantly, let’s not blame people under 40 for the state of the world.  This is sorely misguided and self-sabotaging. People under 40 do not sit on the Supreme Court that gutted the Voting Rights Act and declared that corporations are people.  They do not sit in the boardrooms of the Super Pac companies that are buying elections and legislation.  They do not occupy, in any large scale, government positions of power.  They are not the ones deadlocked in Washington or passing draconian legislation that severely limits the rights of women, racial minorities and the poor.  They are not the ones who are denying marriage equality to same gender couples.  They are not the ones gerrymandering voting districts to shape elections; they are not the ones who are closing polls in rural areas and inner cities.  It is not because the younger generations are morally superior.  It is because we have not have never had enough power to warrant any worry over losing it–we have never had enough power to be corrupted by it.  Please, let’s put blame where it is deserved—the people in power who will do anything necessary to stay there.

AND you know what?  Despite all this, young people are still the backbone of all our protests and activist movements today.

  • It is the young people who stayed at the Wisconsin capital for days on end to protest the Budget Repair and who, as I write, are getting arrested for illegal observing (whatever that means.)

  • It is the young people who are fighting to organize workers throughout the country on campuses, in public education, in factories.
  • It was the young people who started and sustained the Occupy Wall Street movement, some of them getting tear gassed while on their knees.

  • It was the young people who staged the 31 day sit-in in Tallahassee, FL, after the Zimmerman verdict, and it is those same young people who are pushing for the end of racial profiling, the end of the school to prison pipeline for males of color, the end of Stand Your Ground.
  • It is the young people in the immigration rights movement who are supplying the emotional energy, the ones who sit in front of buses and chain themselves to fences, who walk across the border in caps and gowns and get arrested on their way back into the only country they have ever known, who intentionally get arrested and sent to detention centers so that they can mobilize the immigrants inside.
  • It is the young people who rallied behind State Senator Wendy Davis (born in 1960) in Austin and made her filibuster their own.  It is the young people of San Antonio, TX, who elected Julio Castro (age 39) as mayor and his twin brother, Joaquín Castro to the US House of Representatives.

  • It was the young people who came out in droves to vote in 2008 and again in 2012 to elect the first President of color.   The young people were Yes We Can.
  • It is the young people in North Carolina who are leading the charge for voting rights for students, people of color and the poor, taking on the Republicans throughout the state in legal battles that they probably won’t win, but disallows the GOP to keep the intentional stripping of voting rights out of the limelight.

  • It is the young people who are walking alongside the older generations in Washington DC, walking the same steps of the leaders of the past, honoring the sacrifices of those who came before and promising to continue their work of bringing justice to God’s children.

So during this week of commemorating and celebrating the great figures of history, let us also celebrate the ones who are taking up the mantle of Dr. King’s dream.  For if it weren’t for these in our midst, Dr. King’s dream would die.  Let us cherish their energy and their vision and their stamina.  Let us honor the obstacles they are overcoming to be beacons of justice and peace to our world today.  Thank you, young people for all that you doing and what you continue to do.  You too are an inspiration.  Thank you, God, for our past, for our present and for our future, and most of all, for your Spirit that guides us.



image from the national office of The United Church of Christ

As people of faith, we know and trust our God to be perfectly generous with grace and love. Our belief is that God loves each and every person, born anywhere in the world and at any point in history, with a love that will not let them go. We believe that God rejoices when God witnesses love and commitment between two people who are creating a life together. And we believe that God weeps for God’s people any time one is denied basic human rights, especially when this denial of rights is done in God’s name.

Therefore we are standing up for Marriage Equality in the state of Michigan, and we are committed to helping loving couples achieve the basic legal protections they deserve as citizens of the United States of America. And it starts now with the U.S. Supreme Court opinion that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional. It starts now as we await Federal Judge Bernard Friedman’s ruling in the DeBoer/Rowse case on the constitutionality of the 2004 Michigan ban against same gender marriage and the restrictive laws preventing both parents in a same gender couple from being able to legally adopt their children.

