3 Ways to Have Better Table Talk this Thanksgiving

An extended family meal. We are sitting there, eating our turkey (we have multiple Thanksgivings
to get in, so had to do one early). Suddenly, someone brings up the election. I know they voted differently than me. Everyone stops eating. Polite chatter ceases. An awkward silence ensues. It continues  until someone makes a random comment about something else. The sigh of relief you hear is the collective exhale around the table that we are moving on to something else.

This scene will unfold around many tables this Thanksgiving. This election has stirred an unrest and a division in us that we have not experienced in some time. All of us are convinced we are right. In past elections, we were passionate about our candidates, but weren’t convinced the other one(s) were so awful. Not this time. We didn’t think the folks who supported the other candidate(s) were so awful. In many cases, not this time.

Now, we sit down to eat and to give thanks together.  Your uncle who is passing the green beans; thrilled that Obamacare will be gutted. Couldn’t happen soon enough. Your aunt passing the cranberry sauce; worried that her dear friends may have their marriage nullified if same-sex marriage is reversed. The pain and concern folks have is real. What is one to do? You know when folks rather talk about religion, something must be up. 

Here are three ways to have better table talk this Thanksgiving.

Don’t pontificate around the dinner table News flash: No one is really that interested in the article you read on the internet that you keep wanting to talk about.  Those gathered around the table love you for who you are, not because you think you are the smartest person in the room. There is a time and place for healthy, informed debate, but the Thanksgiving table is not the place. No one wants a slice of your opinions with their turkey.

Listen more than you talk Jesus shared many meals with folks whom no one else would eat. Tax collectors, sinners, you know the drill. I wonder if he did more talking or more listening? I would guess more listening. He understood that personal and social transformation begins where we are. We don’t know where people are at unless we listen. Listen to what is going on in others’ lives. Their challenges, their joys. Even close family members don’t overtly share everything with one another. Take a listen and you might be surprised by what you hear.

Find common ground Find something, whether silly or serious, that you can talk about. Maybe everyone agrees that your sister-in-law makes terrible mashed potatoes and everyone knows it but her. Hey, it’s a start. God has created life in a way that we have a shared dependence on one another. Whether we recognize it or not, we need one another. This is a gift, not a curse. Find something to discuss that is life-giving and a shared interest. Even if its a mutal dislike of the Dallas Cowboys.

Perhaps our dinner tables can be a source of healing this year. I mean, stranger things have happened. Save the neck for me Clark! Happy Thanksgiving.

Election Thoughts for Sandy Springs Christian Church

I typically use this medium to write to an auidience wider than the congregation that I serve. Today I wanted to share my pastoral thoughts that I shared with my congregation in this space
Dear Church,
One of the great acts of our democracy is electing the President of the United States. In a divisive election season, the thrill of victory is heightened and the sting of defeat is magnified. Some desired this outcome, while others did not. That’s the problem with elections, they create winners and losers. Now, we move forward. In the church, we speak often of the Body of Christ. In a day and age where unity seems nearly impossible, we recall Jesus’ prayer that all of his followers might be one. To be one is not to convert others to our way of thinking; rather it is to acknowledge our shared humanity and shared dependence upon God. This prayer calls on followers of Christ and the church to protect those who are marginalized and those without privilege.   I believe that Jesus offers God’s redeeming grace and love to all and I believe in the Good News of God’s reign and realm.
One of the things this election cycle has shown us is that we need new models of community. We need a new way of being together. Instead of seeking to listen and hearing all voices, we have only been shouting louder. There are people on all places in the political spectrum who feel as though their voice has not been heard. True unity and true community seeks to find the fullness of life for all.
 One of the things I cherish about SSCC and about the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) is that we are people of the table. We hold firm that there is room for all. No matter who received your vote on Tuesday, a place is set for you on Sunday. In a day and age of deep division rooted in fear, what a life-giving belief.
My hope and prayer is that the church models a new, better way of being in community with one another. What if we led the way in how to be in relationship with one another, especially among those who have different points of view? For too long, we have modeled our life together after other institutions and communities. It’s time we look to the life and ministry of Jesus for a new model…. After all, it’s not a President in whom we claim our faith, rather it is in the God of love in which “we move, live and have our being.” I look forward to gathering around God’s great table with you this Sunday.
Grace and peace to you,
Rev. Danny Gulden
Senior Minister

Dear Future President: A Letter

Dear Future President,

The big day is almost here. You will be elected to the highest office in the land by the American people. Regardless of what people might say, you will be elected to serve all the American people. That’s a tough job because we can be pretty difficult. Are you sure you are ready for this?

