Tomorrow, They’ll Be Here

Over the past few months, some members of my congregation have wondered how to respond to the massive upheaval of humanity occurring in Europe.  It has been made plain to us that the best way to help a Syrian family is to clear a spot in the refugee “pipeline” by helping a family, any refugee family, from any part of the world.

Tomorrow, a family will arrive at JFK, having journeyed overnight from Johannesburg. They have lived for several years in Pretoria after fleeing Somalia. They have endured a number of the same difficulties as those who have fled Syria.

Tomorrow, this family will move to New Jersey, whose governor is one of many to make it clear that certain refugees are not welcome here. Not even orphaned children. Mr. Christie may well be aware that our family will likely be practicing Muslims. They will likely bear the scars of oppression and violence. They are already pawns in our unloving, unfaithful, uncharitable public political discourse.

Tomorrow, we’ll take the family to a well furnished apartment in our community. The refrigerator will be full of groceries. We’ll help get children registered for school and assist the adults in finding employment. We’re setting the family up with ESL tutors, will help the family with doctor visits, transportation, and other needs. The members of our congregation have done this in concert with the families of our Nursery School and the help of many others. As a community, we’ve pulled together. Frankly, we’re more likely to continue to do so, the more our governor tries to appease voters in Iowa and New Hampshire. We want to make it plain tomorrow: Chris Christie does not speak for us.

Tomorrow, our faith is made manifest in our response to one family. It is a faith born out of the belief that we are called to act rather than merely speak. We are called to love rather than speak of love. Our love may have already been scorned by our Governor and ultimately, it may be spurned by the family. But, that should not stop us from acting.

Tomorrow, the crisis in Syria will likely still be largely unintelligible for most of us. The only way I can begin to make sense of it is in this way: There’s a family somewhere in the world seeking refuge. They either are or have been in great danger.  The family could hail from Syria, but they could be from another war-torn part of the world. I must ask once again: What can I do?

Tomorrow, they’ll be here. I pray that tomorrow, we will do as God calls us to do.

Boy George and the Quest for “Christian”

A recent road trip took me through Pennsylvania. As I put Allentown in the rear-view mirror, I decided to go retro and turn on the radio. To my delight, I heard a tune I hadn’t heard in years: “Karma Chameleon” by Culture Club.

A smile, a few taps on the steering wheel, and a gentle hum.

A good day became a great day. How could my day not be fantastic after hearing this?

A few moments later and my mind traveled back about thirty years. I grew up in England in the 1980s, and my family and I religiously watched “Top of the Pops,” a Top 40, half-hour, weekly TV show.

“What a poofter!”

“What a weirdo!”

“Bloody hell! What’s he up to?”

Not surprisingly, I heard all of those things when Boy George appeared on television. People I love said some of those things. Those same people were undoubtedly shocked by the seeming brazenness of this man in makeup, singing gently and freely about love and relationships, heartache, and being true to yourself. As a seven year old, I was shocked too.

Culture Club and Boy George didn’t hang around in my consciousness for long. (They broke up, and I went through an extremely predictable Michael Jackson phase.)

But 30 years after words like “poofter” and “weirdo” filled my living room, I still remember them clearly.

Sometimes, even when you’re seven, you know deep down that some of the things adults have to say are complete and utter nonsense.

Boy George is a man who battled with many addiction demons. His relationships were lived in a public way and were not always harmonious.

But he’s a hero to many for his willingness to be true to himself, his identity, and his music, even as others belittled his appearance and music. Yet, he’s also a hero to me for offering the following quote in 2007:

“People have this idea of Boy George now, particularly the media: that I’m tragic, f****d up. I mean, I’m all those things, but I’m also lots of other things. Yes, I’ve had my dark periods, but that isn’t all I am.”

“I mean, I’m all those things, but I’m also lots of other things.”

What a line!

As a pastor, I find great blessing in hearing, “I’m tragic, I’m f****d up…but I’m also lots of other things.”

