Church · Things That Matter To Me · Uncategorized

Do We Hold All Life Sacred?

A few weeks ago, my daughter and her dad had a conversation about guns on the way to school. I was not privy to this conversation, but I’m told it went along the lines of whether or not having guns is okay. And questions about why people hurt each other with them. And why we have them at all. And her dad, he said a really good thing–he said that people who have guns need to also have a great respect for life. And he added that being a praying person can help that.

To which the girl child said, “Well…Papa is a praying person. And he has guns.”

Her Papa, my father, is one of her great heroes in this life. She knows that he has guns, and she knows he uses them solely for hunting deer or ducks or whatever. She also knows that he is, yes, a praying person. In her 8 years of life, she’s seen Papa pray more times than she could even begin to count.

And so the thing is, she’s on to something. I know no one who has a greater respect for life than my father. And so his guns, they don’t bother me one bit. I can’t even tell you the last time I saw them, actually.

Since I’ve heard what M said about her Papa and guns, I’ve been thinking a great deal about the truth of her words. And what they might mean for our nation. Because every damn day, statistics tell us, citizens of the United States of America die from gun shots.

I have nothing else to say or write about gun control. I have nothing else to say or write about those who suffer mental illness in this country. I have nothing else to say or write about the ways we split hairs between what’s defined as terrorism and what’s defined as a “mass shooting,” most of it an effort to define and confine the “other” we’re so afraid of. And I have nothing else to say or write about the 2nd Amendment. We’ve polarized and politicized the conversations about all these things to the point that we can’t even hear each other over the sound and fury of our arguing.

And I swear to the baby Jesus I wait on this Advent season, if I hear one more person refer to a gun violence episode as “shocking,” I may lose it entirely. It ceased to be “shocking” a very long time ago.

Meanwhile, men, women and children die at gunpoint. Every. Damn. Day.  And it sickens, terrifies and enrages me.

At some point, we the people of these United States are going to have to make a decision. And as I see it, the decision is this: Do we hold life sacred, or do we not?

Do we hold life–all life–sacred…or do we not?

Do we treasure our children–all our children–as the beautiful and full of glorious potential beings that they are? Do we acknowledge and live into the words of our founding documents that all men are created equal? Do we see the contributions that women have made to the sometimes greatness of our country and continue to support them in their efforts?

Do we welcome the stranger? Do we care for the poor? Do we offer shelter to those who need it?

Do we understand that my heart, your heart, their hearts–they’re all the same? Every single one of us, created with the same organ that gives us life?

Do we value all life as sacred? And if we do (and I’d argue these days we really don’t), do we teach our children this same value?

If I’m wrong (and how I’d love to be!), and the answer is yes, then we’ve got work to do to prove it. If the answer is yes, then we’ve got:

  1. Phone calls to make, emails and letters to write, and visits to schedule to our lawmakers, so that they might hear us finally and mightily screaming, “ENOUGH!”…
  2. Conversations to have about how we treat the marginalized and disenfranchised in this country and how that might contribute to the madness we’re in…
  3. Honest and valiant efforts to be made at reconciliation among varying skin colors and ethnicities and faith traditions…
  4. Humility to find. Hospitality to reclaim. Voices that insist on safety and security for ALL to engage.
  5. Serious soul-searching to do…and maybe this is where M’s acknowledgement about her Papa comes in. Real soul-searching involves prayer of some sort–be it to God or Allah or Buddha or the Universe.

Do we really want to be known as the country where every day, we wake up and hope we don’t get shot? Is THAT what it means to be the land of the free and the home of the brave?

Not in my book. Not even a little.

Do we hold all life as sacred in this country?

And do we really want to be known for answering that question with…”No.” ?


Church · Things That Matter To Me

Speaking Up Again

I first wrote the majority of the post below in March of 2012. Almost three years ago. And I wish, more than anything, it didn’t need repeating. That I could look back at it and think how thankful I am that it is no longer necessary to speak up on behalf of the LGBT community. For a variety of reasons, all of which boil down to our inability to accept one another for who we are, as God made us, and love each another enough to really listen past the fear and anxiety and into a new way of being together, I’ve adapted the original post, here, and am once again sharing it. Because everyone’s life matters. 