There are several things that I hope will happen over the course of the next four years as your policies and actions shape our shared future.

I hope people will pray for you. Whether they voted for you or not, I hope people will pray for you. Imagine the power of people from many faiths praying for you and your work. Know that there are people across the nation praying for you. May you feel these prayers.

I hope you will be welcoming. Our nation continues to grow more diverse. This is a good thing as a rich tapestry of cultures and traditions comes together as one. You should see this as a strength, not a weakness. This is something for which we should be proud, not ashamed. Continue to welcome those in our land who are seeking our cherished freedoms.

I hope you will embrace all people. Too much of the language of this campaign season has been divisive and “othering.” When considering policies, take into account the effect they will have on everyone. Don’t be afraid to take on the systemic issues that we need to face.   May you foster an environment in our nation where all people are celebrated. Not tolerated. Celebrated.

I hope you will promote peace. I get it, foreign policy is difficult and we are threatened on several fronts. You receive information daily that most Americans could never fathom receiving. Very few of us would want to be in your shoes. However, as you are able, help us lead the way in promoting peace in the world. I believe we can support those serving our country  while working together for peace.

I hope you will work for the economic good of all. In a nation with our resources, we should not have the poverty levels that we do. I realize the government is not the only institution that bears the responsibility for caring for our people, but please advocate for policies that lift people and benefit the widest range of people possible.

I hope you will be a responsible steward of the earth. We can do better when it comes to addressing climate change. Let’s talk about climate change while looking at our own lives to see where we can be better stewards of the earth, so that we may leave a better future for our children and grandchildren, etc.

I hope you will respect those who disagree with you. I know this is a tough one. It’s hard to, especially when you are the one who has to “turn the other cheek.” One of the ways in which we can turn around the way we talk to one another is if you set a good example.

So there you go. Just a few hopes that I have for your time in office. May Gods grace and peace be with you as you begin this journey.

 

3 Reasons the Cubs World Series Win is Good for the Church

Cubs Win! Cubs Win! Cubs Win!cubs

The curse is over!  The Cubs are World Series champions. The Cubs win is good for generations of Cubs fans, good for the game of baseball, and good for the city of Chicago. It’s also good for the church. How is that?

Reason #1

In the midst of a divisive and never-ending election season, the World Series has provided a nice  distraction for the country. People watched baseball in numbers not seen in forever  so they may be a part of the water cooler discussion at the office. At church this past Sunday, I walked by several groups of people talking about the World Series. I had assumed most of these folks didn’t even know what a baseball looked like. Once again, we have found common ground in America’s pastime. Too bad it wasn’t an 11 game series that would have carried us through next Tuesday.

Reason #2

It has given us pause to remember the saints who have gone before. Cubs lore is filled with heroes such as Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, and of course Harry Carey. There is the story of the North Caroline man who listened to Game 7 on the radio while at his father’s gravesite. This win bonds generations of fans both seen and unseen. It is celebrated in the “great cloud of witnesses” and gives us the chance to remember those who have shaped us and passed down their passions to us.

Reason #3

All things are possible. We hear of the church’s declining numbers and influence. We experience frustration in our lack of effecting meaningful change in ushering in God’s vision for the world. A World Series win after 108 years of frustration gives the church hope. it brings alive Paul’s words to the church at Rome, We find ourselves standing where we always hoped we might stand—out in the wide open spaces of God’s grace and glory, standing tall and shouting our praise. Hope, even when it seems like eternal hope, does not disappoint. The church can go ahead and dream big dreams and its people can answer bold calls. All things are possible.

