General Assembly Musings – #2


We are Rising!  It’s time.

This was the call I heard earlier today a number of times at the Poor People’s Campaign March on Washington that I joined.  That call came from a number of religious and community leaders, including our Stated Clerk of the General Assembly, J. Herbert Nelson.  While this morning and afternoon was not part of the official docket of the Assembly, we were encouraged to join in.  And I am glad I did.

2020-06-20 11.14.44Some may have come thinking it would be more of a celebration and coming together, but instead it was a call for Revival, a call to repentance, a call for a national moral turnaround.  As a Presbyterian minister who is comfortable with communal calls to confession, I felt right at home.

The agenda was clear, this is a movement committed to shifting the moral narrative of this country – shifting to a moral agenda that lifts all people by challenging the interlocking injustices of systemic racism, poverty, militarism, ecological devastation, denial of healthcare, and the distorted moral narrative that ties it all together.

It’s time to choose life.  It is time to do it together.  (In fact, it’s past time.)

I heard this call for transformative change sink deep into my heart as I heard one of the event’s coordinators shift from preaching to meddling near the end of the event, the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II.  It was a good shift.

Let’s change this narrative and change this reality.  Because it is past time.

To those of you that think this is all a political protest in the streets and has nothing to do with Church, I feel compelled to remind you: This is all straight out of the Bible.  Jesus had a lot to say about how we treat those who are trapped in poverty and in the line of fire, and what we are to do about that.

Now is the time, and I am hopeful this Assembly will step up and proclaim that from the mountaintop, and cajole us into joining this new narrative God has for us in 2020 and beyond.  It is actually taken from an old narrative — a narrative where justice rolls down like waters for all people, where love is stronger than lies, and where God’s love will ultimately win.

It’s time.


General Assembly Musings – #1


This General Assembly is like no other.  It is our first virtual assembly.  But not by choice — because of pandemic-times.  Instead of coming to you from the floor of the Assembly in Baltimore, Maryland, I am at home in Ohio, joining virtually, like the almost 1,000 other participants in the 224th General Assembly.

2020-06-20 12.14.58

And it has already caused quite a shift in things.  

The Committee on Business Referral saw the challenges coming with attempting to do all this business on a digital platform, and so last night as the Assembly convened at 7pm, a variety of preliminary organizational motions came to the floor (adopting rules to function virtually, adopting a docket that simplifies the schedule, only dealing with essential business, etc.)

Not surprisingly, that took quite a bit of time.  So much so, the election of a new moderator did not happen as planned, and has been rescheduled for tonight at 7pm.  It was well past 11pm, before the docket was changed and a previously unscheduled meeting for 7pm tonight was slated.  GA224_Home_Mod_Feature_NoBckgrnd_800x600

Part of the reason for the delay was a number of commissioners whose voices began to rise up, talking about silenced voices because of the pair-down.  And while the Assembly ultimately streamlined and took most of the suggestions from the Committee on Business Referrals, I was already getting a sense of this Assembly – and a hungry to speak powerfully to the other global pandemic that is afoot in our land – a pandemic of systemic racism, poverty, and ecological devastation that is continuing to tear us apart as people in this country.

I will be providing updates throughout the Assembly, which convened yesterday evening, June 19, and will continue through June 27.

I encourage you to join the Assembly as it broadcasts live this evening and the Assembly elects a new set of co-moderators.: 

I also encourage those of you who are interested in the work of the Assembly to visit PC-Biz which is the digital portal to find the docket, and all the business items:

Our leadership has encouraged us to be a part of the Poor People’s Campaign Virtual March on Washington in their National Call to Moral Revival that is currently happening today.  Perhaps you have seen the Watch Parties on Facebook, and my posts encouraging you to join me for that.  These reflections will most certainly weave into this Assembly.

Furthermore, and most importantly, I encourage you to join in prayer, to pray for all the commissioners of the Assembly, but particularly our commissioners, Tom Polker (Elder Commissioner, from Napoleon, OH – pictured below), Cathi King (Minister Commissioner, from Tecumseh, MI), and Chloe Smith (Young Adult Advisory Commissioner, from FPC Defiance, OH).

May the Spirit of Almighty God be with us.


My Top Ten Worship Ideas in a Post-Quarantine (yet fragile public health) Time (i.e. arguably the rest of 2020!)


We have been living in unprecedented times.  The Coronavirus, mandatory stay-at-home orders, social-distancing, and quarantine are all words many of us had not thought of much until recently.  These are challenging times as pastors, as worship leaders.  I have been blessed to be working among some of the most creative and hard-working pastors of my entire career, as General Presbyter of Maumee Valley Presbytery.  It has been an honor, and very humbling.  And yet, now we face an even greater challenge — building a bridge to sustainable worship and healthy congregations in a time when health experts are saying social-distancing is going to be important through Labor Day, and if no medication becomes readily available, possibly through 2021 until a vaccine is ready.  And so I offer a few thoughts, to get us thinking more long-term:

My Top Ten Worship Ideas in a Post-Quarantine (yet fragile public health) Time:

1) The early church met early in the morning every Sunday, down by the river, in secret (because Christianity was illegal and Sunday was a work day). I’m JUST SAYING.  Easter sunrise service EVERY WEEK?  Yes, maybe!

