Monday, July 6, 2020

Prayer is:


This Sunday I'm sharing a sermon on prayer. Preaching about prayer is one of my favorite topics. I came up with these statements about prayer. Hope they help you in your prayer life!

Prayer is:
Not a way to confirm our own beliefs, but a way of being open to God’s beliefs.

Not a way to tell God how to run the world, but a way to participate in God’s running of the world.

Not a plea from humans to God but a way to discover God’s plea to us.

A terrific way to reduce stress and anxiety.

Not a waste of time but a way to participate in timelessness.

Not a way to talk to the invisible, but a way for the invisible to communicate to us.

Not a way to be silent, but a way to have multiple conversations.

Not guaranteed to change God but over time is guaranteed to change us.

Not a duty or an obligation but an opportunity and privilege.

Not confusing but a way to develop clarity.

Essential to the lungs of our faith.

A mystery which helps us find direction.

An adventure whose path frequently brings new understandings..

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

What's the deal with Aunt Jemima and why is it important?


Last Wednesday, June 17, Quaker Oats and its parent company PepsiCo acknowledged that their Aunt Jemima brand was based on a racial stereotype. They are going to retire the trademark and rename its pancakes mixes and syrups. www.chicagotribune.com/business/ct-biz-aunt-jemima-brand-quaker-oats-20200617-qgpyv5hslfazzejk5hx7ak4hcm-story.html

For some this was a huge victory.  Others saw this as trivial and wondered what images or brands would be removed next.  I did quite a lot of reading of “conversations" on Social Media about the removal of Aunt Jemima as a brand.  In doing this I learned yet again how hard it is to have conversations about the topic of race in America.

In writing about this decision, my desire is to provide light and to lessen the heat.

So what’s the deal about Aunt Jemima and why is this important?

It’s all about a stereotype. 

Of all the online reading I did on this topic, Wikipedia expressed the stereotype clearly. “Aunt Jemima is based on the common enslaved "Mammy" archetype, a plump black woman wearing a headscarf who is a devoted and submissive servant.  Her skin is dark and dewy, with a pearly white smile. Although depictions vary over time, they are similar to the common attire and physical features of "mammy" characters throughout history.”  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aunt_Jemima

Put most simply Aunt Jemima represented a stereotype of a happy slave woman who obediently served her Masters. The implication of the stereotype is that slavery was not really as bad as many have made it out to be.

Some see this decision as rewriting or ignoring history. Removing Aunt Jemima as a brand is to expunge from history her role as part of the brand of Quaker Oats. Relatives of former Aunt Jemima spokeswomen shared this thought.  https://www.nbcnews.com/pop-culture/pop-culture-news/relatives-aunt-jemima-actresses-express-concern-history-will-be-erased-n1231769

Last night at Chain of Lakes Church approximately fifteen people gathered to talk about the topic of Race. During the conversation people of color shared how they deal almost daily with the projections that people put onto them. Because of the color of the skin people have a stereotype of who they are. This stereotype certainly doesn’t fit and their lives are much, much more difficult. They have been stopped by police because of the color of their skin; they have been prevented from boarding airplanes; people have asked them if they need welfare or scholarships when they don't need it or want it.

I played football at Carleton college. Though it was at the Division III level, I can guarantee that my desire to win on a Saturday afternoon rivaled that of any college football player in the country. At Carleton I received many projections on the stereotypes that people had of a football player. “You receive special treatment in class because football players do; you believe in violence because football is a violent sport; you look down on women because some football players have treated women poorly; you don’t deserve to be in school because football players received special treatment; you lack sophistication because football players don’t appreciate the arts.”  All of these projections are not true.

And let me be clear: the projections that I experienced based on a stereotype of a football player are miniscule in comparison to the projections that people of color are continuously experience.   

The removal of Aunt Jemima as a brand image by Quaker Oats is not going to end racism in the United States; however it is a small step towards removing a stereotype that has been harmful and has caused much pain. It’s not re-writing history.  Instead it’s acknowledging a symbol that has caused pain based on a racial stereotype. If this step can lessen the use of stereotypes for a race of people, then this is a very important deal. It is a step in the right direction.

