Parkland: What I Would Say this Morning

A clergy friend called me the other day, wrestling with what to say to his congregation this morning about the tragic school shooting in Parkland, Florida. Our conversation got me thinking about what I would say to a congregation on this day. So, here is a close approximation to what I would share. 

We gather here after a week where 17 people lost their lives in yet another school shooting. Violence of this nature in our schools was once an unthinkable tragedy, yet now seems like an almost regular occurrence, to the point where we are numb, wondering when and where this will happen again. Our thoughts and prayers are important, but it’s time we realize that our prayers, no matter how deep and heartfelt, are not enough to bring back or save lives. On Thursday morning, I hugged my kids an extra time or two before putting them on the school bus. I imagine many of you did the same.



We have now entered the familiar pattern of figuring out who and what to blame. We do this without any real conversation or any real acknowledgement that something in our collective lives needs to change. Life is too precious to God and should be too precious to us for us to continue doing the same things.

Every time I speak about guns, I offer this caveat. Guns have never been a part of my life. We did not have a gun in the house growing up. I’ve never been hunting or sport shooting and have no intention to do so. We don’t have a gun in our house. I’ve been to a shooting range twice and most likely will not go back. I personally don’t like guns and don’t understand our fascination with them. However, many people whom I care about deeply feel differently and I respect that. Guns are an important part of their lives and I seek to honor that.

I know that people not only in this congregation, but in most congregations, have widely different views on guns. Many of us own multiple guns and use them for sport and recreation on a regular basis. For some, a hunting blind on a crisp fall morning is a holy place. On the other hand, some would not think of owning a gun. Some feel very strongly about the 2nd Amendment while others would be fine with it being rewritten or repealed all together. I wonder if that is what makes conversation around gun violence so difficult to have. It invoke a strong emotional reaction in us one way or another.

No matter what point of view we carry, it’s time to begin having serious conversation and reflection around the role guns play in our lives and communities. Jesus is quite famous for saying “Blessed are the peacemakers.” The church and those seeking to follow the way of Jesus must be peacemakers. Jesus spent a large portion of his ministry tearing down systems of violence and oppression so that all may have life. We cannot be faithful to that call if we are not at least willing to have conversation and do some self-reflection. Our kids’ lives are too important for anything less.

I realize there are other factors that go into this type of violence other than the gun itself. By many accounts, the shooter had a difficult life that was further complicated by a spirit of fear, anger, and hatred towards others. Our nation, from the highest levels, is riddled with spirits of fear, anger, and division. These spirits permeate our communities and our institutions. These are sinful and the church cannot fall into being about these things. The church must be about love for all, hope, and unity. The church must be welcoming to all, no exceptions. We have to create the space necessary for difficult conversations. We, through the love of God, must be a place of healing of hope for people and for our community. We cannot underestimate our power in being a force for good. This is no time for us to shrink back. We have an important role to play in the healing of our community and nation.

So today, we do offer our deep prayers. Our prayers of lament and our prayers of hope. May those prayers convict us to be peacemakers. Lives are too important for anything else.

The President Who Would Not Welcome Jesus

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”


These words have stood through time on the to remind us that all are welcome in the United States. We are, for the most part, people from somewhere else who’ve made this our home. We are a nation of immigrants, a melting pot of culture. These truths make us who we are when we are at our best.

The current President does not embody us at our best, he embodies us at our worst. He intentionally seeks dark places where fear takes over. The President deals in fear, fear rooted in racism and classism.

As a citizen, his words trouble me on many levels. As a Christian, I find them to be in direct conflict with any teaching or ethic of Jesus. That this President continues to be lifted as a “Christian” example by several Christian leaders is incomprehensible and disgusting to me. It’s proof that a few will go to great lengths to use religion to curry favor and gain power (Yes, I am talking about you Franklin Graham).

If the President’s racism and classism had its way, he would not welcome Jesus into this nation. Jesus was a poor, dark-skinned person from the Middle East. Sounds to me like the kind of person the President loathes. The truth of the Gospel that all are created by God and all are loved by God is a great threat to the President’s worldview. It’s past time for those who believe in the power of God’s inclusive love to speak up. I know I have too often been silent. No more.

This isn’t about Republicans or Democrats, it’s about human decency. It’s about speaking for the dignity of God’s beloved. It’s about creating a nation that embodies the very words inscribed on the Statue of Liberty. We are better than this.

Advent 3- Joy

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; 2to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; 3to provide for those who mourn in Zion— to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. They will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, to display his glory.

Isaiah 61:1-4


Dreamers are often too easily dismissed. We love to hear the words of the prophet Isaiah at this time of year, but do we take them seriously? You see, in the prophet’s day, people found Isaiah to be a bit strange. He was a dreamer who spoke words that pointed to a time that was too good to be true. He spoke of a day that was impossible to imagine. Most dismissed him and his words because they couldn’t see what he could see.. To be a prophet, you had to see beyond what is in order to see what could be. Today, there are many of us who have an issue with seeing as the prophets of old call us to see. We are willing to settle for a mediocre version of our world and of our faith.