I was eleven years old the first time I had a conversation about homosexuality. It was at the family dinner table, and for whatever reason, my parents said the word “gay” in front of me for the first time. I piped up, “What’s that mean?” and my dad proffered an explanation.  “I don’t know anyone like that!” I said, all earnest insistence.

And dad said, “Yes, you do, Julie.  You just don’t know it.”

Perhaps it is precisely because of this that the issue of who someone loves, or is attracted to, has never been, for me, an issue at all.  Intentionally or otherwise, my parents never made it anything to get wound up about.  And because I was consistently surrounded by messages of grace and love when it came to church, it never occurred to me that God would take issue with someone being gay either.

I was lucky.

I was in high school before I heard the horrid word “fag.” I was sixteen about the time I heard rumored whispers about my friend Steve, my very favorite duet partner at church.  My freshman year of college one of my roommates transferred to another school because she’d been labeled “lesbian” and couldn’t take the heat that came with it. My first year of seminary, Matthew Shepard was tied to a fence and beaten to death.  Not long after that I saw, firsthand, the angry signs of the infamous Westboro Baptist Church.

And for the last decade or more, I’ve watched the Church I love struggle mightily with this “issue.” When I was practicing congregational ministry, I often equivocated when asked, “Do you believe being gay is a sin?” fearing my job would be on the line otherwise.  I found ways of talking about God’s love for those who identify as part of the GLBT community such that it would be easy for congregants to ignore my words if they didn’t agree with me.  And sometimes, to my own deep dismay, I held my tongue when those around me held forth on the great “sin” of homosexuality, not wanting to enter the fray of conflict.

Silent and vague and equivocation don’t cut it.

Because here’s the thing:  I love my friend Doug–he is a shining example of what it means to love God and follow Jesus.  And my friends Rob and Joe?  Their 40-plus year commitment to one another is one of the finest testaments to love I’ve ever seen.  And my daughter’s friend who has two mommies–I don’t want them to ever feel, ever again, that their love, their family, is somehow “less than.”

And between these ones I can speak of, and the other friends and family I cannot speak of aloud (for their own emotional and professional safety and stability), I have come to the conclusion that those of us who stand with “them” ought probably say something about why we do.

And so here’s why I do….

  • I stand with them because there is a whole lot in this world I will never understand, but I do understand that it is never okay to judge someone outside the love of God.  Ever.
  • I stand with them because I know the hearts of some of them and they are hearts full of goodness and truth, and I cannot believe that any one of them would choose the misery, judgement and exclusion that has been present in their lives–I believe they are simply trying to be who they are, even if who they are isn’t appreciated, understood, liked or affirmed.
  • I stand with them, as a person of faith and as an ordained minister, because the Bible says very little–IF anything at all–about what we know in this day and time as homosexuality.  It’s really rather nebulous.  But the Bible is VERY clear about loving your neighbor.  About taking care of those who are left out. About caring for one another as we have been cared for by the One who created us. We Christians used to use the Bible to justify slavery, the subjugation of women, too–for these atrocities we have begged pardon.  Maybe one day….
  • I stand with them because I believe it is the right thing to do.  I might be wrong.  But I’m willing to take my chances.
  • I stand with them because there is a great deal God and I will have to reckon with at the pearly gates.  I’d rather the judgement and ostracization of another human being not be added to the list.

Someone once said to me, “Julie, your thoughts on this are all well and good.  Kind-hearted and compassionate, even.  But unfortunately God isn’t always about being kind-hearted and compassionate. You have to make room for judgment.”

No. I don’t. 

The faith I was given, the stories I read about God and Jesus taught me that we are, each of us, loved beyond our wildest imagining–no matter what–and that it’s the ways we mistreat one another that most often break God’s heart.  Rampant hunger, homeless children, war-stricken countries, generations of poverty, unchecked disease–these things, yes, I think they probably warrant some wrath and judgement from our God.  But the love Rob and Joe have for one another?  I think that probably mirrors God’s love as opposed to acting against it.

I know and love more than a few folks who do not agree with me and who would, at best, call me misguided.  And my only answer for them is the unwavering faith I have in a God who loves–so much bigger and broader and wider and deeper than we ever know.  A God who calls us into life together and pronounces that life very, very good.

