Exploring the Intersections of Faith and Life

I have been reading online about the responses to the Nashville Statement, a statement by the evangelical organization  Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood that stands firmly against homosexuality and transgenderism as within the will and gifts of God.

And I’ll be honest – I have mixed feelings about the responses I am reading.  I am glad that church leaders are speaking out against the statement.  At the same time, as someone within the LGBTQ community, I find the statements in opposition rather alienating in themselves.  The intent is certainly good and positive, yet the statements often read like “don’t worry, LGBTQ people, I love you, even if they don’t!”  Nice sentiment, but I am not a stray puppy needing affirmation and love.  It actually feels a bit patronizing.

The reality is, nothing will change without the majority joining voices with the LGBTQ community to change attitudes and speak for acceptance.  It will take the larger community choosing to live inclusively and with love in spite of the signers of the Nashville Statement and others like them, in order for deep change to happen.  So I do appreciate the effort and the sentiment, but we also need to be careful in how we offer support so that we don’t become patronizing, or objectify those very people we want to be allies with.

I don’t have the answer about how to do that. As one of the white majority I struggle with that very issue regarding racism.  I know that being silent is not helpful – the church must speak out in opposition to those who seek to define others by what they consider sin or a defect.  We must be the counter voice to hate and violence and objectification.   But we can’t stop there.  The church must also model a better way.  I am proud to say we practice that at First Presbyterian – we don’t welcome LGBTQ people, or black people, or Hispanic people, or any category of people for that matter, we welcome individuals, who happen to be LBGTQ, or black, or Hispanic.  We need every church to model that, and every Christian as well, or else the only voice and the only witness that the wider world hears and sees are statements like the Nashville Statement.

We (certainly the majority, but really all of us) need to be intentional about mixing with those “others” whom God loves and welcomes, until we don’t see them as “others”.  When we get to know each other and the gift of God that is in each other, hearts and minds change, and we are together empowered to be a force for positive change in the world.  You know, like being part of the Kingdom of God we pray for every week?

The bottom line is – I appreciate the voices in support, but even more, I appreciate the efforts made by the church and others to model a better, more holy way of living and relating.  Maybe then we will be a part of the Kingdom of God taking over the world, and there will simply be no audience for things like the Nashville Statement.

Due to popular demand (I love saying that!), here is my sermon from February 19.  Mostly I think some people wanted to read it because of the sermon title 🙂  This is the last sermon in a six-week sermon series on Matthew 5, the first chapter of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.

CLICK HERE to read it.

A New Start

Welcome!  I’ve had a few different blog sites over the years – two main ones:

  1.  Transforming Followers – which I started when I served as an Executive Presbyter, working with 65 churches in central and southwestern Minnesota.
  2. A Deeper Spiritual Life – which I started when I began my work as a Spiritual Life Coach and Spiritual Director.

Rather than keep multiple blogs floating out in cyberspace, I’ve combined them in this site:  Sue’s Musings.  If you scroll below, you’ll find all of the Transforming Followers blogs imported under January, 2017.  Previous posts from A Deeper Spiritual Life are archived by date entered.

Seven months ago I was installed as the 20th pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Lincoln, Nebraska.  I look forward to reviving my blogging and sharing thoughts, questions, ideas, my favorite books, and who knows what else.  Probably even a sermon or two, once I get around to uploading them.

Thanks for reading my blog, and I welcome the conversation!

This is a long post – a compilation of several recounting my visit to Pakistan in January, 2011.

THURSDAY, JANUARY 20, 2011

Pakistan – Kinnaird Academy

Yesterday we arrived in Pakistan, our group from Minnesota Valleys Presbytery and friends, and after a short nap (we arrived at 2 am!), our adventure began.  First we visited Kinnaird Academy High School in Lahore, Pakistan, one of the Presbyterian Education Board schools.  The school has nursery thru 10th grade, which is when they gradutate from high school.  We visited classrooms, the children, all taught in English, sang to us and recited poems.  We visited with teachers and administrators to learn about some of the challenges of running the school.