Cubs Win! Cubs Win! Cubs Win!

 

 

Grace at the Polling Place

She was heading up the steps slowly but surely. Although we were going to the same place,voter we came from different places. I suspect that she had been voting before the Voting Rights Act of 1965 assured that she could vote and that her vote would count. I’ve never had to worry about that. I rushed to get the door for her so she wouldn’t have to worry about holding a heavy door open. As I was holding the door, a young adult came bounding up the steps. I kept the door open for him and as he passed he smiled and said, “It’s my first time.”

We were early voting. By many accounts more and more people are taking advantage of early voting. Perhaps we don’t want to wait in long lines on Election Day. I suspect many just want to get it over with. Cast our vote and then wash the dirt and grime of this campaign season off of our collective selves.

As we lined up, they handed us the early voting form to fill out. My friend who had come in with me was looking over her form with a confused look on her face. The gentleman in front of her turned and offered to help. I overheard him talking with her about his path to vote, sharing that this was his second presidential election since becoming a citizen in 2010. A police officer who was watching over the proceedings (no Russians or alt-right poll watchers thank God) helped another man towards the back of the line with his form; apparently he had forgotten his glasses.

As we all made our way into the large gym with the voting booths and registration records, the poll workers could not have been friendlier. They checked people in with ease and a respect not often seen during this campaign season. Two shouts of “we have a first time voter” rang out. Everyone stopped what they were doing and cheered.  I headed to my voting booth while absorbing the scene around me. There were probably fifteen folks in the booths. Different in age, gender, ethnicity, and likely in a thousand other ways that one can’t tell on the surface. Each of us probably had experienced life in American in a different way. I am certain there were different choices for President, although I am certain everyone voted no on Amendment 1.

In the midst of such an ugly and disheartening election season, the act of voting was anything but ugly and disheartening.  It was a holy moment, a glimpse of grace. It was a reminder not only of what makes this country great now, but a glimpse of how we can become even greater for all people. Who would have thought that grace would show up at the polling place?

As I walked out, proudly wearing my “I’m a Georgia voter” sticker, my first time voter friend held the door open for me. People were getting back in their cars while others were just getting out. I thought to myself, ‘America, we might just make it yet. It’s going to be all good.”

That’s Not How Boys Talk- A Letter to My Daughters

Dear B and A,b-and-a

Your mom and I have always done our best to teach you to see the best in others and the best in yourself. The world will send you mixed messages about who you are and whose you are at almost every turn. While equality seems a given to some, you still would make less money for doing the same job as a male.This is not fair. There is more work to do and our hope is that you will be a part of this. I know there are struggles you will face in our society that I have not had to face. You take a backseat to no one because of your gender. It is an honor to raise two daughters.

Both of you have seen some things about our Presidential election on television. You have asked some really good questions including my favorite, “wait, a girl can be President?” B asked yesterday why people on television were talking about one of the candidates. Truthfully, where do I begin?

Words matter.The intentions behind words matter.  Your Dad makes a living for our family using words. Your Dad feels called to use words on behalf of God to communicate God’s deep love for all people. Words matter and the thoughts those words convey matter.

The words used by one of our candidates are unacceptable. Those words would not be acceptable from one of your classmates or by any other male. That is not how boys talk. If a boy ever talks to you or about you in such an unacceptable way, your mom and I will be having a conversation with their parents. We would not expect you to talk that way about boys or girls. Don’t ever let someone talk at you or to you in this way and think “that’s just how boys talk.” It’s not.

Our society should not let this pass. People in the church who you look up to should not let this pass. I will not let this pass. I would not be doing the sacred job entrusted to me as your Dad if I just passed this off as “how boys talk.” You are not an object who has been put on this earth for others’ pleasure. You are not inferior to anyone because you are a girl. No one should feel like they have the right to take advantage or objectify you because you are a girl. You are wonderfully made, both beautiful children of God. I promise that your Mom and I will do our part to help you know that.