We are asking that any same gender couple in Washtenaw County who would like to get legally married in the State of Michigan to:

  1. Fill out the County Clerk’s marriage application found at Please be aware this application was not designed for same gender partners, but still fill it out and make changes as necessary. Each partner will need to be over 18 and will need a valid driver’s license/passport, a birth certificate and your social security number. It will cost $20/couple if you are residents of Michigan, $30 if from out of state.
  2. County Clerk Lawrence Kestenbaum will waive the 3 day waiting period as well as the waiver fee of $50 so couples will be able to apply for and receive their license the same day. His staff will be ready to assist us in this effort.
  3. Watch for news from the U.S. District Court (Fifth District). Judge Friedman could rule as quickly as one or two days after the Supreme Court’s opinions are released. We are looking to see if he rules that the ban on same gender marriage is unconstitutional.
  4. If he does, come to the Washtenaw County Clerk’s office (200 North Main Street, Ann Arbor) at 2:00 on the day that Judge Friedman rules with the marriage license application filled out and with supporting documents in hand. Bring your loved ones and supporters! The more the better!

At the Washtenaw County Clerk’s office, we will do the following:

  1. We will gather to submit the marriage license applications and have an interfaith, non-denominational wedding and/or weddings there at the County Clerk’s Office. We will take into account differences in faiths, or no faith, as well as respecting the fact that many couples may have taken their marriage vows in their places of worship or in the presence of family and friends.
  2. If Judge Friedman does not issue as stay with his ruling AND it takes the opposition some time to get their injunction to stop same gender marriages (pending appeal process) in place, we will have a mass marriage license signing party. There will be clergy from many denominations and faiths on hand to sign as many licenses as we can that day even if it takes us all night!
  3. If there is a stay issued, we will still gather and submit all applications to the County Clerk to be filed and ready for approval the moment that Marriage Equality is a reality in Michigan.
  4. In either case, TOGETHER, we will demand marriage equality. TOGETHER, we will celebrate love and commitment.

Please know that even in the remote event that we can sign marriage licenses in the next week or so, it might take a consider able of time to have these rights
fully in place. There is the possibility that state rights won’t happen until after the appeals process, but the federal rights will be possible as soon as the
government can make the administrative changes needed to implement. A special thank you to County Clerk Kestenbaum for his unwavering support!

If you have questions, please don’t hesitate to contact:
Rev. Deborah Dean-Ware, 734-971-6133
Pastor, The Church of the Good Shepherd, United Church of Christ,,

What a Difference a Week Makes

ImagePresident Obama and Mitt Romney / Getty Images (via USA Today)

Just seven days ago (Wednesday, October 24th), the news outlets were all atwitter (pun intended) with analysis of the last of the three presidential debates which had happened the night before.  The internet and the 24 hour news channels were flooded with video clips of the debate and the political pundits were having a heyday with projections about the Presidential election.   There were map after map of potential Electoral College results, taking cues from different polls and it was declared, again and again, that the election was in a dead heat.  Which way would Florida vote? Ohio? Virginia?  Anxiety and excitement were at an all-time high.  Political insults were being hurled right and left (pun intended again).  Things were getting nasty as we headed in the final stretch of the never-ending political season.  The candidates were sprinting to the finish line, spending millions in campaign ads in the battleground states and jetting around the country trying to woo the illusive “undecided” voter.


 It is Wednesday, October 31st, and the election is hardly on the radar with only six days left.  Cable news and websites are filled with images of destruction, the aftermath of floods and high winds and fires.  There are pictures of people bailing water out of their homes or walking through the charred remains of their houses.  There are photos of crumpled roads, waist high standing waters and people sleeping on cots in shelters.  There are stories of people dying because of trees falling and live electrical wires lying hidden in water.  There are press conferences with Republican Governors praising Democratic Presidents for responding to the crisis in a timely and humane way.  Our attention (temporarily, of course) is diverted away from heated and divisive politics and is now focused on responding to the need of the millions who have lost so much in the wake of Super-Storm Sandy.