We also met with the PEB building committee and heard a presentattion by the architects working on the new boys school being considered for land the PEB recently received back fron the government.  That’s a long story!  The school will serve 2800 boys, for a cost of 2.9 million US dollars.  There is such great need for schools in Pakistan – education is the best hope for the future of this country, and for the lives of these children.  One of the people we met was the PCUSA property manager, who is an attorney who has worked for years at getting the schools back from the government.  He told stories of his children being kidnapped, knives and guns in his back.  It is a dangerous place.

In the evening we visited with our PCUSA mission co-workers, Doug and Margie, who work at Forman Christian College in Lahore, where we are staying.  We heard from a Pakistani something of the history and culture of Pakistan and some of its challenges and opportunities.

We were going to go to a pre-wedding party after that, but we were all  to exhausted!

This morning – back to Forman Christia College to meet with students, administrators, and also to help with student assessments in English.

More to come!

FRIDAY, JANUARY 21, 2011

Pakistan – Forman Christan College

Today we focused on Forman Christian College, or FCCollege as it is known in Pakistan.  TheTtrembles, our hosts on campus, gave us a quick tour of the campus, and then we had a series of meetings with the college president and other administration officers.  Peter Armacost, the Rector (President) of FCC, shared a history of the college.  It was founded in 1864 by Presbyterian missionaries, and grew to be one of the formost colleges on the subcontinent.  In 1974, it was taken over by the Pakistani government, when they nationalized all schools in Pakistan.  During those years the quality of education plummeted.  The college was the first on the subcontinent to admin women in 1902, but during those years of nationalization no women were allowed to be students.  In 2003 the college was finally returned to the church.  Today there is a very strong female presence, and Christian presence, which also was almost non-existent during the nationalization years.

The school faces a lot of challenges, but it is also one of the best hopes Pakistan has for positive change.  Numerous meetings with faculty, staff and students today shared one common theme:  education is the only hope Pakistan has, and FCC is a leader in graduating students who have been, and will be, positive leaders in Pakistan.

So much more could be said…

  • I could tell you about a free program Dr. Armacost’s wife has set up for the poorest women workers on campus, to teach them how to read and write, and how 2 years after the program began, the mothers were coming to her asking for them to educate their children.  They didn’t know how important education was, until they began to get some themselves.
  • I could tell you about how FCC is developing programs to train teachers in other schools, to increase the quality of edcuation beyond FCC
  • I could talk about how FCC models peaceful interfaith harmony
  • I could talk about how it is the only place in Pakistan where Christians can come to learn the Bible, Christian theology, and grow in Christian leadership
  • I could talk about the dedication to Christian faith and Christian mission the faculty has, in the face of real danger for Christians in today’s Pakistan.

I could go on, but suffice it to say, God is doing amazing things here, and so much more still needs to be done.  Keep the college and their leaders in your prayers!

One last thing – we particpated in the assesments of students as they did the English exams, and it was a joy to be a part of their educational experience!

SATURDAY, JANUARY 22, 2011

PAKISTAN – MARTINSPUR AND SANGLA HILL

 Today we traveled by van to the town of Martinspur, a very unique town in Pakistan, in that it is 99.9% Christan.  It was established in 1898 by a Presbyterian missionary, the Rev. Dr Samuel Martin.First we visited the home of a FC College student.  Their homes are very modest – made out of mud,with only a room or maybe two, and a courtyard, that also serves as the family bedroom.  They served tea and cookies, which we ate under the proud eyes of the family.  It is a symbol of honor to have Westerners visit your house.