The judgement, the bullying, the pronouncing some of God’s children as less worthy than others, the name-calling, the leaving-out, the hatred, the fear, the insistence on naming the supposed of sins of others-on BOTH of sides of this debate!–I cannot believe any of this is what God intended.  And I believe we can do better.

When my daughter was very small, she told me she was going to marry her best friend, Caroline.  I told her that was fine, but asked her why she wanted to.  She told me about another friend at school who has two mommies–“so it’s ok, Mommy, right?”  I smiled, hugged her tight, and told her, “Yes, baby.  It’s okay that Eric has two mommies.”

She doesn’t know any different.  All she knows is the love she has for her friends and how happy they all are together–no matter how all the relationships shake out in the end.  Lucky curly girl.

My deep prayer these days is that we’d all be lead, perhaps by our children, into such generosity of friendship.  Such adamant insistence on loving each other.

Such grand and hopeful and unconditional welcome.

Advent · Church · Things That Matter To Me

We Need Each Other

The older I get, the less sure I am of most things. But if there’s one thing I know to be true in this life it is that we need each other.

Most especially when we think we don’t.


Last night I had, through my work, the opportunity to visit with a group of about 20 pastors–the vast majority of them having chalked up decades of service to the Church at this point in their lives and careers. This is especially remarkable if you are aware, as I am, that the Church they first fell in love with and made promises to lead and serve looks very little like the Church they are still seeking to love and lead and serve today.The world is not as it was then. And so neither is the Church.

Part of what I do professionally these days (which is still a surprise to me) is work with a program designed to help foster sustainability in ministry for pastors. Put conversely, the program is rooted in research about clergy burnout/clergy health and well-being and what pastors might need to be healthier and avoid the mind-numbing, soul-sapping reality that is burnout (of any kind).

I’ve known burnout. Maybe you have to. And it feels just like it sounds: burnout. Nothing left. No gas in the tank. No possibility that the match will relight. No desire to do the work  you once loved, rather, a desire to run far from it in pursuit of something that will give you life and purpose and meaning again.

I also know/believe that the root of burnout is isolation.

Isolation happens when we forget that we are not islands unto ourselves. When we forget that we were, at our very first breath, created for relationship. When out of our own fear or pain or stress level we block out the very people we need most. When we are unable to trust and so retreat inside ourselves with the insistence of a box turtle traumatized by a neighborhood dog.

Because we often feel as if the weight of the world is, in fact, to be carried upon our shoulders, clergy persons are especially susceptible to burnout. We have no one to blame but ourselves and our very tender hearts for this. Still…it is.

But whether clergy or business-types, CEO’s or stay-at-home moms (or dads), caregivers or entrepreneurs, men or women, Christian or Muslim, GOP or DNC, we cannot exist (for very long or very well) in isolation. And when we attempt to do so, we wilt. Slowly. Like the quiet fading away of a peace lily that’s been left neglected in the office lobby since last year’s Christmas party.

It is, inherently, against our very nature to silo ourselves off from one another. 

There are people I’ve known who have brought out the very worst there is in me. The result of this is usually me feeling terrible about myself and losing any sense of humor or creativity (normally my two great salvations in difficult situations). And it’s easy to say, “Well, I don’t need her in my life anyway.” Or, “I don’t have to work him anymore, thankthebabyjesusandallthesaints!”

But the truth is that these people, they teach me things about myself that matter (even if what’s being taught is something I didn’t want to know), and for this reason alone…I need them. Or at least needed them for a season. And they are, even if in just a small way, part and parcel of who I am every day becoming.

Because I am a person of Christian faith, I am consistently humbled and amazed by the great truth of the Christmas story–a story that lays out in no uncertain terms that God created us for one another. As if to say, “Clearly you’ve forgotten that this life, it’s about the journey together, despite what personality clashes or differences of opinion you might have, and so let me remind you, with the most vulnerable among you, a baby, what it means to have life together.”

And y’all? In a world where teenage girls are stolen in the dead of night, and where black folks and white folks are rioting in the streets over our mutual distrust, and where more people than we’ll ever know are walking around with more pain than we could ever imagine assailing their hearts, and when guns designed to kill people are an acceptable accessory….

In a world where all this is true, I know no other message that needs more proclaiming than this:

We need each other.

We need each other.