2) The early church in many areas built worship around house worship/agape love feasts. These were arguably all groups of 10 or fewer. JUST SAYING.  And FOOD!  I’m convinced this is how the early church grew.

3) Summer is usually pretty good weather in much of the USA. Outdoor worship. Front steps of the church? Parking lot?  Perhaps a “Drive-In Movie” concept with a stage and people still in their cars, or bring a lawn chair and come sit up and be a part of our socially-distant choir.  Church courtyard?  Oh yeah, and stop canceling when it’s not perfect conditions out…welcome to 2020.

4) Many of the Native American Presbyterians I have worshiped with had us outside in a round, socially distanced anyway, because we needed room to move, and sing, and invite God to be a part of our gathering.

5) Many of the churches I served as pastor had fellowship dinners for small groups (Tables of Eight, etc.). This combined with a pre-recorded YouTube sermon could be pretty effective worship, and cultivate worship leaders! Maybe the pastor would even rotate which small group she was a part of, and have Holy Communion with that group of 8-10. The church musician(s) might rotate too.

6) Zoom is lovely, but have you thought about equipping each family unit to worship on their own? Sometimes I wonder if we pastors like the control, and simply aren’t comfortable with a particularly Jewish/synagogue approach to learning and prayer that is more family-based.

7) Parks. I see visions of lawn chairs, natural amphitheaters, or maybe even a picnic, or picnic-to-go bags. (Sermon on the Mount? Feeding of the Multitude?  If it was good enough for Jesus…).

8) Is your sanctuary open for individual prayer throughout the week?

9) Splitting the congregation up, and having multiple worship services a week. (As a former church musician I am rolling my eyes at this one, but I am also thankful to be back to work and not furloughed!)

10) And finally…..Opening the church for in-person worship, all in masks, socially-distanced, and finally finding the benefit of having an overly large sanctuary for the smaller congregation that now worships there.

(Maybe a mix of these! It’s a lot of work for us worship leaders, but it can break open that “We’ve always done it this way” mentality we have been railing against for years. Now’s our chance!

Whatever you transition to, I hope someone is still broadcasting to FB Live, and a Watch Party starts for those who are unable to be at the in-person worship)


Uber, I’m Not Impressed


Companies like Uber, SquareSpace, and Airbnb have been very successful lately.  Their business model works.  And yet I have to be honest….I’m not all that impressed.  I mean, as a Church, we have been doing the same thing for over 2,000 years.  Yes, we have had limited success in Europe and North America lately.  Yes there are other times in history we have struggled.  Yes, we have made some serious missteps.  But our “brand” has endured.  Let me explain.

Take Uber, for instance.  At the end of the day, their company model is very simple – connect up people with things they need.  These days it is way more than a peer-to-peer ridesharing platform connecting up passengers with drivers.  There is UberEats, and also a bicycle-sharing program in many urban areas.  In almost 800 metropolitan areas all over the globe, they have spread like wild fire!

Uber has employed this very simple model with amazing success.  In 2019 Uber is estimated to have over 110 million users.  Its platform is through a simple mobile app, which in an organic way using algorithms and fixed prices, has a way of spreading itself.

This company has been in the news lately.  What better company to study the gender pay gap than with a company that in so many ways is gender-blind, using only algorithms and mobile GPS tracking?  Anyone can drive.  Anyone can ride.  But part of the news is how companies like this are struggling with liabilities, with reaching people with disabilities effectively, etc.

But back to the Church.  When you think of it, is the Church not a vehicle to connect up people to God?  Our whole trajectory is spiritual growth and connections, and despite the goals of some local churches, the overall trajectory of the Church is to get out of the way of the Holy Spirit and let God’s community flourish.  We, like Uber, connect people up (w/ God and each other).

Oh yes, it is messy and lacks centralized organizational structure.  But I am going to stand by our metrics, and our companies’ organizational structures.  With over 2.4 Billion followers of Jesus of Nazareth, we are the world’s largest religion.  The structures also have amazing redundancy and seem unstoppable.  Not even tyrannical regimes or governments can stop us.

Our model is simple: Connect up congregants with one another, and churches to churches, and with God, so that the Holy Spirit can transform lives.