After that we visited the girls school and the boys school in town.  Also founded by Presbyterian missionaries (the boys school in 1915), when it was denationalized in 2002 (see my previous post) the Presbyterian Education Board (PEB) received it back in terrible shape.  Parts of buildings had to be torn down, some classrooms were unusable, others, barely usable.  They also did not, and still do not, have enough classrooms to handle all the enrollment requests.  Basically, the whole school needs to be reconstructed and enlarged, but they are doing the best they can.  And they are doing well.  During the nationalization period, student test scores plummeted.  Now they are almost back up to where they were before the government took over all the schools.  So in spite of very inadequate conditions, the teachers and administrators are doing exceptional jobs.  They are what makes the school what it is.  We heard several former students stand up at their welcome for us, and talk about how their education at this PEB school changed their lives, gave them confidence, and gave them a future.  Because of the work of PEB in Pakistan, new worlds are opening up to students who may not have had any hope before.  The PEB schools really focus on reaching out to the poorest of the poor with education, scholarships, and resources, to give them a chance at a bright future, and to help them be good citizens, with good values.

The Principal of the boys school shared some comments about the needs of the school, and in addition to reconstruction, he said that the biggest need the school has is a photocopier!  They have to travel 15 km to make a photocopy, something many of us can do in our own homes.

We then visited the girls school and boarding house in Sangla Hill.  Another impressive school, much work has already been done there to reconstruct the school, and with the help of the PW Birthday Offering, to build a girls dorm.  It is a beautiful facility!  We participated in the dedication of two classrooms there, made possible by the donation of a very generous individual.

Another ministry that PEB has at the girls school is SHE – a project that helps poor women learn skills so they can sell their crafts to help support their families.  They also have a women’s shelter on campus for abused and battered women and their children.  There are currently 8 families there that the PEB is working with.

Today was a day that really emphasized the lives that PEB is changing through their schools and other ministries.  It is not often you can say one particular organization will have an unmistakable positive imprint on a people, but I think we can say that in this case.

If any of you reading this are interested in helping with some of the needs at the PEB schools, so that more children can be empowered and educated, you can find out more at the Friends of PEB website:  www.friendsofpeb.org.

We ended the day by attending a Muslim wedding.  This was day two of a three day celebration, and we all had a great time!  The Pakistani people have been wonderful and welcoming to us all, and a real pleasure to get to know.

SUNDAY, JANUARY 23, 2011

PAKISTAN – NAULAKHA PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH

 Today we joined in worship with the Naulakha Presbyterian Church in Lahore.  It was a rich experience – Rev. Sandy Murray from our group preached the sermon, and Rev. Ed Morgan gave greetings on our behalf.  After worship we met with a group of young people and church elders, and we shared with each other the various missions and ministries of our churches and presbyteries.  Like many of our churches, they are involved in serving the poor, in providing medical care, and in flood relief.

One of our ministries that they were very interested in was our Leadership Development for Ministry program.  They are interested in building leadership within their own congregation, and were excited to learn about what we are doing in the US.

One of the purely fun parts of the morning was having the church children ask to have their pictures taken with us,  I guess this was our brush with being celebrities!

Lunch at a local restaurant with the pastor and his family, a relaxing afternoon, and dinner with the executive director of PEB and friends, and a round of “Who can top this?” rounded out the evening.  In case you were wondering, 2 men and 3 goats on a small motorcycle trumps 8 people on a small motorcyle!

MONDAY, JANUARY 24, 2011

PAKISTAN – PASRUR SCHOOL

 On our way to Pasrur PEB School, about a three hour drive from Lahore on what one of our group members said was the worst road she had ever been on!  It was rough enough the PEB staff wouldn’t let any of us sit in the back of the van!  The countryside was beautiful – and interesting.  Almost all of the farming and work is still done by hand – brick making, oxen plowing fields, harvesting by hand.  We even saw two men on scafolding building a brick wall almost two stories up, with a third man throwing bricks up to them one at a time!About two hours in, it was tea time, so of course we pulled off on the side of the road, and the PEB staff (the men only!) set up the tea service and served us all.  We took pictures of them serving and cleaning up so we could show their wives they really are capable of housework!

When we got to Pasrur school, we discovered why Ed Morgan didn’t want to miss this school.  The entire school turned out for our arrival (that part was normal), and started yelling “Ed Morgan!”  Who knew we had such a celebrity in our midst?  Ed’s Iowa congregation had adopted this school and had given a significant amount of money to rehab the school and build the girls boarding house.