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Monday, June 15, 2020

A story that could have only been orchestrated by God! Happy Anniversary, Amy Moore


Tomorrow my wife, Amy, and I are celebrating twenty years of marriage.  Yay, God! We’re going to celebrate by walking around Silver Lake in Rochester with our daughter, Hannah. I can’t wait to enjoy this day with the two people who mean the most to me.

This is a magical week for Amy & me. I met Amy for the first time in-person on the Monday after Father’s Day in 1998 by walking around Silver Lake in Rochester; I proposed to her at Silver Lake the Monday after Father’s Day in 1999; the two of us were married at First Presbyterian Church in Rochester on June 16, the Friday before Father’s Day in 2000.

I am blessed to be married to Amy.  Part of my blessing is I believe God wanted the two of us to be married.  Let me share the following story to share why I believe this.

In the spring of 1998 I was on a dry streak in terms of dating. I was working many hours at a job I loved as the pastor of Community Presbyterian Church in Plainview. I was living in a small town of about 3,000.  I didn’t have many friends to set me up with people, and I had no interest in going to bars. And I wasn’t smart enough to put myself “out there” in clubs or organizations in Rochester.  And I didn’t know much about the personals.

So I had no dates.  For a long time.  I wasn’t happy about this, but I really didn’t know what to do about it.  I had convinced myself that I could be very happy as a single person.  I prayed that I would meet someone, but at that time it had been so long since I had a date that I had given up.

In the spring of 1998 I participated one day a week in Clinical Pastoral Education (C.P.E) in Rochester. As with most CPE experiences I got to know other people in my group very well.  One person with whom I developed a friendship was Jan Heckroth. She was married, but was happy to talk to me about my lack of dates.  One day during a “conversation” she blurted out, “Paul why don’t you pray about having a date.”

I felt like I had been insulted.

“Pray about it,” I said, “sometimes I feel like this is all I pray about.”  I then went on a fairly long stemwinder of an explanation that I had done everything I could to get on a date, and it seemed to me God just didn’t want me to go on a date. 

At the end of my stemwinder I told Jan an edited version of the following, “Just to prove to you that I pray about it and that God doesn’t want me to go on a date, I’m going to pray in a different way.  I’m going to pray, ‘God if it is your will I’d like to meet someone and develop a relationship that will last.’”

The logic of my prayer was poor.  I was going to prove that something couldn’t happen by praying for that something to happen. 

Logic has never been the strongest currency of prayer.

So I prayed that prayer every day for a week or so.  One weekday night in June my plans were changed by the weather.  I decided to read the personals in the Rochester Post Bulletin.  This was when personals were in the newspaper.  And immediately I found an ad that got my attention.  It was the pick of the week.  The ad started out, “All Bach or all rock make for a dull soul, looking for that person …”

I thought that this was a creative ad, so I thought why not call it.  I did.  That is when my life changed.  At that time a person would leave a message for the caller to hear.  When I heard that message, I knew that this was the person for me.  People have shared the thought, “love at first sight.”  My experience was “love at first voice.”

Even though I “knew” this person was for me, I had a small problem.  She had no idea who I was.  I needed to leave a compelling message, so she would call me back.  I wrote out almost word-for-word what my message would be.  I called the number, shared the message, and hung up.  I had to wait.

A few nights later I came home after some late church meetings and saw the message light blinking on my answering machine.  Sure enough—she had called.  On the message Amy asked if we could have a phone conversation on Father’s Day evening.  We had that phone conversation and decided to walk around Silver Lake in Rochester the next night. 

I was giddy.  I was vain enough to worry about what would I do if I didn’t find her attractive.  But things were going so well. …

On that Monday night I arrived at Silver Lake a few minutes early and sat on a picnic table.  As I sat there a woman got out of the car and started walking towards me.  I’m almost embarrassed to say that when I saw her I was hoping that this person wasn’t Amy.  This person walked towards me, and towards me—and then walked right on by.  Yay, God!

A few minutes later Amy showed up.  I could see right away that she was attractive.  I had fallen for her when I heard the message on her personal ad and knew she was the “right one” a few minutes into our walk.