In fact, my experience as a pastor has only helped me appreciate the complexities of humanity.

People cheat.

People lie.

People say ridiculous things about celebrities on TV.

Those same people love, laugh, and pray.

You likely know this already.

It is incumbent upon me, a guy who wakes up each day still trying to figure out what on earth my identity as a “Christian” is, to also take Boy George’s wisdom out into the world.

“Christian.” It gets more and more difficult to define that term.

But isn’t it still, even after all this time, merely a descriptor of an imitator of Jesus? Someone who regards mercy as a virtue?

Someone who refuses to see people as only tragic and f****d up? Someone who thinks that the world is worth trying to redeem?

*This piece was first published on, the national blog of the United Church of Christ.

I’d Rather Do a Funeral: God’s Business

“What do you do for a living?”

I have been asked that question dozens of times. But once, when I was at a party, I was asked, “So Dave, what’s your business?”

Of course, I began to say something about working in the church in town, which is largely what I do. I wish I had that moment back.

I moved to a new position this summer after spending more than nine years at a congregation in Colorado. Folks there would chuckle sometimes when I’d insist that the best part of my role was officiating at memorial services.

“I’d do a memorial service over a wedding any day” became a mantra. It doesn’t matter whether a bride or groom-to-be is the friendliest, kindest soul on the planet, I’d rather be at a funeral.

A funeral that doesn’t seem to go quite right? A funeral that celebrates the life of someone that has died in tragic circumstances? A funeral that’s for someone that I know well? I’d rather be there.

I vaguely recall Daniel Berrigan saying many years ago that it was his calling to help people die well. That was his business.

At my current congregation, the minister for visitation attends Board meetings in order to offer her monthly report, which goes something like: “My ministry continues; I listen, I pray, we share tender moments together, we listen for God.” That is her business.

My third memorial service here was for a long-time member. His son offered a stirring eulogy, telling many superb stories that captured his father’s spirit. Towards the end of his eulogy, he began to do what I prefer those who are eulogizing not to do; he began to preach.

Now, it’s not that I’m opposed to anyone and everyone saying a few good words for God; it’s just that there have been a number of memorial services where I have preached. Shortly thereafter, a family member has stood and questioned the location of the immortal soul of their dearly departed sibling or cousin, likely offering something that is the opposite of what I had just shared.

“It’s a shame that Bill didn’t know Jesus, but it’s not too late for the rest of you.”

So, yes—a few good words for God are great at memorials until maybe they aren’t.

In any case, the gentleman that began to preach here recently at his father’s service took a different tack. He said, “I thank God for death. Death is a gift. Without it nothing would ever have changed. We’d all be amoebas without death. Our ancestors would have not had the capacity to grapple with the idea of a Creator without death. We would not have language and we would not have the same senses that we do now without death.”

I sat listening to this gentleman’s fine oratory and wondered to what degree it would be appropriate to shout out an “Amen” during his Father’s funeral (that tends not to happen in our context).

But, it occurred to me later, that this is an element of the discussion regarding the teaching of evolution that goes missing; a theological element actually. To deny evolution is to deny a great gift that God gives. We see it in the rot of leaves under our feet each fall. The forest would not be there without the falling of those precious leaves. To fall and eventually physically degrade is their business.

Now, as I gaze out of my office window, I see an old and glorious beech tree. It looks healthy enough to me, but it has a bleeding canker disease. It will eventually need to come down. It’s a reminder that in this era, an era where the shiny thing is usually regarded as the better thing, that one of the cornerstones of parish life is not only to help people lead lives that are worth living, but also to help people die as well as possible. That is our business.

Someday soon I will receive a phone call. It will be time to visit someone who is nearing the end of this journey. I won’t want to go. Initially, when I receive these types of calls, I wonder if someone else might go or if I will have anything to say or if I’ll be in the way when I get to where I’m going. In that moment, selfishly, I’d rather be enjoying another part of my life.