Can you allow yourself a bit of privilege this day? Give yourself the joy of getting a glimpse of seeing life not as it is, but as it can be. Not just for yourself, but for everyone. Isaiah is pointing us to a day when the oppressed will hear good news, the brokenhearted will know wholeness, captives will know freedom, and prisoners will gain release. The world will be turned upside down. He is pointing us to a time when God will use a baby born in a humble manager to signal that the day is upon us.

Redemption is promised. That redemption will not so gently nudge us out of our comfort zones and into God’s future. Will this be the time when you and I decide to see something bigger at work in us and through us? I hope and pray so, because God desires all to know wholeness and to know that beyond a shadow of a doubt that God is love. Allow yourself to see the world not as it is, but as it can be.

Killing Baby Jesus

Today’s post is a guest post by Michael McCluskey. Michael always makes me think deeper about my own faith and  is one of my favorite conversation partners. He is a junior at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth and a member of Sandy Springs Christian Church in Atlanta.

Every year as we Disciples celebrate the Advent season, I recall a conversation I once overheard from a congregant as she asked our senior minister why we practice communion, the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, during a season where Jesus is but a small child. She didn’t like that we were celebrating the death of the baby as we anticipated his birth. How could we kill an innocent baby?

Baby Jesus

Her concern made sense to me – why should we celebrate death in this joyful season of life? But we forget. We fall victim to our own blissful ignorance of the holiday season. We seek refuge during this season from all the strife and suffering in our lives – the Advent season is our break from the regularly scheduled pain of being a person in the world. We do all we can to preserve the innocence of the season as we cling to the innocence of Baby Jesus. Why would we celebrate the death of the baby? Why would we tarnish the joy of the Advent season?

We are quick to forget why we anticipate the Christ child. The Christ child who we know to be the Liberator, the Peace-maker, the Lamb. Immanuel came as a baby in a manger, but we know that the trough is not all this child is destined for. We know that this child, helpless and innocent lying in the manger, the son of refugees, the brown-skinned Palestinian Jew – he is our Savior. He was anointed to bring the kingdom of heaven to all the nations. This innocent child came to speak truth to power and defend the weak, the poor, and the unloved – those as weak and innocent as that baby lying in the manger.

This congregant wanted to shelter the Christ child from the pain of the world. She did not want to pervert his innocence with the cold light of truth that suffering and death exists in our world. She wanted to hold him in her arms so nothing could ever harm him. She wanted to turn away from the world and give this child the very best she could, just as any mother would. But she forgot that this child was destined for so much more. When we turn away from the cross during the season of Advent to celebrate the coming of the Prince of Peace, that title becomes a platitude – frivolous and devoid of life. When we turn away from the sacrifice, Immanuel becomes a baby to a poor family lying in a manger because there was no room in the inn.

Friends, this is no ordinary babe.

This child grew up and became a man. He turned the tables and disrupted familiar injustice. He boldly loved those whom society had forgotten. He fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy and ushered in an era of peace-making where one day the Lamb might lie down the with Wolf. He stuck his hand over the hole of the asp and, while it bit him, he did this knowing that one day a child would be able to do the same and would not be harmed. He shouldered the ridicule of the complacent pious knowing that one day they too would be enlightened by the truth of God’s grace – that all are loved no matter what. He carried his cross up that hill knowing that he did so for the salvation of all of humankind – so that no longer would they have to do the same.

In this Christmas season, may we not be so quick to forget that the Christ child is to lead the calf, the young lion, and the fatling all together in harmonious peace. We are called to be peace-makers in our own lives – to seek justice for the broken and to love the abandoned and forgotten. We are called to hold children that are not our own in the same way that the woman wanted to hold baby Jesus. As the snow falls outside the window pane and a tree stands tall, adorned with Christmons and crowned with a golden star, we are called to look into the eyes of the stranger and offer them bread and cup no matter who they are. In this season of life, we remember not the death, but the triumphant resurrection of a babe lying in a manger.