A bit premature—of course; foolish—no doubt; extraordinary—for sure.  It was a calling.  A calling by God?  I can’t prove it, but I would bet my life on it.

It took Amy a bit longer to catch up to me regarding an interest in our relationship—but to tell the truth it didn’t take that much longer. 

This story is a defining story in my life. I believe our story was initiated by prayer and is so improbable that it had to be led by God.  And tomorrow we’re celebrating 20 years of marriage. 

And Amy has her story of what led her to write that personal.

Through the inevitable ups and downs of marriage I’ve been sustained by this story.  And knowing at a deep level that God wants Amy & I to be married.

I am very blessed.

Here’s to many more years, darling of a beautiful marriage!

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Wednesday, June 3, 2020

President Trump, I wish you had done this instead


I think President Trump could have done better in helping faith and the religious traditions of the United States bring people together than what he did on Monday in holding a Bible that looked like it was borrowed from the local Motel Six in front of the St. John’s Episcopal Church.    

I wish he had asked me what he could do to bring healing to our country. If he had asked me what to do, this is what I would have said.

Mr. President, thank you for asking me about what you could do to help faith and the religious traditions of our country bring people together during this current crisis. I have respect for the burden that you and all political leaders are facing right now.  I can’t imagine the pressure of being a political leader during a global pandemic and racial tensions. 

The divisions that exist right now are not going to go away quickly, but you have the opportunity right now to help the country take steps towards healing.  I think you should create a religious service of different religious traditions that will focus on unity and healing and justice. 

This is what I suggest.

Have the service at the Washington National Cathedral. Get permission from the Cathedral before doing it. I know the Episcopals are mad at you right now, but if someone from your office shares the intention of this service, they most likely will allow the National Cathedral to host this service.

Start the service with a Jew blowing through a shofar.

Ask an African American choir to sing “Lift Every Voice and Sing” Because of the pandemic and the need for social distancing the choir would sing this song over Zoom. It would be recorded and shared on big screens.

Have a rabbi read Micah 6:6-8.

Have a Protestant clergy to read Luke 10:25-37.

Have a choir to sing the song, “America” 
The song would be sung over Zoom. It would be recorded and shared.

Have a Muslim leader read selections about peace from the Quran.

Have someone from George Floyd’s family to speak about George Floyd’s life.

Have Senator Biden speak for ten minutes.  Tell him to say the following points:
·       Thank you, President Trump for inviting me to speak tonight
·       What an opportunity you have helped create for unity
·       You and I disagree about a lot and will share our different visions for this country in the coming election.
·       Tonight, we’re not here to disagree.  We’re here to take steps towards unity. I appreciate your desire to share a service that can help our country take steps in racial healing.
·       What happened to George Floyd is wrong. He should have never died. Just as many other African-Americans should have not died.  Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Philando Castille, Freddie Gray are names of some African-American men who have been killed by a police officer.
·       Our country is suffering from a significant divide. This divide has gone on ever since the slave trade started 401 years ago in this land.  As Jim Wallis has said, “slavery is America’s original sin.” That sin still affects us even though the Emancipation Proclamation was put into law in 1863.
·       I am committed to the dream of the beloved community that Dr. King articulated.
·       Racism is both personal and institutional. I commit everything in my power to be an example of anti-racism—both personal and institutional. 
·       America is better than what we’ve seen recently.  

Then you will speak for ten minutes.  You will say the following:

Thank you, Senator Biden for speaking tonight.
·       What an opportunity you have helped create for unity
·       You and I disagree about a lot and will share our different visions for this country in the coming election.
·       Tonight, we’re not here to disagree.  We’re here to take steps towards unity. I appreciate your desire to share a service that can help our country take steps in racial healing.
·       What happened to George Floyd is wrong. He should have never died. Just as many other African-Americans should have not died.  Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Philando Castille, Freddie Gray are names of some African-American men who have been killed by police officers.
·       Our country is suffering from a significant divide. This divide has gone on ever since the slave trade started 401 years ago in this land.  As Jim Wallis has said, “slavery is America’s original sin.” That sin still affects us even though the Emancipation Proclamation was put into law in 1863.
·       I am committed to the dream of the beloved community that Dr. King articulated.
·       Racism is both personal and institutional. I commit everything in my power to be an example of anti-racism—both personal and institutional. 
·       America is better than what we’ve seen recently.  

