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, http://alliesforchange.org/

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

Standing Our Ground

“Standing our ground.”  This phrase keeps popping into my consciousness as I continue to react to the Trayvon Martin tragedy.  Certainly, his murder has captured the nation’s attention and many people are attempting to confront this injustice through protest and social media movements.  It would be worse, so much worse, if our country was disinterested as it has been so many times before.  At least in this one instance (because violence directed towards people of color is NOT new), people are taking notice, or I should say, white people are taking notice, including myself.

As a pastor, I am struggling with how to respond this week.  Somehow organizing a protest here in Ann Arbor doesn’t seem quite right, at least not for a community of faith.  There are plenty of people protesting, there are plenty of people on the news and on facebook trying to speak truth to power.  I loved reading about the Million Hoodies March yesterday, and wished I had known to wear my hoodie to church last night as a sign of solidarity (even though it is in the 80’s here in Michigan!).  Protest is certainly part of our response, but I yearn for something deeper than chanting and waving signs, something that changes me for the better and for the long run.  Something that doesn’t let me and other white people move back into our blissful ignorance of the violent reality of racism in the USA, even in 2012.

I was and am moved by the picture on msnbc.com of Trayvon’s parents being prayed over in New York City.  I was also struck with how few white hands are being laid on them.   When I saw this last night, I wanted to make that picture different, right.  I wished I was there, I wished I could reach through the computer screen and lay my hands on their shoulders, to have white hands intertwined with black hands.  Today, I am wishing I could reach out into the communities of color here in Washtenaw County to show my love and support, to confess my own sin of racism, and to celebrate and to learn from the strength of the people in these communities.  In my mind, I keep trying to find the perfect way, a perfect place for a silent vigil, a perfect time to mobilize my new congregation into something powerful.  If I could just come up with a creative idea…to show how to “stand our ground” for justice and equality.

“Standing our ground.”  I think I am slowly coming to realize that “standing our ground” for justice for me today is remaining here in this confusion, in this discomfort, in this place where I can’t do anything but write this blog entry.  I can’t fix anything right now, I can’t swoop in and make things better, I can’t change the course of history.  But I can be witness to Trayvon and to his parents.  I can open my heart wide enough to be changed, truly changed, by his story.  I can can continue to listen, and learn, and remember God’s special love for the marginalized, the oppressed.

The question is:  what will “standing our ground” for God’s justice mean tomorrow?  And the next day?  Next week?  Next year?   Or a more pressing question, the next news cycle?

Running for his life….

We have been hearing a lot this week about “Stand Your Ground” laws as it pertains to George Zimmerman and his shooting of unarmed 17 year old Trayvon Martin.  Zimmerman claims self defense even though there is mounting evidence that he actively pursued Trayvon and there still has been no arrest.  We hear a lot of support for “Standing One’s Ground” laws that are all over the country.  We hear about the “right to defend oneself” under the guise of the 2nd Amendment.  But I can’t get the image of that poor child, walking home with a bag of Skittles and flirting with his girlfriend on the phone, suddenly “running for his life” and pleading for someone to help him.  The 911 tapes are chilling–they are bone chilling.  One has Zimmerman calmly speaking to the dispatcher when he begins to follow Trayvon and then the dispatcher warns him not to follow the “suspicious” (read: black) individual.  The other one is a neighbor who is hiding upstairs because she is terrified by the shrieks for help (which are audible on the tape), the single gunshot and then the silence, the deadly silence.  That poor child, lying there alone and dying while people cowered in their apartments in fear.  Trayvon–the latest of the thousands over hundreds of years who have “run for their lives.”  Because they are not white.  Sadly, Trayvon Martin won’t be the “last.”

I am a educated, white, middle class woman.  Walking down the street, I have never been seen as “suspicious.”  Nobody has ever called 911 because they thought I was up to no good.  I have never been the target of the “Stand Your Ground” laws–I do not represent the images in people’s heads when they talk about “the right to defend themselves” with deadly force.  I move through this world with a freedom that Trayvon never experienced, but a freedom he deserved solely for being a beloved Child of God.  This freedom is what God desires for all of God’s children.  I believe God aches for these lost ones, the ones who fall because of hatred and systemic racism.  

I don’t know about you, but I ache for Trayvon and for the thousands of other unnamed black men and women who have run for their lives–run from slave traders, run from slave owners, run from lynch mobs, run from vigilantes, run from police with batons and water hoses.  I thank God for all the thousands who courageously “Stood Their Ground” for justice and fairness and freedom, even when it cost them their lives.

So how do we, this day, “Stand Our Ground” against the violence directed towards people of color?  How do we embody the deep and abiding love that God has for all citizens of this world, for each and every child whom God claims as “beloved?” How do we begin to deconstruct the systems of our society that has institutionalized racism, sexism, heterosexism?  

Well, I believe we begin by grieving together, and praying together, and crying together.  We witness to the preciousness of Trayvon’s life.  We turn to God’s word again as a reminder of God’s call to justice.  We acknowledge fearlessly that we haven’t always lived into this call for justice. 

It is time to “Stand Our Ground” and remember that it is Holy Ground. 

Praying for God’s peace,
Pastor Deb