This school is a model of what can happen with the other PEB schools with the right investment.  Even then, we saw classes meeting in the hallways because they are still short on classrooms.

Each class we visited welcomed us warmly, and gave us homemade cards.   Most said something like “welcome.”  One said “we welcome you with zest and zeal!”  That was fun.  A sobering one from one girl just said “do not foregt us.”  Looking at the kids it is easy to forget that utter proverty most come from and the sacrifices their parents have had to make so their children could attend a good school.  Without the help of churches like the Iowa City church and others, many of these kids would not have much of a future.  Let us not forget them.

THURSDAY, JANUARY 27, 2011

PAKISTAN – DAY ?

It’s amazing how you lose track of time here!  It has been a couple days since I have last upated the blog.  Some of you may have seen on my facebook page that there was a suicide bomber in Lahore a couple days ago, in which 7 people were killed.  We all called home to assure our families that we were all well.Since then, part of the group went on to a Mission hospital.  Unfortunately I wasn’t able to go, as was another of our group members.  Several of us have gotten sick, so that has definitely put a damper on the trip.  Forunately Veeda, our host, is very flexible, and the old city tour of Lahore that was planned for today has been rescheduled for tomorrow, in hopes that we will be feeling well enough to go.  Anyway – a short update today – time to go back to bed!

FRIDAY, JANUARY 28, 2011

PAKISTAN – WAGAH BORDER CROSSING

 Another day in Pakistan, another change of plans.  Remember in my last post I said we were to do a tour of the Old City of Lahore?  Well, due to security concerns, we had to cancel that.  Yesterday there was an incident in which a US embassy employee shot two youth in self-defense (they were trying to rob him), and another embassy employee, on the way to the police station to help, got into an accident with a motorcyclist, who died.  Things are very unstable in Pakistan right now, and with this incident involving US embassy employees, the PEB decided that it was not wise to take us into the old city.  We trust there judgment.  If there was anyone wanting to retalite against Americans because of this incident, there simply aren’t many around!  It really is interesting that when we are out in the schools or driving around Lahore, we see no caucasians except the ones working at Forman Christian College, where we are staying.  I’ve traveled many places all over the world, and I think the last time I experienced the utter lack of white faces around me was in China in 1981!So we had a quiet morning at the college, then a few of us went over to the PEB offices to have some lunch and meet with some of the children.

This afternoon we were able to keep to our original plans and visit the Wagah Border for the flag lowering ceremony.  This is a unique event, that takes place on the border between India and Pakistan.  It is almost like a half time pep rally at a football game – rally songs, flag waving, orchestrated cheering, offiers marching with exagerated steps, and finally the Indian and Pakistani solders meeting at the flags, a lot of posturing, throwing their ropes in each other’s faces, and lowering their flags in unison.  Obviously well reheresed!  And fun to watch.  Apparently about 5000 people attend each day, although the crowd was a little spare today.  Apparently that is not unexpected on a Friday.

So a little disappointing that we had to miss the historic tour, but a good day nonetheless.

Tomorrow is the culmination of the trip – a drive to Sargoda, to dedicate a classroom funded by Minnesota Valleys Presbytery, and to participate in the groundbreaking of a new boys dorm for the boys school.  Usually there is about a dozen of us when we’ve gone out to visit schools, tomorrow there will be about 35 of us going up in a bus for the four hour dive to the school.