You can see that it is the same speech, Mr. President.

Then you and Senator Biden will lead everyone present and everyone watching the service on television and over the Internet to make the following pledge which was taken from the Evanston YWCA
I pledge to:
·       Notice all forms of bias, prejudice and discrimination in which I
participate.
·       Identify and eliminate any use of expressions of racism or racial
stereotypes.
I further pledge to:
·       Use my voice or my pen or my social media, rather than be silent,
when I hear racist words or see racist actions.
·       Actively work to support public policy solutions that clearly
promote racial equity.
·       I take this pledge, fully aware that the struggle to eliminate racism will not
end by me reciting this pledge. It requires an ongoing transformation within
me, as well as in the institutions and structures of our society.

Then have an African-American clergy person would say a religious prayer and give a benediction.

Mr. President— Why not have someone organize this service in the next week?

This service would would be remembered for decades to come.  And most importantly this service would help the people in the United States take steps towards healing. And people would forget the clumsiness of what you did this past Monday.

Monday, June 1, 2020

The Statistics behind the protests


             It has not been a quiet week in Minnesota. 
            The murder of George Floyd, an African-American man, by Derek Chauvin, a Caucasian man while three other police officers were nearby has affected every person in the Twin Cities Metro area.  George Floyd has become another name in a long line of African-American men murdered by police. It’s important not to forget their names--Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Philando Castille, Freddie Gray are just a few of many names.
            Everything that has happened has exposed at a deep level the rawness of racial pain and lack of opportunity that exists in Minnesota.  
            Governor Tim Walz said something in his news conference yesterday morning that grabbed my attention. In fact it grabbed me by the shirt and caused me to pay attention.
We [Minnesota] don’t just rank near the top on educational attainment. We rank near the top on personal incomes, on home ownership, on life expectancies. Things that make this… Oh, and one that came out a while back. We ranked second in a survey of the 50 States, second in happiness behind Hawaii. But if you take a deeper look and peel it back, which this week has peeled back, all of those statistics are true if you’re white. If you’re not, we ranked near the bottom.

And then he said this:
 You cannot continue to say you’re a great place to live if your neighbor, because of the color of their skin, doesn’t have that same opportunity. And that will man itself in things that are the small hidden racisms. It’ll manifest itself in a child of color not getting the same opportunities, or a black community not being able to acquire wealth through home ownership because of lending practices. And as we all sudden last week, the ultimate end of that type of behavior is the ability to believe that you can murder a black man in public, and it is an unusual thing that murder charges were brought days later.

His comments made me explore the statistics that caused him to say this. This is what I found.

According to a report done by Minnesota Housing, a state government agency, dated May 4, 2017, home ownership among races in Minnesota is the following
White/Non-Hispanic                          76.1
Asian/Pacific Islander                        58
American Indian                                 48.6
Hispanic                                              45
African-American                              22.8

The national average for home ownership among African-Americans is 42 percent.
Wow!

According to census data
In 2015, white households in Minnesota reported an average income of $67,000 compared with $30,300 for African-Amreicans and $43,400 for Hispanics, according to census data.

A USA Today article from this past November rated Minneapolis/St. Paul/Bloomington as the 4th worst place for an African-American to move.

Among the data that was shared in this article was the following:
“while 95.9% of white adults in Minneapolis have a high school diploma -- the largest share of any city in the country -- just 82.2% of black adults in the metro area do, below the 84.9% national black high school attainment rate.”

The protests are important, but eventually they will stop. And we will be left with statistics that reveal an unseen racism that have fueled the events of the last week.  Minnesota might be a place of Lake Wobegon for Caucasians, but it’s not for African-Americans.  We have a lot of work to do, Minnesota!

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Day 19 Jesus is our example of being under pressure



Friends, the following is the manuscript for day 19 of a weekday video devotional series I'm sharing. These can be viewed on the Chain of Lakes Facebook page and my own personal Facebook page.  Blessings to you on Holy Thursday!