Love,

Dad

A Love Big Enough

People say  deep, profound, and true things. This morning I read this thought from Sarah Bessey, “If I could only preach one message for the rest of my life, here it is: The love of God is bigger, wilder, more wonderful, more beautiful, more healing, more alive than you even dare to hope. And it’s for you”

I preach most every week and my prayer before I begin worship is along these lines. Please God let me proclaim a love big enough on this day. The church tends to “majot in the minors.” While it’s true the church is a complex organization, we are good at distraction.. It’s a typical frustration for my friends in ministry, our affinity for “stepping over dollars to pick up dimes.”

I have at least one conversation each day that reminds me that the truth of God’s love is too important to busy ourselves with anything other than sharing this good news. The struggle someone has with the perception that they are not enough. The feeling that God is a small God with no room for them. The lost ability to see wonder and beauty in creation. Losing hope that they can be alive in this world, rather than simply going through the motions and marking our days.

We need this simple, yet profound truth that Sarah Bessey offers. “The love of God is bigger, wilder, more wonderful, more beautiful, more healing, more alive than you even dare to hope.” This is the proclamation we need to make over and over. These are the words that draw us back to why we do this. If we get this right, pretty much everything else will fall into place.

A love big enough. For all of us. For everyone. For You

Grace and peace

Tulsa, Charlotte, and the International Day of Peace

It seems every day of the year is marked by some special occasion or item to celebrate. Today is an important one. As I write this, it is the International Day of Peace. At first glance, sounds a bit fluffy, but it should be serious business. Especially as the families of Terence Crutcher and Keith Lamont Scott are grieving the shooting deaths of their loved ones. Especially as the communities of Tulsa and Charlotte are dealing with the effects of two more police shootings of unarmed black men.

Our cry of “how long O Lord” becomes easily dulled when the answer seems to be “too long.” More lives are lost. More communities are fractured by violence and mistrust. We cry “Christ have mercy” but silently wonder whether Christ has any mercy left for us.

Let there be peace on earth
And let it begin with me
Let there be peace on earth
The peace that was meant to be

Most love this song, “Let There Be Peace on Earth.” We love to sing it until we realize the cost. Peace begins with me. Peace is not a gift we receive, it is a gift that we partner with God in ushering into the world. We have skin in this game.

You cannot have peace without justice. They go hand- in- hand. As a person of privilege, this truth confronts my comfort zone at its core. . This morning as I read with a heavy heart the stories of Terence Crutcher and Keith Lamont Scott, I am confronted with my own privilege and how hesitant I can be at putting skin in the game when it comes to peace.

Justice goes hand in hand with peace. Justice often causes us to give up some point of personal privilege so that all may know the fullness of life. The peace that was meant to be is peace that might just come with some personal cost or at the very least, some personal discomfort.

Maybe our prayer today should be “Let It Begin with Me.” Can we pray it like we mean it? Not just lip service on this day, but with actual intention.

We need to  put our privilege aside for the ultimate privilege, being a part of ushering in God’s peace in the world. That’s the privilege that counts for something. That’s the privilege that ushers in justice for all.

What will you do today, in the course of your normal day, to usher peace into the world?

Let there be peace on earth
And let it begin with me
Let there be peace on earth
The peace that was meant to be

 

 

“Why is She Kneeling?”

Sunday had been a long day.  I was excited to settle in for the soccerevening with my two daughters (budding soccer stars) to watch the US Women’s National Team take on the Netherlands. We have roots in both nations and were excited to watch. In addition, their cousin had the honor of walking out with USWNT star Alex Morgan for the national anthem. We saw our her standing with Alex Morgan during the anthem, camera settled on them for a couple of seconds. The camera then panned to the sideline to show Megan Rapinoe. In case you not familiar, she has made headlines by kneeling for the national anthem during both her pro league game and the previous USWNT game in Columbus. The camera parked on Rapinoe kneeling during the national anthem. My eight year old looked at me and asked, “why is she kneeling?”