In anticipating this final week before the election, I had steeled myself for an onslaught of mean-spirited advertisements and constant political projections.  I had prepared myself as a pastor to be mindful that people would feel tense and anxious, fearful and angry, in these final days.  Up until Monday, the stakes had seemed so high and our country felt so incredibly divided.  Now, the energy of the United States has shifted dramatically, and besides feeling grief for my fellow citizens on the eastern seaboard, I am feeling unsettled and confused.  I had been prepared for another kind of intensity.  I had planned for it.  But my head is spinning a bit.

However, I am grateful for being here instead of where I had anticipated being.  If I one can find the grace in such an enormous natural disaster, the good news is that we have all been brutally reminded of our humanity beyond our political leanings.  As Americans entrenched in deep political camps, we have been so divided for so long now that I worried that we would ever see any commonality.  But Hurricane Sandy didn’t see red states or blue states as she barreled towards land, and her waters and wind didn’t choose to strike a Republican household or a Democratic one.  People suffered and people responded.  People are still suffering and they need people to keep responding.  Pure and simple.

Now I pray that we can hold onto this fragile state of unity through the next few weeks.  We will return our focus on the election, and the pundits will start shouting again.  The Electoral College map will return and next Tuesday night and Wednesday morning will be consumed by watching the results come in.  Still I pray that we may stay here in place where we remember the humanity of the “other.”

May it be so,
Pastor Deb

When Roles Collide…

For me, being a parent is beautiful and hard.  There are moments of sheer joy and delight, moments that are thin and beautiful and beyond words, moments that make my heart swell so fully that I am sure it will pop right out of my chest.  Those are the times when I fall to my knees and thank God for my sweet five year old.  But then, coming almost as quickly and often just as unexpectedly, there are those moments with my child when the anger and frustration and confusion wash over me, and I can’t see straight I am so overwhelmed.  These are the moments when I know I am just along for the ride, and I am no longer under the illusion that I am in control.  I still fall on my knees in prayer in these moments, but there is no thanksgiving involved, only the plea for help.  Yes, Annie Lamont had it right when she wrote there are only two kinds of prayers—“thank you, thank you, thank you” and “help me, help me, help me.”  

Just a few days ago, I had one of those moments, where I found myself praying, “help me, help me, help me.” Though I was far from filled with anger and despair (nothing that dramatic, thank God), I was incredibly confused and uncertain.  In this instance, my dear son, who can make my heart happy with only a smile, was rolling around on the ground.  Now he does this from time to time and sometimes it is just because he feels like rolling on the ground–he is five and that is what a five year old does.  But I am learning that he does this also when he is feeling unsure of himself or of his surroundings.  My child doesn’t typically throw fits or tantrums.  When he is scared or overwhelmed, there is very little screaming and shouting and crying.  One of his MO’s when he is stressed is to drop to the floor and I can’t for the life of me get him to sit in a chair or stand up or do whatever is socially appropriate at that time.  So there he was a few days ago, stressed out and rolling on the ground, babbling about something and gently kicking his legs, and there I was, praying help me, help me, help me…

Not a big deal, really, except that this all happened in the midst of worship.  Did I mention that I am the pastor of this beautiful church, and big part of my vocation, part of my job, is leading worship?  I love leading worship, and this congregation, The Church of the Good Shepherd, UCC, loves worshiping, and more often than not, we have amazing worship together.  But every so often, my roles collide.  Every so often, I am called upon to be pastor and mother at the same time, in the very same moment and often in front of a large group of people (oh yeah, with a microphone on too!).  Yes, when my roles collide, I am most definitely praying, “help me, Help Me, HELP ME!”  J

It dawned on me the other day that most people in their professional lives don’t bring their children to work with them.  I have never been to the doctor’s office with the doctor’s child in the room with them while they try to discern what is ailing me.  I don’t see professors or police officers on the job with their children in tow (or spouse/partner, for that matter).  There is a reason why most schools won’t let teachers have their own children in their class.  But pastoring is different.  We not only bring our families to work with us, our churches expect us to do so.  Rightly or wrongly, a pastor’s family is part of the package, even though only the pastor signs the call contract.