Good morning, friends. This is day 19 of a weekday video devotional series called, “Facing fears without being afraid.” If you enjoy the content, share it on your own Facebook page, like it, make a comment yourself.

During Holy Week I’m looking at times in the last week of Jesus’ life when he experienced strong emotions. We might compare them to a COVID-19 moment that we’ve had.

Today is Holy Thursday, the day that the church world wide remembers what happened in the Upper Room. So many parts of this story are amazing.

It’s amazing that Jesus celebrated the Passover in a room that wasn’t his own. He told his followers to go into Jerusalem and find a certain man and say “the teacher needs a room in your house.” That’s what happened.  Amazing.

While Jesus was in that room with the 12 disciples, they all experienced the drama of human emotion.  Jesus declared that one of the 12 would betray him.  The twelve got greatly distressed and declared that none of them would do so.  Then his disciples got into an argument about who among them was the greatest.  Can you imagine. The next day Jesus was going to be killed and he had to watch his most closest followers have an argument about greatness.  Jesus also told Peter that Peter was going to deny Jesus three times.

And in the midst of all of this drama, what did Jesus do? Did he condemn then for their squabbles. Did he criticize Peter for his upcoming denial.  Did he question why all of this had to happen in a borrowed room.

No. Jesus didn’t complain.  He washed the feet of his disciples and gave them a new commandment to love one another.  Yes he washed their feet.  He washed 24 dirty, stinky, crusty feet.  Even though he had every reason to feel sorry for himself because of the suffering he would undergo, Jesus still got out of himself and washed their feet.

Wow!

That is the ultimate in servant leadership.

The next time you’re at the end of your rope, remember what Jesus did. Jesus was at the end of his rope—and he still served others.  He washed 24 stinky feet.  

His example has stood the test of time.  Today we remember him.

As we remember his example we can have confidence that he will help us.  He will help us face fears without being afraid.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Day 18 Does uncertainty turn us towards God or away from God?


Good morning, friends. This is day 18 of a weekday video devotional series called, “Facing fear without being afraid.” If you enjoy the content, share it on your own Facebook page, like it, make a comment yourself.

During Holy Week I’m looking at times in the last week of Jesus’ life when he experienced strong emotions. We might compare them to a COVID-19 moment that we’ve had.

Today I want to look at the story of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane. It happened right after Jesus had been in the Upper Room celebrating the Passover with his disciples. He took Peter, James and John and went to pray. As he prayed he became grieved and agitated. He threw himself on the ground and said to his abba, father, “take this cup from me.” Jesus asked if the pain and suffering of the next day would be stopped.

Jesus was uncertain.

We can relate to him.  Who hasn’t felt uncertain during COVID-19. Just yesterday 83 new cases of COVID-19 were announced in Minnesota, the highest number ever. At some point these numbers are going to start to go down, but no doubt we still are in the height of this pandemic.

It’s natural to be uncertain.
How long is this going to last?
When can my kids go back to school?
When can I visit my favorite restaurant?
When can the churches open again.

We’re uncertain. Being uncertain is not a sign of weakness. It’s a sign that we’re human. Just as Jesus was human as he prayed in the garden of Gethsemane.

The key question is “What do we do with our uncertainty?”

Is all of this uncertainty causing us to turn away from God? Or turning towards God.  We’re either going closer or farther away. I’m not sure there is a middle ground right now.

Jesus is our example. In the midst of his uncertainty Jesus prayed to his Abba, “yet not what I want, but what you want.” Jesus was still looking for the direction of his Abba and he was willing to follow it.

One of my favorite phrases is “God is the source of our healing and not the cause of our pain. In the midst of our suffering we turn ourselves to God—at even a deeper level than before. 

I’ve encouraged you to do breath prayers, and I’ll keep encouraging you. I set my alarm for five times a day. When the alarm goes off I pray, Lord let me choose hope.  Five breaths, thirty seconds. My mind is clear; I’m ready to face the next hour.

In some ways, this feels like what Jesus was doing in the Garden when he was experiencing anxiety—and ultimately seeking God’s way. When we commit ourselves even more deeply to God we can face our fear without being afraid.