I work for a presbytery.  This means my job on a daily basis is proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ who saves, redeems, and reconciles the world to Godself through ministries of witness, justice, and mercy.  But I get the privilege of seeing this on a larger scale, connecting ministers to ministers, churches to churches, and seeing a different way of “proclaiming” than when I was in a pulpit weekly and a local church daily.  I spend my time building and equipping vital congregations so that they can reach seekers and those in need, nurture disciples, and send apostles of our Lord into the world.

And unlike Uber, whose platforms can only be accessed through websites or mobile apps, I follow the CEO Jesus of Nazareth who can be accessed through Prayer.  It is a free app that doesn’t even require a cell phone.  This has allowed us to reach even rural communities, communities that struggle with poverty, and places Uber doesn’t dare go.  In fact, our great power is that often these are the places where our “brand” is the strongest.

We are an unstoppable force in places like the rural parts of Africa and South America, and other places in the Global South.  The Holy Spirit infrastructure is strong even in places where the country’s infrastructure is faltering.

We need to stop panicking in North America.  We spend so much time and energy worrying about church growth and bottom lines that we have forgotten that God is in charge – in fact has always been in charge.  We don’t need to worry.  We need to follow.

It would also benefit us, if rather than going off our separate ways, trying to follow the competitor, that we stay the course and come to realize that our God endures through all generations, and that our power comes not from following the bright lights and allure of money, but by following the bright Light of Jesus of Nazareth, who gave his life that others may live.

So sorry, Uber.  I’m not that impressed.  When you have endured and flourished for thousands of years give me a call, and I will be sure to be impressed.  Let me know when using your app leads to radical cultural transformations of justice and mercy, when it combats racism, oppression, and violence, when it gives new life.  Top that, Uber.


Spiritual Deepening: Prayer on the Move, Taize, & Podcasts


My spiritual life has been morphing and changing these past months.  Some of you may have noticed the Morning Reflections are much more sporadic.  Well good news! I have settled into a new routine and want to share.

My normal routine used to be the Daily Office, silence, and reflection at home each morning culminating into a written reflection.

Now because of a variety of reasons, all that has needed to change.  Part of it is no longer having a backyard so the dog can entertain himself with squirrels in the morning.  When you add the dog walk, the 35 minute commute to work, and the demands of a very busy job, an extended time of reflection at dawn is no longer feasible.

The new routine includes a lot of podcasts in the car while driving to work.  Prayer on the move!  It is also a wonderful leaning on the community for help.  In a very ancient practice, I no longer read the scripture, but am read to.  I listen in a different way – a more profound way.

And with the help of the community from Taize, I feel connected to the one, universal Church in deeper and profound ways as well.  My morning with the Taize podcast, often Monday, is a time of being showered by different languages, accents, and sounds.  I am gently reminded our community is so far greater than that which is understood.  I learn about the mystery of God at work.  Speaking a bit of French also has helped me, but when they read in German or whatever, I am not only transported in mind and spirit, I am  reminded about their aim to simplified readings that barely need a translation for the Spirit to shine through.

While I use a variety of podcasts during the week, including the Compline Service from St. Marks Cathedral in Seattle, the sermons from Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago, Westminster Abbey, and the Audio Daily Office from the Trinity Mission, it is my time weekly with Taize that often opens up the world in a whole new light.

One of the joys of the Taize community, and it is reflected in the podcasts, is their commitment to inclusive worship that includes a very diverse and international set of visitors on any given week at their monastery in rural France.  This means that most of the readings are in multiple languages, normatively French, English, German, and then either Portuguese, Spanish or Korean, depending on the visitors that week.

The singing is often kept simple for the congregation with us singing in Latin or Greek, with repetitive sung phrases like “Alleluia” for the congregation as the verses are offered in different languages by the brothers.  The music actually is quite complex, but that is added in layers over time, broadened by the brothers themselves, who sit at the center of the congregation at worship, and almost function like a choir leading the people deeper into the heart of Christ.

And yet the simply responses allow and encourage me to join in, and I find myself singing along with them as I hurdle down the highway from Perrysburg to Findlay.

Below (I am hoping this works) I embedded the podcast from for June 5, 2019.  It is a good example of these worshipful elements that transport me.

If you have any podcasts that have become spiritually enriching to you, or other spiritual practices you or your church are using, I would encourage you to share that in the comment section (or my replying to this email).

May God enliven your summer mornings.  And may the scripture come alive in you in whatever way God is calling you.  Find a rhythm that works and gets you in rhythm with God, and then share it with others.


More than 500 Tornadoes


Ezek. 1:28-3:3Heb. 4:14-5:6Luke 9:28-36

Some of you may have seen the coverage of the recent tornado in Celina, Ohio, part of the jurisdiction of Maumee Valley Presbytery.  We begin recovery efforts to the devastating effects of the tornado, like they have been in Shelby, and similar to the recovery from flooding at the Delphos church.