Isn’t it always the way? The thing that you don’t want to do, but you know you must do, that is your business. Why?

Because you know you’re going to need God’s Spirit to carry you through. And that, it seems, is God’s business

New Sacred is a national blog of the United Church of Christ featuring a group of eclectic writers who will address contemporary issues through the lens of Progressive Christianity. I have been asked to be a featured writer for “New Sacred.” The blog will launch on September 1st and my first piece for the site will appear at some point during the month. I will then contribute at least one piece per month thereafter. It’s an exciting new venture for the denomination and I’m very happy to be a part of it.

I will, in all likelihood, put my material for the national blog on this site as well, but the contributors have been asked to delay release on personal websites for 24 hours. I will seek to honor that and add some other pieces here too if I can get myself to write more and for the pure pleasure of it. Starting a new position has caused my writing discipline to suffer and so participating in New Sacred will be good; having an editor and deadlines is probably helpful for me!

In the meantime, thanks for supporting me and my writing thus far. It’s a great and very weird journey sometimes!



Once, Not So Long Ago…

…Children played here with toys. An adult used an elliptical machine. And then, the stuff was gone thanks to a crew of 7 that hauled, groaned, winced, shoved, pushed, pulled, and carried. Norman, Bob, Jeff, Carla, Craig, Tom, Rebecca, and Pat- we couldn’t have done it without you. We are so very grateful.



Tribe of Elders

Since my last post I’ve been on something of a roller-coaster ride. My Dad’s older brother, John, passed away on the 6th from complications related to non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. He was a kind, generous, warm, and funny man who had his priorities straight: He worked hard as a taxi owner-operator in Birmingham, England in order to go see the world with his wife, my Aunt Hilary. Indeed, they traveled to all corners of the globe and visited us in the US twice, they went on vacation with my folks in Canada twice, and hung out in Bali, China, and Ireland, just to name a few of their journeys. John was also very generous with his time when my grandparents were aged and unwell; he was the “go-to guy” for the whole family. Whenever Stacey and I are able to go back to the UK in the future, I will sorely miss the opportunity to “call in” and chat about anything and everything with John.

One of the most wonderful things about life is the manner in which your “Tribe of Elders” is formed. For me, family, friends, other clergy, and mentors all have had a wide-ranging wealth of experience from which to draw. John taught me about generosity and keeping family at the center. But, last week I said good-bye in another form to Rev. David Hunting, the soon-to-be retired Pastor of the UCC congregation in Manitou Springs, Colorado. Dave is healthy and excited for the next stage in his life, especially now that he has a grandson in Seattle to visit.

Before I arrived in Colorado, Dave called me to welcome me into the fold. Once I arrived, he made sure we had coffee together. He became my advisor during my “In-Care” discernment period that led toward ordination. He offered his congregation’s space for my Ecclesiastical Council. He offered prayers at my ordination service. He taught me about caring for the whole community, about getting your hands dirty, and drew on his wealth of experience to help me know when to really push for something and when to pull back a little. Dave and I make an odd couple. He’s just shy of a foot taller than I am and while he’s 25 years older, he has much better hair. But more than anything, he taught me the value of just showing up. When  my son was born, Dave came to offer a blessing at the hospital. He was there five minutes, but the value of that blessing vastly outweighed the length of time he was present.

Indeed, while Dave is still here and looking forward to the next chapter of his journey, I sense a shift in my own Tribe of Elders. One of my other mentors, Harry Strong, retired (again) last year and moved to Arizona. I’m aware that Harry’s, Dave’s, and John’s pools of knowledge are still there in differing forms, but they aren’t right there for me. Selfishly, I wish that were not so. I wish that I could get on with my life and then walk right next door and ask them for help whenever I needed to (and also when I didn’t).