SATURDAY, JANUARY 29, 2011

PAKISTAN – SARGODHA

 Today was the main event of the trip – the dedication of the classroom that Minnesota Valleys Presbytery contributed to build, as well as two other classrooms in the girls school, and the groundbreaking for the new boys school.  We received the full red carpet treatment – our seven trip members, members of the PEB Board, some members of the local parliament, and the principles of all the other PEB schools in Pakistan.  I got a kick out of the kids who were wearing spiderman masks as they threw rose petals at us.  I think they were supposed to throw them at our feet to walk on, but they had more fun throwing them at our faces 🙂The school currently has just under 800 students, girls and boys, some in English medium, some in Urdu medium.  The new boys school, when all three phases are complete, will have over 2000 boys.  This area is desperately in need of a boys school.  It is expected that once the boys school is filled (there is already a waiting list), it will provide income for scholarships for needy Christian students.  There was a lot of excitement at the school, and after the program, several parents came up to me and were sharing their thanks for the boys school.  The parents in the area have been asking for one for a while, especially since the government requires girls and boys after grade 5 to be in separate schools, and some of there kids were already older than that.  If there was no school built for the boys, the boys currently in the school would lose the quality education they were getting at the PEB school.  So the need was great and immediate.  The first phase of the school should be finished in about a year.  The other two phases will be completed as funding comes in.

We did have a bit of a bump on the way home – most of our people were in a bus, a few of us were in a van and we had to pull over on the motorway because it was overheating.  After numerous phone calls, we reunited with the bus and another car, and transfered over, and were on our way again, leaving a few faithful PEB staff people to deal with the broken down van.

This was a great end to the trip – and it really highlighted what PEB is about – giving hope to children, and building hope for the future of Pakistan, by educating children and teaching them the values that will help them be good students, good citizens, and good people.  I have been so impressed to see during these two weeks the work the Presbyterian Education Board in Pakistan is doing here, and the lives that they are already changing.  If we want peace in the world, it will begin with educating our children, no matter who they are, or where they are.

Tomorrow we worship in the morning and spend a little time at the PEB office in the afternoon.  Then we will take the entire PEB staff out to dinner, then off to the aiport for our long flight home.  It has been a good visit!  If anyone ever wants to see first hand what PEB is doing here, I would recommend you come and visit.  You will be amazed at what they are doing, with so little!

Signing off…

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 22, 2010

Who inspires You?

It was with sadness that I read last week of the death of Carol Weir.  (You can read the Presbyterian News Service story here)  Carol and Ben were wonderful friends.  When I was in seminary I got to know them both very well, as I cleaned house for them, helped them with dinner parties, and carted many loads of stuff to the dumb.  I remember one trip to the dump site with Carol sitting in the passenger seat of my truck.  I was asking her about how she handled things when Ben was held captive in Lebanon for 16 months.  She spoke of her efforts to prod and move the Reagan administration to work for Ben’s release.  It became clear as she talked that she would much rather have remained the quiet person in the background, but she realized very quickly that help would only come if she put aside her quiet nature and became the bulldog that wouldn’t let Ben’s kidnapping fade away into yesterday’s news.  To a large part because of her efforts to keep Ben’s kidnapping on the front page, the wheels of government turned, and after 16 long months, Ben finally came home to his family.  Carol found in that experience strength and courage she never knew she had.

I think about Carol often.  We often feel that one person can’t make a difference, that one person can’t change the course of history, that one person, namely me (you), can’t possibly do anything because after all, who are we?  Yet one ordinary person can make a difference.  Carol did.  And we’ve seen others too.  The question is, do we care enough to try, do we love enough to put ourselves out there in ways that may be uncomfortable, and are we willing to put ourselves on the line and take a risk for what we believe in?  Are we willing to discover hidden resources of strength and courage in ourselves?

As I said, I think of Carol and others like her often.  They are my inspiration, and my encouragement, as I stand up for what I believe in, and as I fight for what I believe is right and just.

Who is your inspiration?

MONDAY, OCTOBER 18, 2010

Youth – The Future of the Church?

Those of you who know me know that I would never say that – the youth are the present of the church!  We all are the future, no matter what our age.  But I raise this question for a different reason.  Most of our churches want youth in church.  Why?  Many reasons, but one large one is that they are looking to the future, and a population that is steadily growing older, and dying.  If the youth are not present in our church today, then what hope do we have for the future?