The storms are widespread.  Climate extremes are saying it lightly.  The flooding across the country is almost too much to imagine, especially in places that hold special people and a special place in my heart like Oklahoma and Arkansas.

I was recently written up in the Presbyterian News Service as they covered the recent disaster in our area.

One phrase jumped out: “More than 500 tornadoes have been reported in the past 30 days across the country”

Creation is crying out.  None of this extreme weather is normal.  We have failed to be good stewards of the earth that was entrusted to our care, and now the earth is moaning.  May God grace us the grace not only to respond to those caught in the recent storm chaos, but to look beyond our immediate needs to the greater challenges of climate change.

The passage today from Ezekiel paints a graphic picture – the vivid picture of someone with a wide-open mouth eating a scroll from God.  The rebellious house of Israel, refusing to hear the words from God, is now given a prophet that is having to eat God’s own words.

Upon first reading this may sound a lot like “eating one’s own words” but by story’s end we realize the words taste sweet as honey, and it turns out for Ezekiel this may be a comforting image.  He is given God’s word.  He is not alone responding to the deep failings of the people.

Even more so, God’s Word is able to spread, and he is presented with the comfort of God’s abiding presence – given words to say to this rebellious and disobedient people.

I pray that we wake up to the catastrophic effects of climate change, and we start speaking, with the boldness of Ezekiel to our rebellious and troubled times.  There is no time to be a climate denier and stick your head in the sand.  Now is the time to listen to the experts, trust facts, and listen to what the earth is telling us, a planet that in the second creation story was given and entrusted to our care.

We can no longer turn a blind eye to the groanings of the earth on which we live.   We can no longer be satisfied with cursory readings of God’s Word, but need to read deeply and be profoundly moved daily to action.  We can no longer hope that others will act while we sit idly by.

Sometimes I hear people offer their “THOUGHTS AND PRAYERS” on social media.  And while I am not saying we shouldn’t pray, I am going to point out that all good prayer leads to action.  And if no action was taken, I am suspecting there was no real prayer to begin with.  It is “thoughts and lies”, not “thoughts and prayers” that were offered.

May each one of us eat the scroll that is offered to us today.

And may that dose of God’s Word awaken our spirits and transform our lives, activating our hands and hearts into action.


Submission and Selflessness


Wisdom 4:16-5:8Col. 1:24-2:7Luke 6:27-38

For those who dislike Paul, your cure may be today’s reading in Colossians.  This is a man who is completely dedicated to the task at hand.  His commitment to Christ almost brings tears to my eyes.

Not only does he “rejoice in [his] sufferings” but he offers an image of complete surrender: “in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body.”  He sees his life, not as his own, but that of the Church’s – the body of Christ.

As I travel throughout Maumee Valley Presbytery, I encounter many who are pouring their heart and soul into building up the body of Christ.  It is overwhelming some days.  To me it is a sign of the resurrection.  The dedication, the commitment, the submission to Christ that is see gives me hope in the human race, and in Christianity for the 21st Century.

The church is growing by leaps and bounds in South America and Africa.  It will not surprise you to hear the same has not been the case in North America.  And despite the rumors, the “mega” churches are not growing either.  They come.  They go.  The data supports they are similar to mainline churches – slowly trending downward.

But not so in South America and Africa!  The Church is experiencing growth – profound growth.  And no, it is not “contemporary worship” that gets the headlines.  Which churches are growing?  It is the Roman Catholic Church.  It is the Presbyterian Church in Africa that is growing.  Joel Olsteen is not the face of the growing Church in Africa, it turns out.  Pentecostalism is on the rise – hardly an expression of the prosperity gospel phenomena we see in America.  The Orthodox Church in the USA is growing.  Megachurches are in slow decline.  Those are the facts. 

I believe much of this has to do with commitment to the Holy Spirit at work.  We have a culture that simply does not value submission and dedication.  Many in our culture value individualism, adventure, and the taking of personal risk.  This has little to do with submitting to the body of Christ, or building up something other than one’s self.

So when I reflect on the decline of some of our churches in North America, I don’t get too upset.  Perhaps God needs to prune us a little.  Perhaps the wheat and the tares need to be separated a bit.  It also becomes a fair challenge that God has given us.  It is not a time to lament, but a time to work – and submit – for the Holy Spirit.

I see that happening in Maumee Valley.

I see a number of our churches flourishing in ministry and mission.  That is what happens when a church commits deeply to the Holy Spirit’s work in its neighborhood, and the lives of its members.  I am thankful – not for the daring and bold new initiatives – but for the submission and selflessness that I see.  I am most thankful when I see servanthood.  I am thankful for those who consistently put themselves second, and dedicate and commit their time and talents to something greater – God’s commission and they mystery of Christ’s revelation to the world.

At the presbytery meeting we will hear some of the stories of this daring dedication.  Come and see!  3pm.  Tuesday.  Waterville.