So, I think some of the bitter-sweet aspects of moving are likely rooted entirely in self-absorption.  That’s something of a bitter pill, but I think it’s completely true. I don’t think I suffer from an abnormal sense of dependency, but I do recognize God’s goodness in allowing me to learn from my Tribe of Elders. This has been the way for humans for thousands of years and any gratitude expressed by the people of Church in the Wildwood for my ministry is simply honoring the reality that I have, in some fashion, been able to pay my Tribe’s education, presence, and experience forward. Thanking God for this enables me to step outside of my own head a little and hear the Good News once again: We’re connected and we can’t live alone.

So, now we finish putting our things into boxes and prepare to conclude our time here. We move forward, but as we do, I give thanks for my Tribe and the encouragement and counsel they have offered us. My Tribe has shifted and some new folks will hopefully sit in the circle down the road. It is what is and it is a thing of beauty.

Nietzsche or Dr. Seuss?

Not long ago, I invited an interior decorator over to our home to help me decide how to prepare for listing it. It’s been ten years since we tried to sell a home so I needed all the advice I could get. Tammy, the interior decorator,  offered plenty of good tips; move this plant there, get a new comforter for the guest bedroom, take some of the pictures of the children down and replace them with landscapes, create space for others to envision living in the home. So, I set about taking most of her advice to heart including placing a throw over the chairs next to the stove, polishing the lamp on the side-table between those chairs, and pondering what book(s) would be most inviting for people to view when they imagined sitting by the stove on a December evening. Should I go with something bland like, “Lovely Hikes In Ohio”? (Note: I don’t own such a book) Should I go with Nietzsche’s “The Gay Science” to suggest that people who read Nietzsche would love to hang out in this house on a cold winter’s night? (Note: I do own this and may be guilty of pretending I read it more often than I actually do. Don’t tell anyone.) Or just pull “Yertle the Turtle” off my daughter’s shelf and showcase that not only do we read Dr. Seuss, but we read a very specific version of Dr. Seuss? (the working people don’t take any trash from a self-righteous, Caesar-like King…no sirreee.) Choices, choices.

I recognize that agonizing over such a dilemma is totally ridiculous. Eventually, I decided not to put a book on the side-table between the two chairs near the stove. I justified this decision by claiming a minimalist approach to interior decorating, which is another way of saying that I didn’t want to confess to some sort of neurosis induced by sticking a “For Sale” sign in the front yard. My agony proved to be fruitless for two other reasons: Our home in Colorado really is a great place, but the kitchen is small. Undoubtedly, this is enough of a deterrent to some folks, that they are unlikely to care which book is on the side-table near the stove. The second and most important reason is that we had a good offer on the house within a week of listing it. Anyone who has walked the walk of selling a home knows how wonderful that can be. No more vacuuming twice a day! “Kids, I won’t stare at you while you’re eating awaiting the early warning signs that a crumb may hit the floor in the next few seconds!” Woo-hoo!

Indeed, as I mentioned in my last post, while this process has been bittersweet, it has also been relatively smooth so far. The folks at Church in the Wildwood have been wonderful to my family and me. In some ways, our Easter celebration felt quite normal as we gathered on Rampart Range Road to listen to the robins, stare at Pikes Peak, and hear the Good News. And yet…I do also know that I’m going to miss having this as the backdrop on Easter morning in future years:


The picture doesn’t do it justice, but not bad, right? That’s why the offer on the house has been really helpful from an emotional perspective. Shift happens. Shift will always happen. We always have a choice about whether to accept such a shift or go toward it kicking and screaming. With the house in the process of being sold, it has helped me realize that not only do we have a plan, but we’re actively working the plan. We still need to have an appraisal, but we’re going with the flow and checking items off the list with some regularity. Even as we are sentimental about the multitude of good memories and stand in awe of the beauty of the environment here, we are still creating memories from good moments now and trusting that there will be many to come.

We all live with memories like the absurdity of selecting which book to place on a table for someone else’s benefit. The ability to laugh at that kind of absurdity is helped enormously by the simple notion that you’re in a good place and also going to a good place. Right now, I am blessed by that realization. Peace be with you.