I was just reviewing some slides from a Heads of Communion retreat with the Minnesota Council of Churches.  One of the slides projects that by the year 2030, people over the age of 65 will outnumber children 15 and younger in the United States.  What does that mean for our churches?  Can we put all our eggs in one basket for the future, and hope we get more kids so that our churches will continue?  We can, but I think we all know that children don’t grow on trees.  Many churches put a lot of energy, even if it is just worry energy, into a ministry for youth.  I certainly think churches need to attend to that, especially if they have youth.  But I think we are missing a vital ministry – to the older members of our communities.   Not just the older members of our congregations, but the older members of our wider communities.  The need for health care, visits, cards, meals, pet care while in the hospital, support for caregivers, etc., will only continue to grow in the years ahead, and it doesn’t look like it will be slowing down anytime soon.  Why not develop a strong outreach/care ministry to those who are growing older, and don’t have a community around them to care?

If the church is going to have any meaning at all in the world, then we need to look beyond the way we’ve always done things, and look beyond what we hope for (youth!), and see the real needs that are around us, and anticipate the ones to come.  There are some real needs coming up on the horizon.  Take a look at them, and then go meet them head on.  You may be surprised at how that gives new life to the church.

MONDAY, MARCH 8, 2010

The Importance of the Leader’s Attitude

I read an interesting article on the “Social Intelligence and the Biology of Leadership”, by Daniel Goleman and Richard Boyatzis (September 2008 issue of the Harvard Business Review). In it, Goleman and Boyztzis talk about a recent discovery of “mirror neurons” in our brains – neurons that pick up on what is happening in someone nearby, and mirror it in it’s “host” brain. In a way, this is not new information. We have all experienced situations where the energy and emotion of those around us seem to come over us as well. What is new is that there is finally proof that such “mirroring” is actually a real, physical process, in which we pick up on emotions in others, and our mirror neurons reproduce those same emotions in ourselves.

When we think about this in terms of leading the church through these challenging times, it reminds us that as leaders, our own emotional state has a critical impact on those around us, both positively and negatively, depending on what emotional state we are in at any given moment. Take anxiety. One of the qualities of a good leader is the ability to maintain a non-anxious presence in the midst of change, conflict, and chaos. Non-anxious doesn’t just mean hiding our anxiety from others, but truly being non-anxious. Whether we show it or not, if we are anxious, others will pick up on it, even subconsciously, and our own anxiety will be mirrored in others, adding to what is probably an already anxious system. So one of the challenges before us as leaders is the challenge of managing our own anxiety so that we can be a truly non-anxious presence.

Mirroring doesn’t happen with just the unhelpful emotions, though, it also happens with the positive ones. Scientists have found that there is a subset of these mirror neurons that are only responsible for detecting other people’s smiles and laughter, prompting the same in return. Research has also found that being in a good mood helps people process and remember information better, it aids in group formation, and it helps people respond more nimbly and creatively, especially in the midst of chaos, conflict and change.

So the emotions we bring to a situation, positive or negative, no matter how well hidden we think they are, have a real, physical effect on those around us, and can and do affect the ability of the group to respond in positive, healthy ways.

The ultimate goal is to learn how to deal with our emotions that are not helpful for a situation, in such a way that they don’t become stumbling blocks. Unfortunately this blog isn’t the place to go into that kind of depth, but there are resources out there for those who want to work on their emotional intelligence (such things as coaching, feedback session, practice, learning to relax, process feelings etc.) But before we can come up with a plan to keep them from being stumbling blocks, we need to be aware of what emotional baggage we carry with us. Without that awareness, no plan will be helpful, and without that awareness, we’ll most likely end up complicating situations and raising anxieties in others, without ever being aware of it, or intending to.

So the challenge to us to to first, be aware of what we are feeling. Second, to consider the emotional field of the group or organization we are interacting with. Third, if our emotions are ones we’d rather not see mirrored in others, we need to come up with a plan to deal with our emotions in such a way that they do not become stumbling blocks to others.

As leaders (and while this is a topic for a future blog – no matter what position you hold in an organization – you can be a leader in this, even if you don’t have the title) – as leaders, you have a huge impact on the ability of your group to be healthy, to function well, creatively, and joyfully.  What kind of an impact do YOU want to have?