Advent 1- Hope

Come, house of Jacob let’s walk by the Lord’s light. Isaiah 2:5
One of my new favorite songs of the season is “A Light” by the Brilliance. The chorus goes like this, “Peace to all this night. A hope and light shine bright.”
As we enter into this season of Advent that leads us to Christmas, we are seeking to find peace.  Peace in our personal lives.  Peace in our communal lives.  We lament that which seeks to tear us apart in this day and age. Many of us may be worried about Christmas gatherings that include family and friends who think and believe differently than we do.
Isaiah is writing during a fractured time in Israel’s history. The prophet seems to be writing encouragement towards a future time, but is actually calling on the people to look in the proverbial mirror now. God’s peace and justice are not for a far off time, but for a time such as this.
As we enter into the season of Advent, perhaps it is time for us to closely examine our own lives.  Are we the type of people who radiate a light that draws people towards God and God’s ways?  Madeline L’Engle offers this for us; “We do not draw people to Christ by loudly discrediting what they believe, by telling them how wrong they are and how right we are, but by showing them a light that is so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it.”
Isaiah had deep trust in the people of his time and that trust remains today.  We are not only called, but equipped to walk in the light of the Lord. It is simply who God has created us to be.  During this Advent season, may we each fully embrace this reality.

3 Things You Can Do for Your Pastor at Christmas

The administrator at church got in the habit of clearing my calendar and marking me out during the second week of January. The first time it happened I asked her about it. She was smart enough to observe that I put so much into and ran so fast during the Advent season, that once the adrenaline stopped flowing my body would shut down. I was always sick during the second week of January.


As we enter the season of Advent that leads to Christmas, clergy know how important this season is in our spiritual lives. Leading up to Christmas, your pastors will be fully immersed in the life of the church and all that happens during the season. While your pastors are doing much for you, here are three easy things you can do for your pastors.

Be Kind, Don’t Criticize

When the tree lights don’t go on at the appropriate moment at your Hanging of the Green, or the Advent candles don’t have sufficient enough wick to light, your pastors are the first to notice. Trust me, anything you notice that seems out-of-place or didn’t go as expected, your pastor notices long before you did and it bothers them twice as much as it bothers you.  Clergy spend months planning a meaningful season that will make for a powerful journey to the manger for the congregation. When something doesn’t go as planned, its tough to take. After all, something is going to go wrong and when it does, your pastor needs words of encouragement and gratitude.

Remember That Your Pastor Has a Family

Family celebrations, stresses, and logistics are part of this time of year. Pastors are no different from anyone else. She is working on being a full participant in family gatherings and activities on top of the ministries of the church. They desire to be a fully present spouse during the season. He wants to spend time with kids or aging parents just as you do. When the final Christmas Eve service is finished, pastors are going home to help their spouse face the three most feared words in the English language: Some Assembly Required. Trust me, putting together a play kitchen at 1 a.m. isn’t all that its cracked up to be. Give your pastor space to take part in their family’s celebration. Know that they might be dealing with some of the same baggage around family issues that you are. Find ways to honor their commitment to family.

Give an Extra Financial Gift to your Pastor

An extra financial gift collected among the congregation makes a big difference for your pastor. Many congregations are generous when it comes to additional gifts. As we learn more about the slippery financial slope upon which many pastors sit, a gift like this becomes even more important. To make it “the gift that keeps on giving,” consider using the gift to add to their retirement account or college savings account. In a season in which we lift up great causes, remember that your pastor is a great cause.

You Are Enough

I put up Christmas lights yesterday. For someone who doesn’t like to climb ladders, this is a daunting task. In Atlanta, we had a neighbor who held nothing back when it came to putting up Christmas lights. Every year on the day after Thanksgiving, he would begin a two-day project of putting up lights, inflatable characters, and whatever else he could get his hands on. Any display that anyone else put up paled in comparison. The neighbors would gather out in the street, shaking our heads and lamenting that we just didn’t have enough lights when compared to the Clark Griswold of the neighborhood.


This time leading up to Christmas is a time when many of us feel like we are not enough. Our inadequacies in what we don’t already own are suggested through each Black Friday advertisement. “You must get here at 6 am to get this deal. You can’t live without it.” We are led to believe that we need more to be enough. We feel the need for everything to be spotless and eloquently decorated for holiday house guests. We are led to believe that perfection leads us to be enough. The mail overflows with perfect family holiday cards, touting how good everyone looks and how well their grown children are doing. Inevitably, we wonder why our family is not as perfect and we feel like we aren’t enough. A struggle for me is the feeling of inadequacy comes from not leading a congregation through the Advent season for the first time in a long time. Will I be enough without this leadership role in this holy season?

Here’s the thing; Christmas is God’s way of saying to each and every one of us that we are enough. If a baby born in a humble manner is enough to bring light to the whole world, then surely it is enough to remind you and I that we are enough. The trick to really getting Christmas is to remember this great truth in the face of everything that would tell us different. We need nothing else to be enough in God’s eyes. No lights, no material goods, no perfect Christmas card, nothing changes the way that God sees us.

One of my favorite quotes for this time of year is from the late Peter Gomes, who reminds us, “For those of us who believe that the greatest gift is the gift of love, Christmas is the ultimate and most intimate expression there is. The child in the manger is the means whereby God’s love is presented to the people whom God loves”

I need that reminder. We are the people whom God loves. You are enough.