Most of the time, this is a gift, both to the pastor and the pastor’s family.  We are in this vocation because we love God and we love church, and we want our children to grow up in a faith community. I want my little guy to grow up in The Church of the Good Shepherd more than anything.  We came to this church specifically because we wanted Josiah to be part of this supportive community that celebrates God’s beautiful diversity, we want him to be surrounded by a church that celebrates who he is, we want him to grow into a responsible and loving adult who will love all of God’s children in the same way.  But when the roles collide, it gets tricky.  Am I a pastor or a mother first, particularly in the context of worship?  How do I parent my child, in awkward and frustrating situations, in a very public way?  And most confusing of all, what does these kinds of pressure/ambiguity of roles do to and for Josiah, who doesn’t have the slightest clue (and shouldn’t, really) about pastoring/worship/professionalism?  What about Josiah who is only five and who only wants his mama on Sunday as he does any other day of the week?  Yes, here’s the prayer again, “Help me, Help me, Help me!”  And the prayer “Thank you, Thank you, Thank you.”

How to be an anti-racist ally at The Church of the Good Shepherd

Doing Our Own Work is an intensive seminar for white people who seek to deepen their commitment to confronting and challenging racism and white privilege where they live, study, and work. It is our conviction that those of us who are white need to “do our own work” – educating ourselves, confronting racism, holding each other accountable, and demonstrating good faith as we seek to build genuine and lasting coalitions with people of color. Doing Our Own Work is designed as a supplement to, not a substitute for, contexts where people of diverse races discuss and strategize together how racism can be challenged. 

–Allies for Change website,

Above is the brief description of the anti-racism workshop that I attended in Kalamazoo two weeks ago.  It is the description that caught my attention when I did a Google search for anti-racism training three months ago.  When I discovered that Doing Our Own Work (DOOW) was going to be offered in June, I was excited to find a training that was close by, that was affordable and that worked with my busy calendar so I immediately signed up.  A couple of weeks ago, I finished my DOOW homework reading, packed a small suitcase and drove my 1996 Ford pick-up (no air-conditioning!) to a Catholic retreat center in Kalamazoo to learn more about how to be an anti-racist ally.

Now I have been at many a continuing education seminar over the years.  I have learned about healthy conflict resolution, about multi-media worship experiences, about how to reach the “post-modern, un-churched young adult.”  I have learned about church growth, about church renewal, and about starting a new congregation.  I have learned how to construct a sermon and how to incorporate new music into worship.  I have learned about different stewardship strategies and how to use technology as an evangelism tool.  Yes, I have been to many, many continuing ed opportunities, and many (not all, though) have been quite helpful.  However, all of these experiences were focused on skills and strategies, goals and structures—they were indeed “trainings.”  Well, Doing Our Own Work was no “training.”  I didn’t leave with a strategy or a set of goals in hand.  I don’t have a to-do list in mind or an adult education class planned.  I confess I haven’t a clue about the next step to take here at COGS to continue to reach our vision of being truly multi-racial, multi-cultural.

Having attended other anti-racism events before, I expected to be challenged, to be encouraged to confront my own fears and prejudices, to begin thinking about how to dismantle systemic racism, and to be sure, all of that occurred.  But this experience went so much deeper.  Why, you ask?  Because I am in your midst now—I am the pastor of The Church of the Good Shepherd, United Church of Christ, Ann Arbor, MI.  This anti-racism work isn’t about programs or long-term strategic plans.  It is about who we are as a faith community.  It isn’t a side-line endeavor.  It is the core of our identity.  This isn’t about something I, as pastor, am going to do for you.  It is about a long-standing legacy of anti-racism work onto which we build together.

I have so much to unpack about my “training.”  But I am so grateful that I get to unpack it in this place.  God’s peace and love.

God;s blessings,
Pastor Deb


Installation Montage