Could she have asked me any other question? Seriously, any other question. Like, “why is there a giraffe standing in our den?” Instead, she wanted to know what Megan Rapinoe was doing.

Like most things that happen in our nation today, the idea of athletes taking the national anthem as a moment of protest against the inequalities in our country has been a divisive subject. Is it disrespectful to the flag? Does it call more attention to the athlete rather than the issues they care about?  The answer to both of those may very well be yes, but I hope that does not stop us from giving this further thought. Like most protests, there is a underlying issue that needs to be given some careful thought.

“Why is she kneeling?” she asks again. At this point, I’m trying to think of any diversion. “Look, the ice cream truck is outside,” or “now is a good time for a family fire drill, everyone outside.”

I still had Jesus on the brain. Jesus liked a good protest. Remember that time he turned over the tables in the temple. That was a protest. Remember when he healed on the Sabbath. Go ahead, there are multiple occasions from which to choose. That was a protest. Do you recall the time he ruined Pilate’s big day by walking straight into Jerusalem for the Passover festival? You guessed it. A protest. If you look carefully, the Gospels are full of protest narratives.

What would Jesus do today in order to call attention to the inequalities in our nation and world? That’s a pretty intimidating question because how one answers has a direct effect on what they should be doing to call attention to the inequalities in our nation and world.

Finally, the camera moved. My 8 year old moved to a far easier question, “can I have a Popsicle.” Yes, yes absolutely you can.” The camera moved, but that question sticks with me today. No matter how we might feel about what someone does during the national anthem, we shouldn’t dismiss the question. It’s an important one.

“Why is she kneeling?”

Grace and peace 

Step Away from the Keyboard

Standing in line at the grocery store (A line that wasn’t moving, why do I always pick the keyboard-886462_960_720slowest lines!) I was perusing the magazine covers on display. The cover of Time caught my attention; Why We’re Losing the Internet to the Culture of Hate. The line began to move, leaving me no time to read the magazine, but that cover stuck with me.

As a preacher and and a pastor, I’m interested in how people interact. It’s kind of my line of work. We live in a time where there are many layers of interaction. Once upon a time, it was just face to face, then through voice on the telephone, and now we have a multitude of social media options through which to interact. I don’t think that is a bad thing. Social media, by and large, is a good relational tool. Connection, even online, is a good thing.

But… I admit there are people I see face to face on a regular basis that I wish I had never seen their Facebook page or stumbled onto their Twitter feed. I’ve seen folks that know one another interacting with one another on social media in ways that I know they would not interact in person. If we treat folks we know personally a certain way, imagine how some treat people they don’t know. A Pew Research Center survey found that 70% of people 18 to 24  had been harassed online.

Light exposes things. Our time on social media is mostly spent in the darkness. Often, we don’t like what the light shows us. There is a certain anonymity to the keyboard, even when interacting with people we know, that is dangerous. We feel some sort of freedom to give into the worst of who we might be. It’s easy to release our worst fears and anxieties on people we don’t know or can’t see face to face. It’s so easy to condemn another from our keyboard isn’t it?

We start to get comfortable. We believe this type of behavior is acceptable human interaction. It carries over. The fear, violence, aggression, and anxiety creeps its way into our daily living. It fractures communities. We forget how to treat people because suddenly everyone we meet becomes a target for our anger and frustration. I’ve noticed that shift in the last few years. We are beginning down a slippery slope of not knowing how to properly engage in person with others, especially those who might hold different views than we do. It’s like we’ve unlearned what many of us learned in kindergarten.

Can we stop it? Not will we stop, but can we? Are we too far gone? I hope not. I hope we can stop using the internet to question and bash the worth of one another. Jesus had a huge problem with those who thought others were unworthy of God’s love. There is something about seeing another face to face, about hearing their experiences, that holds us accountable. I think that’s why Jesus spent so much of his time with people. It made it easier to know their worth to God and God’s love for them.

Start with yourself. Maybe you need to step away from the keyboard for just a bit. Interact with people for real. Get to know them. Get to know their story, their experiences. You are better than this. I am better than this. We are all better than this.